Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Soapbox: A Confession & A Tirade

First, the confession: I know it's completely un-cool to admit you actually like TOP 40 music of any kind--it marks you as culturally lazy, not adventurous enough. If you love TOP 40, you probably think instant mashed potatoes is real food, right? My thing, though, has always been lyrics and I don't care where I find them. I'm not against listening to an artist I've never heard of before in a genre I think was made up last week (I mean I actually saw "prog-funk" and "literary Scottish indie-rock chamber music" in Rolling Stone reviews) and some of my favorite songs have come to me this way. But I don't listen to anything for technically superior chord progressions and I wouldn't know what a riff was if it bit me hard on the butt. I'm a word geek and it's all about words to me--whether I find them in Eminem's latest or a 1979 Barbara Mandrell tune that was never released as a single.

Okay so now I've marked myself as an un-cool person who doesn't get out much and actually doesn't mind instant mashed potatoes in a pinch so I might as well go the rest of the way and admit that not only do I like Top 40 music, but I like country music as well. There's all sorts of wit and wisdom buried in all that twang.*

It was while listening to that twang that I heard the new Trace Adkins song "Arlington" this past weekend. It is a beautiful song that under the right circumstances may have moved me to tears or at least given me a killer bout of goose bumps. But then there was this line: "There's a big white house sits on a hill just up the road/The man inside, he cried the day they brought me home." I reflexively shouted, "Yeah right!" (Yeah, along with the instant mashed potato thing, I talk to the radio. The Internet's just full of freaks, isn't it?) I get the purpose of the song--and I'm all for supporting the troops, honoring their sacrifices, but I'm not sure this is the best way of doing that.

This is one area where country music consistently lets me down--the so-called "patriotic" songs. The two that make me literally grit my teeth are Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" and Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" (No, I'm not linking to them. Isn't that petty?) They're angry songs, written in reaction to the attacks of 9/11. The events of 9/11 were tragic, horrifying, cowardly and a thousand other things, but it doesn't honor the victims, their families or the troops now in danger to reduce the complex political, socio-economic, and religious issues that led to those attacks to an US vs. THEM mentality.

I was raised in a career military family. My father was voluntarily serving in Vietnam when I was born. After his tour of duty was done there, he chose to go to Korea, not once but twice, when he could've gotten a Stateside assignment. I'm no stranger to patriotism, to sacrifice in the name of your country. But shouldn't patriotism be about more than unquestioning loyalty to the current administration? Shouldn't it be about more than revenge? Shouldn't it be about more than being the biggest bully on the block? Doesn't it stand to reason that a longer-range view is in our nation's best interest?

It's hard enough to find that viewpoint in newspaper columns and television commentary, let alone in our government, I'm not sure why I would expect country musicians to pick up that slack. There was one post-9/11 song that did, though--Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)." He caught it all--the shock, the devastation, and, yes, even the anger--in words. Made me proud to be an American.

*Examples of twang, wit and wisdom: JoDee Messina's "My Give A Damn's Busted"; Tim McGraw's "Do You Want Fries With That?"; and Bobby Pinson's "Don't Ask Me How I Know."

Monday, June 27, 2005

And the Living is Easy...

It's summertime. And around here, from June 15 to July 4 especially, comes a whirlwind of celebrations and observations. One birthday after another (Son-Two is on the other side of the year, but the other three are clustered right here together), plus our wedding anniversary. Along with being a financial and practical challenge--juggling gifts and parties with all of the end of the school year activities, academic and otherwise--it often sends me into a tailspin of Deep Thought. Because there are so many reminders of passing time clustered together, this time of year is just as emotionally charged for me as the winter end-of-the-year holidays are for most people, with the added bonus this year of stifling heat and humidity.

This time around my deep thoughts have been centered around my early days of motherhood. I was the first of my group of high school friends to venture into marriage and motherhood, getting married just a little over a year after high school graduation, and having our first son a year later. Hubby and I had a certain warped wisdom in our rapid-fire reproduction schedule--we knew we wanted more kids than most people and we figured we should have them all right in a row, so that once we'd made it safely through one stage--diapers, preschool, puberty--we could move on to the next. Of course, from the outside, we appeared mildly insane or bent on self-destruction depending on the day--we've had more than one friend tell us that visiting our house in those years was the strongest argument for birth control they'd ever seen.

In any case, back in the beginning, when it was just Hubby and I and Son-One, a friend of mine who was a third-year engineering major at a private university in Pennsylvania, wrote me a letter about campus life and her career plans and then asked, "Is motherhood what you expected?" Please understand--at this point I was a full-time mommy to a single child who was just nearing his first birthday, mommyhood had much, much more in store for me and of course I had no idea what any of that was, but I was wholly absorbed in Son-One's daily doings and hadn't really had the time or energy to give much thought to expectations. Between diaperings and nursings, I gave it some thought. (By the way, anyone who thinks full-time motherhood is not challenging has never tried to nurse a teething eight-month-old who can't wait to try out those newly hatched "teefers.")

What I decided was that there were all sorts of practical ways in which motherhood was exactly what I expected--I had three younger siblings, countless cousins and a raft of babysitting charges who financed my adolescent addictions to books, music and junk food, I understood what was involved in keeping a young'un alive and reasonably content from one end of the day to the other. It was all that other stuff I couldn't have seen coming--how my interest in world events (and my investment in them--this is the world I'm sending Junior out into someday) increased in inverse proportion to the amount of time I had to keep informed, or to do anything with that information. How my relationship with my own parents changed drastically and some days I felt as though in their eyes I'd become merely a bridge between them and their grandchildren, no longer a person in my own right. But I especially had no idea how it would affect the way in which I viewed myself from one day to the next.

Some days I would feel like Mother Earth herself, full of nurturing energy, unconditional love and flowing kindnesses. On those days, I was sure I was the only person qualified to parent this child (with, if I was feeling generous, an assist from Hubby), and that his only chance was for me to never let him out of my sight, even for a second. Then there were the other days. The days when, for whatever reason, I was certain I was unqualified to care for anything more evolved than a houseplant or, if I was feeling generous with myself, a hamster.

The funny thing is that with all the years that have passed, with all the experience I've got under my Masked Mom Utility Belt, and with all the lessons I've (at least theoretically) learned, you would think the I'm-not-fit-to-care-for-a-hamster days are a thing of the past. If practice makes perfect, you might think I would have days of soaring arrogance about my mothering ability, but I never feel like that Earth Mother woman anymore. I never suffer from that dead-on certainty that I'm doing right by my kids. I've mostly come to be satisfied with knowing that I'm doing the best I can, that whatever the results, I mean well and I try really, really hard.

And mostly, it's enough.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Exclusive! Conversation With A Drama Princess!

The following recording, obtained by Masked Mom through a secret informant close to the source, is actual dialogue between the Drama Princess and her Beleagured Mother. Recorded on the Eve of Daughter-Only/Drama Princess's Eleventh Birthday.

BM [any similarity between the initials of this poor mother and the shorthand for poop is entirely coincidental, but we would nonetheless like to point out that after the week she's had, Mom does kind of feel like crap]: YES?
[Both players are speaking at full volume since DO/DP is wandering aimlessly through the house and BM is in the bathtub]
DO/DP: What's for dinner and how much do you love me?
BM: [Stunned into silence. I mean, what units are we measuring this in? Is this one of those trick questions where I pick a number and whatever it is it's wrong? Or she uses whatever answer I give her as a bargaining chip in every negotiation between now and whenever she enters therapy?] Uhhhh...What kind of question is that?
DO/DP: I was just wondering. I'm going to T's. See ya' later!

Maybe Mom will be in therapy way before Daughter-Only ever gets there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Po-em--How Nice..., or Why I Write Prose

Listen my children,
And you shall hear,
Your mother's words go in one ear,
And out the other--
Why pay attention?
She's just the mother!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Repeat After Me...

There are plenty of challenging, minor annoyances involved in parenting four children: too much to do, too little time; balancing the wants & needs of distinct individuals who each clearly (occasionally) believe the world revolves solely around him or her;trying to do what's in their best interests even when it's not the fun or popular or most energy-efficient thing to do. But, there are two things about parenting that really, really get to me on a regular basis--not nagging irritation get to me, but nails-on-a-chalkboard-over-and-over-in-my-brain-get-to-me.

First is the noise. As I mentioned in an
earlier post, at least one of my children has a habit of making pointless and painful noises for absolutely no discernible reason other than to annoy the crap out of Mom (at this, he is an unqualified success). When these noises are layered on top of the rest of the household noises--TV, video games, "normal" conversation (between adolescent males this seems to consist of insulting one another in increasingly loud voices and then laughing about it), the "MOM!" whine of Daughter-Only when yet another tragedy has befallen her--they become almost unbearable. In fact by around nine most nights, I feel like I'm suffering from a sensitivity to external stimuli to rival poor Roderick's in "The Fall of the House of Usher." The sound of a faucet dripping two rooms away causes excruciating pain.

Second is the repetition. I feel like I say the same things over and over and over...and that's not because I'm suffering from some medical condition/family curse, it's because I actually am saying the same things over and over. "Pick up that stuff." "Did you put away that stuff?" "Do you have clothes for tomorrow?" "Is your homework done?" I'm starting to feel like one of those pull-string dolls with a limited number of installed phrases, like a Stepford Mom with a short in my verbal interaction program. The most frustrating thing, though, is that even though it clearly annoys the kids when I do it, it doesn't occur to any of them to just do what they're asked the first time. Or, even, quantum leap though this may be, to just do it without being asked. It's not as if they don't know the routine at their advanced ages.

With the seventeenth birthday of Son-One in the rear-view mirror and the eleventh birthday of Daughter-Only just days away, I've started to have serious concerns about what's going to happen when they all go out into the world. How will they function? And how will I? Will I miss all the racket? Will the deafening silence beg to be filled? Will I spend every evening on a five-way conference call, listening to them bicker, talk over one another and play their stereos too loud until I can't take it for one more second? And then call them all back (twice, each) to be sure they have clothes for tomorrow?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Misty-Eyed Moment

Daughter-Only was off to her milestone, rite-of-passage, fourth grade overnight field trip yesterday. Camp So-and-So is pseudo-camp, but they make you pack like it's real camp. The whole thing brought tears to my eyes. Not sentimental, my-how-the-time-flies-my-little-girl's-all-grown-up tears. No--tears of frustration and righteous indignation. Despite the fact that she's had the list of what to pack for three weeks and had repeatedly assured me that things were "under control," we were shopping the night before she left for the exact right kind of bug repellent (cream is preferred, you know--so what if every store in a fifty-mile radius is sold out?), we were calling around to borrow a fishing pole (yeah, okay, imagine a busload of fourth graders with long pointy poles that as an added bonus have rusty hooks on the ends of them), and she was doing laundry to have the right combination of clean underwear. Better yet, yesterday morning, we were labeling her clothes at 8:47, a good three minutes past when we can leave and both be on time for school/work. Best of all, we had to stop at the drugstore on the way to school to buy a mini shampoo--it was on the list even though they specifically said no one would be showering unless there was an "emergency." (By emergency they must mean something too horrifying--and amusing--to consider. Skunk spray, food fights, I don't know.)

Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the very last minute thereby making your mother insane and fifteen minutes late for work into the bargain?

The bus is bringing them back at 1:00 today. I'll remember to pick her up. I really will. It's under control...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Can I Stay Out of the Kitchen?

I can't stand the heat. I am the world's biggest baby when it comes to heat and humidity. Don't even get me started on the people who say, "It's not really the heat that's bad, it's the humidity." Hello? In our neck of the woods (as that great meteorologist Al Roker would say), the two almost always come hand-in-hand. We don't get that fabled "dry" heat you hear people who live in Arizona talking about. We get the slimy, pant-inducing, thick air 90% relative humidity heat. And this year we've had it for going on ten days in a row--right at the beginning of June. It's entirely wrong, of course, but where do you file those complaints?

The weather makes everyone cranky, but especially me. I become a slug, covered in a layer of post-sweat stickiness, incapable of any but the smallest movements. I laze around in front of a fan, reading as slowly as possible so I don't have to exert myself to turn pages any quicker than necessary. Of course, except for the fan part, that's pretty much what I'd do given the choice so I guess I should quit complaining and enjoy the excuse while I have it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Out of My Mind, or Just Out of Context?

Spring is over just as it arrived--par for the course in our little corner of the world. It was in the 90s all weekend and even, cruelly, on MONDAY. (Monday doesn't suck bad enough without insanity inducing temperatures?) Warm (hot as Hades) weather means open windows, which means sharing our little slice of craziness with half the neighborhood. Last night, deep inside the house, away from any open windows, Son-Three was "singing" a "song" which consisted entirely of the full-spectrum of noises that would be made at three a.m. by horny tomcats defending their territory. I was in the bathtub, trying to have a Calgon moment--but as ever, I am stuck in the first half of the Calgon commercial, all the stuff Calgon is supposed to whisk me away from. With the water and the porcelain acting as vocal magnifier, Son-Three's musical improvisation was not only heard, but felt--inside my head.

I sat straight up and yelled, "KNOCK IT OFF!!!!!!" I yelled this in the bathroom, which not only has a window (which was of course, wide open), but has the echo-chamber acoustics of most bathrooms and it overlooks the backyard, which itself has some echo-chamber characteristics owing to surrounding buildings, etc. I sounded like Psycho-Mom, arch-villain of kiddies and right-thinking Moms everywhere.

Now everyone in the neighborhood thinks I am some evil dictator--is it just me or does dictator sound like the kind of thing that should be taken care of with periodic body maintenance? Toe jam, eye boogies, ear wax and dic-tators? How evil can I be if I still think like a seventh grader?

Masked Mom's message for the week is that all moms everywhere should withhold judgment--remembering that when we see a mom lose it, we may not be aware of the minutes, hours, days, years of provocation leading up to the moment we witnessed. Remembering, too, that our turn to lose it may be right around the least I hope the lady next-door is ready to blow any minute now. It will take some of the attention off me.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Social Caterpillars

My youngest sister e-mailed us a link to enter the Harry Potter essay contest--the grand prize of which is a package including a trip to New York and London and a guest spot on the Today Show. Son-Two is a Potter Fan from way back and even the rushing hormones and the fact that he's recently started needing to shave have not curbed that enthusiasm. At least at home. He is torn though about entering the contest--for several reasons. I don't think it's particularly "cool" (or whatever word is the new "cool") for a guy his age (a guy who's a guy and no longer a "boy") to like, let alone passionately enjoy Harry Potter. For that and a hundred other reasons, the thought of the Today Show appearance is terrifying to him. So he's afraid to enter the contest not because he's afraid he won't win because he's afraid he will. It's an interesting paradox--he's carrying around supreme confidence in his writing ability (so sure he'll win that he's afraid to enter because he's not sure he wants to win), but not enough confidence in his social skills and himself in general to say, to his friends and the Today Show audience, "I still like Harry Potter--get over it."

This is an aspect of his personality I identify all too readily with. I've never been a social butterfly--I was stuck in the larval stage for the longest time and, ironically, it was my kids who pushed me into acquiring any adult social skills at all. It was either learn to make small talk with other Moms and Dads or move us all to a cave somewhere and raise a family of hermits. My grandmother used to call me "a little backward" which was her word for shy--imagine my delight when I discovered that in some regions of our state, it means a little, um, slow. Either way--slow, shy, backward--I got it in spades. I still squirm at the thought of "public" appearances--anything from going into an unfamiliar grocery store, to attending a concert at the school, to picking up one of the kids at a friend's house where the friend's parent or parents may want to chat. (Chat, you'll notice, is a four-letter word.) I just try to hide the fear better and work around it more.

Seeing this trait in Son-Two (or any of Them for that matter) is difficult because I feel his pain, so I want to sympathize, but I also want to "help" him overcome it by taking him by the shoulders and saying, "Don't you get it? You'll miss out on so much!" It's hard when I still practice so much less than I preach--they all know I'd hide under the bed eighty-percent of the time if I had the option.

In fact, when he told me his phobia about appearing on national television, I said, "I fully understand your fear--that's why, if you win, your aunt will be your companion on those planes to New York and London."

Don't you get it? You'll miss out on so much!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

When Son-One started kindergarten (lo these many years ago now), I penned an outraged entry in my spiral notebook journal about the cruelty of schedules. Whether laziness or some high-minded principle, I have always been very averse to schedules. Yeah, yeah, they're a fact of civilized life, we couldn't get along without them...but I'm for them only where they're absolutely necessary. Consequently, when the kiddies were preschool age and all home, their inner clocks were much more in charge than any that hung on a wall or sat on a night table. I'll admit that it may have made for a harder than average adjustment (for the grown-ups, at least) when it came time to be somewhere every day at a prescribed time, but the rest of the time, it was infinitely easier to go with the flow than to battle daily (hourly) in vain to get four little personalities to conform to some preconceived notion about the right time to do this or that. These days, of course, we are a houseful of people at the mercy of schedules.

Still not a convert to the wisdom of schedules, I fight them every step of the way with pointless and quiet rebellion. This week, my bedside alarm clock is 44 minutes fast--sometimes it's even faster than that and sometimes it's a little closer to right, but it is never truly right. Each night I set the alarm for at least half an hour before I have to actually get up, giving me plenty of opportunities to hit the snooze bar. I'm a snooze bar expert--can hit that sucker without even lifting my head off the pillow. Hubby, to put it mildly, is not impressed with my morning routine. I have tried repeatedly to explain to him that the feeling of getting away with something is worth all the hassle. According to my clock, I sleep in every single morning. I understand, intellectually, that I'm not actually sleeping longer, but my intellect doesn't kick in until noon on a good day. Strangely, with my system, I am wider awake when I do finally get up than I would be if my clock was set for the right time and I got up with the first buzz. It takes a lot of complicated math to figure out what time it really is and how many more times the snooze is going to go off before I actually have to get out of bed--really gets those mental juices flowing.

And I need every ounce of that alertness when dealing with my children at that early hour. Not one of them is what you'd call a morning person--morning demon, maybe. They're surly and mean, growling at one another and their long-suffering mother. On Tuesday morning, I had called Son-Three downstairs repeatedly as the clock inched toward and then past the last possible minute to leave and still be to school on time. When finally he came stumbling down the steps with a grimace carved into his face, he said (very loudly, I might add), "JEEZ! Why do you have to yell?"

Perhaps, dear son, I yell for the same reason you yell in the morning--we have been awakened at this ungodly hour by the whims of the school board and the needs of the buying public. It is cruel, it is inhumane. We are cranky rats in an endless maze.

Resistance is futile...but it's all we've got.