Tuesday, October 30, 2007

X Box Live or The Real Game Boy Advanced

Monday, my morning routine was going well. I had made the lunches and started to wash clothes that had been piled on top of the machine. Then my son came down the stairs.

"Did you wash my gym uniform?" The very tension in his voice betrayed his hopes, that I had somehow found his shorts and shirt after 9 pm Sunday and in a fit of motherly devotion, done a wash.

"Where were they?" I asked.

"I stuck them on top of the washing machine last night. Along with my other things."

Racing to the laundry room, I fished his sopping wet things out of the machine and flung them in the dryer. "Get yourself some other shorts and a shirt for p.e. because they won't be ready. You'll be out of uniform for today."

Grumbling, he marches off to find gym clothes for the day.

Looking at the machine I start to wonder, "Why can't he do this? If he can work a game console, he can do this."

My son returns with a bag of shorts and a t-shirt.

"Look. Pretend this is a video game."
He gives me a Mom-you-have-just-officially-lost-it face.

"No, I'm serious. Take your bag and go on a quest. A magic quest to find all the hidden socks and shorts and stinky things that your evil Twin has strewn all about the house. When your bag is full, come back to this room to save the game." I thrust the bag in his hands.

Returning with a bag half full, I explain, "The Troll Mom will not let you use the machine unless you have a full load. I know there are more things to find, behind your bed, in the closet on the floor..." he goes off to get them. Returning with a full bag, I continue my attempt at educating him about laundry.

"Then, we'll use some magic potion or powder to transform these useless pieces of cloth into useful things for waging war at school against looking and smelling bad."


"I'm not finished. You'll have target practice. Put all the clothing in the hole. See the hole? Any shots that miss must be retaken, you cannot advance until all items have been loaded."

I'm drawing a crowd, as my two daughters and other son have come to watch, so I keep going.

"Then, you get to push buttons. I know all of you like to push buttons. You even fight for the privilege of pushing the buttons in public. Here we have a button and a lever you can use anytime! Push!"

"I don't know what to push."My son tried playing dumb. Admittedly, he did sound a bit like me whenever I would join in the Smackdown frenzy of a melee game session.

"Think of it as xxYZ down toggle B and you won't have a problem."

He pushed the button.

"See? You did it! Very good." I said in my kindergarten teacher voice. "Now, this game is played in real time. You let this sit for a while, maybe two levels worth of playing and then come back when the loud buzzer goes off. Transfering the wet items to the dryer may be tricky."

Eyes rolled.

"You should have a basket in case there are things in the dryer. If you don't unload the dryer first, the machine shrinks the clothing and that favorite shirt of yours becomes a hand-me-down."

My daughter starts to laugh.

"Bon, what's your favorite game?"

Startled to see I have changed focus, she stammers "Legend of Zelda."

"Good. Good. And you have to equip and unequip in that game right?"


"Well you have to unequip the dryer before you can equip it with new wet things. Once you've loaded the dryer, you have a secret move that makes everything else more effective. Think of this as a cheat code."

I hold up a dryer sheet for all to see, as even the babies are coming to watch, wondering why everyone else is crowded in the laundry room. Seizing the moment, I allow my five-year-old to place it in the dryer.

Now it's filter time and button pushing again. I remove the filter and have each of them remove some of the lint. There are lots of "ew!s" and one attempt to wear the blue fuzz as a beard but everyone eventually touches the lint. Replacing the filter, I allow the oldest girl to "push the buttons." Then the toddler cries to do it too, so I make them all take turns, even those who don't want to.

"This concludes our tutorial of Laundry machine Live! Come back this afternoon to learn about folding and actually putting away."

Lecture over, the crowd disperses and I begin wondering if I could come up with a metaphor to get the kids to wash the dishes.

*In loving tribute to the great one, Erma Bombeck who first tried to teach her children domestic skills via a manual.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Husband's Growing Obsession

When my husband started volunteering to run errands, I should have recognized something was up. “The kids need to get haircuts this weekend and I have to go grocery shopping.” I’d say. He’d gallantly offer, “Why don’t you stay here and relax while the babies nap and I’ll get the haircuts and the shopping done.” Three hours later, he returned. I figured it had just been a crowded day at the barbers and that they’d eaten lunch, but then I discovered the skeletal shopping delivery (milk, bread, peanut butter and diapers). I thought he stayed outside the rest of the afternoon to avoid explaining the groceries. Then the kids came in and asked for food.

Over time, our garage began to grow cluttered with specialized equipment that in my horticultural ignorance, I could not identify. Catalogs advertising heirloom tomato plants and hedgers and designs for plots began to litter our bedroom. A plastic green house was set up in the bathroom to grow vegetables from seeds, rendering my tub unavailable for human use for six weeks. Then things began to get out of hand.

Having ignored the warning signs, his habit became so consuming he no longer sought to hide it. For Mother’s day, he landscaped the front entrance and mulched the trees that line our driveway. He put in a garden commemorating our son’s high school mascot and colors to celebrate Father’s Day. When my birthday rolled around, I got a garden as a gift, complete with a contemplative looking Greek goddess statue. I had hinted how much I’d like a real dining room table. Staring at the white plaster half naked woman in my back yard, as my husband talked rapturously about the newly planted shrubs and the color alternation and which shrubs required more shade and how much dirt it took to create the raised bed effect, I wondered how much this present set us back.

Not wanting to seem ungrateful for his time or labor or gift, I began an investigation into the past three months of bills to determine the scope of his growing obsession. I went online to discover the twelve signs of gardening addiction. Did he frequently have dirty finger nails? Check. Had he recently bought sun block for himself, asked about the water bill or considered getting a name brand hardware store credit card for rewards? Check. Check and check. Did he listen to radio programs that discussed lawn care? Check. Had he talked about renting a back hoe to create a bigger plot? Check. Was he resentful of the lawn service that mowed the grass weekly? Check. All the signs were there, it was time for an intervention.

“Dear? I know how you love to garden…” I began with a practical approach.
“See how the new shade tree will cover the more fragile flowers. And it should enhance our property value.” He said happily.

“But we’re on a strict budget…I’ve been totaling the expenses, we’re spending more on soil than food …”

“I’m growing food. Have you tasted the German Queen tomatoes? They’re heirloom. They look ugly but in my opinion, there isn’t a better tasting one…here, have a cherry.” And he popped a freshly picked tomato in my mouth.

Undeterred, I held up the credit card charges, having highlighted the garden related expenses. “We were going to save for some furniture, grown up stuff? Stuff we wouldn’t have to cover with a table cloth to serve food to company?”

“Like the rocks I got from the quarry? They frame the pond better than just a hedge I think.” He popped a yellow pear tomato in my mouth.

“How much did that cost?” I asked after I finished chewing.

“No interest for twelve months. You need to savor the experience of the tomato, try eating it slowly.” He popped another in my mouth.
“You’ve been to a quarry?”

“To buy rocks.”

“Wait, quarries have payment plans?”

He breathed in the fresh air as the sun cast beautiful deep shadows on our lawn, framing the whole yard in a lovely pink glow. “Oh,” he sighed, “I just love gardening. It’s relaxing to me.”

“Well yes but…” I was failing, reaching for another tomato even as I spoke. “But it’s getting a bit much don’t you think? I mean, you are paying for rocks.”

Handing me two more tomatoes and a few for himself, he sighed.
“Okay, okay, I’ll cut back I promise. I won’t go to the hardware store or the nursery unless I check with you first.”

Satisfied, I returned to the inside of our home, feeling like I’d just grounded a kid for studying too much. He looked dejected as he wound up the hose and lovingly cleaned his trowels to let them air dry before storage.

Going cold turkey gardening proved difficult, as his beautiful beds needed watering, feeding, trimming and in the case of the tomatoes, harvesting. Daily trips to care for our grounds proved too powerful an enticement to resist, so he did the only thing an admitted addict can do to cope with said obsession, attempt to convert additional followers.

First, he conscripted our daughters for watering duties. “Daddy said I could play with the hose!” Then he went after our sons with the lure of power tools. Imagine the thrill of an eight year old son being allowed to cut away dead wood with a saw. “Glorious manly work at last!” His smile said to me.

Converting the watchdog of the operation was a problem. Gardening has never been a relaxing experience for me, I kill plants. I never plan to, I just do. I overwater, forget to provide adequate shade and constantly wonder why they die in my care. If plants are so temperamental and fragile, how do they survive without competent help? My husband put my skills for destroying flora wherever I touch to their best possible advantage and made me the official weeder of the grounds. I’m good. I’m real good, and I get first pick of the German Queens as compensation.

So now we are a steady growing colony of gardeners and I have come to at least appreciate these lovely grounds he’s creating. It’s become a family weekend event, with kids gathering sticks, digging up baby potatoes, arguing over who grew the watermelon. And I smile at it all, wearing my garden gloves and talking about how black mulch sets off the side of our home better. Not only did he create a codependency in me with regular fixes of heirloom tomatoes, sugar snap peas that really snap and unbelievably tender squashes, he also bought me a few nice table cloths.

So I’ll live with the quality press wood furniture a little longer, at least until winter anyway.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How Not to Bring Your Children to Mass

Bringing small children to mass is always an adventure. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “Suffer the little children to come to me.” Some days, even the bribe of donuts after church fails to secure a toddler’s cooperation. As a veteran of these faith trials, I offer the following suggestions to make the weekly obligation more child friendly and faith filled.

Don’t Pretend You aren’t going to mass. This means the kids shouldn’t be loaded up with such items as ipods, gameboys, multiple cars, blocks and barbies. Books can be a lifesaver, but even reading should be somewhat selective. Any child that can read, should follow along in the misselette. Any child that can’t read, might be diverted by a picture bible or Catholic oriented story, or by a quiet reading of the gospel to them privately. Toddlers may need a toy or two to keep them busy, such toys should be hard to lose, noiseless and ultimately, so toddler oriented that older children won’t be watching them play with envy in their hearts.

Feed them at home. Some parents walk into mass with a plan of throwing food at their children to keep them quiet. Armed with bags from the local fast food establishment containing anything from lollipops to pancakes, they figure as long as the kids are quiet, it doesn’t matter if they’re eating. Bringing food for health reasons is one thing, but Mass is a communal experience and every sane child that sees another child chowing down on food in the cry room is thinking the same thing. “I want some.”

Don't pretend they’re not kids. Expecting children to sit quietly, eyes front, silent and well behaved for an entire sixty minutes is not recognizing children are children. They will have moments of great reverence and in the next two seconds, have an elbow fight with their sibling over pew space. One will sing loudly to emphasize the fact that the other is not singing. Breaking the mass down into parts helps a child to cope with the length of the liturgy better. Opening song to Gospel is one part, homily to Offertory hymn is a second part, Offertory to Our Father, Kiss of Peace to Go in Peace.

Having a reward system for making it through each of these four sections of the mass helps a child to settle into the liturgy and anticipate what comes. Earning a star for each section of the mass warrants a trip to the park, a donut, or at the very least, public praise.

Don't pretend they’re not your kids. This technique doesn’t work well if you attend mass regularly at the parish. Besides, even at a strange parish, siblings will out you if you pretend you know nothing about the toddler that is screaming on the floor and that gets awkward.

Be present yourself. Being present to your children at mass will help them be present to others at mass. After all, as the parents, we’re the first example. Dress nicely. Be on time. Sing the songs. Read along with emerging reader. Explain what is happening at the Liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharistic Prayer. Encourage the older children to join the choir, altar serve or act as readers. Invest them in being part of the mass just as assertively as one would basketball or academics, to instill in them the idea that this is sacred. This is who we are. This is what we believe.

Finally, when mass is ended, and we say “Thanks be to God,” mean it not because you’ve survived another week of going to mass with a two year old, but because you welcome the week ahead, having received food for the journey.

Friday, October 26, 2007

In Honor of My Sibling’s birthday.

Date: October 25, 1977.

The baby was coming two months ahead of schedule. Ignorant of how scary this might be, (after all, I was two months early too and here I was, a sixth grader and just fine), I felt happy to know I would find out soon; brother or sister.

My brothers and I got farmed out to our best friends’ homes respectively for the duration. Huzzah! Unrestricted time with peers is every adolescent’s dream; except this one came with a parent that was on a health kick.

Being a good friend, she tried to warn me, but it wasn’t like I had any choice. My parents were hi-tailing it two hours to the big hospital. I came psyched with my pj’s, tooth brush and clothes for the next three days.

Then we were served snack.


Raisins were something you stuck in oatmeal. Raisins were in cookies you ate only after all other options had been exhausted. Raisins were grapes gone bad.

“Can I have a drink?”

Her mom poured us each some water... without ice... from the tap.

As green and as healthy and as ecologically and economically friendly as this may have been, I was an unenlightened seventies sixth grader. This was Not a snack.

My friend meekly drank her luke warm tap water and gave me a “You know how They are” look. We ran to her room to listen to the Doobie Brothers, read Dynamite! and talk about Star Wars. For the next two hours, if one didn’t count the hunger pains, it was pure bliss. My best friend explained that her mother was trying to purge their family of impurities and warned that dinner might not be fun. I promised to be a gracious guest, being her best friend and all, we could tough it out.

Dinner was served.

I don’t think anyone has ever licked their lips in joy and anticipation at a meal like this, or if they have, common sense has prevailed enough that they haven’t gone public. I stared at the plate. The following is 100% unembellished unvarnished, ungarnished truth. Warning! Not for the squeamish or slightly queasy.

Liver: enemy of every respectable child without a gallon of ketchup at their side.
Pickled beets: I have family that eat these so I won’t insult their taste buds. That being said, I wasn’t happy.
Lima beans: My husband loves them. He serves them. I still won’t eat them.
Water. *Still from tap. Single feeble melting cube.

We sat down for grace before meals.

I admit, my prayer was silent and heart felt. “Please please God. Deliver me from this food.”

The phone rang as soon as we said “Amen.”

It was my Dad. I had a sister. Mary Jennifer. I was pumped to even up the score with my brothers. Then inspiration struck. I whooped to her family and gushed, “I have a sister! Oh, I’m too excited I can’t eat!” and ran up the stairs. My best friend saw opportunity and took it. “ME TOO!” she shouted and bolted after me.

I heard her brother and sister try the same stunt to no effect. We played cards until we were sure dinner had been put away. We laughed and snuck down around ten o’clock to feast on vanilla ice cream and Coca-cola.

“To Mary Jennifer!”
“To your sister!”

And the bubbly soda shot through our noses. Truly, it was a great celebration to be alive.

Happy Birthday Sis and many more! Pass the ice cream and soda please.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Higher Concepts of Math and Me

“Why do I have to learn these things?”the familiar lament uttered by my daughter resonated with my own grade school experience.

“No one has ever asked me to recite the opening to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales either but I had to learn it."

My daughter gave me a look.

"Okay, I haven’t had to use the quadratic equation in my adult life…yet.” I admitted.

“Will I ever need this?”

“You never know, there might be some math mugger out there who will tell you give me all your money or explain the transitive property. If a=b and b=c then a=c.”


“Okay, let me think and try this again.”

Higher math skills have never been my strong suit. In college, I got through the required core calculus class on a good calculator, prayer and several all nighters of cramming formulas into my liberal arts based brain.

When my oldest first needed assistance in seventh grade, I cagily suggested he teach the material to me, as that would indicate how much of the stuff he really knew.

After considering the possibility for all of ten seconds, he went upstairs to his room to study.

Using a similar approach with subsequent children, I had managed to avoid solving for “X” since my own eleventh grade. It’s not that I was a poor student. I always did the homework; I never skipped class. I even liked my teacher. I always thought knew the stuff. Then the test would come, and somehow, all the theorems in my brain became more secret and less accessible than Coca-cola’s formula.

I think the whole problem with math for me started back in eighth grade with an unsolvable math problem.

“If a train travels east at sixty miles an hour…and a man travels west by foot at six miles an hour and they pass in six seconds, how long is the train?”

I got it wrong.

The teacher explained the formula and drew out the solution on the black board. I wrote it down. Then I tried doing the problem again.

I got it wrong.

I restudied the formula and tried a third time on a clean sheet of paper.


I brought it home to my mom and dad.


Thus far I had plugged in the facts over six times and arrived at six separate incorrect answers. Having the problem, the solution, the formula and still being unable to find the one correct answer from the endless infinity of wrong ones, I mollified my adolescent ego. It was justified if I wasn’t able to beat the odds.

Since then, I’ve studiously avoided higher math skills the way Willie Nelson avoids taxes. I have not missed them. They have not missed me. It has been a good arrangement. In college, I was thrilled when I could abandon math all together in favor of being an English Major. Oddly enough, the first eighteen lines of Chaucer's prologue still stick with me in ways math theorems never could.

Last week, I pulled my time tested stunt on my daughter when she asked for help in studying for a test. However, as my algebra teacher taught me, I shouldn’t compare apples to oranges. She took me up on my offer. They were studying formulas like distance equals rate times time.

“Now Mommy. If a train is traveling at sixty miles going East and a man is traveling…”

I’m still getting it wrong. I may have to go find the math mugger and demand, "Explain the theorem of d=rt so I can get it right or I'll make you recite Canterbury Tales in Middle English. "Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote..."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

First Impressions

When I first saw my future husband across a crowded room at a Notre Dame Freshman mixer, I decided not to introduce myself. He was too serious. Glancing at my outfit, which I thought I projected cool (Actually, it screamed stuck-in-the-early-eighties, saw-and-liked-Xanadu) he thought to himself, “Look at that girl in the silly hat. Bet she’s pretty superficial.”

We were both right.

In graduate school, my advisor called me into his office to discuss the beginning of my program.

“You’re from Texas.” He said, looking at my papers.


“Well, I heard all the women down there are beautiful and tall. What happened to you?”

I stood up as tall as my five foot two inches would allow and said, “Well that’s true. Down in Texas I’m pretty average, but up here in Boston, I’m stunning.”

I became his assistant. In retrospect, I'm not sure it was a reward.

Meeting my future father-in-law for the first time, my luggage had made the decision to spend the evening at O’Hare. I had to beg and borrow from girls in my dorm to put together an outfit that did not smell like a three hour bus ride. One friend offered to do my hair and gave me sideburns that matched hers and three inch high curled bangs. I’m still recovering.

Interviewing in New York City for a teaching position, there was a carnival going on that day on the playground. The person scheduled to paint faces had not shown and I had just finished talking with the vice principal. For the next two hours, my fingers were covered in grease paint and cold cream. The principal came by the school grounds to put in an appearance. “Who’s that over there?” he asked the vice principal.

I got the job.

When we moved to Maryland, it was the dead of winter and the roads were coated with ice and the grey snow that always grips February. Alone in our rented townhome, I spied a woman walking with a child close to my then one year old son’s age. They were just following the sidewalk. Running out onto the snow barefoot, desperate to make a connection with someone in the area, I must have been a frighteningly mad sight as I screamed. “Hey! Hello! I’d like to meet you!”

We became friends despite that rough intro.

And speaking of introductions....

Hi. My name is Sherry Antonetti and I’m a freelance writer.

While my background is special education and English literature, I currently stay home and help shepherd our eight children through their various stages of development. I also write. Why? It provides my offspring with an edited version of their childhood that is as honest as those multi-hued elegantly pasted scrapbooks. These stories are mythic in that they reveal truth without being completely factual.

It is also loads of fun for me.

Pass the fuchsia curly cue scissors please.

Thank you for considering my voice amongst a sea of bloggers and I hope I made you laugh.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!