Monday, June 30, 2008

Reasons I didn't Post Sunday

There are many reasons for not writing in a blog on a regular schedule, not the least of which is that moment when one tries to disguise a grocery list as a humor piece. I haven't reached that point yet, but this week was close.

So Sunday, I didn't post. It's not that I didn't try. I tried writing about my child that turns into Moaning Myrtle whenever I ask her to do a chore. She complains, stomps her feet and then in a fit of inspiration, says, "I need to go to the bathroom." Then she disappears. But it turned out to be a one joke wonder.

Next, I tried to explore the issues of a brave new world, as my son who Never dances, not with his mother, sisters, Aunts or Grandparents, went to a Quincinera and danced the night away with a girl who ASKED him. I have tried to be respectful and not give him, as his best friends did, a new meaning for the words, Spanish Inquisition.

Then there's the fact that we threw a birthday party for my six year old. Her birthday date was actually 90 days ago, so this was her sixth year's birthday observed. We had a fairy princess party, complete with a castle and pin the tail on the unicorn and musical thrones (chairs with blankets thrown over them). Rain put the kebash on flying races outside but otherwise, they had a great time except when the birthday girl got mad when she didn't win musical chairs. She stomped out of the room and into the closet and slammed the door. Letting my oldest take over the music and running of the games, I went to fetch the very sad Tinkerbell. "I hate musical chairs! I never win at anything!" She sulked.

"You're being a bad sport."
"I want to be a bad sport."

"Fine, then you'll miss the rest of the games." I shut the door and went back to the party. One of the parents there gave me a look. "She's crying." I explained.
They looked shocked. "It's her party and she'll cry if she wants to."

Five minutes later, The Birthday Princess Fairy Tinkerbell returned to play Duck Duck Goose.

Lastly, I have taken on the Fall Carnival at my kids' school. The day of the Festival? My due date for number 9.


Motivationally, it's really fun. Who is going to say they are more busy than me?
It's a compelling arguement. Even my pastor called to say, "Sherry, this certifies that you are insane."

It also allows me to preemptively get my hours for the school taken care of via summer meetings and planning. So, if you're in the area, come to the school carnival on September 27th. It should be a lot of fun. I'll try to write a whole piece for Tuesday.

Best wishes on a great week folks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

When Hillary and Barrack Kiss and Make Up, the Place's the The Thing!

Oh, the symbolism of it all moves me to near tears.

Hillary and Obama, together in the town of Unity, embraced, showing forgiveness. All is well. Surely, because we see it on television, it must be true.

What is not known is that Unity was chosen after several other towns were struck from the list of possibilities wherein this historic meeting of the titans for peace could take place.

Hell for Certain, KY: It wasn’t frozen over so it got dumped pretty quick.

Desperation, Ohio: The McCain camp had booked it for a youth rally.

Defeated, TN: Hillary camp said no way.

Sour Grapes, MI: The Other Half of the Delegates threatened to show up and ruin the mood.

Hope, Ark: The citizens of this town have suffered enough.

Bullhead, AZ: The township’s monicker strikes a little close to the bone. Ditto for
Squabbletown, California, The X, Mass, and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Still, Hillary urged her supporters to vote for Barrack and I for one, could feel the love. I mean, I’m sure she feels as much when she’s around Bill.

Obama for his part, acknowledged that maybe mentioning that he’d remodel the bowling alley to make a basketball court was a bit premature. After all, he does need to work on that game. He also promised never to mention Erkel again. It just brings out the heebie jeebies in voters everywhere.

He also explained that the mock presidential seal that had appeared in front of his podium, was the result of a vast right wing conspiracy designed to portray him as an aloof argula eating Harvard educated lawyer with only 2 years Senate experience who thinks there are 57 states. "Just remember," urged his supporters, "he’s unstoppable, he’s beautiful, he can do no wrong."

The happy couple has stops planned in the coming weeks at No Mirage, California, Utopia, Florida, Neverfail, Tennessee, and Allgood, Alabama.

Bill was sent on a separate good will tour. He plans on stopping in Lovely Ladies, New Jersey, and some other places that actually exist but this is just not that type of blog.

P.S. All these towns exist except for two.

Tune in next week when we discuss theme music. Just as the Clintons in 92 asked for a leap of faith with their song, "Don't Stop Believing," Obama currently is in search of a song that will convey the promise of perfection without getting nailed down on any pesky specifics.

Nominations for the theme song of the presidential campaign include "Don't Worry, Be Happy," "The Candy Man," and the Coca-cola theme from the 70's commercial, "I'd like to buy the world a coke." These express best, the DNC's current platform and policies for macroeconomics, universal health care and take on foreign policy matters and issues of homeland security.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Take On George Carlin's Death

I like George Carlin for the most part. I have always found him provocative, but not always honest. My biggest beef with the deceased? Whenever anyone complained about his jokes being offensive, he'd sideslip by explaining, "They're just words." To say they're just words is to deny the potency of their effect. If they were just words, and had no meaning save what the listener ascribed, anyone could be a writer or a comic or a playwright and make money because no one would be able to discern a good writer/creative genius from a bad one --because good and bad would be purely relative terms with no underpinning criteria.

Words do mean something. If they didn't, humor wouldn't have the effect it does. He understood the power of words, that's why his piece on the seven words you can't say is so very powerful. Someone who wrot lik thes wod b as gooder as someone who could express themselves without errors. Someone who messed up the punch line would be as successful as Jerry Seinfeild, as order of words would not matter, only that sounds issued forth. Indeed, chimps would be as successful at writing or stand up, as actual words would no longer be necessary.

Words matter. George knew it. But the common defense against criticism by anyone is "I didnt mean it or it didn't mean anything." As though intent or ascribed intent determines offense. While it is a convenient arguement, that's not the way truth or humor for that matter, works. Intent does not determine laughter. I meant for you to laugh --does not mean you must. Intent not to offend does not determine whether or not something is offensive. And George knew this. The seven words speech was designed to be both offensive and funny. It wouldn't be funny if it weren't also discussing the offensive.

What I have seen a lot of in recent internet discourse, is idea of the meeting between George Carlin and the Almighty. Those who liked his humor view God and George having a sit down and a few laughs maybe over a beer. Those who found him offensive, view George as having a bit of a warm seat.

Do I think George has been excluded from the realm of the Divine because he swore? No. Do I think he probably has some explaining to do...absoultely, but then, don't we all?

And do I think George is going to try pulling...they were only words up there? Probably not. Not with the Author of the Word. At least, not if he's as smart as I always thought he was...God has a sense of humor too. It explains apendixes, mosquitos and first dates. It explains George Carlin too. George will get his moment to feel as those who sometimes felt uncomfortable at his humor under the great mercy and justice and love of God.

God will probably explain how "just words" have an effect to George or at least require him to own up to actual reality. George will agree. Then they will have a few laughs, maybe over a beer.

George probably won't use those seven words though.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Visits from the Writing Fairy

At three am, I am the most brilliant writer on the planet. Or I could be. Every night, the writing fairy visits around that time and wakes me up with plot twists for the book that I’ve been working on for over a year, or ideas for blog shorts or concepts for columns. I’ve tried leaving a pencil and paper next to the bed but that means waking up and writing. Most of these evenings, the conversation in my brain goes a bit like this:

“And you could write a piece on the gargoyle…your daughter’s current obsession with gargling every beverage she’s offered or procures…”

“That’s stupid.”

“No…really, there’s the pun… gargle/girl…you like puns…and the fact that one time her brother laughed and so she laughed and the milk shot out…”

“That’s just gross.”

“And then the time she tried to gargle spaghetti.”

“Okay. Solid foods should not be tried even by professionals.”

“See? It’s a good idea.”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to stretch to more than 200 words.”
“Just write it down with the pencil.” She offers eagerly.

I look around. At some point in the day, someone needed a pencil and I gave it to them. Getting a pencil means getting up.

Alas, inspiration does not care about my need for rapid eye movement, or the fact that I’m six months pregnant and sleep is a precious commodity with a market value greater than the current asking price for a barrel of oil in my life’s version of Wallstreet.

“If you don’t write it down, you’ll lose it. Look, I’ll start your column off this way, here’s the first line…”

“I’m getting up. I’m going to the bathroom, I’m getting a drink of water, but I’m Not firing up the computer. I’m going back to sleep.”

I get up. I do the things I said I would do. I get back into bed.

The writing fairy is back. She’s been busy thinking about deus ex machina as a underpinning element of the book. She’s come up with all these examples and even has helpful resources I need to check out. I should email my brother for scenes of the Mediterreanean. I should write that scene where Helen and Hector and Priam and Paris are playing a game of some sort, tiles or dice, rather like gin, on the high top of the tower of Illiam and see on the horizon, the very first ship.

“Oh…that’s good. I can see that scene…but I don’t know what games they played in ancient Troy.” My will is crumbling.

“There’s always the internet…and you have those two books you haven’t read on Sparta and Ancient Greece…” The writing fairy senses weakness.

I look at the clock. It’s not decent. I can’t even rationalize this on the grounds that I wanted an early start on the day it’s so late. Irritated, I find a crayon and jot down a few notes on the pad. It’s 3:23 am. “I’m going back to sleep. Just, please, please, please, visit me tomorrow when I sit down at the computer after lunch okay?”

“It’s now or never. Tomorrow, these will be all gone unless you write now.”

And I know it’s true. I ruminate over all the times I’ve had ideas I knew were great to write about that are gossamer threads by the middle of the afternoon. Telling myself that I only think they’re great because I can’t remember doesn’t help.

The bed seems like an extravagant place to be wasting time. Stubbornly I lie there and it’s already too late. I think about how I could order the chapters in the book and the scaffolding that I need to lay in for the middle. I think about uninterrupted time at the computer that is 100% guilt free, as I am neglecting no one but myself.

The scenes are painted before me in lush detail. The dialogue is even good and keeps going. I’m trying to make myself repeat the words but it’s moving faster than I can. The crayon isn’t helping.

I’m up. I’m in the kitchen. The computer button is pushed. In the thirty seconds it takes for the machine to warm up, the writing fairy has left and I pull up the page and stare at the white sheet and wonder…what was it I wanted to say? Gibberish pours fourth and I keep typing. Time slips away and suddenly, an hour after I started, I remember, it’s really late. Saving and feeling as virtuous as if I’ve gone to the gym, I return to bed. The writing fairy returns with more ideas but I’m tired.

“These ideas are BETTER than the ones you had before…”

“Really, you could do a theological piece for the paper on the spiritual gifts of summer…”

“And get paid?”

“And get paid!”

And I scribble a few more things with the red crayon before the brain hits a solid wall. As soon as I turn off the light, I’m dreaming.

The next morning,I look at the red markings and wonder if I can make them out. I start to remember what I already wrote and it seems tired and awkward, adolescent and trite.

The next time I’m thoughtful about writing, it’s after 12 noon. I fire up the laptop hoping there’s something worth saving from my late night indulgence. I try to remember the ideas that I let slip by but all I can think of is breakfast this morning and how today, my toddler tried to sing happy birthday while eating fruit loops with milk with her mouth open, and even worse, she taught the baby and her older brother how to join the chorus.

As I stare at the screen with an odd mixture of Ancient Greece and the theological implications of summer and expectorated circular cereal, all I can think is... ”Man! I could use some sleep.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pawns in the Picture

If pictures are worth a thousand words, there are at least a million stories in my house left undeveloped.

Yesterday we were getting ready for a party, wherein we were supposed to do none of the work. That meant we only got up at six to clean. While cleaning and decluttering,five fully shot undeveloped cameras were discovered.

After the party, I took the rolls to be developed.

Based on the results, we had a lovely time at my daughter’s fifth birthday, which was over a year ago. One camera was absconded by a toddler with shall we say up close results of her and her brother’s face, but never all of the face. The third was of a camping trip my husband and sons took last summer, the fourth, a lost roll from our youngest daughter’s first days of life in the hospital, but the fifth was the treasure; my son’s first communion this year.

Therein, were shots from the mass and the reception, complete with a shot of the whole family. Everyone is dressed nice. Most of us are looking in the same direction. The back row includes me and my oldest two daughters and son and the baby. We’re all smiling. No one's eyes are shut or red.

The front includes my husband, two toddlers, the first communion boy and his six year old sister. The toddlers are appropriately squirming but still friendly. They also are pining desperately for the food at the reception. We decided to do pictures before red punch ruined the effect of having dressed up for the day. The first communion child looks dapper and neat. Even his eyes are smiling.

The one catch?

The six year old sister, who was asked by the camera woman to move, has her arms crossed and a pout. When we first sat, everyone was happy. My husband had arranged people according to who would get along with who.

The camera lady decided the arrangement wasn’t artistic enough and began moving children like chess pieces. The kids resisted. “Why do we have to move?” one of them asked.

“I’m a professional photographer.” She explained.

My husband was trying to accommodate her wishes but pointed out, they’re all here and ready, why not take the picture.

“I'm not ready yet.”
He and I both sensed the danger.

“I want cake.” My youngest son whined, spying two children walking by stuffing their faces with white frosting goodness.

“Me too.” Became the chorus. One of the children started chanting…”Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!” Others in the pack took up the cause.

“Take the picture.” I said through gritted teeth.

She didn’t get the hint. “This will look great. Trust me, I’m a professional. I arrange people all the time.” She bragged.

She shuffled the back row. She switched the toddlers on my husband's lap and straightened my son's tie. It was then she made one move too far, taking our emotional kindergartener from her preferred spot next to her dad, to the side of her true nemesis, the first communion boy.


My daughter sulked. She huffed. She cried. She stomped her foot. "I want to be next to Daddy!" she complained.

Having declared her reputation, the professional tried to fix the problem. She couldn’t have a crying child in the front row. The photographer tried relocation to the back. Being bumped from the front to the back in favor of her older sister was another unbearable blow. More sobs. A crowd was gathering to watch the ensuing drama.


My husband took charge. He asked the daughters to switch back and assured his still wet faced daughter she could sit next to him at the restaurant. Her face shone in triumph. She returned to the front.

“How did you?” the lady asked.

“I’m a professional mover of these eight people.” He replied.”Take the picture.”

“Now smile.” The photographer ordered.

Everyone did except the daughter in question, who was perfectly happy with the world but not about to obey the orders of a woman who had so inelegantly offended her sensibilities.


It’s not a bad shot. It may even be next year’s Christmas photo.

Except, after putting the photos away in the closet, I have this disposable camera from the party yesterday that hasn’t been developed yet.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Top Ten Things Never to Say to a Pregnant Woman

Nine pregnancies means I’ve just about heard everything…so as a public service announcement to all well wishers and curious strangers, I provide the following tips to avoid a faux pas in the presence of an expectant mother.

10. "Did you plan this?" If the answer is yes…so? If the answer is no…again…so?

9. "You’re so big! I bet you’re due any day now!" First, if you’ve never seen the woman before, you have no frame of reference for size. Second, unless you’re an obgyn, guessing how far along a woman is in her gestation is a dangerous prospect…if you think due today and she’s seven months, you risk having a large hot chocolate or diet coke jammed up a nostril. Any jury of women would think you got off lightly with only a warning in such a situation.

8. Discussing/dismissing prospective mother’s birth plan…and proposing own alternative –drugs/no drugs/ at home/induction…whatever the substitution/alteration…it’s not what the doctor and patient ordered. This is like going to a restaurant, up to your girlfriend’s table and telling the waitress…I know she ordered Caesar salad and the pasta with cream sauce but she really would like ice tea, some wedding soup and the chicken pesto bowtie pasta. Then telling the girlfriend, “Trust me, you’ll love it.”

7. You’re carrying high/low, sideways, it must be…boy/girl. This changes daily and even by the moment and is also dependent upon wardrobe choices for the day, and gender, well, I’ve taken to saying, “If I didn’t know, I’d say there’s a 50% chance you’re correct.” I’ve had total strangers assure me that the ultrasound was wrong based on their analysis of how my tummy was aligned at the moment. My moral compass forbids me from then asking them, “Want to bet?”

6. Are you going to have any more? Family size decisions involve only two people. ‘Nuff said.

5. Offering to or actually patting the belly before receiving clearance or after clearance has been denied. Big No No.

4. Are you sure there aren’t twins in there? Similar to number 7 and number 9, there is no way that this comment can be considered a compliment.

3. Relating delivery horror stories…72 hours, no epidural worked…husband stuck at job, broken car, had to be delivered by neighbor’s yard man…these bring no comfort to the awaiting pregnant lady. They are battle stories…that create or revive memories of labor that rival post traumatic stress syndrome.

2. Labor inducement tricks…eat olive/mushroom pizza at this restaurant…try jalepenoes in brownies…these things work as well as guess the baby by how she’s shaped. They also usually involve gross combinations that can make even the steeliest of stomachs ill.

1. "Haven’t had that baby yet? Stick a Fork in You, You’re done…" Trust me, the woman 38 weeks pregnant wants to be done…she’d love to be delivering…when she is, you won’t see her…she’ll be at the hospital unless the yardman had to take over because her husband’s stuck at work.

So…what do you say? "Congratulations, how wonderful! When are you due? How are you feeling? And Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?" Then, if the gestator wishes, who knows, she might even let you feel the baby kick.

Hopefully, this post will save grace, face, and keep all those women suffering through the summer gestating, from stuffing soda/straw up stranger's nose incident free. This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled humor blog content.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Your Birth Order's Up

Remember back a few years when there was this book on Birth Order and how it affected personality and problem solving and creative thinking and leadership and all that non-tangible jazz? Being a first born, I naturally presumed it was nonsense and refused to get “sucked into” such things, except apparently, that’s what firstborns do. They think they have to invent the wheel and spend their whole lives discovering it’s okay to ask older and younger people for help and learning to reach out to others rather than rely solely on themselves.

Firstborn being married to a firstborn, this problem gets compounded when we look at our own firstborn. He keeps thinking if he asks for help, be it from a teacher, parent or friend, he is somehow failing to acquire knowledge properly. Explaining that asking for help to make sure one “gets it” with respect to simplifying quadratic equations or analyzing “Romeo and Juliette” is a sign of maturity and intelligence, so far has been a tough sell.

Second borns are more scrappy and this is true, although I kind of feel our second views herself as a first born as well. I know the second son feels much more like the fighting type than the first two, and struggles because he compares himself to someone twice his age. Explaining that a 2nd grader should not grade himself against a 9th grader has worked about as well as discussing with the firstborn that he should seek assistance when needed.

The middle child is an accommodator, one who diffuses situations by humor or by not being part of the power struggle. She committed to this philosophy at an early age and specializes in becoming invisible when fights break out. Not only is she the queen of Hide and Seek, she also can disappear in plain sight, transforming herself from the instigator of a fight over the Nintendo to the innocent bystander with a mere placing of her hands behind her back. I foresee a promising career for her in espionage, as no one is more tight-lipped about classified information. “Who ate all but the last spoonful of chocolate ice cream and left the carton in the freezer?” I may know intuitively, but baring a DNA test, I’ll never prove it in a court of law.

The next step is the baby, but I have at the moment, two to four candidates vying for that slot in the order, each taking turns to make compelling arguments for the job.

Which leaves poor number 5, who has four older and three and one pending younger, trying desperately to make sure she isn’t drowned by sheer numbers and somehow stands out. In my estimation, she’s doing a great job. She wears outfits that make her unmistakably original –usually a dress with tights, shorts, heels, sparkly things and an accessory of some sort that brings the whole thing together –a boa, hat, skates, wings, sixteen bangles, four pony tales and ribbons plus homemade jewelry. Any attempt to modify her self expression is viewed as a personal attack. Fortunately, the uniform policy of the school takes care of this problem 9 months out of the year, five days a week. I can live with the glitter glamour girl the rest of the time.

My problem? There Aren’t any Parenting Books on the Psychology of #6 through 9.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

You'ld think being a writer, I'd be able to bang out 700 words in a heartbeat on Fatherhood, on the meaning of Dadness, and what having a husband who is a great Dad, and a father, whom I cherish, and a father in law who is loving, means. I also have a brother and brother in law, who awe me with their dedication to their children. I know we're all supposed to be that loving with our sons and daughters, it's still moving to see it in action. And I know countless families, where the fathers are so present, it's beautiful. They are the father's of my children's friends. And then there are the priests and teachers, who act in lieu of Mom and Dad when our kids are at school or mass, who present again, the image of what we are all supposed to be, thoughful, attentive and giving, loving and responsible. None of these people are perfect, but they through their example, provide glimpses of what God wants of all of us.

But it's hard.

To capture the essence of what these men mean and avoid sentimentality in the process, you're supposed to pin it down on specifics in writing. For example, instead of, he ate a poor lunch; He ate cold tomato soup from a can with buttered burnt toast.

So here goes: To my father, thanks for always loving us, even when we drove you nuts. Thanks for taking us sailing and fishing and buying us ice cream after we'd fought all the way to the store anyway. Thanks for reading me Watership Down and getting mad when I'd forged a signature on an F or gone cruising down Dowlen Road after you and Mom said I shouldn't. Thanks for all the long hugs when we greet at the airport for one of your visits or one of mine, and for the puns that pop up like mushrooms in our conversations. You're beautiful. You always make me smile.

To my husband, who pushes me to learn history and pay attention to politics, who keeps me from spending too much time in front of the computer writing by calling up to sing Surfer Girl and request that I water his plants and fix the fish filter, or brings home an unexpected book or game and helps devise systems to make the workload of all these children less taxing, thank you. Watching you take our son out to the garden when he's having trouble with his temper is a beautiful thing. Listening to you teach your daughters about past presidents and being on the sideline as you cheer your daughter on in softball, these are gorgeous moments for me as your wife. You love your daughters and your sons beyond well, and that makes you all the more wonderful to me.

My father in law has shown up quietly with great generosity at various moments in our lives and I am grateful for all of his help and assistance, even if I'm sometimes more than a bit stubborn in the moment. I can see how my husband became the man he is, by how his father acts and speaks, and I love his sense of humor.

So to all men out there who are fathers, who are in the trenches fathers, who tie shoes and coach teams, who sing for their children's first communion and bag groceries at the pantry program, who are present in their children's lives in a real brick and mortar kind of way, Thank You! Happy Father's Day!

May this year give you more presents than the perenial tie, painted rock, steaks in a box and gift certificate to home depot, may this year be the one where your children begin to recognize, How Great a Gift they have in You.

I'll return to humor on Tuesday, and discuss how my daugher who is two considers gargling to be a legitimate form of self expression in conversation. We're still working on finding out what it means.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lessons Learned from Riding the Bench

Whatever lessons you failed to master as a kid, come back to bite you as an adult.

When I was a kid, I absolutely rotted at sports. This was back in the Jurassic era, when kids were assigned to A and B teams, and you could even be a second stringer on the B team, or not make it at all. I doggedly tried out every year for every sport and consistently made the B second string or sat out the season. I drooled over the idea that some day, if I just worked hard enough, I'd make the A team and get a ribbon, a trophy or maybe even a letter. I was a victim of too many After School ABC specials. I even prayed for this daily. When I wouldn’t make it, I was often reminded, “Sometimes, God’s answer is “No.” but being a bullhead, I figured I’d keep asking.

Fast forward to adulthood, when the one letter I did manage to get remains locked in a memory box somewhere, the wisdom of 25 years sans trying out for A-teams has informed me that not having your name on the list is survivable. That lesson isn’t being taught today, at least not to kids.

In the enlightened 21st century, children now have endless options for participation in “non competitive” sports, meaning anyone can play. The term “non competitive” is hopelessly misleading, as I see antics on and off the fields of play that rival the steroid scandals in cycling and judge rigging in ice dancing. Competition may have been removed from the play, but it hasn’t been extracted from the parents. Parents who made the team when they were kids on merit, are determined to show that their kids would have made the cut in the old school. I know of one mom who played her four year old up with first graders. She lied on the application. No one had the temerity to ask, "What was the point?"

Spotting high school talent scouts with note pads scoping out forth grade CYO games, I started to snicker. I was told very seriously by another mother, if your name gets circulated, you could get a free ride by the time you get to applying for private high schools. Looking at the field of boys, all of whom I had personally seen have long discussions about which pokemon was best and which character in Harry Potter they would be, I wondered why any adult would spend time projecting what a 9 year old might become as at 15?

I thought things would be better when some of my children showed promise in the sports of their choosing. One of my girls seemed a whiz at basketball. She was even invited to join a select team. The initial pride at having a “talented” player went out the window when the coach explained; we would have to pay a four hundred dollar registration fee, plus money for uniforms and three nights of practice a week. Maybe I would consider this if my daughter was in high school and it meant college scholarships, but this was third grade! Besides, at $400 per ten weeks, I figured I could save for college and maybe we wouldn't need a scholarship!

The parents in the league looked at me with pity for denying my daughter this shot at the “big leagues” for a reason as flimsy and petty as money. I saw a mother tsk at me and murmur, “What a shame, her daughter showed real promise.” This refusal to commit was a moral failing on my part and doomed my daughter to a lifetime of lackluster accomplishment in the world of sports. If so, well, at least I know what sin I committed to wreck her life. Given her other talents, I’ll take that chance.

Another of my sons is a natural athlete. If there is a ball in play, he’s on it. He’s good. He’s fast, he understands the game and he cares about sports. It must be a recessive gene. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to see him on the field. Finally, it would be my kid everyone cheered. I dreamed happily of watching him score a goal and say to the camera, “Hi Mom!”

Like most fantasies, reality was far uglier.

In his first practice, my son did a gloating dance as he scored on a kid half his size, from his own team! Then there was the fight he had with a girl because she stole the ball from him. I'm yelling "Red Card!" and the coach explained, they didn't do that at this level of play. Yes, he still moves like a gazelle but I dread showing up at the sidelines. I feel I need to carry a sign that simply says, “Yes, it’s my child. I’m sorry and I’m working on it.”

The problem is, he’s really good at sports. He’s just not a good sport. At one game, when my child was being particularly aggressive and had been warned by the referee, I shouted to the coach, “BENCH HIM!” Everyone else watching the game looked at me as if I were nuts until I explained. “I’m his mother.”

Given that he’d scored the only points our team had made this season, the coach shook his head. I’d be forced to teach the virtue of humility some other way…like maybe when he had kids.

The years have resulted in a treasure trove of ribbons and trophies in my house that signify having played a sport, having been a good sport, having been good at a sport and having simply showed up to watch a sport. As I picked up the feather duster to remove the recent cobwebs, I pined for the days when you might not make the team. The morals learned from not winning, from riding the bench were clear; Not everyone is good at the same thing; Life isn’t fair; Sometimes things happen; Practice and work hard and maybe; all these life lessons came from not making the cut.

Suddenly, making the B teams didn’t seem like it was such a bad thing. And I heard God lovingly laughing at and with me, “Now you’re finally getting it.” And my daughter came home, "Mom, can I try out for competitive softball this Summer?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

You've Got Goofiness in My Religion...You've Got Cynicism in My Spiritual Coloring Book...

Not every merger of incongruity works like chocolate and peanut butter. Some ideas which tickle the fancy at 4 am reveal themselves to be devoid of substance in the harsh glare of morning sunlight, and some ideas even at an unseemly hour and under the influence of alcohol, should never have been brought to being.

1) Adam Sandler movies come to mind.

2) Supersized Bacon Triple Cheese Burger Combo meals with Fries and a Coke. (Note: I like bacon cheese burgers but this is beyond Hummers for One excessive and literally should require a phone call to one’s HMO prior to consumption. I watched in horror as my teenage son ordered before making a maternal modification to his meal of choice).

3) Attempts to Modernize Christ or make Religion cool.

I’m not a sentimentalist.

Thus I cringe when I see the statues of the Resurrected Christ standing next to little 8 year old Dick and Jane as they take batting practice, or soccer, or my personal favorite, Hockey. “It’s Jesus with a check and a power play and Jameson goes down! He’s hurt but look, Christ heals him. Now the referees are considering whether to send the Son of God to the penalty box…” I just can’t see Christ wearing a helmet or skates for that matter, but I know God’s sense of humor and He’ll get me good in purgatory when I have to recognize Him behind a hockey mask.

Likewise, I admit, when the group organizing dorm liturgies at my college tried Clown ministry, I sought another venue for my Sunday obligation. Godspell isn’t necessary to recognize the message of the Eucharist. Already at the mass, I don’t need motivation, I need to willfully choose to participate. As a Catholic, I’m supposed to get, and have understood since second grade that Jesus is accessible when I received first communion. But I recognize that attitude could seem snotty, so I work to remember, this may bring others to Christ…but sometimes it’s really hard.


Vacation Bible School. By all rights, I should love it. It’s inexpensive. It takes all comers. There’s not usually a rush to sign up so slacker moms like me can get spots. It takes a whole week. The woman who runs the thing is absolutely lovely. But despite all the pluses, I delay and hesitate signing up because of the illustrations that to my sensibilities, assault my capacity for reverence.

I speak of two horrors to my intellect created for the purposes of Vacation Bible School Catholic Style.

1) Mr. Fontanini, a baptismal font that looks like a cross (sorry) between a stock background character of the Sopranos, and a rejected singing animated object from Beauty and the Beast, complete with handlebar mustache. There are plays in which this beloved character, along with others, interact in an attempt to portray the values and sacraments of Catholicism as hip, fun and Veggie-tale equivalent. I can almost hear him… “I’m a u sed to bap tize the bay bees…” Bring on the singing cucumber please.

2) Mr. Tabernacle. There are times I wish words would fail me. An illustrated smiling tabernacle which opens its chest to reveal the consecrated host, stares up at me from the assorted sheets for coloring. Now I know the good people that run my kid’s summer Vacation bible school have opted not to use the character, but images once seen, cannot be unseen. Words read cannot be unread. R2D2 after his final vows remains fixed in my mind.

Thus, I hesitate to sign up. Cartoon figures and the Holy Spirit…I’m trying, reaching to see if I can expand my mind and sublimate my sensibilities sufficiently to get behind it, attempting to bury the cynic and see the world through “a child’s eyes.”

Then my six year old looks at the papers. She hasn’t colored Mr. Tabernacle. “I don’t like that one. He’s weird.” She says simply. So I sign her up, and I feel…just so much better.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Video Games, A Family Intervention

My kids love video games.

We have admittedly fed this love, because we enjoy a good round of Smash Brothers or Mario Cart as much as anyone. It’s cathartic to occasionally beat your children in an area they consider themselves to be “grand masters.” When I schooled my son recently on Soulsword, he was most gracious. “She grew up on Mortal Combat and Kung Fu Battle and Gauntlet.” He explained to his awe struck sisters. Being a gracious mom back, I said, “Yes, young grasshopper, you have much to learn.” My son didn’t know his mom could trash talk either.

Being a child of the 80’s, I have fond memories of blowing wads of quarters on Ms. Pac Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong Jr. I was the Jedi master of the Star Wars game, back when all you had to hit was line drawing outlines of those tie fighters, which really meant something because I was…shocker…a girl! I was one with the force then, and sometimes, even now the mitochondrion rally to my side.

My husband and I have brought our children up on the classics, Frogger and Paperboy, and told them of the lost favorites like Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom, or the classic Gauntlet, wherein we were both frequently told, “Never have I seen such bravery.” when we would launch into suicide missions against hordes of orcs once we were out of spare change. The fondness in our voices at those times indicated tacit approval for this activity as a form of recreation.

Unfortunately for our offspring, games and game systems change and people sometimes grow up. Being grown up, we get the fun job of imposing limits in life; bed time, what’s for dinner, what’s for snack, what they can wear to church and how much they can watch television. However, in the arena of video games, we have admittedly, shown our human frailty. With seven of eight kiddos preoccupied with no mental or physical power supplied by a supervising adult, it’s hard not to succumb to sloth too.

With the baby safely tucked in her crib, my husband and I would race to our respective computers and begin our own plunge into the opiate that video games provided. Originally, we showed characteristic adult restraint, setting a proscribed time limit for this indulgent activity that was strictly observed. Then one day, the timer went off and I turned it off and instead of barking the usual, “Game over. Time’s up.” I returned to the computer to finish my round of spider solitaire. The kids stayed in Nintendo Land and my husband walloped on the French with his massive Roman navy in an island based scenario of Civilizations.

Hours drifted by and we ordered pizza. The baby played in the room with us, supplied with hugs and cuddles, occasional bottles and diapers and a pick me up as needed. The day shot by and everyone had vacated reality for all of 8 hours. We felt exhilarated and drained at the same time. We had frittered a day. Here in 2008we had managed to beat the demands that we always be doing with a unplanned unstructured day of pure indulgence that cost only the price of ordering three pizzas plus cheesy bread.

The next day was sort of a hangover, the price of our day of hooky. Laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, homework projects and gardening all acted as silent critical editorials for our day of indulging the Id. Naturally, we did what any beginning addict does, we made excuses, did a quick cursory attempt at each of the problems and then rushed back to our addiction of choice. Another wasted day, but this one did not thrill as much as the first when the work week returned. For a time, we keep this mentally and physically destructive but entirely legal habit under control. It was limited to a weekend only pursuit, we would binge play on Saturday and Sunday.

I stopped scheduling weekend activities.

However, the creeping addiction of virtual crack provided by fake worlds and fantastic swords kept trying to pry open the rest of the week and eventually succeeded. Homework finished, they would rush to their screen of choice. I wasn’t much better, feeding the baby as I played on my laptop in the kitchen.

Fortunately, we have many actors in our family and the one least invested performed an intervention of sorts. It was partially due, as all interventions actually are, to the increasing level of sloth by those supposedly providing guidance, supervision and care. Having requested a glass of water and received none, my two year old decided to help herself. She got a paper cup from the closet. She took it to the sink. She filled it to the brim and quenched her thirst .

Smacking her lips with satisfaction, she walked over to where her siblings sat pushing buttons and cheering on their latest hero, Link. Toddlers are called toddlers for a reason. Sippy cups are used for a reason. Toddlers carrying sippy cups can trip all day and not spill a drop. Toddlers carrying nearly full paper cups trip and electronic equipment designed to provide hours of entertainment do not like the results.

The cry went out too late but there it was, a 6x6 inch cube of plastic rendered unusable by virtue of one of the basic necessities of life and the “we presume” innocence of a two year old. Looking at the remains of the once beloved box, the children shook their heads in disbelief as we all recovered from our madness and remembered again the taste of barbeque, the spray of the pool waterslide and the glory of listening to baseball on the radio that should fill the hours of summer.

Never has a toy fallen from grace so quickly. Never has a recovery come so instantaneously. The next few weeks passed in a blur of summer activities that made me proud to be a parent and put the whole video crack addiction behind us. It was just a bad bump in parenting and family dynamics, a fall, the result of our fallen nature, from which we had emerged stronger.

Then the kids started a lemonade stand. I was feeling so proud of them for inventing a way to enjoy the day until I saw the sign. “Raising Money for our OWN Wii. 50 cents a cup. Donations Welcome.”

And I know, I may have to give the baby a glass of lemonade one day.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Obama and Hillary's Secret Meeting

I imagine it went something like the Grand Slam Finals of Poker.

Diane Fienstein acted as color commentator on the two finalists, in this H20 Smackdown for the final round.

Diane: Here’s the Flop…and Hillary has Pennsylvania, New York, and a possible flush with Michigan and Florida. She’ll have to wait for the River to see if she can pick that up. Obama’s hand includes Iowa, Illinois, California and those wild card Superdelegates. Both will sit on their hands for the next few cards.
And the DNC rules committee makes it’s move, and it’s Obama’s, now comes the serious bargaining, the bidding for the final card down.

Opening bids are usually nicer than subsequent attempts to control the pot. Let’s watch.”

Obama: I’ve got the superdelegates.

Hillary: I’ve got the popular vote.

Obama: I’ve got the press.

Hillary: I’ve got the experience.

Diane: “Round One, Obama. Now they up the ante.”

Hillary: I have a video tape of a speech by Michelle. It’s a Youtube Viral for sure.

Obama: I have footage of Bill with Hollywood star, Gina Gearson. Do you want to gamble whether or not Bill is up to his old tricks?

Hillary: …. …. ….You have friends like Wright, Pfleger, Ayers and Rezko. Maybe there are more?

Obama: You’ve loaned your campaign 11 million dollars….where’d it come from?

Hillary: You need me and my 17,493,836 voters. Only 41,622 votes separate us in reality, less than one of those towns in Pennsylvania you dissed in San Francisco.

Obama: Two words will make most of those Democrats vote for me anyway. “President McCain.” Anyway, I got there first, you need me more than I need you.

Hillary: The Superdelegates haven’t voted yet.

Obama: The media has, and you still have Bill.

Diane: “Round two…this time is a bit trickier. Obama may have won the hand but Hillary still has cards to play, or she may be bluffing. The next round concerns who shall be Veep and I’m joined here by former Clinton staffer George Stephanopolous for a bit of a discussion about Hillary as Veep. Is she 2008’s Perot? Dan Quayle? Or does she give Cheney type gravitas to Obama’s soaring rhetoric?”

George: Well before we get to that question, there’s breaking news…Edwards has said he would say “No” to being Obama’s veep. Edwards has also said “No” to being the lead singer in Metallica and hosting next year’s Oscars. I should mention in the interest of full disclosure, Edwards’ cell, home and office phone have no indications of any calls in the past three weeks from the Academy, the Heavy Metal Band or an upper level management surrogate of the DNC or Obama’s campaign. His inbox in his email, text messages, blackberry and personal PC are also devoid of such offerings. They’re still checking the fax machine and mail box though, just in case.

Diane: Well, who else can we rule out as a matter of course for potential Veep? Any inside information as a former insider with the Clintons?

George: Well, there’s a Definite No list, that includes people like Carter, Dukakis, Kerry, Rush Limbaugh and Lieberman. There’s a probably not list; Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Gina Davis have all been notified by their respective agents to go ahead and look for other work.

Diane: Harrison Ford?
George: Depends on the Crystal Skull Gross take.

Diane: And the probables?
George: Hillary is like the New York Yankees to the Red Sox before 2004. She has to be a factor. I mean, she’s gone from being a strong candidate with strong negatives to someone people have grown used to seeing on television, used to seeing speak on a daily basis. That’s a plus that’s hard to pass up. And then there’s the angry women factor which Obama would be wise to quell before it gets a chance to get to full steam.

Diane: What about tapping the governor of Virginia, or Ohio to get those traditionally red but shifting blue states to go Democrat?

George: It’s going to be tough. We’ve had staffers at CNN playing the board game “Mr. President” from circa 1974 non-stop for the past 24 hours and the break is really dependent upon everything. We’ve run models which include massive sweeps both ways, which break just short and break just over.

Diane: Speaking of over, the poker game is about to resume…

Hillary: We’ve decided something important.
Obama: Together.

Hillary: We’re going to keep going on…
Obama: having secret meetings.

Hillary: It keeps everyone from considering actual ideas or policies.
Obama: Or McCain.

Hillary: There will be another press conference tonight.
Obama: Thank you folks for coming!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On the Road to Oz

He still hasn't found that convenient bucket to throw in case of fire.

Poor Dorothy. He's been on that yellow brick road for a long time now, and still, Elphaba keeps popping up. Even when he's brought back the broom to the Wizards of the DNC, Hillary keeps appearing in the crystal ball saying, "I'll get you my pretty, you and your little delegates too..."

This despite the fact that Oprah the good has given her blessing and all of munchkin land --Hollywood has welcomed him. Susan Sarandon has declared she will move to Canada if he doesn't win, can the Balwins be far behind? In a grand gesture, George Lucas has given his Gnostic blessing to the young candidate who would be president..."The Force is with him." Those mitochondrians must account for the half votes in Florida and Michigan.

Obama is like Boba Fett vs. all the clones that became the army of Storm Troopers for the Empire...Dukakis, clone, Al Gore...clone...John Kerry...clone...John Edwards...clone of a about recycling. He at least says these values with absolute personal conviction.

Now, Hillary is talking about considering the veep position. It's rather like the Black knight of Monty Python saying "None Shall Pass." To quote Arthur, "You fought nobly good sir knight but the battle is mine." "Have at ye!"..."Alright, we'll call it a draw." She's hoping she's James Bond strapped on the table coming up with the right phrase, "Operation Grand Slam." to turn off the laser. Given what eventually happens to Bond in that Movie, Bill is hoping the same thing too.

In legislation, Hillary has become the poison pill that results in what Washington laughingly refers to as "compromise." If you don't swallow her, the DNC will split, if you do swallow her, you will taste bad to some who found you appealing before. Is it the great perfect dream team or the iceburg merging with the Titanic? It depends upon who you ask and when.

One of the delegates said, joining forces would be like "discovering there's no tooth fairy." Someone should brief that unnamed influential Democrat mentioned in Maureen Dowd's column today, "tooth fairies...not documented as actual entities at least by scientific means."

Still, I find the man hypnotic to watch. Listening hard to every policy and speech being given, I can't help but wonder how he does it. No one makes the idea of having one's wallet sucked dry sound as appealing as he does. He could read the phone book aloud with depth of feeling.

Going to now fire up my SUV, fill my tank and stop by a McDonalds...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Forty-one and Awaiting Maturation

At my age, I’m supposed to be educated, sophisticated and worldly wise.
There is a stack of books that educated people are supposed to have read, important things like the complete works of Dickens and Shakespeare, The Ancient Art of War, Das Kapital, the Federalist papers and Moby Dick. I am waiting for retirement to get to this list, when not reading them will be chucked up to old age and poor eyesight.

Adults are also supposed to like things like coffee and wine, sushi and blue cheese not accompanied by super hot Buffalo wings and beer. They can watch documentaries on war and read the serious sections of the paper with total recall. They wear jeans and sneakers for gardening and football games only, and they don’t voluntarily choose to dine at places that wrap the food in paper. As I understand it, some of them even listen to and love opera.

I am waiting for those chemical enzymes to kick in and transform me from a fairy tale loving, French fry noshing comic book reading plebian into a character out of a Henry James novel; who coifs her hair and wears dark form fitting frocks and speaks in mysteriously compelling short phrases that bewilder and bewitch those around her as she passes through the heathers without stepping into a gopher hole.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to mature. I dutifully checked out Bleak House from the library and read a play each summer from Shakespeare. I keep ordering wine at restaurants but I never finish a glass. I know how to talk about tannins and the deepening flavors and all that, but what I really think when I drink wine is, why didn’t I order a diet coke? I have eaten sushi with friends who love it and survived, but can’t figure out why no one doesn’t just say, “Hey this is a great piece of fish, just give it five minutes in a pan with garlic and olive oil.” I think they’re just trying to avoid doing the pots and pans in the kitchen.

My sister has bought me CD’s of opera, explaining which pieces were her favorites. She has also taken me to drink my first Starbucks, I got a violent headache after three sips. I had a similar reaction to the opera. My husband buys tickets to the symphony. We go. He shuts his eyes to listen. If I shut my eyes, I snore. My music tastes haven’t ever left the early 80’s and high school.

I have taught myself to read the editorial section before I hit up the funnies and the sports, but it’s rather like sitting through math class in High School before lunch. I do it, but only because I ought, and much of the front section just rolls past my brain which is fixated on what happened today in “For Better or Worse.”

So here I am at 41 and I still want big parties on my birthday with wrapped presents and a frosted cake with all the candles. I know the Saturday morning line up my kids watch, and I sneak my TV viewing under the responsible adult headline of “Parental Supervision.” I change the channel if I don’t like the cartoon or its animation. I read comic books inside of real books like “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” and wear jeans or shorts 350 days out of the year. I don’t own a form fitting frock and I talk in breathless longwinded excited loud sentences. It’s not that I don’t like wine, opera and all things sophisticated; they just aren’t my first preference.

Given the fact that much of my life is lived like a stone that just perpetually skips on the water (never slowing or stopping to sink below the surface), introspection is not one of my strong suits. It requires a quieter mind and spirit than my temperament allows. Yesterday, my son was invited to take a course on manners and etiquette, designed to teach freshmen of high school how to act like the adults they will some day become. As I looked at the requirements that the boys wear jackets and ties, and the girls, dresses and gloves I wondered if one day my kids would grow out of their childhood tastes. I’d be left to go to McDonald’s, watch Disney movies and listen to Duran Duran on my own.

But then I remember, my husband prefers burgers to fois gras, and chocolate shakes to champagne. The other day, he came home with tickets for a baseball game and proposed a camping trip for the 4th of July weekend. After dinner, he asked for ice cream. So I stopped by the bookstore today, and even though, the complete works of Evelyn Waugh were on sale near the front of the store, I picked up the latest Fantastic Four comic for him, and tonight, we’re going to see Kung Fu Panda. Maturity can wait, at least until it feels fun and not like an assignment to eat my broccoli.

I will say though, some of that opera isn’t so bad. Thanks sis.

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!