I’ll never be a Sock Monkey, and I’m okay with that

There’s this stuff that pops up in my newsfeed all the time, it’s the same story, written by six different news outlets.  Sometimes the information is life altering, and I can understand why it’s getting so much attention…but most of the time it’s really not.

Last week I couldn’t get away from the dog that takes the bus to the dog park.  She was everywhere.  I bet she’s buckled from the pressure of being in the limelight, and now takes herself to regular appointments with her therapist.  I get it, it’s a dog…there’s a bus,  enough already.

The thing that keeps being shoved in my face, this week, is the woman that’s giving Bratz Dolls radical makeunders.  She’s an artist or something,  her idea was to remove the copious amounts of plastic cosmetics from the faces of these playthings, and then repaint them to look more natural.  That, in and of itself, I thought was a pretty neat idea.  It’s been done before with Barbie, but it was interesting to see it…again…I guess.

The neat factor quickly wore off when I started to read the comments.  Comments will do that to you. People were getting really heated about these dolls and the message they think they send to girls.  They were harping on their clothing.  I believe the general consensus was that these dolls are packaged to look like little strippers.  I kept myself from commenting.   No need to be attacked by a stranger for pointing out that strippers and over application of makeup has been around since before the days of Holly Hobbie.  Yep, people will argue about anything…just a bunch of adults yelling at other adults…about toys.

Now, to be fair, the genetic lottery did not award me with a female human…so, I’m not exactly in the struggle.  I have a son, my living room floor is covered in a layer of plastic superheroes with impressive pectoral muscles.  I have never once stopped to wonder if Spiderman’s washboard abs are negatively effecting his psyche.  I’m not publishing the letters I’ve written to Mattel demanding that they introduce an action figure with a receding hairline and love handles.    This is an area of his life that I’m okay with not over-thinking…because they’re toys, people.  They’re used for play and fantasy.

I know it’s hard to believe but I, at one point in time, was a little girl.  I may not have been the most feminine of womanlings, I didn’t really play with Barbie’s…unless you count cutting off all of their hair…and melting their faces with a magnifying glass as play.  But that’s not the point.  It never crossed my mind that the thing I was destroying had an unattainable physique.  Not once.  I never felt inferior to a hunk of plastic and cried myself to sleep knowing I would never look like her.  Any ill-feelings I had about my body came long after I stopped playing with dolls.

It’s highly unlikely that your daughter is thinking about the fact that she might not grow up to resemble her doll, unless you’ve said that to her…which is kind of a douche move.  If you have pointed this out to her, I hope you also gave her a complete list of things she will not grow up to resemble: Buicks, waffle irons, lamp posts…just to name a few.   While you’re arguing the very adult topics of sexuality and objectification keep in mind your daughter is probably thinking, “I want to play with something brightly colored and sparkly, and it might be a bonus if the thing that is brightly colored and sparkly has a face.”

It just seems to me that this is a thing manufactured by adults that need something to argue about.

I grew up in the 80’s, when we wax nostalgic about this particular period in time we bring up the big hair and hideous clothing.  It was the decade of excess…and orphans…lot’s of orphans.  Sometimes they sang,  sometimes they grew in cabbage patches, sometimes they wore mismatched clothes, sometimes they were adopted by old white men of varying income levels, but they were all somehow abandoned by their parents for entertainment purposes.

No one worried ad nauseum that I would grow up to develop severe separation anxiety and a sceptical outlook on produce. I’m not the most well adjusted woman on the planet, but I can’t blame that on anything I played with.

It irritates me that people assume little girls are this impressionable,  the argument as a whole is ludicrous.  It’s rooted in feminism, sort of, but it really makes women sound stupid. Like we’re incapable of thinking and reasoning.

Not one female I know ever expressed interest in voluntarily becoming a quadriplegic, because they were gifted a sock monkey at a tender age.  “I just want to flop around like Mr. Pickles,” wasn’t a slumber party confession.

When I see a little girl dragging around a teddy bear, I don’t feel overcome by concerns.  There’s no wondering if she’ll grow up, wander into the woods only to get her throat ripped open by a 500 pound Grizzly, because she was trying to put a t-shirt on it and get it to take a nap.

Why is it we can trust that a girl is smart enough to work through unrealistic ideas about the congeniality of woodland creatures, but we suggest she isn’t smart enough to figure out the truth about a doll?

So what if she plays with a toy that slightly resembles your slutty neighbor, Carol.  You’ve got more important things to worry about and fight for.

I’ll buy dinner

“I’m going to buy the groceries tonight, okay?” he held up his change purse and shook it. I smiled, thinking his gesture was gush-worthy. “No, buddy. You save your money. I’ll pay for the things we need,” I asserted…in my soft, motherly, “aren’t you wonderful?” voice. “Nope, I got this,” he said, as he skipped along beside me.

There were people entering the store along with us, they could hear us as we chatted. I hadn’t noticed that they were watching until I made eye contact with an older woman, she was smiling at my boy. I was so very proud that his act of kindness was getting so much attention. The woman patted my son on the head as she walked by us. “He’s a good boy,” she whispered to me. “I’ve got, like… a hundred monies,” he said as he giggled, and showed her his change purse. “You’re very rich, I wish I had a hundred monies!” the woman responded. “I’m buying dinner tonight, I get to pick what we’re having!” it’s not often he engages strangers, but she had a grandma aura about her.

“Oh! What are you having?” she asked, I waited for his response. I was fully expecting him to say something along the lines of chicken nuggets or pizza. He looked around the store grinning, he was basking in all the attention he was receiving. After a few seconds, he opened his little mouth…“I haven’t decided, but what Mommy made for dinner last night was disgusting. It lacked imagination”.

The woman looked at me, unsure of how she should react. Since I was already hysterically laughing…she followed my lead. “We watch a lot of Food Network,” said in between snorts. This exchange set the tone for the rest of our shopping trip.

At his request, I let him drive the cart. We meandered up and down the aisles, him periodically swerving wildly to “check the suspension” and asking to put things in the cart. “Can we have that?” he said, as he pointed to a box of laxatives. “Um, no,” I replied. “But, it’s blue and it’s candy,” he persisted. He had caught the eye of another shopper, a man this time. He smiled at us as he listened to my boy present his argument. “Blue is my favorite color and I like chocolate. I’ll make you a deal, if I get this candy I won’t get in on the car seats.” His negotiation skills need work.

“Buddy, that’s not candy. It’s medicine,” he wasn’t buying my story. “No, medicine looks yucky. What kind of medicine is it mom?” his sarcasm was apparent as he spoke. “It’s a laxative,” I was trying to get out of having to explain this wonder of modern medicine to him in public. “What’s alactive?” I was having no luck. “Well, it’s something you take when you have to poop and you can’t,” I said. “Why does it have a picture of chocolate on it then?” he said in disgust. “It should have a picture of burritos on it!” I try not to laugh when the boy is being logical and serious…but the man within earshot did not have this restraint.

We walked away during the roaring laughter, my son was puzzled. “What’s wrong with that man?” he whispered. “Too much alactive,” I replied…not looking at him for fear my composure would crumble. He accepted my answer as fact. I hope to God he doesn’t go to school and warn his classmates about the frightening side effects of stool softener.

With just a few more things to purchase, I prayed the next few aisles would be empty. My prayers went unanswered. We were too far away from the bakery to grab a free cookie to put in his mouth, I was kicking myself for not stopping when we had the chance. Cookie gag is my go-to boy silencer. We had to get dog food, I agreed to let him select their meals for the week. He was very excited to have this responsibility.

My son, like most people, has difficulty controlling the volume of his voice when he is excited. There were a lot of pet friendly folks around us as he carefully inspected the packaging. He selected the cans with the dogs on them that most resemble his pets. As he showed me one with a fluffy, white pooch, he loudly exclaimed “MOM! Remember that time I CAME INTO YOUR BEDROOM AND FOUND BETTY WHITE SITTING ON YOUR FACE?”

It may have been a tactical error to name our puppy after a celebrity, because the entire store is now under the impression that I am involved in a lesbian relationship (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with a 90-something year old actress. I didn’t even bother explaining. We just hightailed it to the check-out. When he asked for a candybar at the register, I happily obliged, knowing I’d be able to make it to the car without being mortified.

One hundred and twenty-ten

He climbed into the backseat, chocolate stains in the corners of his mouth. He was talking a mile a minute. As I helped him get situated I caught a whiff of his scent. He smelled like fresh air, dirt, and playground. It’s his signature fragrance, the odor that follows him all day except for the few minutes he’s clean after he gets out of the tub.

Conversations with the boy carry on at light speed, with or without the presence of someone to respond. “Mom, we need to go to the store. There’s these things you can buy, they’re little. You go like this, and you make nickelesses.” His hand gestures, as you can imagine, did not clarify what skill you must possess to complete the task. “Necklace, buddy. It’s pronounced NEEECK-LACE.” He completely ignored my correction. “Can you get me the things at the store? Someone was making them at lunch.  They come in different colors.  I want blue, blue is my favorite color now. ” He’s at an age where he’s making all kinds of strange requests, I wish he came with a decoder ring. I changed the subject.

“How was school, buddy?” I asked, as we drove out of the parking lot. “Good,” and then there was silence. Next came the part of the day I like to call “academic interrogation”. He treats everything pertaining to learning guarded, like a State Secret. “What did you learn about today?” I prodded. “Nothing,” he chirped. “Did you know I speak chicken?” I had no idea he was multi-lingual. As he began to cluck loudly to the music on the radio I tried to come up with a creative way to find out what in the hell he’d done for the last six hours.

“Did you go to the library?” I managed to eek out in between clucks. “Bock…bock bock bock,” he responded through giggles. “That means, yes…I read a book,” I was really grateful for the translation, as my chicken is rusty. “Was the book about chickens?” It seemed like a logical question to ask. “No, why would you think that?” his response let me know that I was irritating him. “The book was about a boat, a big boat…it had pictures of sea quibbles in it.”

I work in the marine industry. I have lived around the ocean my whole life. Sea quibbles are new to me. “Remember when you were a little girl…and that big boat sunked?” I did not remember this event. “Remember all the people jumped out into the water? And, it was cold?” Nope, still not ringing a bell. “What’s a sea quibble?” I asked. “Those things that stick to the boat, they look like boogers. They were all over the wreckage.” he answered. (Yes, he said wreckage.)

Suddenly it clicked and I didn’t like where this conversation was heading. “Do you mean barnacles?” I asked, as I glanced up in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, those things!” he said, as he tried to touch his tongue to his nose. Cautiously I continued with my questions, afraid of what I was about to hear. “Did the big boat hit an iceberg?” I almost whispered, hoping he wouldn’t hear me. “Yep!”

“Honey, that happened…like… a hundred years ago.” I informed him. “Duh! I know that!” he was too far away for me to reach behind my seat and swat at him. “How old do you think Mommy is?” He thought for a minute, “you’re like a hundred and twenty-ten…but, you look good for your age.”

If this isn’t of payback of Titanic proportions, I don’t know what is.  I took comfort in the fact that he didn’t come up with an actual number, and the one he did use contained the word “twenty”.  I can remember thinking my parents were really old when I was a kid, but by my son’s account I’m old enough to be dead. I guess we all do this to our parents at some point. Make them feel decrepit.  I once asked my mother what she remembered about WW2, she bopped me on the head with a wooden spoon and set me straight. From now on, I’m never going anywhere without a wooden spoon.


*This isn’t funny

“I’ll take you,” he said, as I stood in their living room. I didn’t want to impose, but it was clear that my father wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He and my mother can be very persuasive when they want to be. I was relieved, my foot was double it’s normal size and throbbing. I couldn’t really walk, but I didn’t want them to know that. The pain was making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the fact that my foot really fucking hurt.

He was worried. I could tell by his expression. I hate it when he worries about me, but I was glad to give him something else to worry about. As we drove to Urgent Care, I remembered all the time I spent with my father as a child. I found myself wishing I could go back to those days, when my universe consisted of a half-acre lot on a hill in North Miami. Set far back off the busy street, the house was protected by the giant U-shaped, asphalt driveway. It was a great place to roller skate, or fall…and scrape your knees to shit.

I was six-years-old when that busy street and a grey Datsun almost took the life of my favorite dog. I vividly remember my older brother Todd, cradling him and running towards the house, shirtless, and wearing shorts that today…only Richard Simmons would approve of. It was 1980 something.

“Sweetums got hit by a car,” he yelled to my mother as he ran through the door. They were both terrified, I could hear it in Todd’s voice and see it in the dog’s chattering underbite. Time stood still that day. Sweetums and I never ventured very close to the street after that.

My dad quietly sat with me in the examination room. As the doctor examined my foot, he watched intently. “You didn’t see what bit you?” The doctor looked at me quizzically. “It looks like you were bitten by some fire ants, I would think you would have noticed that.” Yes, I had to agree with her. One would think I would have noticed a swarm of angry insects turning my foot into a blistering, oozing, lump of flesh…but I didn’t. I hadn’t noticed very much in the last few days. I wasn’t going to explain. It wouldn’t help identify my symptoms. “I’m going to give you an antibiotic and I want you to keep your foot elevated and on ice”.

My dad and I drove home in relative silence. I was still ruminating on my old house and the memories that were made in between the dark brown carpet and white tile roof. I thought of the time I spent with my brothers. Like flipping through an album of old polaroid pictures, the memories ran through my brain…stopping at the ones that made me smile. The three of us were all very mischievous in our own right. Todd, being the oldest…was our ringleader.

“Say… I want a banana,” he giggled,  I was screaming and in the throes of a late-night tantrum. I was still in my crib, sharing a room with my brothers. Wailing, with tears, sweat, and snot rolling down my face, he’d come to my bedside to comfort me. It was an exercise in futility. He couldn’t figure out what I wanted…I’m not sure I knew either. I was demanding to see my parents. By the time my mom and dad arrived to the bedroom, I was screaming “I WANT A BANANA,” at the top of my little lungs. I don’t know what happened after that, my memory fails me. I can only imagine that my fruit induced meltdown must have puzzled them, as my brothers laughed under their sheets.

I thought of the day my parents went out to run errands and Todd convinced me it was a good idea to help him ambush our brother Mike with bottle rockets as he lay napping in their bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to light the bottle rockets…because that would have been dangerous. I was allowed to laugh and provide moral support.

Then I remembered the day we all sat on my parent’s bed, my brothers on either side of me, recording our own book on tape. I wasn’t old enough to read, so they took turns reading “Leo the Lop” aloud while I made the “beep” sound to signal that the page should be turned. I was an excellent beeper. These memories brought me the levity I so desperately needed. Uncovering them surprised me, my adult brain rarely reflects on my childhood in such great detail.

Later that night as I followed the doctors orders, I laid in my bed and tried to sleep. I was joined by my boy, who has just turned six. With a lisp that can only be created by a loose front tooth he whispered, “Momma? I had a bad dream.” This is our new bedtime ritual. “That’s impossible buddy, I just put you to bed for the 18th time tonight. You have to be asleep to dream.” I recited, as I do almost every night.

He ignored me, and went on to tell me that a sasquatch had crashed his birthday party, demolished his cake, and ran into the woods with his presents. I looked at him, impressed with his creativity. “But that didn’t happen, right? You had a wonderful party, right?” “Yep,” he chirped.

A few minutes went by and he spoke again. This time he whispered, “Momma? I’m worried about your foot…and I’m worried that my Uncle Todd is going to die of cancer.” My heart sank as my eyes welled-up with tears, I fumbled for the right words to say. “Baby, it’s not your job to worry,” I said, my voice cracking with every word. “My foot will be fine. Uncle Todd isn’t going to die, his doctors are going to fix him.”

He snuggled closer to me, putting his little head on my chest, and thought for a few seconds. “Momma?  What’s cancer?” Again, I fumbled. I could feel my tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and hear them land on the pillowcase, close to my ears. “Cancer is something that can make people very sick. It’s also a very good reason to let people know you love them, even when you think they know”.

“Do you think he wants to borrow Elmo? Elmo always makes me feel better when I’m really sick.” I bit my lip, inhaling deeply. “No, baby. Uncle Todd would want you to keep him, just in case you need him,” I managed to squeak out.

In the days since I learned my older brother has Stage 4 Colon Cancer, time has again stood still. My text messages to him now contain the words “treatment” and “Oncologist” instead of “beer” and “barbeque”. I never in a million years thought this would be my…his…our…reality. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

He’s very optimistic. His doctors assure him that this is treatable, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared, too. As he has done with everything in his life, he’s determined to beat this. Judging by his track record, my money is on Todd. He starts his treatment tomorrow. I wish I could be there to stand by his side in the darkness, comfort him, or at very least…suggest he demand a banana, if all other words fail him.

Although I won’t be with him physically, I will be with him in spirit…as will the rest of my family. I believe once this very scary chapter is over, when Todd is on the road to recovery, we will all “beep” joyfully as we turn the page.

Why is water blue?

The boy and I had an interesting day of bonding. He was my lunch date on Saturday, although he didn’t really want to be. “I don’t like food anymore, can’t we just go to the toy store?” I had promised him a reward, he was determined to collect it. “You can’t toy shop on an empty stomach, dude. This is serious business,” I said, instead of trying to debunk the “I don’t like food” defense. “I guess you’re right,” he sighed, as we pulled off the road and into a restaurant parking lot.

As we got out of the car, he began to crawl on his hands and knees peering at the undercarriage. “Um, what are you doing?” I asked, as I think any reasonable person would. “There’s a can under there, I wanted to see if you crushed it when we pulled in. You didn’t, can you try to smash it when we leave?” “I’ll try my best,” I responded. I helped him up and led him into the restaurant. We sat outside on the patio, it’s starting to get ridiculously hot here, again. I knew it wouldn’t be crowded and we could quietly chat. He touched the table the way old ladies do when you take them someplace to eat they’ve never been before. “This is nice,” he said, smiling and inspecting the children’s menu.

“Hi, my name is Chris. I’ll be your server today,” the waiter was cheerful and eager to bring us things, I like those qualities in a waiter. “Hi, I’m five. I can ride my bike without training wheels,” my son said with the confidence and demeanor of a politician, while throwing his elbow over the back of his chair. “I don’t wet the bed anymore and… I have a Puffle named Willie. I’m just throwing that out there. What’s your Puffle’s name?” The waiter looked at me, I could see he was taken aback by the little dude. I waited for him to respond, when he didn’t, I wasn’t sure what to say.  I figured things couldn’t get anymore awkward than they were at that moment, so I went with, “Hi. I’m 34. I don’t wet the bed anymore either. I helped name the Puffle, and I’d love a rum and coke in the biggest glass you have”.

“What is a Puffle?” Chris asked. “The thing that makes me want a drink,” I responded, hoping he’d walk away without any further questioning. It didn’t work. My boy might have a future as a Jehovah’s Witness, as he insists on spreading the good word. “Willie is Jr. Flappers’ pet. Jr. Flappers is my Penguin. Willie is red and fluffy. He doesn’t have any arms or legs…but he still rides a skateboard pretty good. I play with them”.

For anyone keeping track, my little nugget of awesome is claiming we are harboring an arctic creature in the simmering heat of Florida, and are forcing a long-haired, quadriplegic, life form to entertain us by riding a skateboard. No, I haven’t replaced his nutritious breakfast with frosted LSD and please don’t call PETA.

All of these things take place in the virtual seventh circle of hell known as “Club Penguin”. Disney thought it would be a great idea to create a social networking site, infused with games, and of course…Puffles. “I have a membership card, wanna see it?” Yes, they sell membership cards. Yes, he carries it with him. “Jr. Flappers has an igloo, you should stop by sometime.” Yes, he just invited someone over to his igloo.

“That’s awesome, I have a daughter. We haven’t reached the Puffle stage yet, I guess.” I was thankful that the waiter had experience wrangling small children and I didn’t have to try and explain. You can’t control what they say, resistance is futile. You can either be embarrassed or embrace it. I want him to be able to carry on a conversation. These are the things that are important to him, so this is what we talk about.

Sometimes, admittedly, he throws me a curveball. “Mommy? Why is the water blue?” he asked as he was getting ready for a bath. I tried to pull up all the long forgotten Earth Science information I still had stored in my head. I said something about reflection from the sun and depth of the water, but I was clearly just making it up as I went along.

He stared at me blankly for a minute, “No, I mean in the toilet…why is the water blue? Everyone knows why the sea is blue.” Apparently,  my long-winded explanation about the ocean bored the hell out of him. “Oh, I put stuff in there to help me keep the house clean,” he thought about my answer and then, “Does it help you concentrate?” I laughed and responded, “Uh, sure.” I still haven’t figured out where that one came from, I guess he must do most of his thinking on the potty.

The toilet cleaning tablets went in the tank on Sunday, but had they gone in on Saturday…I’m sure the waiter would have heard about that, too.


“What’s that?” he asked as he walked by the dining room table. He was eyeing a shiny leather case with the word “Kodak” embossed on the front. “It’s a camera,” I responded. In pristine condition, this relic belonged to my grandparents. Everything they owned looked like it had never been used.

“That’s not a camera, it’s too big to be a camera,” he laughed. Born in 2007, he is of a generation that will never be able to look at a common household item and fondly remember its Buick-sized predecessor.

“Can I have it?” This is a question he asks when presented with just about everything he’s not familiar with. Sometimes I give in. “I wanna break it,” he chirped. Thankfully, he hasn’t developed the ability to mask his true intentions. “No, that’s mommy’s,” I said, grabbing the case and moving it to higher ground. The safest place in the house right now is atop the refrigerator, next to the cheese grater and the other things I don’t want him to touch. “Are you gonna break it? I wanna help!”

The boy stood in front of the refrigerator; his arms extended, pointing at the camera. He was trying to will the the camera to leap into his arms. His face twisted in frustration when it didn’t work. He tried again, this time standing on his tiptoes.

“No, I’m not going to break it,” I said calmly as I put dinner in the oven. There are times when the memory of my grandparents has made me want to break things, but this was too cool to smash into itty bitty pieces. I was amused by my son’s experiment with telekinesis. Quietly, I wondered if the Russian scientist who coined the term ever encouraged his test subjects to “put some toe in it,” for extra oomph.

“How does it work?” Relentless curiosity, it’s a good quality to have. He’s also quite the food critic, so I made him wait til I set the oven timer before I provided an explanation. No one likes burnt nuggets. I handed him the camera and let him examine it, watching carefully. He flipped it over several times, pushing the buttons and turning the knobs.

“Where’s the screen to see the pictures? This thing is broken.. You should throw it out. Can I have it?” this sentence came out of his mouth so rapidly it sounded like one long word. “It doesn’t have a screen. It was made before they had screens, they used film. It’s not broken. No, you have your own camera,” I replied, just as quickly. “Fiiiilllmmm?” he repeated, as if I was teaching him a new word in a foreign language. I started to explain what it was, his eyes went blank. I’d lost him. I was thankful, because I know about as much about cameras as I do….mid-century Chilean porcupine sedation techniques.

“I don’t have a camera!” he declared The child has a mental inventory of every object he has ever owned…which makes it hard to pare down the growing collection. Even if something is broken he still demands it be kept, heaven forbid you throw out the severed arm of a missing lego figure. He knows exactly what he has, until he sees something he wants. Because of this talent, I also have to keep a watchful eye on the toy chest to keep duplication to a minimum. “You most certainly do, the red one,” I reminded him.

He knew which one I was talking about, but he paused for dramatic effect. “The red one? Oh, that red one! Where is it?” I wasn’t going to divulge that information. I’d made it temporarily disappear a few months ago. His laughter showed me he was still incredibly amused by the actions that caused the camera to go into seclusion.

It was January, the weather was crappy and we were stuck indoors. There are few things worse than being holed up with a rambunctious child. Admittedly, I was hiding. I could hear him laughing from the other side of the door, but it wasn’t the evil genius laugh. I assumed that he and the dog were still playing the loud game of tag that sent me seeking refuge. It’s not really tag, it’s more chase the dog until she hides under the table…wait until she forgets why she’s hiding…then chase her again. Semantics. As long as a wagging tail is present, I don’t interfere.

I let my guard down and the laughter got further away, resuming my immersion in the article I was reading about Kim and Kanye. I had just gotten to the part where Mr. West introduced Kim as his “babymomma”. I stopped to gather my feelings, which I grouped thusly: A) I was not aware that Dolce or Gabbana designed maternity wear. B) I pictured the woman of his dreams to feature a diamond encrusted release valve, vast amounts of air behind vacant eyes, and a permanently puckered facial expression. C) Kim Kardashian is probably the closest thing to a blow-up doll society has to offer at this point.

I was just about to move on to “D” when the door swung wide open, wildly bouncing on its hinges. “Say CHEESE!!” screeched my boy, clad with his Disney trademarked digital camera. He blinded me with the flash as he rapidly snapped photos. When he stopped and I was able to commandeer the device, I went through the memory of the camera. At the end of the 700-and-something close-up pictures of the inside of his nose and the dog’s butt, there were at least 35 shots of me…sitting on the toilet…wearing my pants around my ankles, and a less than thrilled expression.

If I went through them fast enough, it was almost like one of those flip-books I made as a kid with the galloping horse. I could see myself go from surprised to irritated, mouthing the words “What are you doing? Get the hell out of here with that thing!”

Some of the photos even had me on the commode, seated right in between a smiling Lightning McQueen and Mater. Apparently, you can press a button and add a digital version of your favorite character to the images. Disney really pulled out all the stops when they dreamed this toy up. It’ll be fun, they said. Let your child capture memories on their own, they said.

Either he was prepared to suffer for his art, or he now realizes that he is always granted immunity when his acts of mischief are hilarious. The boy didn’t even try to fake remorse, he just giggled, grabbed the camera out of my hands, and ran into the living room.

As I relayed this story to my parents, they laughed. Then my mother said, as she always does “You’d better look out, you’ve got your hands full. I don’t remember you guys ever acting this way.”  We totally did, my brothers and I just tormented each other, instead of our parents.

Betty White eats Andy Warhol

Unlocking the deadbolt, I open the front door. I’m always uneasy about what I’m going to find. Betty White predictably greets us. She’s a happy soul with a destructive nature, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a creature her age.

The entry hallway of our condo obscures the living area. As I round the corner I hope she hasn’t entertained herself by shredding important documents, crayon desecration, or artfully arranging my dirty underwear in front of the sofa.

My son darts ahead of me, at his age everything is a race. “I win! In yo’ face, Betty! This is MY HOUSE!!!” he giggles, pretending to stuff an imaginary basketball through a nonexistent hoop. He learned this celebratory taunt from me, I borrowed it from Charles Barkley.

Ms. White, completely unaware that there was a competition sits down on the floor. Her memory isn’t the best. She reacts with surprise, even though the same scenario plays out consistently. It’s not the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, I’m not ignoring the warning signs of deteriorating cognitive abilities. I’m also not holding a 90 year old Emmy winner captive in my home. Betty is our Shih Tzu puppy.

“Ewww! Underwear!” I was waiting for my sons reaction. It’s a daily thing.  He’s disgusted by her hobbies. He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s either, he’s five. Words like underwear are hilarious to him. “Farty, fart, fart fart! You eat underwear!” he sings to the small ball of fluff as she wiggles with excitement. “What kind of dog is Betty, again?” he asks me…knowing full well what the answer is, but doing a pretty convincing job of feigning ignorance.  “A Bull Mastiff,” I say, winking at him.  “No she’s not, she’s a SHIT SUE!” He’s jumping up and down as he says this, I can’t tell if Grandma’s cookies are to blame for the burst of energy or he’s still ecstatic that he gets to yell the word “SHIT” without fear of punishment.

I grab my unmentionables and take them into my room. We got Betty from a friend in September when she was the size of a coffee cup, she isn’t much bigger than that now. My friend told me that the breed was used to guard the castles of ancient Asian royalty. Throwing my undies in the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, I laugh thinking about this. I try to piece together a scenario where a stealthy man dressed in black leaps over a wall.  Carrying an arsenal of primitive weapons, he wanders through a bonsai garden without detection.  Finally he reaches a house, as he scurries around a rice paper wall he slips on a puddle of freshly squeezed dog pee and a shredded piece of paper with important elementary school telephone contacts printed on it.  Suddenly he hears a burp, his ankles are being licked aggressively.  He retreats in fear, deterred by a small-bladdered mop with feet, and an underwear fetish. “Ninjas must not be the fearless warriors we assume they were.  Pussies,” I mutter under my breath.

“Mommmmm-mmmmyyyyyyy! Betty is in my room! She’s got Sharky! She won’t let him go!” I hear the boy shout.  Yeah, he’s telling on the dog. “You should learn to pick up your toys, buddy! Keep asking for a little sister”. I yell in response, amused by his exasperated tone.

“Betty is NOT my sister!” he declares. “Oh, but she acts like one. She’s doing exactly what a little sister would do. I should know, I am one.” Sharky is a plastic Great White.  He was a purchase from the art museum gift shop and broke approximately 30 minutes after swiping my debit card. The boy only shows interest in him when he’s scheduled to be thrown away or he’s covered in dog spit.

“But, he was my present from the buseum. Remember? We got him when we went to see the shark exhibit and Larry Walmart?” he yelled from the carpet in his room. He was trying to elicit a fond memory so I would come to the rescue of Sharky. “Warhol, buddy. Andy Warhol,” I correct.  “Whatever,” he said.

I did remember our trip to the “buseum”.  I told him we were going to do something fun, it backfired. “This isn’t fun, mom. Fun is getting dirty. This is boring”.  I must have heard him say, “culture sucks” at least a hundred times that day.

Even his pint-sized protest could not persuade me to leave. I love art, someday I am determined to force him to love it too. The “Larry Walmart” exhibit was a collection of Warhol’s car paintings. Once we trudged through the shark exhibit, with the security guards laughing at my efforts to get the boy to appreciate the sculptures and paintings, I was certain my boy would change his tune.

“A BMW!!!!!” he chirped as we made our way up the stairs. “We should paint your car like that!!!” Admittedly, I considered it…but only for a minute. “No, I don’t think so,” I said guiding him to inspect the brightly painted German engineering. “Mr. Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes,”  I thought imparting this pearl of wisdom would catch his interest. “He was wrong, mom. I’ve never heard of him,” ignoring me, he let go of my hand and tried to get a better look at the car. I held onto his shoulder, not because the museum was busy, but because I know my son.

“Don’t touch,” I ordered.  “Mommy can’t afford to buy a damaged Warhol” He seemed to be okay with just staring at the colorful pieces on the wall.  “This guy should paint sharks!” the boy declared.  We spent quite a bit of time on the second floor, I was pleased that I’d tricked him into culture.  We made our way towards the exit. like everything in Florida…Walt Disney’s marketing strategies leaked in.  Gift shops materialize out of nowhere.

I was hoping to get out of there without dropping an ass-load of coin on a cheap plastic memento   As I scanned the bins I noticed that there were no cars, I thought I was off the hook.  My boy wasn’t interested in the art prints.  “Success!” I thought.  We wandered towards an elderly man in a navy blue sport coat.  He smiled as he saw us coming, “It’s always nice to see a young person here”.  The boy was suddenly shy, he whispered “I really liked the trucks,” as he pressed himself against my hip.  “That’s great! Let me get you a coloring book!” the man said.  He motioned for us to follow him.  What seemed like an innocent act of generosity was actually a trap.  The route to the coloring book lead us to another gift shop.  This is where the toys were.

The boy thanked the man for the book.  As soon as he was out of sight, I was handed free gift and my son was on the hunt for something…less free.  He wandered through the merchandise, I stood near a shelf making sure he couldn’t escape and molest the artwork.  As he shopped, I perused the pages of the coloring book.  If you’re wondering what feeling an Andy Warhol themed children’s pamphlet gives you…the answer is creeped-out.  The pages contained a cartoon Andy saying things like “Hey kids, this is art”.  From what I know of Warhol, I don’t think he would ever have said that.  My little art critic came bounding back with what, at that point, was the unnamed shark.

“You didn’t even like the sharks,” I said, as I saw the price.  “No, but I want to paint it like the BMW.  It’ll be cool.”  It would be cool, I couldn’t argue with that.  I paid for the shark without any more questions. I put the coloring book in the bag with the PVC creature from the deep.  When we arrived home after our day of culture, Sharky had been named and Warhol had been forgotten.  We took Betty out for a walk, she seemed to be hanging on the boys’ every word as he told her of his adventures at the museum. Clearly, she was enthralled.  She came back in the house and promptly began eating his coloring book. I didn’t realize this until my son presented me with the pieces…stating “I guess his 15 minutes are up”.

Death to Schmootchu?

Behind me, the noise of daily life…the coffee table which doubles as a race track, the kitchen sink that I could swear was empty a few minutes ago, and is now full of dishes…and the laundry, don’t forget the laundry.  It all dissolves as I close the sliding glass door.   “I should really scrub that wall,” I said out loud as I sipped my coffee.  Abruptly, I corrected myself, “Who in the hell am I kidding?  I’m not scrubbing shit.  You wall, can stay dirty.”  Yes, I was talking to the wall and no, I’m not the least bit worried about it.  I did what every good mother does when she sees something that needs to be cleaned, I looked somewhere else.

I focused my attention on the nature preserve behind my apartment. It was this view that sold me on the place. The inside might have looked like a 1970’s porn movie set, alright, it definitely looked like a porn set, but it didn’t matter.  There is no hint of civilization from this angle, not one glimpse of parking lot or swimming pool, just trees and big fucking spiders.  The spiders and I have an agreement, as long as they stay on the other side of the screen- I won’t kill them. For a few seconds I was lost in the gentle motion of the branches swaying in the breeze and the chatter of the squirrels.  This feeling was fleeting…chaos is now old enough to open the door. ”Look, those little bastards ate all the Cheerios,” came wafting over my shoulder.  I had company, an invasion of the short, car enthusiast variety.  He and my boyfriend had set out some cereal for the squirrels a few days earlier. He was right, the little bastards did eat the Cheerios. It’s hard to get mad at him when he uses the words in the right context.  He knows he’s not supposed to say things like this, but he also knows that he’s not supposed to run around screaming without his pants on and a bucket on his head…so…there’s that.

I woke up in a particularly shitty mood, it wasn’t getting any better.  My next door neighbors have three children under the age of five, this alone makes me question their sanity. Kids are loud, it’s what they do.  I understand and accept this. The neighbors and their children were involved in their regular early morning stampede, on a good day I can sleep right through this.  Saturday was apparently not a good day.  The pitter patter of little feet coming through the walls of my master bedroom had awoken me…and I was pissed.  All I wanted to do was sleep past 7-fucking-30.  That’s it. I wasn’t looking for a unicorn to bring me a breakfast of fresh fruit, bagels and neatly folded twenty dollar bills.  I just wanted to sleep in.  It was too much to ask.  I tried the ol’ pillow over the ear trick, but there was no muting the little curmudgeons or their disagreement.  I have no idea what the argument was about, it was in Spanish.  Everything said in Spanish around me before 8 a.m. sounds like someone is asking for directions to the library, or whatever incredibly useful phrases I learned in my 10th grade Spanish class.  “Juan es muy guapo,” I mumbled, to keep myself from wishing them dead out loud.  If I can hear them, they can hear me.  They’re actually nice folks, I don’t really want them dead…I just want them quiet.

I had the usual weekend errands to run, I wanted to get them out of the way early so I wasn’t scrambling on Sunday night to get prepared for the week.  I should have been thanking them for rousing me, but “thank” is not the term I was putting in front of the word “you” at that particular moment.  I know planning is the responsible thing to do, but I sometimes resent it. I am aware that there’s really no way around it once you breed.  I held out for a long time, I was the anti-planner.  I guess I assumed that it was the gateway behavior to chin length haircuts, book clubs, minivans, and checking to see if my son’s pants were roomy enough in the crotch…in public.

Instead of openly embracing the morning and scooting over to the grocery store, I went out on the balcony to brood. “My son is down there with his shotgun. He’s driving his black Dodge Ram and shooting bears. See?” the boy said, trying to get me to peer over the side of the building and down towards the ground. I looked, there weren’t any bears, trucks, or guns. Yes, I am a grandmother and sometimes, depending on the mood, a great-grandmother.  I don’t know exactly when this happened. Chronologically speaking, if you ask my son, my grandson and great-grandson were born in 2006.  This is puzzling to me, since I vividly remember the day in 2007 when my son entered the world. “My son Jack is six and his son Schmootchu is six, too,” the boy will tell you if you ask him…and also, if you don’t.  Even though they are imaginary, we talk about them all the time.  He’ll even whip out his fake cell phone and show me pictures of them, while bragging about their accomplishments.  Jack has quite a few trucks, he’ll rattle off a list of the vehicles Jack owns on the way to wherever we’re going.  I’m not sure where he gets the money,  I think he might be into something illegal.  I never ask, though.

Apparently there is no Department of Imaginary Children and Families to keep them from driving motor vehicles or using firearms without a permit. The boy claims that his son Jack was named after his grandfather on his mother’s side.  I happen to know that my father’s name is not and has never been Jack.  Infact, no one on my side of the family is named Jack…or John…or Robert…or Roberto…or…Jacktholomew.  His grandson’s name “was found on babynames.com,” just in case you were wondering. No, I don’t know where he comes up with this stuff either. He’s too young to being ingesting acid, so this must just be the way his little brain works.  The mothers aren’t in the picture,  they have been forbidden from any contact with their figmental offspring because I am told, “girls are stupid, except for you, Mom.”  Can’t argue with that.

The other day, while I was cooking dinner the boy announced that Schmootchu was no longer with us.  I was secretly pretty happy about that, because saying the name Schmootchu in public just makes me feel like an asshole.  I prepared myself for a conversation about imaginary death and feelings.  I was relieved when I didn’t have to go into that, though.  My son went on to say that Jack sold his beloved Schmootchu to buy a new truck.  Mystery solved, Jack makes his money in human trafficking. After the laughing stopped, the boyfriend tried to explain that you’re not supposed to sell your children.  Although the boy said he understood, I’m not sure that he did. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a note coming home from school asking me to speak to my son and inform him that the correct term for a squirrel is not “little bastard,” and it is in poor form to pedal his classmates for material goods.  I can’t wait. At least Schmootchu is gone, for now.

Get well soon.

Keep in mind it hovers somewhere between 90 degrees and “Holy shit it’s hot!” here in sunny South Florida during the summer months.  I was curled up on the couch, wearing two sweatshirts, three pairs of socks, and some track pants I can assure you have never been near a track.  I don’t know why I have these pants, you may have noticed…I’m no Flo Jo.  I like to look as unattractive as humanly possible when I’m not feeling well…the pièce de résistance is the ill-fitting, sagging in the ass, navy “exercise” pants, with the racing stripes down the sides.  They scream “speed” as I assume the fetal position and pray for death.

“Mommy, are you sick?” I managed to respond with something other than a guttural noise, “yep”.  “Can we go to the park?”.  “No park”. “Scooter walk?”… “No scooter walk”. “Pool?”. “Arrgh! No, I’m not leaving the couch.  Please, find something to do and find it in your room!”.  At this point I was experiencing all of the pleasantries of the flu:  high fever, chills, sweating, aches, vomiting, runny nose, sore throat, and coughing up a yellowish/greyish/greenish substance reminiscent of alien afterbirth. Plus, I was wearing the pants.  The boy knew there was no chance of fun, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. “CanIhavesome chocolatemilk?”.

“Everything in my room is boring.  I want to watch Monster Trucks or torque trucks…in the mud on the internet.  T-O-R-Q-U-E…see?  If I can spell it I can watch it”.  I hate when he uses my words against me, especially when my words involve education.  I really just didn’t want to move.  He was doing his little spelling dance,  which is a variation of my little spelling dance.  I started doing it to keep him focused on me when I was trying to teach him how to spell his name.  Now, it would seem that I am unable to spell anything without it’s assistance. It’s much cuter when he does it, trust me.  There is nothing charming about a 30-something year old women marching in place and gesticulating like a Mouseketeer while trying to spell “acetaminophen”.  I didn’t have the energy to argue,  I turned on video of a truck pull and tried to pretend that I didn’t just willingly expose my child to the youTube ramblings of some inbred cousin-fucker at the county fair who thinks pulling stuff with a vehicle specifically designed to pull stuff is a spectator sport.  It makes no sense to me, none at all.

I debated leaving the couch for the comfort of my bed…but I knew that this would only result in the boy running into my room every six seconds to give me a report on the truck videos.  It’s nice to be needed, but…you know…not all the time.   If I weren’t sick he wouldn’t want anything to do with me, somehow, the first signs of a cold triggers his need to be an inch from my face.

“I’ll just get myself some chocolatemilk,” he chirped as he bounced into the kitchen.  I have been encouraging independence, but cleaning up a gallon of milk and store-brand chocolate syrup off of the kitchen floor was not on my list of things to do.  “I’ll get it,” I wheezed as I tried to beat him to the fridge. In addition to the possibiliy of a milk tsunami,  I didn’t want him to see that his favorite beverage was now being made with something other than Hershey’s.  He’s been consuming a lot of store-brand food as of late, so far he has not caught on to my clever ruse.  Much like every child in America with access to a television…he prefers to dine on cuisine that has a commercial featuring a cartoon character, a catchy jingle, and a ridiculously high retail price.  He’s been eating knock-off Lucky Charms…I think they’re called Happy Stars or something like that…for about a week.  What they really should be called is marshmallows, monosodium glutamate, and crack.

I got to the fridge before my son, threw open the door, and cracked a little smile.  The contents of our refrigerator is starting to resemble one of an actual family and not the cooling receptacle of a bachelor.  We finally have more than coffee creamer, beer, and a jar of pickles being kept at a consistent temperature.  We moved about a month ago, we’re no longer living with my folks.  I envisioned the sweet sound of independence to sound more like birds singing…and not a persistent cough, sporadic puking, and whining of a bored child…but whatever, I’ll take what I can get.

‘Twas the night before Kindergarten…

“Lunch, pants, beer,”  I repeated to myself as I fumbled around the kitchen.  I couldn’t get the zip loc baggies open.  The grapes I was trying to corral were slipping from my clutches.  I’ve never had a problem with plastic sandwich bags before, it was clearly nerves. ‘ Twas the night before kindergarten…and I was a wreck.  I changed my mantra…”Beer, lunch, pants”.  The boy was in bed, and I assumed, blissfully unaware of how insane his mother was driving herself with selecting the perfect snacks to accompany his peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his first ever cafeteria lunch.

It’s a good thing children are short, and therefore their clothing requires very little actual ironing.  I’m not exactly domestic, but I was giving it the old college try…well, community college try, to make sure my son didn’t feel self conscious as he tackled this new thing called elementary school.  I only mildly singed some arm hair as I reached for my beer over the iron.

I don’t remember my first day of kindergarten.  I couldn’t tell you what I ate for lunch, what I wore, or what neurotic things my mother obsessed about the night before.  I know this logically, so I’m not sure why I was acting this way.

We had an orientation of sorts the Friday before.  We got to see his classroom, meet his teacher, and tour the school. When we walked into the school it was pretty clear that the boy wasn’t impressed.  “What do you think, buddy?” I asked, overly expressing, like a Mary Kay sales woman.  Those bitches must get a free case of Valium or Ripple with every lip gloss they sell, because they’re entirely too happy about make-up.  I couldn’t believe I was acting this way…I sometimes do the hyper-gleeful schtick, hoping that my excitement will somehow rub off on him.  “I think it sucks, Mom,” he replied…totally on to me.  “I don’t think I’m gonna do the kindergarten thing,  I’ll just hang out with Grandpa and…you know…be a rock star.  Rock stars don’t go to school or eat chicken nuggets.  We discussed this, remember?”  I did remember, we have discussed this…he’s right about the rock stars not going to school…but, I wasn’t quite sure about the nuggets.  Rock stars would almost have to eat nuggets, something has to soak up the Southern Comfort.

I ignored his disgust and showed him the music room, which was equipped with a bitchin’ blue drum set.  Blue, I was recently informed, is my son’s new favorite color.  “Look baby, they can teach you how to be a rock star  It’s the right color and everything,” I said, grasping at anything I could to make this a positive experience.  “I’m not a baby, and drummer’s aren’t rock stars.  But, it might be something I can work with”.  I was getting shut down at every turn, and cursing my brother under my breath.  My brother is our family’s resident musician.  He can actually play the guitar, very well.  I just get drunk, climb up on stage, and sing, poorly. Uncle Mike isn’t a fan of drummers, I’m not sure why…you’d have to ask him.  “No nephew of mine is going to beat on the drums like a moron,” were his actual words.  Soon after he said this, my boy got his first electric guitar and amplifier.  Do I think Uncle Mike thinks that all drummers are morons?  No, I think it was a rare emotional outburst prompted by my brother wanting to mold my boy into a loud, long-haired, anti-establishment, nugget of awesome.  Aside for the hair thing, he pretty much came out of the womb this way.  I’m going to pay for this,  it’s already started.

The first day of school went pretty much as expected,  everyone’s mommy is reprimanded by two separate police officers on the way in, right?  “No, mommy isn’t going to get arrested.  No, the police officer doesn’t mean it.  Just keep walking, pretend he isn’t there,”   I said, as I tried to get him through the door of the school before the officer caught up to us.  It’s the first day of school, there was an entire fleet of vehicles resting on the berm.  I figured there was some kind of allowance, a parking “hall pass”, if you will.   Yes, I am aware that a traffic cop can arrest you.  I am also aware that parking on the sidewalk is illegal.  No, you shouldn’t park on the sidewalk just because everyone else is doing it.  I was trying to show the boy the importance of arriving to school on time.  I decided to forego the lesson on the whole “being considerate of others” bullshit.  I dropped him at his classroom and kissed his forehead.  He wiped my kiss away and stated “Tomorrow, I’m taking that damn bus,”.  “That’s not appropriate language, pal.” I whispered.  “Whatever.  Tomorrow, we bus.  I don’t want have to tell my teacher you got arrested”.  He made a valid point

As I exited the school, the second very angry police officer I totally pissed off was waiting for me by my car.  “You do realize that because you parked on the sidewalk, that guy had to walk around you!?”  he yelled within two inches of my face.  “That guy?” I asked, as I pointed at the slightly rotund man huffing down the sidewalk.  I bit my tongue and smiled, I was fighting back the urge to demand that the man thank me for forcing him to walk a few more steps…because, well, he didn’t have the physique of a “walker”.   I’m not judging, but it appeared that exercise isn’t this guy’s thing.  The cop picked the wrong guy to make an example of.  He knew it.  He’d already chosen the hard-nosed approach and caused a scene…he had to keep it going.  I understood.  At the end of his tirade I looked at him. “Tomorrow, we bus,” I said, quoting my son.  “What!!!?”  Officer Asshole yelled.  “My child will be a bus rider from here on out,  I’d hate to be a danger to society or… guys…who…uh, willingly walk into oncoming traffic”.  I was taking a chance here, I never really think about things like this…they just come out of my mouth.

He made it a point to tell me that he was issuing me a verbal warning, and walked away to scold some guy driving a minivan.  This guy was trying to jump the curb, while on his cell phone…someone can always out-do you, if you give it enough time.  As nervous as I am about putting my little man on a big yellow bus in the morning, I’m going to allow him to spread his wings…just a little.  Tomorrow, we bus.