I’m Gonna Write about You

When I started writing, I was told never to befriend a blogger because I wouldn’t know when I’d end up in print. Next, that I hadn’t made it till I woke up and found myself in someone else’s blog. Both are true. The first time I woke up in a blog or had myself retweeted, I was horrified. Now, I realize it’s par for the course–fun even.

Now, I do it to other people. Sometimes I leave clues so the people I’m writing about can find themselves, and other times I disguise them completely. Once in a while, I mention them by name. I haven’t found my close group of friends has dwindled out of fear, but I do wonder if my son will hate me one day. I tend to write about him a lot. He doesn’t listen very well and he has a mind of his own. That part he gets that from me. His athleticism and ability to blow up in a second–that’s the other side of the family. It can be a great combination when it goes well–creativity, intellect, athleticism, and entrepreneurial drive. Or, it can be quite deadly–stubborn, rage, digging heels in–a recipe for a lot of time out.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 10.02.23 AMOne day, I’d reached my limit. I looked him square in the eye and intellectualized. “You do realize I’m going to write about you.” The ultimate punishment. Worse than time out. A permanent record of misdeeds. He didn’t seem to notice. Only pictures get his attention–a picture is worth a thousand words–for him, it’s worth a thousand bucks. He charges for pictures whenever he can.

He saw the picture I posted on the first day of school, and the words below. I hadn’t paid for the rights for the photo so he insisted I read the caption. I’d written that while most parents get a smiling picture of their Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 9.59.23 AMkid coming off the bus, mine was receiving an admonishment for being inappropriate. My troublemaking friend shared the picture, saying “Don’t listen, buddy. Always be inappropriate. Be highly, highly inappropriate.” Declan smiled. I should have told him it said, “Always listen to the bus monitor.” I was stupid to read it.

“I like your friend better than you, Mommy. I’m going to be inappropriate.” He references that quote often. He lives up to it. His life in the public eye.

Six-year olds are fickle. They’re becoming sentient beings. He is aware. He gets embarrassed and doesn’t like people to laugh at him. We left basketball tryouts in shame because he felt the world was laughing. That’s either narcissism or paranoia. I probably need to get him treated for both.

I use it as a threat. “If you keep that up, I’m gonna write about you.”

“DON’T WRITE ABOUT ME, MOMMY!” He stopped the bad behavior. I reneged–I’m writing about him now.  The way I see it, this will be a nice chronicle of childhood for him when I leave this planet. Before I do, however, it’ll be a series of links to send all future significant others and maybe his future spouse. I told him my plans.

“When you get married your family can read this.”

“I’m not gonna get married. I’m going to be a paleontologist. But I think I’ll marry you, Mommy.” I explain that while paleontologists can get married, only Oedipus can marry his mom. It’s a problem. I told him he’d have to wait till he was older to hear why.

“When I’m a teenager?”

“Yes. Maybe.”

“When I’m a teenager, I’m gonna do whatever I want. I’m going to watch Total Drama Island and swear. I’m going so say ‘shit’ when I’m a teenager. Teenagers can do anything you know.”

I explain that he can do anything when he moves out or hands me a rent payment. I pay the bills and I set the rules.

He puts a quarter on the table. “I have lots of money.” That’s true. He got it fleecing me for pictures and walking around the house and car scouring for all money not deposited in a bank.”Can I say ‘shit’ now and do whatever I want?” This is going badly. Very badly.

“No. Save that money. I’m not saving for college, you know.”

“I have to go to college. I’m going to be a paleontologist.”

“There’s a shovel outside. Dig. It’s cheaper.”

He grumbles and whispers “shit” just one more time. I correct him and he says, “I was saying ‘ship.’ You know, like the ships that go in the water?” I’m vaguely aware of what a ship is, and that he has not said ship. He does something similar using a couple other words that cannot be said. I tell him to knock it off. He smiles the sneaky smile that indicates if I give this more attention it’ll continue.

I tell him, “I’m gonna write about you.” I’ll win this one in the end.

He asks, “Will you write the word ‘shit?‘” I glare. I’m not winning. “I mean, ‘ship?'”

Yes. I guess I will.



Electricity and First-World Conveniences

$187.74. The electricity bill. That’s pretty high.

“Did you miss a payment?” Rusty asked.

“No. I overpaid.” I pay random amounts and usually end up months ahead. Why? I don’t know. Bill ADHD. I try to get ahead of the months I know will be higher. This is one of those freaky post-recession financial behaviors I still do, even though I’m blessed to be paying my bills and eating food on a regular basis now. Vegetable gardening is the other freaky-post-recession behavior. But that’s kind of fun.

I analyzed the bill. Usually I don’t–it’s sort of like looking at a scale. No one really wants to know the truth. Ever. The truth is better left ignored.

Sure enough, $87 for the electricity itself and $90 for distribution. And some random fees and taxes because the bill wasn’t quite high enough. That makes sense. But fifty percent of the bill seems an awful high fee for “distribution.” I think they hired a drug dealer to do this job and then jacked the fees accordingly.

I thought understanding my Verizon bill was tough. The Verizon bill makes me jump up and down on the phone getting transferred to “sister companies” all over the world who tell me “You need the business department,” or “Sorry, that’s the Internet division.” I jump up and down faster, even though they can’t see this gesture of frustration and say “I just want to pay you!” in four different languages until I finally give up and keep my money just a little bit longer.

But the electric bill is testing the limits of my education. We should use that for the high-stakes graduation requirement. All students who understand it completely graduate. We’d save a lot of standardized testing money and the rainforest trees used for making diploma stock would live to see another day.

I want someone to put a big number on one piece of paper and say, “Listen, moron. Here’s your bill. You’re living in the 21st century. You have lights. Internet. A refrigerator that keeps your food from killing you. Shut up and pay. It costs a lot. Empty your checkbook and resume your regularly scheduled first-world behavior.” I want a bill that can be tweeted to me, “$187.74. Pay or lose your air conditioning.”

electricity billI don’t really need six itemized lines that require me to take classes in nuclear obfuscation. What is a “LIHEAP Enhancement Charge?” or the $11.01 I’m being charged for “Energy Efficiency Programs?” $11 a month to teach someone to turn off a lightbulb? There’s a “transmission charge,” a “transition charge,” and a “distribution charge.” Are they bringing electricity to me three separate times?

According to the paragraph on the side, I have the right to dispute, and there is an “explanation of billing terms available.” But I’m smart. I Googled LIHEAP. The acronym reminded me of “lie a heap,” which sounds like a political term, so I was intrigued. Turns out, it’s “Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.”  I support that. State law, I researched, says that it may not be more than ten dollars per year. Mine is eighty-three cents. It seems they broke down my ten dollars into thoughtful installments, but in the end, I am charged over ten times more more to contribute to training people in the fine art of turning off lightbulbs than I donate to helping people in need. Maybe more people need to learn to turn off lightbulbs.

If I flip the bill over, there’s a helpful graph. It shows how I barely used any electricity before, and in June I used half a power plant. I filed that under “happiness” budget, not “utilities” though, because my husband hates summer. June is when the A/C wars begin. He puts the air conditioning as cold as he can get away with and I change it as soon as he turns around. He tells me to put on a sweater. When I was younger, my dad used to say “Put on a sweater” all winter. I’m traumatized. I’m an adult. I refuse to do that now–especially during the summer. We have an ongoing scientific discussion. Rusty says that because I change the temperature when I’m uncomfortably cold and he’s not home, all the molecules in the house must recool, which ultimately costs more money. Therefore, the bill is $187.74. I’m sure he’s right. But I’m cold. I’ll give an extra few bucks under a line item they should list on the bill “molecule recooling comfort fee.” Or the “marriage preservation tax.” Either of those would be fine by me.

So, I paid the bill. And found the remote control to the stand-up air conditioner and turned it up a few degrees, because my sweater is in the bedroom and everyone’s asleep. I don’t want to wake them. I’m rather enjoying the peace and quiet.

Bills paid, I’m going to go make some more hot coffee while I wait for the room to warm up.



I Can Do Anything I Want

Don't Touch the Thermostat“Mom, you can’t do that!”

Um, yes, I can. It seems like I, once again, made an executive parenting decision that was unpopular to the crowd. Too bad.

I started to think. I just turned 42. There is a whole host of things I can do now. In fact, I can do anything I want.

For example:

I can eat all the candy I want. Every day. I remember the first time I discovered this. I bought a pound of M&Ms with my babysitting money–back when a pound was 16 ounces, a boatload of chocolate–and kept it in my room. I ate the whole thing I didn’t want candy after that. I tell that to Declan I can eat all the candy I want but he has to eat vegetables. It’s fun parenting. I rarely eat junk. But I can.

I can use the thermostat. Heck, I pay bills, so I refuse to “put on another sweater.” There’d be days growing up when I looked like the Fat Albert I had so many sweaters, and Dad would tell me to get one more. Lesson one: you can never have enough sweaters. Lesson two: don’t go with electric heat during the Carter administration.

Even today, I argue with my husband–he feels strongly heat should be kept at one steady temperature. Something about the molecules of the furniture reabsorbing heat and costing more. Maybe there’s a science person out there who can weigh in on this. We’ve argued–I’m sure he’s correct. That’s not the point. I want to be warm. With great pride I touch the thermostat, even though I get flashbacks of having my life threatened and being given more layers.

I can take long showers. I don’t, though. I don’t want the world to have less water on my account. I love the environment.

I can stay up as late as I want. I can party all night. But that never quite meshes with my getting anything done at work the next day. It’s just not fun. I learned that in college–looking at a plate of eggs at 6AM and falling asleep at an 8AM class just didn’t bring the joie de vive that it should have for someone who had the freedom to be social all night.

I can say the F word. I like to save it for emergencies though, because otherwise it loses its effect, and there really isn’t a better word in reserve. Well, there is, but it’s not in English–it’s a swear in Russian that packs quite a punch, but when translated, comes across as “penis from the mountain,” which doesn’t reflect extreme anger as intended. Lesson: never swear in a foreign language.

I can hook up stereo wires, pack a trunk, and use a lawnmower. I can drive a stick shift. I can do all the things that were relegated to the male world or put in the “no” and “don’t touch,” category growing up.

I can do anything I want. But the problem is this–It’s no longer a big deal. That’s how you know you’ve grown up…when you can do anything you want, but “anything,” is no longer fun. Fun, for me, is growing more carrots that I could ever eat, reading a book, running. Or writing this post. All nerd things.

I wonder if, when I contemplated all the things I’d be able to do when I grew up–the things everyone prohibited earlier in life–the idea ever crossed my teen mind that it wouldn’t be fun. Or productive. Did I even know what productive was?

When I’m at school and this subject comes up, I take the liberty of informing students, “Yeah, you’ll be able to do anything you want. And it’ll suck. Because you’ll have bills, responsibilities, and people counting on you. So you won’t party. You won’t blow off work, and you won’t waste stuff. Because you’ll be paying for it. In fact, study more now. You’ll be grateful later.

They all groan and tell me how terrible I am for even saying that. And I smile through the veil of a million years of experience and the commensurate beatdowns I’ve taken giving me the right to make such a statement. That’s the joy of teaching. Everyone hates the truth. That is the truth. But it must get out in the open.

And once in a while it’s fun to say. And I do. Because I can do anything I want.


Can a Man Marry a Man? A Five-Year Old’s Position on Marriage Equality

"I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes."

“I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes.”

“Mom,” Declan said

“Yes?” I replied

“Can a man marry another man?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Would they love each other?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Can they have kids?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“But then there’d be two Dads.” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would they get the baby? Babies come from moms’ bellies. Would it come from dads’ bellies?” (Declan)

“No, they would adopt. Or they would raise a child who didn’t have a mom or dad like you do. And they would love that child.” (Mom)

“Okay.  I don’t want to marry a guy.” (Declan)

“You can marry a girl. You can marry anyone you want as long as you love the person, and just pick one person out of the world.” (Mom)

“I don’t want to marry anyone.” (Declan)

“Why?” (Mom)

“Because I’m going to be a paleontologist, not a husband. Paleontologists don’t get married. They dig up dinosaur bones. And I have two best friends. One is a boy. One is a girl. It’s tough to choose.” (Declan)

“Paleontologists can get married. Whoever you marry goes with you when you move. If you  get married, who would you marry?” (Mom)

“PALEONTOLOGISTS DON’T GET MARRIED! THEY DIG UP DINOSAUR BONES! And I’m taking the dog with me to my paleontologist tent…Can I marry you, Mommy?” (Declan)

Now that, I fear, is an entirely different issue. “No. I am already married to Daddy. You can only marry one person.” (Mom)

“Can two moms have a baby?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would you know which mom you needed if you sick? Would one be called ‘Daddy?'” (Declan)

“They would both love you the same and help you if you were sick. Some families call one mom ‘Mom’ and the other ‘Mommy.’ Then you know.” (Mom)

“I’d like TWO moms AND two dads.” (Declan).

“That, would be an awful lot of people to tell you to clean your room.” (Mom)

“Paleontologists don’t clean their room. They dig for dinosaur bones.” (Declan) I think he wants to follow that with “Are you stupid? Do you not understand the words coming out of my mouth?” But lucky for him and his life expectancy, which still has a lot remaining, he does not. Instead he just informs me, “I’m going to leave my room a mess. Even if I have two moms and a grandma.”

End of story.

[Image credit: New Yorker Magazine, May 2, 2011]



Life Hacks: How to Survive without Any Common Sense Whatsoever

I have no common sense. If Thomas Paine gave me an autographed copy of his opus, I’d still lack common sense. Some would say this makes me creative. People like me would say this, for example. Others would say this makes me a disaster of epic proportion waiting to destroy the universe. My husband would say that. We think differently.

We ran into this while building a greenhouse two autumns ago. I miss that greenhouse–I didn’t get to bring it with me when we moved. Now that the farms are asleep for the winter and I have not yet achieved self-sufficiency on this new plot of land, I must go to the regular store. Sadness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to bring my greenhouse–I did. When I ordered the “kit” I didn’t know it would come in 496 pieces, because I don’t have common sense.  A normal person would’ve looked at the flat box with the Chinese characters (because I’ve now studied enough Mandarin to realize it said “we laugh at your attempts to assemble this because we are paid slave wages”) and said, “That’s going to be a bitch to put together.” Not me. I said, “Herbs in the winter.”  If the directions had been in some Asian language, I’d have been able to puzzle through it, but the 3×5 instruction card had pictures and arrows which required spatial recognition and common sense. Game over.

By the time I had all 496 pieces spread alphabetically across the lawn, I didn’t think the greenhouse would ever emerge.  It nearly ended our marriage. In the end, it took three of us to defeat–one academic sans common sense (me), one ex-military jack of all trades turned entrepreneur (my husband) and one machinist (the kindly neighbor). It was so secured with bolts, wires, duct tape, and salvaged nails that it was going nowhere. It could have doubled as the neighborhood bomb shelter if it weren’t so small. It would be staying right where it was.

I tried to contribute to the assembly process, but it was out of my league.  I’m handy. I refinished the downstairs after the Great Flood. I used the Sinatra method, mind you, “I did it my way,” because the right way would’ve required common sense–I’m not above measuring boards for a shelf using a piece of dental floss if it’s within reach. I used a jig saw to router out some moulding when I was lacking the right tool. It’s shady, I admit, but it works. My husband can’t watch, because he does things “right.”

The greenhouse was mocking me. So, I did what comes naturally–I pretended to work, making progressively fewer logical moves descending into the ridiculous. Things “someone with no common sense” would ever do. Things designed to attract Rusty’s attention.  I knew that sooner or later his staff sergeant intuition would detect a ripple in the force and he’d come over to provide the leadership I needed to take that hill. I mean assemble that greenhouse.

This strategy, incidentally, works in classy department stores when you can’t get assistance–try it this holiday season. I call it the “May I help you?” move.  Walk around befuddled and utterly confused. Touch everything, starting with the expensive stuff first.  In less than thirty seconds, the salesperson who had spent the last half-hour ignoring you will be at your side serving you as if you were the King or Queen of England. Especially if you are underdressed looking like you might rob the place.

This choreographed move works well for husbands who need that sense of order, too. Most specifically leadership husbands with military backgrounds. Sometimes it backfires when I am focusing on the job at hand but my appearance of disorder puts me on his radar.  Mowing the lawn, for example. He likes straight lines. I circle and zig-zag. As such, I have been fired Trump-style from mowing.

I am permitted to build stuff, however, as long as Rusty doesn’t have to watch. He must be far removed my lack of systems, efficiency, analytics and process, and at the end, he’ll emerge and say, “That came out nice!”

Yes, he’s the entrepreneur and I’m the useless academic. I’d have been the first one purged by Stalin. “What do you do for society?” would be the question.

“I think and I write.” I’d reply.

“Yes, but can you manufacture a greenhouse and contribute to society?” Game over. Pack a warm coat for that train to Siberia.

Studying the art of vision is fascinating–when I create, it’s as if the pieces come to life and tell me what they want to become–my plan twists, pivots, morphs, and emerges–it’s always different from my original intent. At least twice during every project I want to burn it, toss it, smash it and start again. I resist the urge, and end up with a work that transcends my original intent.

My husband starts with a plan, executes the plan, and finishes the plan. When it’s done, the results are what he intended; effective, brilliant, efficient, and able to be successfully replicated a million times by using “the system.” It’s probably why he’s the entrepreneur.

Usually our thinking styles, left to percolate in their own spheres, unite and produce something fantastic. This time we were in trouble. Thankfully, the machinist neighbor looked out his window–he couldn’t help it–it was a small neighborhood–and bailed us out to the tune of a case of Mountain Dew which I left gratefully on his doorstep the next morning like an offering to the gods.

No more greenhouse kits for me. When I build the next one this spring, I’ll do it from scratch. Just some posts and a makeshift foundation built on some 4×4’s reinforced with whatever I can find.  I’ll hack it together until I get a rectangle-ish looking building covered with polycarbonate of one sort or another. And I’ll do it when nobody’s home, because I’m going to Picasso this thing out of the dust and it’s not going to be a pretty process. When it is finished, however, it’ll give me the winter of herbs and veggies I desire.

That greenhouse, along with other household projects, made me realize that it takes both sides–the yin and the yang–to make the circle of life complete. We can be extremes, but we must meet in the middle. My husband and I both have our sides. We are both right. And wrong. Simultaneously. Maybe that’s what life is all about–learning to balance those extremes and create a whole that is more than the sum of the parts.

This winter, I can go to the grocery store while I wait for the farm to wake up, and I can take occasional Saturday trips to the farmer’s market across the state. Since I’ve been in the farm and small market loop so long, I’ve noticed how funny the grocery store really is. It’s stocked to the brim with stupid stuff. Stuff that I will never buy, and have, in fact, decided to mock. But that will be the topic of the next post.

[img: designstyleguide.net]