Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Empty" Nest Economics

Our nest is not quite empty, but with Son-Three having set up housekeeping across town, it certainly is emptier. The funny thing is that I think I've actually been seeing a lot more of him since he moved out than I had been before he left. We had scheduling issues when he was still at home since he worked the overnights and I worked second shift, he was rarely out of bed before I left for work and gone when I got home.

Now, he has been over mid-afternoon several times to do laundry and, of course, raid the fridge. He was over here yesterday, poking around the kitchen and called out to me, "Hey, Mom, how come there's so much more food in the house now that I'm gone?"

Hmmmm, I wonder.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Year* of Living Dangerously

I went to kindergarten in El Paso, Texas. We moved there a week or so before the start of school and my first memory of Texas is of being bitten on my big toe by a fire ant while taking our garbage to the dumpster at the motel where we were staying while waiting for our house to be ready. Not an auspicious beginning, but as it turns out, certainly a portentous one.

During the brief time that we lived in Texas, I was rushed to the emergency room five times. I became something of a frequent flyer, much to my mother's distress.

First, I was at a friend's house sitting on the broad brick railing of her porch, along with a bunch of other kids. I don't remember how exactly it happened, but I slid backwards over the edge and hit the back of my head on the sidewalk six feet below. There was blood--a dramatic amount--gushing enough to coat the top half of the back of my T-shirt in the minute or two it took one of the older girls to walk me home. At the emergency room, the split in my scalp turned out to be superficial so I was cleaned up and sent on my way. My mother had been given a list of signs of concussion to watch out for and, for several hours, watched me with a level of maternal paranoia bordering on hysteria. (Having been on the maternal end of that paranoia now, I have much more empathy for my poor mother.)

Next, I was sitting backwards in a chair at our dining room table while waiting for my mother to bring me my lunch. I did not do well with boredom even then and was occupying myself by pretending to be a typewriter carriage1--lightly biting the top of the chair back from left to right and then "ding!" and slide back to the left and start again. (Even then, my amusements were at least tangentially word-based.) Midway through a line, the chair came completely apart, and I landed on the floor, catching the back of my head on one of the exposed nails from the chair's innards. This time, there was very little blood. I remember that there were three drops of blood on the dining room floor and that the cut on my head required one stitch for each drop of blood.

The same week, I was allowed to go out to play, and the stitches sticking up out of the shaved patch on the back of my head made me an instant celebrity in the neighborhood. There was much ooohing and aaahing and I was riding around in someone's red wagon as part of some impromptu parade. There was a kid walking behind us using a curtain rod as a makeshift baton and somehow the unfinished end of the curtain rod rammed me in the back of the head, pulling loose the stitches. So it was back to the emergency room with me.

Some time later, Little Sister and I were playing in our yard with some neighborhood kids when the subject of which one of us was faster came up. It was determined that we would race around the house and the first person to touch the bush in front where we'd started would be declared the winner. We stood back to back, someone shouted "Go!" and we went. When we passed one another in the back, it was clear that the race was going to be ridiculously close. Coming around opposite ends toward the front of the house, we were both so intent on being the first to touch the bush that we crashed into each other at full speed. Her forehead slammed into my eye causing immediate swelling and discoloration on both her forehead and my eye. Concerned for my vision, my mother took me to the emergency room where we were essentially told to keep a (non-swollen) eye on it and come back if there were vision issues when the swelling went down.

Finally, shortly before we moved from Texas to Colorado, we were at a park with some family friends. The twelve-year-old brother of a friend of mine was walking across the top of the horizontal ladder, a feat which so impressed me that I did not let the fact that I was half his size and less than half his age dissuade me from attempting it myself. In my memory, I made it about halfway across before slipping down between the bars and landing on the ground with a thoroughly dislocated elbow.

At the emergency room, while my elbow was put back where it belonged, a nurse apparently took my mother aside and told her they noticed that this was my fifth visit in recent months. This nurse told my mother in an accusatory tone that if they saw me there again, they would call the authorities, clearly implying that they suspected abuse. I've wondered about the logic of that threat off and on over the years. If the nurse truly suspected abuse, wouldn't the time to call the authorities have been right then? 

Fortunately, there wasn't any abuse going on. Although, looking back, I can see how a case could be made that I was at least attempting to abuse the laws of physics and most certainly abusing my poor mother's patience and sanity.

*Made all the sadder by the fact that, to my recollection, we actually only lived in Texas for nine months.

1. In much the same way that I have come to accept the fact that the "oldies" station in town is now regularly playing songs from when I was in high school, I also begrudgingly accept that not everyone will understand what a typewriter carriage is (or was) without a visual aid. Here, the best example I could find.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Iodine

As a big fan of both of Haven Kimmel's memoirs (A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off The Couch), it's kind of strange to me that  I haven't paid more attention to her fiction. I read and enjoyed Something Rising (Light and Swift), but nothing since. The titles of several of her other novels have been languishing in my to-read notebooks (yes, plural) for years.

On my last trip to the library, I went in search of The Used World, which appears no fewer than four times in those pages, indicating that a) I found a positive review of it in at least four locations on separate occasions and b) I am probably senile or I would've remembered at least one or two of the times I had written it down previously before writing it down again. While reaching for The Used World, I saw that the Haven Kimmel title right beside it had a "Staff Pick" sticker on the binding. After reading the staff review on the inside cover, I tucked Iodine under my arm along with, finally, The Used World.

I do not say lightly that Iodine is unlike any book I've ever read before. The sometime narrator and central character is Trace Pennington, a brilliant and deeply disturbed college senior living under a false identity and hiding a troubled past. As that past is slowly revealed to us, biographical facts are liberally mixed with fantasy and hallucinations; dreams are recalled as memory. It becomes clear that we are inside the mind of a young woman who has lost (or never had) the ability to distinguish reality from her perception of it.

In Jen's "Staff Pick" review, she calls the book "complex and disturbing" and it is assuredly that. Complex because Trace is brilliant--an English/classics double major with a minor in psychology who has "accidentally" taken enough credits for minors in humanities, philosophy and women's studies. Her academic life focuses on the last two classes she needs to complete her hyphenated degree(s): Archetypal Analysis of Literature and Special Topics in Archetypal Psychology. Kimmel touches on these topics--with special focus on Jung and Freud and the work of Dr. James Hillman, whom Kimmel acknowledges in a note at the end of the book. And complex, too, because Trace's focus and thoughts shift so often and mostly without warning, that it may take a sentence or two to notice the shift. It is definitely a book to read with little or no outside distractions.

The book is disturbing not just for what we learn about Trace, but for what it might make us realize about ourselves. How often do you start to reminisce with someone about a shared event and find out that his or her memory differs, often drastically, from your own?

Years ago, I helped a friend work on a paper on the subject of memory for her college psychology class. One of the things that stuck with me from the research for that paper was that the vividness of a memory is in no way related to its accuracy.

Trace's mind has remade whole swaths of her life, in order to protect her from experiencing the full damage of her past, in order to transform her actual history into a history she can live with. To a lesser degree, I think all of our minds are busily doing the same for us even at this very moment.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Intriguing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Friday, February 18, 2005

The other day, Daughter-Only asked if she could get married, presumably to her long-ish* term boyfriend who was sitting beside her at the time. I assumed she was joking about getting married at 17 because to assume otherwise would send me into a spiral of emotional turmoil from which I might never recover--and, also, because she really seemed to be joking.

My answer, by the way, was "Absolutely not, but thanks for asking."

This week's Spiral Notebook offering is another conversation I had with Daughter-Only about marrying young. She was about 10 1/2 at the time. We never really finished the conversation started in this excerpt. In light of recent (joking!) events, I kind of wish we had.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Last night, Daughter-Only was reading over my shoulder while I was working on the essay about marriage. She was stunned by a line about my being three weeks shy of my nineteenth birthday on my wedding day. I'm not sure how my age on my wedding day has escaped her attention up to this point--other than the fact that, as her mother, the details of my previous existence are of limited interest to her at this point in her life. In any case, it had apparently not crossed her mind that in order to have been married seventeen years at the age of thirty-five, I must've been eighteen on my wedding day.

She was appalled. She said, "That's horrid!" several times. She didn't bother to expound further on the topic--probably because I was on the phone with Pasta at the time. (So I was writing, talking on the phone, and fielding commentary from my ten-year-old daughter all at the same time. Multi-tasking is spectacularly overrated.)

Daughter-Only has some firmly held, no-nonsense definitive opinions on the matter of romantic relationships, which she's always been generous about sharing, so I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for an explanation on the precise nature of the horridness of marrying at eighteen.

*Everything's relative. Except them. They're not relatives. Yet. And, let's hope, not for a while.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Random Quote Saturday*

"The nature of love had totally escaped her until now. She had thought that if you lost it, you could never get it back, like a stone thrown down a well. But it was like the water at the bottom of the well, there when you can't even see it, shifting in the dark."

~~ Alice Hoffman, The Story Sisters

*It's becoming quite a habit. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Price of Gas

Don't worry, this will not be a rumination on the sociopolitical manipulations and the ecoenvironmental causes behind rising oil prices which lead to sharply rising gas prices. There are numerous places you can go if you would like to participate in (or even merely spectate) that kind of conversation, including, apparently, the cereal aisle in the grocery store where, just a few days ago, I walked past two unassuming women holding cheerfully (albeit artificially) colored children's cereals while heatedly discussing tensions in the Middle East as they relate to gas prices.

Instead, this is a post about two recent stops I made at gas stations in my itty-bitty town. First, on Tuesday night--the scrambled night--I left work early to go pick up Son-Two for an appointment he had in town on Wednesday. I stopped to get gas at the station where I stop most frequently. There's a young man who works there who is a little absentminded at times1, but otherwise friendly. I know his name because this is a small town, but my only interaction with him has been right there at the pumps.

So, on Tuesday night, I pulled up to the pump at a little after ten and as the gas was flowing into my van, he said, "Hey, if I give you three extra dollars in gas, would you run over to McDonald's for me?"

My first response was that barking laughter that is more shock than amusement, but I recovered quickly, gave him points for nerviness, took his order (but not his offer of three extra dollars in gas) and ran across town to grab his Triple Whopper. (Turned out, he wanted Burger King, not McDonald's. Told you he was absentminded sometimes.)

Fast forward to Thursday morning, when I stopped at our town's other location of the same gas station franchise that employs Mr. Burger King. This time, a young lady, also around the same age as my boys, came out to my van. I had never seen her at this station before or even in town, which is a pretty rare thing, especially given her age. The fact that I didn't know at all who she was is important because it makes what happened next all the more baffling.

She walked up to the van and said, "What can I get for you?"

And I said, "Could I get 40, please?"

And she said, "Sure, as long as you're not as nasty as the lady I had a few minutes ago."

I mumbled something sympathetic--I've got decades of retail and customer service experience, so I really am sympathetic to victims of unreasonable customers. Then she launched into a three-minute-barely-a-breath rant about ungrateful customers. She said she couldn't believe how few people tipped her for putting gas in their cars and she couldn't believe how mean people were and how they expected so much from her and acted like she owed them something and people tip waitresses and you would think they would throw her a dollar or two but not in this crappy little town and she tried to be nice to everyone...and...and...

Somewhere in there was the story of the nasty woman, who when our long-suffering heroine asked her, "What can I get for you?" had said, "Fill it up and I better not catch you topping off my tank."

I did not tip her2, but I wished her luck for a better afternoon...and, silently, as I drove away, I wished the rest of her customers a little luck as well.

1. Case in point: a few weeks ago, I pulled up to the pump and there were several other cars waiting as well. He was the only one on duty and came out of the station, where he had been waiting on someone inside. He came straight to my van, opened the fuel door, took off the gas cap, stuck the nozzle in with the "trigger" propped open and walked off to wait on the next car, without even asking me how much gas I wanted. I was watching the numbers go up on the pump and ready to get out if they reached the amount I had planned to get. A friend of the attendant's walked up just then, saw how swamped he was and asked him, "Do you want  me to finish up that van?" The attendant gratefully said, "Yes, please." The friend said, "How much is she getting?" Attendant: "Oh shit! I forgot to ask. Oh shit, oh shit." FYI: saying, "Twenty dollars is fine." is more difficult when giggling uncontrollably.*

2. This tipping gas station attendants thing is something Hubby and I have occasionally discussed. His father tipped every full service attendant, even the ones who only pumped gas and Hubby kind of clings to that as the standard in theory, if not always in practice. I don't know what my father's stance on it was. My stance is this: I would tip an attendant who washed the windows or checked the oil or did something above and beyond, especially if I asked them to do it. (If they do the "extra" without being asked--then there is the whole conversation I start having in my head about whether they're doing it solely in hopes of getting a tip in which case I get all contrary and don't give them a tip because I feel a it's a little manipulative.) For just the basics service, I do not generally tip gas station attendants though I do tip waitstaff even for just the basics, in part because I know that labor law allows employers to pay them (often significantly) less than minimum wage under the assumption that the rest will be made up by tips. As far as I know, no such law applies to gas station attendants. If I am filling the tank and have, say, $60 and it comes to $56-whatever, I will occasionally tell a pleasant attendant (unlike the young lady in today's story) to keep the change. But, usually, no tip.*

*These footnotes are so long it's like getting three posts for the price of one, word-count-wise anyway. Substance-wise it's probably more like none for the price of three.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything I Needed To Know...

Son-Two and Daughter-Only had the same kindergarten teacher, a Mrs. P. They adored her; I adored her. She was bubbly and bouncy and endlessly patient and just everything you could hope for in a kindergarten teacher. I remember that when Son-Two moved on to first grade, I sent her a note telling her how much I appreciated who she was as a teacher, not just passing along information to the kids but spreading an infectious enthusiasm for learning.

Mrs. P retired shortly after Daughter-Only moved on from kindergarten. She was good friends with Cranky Boss Lady (of Flower Shop fame), though, and through that connection I became close acquaintances with her if not exactly friends. We do not, for example, call each other up to chat, but we will take a moment to catch up when we bump into each other downtown.

In January, Mrs. P turned 70. She is still bubbly and bouncy, her hair as full and frizzy as ever (it's not just big hair, it's wide too, like a '70s perm brushed out when it was wet) with no visible gray. She is as slender as ever as well and dresses in the jeans and adorable tops of a much younger woman. In short, in a chance encounter with Mrs. P, you would never, ever guess  that you had met a 70-year-old woman.

A day or so before her birthday, she went through Daughter-Only's line at the grocery store and mentioned to D-O that she was turning seventy. The woman in line behind her gasped, "You're 70?! I hope I look like that when I'm 70."

When Daughter-Only relayed this exchange to me, I said, "Forget 70, I wish I looked like that now."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Spent all day scrambling in various ways and will leave work two and a half hours early (10:00 p.m.) with additional scrambling to do. Please enjoy this image, in lieu of hold music, until our regularly scheduled program returns. (Michelle, feel free to picture them doused ketchup.)

Too bad I'm too busy to make such gorgeous scrambled eggs...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Big Picture

The first time I really remember hearing the phrase "You can't see the forest for the trees." was in tenth grade geometry class with Mr. Edgecomb. The phrase was a favorite of his and I probably heard it daily during the year I had his class.

Looking back, it doesn't seem like a phrase that would really apply in geometry, since, at least as I remember it, geometry is all about the icky-picky details and you overlook them at your peril. It would've made a lot more sense for him to tell us constantly that we couldn't see the trees for the forest, but he did all kinds of things that didn't make sense, including wearing sports coats with leather elbow patches. That stereotypical uniform of academia was sorely out of place in the overheated, paint-peeling, wholly intellectually unstimulating classroom where we begrudgingly listened to him drone on and on about tangents, lines, rays and forests and trees.

My grade in geometry notwithstanding, I've always been a details kind of girl myself. And why stop at trees when there are leaves, acorns, bits of bark, and those spinny little helicopter things to fixate on? In short, I spend an inordinate (and probably unhealthy) amount of time obsessing over the little things and sometimes worry that I am neglecting the big picture.

Last night, during her weekly visit to my house, two-and-half-(and counting)-year old Seventh Niece and I had some rare one-on-one time. At one point, I was holding a tablet in my lap while she drew me a picture.

As she finished up, she proclaimed, "Here's your Big Picture!"

Sometimes, the Big Picture is all about the little things.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Priceless.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Monday, December 4, 2000

"He's always loved dreams--his own, other people's. With respect to analysis, they're invaluable, like having a wiretap on someone's soul. Even the most cryptic yield to examination, and a mere fragment can get a session going."

~~Kathryn Harrison, Envy


Monday, December 4, 2000

[The dream] began in the electronics department of a Kmart. I was flipping through CDs, not looking for anything in particular and this guy standing near me kept saying, "Shit, shit, oh shit." over and over again. I was about to tell him how inconsiderate he was being so I looked up from the CDs. The guy was wearing six or seven layers of dirty clothes--he even had several hats on his head and a rumpled sock hanging from his nose. Just as I opened my mouth, he said again, "Shit, oh shit." and then pulled a gun from the pocket of his outer-layer coat. He said, "Oh shit--this is a hold-up and I want all the money." So he waved the gun around and people screamed and scattered. The cashier handed him a drawer full of money and a stack of CDs and the guy ran off still waving the gun. After he'd gone, I left the store out a side door with a line of other customers...

When I arrived home, it was of course, not my actual real-life home--in fact, it is a picture perfect replica of my "dream house." Warm, tidy, tastefully decorated. And I wandered from room to room, feeling grateful that I had survived the hold-up and grateful, too, that this was my house.

There was a knock on the front door and...I opened the door to find six guys standing there in Spandex bodysuits, complete with full face masks--five of them were in metallic red and the sixth was in a metallic yellow suit. The five in red pushed through the door and went after five adults inside the house (these people weren't there before the knock and I could make out no while they were on "my side," I had no idea "who" they were and still don't for sure). They attacked with all sorts of pseudo-ninja moves and the people from my house were trying to fend them off.

I could hear things being broken, smashed throughout the house as the team of red Spandex guys spread out. I barely had time to register the damage they were probably doing before the sixth guy--the one in yellow--attacked me. I was trying to fend him off and grabbed the thing closest to me to use as a shield and weapon. It was a wicker hamper, which I used to block his punches and then I scooped him up with it. (Laws of physics are suspended in dreams--conveniently so.) I had managed to scoop him into the hamper, but it was clear he had no intention of staying in there. He kept popping up and I kept shoving him back down. I became more and more panicked until there was a running chant in my head, "Push him down, push him down--" I understood at the deepest level that my survival depended upon keeping this guy in the hamper...

The stress of it--I wasn't winning, was barely staying even, in fact--finally woke me up and I was staring at the ceiling, waiting for my heart rate to slow to somewhere near normal, and going over the elements of the dream in my head. Kind of a dream inventory--not so much to make sense of it as to remember it later.

So, I thought, "Okay, an army of guys in Spandex, a nice house, and I'm trying to save myself with a hamper..."

And it just went click in my head--or pop--or fizz--or something. The dream was about my "dirty laundry" keeping me from having the things I want. My "dirty laundry"--the mistakes of my past (both the ones I've made and the ones others made that affected and reflected upon me) are standing in the way of the future as I would like it to be.

The way I can save myself in the second half of the dream is by putting the guy in a hamper--the proper place for "dirty laundry." In the first half of the dream, the thief was dirty laundry incarnate and he stole money and material things and prevented me from buying something I wanted.

All of this came to me in a flash--but I have spent much of the time since trying to understand some of the other elements of the dream and, probably more importantly, trying to understand what emphasis I should place on the dream in my waking world.

First, the symbolism...The colors the Spandex men were dressed in--red and yellow--I think may refer to anger and fear. My anger bursts through the door and fans out at the other adults involved in my dirty laundry or, farther afield, elements of my own character (I can't think of five at the moment, but I know there are easily that many) that have contributed to my "dirty laundry." My fear attacks me directly and I am forced to battle it alone, all the while distracted by the damage my anger is doing to the rest of my house and the other people in it.

Which brings us to how much weight should be placed on the dream in my waking life section--I had a moment (okay, half a day) where I thought the dream might somehow be prophetic. It was a message from someone, somewhere that I would never overcome the past, that even when/if things appeared to be on-track, it would come back (IN SPANDEX) after me.

An alternative way of seeing the dream is that it was my subconscious sending out a newsflash--though why my subconscious would choose Spandex men as messengers, I am unsure. So either my subconscious thought is I can never overcome the past, etc or it's that the only way to overcome the past is to put away my dirty laundry and my fear. It's much more soothing to assume this dream is a bit of wisdom kicked out of the inner reaches of my brain than to assume that even my subconscious mind has given up hope.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

(Sort Of) Random Quote Saturday

"No one seemed able to look at themselves, coolly, from the outside. Their reality was all that could be seen in the light cast ahead by their own wishful thinking."

~~Fay Weldon, Auto da Fay

Friday, February 17, 2012

That Humblest Of Condiments

Spent the whole day catching up--reading due-tomorrow library magazines and bouncing around to all the wonderful blogs I've been forced to neglect during the work week. All the catching up led my brain to ketchup, because that's the way my brain works.

At our house growing up, we sometimes put ketchup on our bologna sandwiches--or at least I did. I must not have been the only one because I never once thought it was weird until the summer I turned 11.

A group of my mother's extended family was over at my Aunt Mae's house for haying. The adults and the older kids helped out in the field; I was consigned to the house to keep an eye on the younger kids and to make sandwiches for the hungry workers to eat when they came in for lunch.

Mae showed me a stack of lunch meat and cheese and when I asked what else to put on the sandwiches, meaning condiments, she said just do an equal number of all "three things."  So ten or fifteen sandwiches with mayonnaise.* Ten with mustard. Ten with ketchup. No problem, right?

Big problem. The look on Mae's face when she saw a stack of sandwiches smeared with ketchup is pretty much the look I would have today if faced with a stack of sandwiches smeared with ketchup, having long since outgrown my taste for ketchup-covered processed meat (hot dogs being the obvious exception). At the time, though, I was devastated and completely confused. What was I supposed to use, if not ketchup?

Mae said something pretty nasty, the specific content of which I can't remember, and my mother stepped in and led me safely away. A few of the adults gamely selected ketchup sandwiches, probably out of sympathy as much as anything.

My mother then went back and told Mae she should've been more specific and asked what the third condiment was supposed to be, if not ketchup. And the answer was butter. Butter? Really?

That was not the first time I felt like an alien in the bosom of my mother's family. And it would not be the last. Eventually, though, much like I outgrew my taste for ketchup-covered bologna, I outgrew my desire to fit in with that particular group of folks.

*We did not use mayonnaise in our house. My mother bought knock-off Miracle Whip, but she was really the only one who used it--and she used it on peanut butter sandwiches.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There's A Lesson In Here Somewhere

Sixty pound Remy, completely unaware that he is well over "lap dog" size, perfectly content with the lap he's been given...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Birthday Wishes, Part 2

After I hit "publish" on yesterday's post, as so often happens, the little writer in my brain kept tapping away at her imaginary keyboard. I ended where I did in part because it was closing in on midnight and in part because I had spent the better part of the afternoon and evening trying to tease something else out of what I was putting down, with no success. And I ended there, too, because that last line--petulant and whiny and ungrateful though it sounds--does capture a sliver of what I feel when I think of my mother.

But it is just a sliver and, today, I'd like to share some other parts of the whole.

Years ago, I wrote in my journal that one of the things that happens when your mother dies at 42 is that you realize there are no guarantees in life. That's true. And life is full of reminders.

In 2006, Mr. High School was 37 when he was killed in an on-the-job accident. This past December, our friend and fellow Fine Line Salon member, Lynda Grace, lost her 36-year-old son to colon cancer.  In the past few years, I have stood at the casket of the 17-year-old daughter of family friends and also received word of the death of a cousin who was in his twenties. A few weeks ago, one of Daughter-Only's friends lost her niece, who was just a little past her first birthday, to a rare genetic anomaly. Almost twenty-three years ago, one of my best friends from high school lost her eight-month-old daughter to SIDS.

My mother did not have "enough" time, but she had more time than so many people did and do.

Two weeks ago, a coworker's mother passed away. She was 99--she would've been 100 in August. Right up until a few days before her death, she was lucid and engaged for the most part. Truly a blessing. This coworker said she felt silly--and even greedy--for feeling so devastated and surprised by her mother's sudden decline and death. It is not silly, but maybe it is greedy--and maybe we are all greedy about our time with our loved ones. Maybe it is never enough.

Yesterday's post was about how gone my mother is--and she is that: irrevocably, completely gone. But there are so many ways in which she is also not gone at all. Today, I'd like to share a different sort of piece about my mother. I wrote this many years ago, and have posted it on the blog once before.

Finding My Mother

I'm looking for my mother. She's not there in the doctor's grim expression. Not in the diagnosis, which raises as many questions as it answers--a recurrence of breast cancer that spread throughout her body undetected. She is not in the tangle of tubes and wires, the electronic blips and beeps, the sterile technology that keeps her alive but only sometimes eases her pain.

She was a woman raised in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania who distrusted technology, medical and otherwise. Twenty years as a military wife hadn't cured her of her country girl's reflexive distrust of outsiders, of the world. Politicians, it was a given, were all crooked. She was sure the girls behind the deli counter at the supermarket were trained to put extra slices of ham or cheese on the sensitive electronic scales and then to inquire with false sweetness, "It's a few points over a pound, is that all right?" My mother made them put the slices back.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the shimmery silver satin on which her head now rests, not in the cool, smooth surface of the casket.

She was a woman of many contradictions. She was an outspoken feminist who could argue down the loudest mouth chauvinist at any party, who dressed her daughters in "Anything boys can do, girls can do better" T-shirts, who not only believed women were equal to men, but suspected we were in many ways superior. Yet, she washed and ironed my father's shirts even when she worked as many hours outside the home as he did. She was an optimist--telling us to be ourselves and we would go far. She was a pragmatist--telling us not to get our hopes up, in an effort to protect us from the disappointments she was sure we would face. She battled acute shyness, but when the spirit (and the right tune) moved her, she could outdance any extrovert.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the unyielding granite stone that marks her grave. Not in the straight lines of the block letters that spell out her name. She is not there in the finality of the numbers marking her forty-two years.

She stares out at me from a snapshot taken just after I was born. Alone in a field under an overcast sky, she is wind-blown, gangly and wide-eyed. She looks scrawny and exposed, fragile as a newly hatched bird, but from her eyes shines a fierce determination to survive, to thrive. From this captured moment, she would go on to raise four children and to share, against all odds, in the making of a lasting marriage. She was a mother at sixteen, a child who stumbled unprepared into womanhood. That child survived within her. We saw her in the wonder with which my mother greeted her new-to-the-world grandchildren. We saw her in my mother's vulnerability, in her sensitivity to harsh words. Somewhere beneath all the worldly cynicism and the backwoods practicality hid the abandoned child waiting to come out to play, to climb trees, to be barefoot.

I'm looking for my mother. She is in my own impatience with pretense and empty social niceties. She is in my tendency toward untidiness, in my belief that chaos is more interesting than order. She is in the expression I catch on my sister's face, or my brother's, or my own as I pass by the mirror. She is in the shape of my big toe, which looks so much like hers, I am sometimes surprised to find it on my own foot. She is in my tomboyishness, which I have finally accepted is chronic, permanent, and not just a relic from childhood I might someday outgrow. She is in the mixture of paranoia and confidence with which I greet each day. She is in the silly songs I sing to my children and in the soaring hopes I have for them.

I'm looking for my mother. She's never far.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Birthday Wishes

"I think beginnings must have their own endings hidden inside them."
~~Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

My mother was 42 when she died of breast cancer in 1994. The minister who spoke at her funeral was a man who never met my mother--a man, to my understanding, who had only recently moved to the area. My parents were never churchgoers and I can't remember now how it was decided that this man would preside over the services--was he recommended by the funeral home? Chosen because my mother had attended that church as a girl? Or because Nan had attended that church sporadically in recent years? Whatever the case, this man doubtless had good intentions and he struggled mightily to personalize his words.

I was in a daze at the funeral--stunned senseless by my mother's rapid decline, which occurred shortly after the birth of Daughter-Only. I was on a sleep-deprived, hormone-driven, postpartum roller coaster while trying to also manage the needs of the boys--ages 6, 4, and 3 at the time. In the weeks between Daughter-Only's birth and my mother's death, there had been countless hours spent in the nightmare realm of the ICU. Overwhelming in any case, but made all the more so by the onslaught of my mother's enormous side of the family--siblings and nieces and nephews, so many that the administration moved the few other patients from that floor to another floor and gave over the empty rooms for showers and sleep to my mother's extended family.

When it came to members of that family (many of whom had shown little positive interest in my mother while she was healthy), it was impossible for me to distinguish between genuine grief and perverse voyeurism, so I assumed they were all guilty of the latter and directed my considerable pain and anger in their direction, at least in my own head and heart. Outwardly, I ignored most of them completely unless spoken to directly and even then, I kept it short and mumbly, noncommittal, to discourage further contact.

At the funeral, I was surrounded by these family members, my head buzzing with not just weeks of unsaid things, but years, decades worth. It is perhaps forgivable then, that all I remember of the stranger minister's words was his remark that it was fortunate, maybe even predestined, that my mother and father had found one another at the ages of 15 and 17. My mother's unplanned pregnancy and subsequent marriage at such an absurdly tender age had turned out to be a blessing in disguise, hadn't it? She had had time to see her children safely into adulthood (Baby Brother, her youngest, was 20)--she had had twenty-six years with her husband.

He meant well--this bland-looking, soft-spoken total stranger standing near the casket, but just for a second, I wanted to scratch his sympathetic eyes out. He meant well, but I heard it all wrong.

I heard him trying to minimize our loss. I heard him diminish my mother's life--dismiss her desires outside of marriage and motherhood, deem her life complete because her youngest child had graduated high school and joined the military. That was surely not what the minister meant, but that was what I heard.

My mother died the day after my 26th birthday. What I understood that day in the funeral home, just in time to avoid scratching anyone's eyes out, was that of course this man had no way of knowing who or what my mother was besides a wife and mother. What I understand now, at 43, was the extent to which my mother was probably still trying to figure out who and what she was besides a wife and mother.

She devoted the entirety of her adulthood--and much of what should've been her adolescence--to being the best wife and mother she could be. Though she worked outside the home, she did so in a series of low-paying jobs, mostly in retail and mostly to supplement my father's military pay. While I'm sure there was a certain sense of satisfaction in knowing she was contributing financially to the family, I doubt that there was much in the way of personal fulfillment to be found in those jobs.

The only time she had for herself--with herself--was the bits and pieces at the edges of everyone else's needs. She was 42 and maybe still trying to figure out what--or even who--she wanted to be when she grew up.

My mother would've been 60 today. I think often about how much I wish I had had the chance to know her better. And I think, too, about how much I wish she had had the chance to know herself better as well.

That minister, whose name I never knew and whose face I only vaguely remember, was right about one thing--the fact that my mother started a family so early meant that we were blessed with more time with her than we might otherwise have had.

Still, it was not enough.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Pulphead: Essays

The first time the name John Jeremiah Sullivan pierced my consciousness was after reading a piece he'd written in GQ* about the sharp rise in attacks on humans by animals. It was called "Violence of the Lambs" and it was well-written and utterly fascinating and included a plot twist just near the end that helped to further cement John Jeremiah Sullivan's name in my brain, both because the piece was ingenious and because his name was later featured in the letters written by readers, some angry, some appreciative, in response to the piece.

That piece is included near the end of the essay collection Pulphead. On the way there, we travel with Sullivan to a Christian rock festival, we meet a literary legend with whom he had a troubled (and troubling) relationship, we hear his thoughts on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose.

Though the topics in these essays are all over the (geographical, philosophical and cultural) map, the one common thread is Sullivan's unbridled intellectual curiosity. He approaches topics as diverse as prehistoric cave art in Tennessee and an interview with former The Real World castmate turned professional wrestler, "The Miz," with equal enthusiasm.

The enthusiasm is contagious and you may just find yourself (as I did) reading intently about the 19th century fringe naturalist/pathological liar/borderline lunatic Constantine Rafinesque, who had an unexpected (and slight) connection with Sullivan's own distant past. I had never heard of Rafinesque, and going into the essay, would've professed little to no interest in botany and natural history of the 1800s, but once I'd begun the essay, I was irritated by every interruption from the outside world until I'd finished the piece.

How one man could be responsible for that essay and an equally un-put-down-able piece on renting out his home as a set for the teen drama One Tree Hill is one of the universe's unsolvable mysteries as far as I'm concerned, but I look forward to more opportunities to try to figure it out.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Engaging.

*Yes, yes, it's a men's magazine, with occasionally annoying hints of chauvinism and even whiffs of what some might interpret as misogyny. But, it's also full of intelligence and wit that are sorely lacking in many women's magazines.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Thursday, October 26, 1995

Son-Three, age twenty, officially moved into his first apartment yesterday. The apartment is a few blocks from here and he will be sharing it with his cousin, First Nephew. In honor of this momentous occasion, a glimpse of Son-Three at age four.


Thursday, October 26, 1995

Son-Three threatened to move out yesterday because I was making grilled cheese for dinner. He said, "Don't make me any food, Mommy, because I'm moving out." Really. An important milestone in any child's life is his first threat of running away. Don't you think?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is A (Monde)green Thumb Hereditary?

(With thanks to Mark, whose comment on my post "Holy Infidel Frog," introduced me to the word "mondegreen," though I had long been all too well acquainted with the concept.)

Growing up, our house had a soundtrack on the weekends--our dad singing aloud to whatever was on the radio or record player. Johnny Rivers, Gordon Lightfoot and Charlie Rich were always in heavy rotation. Consequently, I feel like I was practically born1 knowing the words to songs like "Poor Side of Town" and "Sundown" and "Rollin' With The Flow." 

It's as though certain songs from certain albums were hard-wired into my neural programming. For as long as I can remember, I've been able to sing along to those songs without missing a beat2, no matter how long it had been since the last time I heard them.

Or so I thought. I recently put Charlie Rich's "Rollin' With The Flow" (written by Jerry Hayes, credit where it's due) on a mixed CD to listen to in the van. The song is basically about a guy who has refused to settle down and is proud of it, while at the same time a little surprised to still be alive.

There was a line in the chorus that my dad always sang, "I've got my angel raisin' kids, but I'm raisin' hell just like I did." Makes a certain kind of sense, right? Give the little woman a shout-out while you're bragging about still lovin' rock-and-roll and hanging out with your crazy friends, who forgive you of your sins?

For decades, I've sung it the same way and then one day this past week, something caught my ear as Charlie belted out that line. I thought to myself, "That sounds like a consonant at the beginning of that line." It was as if my whole world shifted beneath my feet--or at least the teeny corner of it reserved for my perceived mastery of pop music lyrics.

I skipped back a little in the CD and played the line again, trying desperately to figure out what he was saying because it was clear that it wasn't what I (or my dad apparently) had always thought. "Why guard my angel raisin' kids?" or "While God sends angels raising kids?" or "Why gargle angles on the skids?"

After several days of fruitless replaying, it was time for a sit-down with my pal Google. If what my father passed down to me was a mondegreen, what the first website offered me was surely a mondegreener: "I don't guide my age on raisin kicks."

Of course the actual answer--when I found it--was so obvious, I have no idea how I ever heard it any other way: "While guys my age are raisin' kids, I'm raising hell just like I did."

My dad turned 62 today. I'm not sure how much hell he feels like raisin', but his long-time girlfriend recently sent out a family email telling us all how he was serenading her during their week-plus vacation/road trip. It's nice to know some things haven't changed.

1. Never mind the fact that many of said songs were released well after my birth.

2. Please note: "without missing a beat" refers solely to knowing the lyrics and when and where to place them. I make no claim to any other ability commonly thought of as crucial to singing "well" or even tolerably.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Quote Friday*

In which Masked Mom grabs a random hardbound journal from the shelf next to her desk, flips it open and shares (with proper attribution, of course) whatever quote her finger lands on.

"All of reading is really only finding ways to name ourselves and, perhaps, to name the others around us so that they will no longer seem like strangers."

~~Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

*Brought to you this week by several hours spent catching up on reading other blogs and several other hours spent working on the cheerleading-themed birthday cake for Fifth Niece's (surprise!) birthday party tomorrow.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Sometimes It Is The Destination That Matters

All the recent mentions of hanky panky (and the pankyless variations thereof) Jane's been making over at Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom stirred a little something in my primitive brain. Mine not being the sort of brain "normal" people possess, it is perhaps no surprise that what came to mind was not actual hanky and/or panky, but a road I knew in a long ago (pre-hanky panky) time in my history.

When I was in fourth and fifth grade and we lived in the house where I read the Little House books, my friend Alissa Butler lived at the other side of our widespread and rural school district--it was nearly twenty miles from my house to hers, but I would sometimes ride the bus home with her on a Friday night. Generally, we holed up in the attached garage, which was a furnished rec room with an upright piano and a flippable chalkboard on wheels and we played "school" or "work" for hours and hours and hours.

Alissa's mother worked from home tying flies, which she sold to local fishermen1. She kept the feathers and fur she used for tying flies in cabinets with clear plastic drawers and to keep the pests away, she used copious amounts of mothballs. The garage/rec room reeked of that camphory smell and whiffs of it permeated most of the rest of the house as well. I loved it. Absolutely loved it2.

Anyway, on two of the rare instances when Alissa and I ventured outside her house, we wandered a little ways up the road to Hanky Panky Road where her uncle or grandfather had a "sugar shack" for making maple syrup. (Though, at that age, I had a vague notion what "Hanky Panky" might winkingly refer to, it was not until just now that the inherent humor in placing a "sugar" shack on Hanky Panky Road occurred to me.) It was not sugaring season, so there wasn't much to see--though we tried peeking in the cracks between the worn boards and were treated to a view of dimly lit, dusty equipment--and we wandered back to the Geeky Kid Paradise that was the garage/rec room at the Butler's house.

A few years later, living in a different house, some assortment of my family members were gathered around the TV for the NBC show Real People, when "my" Hanky Panky Road was featured in the funny photos portion at the end of the show. I could scarcely contain my excitement. (Okay, okay, I didn't even make a show of containing my excitement.) Hanky Panky Road was famous3!

A few decades later, living in my grown-up house about an hour away from where I lived in fourth grade, Daughter-Only and I set out on a mini road trip in search of Hanky Panky Road--this road I visited twice (by foot) when I was nine or ten and never since. I didn't look it up first on Google Maps, just set out to find it from memory. And, this probably goes without saying, but I could scarcely contain my excitement when I got it right on the first try. (Okay, okay, I didn't even make a show of containing my excitement.) Hanky Panky Road was right where I left it!

Alissa's Uncle Grandfather's sugar shack wasn't there anymore, though. There was something even better--right there at the corner of Hanky Panky Road and whatever road leads you there--was a Chevy Nova, which looked as though it had last been driven around the time I had last visited  Hanky Panky Road (circa 1979) and it was for sale. Being the conscientious blogger that I am, I remembered that TangledLou had mentioned a certain fondness for Chevy Novas in a recent comment, so I snapped a couple of photos.

Sure, she's a bit of a fixer-upper, but aren't we all?

I say we all get together and take up a collection and send this beauty to TangledLou. Who's in?

1. Later, after I had lost touch with Alissa, my Pap would take a fly-tying class from Alissa's mother and set up his own clear plastic drawers of feathers and fur and hooks and mothballs. Being limited to a corner of their already cramped living room, my grandfather never achieved the mothball scent saturation Alissa's mother did. (Irrelevant aside to that irrelevant aside: my Nan consistently called it "tie flying" rather than "fly tying.")

2. Though I did sometimes feel bad for Alissa, whose clothes, notebooks and paper lunch bag--and even, on one horrifyingly memorable occasion, the Pringles inside her lunch bag--carried that smell as well. Fodder for the mean girls, who seized on every opportunity to taunt and torment.

3. For the 27 seconds it appeared on national TV.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

And Humble, Too

Recycling again. A text conversation between Son-Two and I from 2008, when he was a freshman in college.

Out of nowhere, after 10 p.m. comes this text from Son-Two: What hand does an engagement ring go on?

Me: Ummmmm...left.

Son-Two: Thanks. Lol. No worries.

Me: Was hopin' not.

Son-Two: Yeah, a friend was wondering.

Me: Yeah, it goes on same hand/finger as wedding ring.

Son-Two: Yeah. I was right, but they needed reassurance.

Me: Oh--they aren't acquainted with your perpetual rightness?

Son-Two: They are. They just resent it.

Me: I feel your pain.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Headless* Children Flying Kites

Am I the only who finds that disturbing?

*Yes, yes, I know they're limbless as well, but let's focus on one thing at a time, shall we? 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life

Ever since I watched my first Michael Moore documentary--2002's Bowling For Columbine--I have had an uneasy fascination with the documentarian. On the one hand, I agree wholeheartedly with many of his philosophical and political positions. But on the other, I am often queasily uncomfortable with his bluntly confrontational style--not least because that style can easily make "victims" out of some rather unsympathetic individuals.

Moore has a piercing intelligence that often expresses itself in intimidating ways, but he is not really what you would call an intellectual, still less an academic. Despite achieving both artistic awards and commercial success unprecedented in his field, there is still something distinctly downmarket about him. He is not only unpolished on camera, he often borders on unkempt. Even accepting an Oscar, clad in a tuxedo, there is the unmistakable air of bumbling underachiever clinging to him somehow. He is responsible for some of the most influential documentaries, books, articles, speeches of our times and yet still somehow looks like the guy you'd see at the diner down the street, dressed in a sweatsuit, sporting a baseball cap and nursing a coffee for an hour or so while poring over the newspaper.

I guess it's no surprise that such a contradictory man would inspire conflicting reactions. There are ways in which that spunky everyman underdog persona has worked for Moore and ways in which it makes him an easy target for those who wish to discredit him. Given that it can weaken the points he sets out to make, I've always been curious why he wouldn't polish himself up a little--if only to keep the focus on the strength of his arguments. I know it's shallow and superficial, but I've also always wondered how this dude who often looks like he's wearing a baseball cap to cover up the fact that he forgot to cut (or even brush) his hair ended up being one of the most active--and omnivorous1--crusaders of our time.

After reading Moore's Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life, a collection of short memoir pieces, I feel I have a significantly better understanding of not only who Moore is, but how he got to be that way. He has always made clear his middle-class Michigan roots, but the stories he shares in this book brought his upbringing alive for me in an entirely different way.

The stories are written in a conversational and humorously self-aware tone and give us glimpses into the events that helped to shape Michael Moore from a young age. Even at his Catholic elementary school Moore says, "I had my own ideas about what the school should be doing and how it should be run." At nine, he starts a school newspaper, which his father prints for him at work, but which is promptly confiscated by the Mother Superior.

We see Moore at eleven or twelve as he bumps into Senator Robert Kennedy in an elevator in the Capitol Building ("As I had been properly schooled in all things political and Catholic, I instantly recognized this man."). We see Moore in his freshman year of high school in a seminary, planning to become an "Action Hero Priest" like the radical Catholic priests, the Berringer brothers who protest the Vietnam War by destroying draft records. We see him struggle with the Church's authority and with his own faith--not in God, but in the Church itself. We see him stand up--again and again--for himself and for others, sometimes for noble reasons and in noble ways, sometimes in ways less so. (See: the pot-fueled, boat-towing, trial-run escape to Canada with his friends who were anticipating being (but had not yet been) drafted.)

He was a kid with a big head2 and a sensitive soul3 who grew up in a rock-solid family, but came of age in a tumultuous time. In other words, like most of us, Michael Moore's natural-born personality was shaped by the environment of his childhood and early teens. But, unlike some of us, Michael Moore never stopped being just who he's always been.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Revealing.

1. There seems to be no issue he won't sink his teeth into.

2. "I'll admit that I had an unusually large-sized head, though this was not uncommon for a baby born in the Midwest. The craniums in our part of the country were designed to leave a little extra room for the brain to grow should we ever have a chance to learn anything outside of our rigid and insular lives. Perhaps one day we might get exposed to something we didn't quite understand, like a foreign language, or a salad."

3. "For some reason, I never found my way to the path called 'normal,' and it was a good thing that science and business had not yet conspired to invent ways to sedate and desensitize a little soul like mine. It's one of the few times I thank God for growing up in the ignorant and innocent fifties and sixties. It would still be a few years before the pharmaceutical community would figure out how to dope up a toddler like me..."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

During the brief time Mr. High School and I were back in each other's lives, we talked a lot about writing--and wrote a lot about talking. Before I sent the card that set the whole reunion in motion, Mr. High School said he hadn't written anything since high school graduation.

When he started writing me letters (real letters, not emails--he didn't own a computer), he said (and wrote) often about how they helped him think in a different way.  He was a convert to the therapeutic nature of writing and he said he owed that to me. He repaid that debt by nagging me about my own writing, too, asking me in nearly every phone call, "Did you write today? Even fifteen minutes a day would make such a big difference to you." 

It wasn't until seven or eight months after his death that I found out that he himself had been keeping a journal. A mutual friend whose family was close with Mr. High School's told me about it. She said his parents had found it among his things and that his father had taken it out in the woods during hunting season (one of their father-son activities) and read it through. She said after reading the journal, his father had felt closer to Mr. High School and more at peace with things than he had in a very long time. She even said she knew I would want to know about the journal because she assumed it was my influence that had led him to begin it.

She gave me an amazing gift in that phone call, of course. But also a weird--and wholly unintentional--burden: the idea that there was some intimate part of Mr. High School out there that a relatively impartial third party thought I was partly responsible for and that I would never, ever have access to.

I didn't get around to recording that conversation in my own journal for more than a year. Eight days later, I had the dream recorded in tonight's Spiral Notebook entry.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The dream was vague and hazy and Mr. High School himself never actually put in an appearance. A group of us--some people from his life and some from mine (I only clearly remember Little Sister)--were at his house and everyone was digging through his things and I was very distressed by this invasion of his privacy--everyone else was sure he wouldn't be coming back, but I wasn't so sure. I knew he would be furious at us all if/when he came back. At the same time, my curiosity about the articles of his intimate life was damned near overpowering.

Just before the dream ended, Little Sister handed me a spiral notebook full of pages in his handwriting with loose sheets of paper sticking out of it in all directions. I somehow understood that by accepting it, I would also be admitting to myself and everyone else that he was really gone. In that weird way of dreams, I felt sure that not only was receiving the notebook a signal that I accepted the fact of his disappearance, but I was somehow responsible for it by taking the notebook. Instead of merely acknowledging an existing truth, I was causing the outcome of Mr. High School's death--or at least his continuing failure to reappear.

I took the book anyway.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Barbie World

While digging around for something to post tonight, I came across this piece which originally ran as a "My View" column in the Buffalo News on May 19, 1999. I share it in part because concern about the influence of Barbie seems almost quaint now (what with Barbie's decline in sales and the more menacing influences1 that have rushed to fill the gap) and because it's easier than writing an entire post.


For most of my life, I've been an outspoken Barbie basher. Adored for her preposterous, anatomically impossible measurements and her flowing (albeit synthetic) blond hair rather than for anything she'd accomplished, she sent a dangerous message to children.

The only Barbie I ever owned came to me by default on my ninth birthday. My parents promised me a pony and when (still unexplained) circumstances kept them from fulfilling that promise, I unwrapped Barbie and her Dream Plaza instead. So, I came by my hatred of Barbie honestly. It is a hatred I have only gradually outgrown. Ironically, it was the vehemence of my fellow Barbie bashers that sparked me to take a closer look at my own prejudice.

To many, the Barbie doll isn't merely a child's plaything, it's a symbol of the continued objectification of women in our society. We worry about the effect that daily contact with such an outlandishly proportioned ideal may have on a girl's developing self image. Many of us have used the word "Barbie" to refer to women who rely too heavily on their appearance and not enough on their skills and intellect.

Criticism of Barbie was so widespread, I actually began to feel sorry for her. Now, with the passing of Barbie's 40th birthday, the seed of sympathy has sprouted like a weed.

It turns out that lots of us were wrong in assuming that Barbie has done little the past four decades besides being perpetually engaged to Ken. In 1965, long before Sally Ride2 suited up, Astronaut Barbie was ready to take off in her hot pink spacesuit. In 1973, she became a surgeon.

At 40, Barbie is more athletic than ever--enjoying incarnations as a NASCAR driver, a WNBA player and an Olympic skater. She's also been a vet, a dentist, a teacher and a rock star. Whether it's social enlightenment or merely an enlightened marketing ploy, career paths are likely to keep opening up for her.

Along with Barbie's unsung talents, motherhood has also changed my perspective. As the mother of three sons and one daughter, my floors have been populated with more 3-inch action heroes than 11-inch fashion models. But now that my daughter is nearing 5, Barbie has appeared. These dolls are as blond and busty as ever. But they seem less of a threat to women's progress than they once did.

The sight of my daughter playing with Barbie has uncovered long-buried memories of my own Barbie. The few times I played with her, my Barbie didn't shop at the Dream Plaza, she owned it. She raised the capital to build her three-story shopping mall at her day job--my Barbie was a brain surgeon. All this despite the fact that as a limited edition Ballerina Barbie, she had a gold plastic crown welded permanently to her head. There were no men in her life and her physical attributes were of absolutely no consequence to me.

Isn't the message we send by assuming Barbie's biggest (pardon the pun) assets are the ones we can see just as dangerous as the message we fear Barbie is sending? Equating blond and busty with brainless is as unfair as holding blond and busty up as a pinnacle of femininity.

Barbie, like almost everything in life, is only what we make of her. More important than the toys we give our children are the tools we give them to distinguish potential from packaging, stereotypes from complex human beings. If we give our children the tools to see past her packaging, Barbie becomes once again a benign child's plaything

1. I speak now of Bratz dolls and even, for a variety of odd reasons, Disney Princess stuff. Among so very many other things...

2. This piece was written before Google and I became such close friends so here's the shout out that Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman ever in space (as opposed to the first American woman) was unfairly cheated of by my laziness.

Friday, February 03, 2012

What's Worse Than Finding A Worm In Your Apple?

Finding this worm in your ear:

...and spending the whole day humming it to yourself, while wondering what that means for the state of your mental health (both as a cause and an effect).

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Final Countdown

Minutes until my shift ends: 14

Minutes until I actually leave work: 25ish

Minutes until midnight: 43

Quality of this post on a scale of 1 to 10: -4.673

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Thanks, Trendy Tops!

I was feeling sort of sorry for myself just now, having spent the last fourteen hours suffering major digestive distress that's better not elaborated upon while feeling guilty about having to call in to work (especially because today was the next-to-the-last day before my week of vacation). I sat down to make some half-hearted post--I was actually going to re-run a post about a stomach situation from years past--but then, inspiration struck in the form of a commercial I could hear from the living room where Daughter-Only's boyfriend was watching TV.

Do you know about Trendy Tops? Trendy Tops are the top that's not! It's a T-shirt for your hips! The same way a camisole covers your chest, Trendy Tops covers your "waist and all the rest." Apparently, the purpose of this revolutionary band of fabric is to cover all the stuff your jeans and other shirt would cover, if they actually fit the way they're supposed to.

I will never understand fashion.