gillis and her big mouth

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Month: May, 2012

Gone to the Dogs

A few years ago, shortly after our daughter was born, we noticed that people were bringing young children to places where planning for the presence of young children seemed to be lacking. Picture elegant and expensive restaurants, movies with sexual and violent scenes and themes, and late evening parties without activities or food intended for children. Although we had joined the ranks of parents ourselves, we were not fans of this trend for several reasons. We wanted to enjoy our “date nights” without children present. And we had paid someone a considerable amount to keep our children alive in our absence while these freeloaders expected the rest of us to be the village that kept their kids alive while they enjoyed themselves out in public. Nope. Not right I say.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself revisiting the same, petty complaints (See? I am self-aware. I know I’m small minded. You want a generous heart and expanded mind? You should visit a different blog because I don’t see myself evolving much…) only this time I find that instead of adorable/hateful children showing up at inappropriate places and times, people are now inexplicably bringing their dogs to each and every social event that occurs.  While I haven’t yet seen dogs in theaters, I have seen them in restaurants and at parties and I find the trend troubling.

We were at a lovely anniversary party this weekend, sitting under a tent, listening to a four piece band play while we ate catered, delicious food and feted the couple of the hour. In the background no fewer than five dogs frolicked, barked, growled, and fought. The owners of the property had kenneled their own dog for this party, but several guests, who inexplicably could not be separated from their canine friends for the duration of the party, brought their dogs. Watching guests throw frisbees to the dogs and having the dogs retrieve them may have entertained the few who were indulging in this activity, but I found it distracting. Much as I tried, I could not ignore the sound of dogs fighting while one of my favorites standards, “Come Fly With Me,” was playing, and believe me, I tried.  When no one stepped in to remove the most spirited dog (Bella – of course – because Bella is the naming equivalent of wearing black for female dogs) from the food table, I found myself pushing her down forcefully from the platter of pulled pork. The dog’s human caretaker chuckled when I brought her out of the tent and toward what was quickly turning from a dance floor into a dog park to let him know that she had been eating the ($15.00/lb.) pork dish, rendering it useless for the other human guests. He scratched her behind the ear and admonished her in a sing-song voice that she would be getting a “tummy ache” from all that fat. I really hoped the man would get a very very big tummy ache for bringing his dog to the party, then ignoring her needs in the false assumption that the rest of the guests were as enthralled with Bella as he was. Wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong wrong.

My family doesn’t currently include a dog, although we intend to adopt a dog into our family once our youngest child is toilet-trained because I can’t handle wrapping and tossing refuse from more than one living being at a time. I grew up with dogs, I think dogs are wonderful pets, and my own childhood dog Peppy (a misnomer if there ever was one as she was the canine equivalent of a Deadhead who would pad around the block languidly, nodding her shaggy head in greeting to one and all), was one of my best friends and closest confidants. The difference I see with the current fetish of dog worship is that I have never confused a dog with a person and therefore have never thought to treat them as I would a person. Their needs are different. This doesn’t mean “lesser,” it means different. They don’t require an invitation to every social event. Nor do they need their human family members to dress them up or have medical procedures performed on them to prolong their lives well past the expiration of the tail-wag meter. It wasn’t Bella’s fault that she had poor table manners. Bella shouldn’t be eating from a table. Nor should Bella be expected to stand idly by and watch lots of people eating barbecued meat in front of her while she tries to conjure up the memory of her last bowl of adult-digestive-tract, high-fiber, organic kibble. It ain’t right.


The Gripes of Kath (sorry Steinbeck)

The universe has a way of sending us the lessons we need to learn at just the right time, doesn’t it? My husband and I were nearly at the point of not speaking to one another last week as we, once again, realized how very differently we manage stress. We are packing all of our fabulous worldly goods and storing them into metal boxes that have been dropped into our driveway for this very purpose. These boxes will be taken away while we move into a rental home for a month or so before joyously rejoining us at our new house.

My style of packing is to make lists of items and group like things together so that when we (by which I mean, of course, I) unpack things, rooms will be easier to unpack and organize. I suppose my packing could be seen as “relational” – putting things that serve a function near other things that serve a similar function or at least reside in the same room of a house. My husband packs things together that fit spatially without regard to function. Picture the insertion of A into B wherein A is nightstand and B is a Crockpot. I suppose his packing could be seen as “physical” – tab A fits into slot B regardless of their function. You see my point? While I may not have perfect physical fits, I will be able to find things later in my little corner of the pod because of their compatibility, while his areas will have less space wasted. I’d like to think that my areas will be more harmonious while in storage, that the items will be happier, but I cannot deny that his sections may experience enough physical attraction to make it through the month (or so) without shifting too far out of alignment to cause rifts, tears, or cracks…we shall see.

In any case, I am dealing with this move the same way I deal with most stress – eating and complaining. I’m telling everyone I know, and several strangers a day, about our move. I am explaining how difficult it is, how concerned I am about the impact this will have on the kids, etc. and I am consuming carbohydrates at an alarming rate. My husband, on the other hand, is not eating much at all but obsessively measuring things and inexplicably showering much less frequently. When asked about this, he’s made it clear that if he is not working and is spending the day packing, he doesn’t especially feel the need to groom before attending a softball game.

The icing on the cake is that my car has chosen this time to drop a valve or two leaving our family to travel Joad-like up and down the length of our county together in my husband’s car twice a day.  I no longer have the freedom to come and go on my own but must wait to be driven places because my husband’s workplace is the endpoint on the commute (its distance from our present home is the very reason we are moving – to cut down on this commute). Standing outside of my school waiting to be picked up with the kids who stay after school has not been without its pleasures.  For instance, I had no idea the kids threw rocks at the staff cars parked out front, and apparently they had no idea that a car-owning staff member would question this practice. I’ve also “helped” a few of these kids to “remember” their homework. In front of their peers. Who says teaching at the end of the school year isn’t fun?

In any case, what I miss most in my car is listening to the radio or a CD as I barrel down Route 7 with the windows open. I like to sing very loudly and encourage my son (usually my only traveling companion) to pump his fist and shout “rock and roll” in his toddler-esque voice from time to time. Instead I am listening to Top 40 per our daughter’s request and being kicked in the back continually by the youngster in the car seat behind me. The last straw came when my husband turned NPR off, which is the only thing we both seemed to enjoy, because he was “sick of hearing about Mitt Romney, when will they stop talking about Mitt Romney?” I think we’ll probably either hear very little about Romney or quite a bit more after November, but I’m not mentioning this theory to my husband. The whole thing has my every nerve jangled since I have no alone time during this stressful end-of-school-year/pack-the-house-time and I feel guilty each time I go out for an hour long power walk (or as it like to think of it, “restrain the power of the dark side” walk). It’s unclear how long it will take to get my car back, but it’s very clear that we need to trade it in ASAP because there are other things looming on the horizon which will cost another 4 digits of cashy-lala in the near future. When I began to lament about this verbally, starting with how stressful I find the family commute, my husband put his arm around me, pulled me in close and said, “I think it’s a lot of fun for us to start our day together like this, don’t you?” without a trace of irony in his voice. Thanks universe. I needed that.

Her First Mistake

My athletic prowess is very limited. It might be best characterized by removing the “pro” segment of the word prowess, leaving the sound “wess” to signify the sound of air escaping from a tire. That would also be the same sound every captain of every team I’ve ever been assigned to has made, as they slowly realized I have the aggression and drive to be a competitor, but very little skill to backup the attitude and the trash talk. For years I sorely disappointed classmates in PE, as well as adult coaches on the fields.  Thankfully, my children have an athletic father who can help them play catch and practice their swing or their jumpshot. It’s really best for everyone if I just drive to and from practice and provide snacks.

That’s why, when my daughter asked me to work with her on a song that she is singing in her school’s talent show, I jumped at the chance. Finally there’s something from my skill set- beyond spelling- to share. So far I’ve tortured her with “embarrassing” (what? in front of her 2 yr old brother?) breathing exercises, tongue twisters, and enunciation practice. She has a pretty voice with a round tone to it, but she uses what I’d call a “rolling stop” on consonants instead of coming to a complete stop, making phrases like “let you” sound more like  “le chew” and words like “door” sound like “duh.” In order to avoid a syntax accident, I’ve become the consonant police officer and I’ve made her sing the same phrase over and over and over until it sounds clean.  Only then can she move along.

It’s been an interesting experience. She is starting to hear for herself the difference between hitting a note versus sliding up to it and drifting around it. She’s almost ready to start experimenting with these sounds so that they are deliberate and not accidental. I think it’s been a surprise to her to learn that having a naturally pretty singing voice is like having a good arm. It’s only a start, and if you want to progress you have to work at singing just as you would pitching. Taking control doesn’t mean sounding forced or rigid, it means having more choice about material and the effects you can create with your voice.

It’s been many years since I’ve performed in front of an audience, unless you count the captives in my car, but I’ve found that most of the technique work I learned is still with me and I’m happy to be able to share what I know.  Although I find myself wishing I could contact the  musical directors and accompanists I once worked with so that I might apologize to them for my flabby, imprecise singing. They were right, I was lazy and I never did unlearn all my bad habits. Which is precisely why I have become the hag who will ride into my daughter’s dreams until she pronounces every d, t, r and -ing sound that she has the good fortune to come across in a song.

Mother’s Day Sucks

The truth is, I hate Mother’s Day. I don’t hate being a mother. I don’t hate having a mother. I just hate this day that is set aside to honor mothers. Everything about it troubles me. It feels patronizing and forced. All those damn hanging plants and trinket filled rings, bracelets and necklaces that no one with any fashion sense at all would choose to wear. Who thought it was a good idea to design the world’s ugliest jewelry for mothers? When we become mothers, our vision doesn’t usually become impaired, does it? Those necklaces with gems or figures to represent their children are like silverplated albatrosses weighing the wearer down. Believe me when I say that we know we have kids, we know it’s our job to keep them alive and help them to grow up to remain outside a penitentiary, and we don’t need to wear symbolic representations of them to feel connected to our kids. Usually they are hanging onto our pant leg, literally or figuratively, anyway.

I enjoy the handmade cards and the coffee in bed and wish that the day would continue on from there without any further mention of motherhood. In the days and weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the commercials make us all feel guilty. Don’t forget mother. She gave you life, now give her a bracelet at 20% off to return the favor. Take her out for a special meal and fight the crowds for a table so you can show other people how much you love mom. She’ll enjoy being rushed through the meal and having the servers gush over her and the family I’m sure.

No thanks. As far as I’m concerned, every day is mother’s day. I get to take care of my kids every day and enjoy their company and watch them grow and become more and more their own people each day. It’s amazing. They are amazing. Don’t try to thank me for all I do with a Hallmark card. It’ll just remind me of all the things I forget to do and make us both feel a little greasy. Just grow up to be strong, funny, engaged people, ok? And would it kill you to make your bed? There. That’s all I’m saying. Happy f*ckin’ Mother’s Day.


Disjointed Ramble? Don’t Mind if I Do!

Can it really be Tuesday? Already? And I have nothing planned to write about again this week? Each week I tell myself I will write down a few things that happen during the week so that I can revisit them Monday at some point and try to cobble something together for this weekly post, but so far I haven’t been able to do that. Strap on a seatbelt and get ready for a mess or two, I don’t see a clear plan emerging.

You see, things are actually getting quite messy around here, and that wouldn’t be such a surprise with two kids and two adults who work full time with commutes that last 30+ minutes most days. But we’ve spent the past 8 months keeping this house at near pristine condition. I say “near” pristine because one of our kids has not yet turned 3 and he likes to live large. He also likes to leave his mark, literally, on furniture, walls, and wait for it, just yesterday, orange Sharpie marker on the marble counter (ivory of course) in the bathroom. This house has been on the market since early October of 2011 and it’s been shown about once a week, which means of course that we’ve been cleaning constantly during this school year. The good news is that it has finally sold and we can let loose a little bit. The bad news is – well, our house has sold and we have to get everything in it boxed up and should probably now think about finding a place to live that doesn’t involve four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes because we need to vacate the premises by June 4th. Did I just read that correctly? June 4th? Of this year? Need to be out of here? Hmm…That’s 27 days. Fewer days than the average menstrual cycle. Well, that just can’t be right. Except that it is, and we do not have a place to live. My husband and I spent 5 hours Sunday looking at houses closer to our respective jobs. The tonier part of our county, where we need to relocate to, has wonderful places to live, if one of you is a bond trader and the other dabbles in antiques and sits on the board of several non-profit groups for fun. If you happen to be a public school teacher married to a chef without his own line of cookware and/or tv show on the Food Network, well then, there are some fixer-uppers (read: woodland animals have been living in them for decades)  and relative “steals” (read: eccentric NYC second-home homeowners can’t seem to part with the family’s former “cottage” for less than $500,000) to be had if you know where to look.

I refuse to panic because I know that we can actually live in our cars for the few weeks that school is in session after June 4th. There are enough small pieces of food in my car alone to feed a family of 5 for several days, we’ll just have to pry it out of the carpet and carseats. It’ll be like Katniss and Peeta in the Hunger Games, foraging and pushing each other around for the best morsels of preserved Goldfish and Pirate Booty bits! And of course, I can shower at school, lord knows none of my students shower after PE so I’ll have the locker room to myself.

In the meantime, I’m packing packing like a fiend. Like an “anit-hoarder” I’m trying to discard as many things as possible to lighten our potential load. If only I could lighten the psychic load I am carrying around in my head, then perhaps I could sleep. Or concentrate long enough to read and comprehend a page of text. Until then, it’s onward…tonight we look at several houses with the kidlets in tow, perhaps they can help us visualize the diamond within the rough of our price range. Keeping fingers crossed…

A Realty Love Story?

Our house has been on the market since last October. In fact, the first open house we held was on the day of a freak snow storm dubbed “Snowtober” which left over 20 inches of snow in its wake during the last weekend of October. Perhaps we should have seen this for the omen it turned out to be, putting a house up for sale just as winter approaches makes as much sense as waiting until the holidays to start a diet.

Since then we’ve had many showings of the house, each time prospective buyers have liked what they saw, but not enough to make a commitment to the house. They’ve noted that it has a great floor plan for entertaining, tons of storage space, and a bit of funky charm thanks to our quirky decorating choices. They’ve also been aware that the back yard looks a bit like and urban daycare center with a large playset, clumps of dirt, and high visibility from the street. Also the three bathrooms need updating and that it takes a lot of money to heat a five bedroom house. All in all, the house looks good on paper but there is something not quite right about it. For some reason, this reminds me of my (ancient) dating history. And instead of seeing myself as the buyer, I think I more closely relate to the house.

It took many frogs for me to find my prince, partly because I think I spent a long time disguising myself as a frog, bird, lion, or cupcake depending on the lens of the men with whom I was involved. In my early twenties, I was especially tofu-ish. You like tennis? Hey, I like tennis. You drink sake? What a coincidence – so do I! Oh, it went on and on the things I masqueraded in, and some of them, like skydiving, were really fun, but most of them, again, like skydiving, were very costly in a variety of ways. To make matters worse, each of these men found me lacking in some way despite my endeavors to be who I thought they wanted me to be. By the time I met my husband, I was prepared to live a solitary, but interesting life. I had great friends, engaging work, and many passions. I also had a chip on my shoulder and defenses worthy of a Navy Seal Team Six raid. When I did meet my husband, I immediately deemed him unworthy of my romantic attention, which was actually a good thing since it meant I could be myself with him and not worry about how I might come across. This cleared the way for us to love one another, which is a good thing as far as I can tell.

Now our house just has to find someone to love it for what it is, a large, slightly dated, Colonial in need of landscaping and updating but worthy of a loud, active family. We’ve had an offer on it and remain hopeful that we will make it through the inspection phase, but I refuse to box up every little playmobil piece and I will not empty all of the bookshelves because the buyers need to see that this is not a showplace, but a home. And they’d be lucky to live here.