Friday, October 21, 2011

Dear Idaho Falls,

Remember last year when we broke up because I was overwhelmed by life and thought it might be better for my family if we moved to another state?  Well, I’ve changed my mind; I’d like to get back together.

First of all, it wasn’t you—it was me.  (Unless we’re talking about your winters and then it’s all totally you.)

Weather aside, we loved your schools—especially Linden Park Elementary where all my kids started kindergarten and enjoyed Popcorn Fridays, the Homework Club and Ms. Glisendorf, the school secretary who I admit to having a little girl crush on (please don’t retire—pretty please).

We were happy with our dentists and pediatricians.  In fact, the doctor who diagnosed my youngest with eczema was the object of another crush about which I wrote extensively, effectively embarrassing the nice, single pediatrician and shaming myself (in case you were wondering, no, we did not leave Idaho Falls because of any outstanding restraining orders).

We enjoyed the parks, the library, the museum, Happy Hour at Sonic and the dollar theater which is really a misnomer because it costs more than that, but I’m guessing the Two Dollars and Fifty Cents Theater doesn’t sound nearly as good.  We liked the shopping, the greenbelt, old downtown and the numbered streets, although we’re not a fan of 17th which is very busy and the place where we got into a fender bender two days after Christmas.  

Idaho Falls is the place where I started a life as a single mom and was buoyed up by friends and neighbors in the community who cleared snow from my sidewalks and windblown tree limbs from my front yard.  It’s also where gracious volunteers fixed my frozen pipes and gave us an entire winter reserve of wood after our furnace broke.  It’s the place where my kids found friends, teammates and teachers who loved them through some hard times and then kept loving them long after things stopped being so tough.  
Our first Thurs in IF it snowed.  That was October 6th...

And lest we forget, it’s the place where my BFF lives, who’s literally been with me through thick and thin, back to thick and, knock on wood, on our way to thin again.  It’s also where I found Mr.Charming who may or may not be filing a restraining order after discovering that we’ve rented a moving van so we can come back.

You had us at hello, Idaho Falls.  You had us as hello.

Sincerely, Me

P.S.  While our love for you is completely unconditional, we would really appreciate milder (and shorter) winters.  Thanks for your consideration.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Labor-Day Weekend

If I were entrepreneurial minded, I would totally open a store specializing in gifts for unusual occasions.  Like, when you need an I-told-you-so card for your mother after she paints the house Spicy Mustard.  Or maybe a wedding gift for the cousin who once got you with the honey-on-the-toilet-seat gag.  

For example, if someone had known that I would be meeting Mr. Charming’s ex wife and parents this past weekend, they could have gone to the aforementioned specialty shop to get me a refrigerator magnet, or, say, a box of chocolate-covered Valium.  

As luck would have it, the weekend, completely unmedicated, was fairly uneventful.  Unless, of course, you consider the Meet and Greet picnic where I was at a complete loss for words. 
I know.  Imagine that.

But whatever awkward silences may have existed were completely filled by my children, who are walking Hallmark cards.  The following were said at some point over the three days we spent in Idaho Falls and may or may not have been overheard by other grownups:

Kaleb: I’m okay with having stepbrothers and sisters as long as we can play their video games.

Leah: [following an especially emotional good bye] People are always sad to see me go.

Zack: If you marry [Mr. Charming], would his ex wife be my step aunt?

Kaleb: I just want you to be happy.  Oh, and it would be nice to play Dungeons & Dragons too.

Leah (and Mr. Charming’s youngest girl): Mom and [Mr. Charming] are dating and mating (which they continue to believe are synonymous terms, regardless of lessons emphasizing the contrary).

Zack: I think [Mr. Charming] is nice.  I especially like all his Spiderman comics.

Zack:  Mr. Charming’s ex wife is nice.  Maybe even nicer than you.

Zack: Monkeys sometimes eat their own poop.

Zack:  I either want to be a comic book artist or a mad scientist when I grow up.

Out of the mouths of babes, right?

The weekend, designed to serve multiple purposes, taught me three very important things: 

  1.  Always print map instructions before heading back home through Montana,
  2. There are no prefabricated threats that will prevent my children from speaking their minds, and 
  3. Chocolate-infused Benadryl is another brilliant idea.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dating and Disney

This was written a few months ago.  Updates forthcoming...

Disney has done my children a great disservice.  While I didn’t expect Walt to teach them everything, I was kinda hoping his franchise would cover the intricacies of love and romance.  My bad.

Let’s be honest here.  I’m about as social as a ceiling fan and my flirting skillz are seriously subpar, so when I talked to my children about the possibility of mommy dating, it was in grand hypotheticals.  Like winning the lottery, having MTV pimp my ride or getting all my laundry done in one day.

As luck would have it, Mommy is dating.  And if I’m reading my children correctly, they might spontaneously combust.  Apparently, they firmly believe dating is just a casual word for betrothal, and it’s only a matter of time before the wicked stepfather sends them away to boarding school.  Pray tell, where did they get those active imaginations?

My daughter is especially vexed.  In regards to famous Disney hookups, only Jasmine dated around.  Ariel imprinted with her true love moments after surfacing, Aurora and Snow White’s first kisses were with Prince Charming, and insensible shoes brought Cinderella’s destiny to her front door.  So according to Disney’s schedule, I’m either ready to take a ride on a magic carpet, have my fairy Godmother fit me with a designer gown or prick my finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  Not that any of those wouldn’t be equally exciting…

Of course, I never bought into Hollywood’s shrink-wrapped version of romance myself.  I didn’t once swoon when Christian Slater told Marisa Tomei he had a baboon heart. I didn’t cheer for joy when Patrick Swayze said that no one puts Baby in a corner.  Nor did I become a little faint when Eric Stoltz and Marie Stuart Masterson engaged in a practice kiss. 

Okay, so I’m a sucker for it all.  And when my daughter’s eyes glaze over when talking about princes, I tend to glaze with.  But unfortunately, most of Disney’s romances are caste with disenchanted mommies: stepmoms, stepqueens, class A felony kidnappers.  Not one of them rides a paddle boat in the moonlight while being serenaded by sea creatures.  And believe me, that’s on my bucket list.

Whether or not I’ve found Mr. Charming remains to be seen, and I’ll be the first to admit the search can sometimes feel quite magical. However, the reaction of my kids has reminded me that I can never forget my true loves.  Because for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, for armpit farts and public brawls, they are my happily ever after.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Playing Pretend, Grownup Style

This was written shortly before Oprah's show ended.

When my children don’t know I’m watching, they pretend to fight mythical creatures, perform to sold-out auditoriums, save the planet from hostile alien invasions, use the force to defeat Darth Vader (or whiny little Luke, depending on their mood), film the prize-winning America’s Funniest Home Video and flush marbles down the toilet, although that last one has nothing to do with this particular post.

One of my most embarrassing moments came when my father walked in on a similar dreamscape: I was 13-ish and singing the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” into a hairbrush while performing some fantastical dance moves.  He tried to back out of the living room, but not before I caught a glimpse of him, bewildered and amused, behind me in the mirror.

I’d like to say that as a grown woman I’m above that sort of Extreme Pretending, but I’d be lying.  And unfortunately I’m not much of a do-gooder in my imaginary escapades; I’m not establishing world peace, eliminating poverty and hunger or curing cancer—the truth is I’m generally engrossed in a deep and touching interview with Oprah Winfrey.  Sadly, this particular dream has a shelf-life of about 30 days seeing as how Oprah’s final episode airs in one month.  I’m a little bummed.

In the interview she’s laughing raucously at my witty and spontaneous humor.  But then she gets serious, leaning forward to grab my hand and ask how my life has changed since becoming a best-selling novelist.  I won’t bore you with the details of my imaginary interview, except to say that it’s the highest-rated pretend Oprah episode to date.

Just a few weeks ago, I told my BFF that I regularly engage in pretend Oprah interviews--in fact, just that morning Oprah had asked about my first extravagant purchase after becoming filthy rich.  I had laughed, modestly, and told her that while my lifestyle hadn’t changed much, I did splurge and buy one of everything pictured in Pottery Barn’s Spring Catalog. 

It was then that I realized I’m not the only adult lost in the haze of an intoxicating day dream.  My BFF informed me that she regularly imagines her Sunday service interrupted by rebel forces which she single-handedly disarms and incapacitates with a series of round-house kicks, much to the surprise of the entire congregation that, awestruck, applauds her efforts, albeit reverently.  No wonder my kids liked playing at her house so much.

So I guess that everyone plays pretend, some of us more rigorously than others.  And although Oprah may be retiring, I may just have a pretend future in fighting mythical creatures.  My BFF could always teach me a thing or two, in her dreams.

How about you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Road Trips and Rest Stops

If my column had a jingle it would go a little something like this: shaming myself publicly so that you don’t have to.   And because I was an English major, I like that my jingle is a double entendre: I shame myself publicly before anyone else has a chance to do it for me AND I shame myself publicly so that you can avoid my shameful behavior.  

Either way, my joy comes in knowing that, if all else fails, I generally make readers feel just a little bit better about themselves.  

You’re welcome.  (Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Over spring break I drove 10 hours to take the kids to see their dad in Utah.  Then I continued to drive 10 more hours to visit my own biological father in Taos, New Mexico. 
I’m guessing there are three common difficulties in traveling long distances via automobile with children: 1. bathroom emergencies, 2. sibling rivalry and 3. the spilling of fry sauce in the backseat.  Check, check and check!

As for number one, my daughter has a bladder of steel.  It’s creepy, really, how long the girl can go without going. That is, until we get on the road.  Kryptonite is to Superman as road travel is to her continence.  And as soon as she mentions the need, her brothers chime in: “You probably shouldn’t think about Niagra Falls” or “Is that water running or is it just Leah running to the bathroom?”  And my personal favorite, “Superheroes never have to go to the bathroom.” (I don’t think Spunk understood the purpose of this exercise.)

Once I quieted the boys, I gave her my best hold-it lecture, because these emergencies never happen within 10 miles of a gas station or a rest area.  Think about something else, and put the water bottle down.  That’s it—that’s my lecture.  

Luckily, there were no accidents (aside from the fry sauce debacle) and no close calls.  
Unless, of course, you count my drive sans children.

In my defense, there’s a long stretch of mountainous terrain for which New Mexico has not yet received adequate funding for rest stops.  Also in my defense, I have birthed three children and do not have a bladder of steel, on or off-road.

About two hours into my drive home, I texted my BFF: ‘Totally peed on the side of the road.  Classy.’  Apparently, she’s privy to the jingle because she forwarded my text to a common friend, who was, at the time, driving back to Idaho Falls from Las Vegas—with her husband.

“You forwarded my text about peeing on the side of the road?” I asked.

“Oh, she totally appreciated it.”

So once again, my column is a cautionary tale.  This time it’s intended for those of you who may be considering the occupation of public shaming, because like superhero work, once you assume the charge, your life is no longer your own.  Unless, of course, you have an alter ego, a bladder of steel or a cell phone plan without unlimited texting.  

Then you might be okay.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Tween Eye Roll

My oldest child seems to be suffering from a condition in which his eyeballs are magnetically drawn to the top of his head. It happens mostly when he’s talking to me.  Either he needs a specialist or karma has come to kick my trash.  (By the way, that evil cackle you hear in the background is my mother laughing at me.)

From approximately 11-years old to midway through my freshman year in college, I was notoriously sassy.  Some people reminisce about near-death experiences or most embarrassing moments at family gatherings.  My mother talks about Shauna’s Moody Years.  And from the way she describes them, I was so caustic that red lasers would often shoot from my eyes and flames burst from my ears.  Also, periodically my head would spin all the way around, independent of my neck.

The truth is, I was especially feisty in junior high when boys stopped pulling on pigtails and started snapping bra straps.  It was a time in which forgetting to wear your deodorant could make for an excruciating bus ride home, either inflicted upon oneself, the person next to you, or that mean kid who sat in the back.  With reckless abandon, I tried out for basketball, cheerleading and drill team, only to be rejected thrice.  I also learned that people could be incredibly cruel for the sake of popularity as I watched a boy get stuffed into a industrial garbage can at the end of PE one day.  Puberty is not for the faint of heart.

You’d think with all this I would be much more empathetic to watch my son edge his way into the preteen years, complete with questionable body odor, dirty socks that smell that corn chips and the infamous ‘eye roll.’  Uhm, not so much.

I’m nearly catatonic with fear.  

The junior high horror stories are much worse than the ones I went to school with.  Apparently the hallways abound with mini Charlie Sheens and their goddesses in the terrestrial dimension, pushing drugs you can overcome with your mind.  Winning?  Maybe if you’re homeschooling.

But instead, I’m going to use my mind to will my children through a prepubescent experience more like my own.  This includes being grateful for the condition from which my son is currently suffering, because it doesn’t require rehab.  And to guide me through this uncharted territory in parenting, I’m going to draw from my father’s arsenal.

“Those eyes can either roll on the floor or not at all.  Your choice.”

It was a different brand of parenting, but effective in its own way.  Because I turned into a most pleasant and healthy adult.

What? Are you rolling your eyes at me?