Archive for April, 2006

Tantrum training

April 28, 2006

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“Coming in June—a tantrum training class,” read the announcement in my Eudora in-box this afternoon. Now my kids learned this tantrum thing all on their own, but that was a few years ago. Babies today are taking classes in foreign languages, music (one such advertises that babies learn about musical instruments by tasting them), and yoga—maybe they need tantrum training as well. Maybe because of too much exposure to classical music and not enough additives and sugar in their diets, they’re not figuring it out for themselves. Or maybe my kids weren’t doing their tantrums just right—maybe they could have done better. Maybe not fully exploring their tantrum skills will mean they won’t do well on their SATs, get into that Ivy League school, and land that high paying job.

Or maybe this is a career opportunity. Maybe my kids could make a fortune teaching tantrum training. I can imagine the class now.

First, pick the right topic. It’s important to be creative, to go for the unexpected. Anybody can have a tantrum about losing a favorite toy; that’s not going to impress anyone. Alex once had a tantrum about not being Jewish (it was Hanukkah, he thought we should be lighting candles and saying prayers); now that’s creative.

Next, the place. A tantrum at home with just a mom as an audience is a waste of energy. The aisle of a crowded grocery store is good—throw yourself on the ground and really block traffic. Pull things off the shelves; make a mess. You know your mom won’t bribe you to stop, but that cashier might, and she’s got all that candy right there. How about a parking lot? Refuse to get into your car seat—or even the car itself. Shriek as your mother tries to manhandle you in, knowing she’s late to pick up your sibling; make it look like child abuse, draw a crowd.

And about the tempo. A good tantrum ebbs and flows. It has peaks and valleys. It fools your parents into thinking you’re settling down and then takes off again, preferably triggered by something that’s their fault—they spoke to you, perhaps.

Pay attention to your body movements. Flailing about is so last year. Try different effects—make your body completely rigid; perhaps people will think you’re having a seizure. Go limp; your mother might try to pick you up—not easy, but if she succeeds in getting you off the floor, that’s the time to swing your arms and legs, it’s not your fault if you accidentally whack her.

Know when to stop. Obviously, you can’t keep a tantrum going all day. On the other hand, you don’t want anyone to think they had anything to do with your change in behavior, they might fool themselves into believing they have control of the situation. So ignore all attempts to calm you down, instead, randomly turn off the tears. Catch your breath, and then ask for a snack—you’ll be hungry after all that aerobic activity.

I read the announcement again. Whoops, the class isn’t for kids, it’s for parents. As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character used to say, “Never mind.” (Yeah, I know I’m dating myself with that reference.) Or maybe I could use a tantrum refresher course. “Waaaahhh my computer died and I haven’t saved in an hour and I need to finish this before my kids come home from school and it’s just not fair and I know I’m on deadline but I won’t do it again and you can’t make me! Waaaaahhhh!”

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Fear of shopping

April 26, 2006

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I’ve lost my navy blue windbreaker. I’ve looked all over the house and in both cars. I’ve even checked the lost and found racks at the elementary school. But it’s definitely gone, likely left behind somewhere on a rainy day.

This was not an expensive designer jacket selected with care. It was two sizes too big, a color I don’t particularly like, and sported a corporate logo—one of the many freebies size L or XL I accrue as a journalist. But it was the perfect California jacket—waterproof and big enough to fit over a sweatshirt in the winter, light enough to jam in the bottom of a small backpack for summer days that suddenly turn cool. I don’t have any other jacket that easily substitutes. And the thought of replacing it traumatizes me.

It’s been more than three years since I seriously went shopping for myself; that is, shopping, as opposed to restocking. The goal that time was a new suit, something a little lighter than the wool ones I typically wore. It took me two full days of focused effort. I ended up with something a little too faddish that quickly went out of style, though I still wear it once in a while.

I do make the occasional impulse purchase, typically long tropical print dresses when I’m on vacation that I don’t wear until the next vacation. And I sometimes grab a T-shirt or hoodie as I’m racing through Target on the way to the cat food. But mostly I just replace—I’m on my fifth pair of New Balance 991 sneakers, ordered direct from Sneakerland. I live in Costco’s camisoles, they come in two-packs and last about two years before the strap clips break or I manage to accidentally shrink them in the dryer.

I also mooch off my friend Julie’s shopping efforts—she’s the same size that I am, head to toe, and does a lot of online shopping, so if she gets something new that I like, I just ask her for the URL. (She has particularly good taste in shoes.) On my own, I’m a failure at online shopping. Last year I tried to find a blazer online, something that I could wear for meetings but that would also go with jeans. I started out with five from the Nordstrom’s web site, ordered the same five again in different sizes because none in the first batch fit,  along with three more that the customer service rep suggested, then took the whole pile back to the store for a refund. (When the credit card bill came, I had to spend an hour making my husband understand that while there were indeed over a thousand dollars of charges on the bill, I really only spent five dollars.)

So, when I contemplate replacing my lost windbreaker, I truly don’t know where to start. When my kids were babies and I was on maternity leave, I spent hours strolling shopping malls—it got me out of the house, the sights and sounds entertained the baby, and I didn’t have to make my own coffee. Then, at least, I knew what the stores were showing in their windows and the hot colors and styles of the season. Of course, I couldn’t actually go into the dressing rooms and try anything on; if I stopped strolling and took off my shirt I’d be committing to 45 minutes of nursing in a cramped stall. But at least I knew what I would try on if ever given the chance.

I do know where to buy kid clothes; my kids need new clothes every six months or so, though typically I don’t notice until the situation is desperate—like the day before leaving for two weeks of summer camp. At that point I power shop. I can buy an entire wardrobe for my 10-year-old daughter in two to three hours, even though she’s hard to fit. I stick her in a dressing room, haul armloads of clothes in and out, and tell her she can’t come out until she has three pairs of pants and four tops. My fashion-conscious teen boy is easy to shop for, now that H&M has come to San Francisco. (While he doesn’t mind if I help, I can opt to send him off on his own with cash and a train ticket.) As for my little guy, replacing his wardrobe only means a trip to the attic. (Hey, they’re new clothes to him.)

But I don’t think I can find a new windbreaker in the girls’ department at Target or Kohl’s, in the men’s department at H&M, or in my attic. I will have go to grown-up stores; I’ll have to cruise the malls. I’ll schedule a vacation day sometime in May; with baseball games and ballet and music recitals on the schedule, weekend days are not an option. I’ll look at the Sunday newspaper ads, instead of dumping them straight into the recycling bin. And I’ll find out that brown is the new black and pink is the new blue or orange is the new pink and that the clothing manufacturers have resized everything again so I have no idea what size I wear. And maybe I’ll stop at the MAC cosmetics counter and get a free makeover so when I get home, the kids can tell me how weird I look. Unless, that is, anybody has seen a blue windbreaker?

Ode to my carpet cleaner

April 19, 2006

Img_0127 Spring has arrived, finally. And my thoughts have turned to gardening, summer vacation, and Ray.
We’ve been together for 16 years, Ray and I, almost as long as I’ve been married. Our relationship has survived all sorts of changes; I’ve lived in three houses, had three kids since we first met. He’s always been there when I needed him; we’ve never had an argument.
Ray is my carpet cleaner.

Ray first came into my life when I was living in San Francisco. After spending the first year of married life covered in plaster dust, with clothes hanging from the rafters since the closets were under construction, the house remodel was done. The last step was the carpet—wall-to-wall, pale peach carpet that swept through all three stories, covering every bit of floor except the kitchen. That carpet, to me, symbolized the end of chaos, and I was determined to keep it spotless. We left our shoes on a mat just inside the front door; our parties were sock hops. And after a couple of months, I looked in the phone book under carpet cleaners, and made my first phone call to Ray.

After that, I saw him every couple of months. “I think you missed a spot,” I would say, pointing to a nearly invisible, dime-sized discoloration near the fireplace. And he would cheerfully run his steamer over the carpet one more time.

Then came Alexander, baby number one. Ray’s visits became more frequent—Alex was a spitter upper. And of course I didn’t want my precious child learning to crawl on dirt!

“He’s eating solids now, huh?” Ray commented as he sprayed extra-strength spot cleaner on the large green blotch; Alex had not been impressed with his introduction to Gerber peas. As Ray packed up his gear we would chat—about the price of houses, the weather, his ongoing home remodel. When you’re the at-home mother of a colicky infant, the visit from the carpet cleaner can sometimes be the highlight of your day. And hey, Ray was pretty cute.

When we moved from San Francisco to Menlo Park, my husband and I traded the wall-to-wall carpeting for area rugs and went back to wearing shoes in the house. “Do you think you can get the grape juice stain out?” I would say to Ray, swaying my new baby in her sling
and remembering the fountain that had shot from the straw when, too rushed to pour a cup of juice, I had handed four-year-old Alex a juice box. Ray went back to his truck for more spot cleaner.

Then another move, to Palo Alto, and another baby. I called Ray for an emergency cleaning soon after the baby started to roll around in the dirt that his big brother regularly tracked into the living room.

“This is it,” he told me. “No more moves. Any further south, and our relationship is history.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” I promised. But I didn’t see Ray as often; with three kids spilling things, the spots pretty much blended together, and there were so many toys around, you could hardly see the rugs anyway.

But, at least once a year, I still call Ray. I remember last year. He arrived about 11:30 on a gorgeous spring day, only a little behind schedule, and began unloading his equipment. He was a little heavier than the last time I had seen him, and had a touch of grey at his temples, but hadn’t changed all that much. In his always-cheerful, booming voice he commented on the new houses on the block and told me about the old woman he’d be cleaning carpets for that afternoon. He’d scheduled in extra time for her, he said, because she’s lonely and she likes to talk.

“I’m thinking about replacing this rug,” I said, pointing to the inexpensive blue carpet in the family room. “It’s pretty bad.”

“Naww,” he told me, “it’ll come clean.” And it mostly did. “Not bad,” I said, ignoring the black ink stains near one corner.

“I can’t get this all out, though,” he said, indicating a few blotches—pizza sauce? wine?—on the off-white (what was I thinking?) living room rug. “Oh, it’s OK.” I said.  “The spots kind of blend in with the pattern.”

“Remember in San Francisco? You used to point out spots I couldn’t even see!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, these days I can’t see much of anything without my reading glasses.”

I wrote out a check. “See you in the fall, I guess. Have a good summer.”

“Yeah, you too.”

And last year went so fast that the rainy season came before I had noticed that it was fall. But finally, spring is here, and I’m calling Ray.

The sick kid blues

April 10, 2006

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I’ve got the sick kid blues. I’m singing the “kid on the couch too miserable to move don’t leave me mom it’s so not fair that I’m sick for spring break and I know you’ve been here too” song. It’s a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll (the type of rock song that degenerates into wordless wails). And it’s been a little bit new-age, too, since I handed the kid in question an antique bronze temple bell so I could get far enough out of sight to focus on today’s work deadline. And it’s maybe not quite child-appropriate, because I pulled out a PG-13 DVD thinking a little rule-bending might be temporarily distracting, only to be reminded that I tried the same trick the last time the kid was sick.

But hey, I’m not just a singer. I’m the guy in the movie multiplex who has to keep changing the reel—and the audience lets out an increasingly frustrated roar when the screen goes dark. I’m the bartender and short-order cook who is serving lingonberry fizzes and mango smoothies and grilled-cheese-and-half-grape hors d’oeuvres who is wondering why no one around here just orders apple juice straight up. I’m the spa attendant who brings cool cloths for your head. I’m the nurse with the thermometer and the perfectly timed doses of medicine, except I blew it because I didn’t write down the last dose of Tylenol and now I have to wait until 6 p.m. to be safe. I’m the bouncer at that exclusive disco who is keeping the other kids in the house outside the velvet ropes.
And I’m the working mom who actually did finish the project on deadline.