Wednesday, March 23, 2011

816 Main Street

I was reminded of my first college apartment the other day when I got turned around and... well... a bit lost in a rather savory part of St. Paul.  Of course, the children were in tow - to remind me of the fact that I often lose my way in these types of neighborhoods.  As we were bumping up and down a rather neglected piece of road, my son mentioned how the houses looked old and creepy.  I happened to be more concerned about finding a sign of civilization that looked familiar to me at the time.  He went on to describe the dirty windows, cracked up driveways, and sagging roofs - which all perfectly described my first apartment.

We were so excited.  Moving out of the dorms was a huge rite of passage.  No more dining hall fare or sharing a bathroom with fifty people..  This was the big time!  Four of us decided to bust free from the safety net of a watchful R.A.  (Who knew, I'd marry one?)  We were twenty years old for cripes sakes - it was time!

After scouring the campus paper, we carefully selected the perfect place.  Two bedrooms, two bathrooms (this was a luxury), a kitchen, decent carpet, and a driveway that would allow for all of our 'luxurious' vehicles to park off the street.  Our new residence looked much like a grimier version of any house in a 1970s thriller movie.  But to us, it was a gleaming palace!  The best part was the main floor bathroom.  It was a small closet stuffed under a stairway that was not so successfully transformed into an extra bathroom.  House guests of the male persuasion had to be careful not to wedge their forehead into the pitched ceiling while... uh... doing their thing. But even better, was the bonus history lesson in late 1800s construction practice we received when the improperly hung door slammed into the interior wall of the biffy and punched a hole right above the toilet paper dispenser.  After a rather shrill screaming session upon the discovery of what we assumed was a dead body buried in the wall,  we promptly called our landlord to report this crime - and were somewhat comforted to learn that what we thought was human hair attached to a human body - was actually horse hair attached to the studs in the wall.  That's where the insulation was!  However, as cozy as it sounds, horse hair isn't all that insulating.  Oh well, this was our new home, so we put out a welcome mat and assumed our new roles as happy renters.  What could be better?  Well... turns out, there may have been one or two places that probably topped this one.  That reality smacked us in the face right about the time the air began its seasonal descent.  Who knew we should have asked about insulation?  Or snow removal?  Or resident mice munching on our meager supply of ramen noodles and froot loops in our kitchen cupboards?  Or high efficiency furnaces?...or even the fact that an elderly neighbor with dementia might habitually come knocking on our door at all hours of the night?  Live and learn, I guess.

Soon, I was back on the right path, the right freeway, and headed toward the hotel I had been trying to get to about six miles back.  Now that I wasn't so singly focused on my lack of directional sense, I was thinking of how I could let my son know that those houses were probably just fine - and that I had lived in a house like that at one time in college.  But try as I might, I just couldn't picture him living like that when he flies the nest and breaks out of the dorms some day.  These are the times when I stop and reflect on just how difficult it is to be a parent - and how my parents allowed me to find my independence one experience - or bad residence - at a time.  Maybe someday, down the road, he'll get really belligerent and... stinky... and difficult... and smart alecky ... and I'll be ready for him to bust out on his own.  But for today, I'm just going to be glad in the fact that he still wants his airplane bedsheets on his mattress, his plastic army men spread out all over his room, and his random rock collection the main focus of his desk.  Besides, I would hate to spoil all the fun for him...

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Royal Hulk

It's spring break - why not see if any of the spring clothes fit the kids?  Something will surely carry over from early fall - like a couple of shirts or shorts or something - right?  Well, unbeknownst to me, my kids grew freakishly taller and larger than they were in October.  It was like an episode of The Incredible Hulk - except they didn't turn green of course - more like red or pink.  Every piece of clothing they tried on - including shoes and socks - seemed to be squealing in pain each time they were pulled over a gigantic head or yanked on to what seemed to be giraffe legs.  How did this happen?  Some of the outfits looked like costumes for circus performers who had no budget for such items.  After snaking Maya out of one blouse, I noticed she had little indentions on her chest where the buttons had been!
So... off we trudged on the dreaded shopping trip.  You'd think I was asking them to chew off one of their limbs.  They HATE shopping for clothing.  I have only stamina enough to endure this with one child at a time.  I figure they have to be along for the first trip to at least establish their new size.  So the seven year old drew the short straw and begrudgingly plodded along behind me, while the ten year old skipped over to the book aisle with his dad.  This is what followed:
Do you like this one, Honey?
No, I mean, if I buy it, will you wear it?
I don't know... if you want me too...
Let's start again.  Here's how it's going to go, Pippy Longstocking:  I will hold something up, you will say an emphatic YES or NO.  Got it?
OK... if you say so...
How about I just look in the toys while you figure all of this out, Mom?
Not a chance.
How about these? (holding up some rather stylish shorts)
What size are those, Mom!?  They look like clown shorts!
Well, let's just pop into a dressing room and try on a few sizes so we can be sure.
I feel the same way, Darlin'.

So after a quick change about in the fitting room, we established sizes and styles and I released her to the toy aisle - to keep both of our sanity in tact.  I grabbed a few more items, pondered over some dresses I knew she would wear only under duress, and met up with her by the Zhu Zhu Pets.  She made a sweeping glance at the new clothing items I had placed in the cart, and said, "Good job, Mom."
So now I'm wondering.  Who's in charge here?  I felt as though she had sent me on a quest to gather some trivial belongings for her while she sauntered around the royal playroom.  And now, here she was, handing down a lackluster approval for completion of the quest.
When we arrived back home, there was a short, pathetic discussion about being tired.  I, of course, ignored these comments and went about my merry, royal duties.  After about forty-five minutes, it was eerily quiet.  I decided to go on a quest of my own and locate the "overtaxed" child.  I eventually found her curled up in a ball under a shelf, in our basement storage room - snoring soundly.  When I turned on the light, she awoke and was actually giggling to herself as she was waking up.   We laughed about how in the world she ended up there and how she fell asleep while hiding.  As we were heading up the stairs, she looked back at the store room and said, "Now I know how Cinderella must have felt!"
It has been confirmed.  I am raising a self appointed princess.  I informed her that it would be a while before her prince comes to save her.   To which she answered, "I'm not going off with any old prince!  I'm staying right here with the queen!"
Ah-ha.  Now we're talkin'.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dog Chronicles

For the past several days, we have had the privilege of dog sitting for my sister's dog.  We've done this before and my kids look forward to this opportunity every time it presents itself.  Franny is our little guest's name.  She is a little white bichon with a quirky and endearing personality.  I am not a dog person.  Never have been.  My husband is allergic to most dog breeds - but not Franny.  We have never had any intentions of adding a canine member to our family. Instead, we have always looked at these stays as our "rent-a-dog" experiences - everyone gets their dog fix and then Franny goes home.
However, times are a changin' - the kids have gotten older and have shown great responsibility with taking care of Franny, and are certain that they too would like to have a dog - one that stays here all the time.
We have promised them nothing, but somehow they have picked up on some subtle clues that we don't mind having Franny here so much - and even kind of, well... enjoy her.  So this is the conversation I overheard earlier today while the kids were scootering around the garage:
Maya: Which would you rather have, Joe?  A bunch of Bakugan cards or a dog?
Joe: What kind of Bakugan cards?
Maya: Oh, I don't know - all the kinds you really like, I guess.
Joe: Hmmm...  that's a tough one, Maya.
Maya: Seriously??  We are talkin' about a real live dog here!
Joe: How about 5 Bakugan cards AND a dog?
Maya:  That wasn't the question, Joe.
Joe: Well, I really want a dog too, Maya - but Bakugan cards don't make messes in the yard that you have to clean up.
Maya:  Are you just worried about the poop?
Joe: Yeah.  That's pretty much it.
Maya: Okay, what if you walk the dog and I pick up the poop?
Joe: Maybe.. I guess.
Maya: Joe, we have to get this straight because Mom and Dad will be worried about responsibility stuff and if we don't have our story straight, they are gonna see right through us!  Mom, especially.  She always knows when you are not serious, Joe - so you better not laugh and look all "supicious"and stuff!
I want to remind you that Maya is a first grader and Joe is a fourth grader - you can clearly see who wears the pants in their relationship.  They wrapped up their conversation, and I quickly and quietly moved away from the door.  On cue, they marched into the kitchen and very professionally presented me with their case.  It was going very well... until I asked Joseph some very pointed questions - it was as if I had inside information or something.
Mom: Joe, what if Maya is gone, and the dog makes a mess?  What will happen then?
Joe: (looking at Maya for help) Well... I could just wait until she gets home...
Mom: What if she is at camp for a week?
Maya: (Interrupting now) Mom, I will give Joseph double pairs of rubber gloves... and maybe you can just skip a couple of days of food for the dog or something...  wait, no, I will invent food that doesn't make the dog have to go do a job... no... okay... how about I just don't go to camp ever?
Joe: Yeah...
Maya: Joe! I told you to get your story straight - this is so not working!!!
The Mean Mom strikes again.  The kids are foiled.  However, a second strike is being schemed as we speak.  Stay tuned...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent and Muppets

I often read blogs.  Blogs about writers, blogs about moms, blogs about art and photography, just whatever catches my whimsy at the moment.  Today, I was lead from one facebook page to a blog and then another, and finally ended up on the blog of a priest.  I don't know him, but he is apparently a friend of a priest I do know.  He had some powerful words to share about Lent.  I was reflecting on his perspective and becoming quite introspective. A nice moment and thoughtful way to end my day.  I decided to read up on this individual a bit more by reading his profile.  This is where I noticed that he likes a variety of movies - "and almost anything with a muppet in it."  A confession of admiration for the beloved muppets totally surprised me.  Who knew?  Parish suppers, long sermons, fall festivals, and First Communions - common thoughts when I think of priests.  Kermit and Miss Piggy?  Not so much.
His affection for these goofy creatures made me like this priest immediately.  I was wishing this guy was the priest at my church so after Communal Penance we could throw "A Muppet Christmas Carol" soundtrack featuring John Denver, on the p.a. system and belt out some tunes with Fozzie, Animal, and the Swedish Chef!  Wouldn't that be something?
The Muppets were a happy part of my childhood.  Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock - now that's entertainment.  I remember waking my cousin's two year old out of an afternoon slumber and loading her up in a station wagon along with four of my cousins - so we could use her as our "excuse" for wanting to see "Follow that Bird."  And what's not to like about a crazed "Animal" growling out rhythms while slamming sticks on a pretend drum set?  Or watching a skinny-legged frog dressed up as a cowboy strutting down main street in an old Western Ghost Town about to have a shoot out with the town villain?
I suppose I feel the same way about the Muppets that my parents felt about Howdy Doody or Clarabel the Clown.  It's just silly, good-hearted fun.  Then when you actually stop and think about the fact that what you are watching on TV or the big screen is a bunch of feathers, googly eyes, and felt - it makes it even more absurd.   Not so long ago, a friend and I actually stayed up the better part of a night, while attending a professional conference, giggling and snorting about bulging eyes and Louie the Shrimp and the beloved "Beaker."  Our colleagues who had the pleasure of listening to us all night, were not as humored.  I guess the Muppets aren't for everyone.
In the end, we all need our own form of silly, pointless entertainment.  Whether that enjoyment comes in the form of felt or otherwise, it's just good for the soul.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Sole Survivors

And to think it all started by a less than satisfactory shoe.  Earlier in the weekend, my husband noticed that his hardly worn, rather expensive shoe was beginning to separate, ever so slightly, from its sole just at the tip of his toe.  That small realization is what started a chain of chaotic, somewhat freaky, set of events.
We decided to head to the Mall of America to address the shoe issue directly at the point of sale.  I usually avoid the "Mall of A Million Things I Don't Need," whenever possible.  The place has sort of worn out its welcome with me.  For example, think back to your childhood for a moment.  When your mom took you shoe shopping or underwear shopping or any kind of shopping, was it also a given that you would have the privilege of riding roller coasters, eating cotton candy, and having your face painted? Just checking.
This is why I avoid the "Melee of America," especially with children in tow.  However, we didn't have anything pressing to do, and thought it would be "refreshing" to get out of the house for a while. (See what being snowbound for six months will lead you to do?)
We loaded up the minivan and headed down the freeway.  A short twenty minutes later as we were making our way off the exit ramp, we were quickly knotted up into several lanes of very slow moving vehicles - all of which were also turn signaling in the same direction as the Mall.  We batted around the question, "Hmm... is there something special going on here today?  Seems like an awful lot of commotion..."  No matter, we decided it would be no problem to just hit the shoe store, glance into the Lego Land store and leave shortly thereafter.  Just as we were finally pulling into the elusive parking spot in the ramp, it dawned on me!  Oh, yes!  Today is the day of the casting call for people that would like to be on the show, "The Biggest Loser!" That's it... that's why there are sooooo many people here.  Oh, well that shouldn't be too big of a deal.  And it wasn't.
We scurried into Bloomingdale's and started snaking our way through people traffic to the shoe store.  It was very clear almost immediately that there was more to this story than met the eye.  Each time we boarded an escalator, we had a moment to stare off into the vast sea of screaming kids, determined shoppers, and... some most unusual people.  The red flag began to rear it's warning as soon as I heard my nine year old exclaim, "Mom, I think that guy is... a Squirtle!! And, look, there's Pikachu!!?
Yes. We were also now directly in the epicenter of a frenetic, costume-wearing festival of Pokemon.  This day was also the day of a new video game release for what appeared to be a long-awaited, extremely popular Pokemon game.  Who knew?  This is not a game or cartoon I have ever understood - so as you can imagine, I was even more baffled by these dressed up dragony, space guys running from one store to the next, with flocks of children and their haggard parents trying to keep up with them.
We navigated as best we could to keep our wide-eyed nine year old in check and still get to the... where were we going again?  What was it we needed?  Aah, yes.  Shoes.  Must get shoes fixed.
Finally, the shoe store was in sight and we would be leaving this chaos soon, right?  Well, the shoe issue was settled and we had promised a short look around at the Lego Store, so we veered off in that direction, ducking and dodging long lines, scampering children, and yes, those dreaded Pokemon wannabes in their crazy costumes.
Here's the bottom line.  Two screaming roller coaster rides, one whirl around on the vomit swings, and four overpriced sodas later, we were finally heading for the parking lot.  The story does not end here.  As we were trying to find the path of least resistance to exit this gong show, we notice, many people heading straight for us in beautiful, brilliant, satin outfits.  As luck would have it, this was also the day of the Tibetan New Year Celebration.  This, by far, was the best part of the day.  It was actually a very visually pleasing experience and nicely rounded out our day of chaos.
My advice: buy better shoes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Present

A friend stopped over earlier this week for a quick visit.  She brought her two young sons with her.  Once they were inside the foyer, they quickly remembered their previous visit when they had played with my son's now lonely wooden train sets.  We brought them up from the abandoned playroom and soon Thomas, Percy, and Edward were once again chugging along the newly laid tracks.  The boys played and my friend and I talked.
Soon it was time to leave.  The boys bid tearful good-byes to the trains, packed up their winter clothing, and headed to the car, grumbling along the way.  The time spent imagining themselves as busy train conductors had ended far too soon.
A short time later, my seven and nine year old arrived home from school, shedding their boots, coats, and winter hats as they excitedly competed to tell me about the coming field trip to the Science Museum.   They brought in their school bags for me to inspect and made careful snack selections.  About two bites into their graham crackers and bananas, they noticed all of their train cars, engines, little houses, and mountains of wooden tracks spread around the sun room.  They both surmised that some little guests had paid a visit and then continued on with their snacks.
Often, after a full day of school, both of my kids are tired and are looking for a way to relax.  Sometimes that means building snow forts, other times it means origami or just taking a rest.  On our "best" days, they might choose the good ol' standby of bickering with each other to pass the time.  This day, without saying a word to each other, they migrated over to the train yard.
In no time, they had constructed an elaborate system of bridges and tunnels and were pushing their trains along the tracks - complete with train noises.  An hour later, I had to pull them from their train play so that we could make it to gymnastics and basketball practice.  Even in the van, they were still having discussions about what to build next and trying to figure out where that old windmill went to anyway.
When our young visitors had brought up the train set earlier in the day, I had experienced a wash of sadness that my son was "too old" to play with trains anymore.  That moment made me long for his younger days of Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo, and Little Bear.  However, in that hour that I watched both children build and collaborate and bring those trains back to life, I realized how God makes it okay for our kids to grow up - He continues to give us the opportunity to have a glimpse into their past without completely abandoning their present.  And that's just what it is... a present.