Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Miss Greasy Head

My Daughter's entered a new phase in her development. I don't know if it can be found in any of the developmental psychology courses at the universities, but it can be found in my house: around here we call it Miss Greasy Head.

For some reason, she no longer wants to take a shower. Or a bath. Cleanliness is no longer a priority of hers. It's a priority of anyone who stands near her, however, but not to her anymore.

She used to be my good little clean child. It was Bar Mitzvahzilla who was the problem around here with cleanliness. But Daughter? She'd march right into the shower several times a week with no cajoling and no reminding. Now, if we forget, she amazingly forgets as well. And this is not a child who ever forgets anything. Then we only remember when we look at her hair.

You know how hair normally is made up of a gazillion single strands that swing and sway together in a beautiful fall from the head? Especially when you're ten and it's your own hair color and all? Well, that's not what hers looks like anymore. It looks like maybe you could fry an omelet up there. Her hair self-parts into sections. It flomps around on her head in greasy segments. It slaps down on her face and leaves a streak of oil and then she breaks out in pimples the next day wherever that flomping hair hit her. 

Husband is bewildered. I'm bewildered. At first. But then my memory starts kicking up. I remember, suddenly, being ten and deciding that I'd wear a ponytail for the entire fourth grade - and I mean the same exact ponytail, no grooming and no showering. Above the hair tie was my greasy dirty hair, with like moss and weeds stuck in it and dandruff raining down out of it, and below it was my horrible secret: a huge knot that could not be unknotted. I was sure that at its miserable center there was a wad of gum or something but I thought that if I masqueraded it in a ponytail no one would notice that it was one gigantic ball of frizzed up tangled hair.

So, of course, a filthy fourth-grade year runs in the family. And since Daughter's quicker than me and sneakier, she's knows it's only a matter of time before her addled parents forget about her greasy hair and move onto other topics which we then discuss with the sound of her flomping hair in the background.

Is there any shower resistance going on in your household? Any pre-adolescent grease build-up? Did you go through this phase? Do you think your kids wait for you to forget you asked them to do something so they can get out of doing it?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shopping Like an Eastern European

Most of the year I'm a pretty normal American woman. I look normal. I dress in a fairly normal manner. I walk in grocery stores and have a vaguely normal shopping list.

Then Passover comes along and any normalcy is ripped away to reveal my true nature: I'm an Eastern European Jew with a penchant for fatty food.

How did I become my mother, or, rather, my grandmother? How did I get so fascinated with the butchers at all the grocery stores in town, interrogating the staff about their briskets, the weights, when they're expected, and, by the way, they wouldn't happen to have a shank bone just laying around, would they?

Shopping for Passover is like being on the worst scavenger hunt you will ever be on in your whole life. I have a shopping list that looks like it was compiled in medieval Poland:  fatty beef, liver, gefilte fish, eggs, potatoes, matzah, Kosher-for-Passover wine, horseradish, and, yes, shank bones. Then I take that list and try to find those items so I can spend days peering into large cauldrons skimming fat globules off the food I'll be excited to eat the night of our seder. 

While I'm out on this quest, I run into the rest of the world. They're having somewhat more fun than I am. They are playing. I mean, I know they'll go to church on Easter Sunday, but before that happens, there's a good time to be had. They're dyeing Easter eggs, buying Easter baskets, eating chocolate bunnies, having Easter egg hunts, and buying their daughters lovely, pastel Easter dresses.

I find the last thing on my list, horseradish root - a gnarled mess in my medieval grip- and head for home. 

Do you ever have to shop for things that seem a little, um, medieval? Scavenger Hunts at grocery stores? How are your Passover or Easter preparations going?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Truth and Creative Lies

A big thank you to Robin of Your Daily Dose and Ellen of Weighting Around for awarding me the Creative Blogger Award. So here are my creative statements - true or false?

1) Despite being one of seven sisters, our home life was pretty tranquil, with little fighting.

2) My first husband was also one of seven children.

3) I'm famous at my kids' school for my cupcakes but they're just made from the Pillsbury white cake mix out of the box.

4) It took me five and one-half years to get my bachelor's degree due to switching universities, bad grades and changing majors.

5) When my two sisters-in-law come to town, we spend all of our time shopping at Barney's.

6) My ex-husband and I remain good friends to this day.

7) Math comes easily to me, that's why my undergraduate degree is in Applied Mathematics.

And, because who likes to wait?, here are the anwers:

1) False. If only there had been Wrestling Mania back then, we could have gone in the ring.

2) False. Ex-husband was an only child. You know, a coveted only child, not one of a litter of children, overlooked, like me.

3) True. I don't know why the hell everyone loves those stupid cupcakes so much. I keep telling them, "THEY'RE JUST MADE OUT OF WHITE CAKE MIX!" but it's like people have to believe it's something exotic. If it's me + cooking it cannot equal exotic.

4) True. (Does it help that I got my master's in two years with distinction?) Started in one major at one university, and couldn't stand it when I got out of the 101 courses. Then I transferred to another university (am I beginning to sound like Sarah Palin?) at which time I found out, much to my shock, that Ds don't transfer. Then chose another major and received my BA five and a half years after I started.

5) False. More like they go to Kohl's and I stay home and watch the kids.

6) False. Last time ex-husband seen by me (I don't rule out that he's been stalking me over the years): 1992, I was meeting some girlfriends for lunch at a restaurant right after I got engaged to Husband when who walks in? Ex-husband. He was a little surprised to see an engagement ring on my finger, especially in light of his dire predictions for my future love life if I went through with the divorce.

7) False. I was once offered a C by my Algebra teacher in high school if I would just come to class and sit in a chair like an amoeba. He understood that when I expected numbers but instead saw Xs and Ys, part of my brain shut down.

And I, in turn, am passing this award on to:
The Kitchen Witch
Jennifer at Chaos Wrapped in Chocolate-Covered Grins
Maureen at Island Roar
Karen at Waisting Time
The Absence of Alternatives

Was I the only one on a five-and-a-half-year plan for college? Anyone been stalked by an ex-husband/boyfriend in a benign kind of way? Fought much as kids growing up? Are you famous for cooking/baking something that you get out of a box?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Head Laundress

I've gotten the kids pretty well trained on one task lately: they do their own clothes wash.

I know - this is big. I think when I went away to college at eighteen I had never done my own, but in a household in which I've never done Husband's laundry, it was only a matter of time.

I was going to do Husband's laundry once we got married. Not really because of some dutiful housewife thing, but more because he was so optimistic that since he'd finally married (he was thirty-six) he finally wouldn't have to do it. But, really, hadn't he noticed what he'd been dating for the last year and a half? He couldn't have failed to notice that I had no prowess around the house. 

So we went in the laundry room together because he planned to give me something called "instructions." Apparently, there were instructions - the first death knell for him getting his wash done. One of the instructions was that when his clothes went in the dryer they were only allowed to be tumbled for a few seconds before the shirts would need to be yanked out hung up wet, making sure the collars lay flat. To quote, he didn't want his wash "cooked."

So, long story short, I've never done his laundry. Unless he was interested in the Linda "Stuff-As-Much-Into-A-Washer-As-Can-Fit" and "Dry-Until-It-Burns" methodology, then he obviously wasn't interested in me being his laundress.

But since I have such low standards, the kids and I have been getting along very well in the laundry department. Of course, sometimes they forget to put in soap and have to wash their load again. And then sometimes they forget to transfer the wash to the dryer, leaving everything in there to rot, and, yes, have to wash their load again. But overall, a good deal.

But the other day, Bar Mitzvahzilla left a load in the dryer and I needed it so, huffing and puffing like a martyr, I unloaded it. The minute I opened the door, however, there it was. The most dreaded thing you can ever find in a dryer: the skinny string of tissue. My heart sunk. Of course, I knew what had happened. Bar Mitzvahzilla had left one Kleenex in one pair of jeans and, somehow, somewhere in the mysterious world inside the washer and dryer, that one tissue had multiplied and divided and stringified into thousands and thousands of skinny pieces of one-ply tissues.

Could this have been avoided? I don't know. Would you want to put your hands in the pockets of a fourteen-year-old's clothes to pull used tissues out? Would you even want to get involved if he was doing his own wash? Anyway, the damage was done. I unloaded his laundry, consisting of more tissue than clothes, and left it for him to sort later.

Then I started transferring my wash over and what did I find? Wet tissues.

Do you do your husband/partner's laundry? Does someone do yours? What have you found in the washer or dryer that doesn't belong there?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Different Kind of Ish

Okay, I'm not Irish, I'll admit it. Each year when I wake up on St. Patrick's Day, I don't bounce out of bed thinking about it or about fields of four-leafed clovers. Of course, then I arrive at my exercise class and, duh, everyone is always wearing green and all of our routines for the day are Irish jigs.

The problem, of course, is that I'm a different kind of Ish - Jewish. There are several differences between being Irish and Jewish. Here's a short list of the Irish terms on the left with their Jewish equivalents on the right.


Tiny Leprechauns = Shrunken Elderly relatives
Green Beer = Mogen David Wine
Green cookies = Matzah
Corned Beef and Cabbage = Corned Beef on Rye
Gaelic = Yiddish
Jaunty caps = Yarmulke
Red Hair = No Hair
Dancing a Jig = Dancing the Hora
Pot 'O Gold at the End of the Rainbow = Pot 'O Gold in the Bank

Not surprisingly, there's no Jewish equivalent for "The Luck of the Irish." 

It's just a different kind of Ish.

Got any Irish equivalents from your culture or religion? Does your life sometimes feel like it runs on a different calendar than the rest of the world? Do you do a big celebration for St. Patrick's Day or not?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fork Over the Forks

I unloaded the dishwasher yesterday and, just to aggravate myself, I counted the forks. Why would I do this, you ask? Well, when you know you had a complete set of twelve place settings of an expensive Oneida set,  painstakingly purchased one place setting a month over an entire year, and then notice that the silverware drawer is becoming increasingly empty over time, it makes a mother suspicious.

So I counted. I'm missing nine forks.  

And what does this mean? It means that my careless, spoiled children have thrown away the forks as they've cleaned off their dishes, or thrown out the paper plates they've used.  

I had this dream of having really nice silverware - probably some Jewish genetic thing, hand in hand with my desire for good china, a gigantic house, and a really big diamond. So far, all I had was the silverware. And the silverware had to be of some heft, not the tinny stuff you find in cafeterias, not the haphazard stuff we had at my house growing up, whatever my mother got from S&H Green Stamps along with whatever people left at our house on the holidays and she purloined. My mother, after all, was coming at this from a different perspective. Any time she wasn't starving in the forest like she did during World War II was good, eating with anything that wasn't her hands was good. Obviously, she didn't have my utensil needs.

So about ten years ago I made a plan. Each month I took $42.00 and bought one place setting and put it away until the end of the year when I had the entire set and we began using them. Of course, what I failed to consider was that by then we also had children. Children who would've been better off eating with their hands. Hence, nine forks gone a missing.

I know I should be a little more optimistic. I mean, knowing our house and the general disorganization and what the kids' bedrooms look like, the missing forks could be anywhere. They might just be stuck under a piece of furniture, maybe welded to the carpeting along with a mass of sticky food or something. They could be lying forgotten inside an old lunchbox, or nine old lunchboxes.

But I don't think so. I think that in my kids' constant juggling of the dual demands of parents wanting washed off plates and cleaned off spots at the kitchen table and their own desire to frantically return to whatever they were doing (TV, gaming, playing outside) they simply dumped the whole thing in the garbage. I'm probably lucky I have any dishes left.

Wait a minute. Should I count the dishes?

How bad is the missing item situation in your household? How about the broken item situation? Are you missing an inordinate amount of one thing that the kids use mostly?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tsunami-Bound Cruising

When my kids were away at camp last summer we couldn't call them, but there were a few other ways that we knew they were okay. There were about one hundred photos of the campers put up on the camp website each day for parents to search through who were desperate to look for their kids. I'd find them and, unfortunately, I'd usually get more alarmed from the pictures. Daughter, in her second week, was still hanging out with the only girl she knew when she left, and Bar Mitzvahzilla always seemed to be alone and flat up against a wall. There were my cheery letters to them, their desperate letters to me, and there were emails we could send, for a fee.

But when my mother and stepfather disappeared for four weeks onto a cruise ship setting off for South America, there was none of this. No contact at all. A big ship full of elderly passengers carting suitcases full of medications and not a peep.

And why, instead, shouldn't this be just like my kids' camp website? A security photo of my mother and stepfather leaving their room each day, my mother haranguing my stepfather as he locked the door of their room, would have given me plenty of assurance that they, indeed, were well. On the deck there could be live video feeds of shuffle board games, of bingo parties, of beret-wearing World War II vets all jauntily out for a stroll around the deck. Or simpler still, video of them rushing the dining room for the early dinner, day after day after day. Or of the sleepy ship come 8:00 PM.

Three weeks into her cruise, the earthquake hit Chile and tsunamis headed out over the Pacific ocean, and then I had to start worrying even more. Where was the ship exactly? Was it sitting at anchor in the middle of the Pacific, waiting for one of those tsunami waves to hit and crack it in half? Was this about to turn into the Poseiden Adventure, or the Titanic, the passengers clawing their way to air pockets, or making their way to tiny lifeboats?

Unfortunately, the cruise line website provided no help. Its only purpose was to sell cruises. You can click on entertainment, you can click on food, or you can click on accomodations, but, even if your loved ones are right now being plummetted by forty foot waves or sinking off the coast of Panama, the website would never mention this. The website is going to stay upbeat, the tone Pollyanna-ish. Nothing is ever going wrong in the their world! And anyway, didn't you see that the Day 22 shipboard activity on the itinerary is "sinking?"

It turns out you can get a message to your elderly parents on the ship but you have to be creative. You have to send them a gift, like a forty-nine dollar manicure, and as part of the gift there's a little gift card on which  you have one sentence to speak your piece. One of my sisters did just this.  Her card, instead of saying Enjoy or Have Fun, said, "CALL HOME AND TELL US IF YOU'RE OKAY! Love, Sandy."

We got the call, and eventually, we got my mother and my stepfather back. And now? They're not allowed to leave.

Am I right or just neurotic about needing some updates on my parents? Have you ever had a loved one in the middle of a disaster zone? Ever had your kids away at camp? Is there one person in your family who is just more persistent than the others, who will not take no for an answer?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Husband in a Box

A few weeks ago Husband was very excited. He had bought a new truck.

Maybe you'd think this might be some wild and crazy impetuous action on Husband's part? Maybe some spiffy sport truck, or a special truck for weekend jaunts, or in some way connected to leisure, or a macho image? Like maybe it was a truck with ten-foot-high tires and a lift kit?

But no. This is my husband we're talking about. It was a box truck, for our store. A big, ugly, white cargo truck intended to carry flooring around town and store products while it's parked.

Our store is not located in the best part of town, mostly because we couldn't afford the rent if it was. So Husband immediately became paranoid about parking the truck down there. What if someone stole the box truck? What if someone stole the box truck's battery? What about the myriad other risks, like sprayed on gang symbols, vandalism, etc?

So what did Husband decide to do? He decided that the box truck would be his vehicle now. He'd just drive it to and from work each day and he'd park this monstrosity outside of our house each night so that in the morning it would block out the sun and cast our entire house into darkness.

And this is what I have to say about that: if the biggest fantasy of your husband's life is to drive a box truck to and from work, you can pretty much rest assured that he's not cheating on you. There just aren't that many men picking up their mistresses in gigantic box trucks and going to motels. Nor are there very many men driving enormous box trucks in the red light districts of any cities trying to pick up hookers. The box truck, it turns out, is a huge, and I mean huge, symbol of fidelity.

As with all new things, the newness wore off. Husband finally calmed down. He figured out how to take out the battery so he could park it overnight at our store. Though he'd really had his heart set on the novelty and panache of driving it to and from work each day, he finally understood that he just couldn't. Box trucks belong at stores.

So he drove it on its final journey. The engine rumbled to life, the gears screeched into place, down our street and all the way back to the store. And there it sits now, casting its shadow.

Any mid-life crisis car purchasing going on in your family? Any anti-mid-life crisis car purchasing going on in your family? Does your spouse/partner ever get excited about buying something really dorky? Something that necessitates you having to stand there and say, "Nice box truck, honey. Really."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Hormone House

Yes, it's true. After months of anticipating it, of being horrified over it, of moving forward day by day by day with extreme trepidation, today was my birthday. I'm now officially fifty and I want to say that the stupidest thing I did to prepare myself for this birthday was that I ruined my last couple of months of being forty-nine preparing myself for it. I spent so much time saying I was turning fifty that I wasted my last chance ever to say I was forty-nine.

All I can think is that it must be some kind of cruel joke, a mom heading into menopause, her hormones going nuts, with a son who's busted through adolescence, also a hormonal mess, and a daughter who's starting to develop, a pre-teen, and yes, also a mass of raging hormones. All in the same household, all at the same time. Everyday we wake up and there's an assessment: who's the biggest nut today?

My behavior comes out in a kind of heat-motivated panic about the state of the household. One more dropped toy of Daughter's; Bar Mitzvahzilla's whole wardrobe, somehow, stashed behind the bathroom door where he changes each morning; the idea that they ran out of soap in their shower apparently months ago and just kept on taking showers with no soap instead of asking for a new bar. This drives menopausal mom crazy. Actually, I think this would drive any mom crazy.

Then there's Bar Mitzvahzilla. He's taking a lot of showers lately. Either he's discovered that, yes, he has body odor or I don't want to know why. When he's outside of the shower he's now spotless. He alternates between being untalkative, mainly because he's got earbuds in his ears, or too talkative, presenting a pressing case for why he needs to get Xbox Live - because all of his friends have it - and how unbelievable it is that he doesn't have it. He has limitless, inexhaustible energy for this conversation, but I am a ticking time bomb.

Then there's Daughter. Her exhibit of hormones shows mainly in her great exits. Just like a movie star in the 1950s, she loves to make a final dramatic remark and storm out of a room. She thrives on this. I should've known something like this would happen, after all, I had her when I was thirty-nine. That meant she started Kindergarten when I was forty-five. Yes. So now - Menopause and Puberty at the same time.

I try to think back to what I remember of this when I was a kid but all I come up with is when my mother went through menopause. For ten years. 

The final member of our household is mild-mannered and poor beleaguered Husband, not a hormonal mess and not in a midlife crisis. Despite a blameless life, he's stuck living with the three of us in the Hormone House.

Are there any hormonal problems in your house?  Do you remember having one growing up? Any evidence of midlife crisis? Did you like your birthday post-childhood?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Weight of the World

Yesterday was my father's Yahrzeit, which is the anniversary of his death. It's been thirty-five years since he died. And since I'm a very good Jewish girl, I know this. I get a letter from my synagogue. Heck, I belong to a synagogue. I buy Yahrzeit candles, I know how to spell "yahrzeit." I've been the daughter of a father who died, after all, thirty-five years ago.

But one of the great ironies of my life is that since I was raised by atheist/agnostic Holocaust Survivors, I was given no Jewish education. I did a pretty good job of raising myself Jewish, but I have to say that, not having come to my Hebrew education or my synagogue familiarity early, I always stand there like an idiot during certain rituals in Judaism.

So there I was at the tiny morning service at my synagogue at 7:30 AM, an idiot. Anything I know, I only know by memorization, so if a melody of a prayer is changed during the service, that's it, I don't know it anymore. Yesterday morning they changed a lot of melodies. It's crazy because I know Judaism backwards and forwards, philosophically, and the history, and in my heart. But stand me in a tiny synagogue with a bunch of seventy and eighty year old men and women and, guess what, I'm just an unnaturally tall brunette Jewess with a good purse. And by tall I mean I'm over five feet tall.

So I stood there, alone. Husband was driving the kids to work, though they had come with me the night before. Tears came to my eyes, and not exactly because of my dad dying. After thirty-five years, I'm used to that thought. It was the idea that, though one of seven, I'm alone.

I used to have a recurrent nightmare when I was a kid, distressing enough that I'd wake up terrified night after night in a cold sweat and run crying into my parents' room. It was always the same thing: I was alone somehow, and the weight of the world was on my back. 

At the service this morning I realized that the nightmare had come true: the weight of the world was on my back. Or at least the memorializing of my father, the carrying on of Judaism, and writing as a child of Survivors. That's all. There was no one there who would help me shoulder the responsibility of remembering my dad, to come stand beside me in this tiny, uncomfortable service in the morning one day in early March each year. 

But unlike that nightmare I used to have, the weight doesn't feel scary anymore, or unmanageable or burdensome. It feels like responsibility and, somehow, it feels just right.

Has your family split in religious observance? Do you have a special day each year to remember loved ones who have passed away? Do you feel at home in your faith's service or do you go even while feeling ignorant? Did you ever have recurrent nightmares as a child?  

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Talk Radio

I was driving with Daughter and her best friend this weekend when the request I've come to dread came from the backseat: "Mom, can you turn on the radio?"

Okay, I really have just got to put a stop to this already. The answer from now on has to be, "No. Really I can't turn on the radio." First of all, I'm so old now that I have almost all the channels preset to NPR. And the ones that aren't on NPR were hijacked by Husband and set to classic rock or rhythm and blues stations. Either way, it's not exactly what two ten-year-olds had in mind.

They persist, telling me that they want a certain specific station, then watch as I try to use my limited brain cells to drive the car and figure out how to find a radio station. After all, I've only owned my car three years, not long enough to have mastered the scan button on the stereo. I'm lucky I know how to turn it on.

I find the station and it turns out it's Rap. This is when you know your daughter's not a little girl anymore. What, no Radio Disney? What about those nice High School Musical CDs we got a few years ago? How about Selena Gomez? Stony silence. I feel myself aging.

In that exact moment I turn into my grandfather. I say, "Is this music?" I even get a little Old Country accent. My voice gets a lilt. My hand waves in the air dismissively. How did I turn into my grandfather?

Here's what I remember. It was the late 1960s. Neither he nor my grandmother knew how to drive but my mother would careen over to their West Rogers Park apartment in Chicago in her tiny red Chevy Nova to get them each Saturday. Then my grandfather, with his diabetic legs that were all walked out, would sit in our house all day and into the night watching the kaleidescope of his granddaughters as we flew in and out of one door or another, running in and out of rooms, and as we played music on our HiFi system.

My grandfather would shake his head wonderingly at the noise coming out of the stereo. He'd say, "This is music?" And I'd say, "Yes, Zayda. It's the Beatles and the Monkees!" And he'd say, "Is it music or animals?" And I'd have to think.

The girls don't know that I just turned into my own grandfather in the front seat of my car. They're singing along - or talking along - with the rapper. Then Daughter's friend says, "You know, I'm not sure if this is music because he's just talking." And right then, with just the tiniest bit of wavering in the backseat, I click the radio off.

Is it startling when music you loved is suddenly referred to as classics? Do you remember relatives questioning whether the music you liked was music at all? Have you had a "generation gap" with your kids yet with music?