Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools!

I have a confession to make: April Fools’ Day turns me into a bit of a conniving goofball. There’s just something delightful about a holiday that’s all about embracing silliness and childish pranks, especially when the rest of the year I’m locked into the role of Responsible Adult. I make the appointments and organize the bedroom cleaning and help the boys with their homework. I replace torn socks and and make sure the pantry and fridge are stocked with sensible and nourishing staples. I am The Mom.

But once a year I get a little goofy. I plan silly surprises and “gotcha!” moments for the boys in my world (well, except for the dog… I don’t think he’d understand). This year’s holiday tributes looked like this:
  • Last night, I sneaked into my 14-year-old’s room and discovered, to my delight, that his alarm clock has an “alarm 2” switch. So without disturbing his usual morning settings, I was able to program a surprise pre-dawn awakening by the Spanish language station set to full volume. ("Bueno, los campistas, la subida y el brillo, y no se olvide de traer sus botas. Es cooooold hacia fuera allí hoy!")*
  • Every year I find at least one fabulously freaky item while I’m surfing the web for Christmas gifts in the fall (check out sites like Last year, it was a toilet monster. This year, it was this fabulous shower curtain (see photo). The shadowy figure is a permanent feature! I see it as a perfect cross between Psycho and Poltergeist.
  • I switched the hand soap in the kitchen and the boys’ bathroom with canola oil, thinking the smeary experience would at least elicit some grudging boyish respect because of the grossness factor. The joke was on me, though, because nobody noticed. The boys just smeared oil on their hands and went about their business nicely moisturized. [Note: backfiring tricks are not unprecedented. When Caden was five or six, I tucked a second-hand Barbie into bed with each of my sleeping sons on the night of March 31st. When Caden came downstairs the next morning, he was stroking her hair and calling her Stephanie.]
  • Not wanting to leave Eric out of the fun, I sneaked out in the night and tucked bubble wrap under his rear tires, hoping that the resulting noise would give him a jolt as he wondered what he-of-the-perfect-driving-record had hit. It would probably have been more startling if the bubble wrap hadn’t been bright pink and the morning paper hadn’t landed right next to the rear of the car. Ah, well, at least he felt included.
  • While the boys slept, I covered the top part of their bedroom doors with newspaper and filled the resulting pocket with packing peanuts. When they opened their doors in the morning, each boy was greeted with a snowy avalanche. That was a short-lived triumph, however, since “Responsible Mom” is the one who had to clean up all of that drifting Styrofoam (that, and my older son returned the favor by covering my bed in the flighty stuff). Note to self: no messy pranks next year.
  • Caden’s lunch contained a “candy” surprise. I carefully opened the end of a bag of M-n-Ms and poured out (and enjoyed) the candy, refilling the package with dried kidney beans and gluing the end closed. The prank was perfectly undetectable! I think his friends at lunch were more amused than my M-n-M-less ten-year-old, though. I had to pony up an actual treat after school to make peace with the jilted candy-craver.
  • While the boys were at school, I changed the home page on their web browser to I mean, what 14-year-old boy doesn’t want to gaze at Justin Beiber as soon as he logs on?
  • The final twist to the day was the dinner, which I always try to make as “April Foolish” as possible. This year’s menu was a sort of course reversal. The “fish sticks” and “peas and carrots” on their dinner plates were actually cereal-coated wafer cookies and hand-shaped Jolly Rancher chews and Starburst candies. The “cupcakes”, on the other hand, were made of meat loaf topped with pink-tinted mashed potatoes. Yummy! 

How does the rest of the family respond to this annual frivolity from Mom? My ten-year-old looks forward to April Fools’ Day almost like it’s Christmas. He giggles his way through the day, glancing suspiciously around door frames and asking frequently if there are more tricks on the way. My older son—at least this year—suddenly finds the whole thing embarrassing and mildly contemptible. (“Oh great, Mom, ‘April Fools’. That’s hilarious.”) But I persist. I’m hoping that when my kids are older, they’ll remember that once a year (at least) Mom was more than just that person who made them brush their teeth.

So... what should I do next year?
* Apologies to actual Spanish speakers if Google Translate mangled the DJ's line from Groundhog’s Day. My son, a first-year Spanish student, couldn't help me on this one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beef Stew, Tragedy & One Dumbassdog

I live in a part of the world that’s mossy and green, slicked in mud and dampened by an almost constant drizzle from October through June. Our rainfall is the stuff of legend, and this past winter has more than matched the region’s reputation. Even for here, it’s been uncommonly cold and drizzly.

So this morning, I set out to make myself a simmering pot of pure comfort food: beef stew full of tender meat, onions and potatoes. As I’ve mentioned before, I'm not much of a cook, but through the power of Google and a back-of-the-cabinet dusty old crock-pot, even I can make something that smells and tastes like a big warm culinary hug.

By three o’clock, the house smelled savory and delicious. I couldn’t wait until dinnertime. By five o’clock, the boys were asking if they could just have a bite of a carrot. By seven o’clock, though, the potatoes were still rock hard even though the pot had been simmering away on high for almost seven hours (the recipe said 5-8 hours, I swear!). By seven-twenty the natives were about ready to throw me in a pot to stew for dinner. So I punted.

The stew continued to cook while I whipped up a quick substitute meal of pasta for my hungry family. Just before bedtime, I gave the potatoes one last jab and realized they were finally about ready. It was time to let the feast cool so that we could eat it tomorrow—technically left-over, but maybe even better for the wait. But first I decided that I deserved a little tiny serving while it was still fresh. I mean, it smelled so good.

I pulled a small glass bowl out of the cupboard, not realizing its twin had grabbed on for good measure. As I stood watching in disbelief, the lower bowl fell and shattered against the side of the container I’d put the stew in to cool.

So now my stew had steaming chunks of long-simmered beef, tender carrots, onions and potatoes… and about 5000 shards of shattered glass.

Gah! Maybe the universe is telling me that I should stick to spaghetti.

I put the whole ruined mess in the laundry room sink to cool overnight so I could throw it away in the morning. I didn't want to wait up for it to cool, and I was sure that if I left it in the kitchen, our beloved dog would find his way onto the counter to feast on beef stew and broken glass. (He totally would.)

While I was securing the glass-infused death stew (conscientious dog mama that I am), that same beloved dog found his way into the boys’ playroom, which I have just reorganized and am in the process of painting. He proceeded to shred a huge bag of garbage, dragging nasty boy-cave detritus all over the area I have been so busily trying to renew. When I took him downstairs to put him outside while we cleaned up the garbage, he peed in a line all the way across the kitchen floor. That dog knew he was busted, and he was trying to tell me I was the boss. Gee, thanks, Dumbassdog.

So my evening ended up with a big pan of glass-filled stew, a huge shredded plastic bag of garbage, and a long swath of pee. 

Tomorrow has to be better, right?

Yes, that's a glass iceberg, right there in the middle.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Post-Holiday Exhale

Even this tree is slumping from the stress of the season.
It’s over.

I mean, I still haven’t taken down the tree, and ours are the only house lights left up on our street (hey, it’s cold out there!), but Christmas has definitely come and gone for another year. On the one hand, I’m a little sad that my very favorite annual event—the one that involves so much planning and preparation and anticipation—has passed by already. On the other hand [ahhhhh], the time has come to just breathe, arms splayed wide, body collapsed on the couch with a steaming peppermint hot cocoa by my side.

The holiday season, for me, feels a little like running in a weighted snowsuit up a mountain, alone. The end of the journey promises a Norman Rockwell experience filled with family love, twinkling lights, and the smell of fresh pine needles. When I finally get there, though, what I mainly feel is exhausted from the climb. The hubby and kids? They’re already at the top, waiting in a snug cabin with their feet held to the fire.

My husband and I have very different views on the “right” way to celebrate Christmas. While I happily embrace all the sparkle and hustle and traditions of the holiday, his perfect Christmas would involve a long nap, a rousing pick-up hoop game, and plenty of time to read the paper. (Dream on, couch-king!) Our reality, though, is filled to the brim with family gatherings (his, mine, and—modern families being what they are—mine again with the other parent), lots of gifts given and received, hugs, chaos, and mounds of shredded paper.

I am married to an economist who sees the world as a series of cost-benefit analyses. Exchanging presents just doesn’t make sense to a guy like him. Oh, he’ll participate in the family gift exchanges (and will smile and say thank-you like he should), but he’s never going to be the recipient who lights up the room with his delight at your thoughtfulness. The way my husband sees it, if he needs or wants something, he should just buy it himself (and vice versa). That way, everyone will get exactly the right thing without the hassle of a return. The appeal of trying to guess what someone else needs or wants simply escapes him.

My economist husband is married to—I guess you could call me an emotionalist. I don’t think gift giving can be placed on the same scale as other types of purchases. That sort of thinking leaves out very real non-tangible benefits for both the giver and the receiver. I get so excited when I find just the right gift for someone on my list (like these goofy "Road Rage" signs that went in Hubby’s Christmas stocking). Often, I find myself awake in the wee hours of Christmas morning, more excited than even the kids to see how each person likes what I chose.

This Christmas, my mother bought me a beautiful new buttery-soft brand-name leather purse. It’s the type of splurge I would never dream of buying for myself, but now it's one of my most cherished possessions. A simple economic view of the transaction leaves out all of the joy she felt when I gasped after tearing away the paper, and the extra warmth I feel when I use it knowing it was a gift from my mom. To put all of that emotional goodness in economic terms, we both derive more utility from the purchase this way than we would have if I had simply bought it myself.

So (surprise!), the gift buying is not really a shared experience around here. His primary contribution to the holiday—and this is not to belittle the very real effort he makes in this regard—is to try to ignore all of the time and money I spend to find just the right gifts for everybody on our list. Even though I know his economist inner self is cringing, he never says a word, no matter how ridiculously overstuffed the kids’ stockings get each year. My job, then, is to decorate the tree (and the rest of the house), buy and wrap the gifts for our boys and extended family, stuff the stockings, cook Christmas dinner (and the deviled eggs for Christmas morning at Grandma's), create & send the Christmas cards, and rally the troops for all of the many holiday gatherings with our two extended families.

Like I said, when I finally get to the Norman Rockwell moment, I’m often too exhausted (and, let’s face it, a little grumpy) to enjoy it quite as much as I feel I should.

I have about eleven months to figure out how to make the holidays easier and better and more fun for both of us next year, but the solutions—as always—elude me. (Which branch of the family should we cut out to make time for the hoop game?) I do have a few tiny seeds of ideas that I may float out there, though (additional suggestions are definitely welcome).
  • My Christmas gift from Mr. Hates-to-shop could be one day of professional housecleaning and one spa massage, to take place at the same time a couple of days before the holiday. I’m thinking that would go a long way toward bringing more peace on earth to our little celebration.
  • I should really loosen up my “package prettiness” standards and let the wrapping job fall to the boys and their all-thumbs dad. [Gulp] The wrapped gifts were only under the tree for about ten minutes this year anyway because of our chews-everything fluffy mutt (last year’s best gift ever).
  • Maybe—and this would be a big change for others, too, so it’ll take some discussion—family could come to our (new!) house this year, reducing the number of trips we make over the river and through the woods. Hey, and since the house would already be clean, Hubby might even get that nap!
 How do you handle the balance between multiple extended families and different celebrating styles at your house?

Monday, January 3, 2011

If You Don't Give the Dog a Butt-Cut

The holiday deflated all of my best intentions to faithfully update my blog. I'll delve into that in my next post. For now, here is a peek at my afternoon. Glad things are finally back to...well... normal.

You know the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? It’s a circular tale of cause and effect, starting with the simple kindness of giving a cookie to a little mouse and ending—after many steps along the way—with the mouse wanting (what else?) a cookie. My day has been kind of like that. Only not nearly so endearing.

The story of my day: If You Don’t Give the Dog a Butt-Cut.

If you fail to trim the shaggy family dog’s butt hair, he will inevitably end up with a wad of poop stuck in it.

If the dog has a wad of poop stuck in his butt hair, you are going to have to don rubber gloves to wash and pry it out.

If you wash and pry the poop out, the dog will probably think you have subjected him to a grave indignity, so he will definitely seek revenge.

If the dog seeks revenge, he will probably pee on something you generally prefer to have dry and fragrance free (like your shoes or a pretty area rug).

If he pees on the pretty area rug, you are going to have to get out the steam cleaner (which, fortunately, you will find at the ready because of a recent bout of carpet-staining orange dog vomit).

When you start to steam clean the rug, you will notice that the floor needs sweeping, so you will reach for the broom.

Holding the broom while turning off the steam cleaner, you will inevitably knock over—and shatter into smithereens—the Christmas statue that you were going to put away before you noticed the poop stuck in the dog’s butt hair. 

While you sweep up the shards of your once-cherished decoration, you will hear the dog whining to come inside from his post-rug-peeing exile in the back yard.

When the dog comes in from his exile, you will almost surely notice the embarrassed tail slump and suspicious dangle that can only mean…

The dog has more poop stuck in his butt hair.