Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If My Floors Are Spotless It Means
I'm A Really Good Person.

A couple of Sundays ago me, my sister and two of my sister-in-laws threw a wedding shower here at my house. My brother is getting married in a few weeks and we wanted to give a warm welcome to my future sister-in-law, something to redeem ourselves after an incident where her teenaged daughter was unintentionally subjected to a recent dinner conversation between me and some of my family members. That would be the one where we were discussing the movie Borat, specifically the naked fight scene in the hotel and about what the fat guy's genitals might possibly look like.

The shower went off without a hitch, but I'm still trying to recover. Not from the event itself, but from the countless hours of prep beforehand, the frenzy that precedes any instance where people will be entering my home and in my mind, judging me mercilessly on the placement of my couch cushions and the number of scuff marks on my walls. It's as if I can hear them saying to each other after they've left, "You know, I used to like her, until I saw the dirty grout in her bathroom and that hideous shower curtain." You get the picture.

I've written here before about my tendency to stress out whenever people are coming to visit, but it merits some more scrutiny to see what is at the bottom of this freakish behavior. I'm convinced it has it's roots in my childhood, when I remember hotel stays where my mom would furiously clean the room before we checked out because "We don't want anyone thinking Japanese people are slobs." This also explains the lavish tips she would leave for the maids because "We don't want anyone thinking Japanese people are cheap." I figure that ninety percent of my neuroses can be explained by this, that in failing to do certain things or present a certain image I am in a sense disgracing my entire culture. In other words, it's entirely possible to bring shame on the Japanese race as a whole just by letting anyone see that salsa stain on my coffee table.

But save for a couple of million dollars in therapy or a successful brain transplant, I'm stuck with this affliction for now. Unfortunately it's gone beyond a personal problem, as the days or even weeks leading up to any type of gathering at our house involves the torture of the entire family as I enlist their help in making our place a gleaming glimmering shrine to cleanliness and orderliness. I know it's confusing for the girls when our living room, which on a good day resembles a homeless encampment for pre-teen packrats, suddenly is expected to look like page 45 of the Pottery Barn catalog. Or when I have to nerve to actually ask them to pick up the thirteen pairs of shoes they've managed to amass in a pile near the front door.

I have to say that Rigel suffers the most from my pre-party hysteria but to his credit he's usually pretty accommodating. For instance this time he dutifully agreed, on the day before the shower, to buy an outdoor patio heater because I was convinced all of my guests would freeze to death outside while eating their plates of miniature quiche. He braved the insanity of Home Depot on a Saturday and then stayed up past midnight assembling that behemoth in our cold backyard. I believe his last words to me before he went to sleep that night were, "It better be cold, damn cold tomorrow." When we awoke to a warm, sunny day it was understandable why he was in no mood to consider any of my remaining tasks I had laid out for him, absolutely refusing to paint the trashcans to match the garden as I had requested.

From what I can tell, men don't seem to suffer the same affliction. I can bet you'll never hear your husband say, "You know, the guys are coming over tomorrow. I'd better vacuum the hallway and put out some matching towels." A couple of weeks ago a friend of Rigel's stopped by to work on some music, and I carefully watched the preparation that took place. From what I could see it involved nothing more than him checking the refrigerator for cold beer and then kicking a bag out of the way that was blocking his amp. It was as if he could care less that the entryway was littered with the girls' clothes or that there were absolutely no guest soaps to be found in the bathroom. What freedom! How I envy him!

My obsessive rituals aren't entirely without merit, as our house never looks better than in the days leading up to a party. It feels good to finally scrub that months-old tomato sauce stain off the counter and there's no match for that warm fuzzy feeling you get when the newspapers are cleared away and you see your dining room table for the first time in six months. I'd be lying if I said my domestic inferiority complex is getting any better, but I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from visiting - all of my family and friends are welcome whenever they please. Just give me three months notice.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'd Like To Thank The Academy.

I have a strange relationship with the Academy Awards. For one thing, I don't like to admit I like watching them so I spend the few weeks leading up to the big night pretending I don't know they exist. Someone may mention them in a conversation and I'll say, "Oh? The Oscars? Are those coming up?" hiding the fact that I just spent the entire previous evening coming up with my own special Red Carpet cocktail or searching the internet for special Oscar-shaped cookie molds. I feign ignorance about all the nominees, even though I've already picked my favorites and spent hours going through People magazine scrawling LOSER over all the pictures of their competitors.

When the actual day arrives, I'll pretend to be too busy cleaning to even notice, even though every TV in the house is tuned in to the Oscar pre-show, the Oscar pre-pre show, the live coverage on E! and the Pets At The Oscars segment on Access Hollywood. I'm secretly hoping that sometime in the near future someone comes up with the ultimate pre-pre-pre show, the one that shows all the stars just as they're rolling out of bed in the morning with their crusty eyes and mouths caked with drool.

When the coverage of the celebrities arriving on the red carpet begins my mood usually starts to turn sour. While I'm excited to see the various stars who show up, I don't like thinking about how their dress costs more than our mortgage or how for the cost of just one of their Fred Leighton earrings I could go to Target and buy ninety purses, sixty pairs of shoes and a double-pack of Swiffers. As the show progresses you can usually hear me yelling out things like, "Oh for chrissakes, it's not BRAIN SURGERY" or "Oh look, he just won an award for pretending to be a homicidal butler. Now all those poor saps working to find a cure for cancer have something to strive for." By the end of the show, after I've had a couple of glasses of wine I've pretty much decided that the entire Hollywood community is made up of a bunch of overpaid, overpampered whores and Rigel has to stop me from spraying the TV with toilet water. Can you imagine I haven't been invited to a single Oscar viewing party this year?

When it comes time to hand out the award for Best Foreign Film, pay close attention to Pan's Labyrinth. That's Kira (in a wig) on the poster. We're hoping someone will see this, marvel at the skillful and expressive way she is standing there in that coat and offer her a high-paid part in the next Brad Pitt movie. Because I could really use a new purse.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Parents, Lock Up Your Sons.

When I picked the girls up from school yesterday they were filled with Valentine's Day stories, all of them disturbingly centered around the opposite sex. Kira was lamenting the unwanted attention she is getting from boys in her class, and the rumor that she likes a certain one in her group, a rumor started by another boy who supposedly has a crush on her. Being Valentine's Day the teasing had escalated, and after one too many comments from some of the other kids she'd had enough and went to the teacher to tell him what was going on, after which he gave a stern lecture to the entire class about the consequences of gossip. Kira said she doubted that any of it mattered to either of the boys in question, as she was staring at them during the entire lecture and they appeared completely unfazed, busily playing with their ears and trying to cross their eyes. I told her to get used to it, that this is what it looks like when men are trying hard to concentrate. I was proud of her for speaking up and I told her so - my own little Norma Rae.

If only these little Lotharios knew that they'd better line up some backstage passes if they're going to have a chance with Kira. Because aside from the fact that she's already told them she is, "omigod ewww way too young too think about boys" she recently told me that although she has decided not to get married, she will definitely have a boyfriend when she's older, specifically one that works at the Key Club. She said she had a dream about it, and that she remembers this person giving her a tour backstage and then introducing her to the lead singer of Green Day after which she spent the rest of the night hanging out with the members of The Fray. As she was telling this story I saw the veins starting to bulge in Rigel's neck and I swear I heard the sound of a shotgun loading.

Then there's Kiyomi, who had her own Valentine's Day drama. There are two little boys, first graders who seem to have developed an obsession with her and according to her, spend their entire recess time following her around and then ducking behind trees when she turns to confront them. Once again I had to bring up the fact that this is normal male behavior, that eventually those boys will grow up to become men and instead of hiding behind trees? They'll hide behind their latest issue of Bass Player magazine when they see you coming.

In fact, one of these boys was suspended for a day last fall for making a crude comment to Kiyomi. When the incident happened it made her so upset she started to cry, and all of her girlfriends stopped what they were doing, made a circle around her and herded her into the girls bathroom. Then they sent the biggest girl in their group, 4'10" Janie, out to confront him where she grabbed him by the coat sleeve, dragged him to a teacher and made him confess what he had done. That's right - hell hath no fury like a band of eight-year-old girls forced to put down their jumpropes.

Kiyomi told me that at recess yesterday these same two boys approached her and one of them, pointing to the other, said, "He wants you to be his Valentine." A scuffle broke out as each of them tried to push the other towards her to profess his love, and after a few minutes of this she finally hissed, "Go away. I SAID GO AWAY." She said they both looked at her with what she described as a "Huh?" look on their faces and then both shuffled away silently, their heads hanging down in defeat. She was surprised that they went away so quickly, but I told her that hopefully this would be the end of them bothering her, that maybe they finally got the message to leave her alone. She thought about it for a moment and then said, with an unmistakable touch of disappointment in her voice:

"Yes, but I didn't realize love could die so easily."

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Next Up, A Snazzy Pouch For My Dentures.

Actually, getting the girls their own cell phones was just an excuse to make these:

Yes, that's right. I crochet. Because like most 80-year-olds, there's nothing I like better to do than grab my hook and yarn, kick back with a prune smoothie and turn on some Murder, She Wrote reruns.

Stop laughing. Don't make me come over there and crochet you an afghan.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

And Furthermore, You Can Forget About That Pony For Your Birthday.

Every Friday I have the much-appreciated luxury of having a babysitter for a few hours during the day. This is a lifesaver for me when I've got a job in progress as it allows me to work or run to meetings without having to worry about getting home by a certain time to pick up the girls at school. When I'm not working, which seems to be more the case lately, it allows me to take care of important tasks like having three-hour lunches with friends or trolling the neighborhood for donut shops.

On Friday Kira stayed home from school so I was here most of the day, but I asked the babysitter to pick up Kiyomi since I realized that I hadn't had time to change all day and I know how upset the kids get when I show up on campus in my pajamas. The school is only a five minute drive from here, so when she hadn't returned in almost twenty minutes I called her on her cell phone. I could immediately sense an edge in her voice, and she told me that she couldn't find Kiyomi anywhere, that she had looked all over campus and checked with a couple of her friends and that her classroom was locked.

To say that I'm prone to panic is an understatement and I was already getting images in my head of my little girl sitting in a strangers pickup truck headed for Texas and her new family. I knew in my heart, though, that more likely she was somewhere on campus and as I grabbed my keys and rushed Kira into the car the one thing that kept going through my head was, "If only I could get in touch with her and find out where she is." I reached the school just in time to see the babysitter's car leaving the parking lot and Kiyomi waving me at me from the back window - turns out she had gotten engrossed in a game of tag and hadn't realized she had run clear to the other end of the playground out of the babysitter's sight. She got a stern lecture from me about staying where she was supposed to be and about how, with all her running around and reckless behavior, why - she was turning out to be just like her father.

It got me thinking, though, of how I've often been faced with the dilemma of not being able to reach the kids, whether I'm running late to pick them up or I'm just wanting to check in with them when they're away on a field trip or a playdate. Which leads me to a decision that Rigel and I made this weekend, of which I'm happy to say is bringing me peace of mind but which will no doubt cause many parents to cast scorn upon us.

We got the kids their own cell phones.

I say this with embarrassment because it's one of those things I swore I wouldn't do until they were at least in middle school when I figured they could demonstrate some degree of responsibility, not like now when books, video games and lunchboxes are lost on a daily basis. I put it in the same category as those lofty notions I had many years ago, things like WHEN I HAVE KIDS THEY WILL NEVER WATCH TV or NOT ONE SPECK, YOU HEARD ME NOT ONE SPECK OF PROCESSED SUGAR WILL PASS THEIR LIPS. Now, nine-thousand-hours of SpongeBob and fifty-pounds of PopTarts later, I can say that Never Say Never is my credo, and a righteous mind is no match for a fast-talking Verizon salesman. At least I can say that I've been able to stick with my NO PIERCINGS rule and look - they're nearly out of elementary school.

In my defense I have to say that they were free, a nice little reward from Verizon for having upgraded our phones after being on our same plan for over two years. And we've programmed the phones to only call out to numbers that we've entered, like our home, Rigel's office and the local liquor store delivery hotline. We've blocked text messaging and allowed them to only download one ringtone each, neither of which can be anything offensive like Buckcherry's Crazy Bitch or anything by Clay Aiken.

But we've already endured our share of grief for our decision. We were at my brother's yesterday for a big family gathering and my siblings were incredulous, telling us how their kids (most of them in college now) hadn't gotten their own cell phones until they were in high school. We explained our reasons, though, and told them how we hadn't gone completely soft, how we were going to hold our ground and not buy the girls their own cars until they're at least twelve and that if they want their own condos, well they'll just have to wait until their sixteenth birthdays.

It is bringing me some measure of comfort knowing that I can contact them if I have to, or that they can reach me if they're in trouble or have an emergency. Kiyomi is going to a sleepover next week, and she says she's happy to know she can call us in the middle of the night and wake Rigel up, just like if she was at home. But most of all, I'm relieved to know that having crossed the line by buying them cell phones and given up the last shred of restraint that we've had, letting them get those belly rings will be just that much easier now.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mother Of The Year.

They recently created a small parking lot in back of the girls' school. It was intended for faculty use, but since many of the teachers park in the front lot it sits virtually empty most of the time and it's become a popular spot for parents, including myself, to park and drop off our kids. The administration doesn't really discourage it, since it alleviates much of the traffic in front of the school that had become a problem lately. The thing I like best about it is it saves me from ever having to parallel park in front of the school, a pathetic, hour-long spectacle that has more than once sent students and teachers running for cover.

The parking lot has it's own hazards, created mainly by those idiot parents who don't want to take the extra sixty seconds it takes to park their cars and walk their kids through the gate and onto the playground. Instead, they pull over wherever convenient, and with motor running let their kids get out of the car, not only creating a traffic jam behind them but more seriously, putting their kids in danger as they dart between cars to get to the school gate.

I saw one of those idiots, driving a large SUV, yesterday morning and after cursing it under my breath I parked and started to get my girls out of the car. It was then that I heard the piercing sound of a child's scream and a man frantically yelling at the driver to "Go forward!." I looked up to see the SUV lurch a few feet and a woman jumping out of the driver's seat and running towards the back of the car. We ran towards them and saw one of Kira's friends crouching down and discovered that her mother, in her hurry to drop her kid off and leave, had just run over her foot. The girl was sobbing and we asked if we could help in any way, but the woman waved us away saying, "Oh, she's fine" obviously not wanting any more attention than she had already gotten, especially from someone who she doesn't particularly like. Because when your child is injured, YES, THAT'S THE BEST TIME TO HOLD A GRUDGE.

After I had walked my girls to their lines I was shocked to see the girl, slightly limping, walking onto the playground and her mom's car pulling out of the parking lot. I asked her if she was okay, and she replied, "Um, yes. But my foot feels like it's asleep." I asked her if she wanted to go to the nurse but she refused, so I told Kira, who had run up to meet her, to please tell the teacher what had just happened.

So, what kind of mother runs over her child's foot with her SUV, doesn't have the common sense to take that child to the doctor or, at the very least, park her car and walk her child to the school nurse? And then sends her into school without looking back?

Did you guess? That's right. This kind.

And I thought I had run out of things to say about this woman.

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