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  • The Whistle And The Dinosaur

    September 29, 2009

    As I was opening a package of hotdogs to fix for Sean for dinner last night, I reflexively started singing the Oscar Mayer song. You know the one:  “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener. That is what I truly want to be-EE-ee…”

    Singing that song always makes me think of the Oscar Mayer wiener whistle and I can’t ever think of the wiener whistle without thinking about Debbie.

    When I was about six or seven, my neighbor Debbie had one of those little red wiener whistles that came in a package of Oscar Mayer hotdogs.  Maybe they didn’t come in the package of hotdogs but you had to mail off for it, I don’t know. All I know is that Debbie had one and I did not.  They were about an inch and half long and they were a perfect little red hotdog in miniature and everybody wanted one.

    As I stood over the stove slicing a hot dog into a pan of pork and beans, humming the Oscar Mayer wiener song, I recalled with sparkling clarity standing in Debbie’s backyard one summer day under the dappled shade of an old elm tree, watching her blow that little red whistle like Miles Davis.

    When she was done playing the hotdog song on her hotdog whistle, she shoved it deep down into her pocket, out of reach of covetous hands.  She smiled smugly and shook her head ever so slightly,  refusing me a turn without a single word.  On many occasions I tried to negotiate a trade, something of mine, anything, for that wiener whistle, but to no avail. And who could blame her.  I had nothing equal to a wiener whistle.   How I wished that little red whistle were mine, but it was not to be.

    And when I think of Debbie and her whistle, I also think of her big green Sinclair dinosaur.  Back in the 60s, if you bought gas at the Sinclair station, you could somehow get an inflatable dinosaur. Now I do not know exactly how you got the dinosaur because we did not get one.  All we ever got for free were flimsy towels that came in boxes of laundry detergent — never anything good and useful, like a dinosaur or a wiener whistle.

    The Sinclair dinosaur was about three feet tall and when it was fully inflated, you could sit on its back and bounce and for some reason, at that time, that was a thrill.  Although Debbie did occasionally let me ride the dinosaur, I dreamed of having one of my very own and not letting anyone ride on it, most especially my brothers.

    As I dished up the beans and hotdog I was about to serve my child, I thought of Debbie’s closet full of dresses, some of which would eventually get handed down to me, and I thought of Debbie’s plastic wigs, Debbie’s toy kitchen, Debbie’s nurse outfit with the cape and hat and medical bag.  I thought of her semi-creepy yet wildly alluring big doll head with hair you could really style.

    Debbie had everything.

    Except for a mom and dad.  Debbie lived with with her grandmother, obese and gray.  I don’t mean that her hair was gray, although it was, but everything about her was gray.  Her personality was joyless and gray.  She always wore an ugly housedress and made Debbie fetch stuff for her.  The grandmother seldom came out of the house and when she did, all the kids would flee for their lives.

    Come to think of it, the only friends Debbie had were the neighborhood kids who occasionally wanted to play with some of her toys.  Truth be told, we weren’t really her friends.  If we weren’t being outright mean to Debbie, we were being dismissive.

    For reasons I will never know or understand, we just couldn’t let her be one of us. And as I stood there stirring beans, I was filled with regret that I contributed one drop of sorrow to her life.  And I would give a million whistles to undo it.

    I learned from my mom a few years back that Debbie’s life was short and cruelly tragic.

    Debbie didn’t have everything after all.

    Enlightened

    September 28, 2009

    Sean’s kindergarten teacher called me on Sunday night to ask if I would be the art teacher this week at school.  I was thrilled when she asked because I have been chomping at the bit to use my hard earned, but mostly useless, degree in art.

    When I think of all the time, money and effort I invested in my degree, I remind myself that education is never a waste.  I tell myself that for me, education was about enlightenment more so than employment. Which is good, because that’s pretty much how it has worked out.  In the ten years since my graduation I have on many occasions been enlightened but have yet to be employed.

    As Mrs. D. worked her way toward asking if I would help out, I was mentally planning my lesson:  I would start out with color theory, maybe introduce  perspective drawing combined with a brief survey of Classical Greek and Roman art and then….

    “I was thinking we could decorate small pumpkins,” she said, “Have the kids paint faces on them, maybe glue on some google eyes….”

    “Yes!” I said, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

    Okay, so we’ll skip the Greek ideals of beauty and go right for the google eyes.

    I will teach those little children to glue on google eyes using the Greek ideals of beauty.  Education is never a waste.

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    This is what you can do with or without an art degreee

    Pennies

    September 25, 2009

    Last week Sean came home from school with a tiny padlock.  I asked him where he got it and he told me that he had earned it at school.

    I’m not quite clear on the specifics, but from what I gather, if you stay on “green” all day, you get four pennies. If you get in trouble for something, then you go to yellow and half of your wages are garnished.  If you are really troublesome and have to go to red, then you have to go out in the school yard and pull weeds.  No, not really, but I wouldn’t object to that.

    Anyway, at the end of the week, you get to spend your pennies in Mrs. D.’s fabulous gift shop and maybe get something cool like a padlock.

    So, on the way home from school earlier in the week, I asked Sean how his day went and if anything noteworthy happened.

    “I got four pennies today!” he beamed.

    “That’s great!” I said.  “I’m so proud of you!”

    “Yeah, and the best part is that I was on yellow, but Mrs. D. forgot and gave me four pennies anyway! I was only supposed to get two!”

    “Oh,” I said quietly.

    He didn’t see taking the two extra pennies as a lapse in character but rather a windfall.

    I asked him if he thought there was anything wrong with that, taking the extra pennies even though he hadn’t earned them.  He said no, that she had given him the four pennies, so they were his.

    We had a brief discussion about how whenever you take or keep something that you haven’t earned or doesn’t belong to you, even by mistake, it’s stealing — even if it’s a small thing and even though it might seem like not a big deal.

    I asked him what he thought he should do. He fell silent as he tried to think of a solution other than fessing up and returning the two pennies.

    Finally he asked, “Give the pennies back?”

    The next day when I picked him up, I asked him if he had remembered to give Mrs. D. the two pennies back.

    “Yes,” he said, “and I did it the very first thing when I got there.”

    “Very good,” I said, “What did she say?”

    “She said thanks for reminding me,” he reported.

    “Look right in my eye,” I told him.  “I’m about to tell you something super important.”

    I told him that I was very proud of him for doing the right thing, every bit as proud as when he earns four pennies.

    He blinked both eyes at me and smiled and then abruptly changed the subject.

    Hopefully, when I talk to Mrs. D., I’ll find out that it’s true, that he gave the pennies back. Otherwise I’m raising a stealer and a liar.

    Flaming Pineapples

    September 23, 2009

    Warning: The following post contains hyperbole and mockery.  No actual pineapples were harmed in the writing of this post.  This post is not intended to insult those who love flaming pineapples, coconut bras or themed parties. Although it probably will.

    * * * *

    It always starts out small.  It does.  “We’ll keep it simple,” they say. “Just getting together,” they say.  “It will be fun,” they say.  But at some point, there will be a flaming pineapple. Mark my words.

    A number of years ago, I was in a supper club with five or six other couples. The gal who invited me enticed me to join by saying, “We’ll keep it simple. Just getting together. It will be fun.”

    That sounded good.

    “Every month, someone will host the supper in their home,” she went on to explain.

    “And they will plan the menu and the theme.”

    Theme. A chill ran up my spine. I know what theme means.

    Theme means that someone, at some point, under the influence of estrogen, will go all Martha and do something uber-creative, like carve a watermelon into a sailboat for a centerpiece, and she’ll make place card settings out of peppermints and pipe cleaners, and she’ll greet you at the door wearing a sailor suit while Anchors Away plays in the background.

    The watermelon sailboat ratchets up the Martha factor exponentially for the next hostess and each hostess thereafter.  Things begin to escalate.  Before you know it, there will be a flaming pineapple for a centerpiece and the hostess is wearing a coconut bra and a hula skirt.

    And then next month, when it’s your turn to hostess, you spend 30 days racking your brain to come up with something that could top a flaming pineapple. And you begin to measure your value as a human being against the creativity of your table favors.  And then you are left to hang your head in shame, because who can top a flamPhotobucketing pineapple?  No one. Only Martha.

    Earlier in the week, I got an email from Sean’s room mother asking that each mom sign up to host a monthly luncheon at school for the kindergarten class.  Then I got an email from another mom who suggested each month have a theme.

    So I signed up for May, the last month of school.  That should give me plenty of time to learn how to properly ignite a pineapple.

    * * * *

    Post script:  I’m supposing that I was still on the email list only because word hadn’t gotten around that I sent my child to school this week with a lunch of bacon and cookies.  Wait… I think I just settled on a theme.

    Forks

    September 22, 2009

    So then, Sean’s homework assignment for today included, you guessed it, tally marks.

    Today his mission was to count the knives, forks and spoons in the silverware drawer and tally them up.  Since most of our everyday silverware was either in the sink or the dishwasher, we went to the formal dining room and pulled open the top draw of the china hutch, where we keep the good stuff.

    I pulled back the flannel cloth, grabbed all the forks and then laid them in a jumble on a placemat for him to sort.  He carefully laid four forks side by side like soldiers, laid the fifth one across the four and then put the rest in another group.

    I was relieved to see that he had conceded to the universe and decided to go along with the five-mark tally system, not because it will make his life easier, but because my new goal in life is to never give another persuasive speech on the merits of the five-mark tally system.

    After he recorded his findings on his little clipboard, he tucked his pencil behind his ear and then rolled up all the forks in the placemat.  As he handed the roll of forks to me to put back into the drawer, he exclaimed, “May the forks be with you!”

    “Get it?” he said, “May the FORKS be with you? FORKS?!”

    And then he threw his head back and laughed hysterically at his own joke.

    My heart was flooded with joy, at the way he makes me laugh, at the way his eyes make the shape of a rainbow when he laughs, at how I  couldn’t think of one thing that could make my life one drop sweeter.

    Makes Me Happy

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    My little boy drew this and it makes me happy to look at it.   It’s a bear. In case you were wondering.

    Who Knew Tally Marks To Be Such A Comprehensive Subject?

    September 20, 2009

    AD and I are both creative types, so it is not so surprising that Sean is creatively bent as well.  AD is creative in a money-making, problem-solving, making-the-world-more-functional kind of way.  Whereas I don’t know how to do any of that; I just seem to need to swim upstream.

    Having been upstream a time or two, I know that insisting upon doing everything your own creative way can make life harder than it has to be.  And I don’t want that for Sean.  I want him to understand that sometimes, in certain matters, it’s better to just go along — even if you do know of a prettier way to do things.

    Recently, I wrote about how I tried to teach Sean how to make tally marks and how I was met with some resistance.  The resistance wasn’t willful disobedience; it was just that he knew deep down in his heart that his way was better.

    The next day, we had another tally mark homework assignment, and again, he wanted to make tally marks in his own way, in groups of six.

    And once again I tried to explain to him that where we are located in the time and space continuum it is universally accepted that tally marks are made in groups of five; four vertical lines with one diagonal line cutting cross the group of four.

    On another planet, I told him, it could work differently, but here on Earth, someone, somewhere, long, long ago, maybe even God, decided that this is how tally marks should be made.  Enough people agreed and thus it became a convention, meaning that’s just how we do it.

    I could tell from his glazed over expression that my dissertation on tally mark norms and conventions had fatigued his spirit.  And that as a creative person he did not much esteem norms and conventions.

    He twisted his mouth and looked up to the left, as though he was giving the matter thoughtful consideration. He tapped his pencil on the counter.  Then he shook his head.  I had failed to persuade him.  No, he said, he was going to go with groups of six.  He said that six was a nicer number than five.

    I told him that would be fine, but that IT WAS WRONG! And then I pulled all my hair out in one clump.

    No not really.

    I smiled and gave no indication I cared one whit. I just told him that he probably wouldn’t find that many people who would be willing to change over to his system.

    “That’s okay,” he said, “I like it better this way.”

    Whatever dude. Jump in and swim upstream.

    Sometimes in life, you need to be creative and other times you just need to follow the rules.  And the wisdom is in knowing the difference.

    How to teach that? I have no idea.  Maybe he’ll figure it out on his journey upstream.

    Hiding

    September 18, 2009

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    I love this East Texas country cat hiding in the tall grass. She follows the ancient blueprint hidden in her bones that calls her to do what all cats everywhere have always done — hide, slink, hunt.

    The polaroid effect was a Photoshop action. Here a click, there a click, everywhere a click, click. Done.

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    Here’s the original photo. You can see that you can change the mood of a photo just by how you choose to crop.

    Know Thy Child

    September 17, 2009

    The other day, my sweet friend Meg, who has an 8-month-old little fella and writes Spicy Magnolia, asked me in comments if I had put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out program and if so, at what age.

    Well, I emailed her back, because as y’all know I email almost everyone sooner or later (so if you don’t want to get an email from me, don’t leave a comment) and when I finally hit the send button, I was several chapters deep into my dissertation on preschool. It was like I was just waiting for someone to ask me about our preschool experience.

    Because I’m not one who is dialed into what is hip and happening in the motherhood, it probably would have never occurred to me all on my own to put Sean in a Mother’s Day Out or preschool program.  But one Sunday at church a friend handed me a flyer for the MDO program and suggested that I might want to enroll him.  At that point Sean was two and I was kind of itching for the chance to go into a TJMaxx dressing room alone, so I slapped myself on the forehead, had a V-8 and then enrolled him in their twice weekly program.

    Every mother I ever talked to told me how much her little one loves preschool, how they would ask to go to preschool on Saturday, how they couldn’t wait to get up and go to preschool, how much they love playing with the other kids. And I figured that Sean would be the same. I figured wrong.

    So I enrolled Sean in preschool at our church the year he was two.  He pretty much hated it.  He got really sick a couple of times and it just never felt like the right thing.  Yet I persisted. I was bent on giving it the old preschool try.  I was bent on Sean being one of those kids who loves preschool.  Everyone kept telling me that he’d get used to it, that he needed to be with other children, but both of those things were false.  The only benefit to having Sean in preschool was for me and TJMaxx.

    The second year of preschool, when he was three, was the apex of preschool misery.  I moved him to a church school closer to our neighborhood, one that came highly recommended and was touted as being loved by all children!  I feel the need to exclaim that last sentence, hence the exclamation point.  Neither one of us ever found our groove at that school; it was just a bad match all the way around.  He would cry all the way there and I would cry all the way home. And I would wonder, What is wrong with us? Everyone loves this school.

    And so every other day for an entire school year, I put him in the car thinking that today would be the day that he would magically transform into a kid who loves preschool and playing with other children.  In spite of my blind and hopeful persistence, it never happened.  To this day, nearly three years later, when we drive by that school, he’ll point to it and say, “Boy! I’m glad I don’t go there anymore!”   When I try to find out what it was about the school that caused him so much dyspepsia, all I get out of him is that they made him take naps.

    The third year, I enrolled him in the nap-free school he is at now and although he would have rather stayed home, he didn’t hate it.  He grew to even like it. As the year progressed, he learned to like playing with the children to some degree, but always preferred playing with the teacher.  We skipped school a lot and went to the zoo.

    We are now in our third and final year at this school and finally, I think I can say that he loves it really likes it.  I think a lot of that has to do with the school and the people who run it and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is now ready to be at school.  But given a choice, he’d still rather stay home with me or skip school and go to the zoo.

    Having the benefit of the backward glance, I can see now that in the name of “hanging in there” I spent far too long trying to hammer a kid who didn’t want to go to school and play with other kids into a kid who loves preschool and wants to play with other kids. My mistake. My bad. Mea culpa.

    My advice to Meg, which she didn’t ask for, was this:  Know Thy Child.

    Had I paid more attention to what I know about my child and what I could see with my own eyes and less attention to what others were telling me about how children are supposed to be, I could have saved myself and Sean a fair amount of dyspepsia.

    Half Price Books – Spa For the Cheap and Uptight

    September 15, 2009

    I hear a lot of women saying how they love to go to the spa. They love to get a massage and get their nails done, they love the soothing new age music and the aroma therapy.  It’s a treat to get away for a couple of hours and relax and recharge.

    I’ve been to the spa a couple of times and it was nice and all, but being a person who freaks out a little at the thought of being touched by a stranger, I’d rather go to Half Price books.

    This morning, I was feeling the need to get away and recharge, so I drove to the Half Price Books spa where I spent a couple of hours relaxing and recharging.

    Whereas the spa plays new age music in the background, at Half Price Books Dean Martin was crooning quietly in the background.

    Whereas the spa smells of heather and lavender, Half Price Books smells of books and coffee.

    Whereas at the spa, I’m clothed only in a towel while strange people touch me, that almost never happens at Half Price Books.

    The spa usually costs about $100 and I leave with polished toe nails.

    At Half Price Books today, I spent $30 and got a big bag of books and movies.  And I didn’t have to tip anyone.

    You can go to the spa.  I’m going to Half Price Books.