Friday, August 29, 2008

There's A Donkey In The House

I have used this forum for many a true confession.

I have confessed to occasionally listening to Delilah. And to crying at the end of Titanic even though I've seen it 50 times. And to liking the occasional sappy power ballad. And to failing the written portion of my driving test the first time I took it. And to not being the best mommy in the history of the world.

I want to throw a new one at you today, and it's the hardest yet. You probably already know this about me, but it's something I was raised to not talk about in polite company, so it's hard for me to just come out and say it in public like this. I don't know if I can do it. Here goes nothin'...

Deep breath...

There. I said it. Let the stone-throwing begin.

I know most of you are like, "Duh. Big deal. Tell me something I don't know." But for me, it is a big deal. Because in these here parts, I am vastly outnumbered and others like me are blasted in newspaper editorials, local columns, and telephone polls. I've learned that silence is golden; in Cincinnati, democrats are best seen but not heard.

I got my first lesson on this in 1984. I was in fifth grade that November, and I remember learning about Reagan and Mondale in the pages of Weekly Reader. Well, not just Weekly Reader. I was also getting an earful of political rants every day from my father, who had spent a good portion of the first Reagan administration either layed off from the auto plant or on strike with the U.A.W., and who used to be a Republican and waged war with my mother in 1976 when he voted for Ford, but who was now a militant left-winger. "Reagan" was only said in my house with angry eyes and gritted teeth (though my mom adored the way Johnny Carson impersonated him), so I of course thought Reagan was a harsh President and wanted Mondale to win. Gee, my little 5th-grade brain thought, doesn't everyone?

Um, no.

After reading the Weekly Reader rundown, good ol' Mr. Goering asked his class to put their heads down on their desks (because who you vote for is a Big Secret).

"Who wants Ronald Reagan to win the election?"

I kept my head down, but could hear the rustling of cotton against cotton which meant a lot of hands just went into the air.

"Now, who wants Walter Mondale to win?"

The only sound I heard was the bony creaking of my own arm. I peeped up and there were only two hands in the air; mine, and some girl who I think was only in our class for a week before her family moved to parts unknown. An outsider, in other words, like me.

I was shocked. With all the vitriol and indictments I had heard at home, how could so many people want the Republican to win? Were my parents alone? History says "yes" for that particular election and with that particular candidate. But in northern Kentucky, the Republican always wins. It didn't take long to learn that, and to learn to keep my mouth shut.

My mother knew we were in hostile territory. A coalminer's daughter from southeastern Kentucky, her parents became fervent democrats in the 60s when the Kennedy family worked so hard to bring awareness and aid to impoverished and dying Appalachia. Mamaw had a memorial plate hanging in her kitchen with the sepia-toned painted profiles of Jack and Robert Kennedy on it; I used to see her reach out and touch it from time to time, sadness and remembrance in her eyes. My mom and her people were members of the Pentecostal church and were morally conservative; yet they also believed that Democrats like the Kennedies were the politicians who truly followed in their Lord and savior's footsteps and looked out for the poor and the downtrodden. The recent view that all evangelical Christians are Republicans baffles her; you can describe her as a lapsed Evangelical, but you sure as hell can't describe her as a Republican.

When we moved from Kennedy-loving country to the suburbs of Cincinnati, it didn't take long for my mom to realize that not too many of her neighbors shared her views. She always told me:

"Never, ever talk about politics to people at school. Or about religion. Or about abortion, because that deals with both politics and religion. You will just get mad, or you will make someone else mad, and it's just not something you talk about in public. Especially around here."

So I got really good about keeping quiet. So good that I became wishy-washy. When I was asked on occasion to take a written position on something political in my government class senior year, my teacher gave me high marks for arguing from both sides of the issue but often left a note to the effect of, "But what do YOU think?" I would have rather failed than tell my teacher, who was big and scary and seemed like a Republican sort of guy, what I really thought. In my seminar class at Kentucky's Governor Scholars, we did an exercise where our leader asked a question of the group, like, "Do you believe in a woman's right to choose?" or "Does America need more gun control laws?" and then assigned the four corners of the room to how strongly we felt. The middle of the room was for "undecided." Then each area was allowed to express their opinion.

I stayed in the middle of the room. For every question. And when asked said, "I can see it from both sides."

One of the college-student moderators tried to call me out.

"Do you have any strong political views on anything?"

I answered with a shrug. And as y'all know, I am an opionated, passionate person. I just don't fly that blue flag in this red state.

I went away to college at Centre in the fall of 1992. Hooray! My first election as an 18-and-older co-ed was a presidential election! My dad told me before he drove away that first day on campus:

"Be careful with the money we send. Study hard. Don't drink and drive. Call when you get homesick. And register to vote; Clinton is going to help make student loans easier to get and let you be able to deduct your interest from your taxes."

I went to a meeting the first weeks of school where upperclass women were helping the freshman girls register to vote and giving information about the candidates. I filled out my registration card, turned it upside down so the girl sitting next to me wouldn't judge me for checking "Democrat", and listened politely. I prayed they wouldn't ask us who we were leaning toward. They didn't, and even though the girl across the hall from me wore a Clinton/Gore t-shirt, I dared not engage anyone in political conversation.

And if you're not going to talk politics in college, seriously, what good are you?

I admire my friend and frequent "anonymous" commenter DR who opened her mouth in her college classes to express opinions that, while maybe not popular with all of her economics classmates, needed to be said. To this day, DR and her husband are among a short list of my friends I will openly, angrily be liberal around. Oh, I'll talk politics with other friends, but only after priming the pump with an adult beverage or six and changing the subject when things get too uncomfortable.

I first started working here in the fall of 2000 when the world seemed pretty evenly divided between Bush and Gore (though here's another ugly confession: had McCain gotten the nomination in 2000, I probably would have voted for him and been disowned by my parents). Because so many people seemed undecided or kind of "eh" about either candidate, I thought it was pretty safe to honestly answer a question asked at the faculty lunch table one day: Who's everyone going to vote for?"

When I said I was going to vote for Gore, I might as well have said I murdered puppies and took candy away from small kids in my free time.

"Really? I don't see why any intelligent person would vote for Gore. Why are you voting for him?"

Yes, this was actually a response from someone who I would surprisingly have a pretty good working relationship with after the election was over.

In 2004, I ate lunch with this same group of teachers but kept quiet even when I was being baited. But one day a teacher, who remembered my response in 2000 and who was trying to get me to come out of my silence, stunned me with this remark (directed to no one in particular, allegedly) as soon as I sat down with my lunch.

"I don't get that Kerry guy. He claims to be both a Catholic and a Democrat. You can't be a Catholic and a Democrat. What a hypocrite! I don't even think you can be Christian and be a Democrat. I mean, can anyone explain this to me?"

Well, I am both a Catholic and a Democrat. And this guy knew that. I fumed. I was humiliated. I was fresh out of snark. So I got up and left.

This is why I don't talk politics.

But things are changing for me.

One day in February of 2007, I was running on the treadmill at the gym when Barack Obama announced his intention to run for President. I ran for 40 minutes, which I don't generally do on treadmills. But I couldn't stop listening to him. I was awestruck. I had wanted him to run since I heard him speak in 2004, thought I thought he would be a longshot and would run a couple of times before he ever got the nod. But I was never much of a HRC-for-President person, though I admire her beyond words. I found myself, previously so bitter and cynical and quiet, starting to get excited about politics and (yes) willing to maybe get a little vocal about it.

When I got back home, Jason, who has an uncanny knack for buying me books I want before I even know I want them, handed me a gift bag with an early birthday present in it: Dreams Of My Father by Barack Obama. My mother-in-law was staying with us that weekend, and I looked her square in her (usually Republican-favoring) eyes and said,

"I just heard Obama announce his entry into the race, and I really like him and want to vote for him."

The first step on my way to sort of being active.

My closest friends are mostly Republicans, with an Independent or Dem thrown in here or there, and I married a registered Republican (though in the last 8 years I think I've brought him over to the dark side, and I didn't even have to throw blue jets of electricity out of my fingertips to do it.) My most left-leaning friends are far enough away that I don't get to pow-wow with them as often as I want. I am accepting of people's differences and don't judge anyone by their political leanings. I love my friends like family, Republicans or Libertarians or whatever. But I am no longer going to sit back and be quiet and be afraid of what people will think about me because I am a Democrat. I usually make apologies to my friends for being what I am. No more. I am coming out of my shell, folks.

I was inspired by Barack's acceptance speech in front of the DNC last night. And I am not ashamed to say it. Say what you want; say that he's style over substance, that he's inexperienced, that Hillary would have been a stronger candidate. Say that anyone like me who supported McCain 9 years ago should still be behind him now (he's not the same maverick he used to be, I tells ya!) Say that Obama's elite, out of touch, "too smart." I feel inspired, and moved, and proud. And isn't that a huge part of the job of President of the United States of America? To not so much "rule" the country as to inspire us to get out, get involved, take charge, make changes, and better our world? To not just sit back and be happy to be governed? Ask not what your country can do for you and all that stuff?

I know he has some haters out there, so I dare not ask for comments. I know he doesn't have the support of even everyone in the party. I know that depending on what poll you look at on what day, he doesn't have the states he needs. But I can't help but feel some Hope. Yes, with a capital H.

That is all. The Cranky Librarian blog isn't gonna get all political on you. But when you're this excited, you just can't hide it.

I'm about to lose control and I think I like it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Bucket List

Much ado was made yesterday on my coming-home-from-work radio station about the death of Dave Freeman, author of 100 Things To Do Before You Die. He left the world at the all-too-young age of 47, having been to only half of the places he mentions in his bestselling book.

Mr. Freeman's book spawned a lot of imitators and got a lot of people talking about the things they most want to do before they die. It inspired many people to create their own "bucket lists."

In honor of Dave Freeman, I want to share my own list of things to do before I die. (Don't worry, I won't bore you with 100.) When I was sick five years ago, I started making my own informal list in my head and have done a few things off that list: Take a trip on an airplane. Walk down the Las Vegas strip. Eat in Paula Deen's restaurant. Learn how to cook a beef roast (don't laugh; it's one of my favorites and until about 3 years ago the one thing I consistently screwed up in the kitchen.) Write something every day. (Even if that something is just a blog entry and not the Great American Novel I thought I would write years ago.)

But I have led a rather meek existence, so there's still a lot left on my to-do list. You will probably laugh at some of the things I have never done, but please bear in mind that I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gunfighter...but I am proud of what I am. a librarian!

OK, enough of The Mummy quotes.

My bucket list is as follows; please chime in with a few of your own.

1. Get a tattoo of a purple ribbon (the cancer survivor emblem) on my foot.
2. Drink a pint of Guinness in a pub in Ireland.
3. See Stonehenge.
4. Place a rose on the grave of Will Shakespeare (methinks 2,3, and 4 could be accomplished in the same trip, no?)
5. Visit a "gentleman's club" to see what all the fuss is about.
6. Try that one thing that I've never tried but most of my friends (and even my mother) have that may or may not involve an herb frequently grown in my home state.
7. See U2 in concert.
8. Renew my wedding vows in a tacky chapel in Vegas (preferably with an Elvis as a witness) and then go play blackjack with a few of my closest friends (who's in?)
9. Travel out west and see in person some of the places Ansel Adams photographed so beautifully.
10. Tour the Louvre.
11. Have a drink in a bar on Bourbon Street.
12. See my own country's capitol.
13. Eat a Maine lobster. In Maine.
14. Be in the audience for a taping of The Daily Show. This would require me to...
15. Spend some time in New York, New York.
16. See the Pacific Ocean.
17. Take an African safari.
18. Run the Flying Pig half-marathon (I would dream big and say a whole marathon, but let's not go crazy. I don't think my brittle body could take the whole 26.2.)
19. Fire a gun (in a range, under the supervision of people who know what they're doing, of course.)
20. Spend a week in the California wine country.
21. Drive across the Golden Gate bridge.
22. Experience weightlessness in one of those plummeting airplanes.
23. Read Ulysses. I've been told by smarter people than I that you need an English professor to walk you through this one, so I have been waiting until that old Centre reading group reunites and contacts a learned sage...
24. Go storm chasing. See a tornado. From a safe distance.
25. Be an extra on a movie or TV set.

Those are my top 25, anyway.

What are your top bucket-list picks?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bella Swab

I just had 2 girls come into the library from a biology class; they wanted to swab books for a bacteria experiment they're doing in the lab.

"What do you think is the most checked-out book in the library?"

"One of the Twilight books. Definitely."

They agreed with me and set off for the fiction collection, Q-Tips and petri dishes in hand.

"We're going to see which is dirtier: the girls' bathroom floor, or the most checked-out library book. We think the book."

That might be stretching it a bit. But I wouldn't be surprised to find that that series while not "dirrrrrrty", is indeed dirty.

9021-oh, no

It's almost September, which means my peaceful summer life is coming to an end and very soon my television obsession will take over all of what passes as my "free time."

I hadn't heard too much buzz over any of the new shows coming out, so I was pretty psyched. Could it be that a new TV season would dawn without me adding any new series recordings to my overtaxed DVR?

But then I heard that the new 90210 show was bringing back Brenda and Kelly, so now I am, despite myself, a little pumped.

I wasn't, like, a huge Beverly Hills 90210 fan or anything. At least, not at the beginning. Not that I would admit. I remember going to a teen leadership conference my senior year in high school and being at a table with some girls who were going on and on and on about Steve and Kelly and Brenda and Dylan and Brandon and Andrea. I was going through a phase where I was trying soooo hard to be mature and sophisticated beyond my years (that's what a summer away at the Kentucky Governor's Scholars program will do to you) and I didn't have much to say.

"Do you think Kelly and Steve should get back together?" they asked.

"Uhhh...I don't really know. I don't really watch that show."

I might as well have confessed to eating kittens for breakfast. "You don't watch 90210?! What do you watch?"

"Well...I really like Northern Exposure."

They didn't talk to me much after that.

What I didn't tell them was, even though I didn't watch all the time, I did try to catch it when I could. Just to make fun of it. Of course.

Well, maybe for Jason Priestly, too. He always was kind of a hottie.

Despite my I-am-so-above-all-things-high-school mentality my senior year, I did watch the prom episode. You know, the one where Brenda and Dylan ohmygod finally do it. And even though I didn't have a TV in my dorm room freshman year, and didn't have time to do anything besides study and play the role of the sober girl at Jason's fraternity parties, I was somehow acutely aware that ohmygod Kelly stole Dylan from Brenda while she was in England or wherever. I was always part of Camp Brenda; we bitchy brunettes gots to stick together, know what I'm sayin'?

My sophomore year in college, a group of us (mostly girls, but with a few boys who just wanted "background noise" while they studied) used to get together in the common room on Wednesday night for the 90210/Melrose Place double feature (my roommate-at-the-time's boyfriend called it "Hooters and Mel-hoes Night", which is really pretty apt.) Over the next year I grew away from 90210 (just wasn't the same without Brenda) and became, unlike Seinfeld, a proud and vocal Mel-hoes fan. Give me a break; that was the season of "Crazy Kimberly." Nighttime soaps do not get any better than that.

Both shows became uber-ridiculous at the end of their runs, and while I did watch the last Mel-hoes, I didn't inhale. I mean enjoy.

I figured once Ian Ziering and Jennie Garth appeared on Dancing With The Stars that the nail was in the coffin on that series. But, alas...the 90s keep on keeping on, and what I had thought would be just a Millennial reboot of 90210 will also throw us 30-somethings a bone and at least bring back Brenda and Kelly and give them a few minutes of storyline every week (no Donna, alas...she always did get the short end of the stick, poor thing.) And Jason Priestly will be directing an episode, so I hope that means Brandon will be back in the zip code every so often, too.

OK, readers, 'fess up. Did you watch the original Beverly Hills 90210? And are you going to give this new one a shot? (You can claim morbid curiosity or "I watch it to make fun of it" if it makes you feel better.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's The One That I Want (Woo-hoo-hoo, honey)

The kid loooooves movie musicals.

She's been feeling a little under the weather with a summer cold, so yesterday we let her veg out in front of the TV to watch her new Camp Rock DVD. A freight train could have come through the living room and she wouldn't have noticed; she was completely sucked in and didn't move from her chair the entire movie.

I, on the other hand, was not so impressed. It was your typical Disney made-for-TV movie: poor but talented teen girl goes to music camp, pretends to be someone she's not to fit in with the snobby but popular diva clique, falls for a boy, loses the boy when he finds out she's been lying about who she is, gets the boy back when she learns The Big Lesson about being true to herself, and wows everyone with her pop princess voice at the talent show. It was a lukewarm follow-up to the High School Musical phenomenon. It didn't have the heart and the catchy tunes of HSM.

See, I am a closet fan of HSM. When Ainsley watched it the first time on Disney Channel, it was because, secretly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was surprised when I actually enjoyed it. And I did not object when Ains wanted to buy both the original and the sequel after we had watched both on TV; if I could have bought Grease to watch over and over again at her age, you better bet I would have worn that sucker out.

Talking with the hubby about Ains's musical obsession we realized that HSM is to Ains what Grease was to girls my age (well, what the edited-for-TV version was for girls my age). That movie, for most of us, was our first experience with a musical.

My dad was not a big movie-goer, but when my older sister wanted soooo badly to see that movie back in 1978 and was not old enough to get in by herself, he took her to the theater and suffered through it. He complained about it, and said he didn't much like sitting with his daughter during some of the more suggestive scenes, but then later he gave up the TV to let me and mom watch it when it would make its regular broadcast appearances. I think secretly he dug it.

From the day my sister saw Grease in 1978 to, I would say, sometime in 1980, one of us played a song from that movie on the record player every day. Joanie couldn't afford the whole soundtrack on LP, so she bought 45s of her favorites. I used to sing myself hoarse trying to match pitch with Olivia on "Hopelessly Devoted to You." And "Summer Lovin'"? Fuhgeddaboutit. Jason and I have said that if we were getting married now, and weren't so caught up in the whole "classy wedding" thing, our first dance would totally be a recreation of "You're The One That I Want". (Don't think Jason could pull it off? He was in his high school's show choir junior and senior year and danced under the direction of a former A Chorus Line dancer who was also our first lesson in, ahem, diversity. And Jason played Kenickie in said high school's production of Grease. Boyfriend can cut a rug. I'd be the one dancing like Jerry Springer.)

I heard that there is a 30th anniversary edition DVD coming out sometime this year. On the one hand, hooray! As much as I love it, I don't have it on DVD yet. On the other Ainsley ready for it in all its unedited glory?

Not only is there the brief little bit of nudity when the boys moon the dance-off camera, but there's the whole "Greased Lightning" sequence (I was shocked the first time I saw the theatrical release on tape, in college no less, and heard what the chicks'll REALLY do when they see Greased Lightning). Then there's also the heartwarming message: to get the guy, it's not enough to be pretty and sweet; you've got to be hot. Preferably with big hair and a rockin' bod sewn into black spandex.

It might be very, very Disney, but I do love the message of HSM. Be yourself. If you want to be a jock AND sing your cute little heart out in the school musical, go for it. You can also be both a brainiac and a big-voiced beauty. Don't limit yourself to a clique. It's a great thing for kids to learn.

And, I don't know if you've heard, but 5-year-olds think Zac Efron is VERY cute.

So cute, in fact, that Ainsley wanted to rent Hairspray earlier this summer just because she saw "Troy's" picture on the cover. Just like the other musicals she's seen, she got completely, jaw-dropped-and-drool-on-her-shirt caught up. Even though I know she didn't get some of the subtle PG-13 innuendo. And it was great telling her that the guy (!) playing Tracy's mom was kind of my generation's Zac Efron. He's still a little cute, even in drag (though I was, even before Jason, more of a Kenickie girl.)

So maybe it's time for her to meet Frenchy, Sandy, Danny, and the kids. With a parent in the room to supervise, of course.

If she gets lucky, we might even be able to bring "Kenickie" out of retirement to distract her with his cleaned-up lyrics and rockin' moves to "Greased Lightning." I am talking Jason, of course, and not creepy Jeff Conaway.

What say you? Is Grease appropriate 6-year-old viewing? Are you a fan or a hater? And is Olivia Newton John still hot or what?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

True Romance

I have talked on this blog about the Twilight series of books for young adults, and how I have enjoyed them (the first one the most) and how I recommend them. Like millions of others, I ran out and bought the final book of the series, Breaking Dawn, the first day it was out and quickly devoured it. I have been struggling for a good answer when students stop down to ask me how I liked it; I really didn't know what to say except that it was a huge disappointment.

Enough time has passed, and I have mulled over my thoughts long enough, to say with certainty:

I hate this book.

Shocking coming from a librarian, isn't it?

There are many and asundry reasons why I am hating on Breaking Dawn. I won't go into all of them here; if you want to know what all the fuss is about, read one of the many negative reader reviews on amazon.

What I do feel compelled to talk about is the book's portrayal of "real love."

It's not just this book that gets my goat when it comes to romantic love; I also once threw a Nicholas Sparks book across the room.

When I was young, I had this idea in my head of what a serious relationship should be and what true love looked like. It was heavily influenced by (and I'm not proud of this) V.C. Andrews and by Guiding Light. I thought that when you love another person, truly, madly, and deeply, you get butterflies in your stomach every time you hold hands or make ga-ga eyes at each other, which I thought you had to do, like, all the time, and see rainbows and unicorns every day and never say an ill word to each other. And I certainly felt that way when I first fell for Jason when I was a mere 16 years old.

But true love changes. It grows up.

Just because Jason and I have a love story more When Harry Met Sally and Everybody Loves Raymond now than The Princess Bride does not mean that we don't love each other deeply. We just aren't so...gushy about it now. You're not going to see us hold hands, or walk down the sidewalk with our hands in each other's back pockets. We often bicker. We don't spend every waking minute together, nor do we want to. A romantic date night out without the kid might consist of beer and wings at B-Dubs.

This is not the way love looks in romance novels. It especially is not the way it looks in Breaking Dawn.

I know, I know. It's a fantasy book. It's fiction. But the first book, I thought, got first love pretty close to right (at least from Bella's perspective.) So I thought through four books, with characters learning and growing and getting past the initial crush and lust, that there would be a depiction of a mature, loving relationship between two soul mates. Even the last two Harry Potter books, though fantasy, showed healthy, mature relationship through Ginny and Harry and Ron and Hermione. I thought Meyer would take note of this and make Bella and Edward grow up a little, especially since (creepy spoiler alert!) there is a child of sorts involved.

But Edward and Bella's relationship, in a very V.C. Andrews kind of way, never grows up, and never grows imperfect. It stays pretty superficial, and fixated on the physical, and frankly, a little cloying. Their lives completely revolve around each other and they are willing to give up anything and everything to stay together. Bella and Edward live solely for Bella and Edward (and the creepy creature-kid.) And that just isn't such a good lesson.

Don't get me wrong; I'd walk through fire to stay with Jason. If giving up my life would save his, I would do it without blinking. That part of any good love story is right. But I almost gave up my own identity in college, thinking after reading too many cheesy love stories that that is what I had to do to keep love alive. I thought if I got interested in different things than he was interested in, or if we travelled in different circles of friends, that we would fall apart. So I took voice lessons, and worked my tail off to get into the premier choir despite my mediocre musical ability, and fretted over his decision to join a fraternity, and stayed alone in my room waiting for his phone call, and basically became a clingy emotional trainwreck.

I found my own voice only after literally making myself sick trying to find a place in his college world and realizing that we only had a chance if I maintained a life and identity of my own. My biggest college regret is not finding and hanging out with my posse of girlfriends sooner.

Someday Ainsley will read books that idealize true love. She already is well-versed in Disney-fied princess romances where everybody lives happily ever after. I hope that she learns something positive from her mom and dad; she may see us fight, and she may never (because we're not big PDA-type people) see us be affectionate, but if she looks really hard, she should see two people who love each other very much.

True love is having someone stay by your side, even if they're bothered by needles and blood, while an oncologist sticks a syringe roughly the size of a power drill into your hip and pulls out some marrow.

True love is having your significant other clean up your puke and still be physically attracted to you when you feel better.

True love is being so comfortable around another person that you are allowed to be human and do very human things, like sneeze all over yourself, burp, and fart. 'Cause let's face it; we all do it, and holding that stuff in makes you explode.

True love is what I saw with my own mom and dad, when my mother cared for my father at home while he was dying, taking care of all his body functions and tubes and bags, and held his hand when it was his time to go.

A sense of humor and a partner that can make you laugh when you feel your world is coming apart at the seams is far more sexy that someone who moons all over you and takes your relationship oh-so-seriously.

Romance is having a cup of coffee carried to you on a weekend morning with the cream and sugar ratio perfect from years of experience. And candle light and roses have nothing on being told your partner will play with the kids while you sleep in a little bit.

Comfortable silence is as powerful a symbol of love as a million little "I love you"s.

This weekend I was talking to Jason about needing something new to read, and told him I had heard the new Celia Rivenbark book (love her!) was coming out on the 19th.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "It's been preordered on amazon for a long time. You'll have it on Tuesday."

That, my friends, is true romance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Laughing Box

My dad's uncle John Tony (strangely enough, my namesake) used to give the best presents. He was a father figure for my dad and for several years was my father's guardian (those lost Del City years I talk about). He was also the closest thing I had to a grandpa, since my mom's dad died when I was still a toddler. Every so often he would send unusual gifts just to me or my sister. When I was growing up, I viewed Oklahoma as an exotic land; that's where John Tony lived and worked as an air traffic controller and where all these amazing things came from, and even though I know now that my own parents could have found these same items, there was just something awesome about being five years old and having odd treasures coming to the house addressed to me.

Among the gifts we received were an early clock radio with an illuminated "digital" time piece (the kind that loudly flipped from minute to minute) roughly the size of a pizza box; an inflatable Weeble punching bag; a Spike Jones cassette with "Cocktails for Two" on it; and on my sister's 18th birthday a $600 money order for her to put a down payment on a car and a $40 money order for me to buy a new Intellivision game. Having a money order instead of cash or a check seemed unbelievably cool and grown-up to me at the time.

The best by far though was my laughing box. It was a battery-operated hand-held box that, with the push of a button, emitted a loud laugh that bore a striking resemblance to that of Krusty the Klown.

As you can imagine, this was a dangerous thing to put into the hands of a 4-year-old. For a solid week it laughed at everything that went on in my house, funny or not. There were many threats to take it away, and like the leg lamp in A Christmas Story, my mother eyed it every day with murder in her heart.

While she was on the phone one day, I got the laughing box out and, starving for attention I guess, pressed the button and made it laugh right in her face.

Well, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. She jerked it out of my hand and, in a white-hot fury, flung it into the living room. Where it shattered into chunks.

It was not fixable. I was devastated. Realizing she had taken her punishment a step too far, my mom tried to find a replacement and could not. She didn't want anyone to tell John Tony that his gift had been tragically broken, so we never did find out where he got it. We eventually got over it.


It remains for me a day that will live in infamy. During teenage battles with my mom, if she told me that something I had said hurt her I would retaliate with, "You mean, like I was hurt when you broke my laughing box?" When she tells me now that I am being too hard on Ainsley, I zing her with, "Yeah? Well, at least I didn't break her laughing box." I have used this so often that I just reduce it to one word; if she says to me about Ainsley, "Now, don't quarrel at it, it's the most precious thing in the world," I just roll my eyes and mutter, "Laughing box."

But the sins of the mother are revisited on the daughter. I have become my mother. Only the object in question has changed.

Last night shall heretofore be known as "The Night of The Flute." It will be its own chapter in my kid's tell-all memoirs, and will someday be the focal point of a therapy session.

We have instituted a three-strike system of punishment in the Cranky house. When Ainsley misbehaves, doesn't do what we ask, or talks back, or whines and pouts, she gets a strike. Three strikes in one day and we take something away; a privilege like watching a video or having a treat, or a toy. She has to earn that toy or privilege back the next day by correcting her behavior. It mostly works.

Last night she mouthed off to me and told me "No." It was the third strike; I had had a bad day at work, and she was tired, and we were not getting along.

"Well, Ainsley, I'm going to take something away now," I said, reaching for her red plastic flute.

Said flute was a dollar store find made two weeks ago when my mom and Ainsley were spending time together while I worked my extended days. Ainsley had fallen in love with the flutes, and since they were only a dollar, mom let her pick out two. The red one is the only one she played with and it just happened to be on her bed when I needed something to take away.

"NO YOU'RE NOT!" Ains screamed at me. "You're NOT going to take something away!"

I saw red. The flute was in my hand. People had walked all over me all day; my kid was not going to talk to me that way and get away with it. I threw the flute.

Even as it was leaving my hand, I was thinking, "No! No! Bad mommy! Big mistake! You better hope that thing doesn't break!" But we have carpet, and the flute was made of the finest plastic 14-year-old Chinese workers can manufacture, so I didn't think the damn thing would actually break.

But it did. The end snapped off in a jagged, unfixable shard.

My child, much like I did with the laughing box, broke into heart-broken sobs. I stood silent. I had screwed up, big time.

When Ains was bordering on hysterics, I found my voice.

"Ainsley, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for it to break. But you have another one. You have a blue one."

She looked up at me, face blotchy and red, nose running, actual grief in her eyes. "That one's not mine! I wanted it for you! It's supposed to be yours and only yours! The red one was mine, and I loved it!"

I. Suck.

I got her calmed down by telling her that, even though I wasn't excusing her behavior that afternoon, I had gone too far and that it was my fault the flute was broken. I told her that when we break another's person's things that we should replace them, and that I would be replacing the red flute. I apologized profusely and told her I had no idea the flute meant that much to her, to which she responded that it was one of her favorite things and that she had wanted to get good at it so that we could play songs together. I had played a few simple tunes on the blue one the day she brought it home, and I guess she wanted us to hit the local circles with a mother-daughter act.

She settled down, and we hugged.

"The worst part," I told her as I held her, "is that I have to tell your daddy what I did when he comes back from running."

"Yeah," she said. And then she launched into an "angry Jason" impersonation I didn't know she had in her, even addressing me by my first name like him. "He's gonna say, 'Cranky, what did you have to go and break her toy for?' "

So I guess she's learning great anger management from both of us.

I went to bed knowing that I had probably done permanent emotional damage to my kid. It's not a good feeling. Jason and my mom both tried to make me feel better when I vented to them last night, telling me that parents make mistakes and lose their temper and that I shouldn't be beating myself up so much over it. Though my mom at one point did get a little holier-than-thou to which I replied, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw laughing boxes."

Someday, when a 17-year-old Ainsley looks at me and sulks, "What are you gonna do? Break my red flute?", I will know I had it coming.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Kin Like A Webkin

Ainsley is now the proud adoptive parent of a Webkin.

Her Webkin is an adorable golden retriever puppy who she has named Freckles and who, like her stuffed Lumpy, has become a member of our family. Freckles watches her eat, sleeps with her, and is petted goodbye every morning before school. Yesterday afternoon she carried on a conversation with him before we left for the gym, which from what I overheard, consisted of an introduction to her most prized possessions and a stern command to guard them while we were not at home.

In her 6-year-old mind, he's a real puppy. In my mind, he's better than the real thing because he doesn't have to be house trained.

But wait! There's more! For those of you who don't spend a lot of time with school-aged children, the Webkinz's biggest draw is that they are virtual pets who need to be cared for online. Kids can create an account using a code attached to each new Webkin and create a room for their new pet. They accrue Webkinz dollars and can use them to buy food, water, and toys for their animals. Each pet has a meter where kids can see how happy their pet is, whether or not he needs to be fed, and whether or not he's healthy.

It's a fairly intense online experience. I will confess, I got a little overwhelmed helping her check on Freckles after school.

"Did you have a Webkin when you were a little girl?" Ains asked after we had gotten Freckles onto his little virtual doggy treadmill to get some exercise.

No, Webkinz were not in my 80s childhood. But, oh, my 30-something friends, we had something better: the Cabbage Patch Kid.

Has there ever been a more precious adoptable toy? The Cabbage Patch and Mr. Xavier Roberts birthed the concept of children adopting creations of cloth stuffed with polyester fill. Pound Puppies, Furbies, Beanie Babies, and now Webkinz all owe their origins to those hard-to-get dimpled dolls.

My mom and sister could not find me one during the great Cabbage Patch drought of Christmas, 1983, when mothers ripped other mothers to shreds in department stories over the one doll each store ordered to meet the demand of the approximately 5 million kids who had asked for one from Santa. I imagine that Christmas, 1983 was when a lot of kids learned the truth about Santa.

By my birthday in February the dolls were a dime a dozen and even the grocery store where my brother-in-law worked got regular shipments. He picked my Corisa Mavis right off the delivery truck, and from the moment I unwrapped her I loved her fiercely.

She had tan skin and sandy-brown hair that was short and curled all over her head save for two straight yarn pigtails. She was boxed wearing a dress and matching bloomers, but she looked like an athletic sort of kid, so my sister bought her a yellow and white sweatsuit that I immediately changed her into. I can still remember how she smelled; remember how Cabbage Patch Kids were scented with baby powder and smelled like real babies (real babies who never poo, that is)? And her name: Corisa Mavis. When I saw that on her adoption certificate, I thought it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard. Corisa was my constant companion for the better part of a year and even after I had grown older maintained a place of honor among my favorite toys. When my mom would purge my dolls and stuffed animals and donate the bulk of them to Goodwill, I always made sure Corisa was in the "save" pile.

A few years later when I had a real baby in my family, my nephew, and the Cabbage Patch craze was mostly over, my mom got both me and my new nephew a Cabbage Patch Preemie. Sadly, I can't even tell you his name; by that time I had outgrown dolls and felt that the whole Cabbage Patch thing was soooo over. Once they started making the Cabbage Patch dolls with "real" hair and bodies that were made of hard plastic that could be washed, I think they lost their novelty.

Since then, I've watched as other adoptable animals and dolls have come and gone. I've always been a sucker for cute things that need a home, so I completely bought into the Beanie Baby thing. Those little poems on the tag that usually ended with a plea to be taken home and loved tugged at my heart long before people started collecting them to make oodles of money off of them on eBay. In fact, most of mine are tagless because I initially didn't know any better.

And now that we've got one Webkin in the house, I've heard from other parents that we will end up buying more. The pets get "lonely" and like to interact with one another. I must confess that I have my eye on a little Siamese kitten Webkin that I will buy for myself if Freckles gets really, really lonely. Not because I want one myself or anything, because that would be crazy. I am a grown woman, after all.

A grown woman who is a sucker for clever toy marketing.

Did any of you have a Cabbage Patch? Did you keep the adopted name or change it? What was your favorite stuffed pal when you were a kid?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Ains: That's A Spicy Meat-a-ball Edition

My kid gets really excited about school lunch. She says it's her favorite part of the school day "because there's always something yummy there to eat." I am not sure what this says about my cooking.

One of her favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs. I can make that kid's day by throwing some frozen Kroger balls o' meat in with a jar of marinara. So imagine her excitement when we looked at her school lunch menu and saw that that was the entree for her third day of school. O, joy! Spaghetti and meatballs are to her what chicken noodle soup and government surplus peanut butter and jelly were to me as a cafeteria kid: the perfect formula for a good day at school.

I noticed yesterday afternoon that she wasn't wearing any tomato sauce on her shirt; she should have had a blob on her somewhere if she really ate her lunch.

"Did you enjoy your meatballs today, Ains?"

She sighed. "I ate some of the spaghetti but I didn't eat the meatballs."

"Why not? Those are your favorites!"

"They changed 'em," she said. "They're not the same meatballs as last year. They have big red seasoners in them, and I don't like any seasoners."

I was a little disturbed by big red anythings being in my kid's meatballs. "You mean seasonings?"

"Yeah! Season-INGS. I don't like 'em."

"But you have to have a little seasoning in them or they don't taste like anything. There are seasonings in the meatballs I make."

"But I think yours have 'em on the outside. I like season-INGS when they're on the outside, but not on the inside. When they're on the inside, they're hard, red, spicy things."

Really, when it comes to mostly-meat substances served in school caferias, maybe that's a good philosophy to have. Specks on the outside: good! Specks on the inside: bad. Very, very bad.

Friday Funnies

Need a laugh? Me, too! Let's revisit an old an often forgotten feature of the blog where I share with you my laughs of the week.

First, a joke I heard on the radio. I rarely think a spoken joke is laugh-out-loud funny; I am more into situational or visual humor. But this joke, submitted by someone entering the radio station's contest to win Robin Williams tickets, is one of the best I've heard in a while. (Though I must confess, it took me a few seconds to get it; that should tell you how quick I am here lately.)

A farmer tells his wife that he needs a break from getting up before dawn to take care of the chores, and that it's high time their teenage son started being more responsible. They decide that the next morning the farmer will sleep in while their son gathers eggs, slops the hogs, and milks the cow.

The boy's not happy about it. When he gathers the eggs, he gets so mad that he kicks the chickens around. As he slops the hogs, he gets even madder and gives a pig a good kick. When the cow moos at him while he's milking her, it's the last straw and he gives her a boot in the rear.

When he's all finished, he comes back to the house starving. He sits down at the table and announces to his mom that he wants bacon, eggs, and a big glasss of milk.

"Well, mister, I saw you kick that cow just a few minutes ago. You actually think I should give you milk that came from that cow? No milk for you for two weeks. And I saw you kick the chickens, too; no eggs for you. And don't think I don't know about you kicking the hogs; you're not getting any bacon for two weeks, either."

The son is none too happy and just sits there, staring at an empty table.

About this time the farmer comes down the steps after his morning in bed. As he comes down the stairs, he trips over the cat. He gets so mad that he rears back and kicks the poor cat.

The son sighs.

"Well, mom, are you gonna tell him, or should I?"

The full subtext of that didn't hit me for a second or two.

If that didn't tickle your funny bone, go to this, my new favorite blog:

One of my frequent commenters on the blog sent me this item in an email last year, and it made my favorite soft drink come out my nose in a very unladylike fashion when I read it.

Enjoy, and happy Friday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Unitentional School Lock-In

Ah, the things our kids don't tell us.

Last night we had Ainsley's open house at her school. I got to meet her teacher, hear the teacher talk about her expectations for the class, and show all the things they are going to do this year. God bless the first grade teachers.

At the end, we could meet one on one with the teacher and ask questions. I talked to the teacher about the birthday treat policy since the kid has a birthday coming up, and after we were finished she pulled me aside.

"Did she tell you about the bathroom incident today?"

Oh, dear lord.

Ains told me what she had for lunch, who she played with at recess, how easy 1st grade was so far, the title of the book she checked out from the library, and even how she was proud that she figured out her new belt without help. But I heard nothing about an "incident."

Apparently, during a bathroom break, Ainsley went to the stall in the girls' bathroom whose door gets stuck from time to time. She got in there and even with a healthy pull could not get the unlocked door to open.

"I heard this scream that sounded like someone was being murdered," her teacher said. The bathroom is right next to the 1st grade classroom. "When I went in there I could tell she was really panicked. She was crying and screaming for help. I calmed her down and helped her get the door open. And then I let her get some water; I know that scream had to have hurt her throat."

And yet, this didn't get any coverage in Ainsley's top news stories of the night.

Bear in mind that yesterday was her second day of school, and she was still forming an impression of herself in her classmates' and teacher's minds. That impression now will be, "That girl who locked herself in the bathroom and screamed 'til her lungs gave out."

I can put myself in her shoes and know how scary that might have been to be in a small stall with no easy way out. However, I am a little concerned about how well she keeps her cool. She is a panicker; last spring, even after years of swim lessons, she flipped out right before a lesson when she got into deep water a little further away from the side than she was used to being. When she went to touch and couldn't, she forgot everything she had been taught and bobbed up and down helplessly before finally having a lifeguard fish her out. She scares easily, and when she scares, she doesn't solve problems and think clearly.

I remember being at a department store once and going to the bathroom while my mom waited in the racks of clothes outside; I got into a stall where, once the painted door closed tight, it was hard to open again. I remember thowing my negligible weight at the time against the outward-swinging door and thinking about the problem for a minute before wiggling my way under the door to freedom. It was gross, but I got out. And I am pretty sure I didn't let out any bloodcurdling screams.

But then again, I also flipped out this March during our blizzard when my tires spun uselessly in the first few inches of powder as Ains and I tried to get up the hill into our neighborhood. Instead of, I don't know, backing up a little and trying again, I put the car in park in the middle of the street and told Ainsley we were probably going to have to abandon the car and walk home. It took a call to my husband before sense kicked in and I realized I could back out of my tracks and try again on a little firmer footing.

So maybe she gets the panic from me.

At any rate, it's going to be a while before anyone in room 1 forgets about the scream. And even longer before Ains drops trou in that stall again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This Just In: The Best Gifts Ever

Oh. My. God.

Stop what you're doing. Go to Pretend you've got a couple of hundred dollars lying around just waiting to be used to both spoil that special someone and donate to charity. Drool.

I just read about this on EW's website in an article about my favorite TV show, Lost. You've all heard of the big "Stand Up 2 Cancer" extravaganza coming this fall to raise money for cancer research, right? Live Autographs isn't directly offiliated with Stand Up 2 Cancer, but it's the avenue some stars (including some of the actors and the producers of Lost) are taking to raise money for that event. It's just in beta now and my heart is already thumping with the possibilities; I can't wait until more celebrity participants are revealed.

Play around and see for yourself, but here are the basics. You can get one of an ever-growing list of stars (mostly cult favorites right now) to record a customized video message for you or someone you know. Your written request can be no more than 300 characters, but that's enough to get Lost's Josh Holloway to drawl, "Forget Freckles. Cranky is the only girl for me," no? Of course, to get this message, you have to buy a donated piece of memorabilia, and none of them are under $100. But along with your video message, you get another video showing your chosen celebrity signing your purchased memorabilia with your message. You will get a confirmation email after you go through the process telling you the date and time your event will stream live and tell you how to download it. There will be no doubt that you are spending your money on an authentic, bonafide object.

Awesome. Brilliant.

And it all goes to a great cause.

Time is limited, though. Each celebrity has a certain number of videos and messages that he/she will do and some celebrities are only signing and taping on one prescheduled day. If you find something you want, you gotta get it fast.

So if anyone out there is looking for a, I don't know, belated anniversary present, early Christmas present, or 34 1/2 birthday present for me, I would happily accept a signed poster of Matthew Fox with a message that congratulates me on five years remission and implies he would be "Lost" without me (hardy har har.) If anyone (cough Jason cough) was wondering what I might like.

What do you have your eye on?

Back to School

Is it ever going to get easier?

Last year when the kid started kindergarten, I was prepared for the tears that I knew would come as I drove out of sight. Not Ainsley's, of course, but my own.

I wasn't prepared for the way I would feel when I dropped her off this morning, her first day of first grade. It's the same school as last year. I've met the teacher. All her friends will be there (except, I think, for her beloved Teddy, whose name I did not see on the class roster this morning). It shouldn't have been hard.

I made it all the way to the Kroger about a block away from her school, where I had to stop to get food for a new teacher library orientation I did this morning, before I felt the lump in my throat and felt the tears well in my eyes. I had to sit in the car for a few minutes and recover. What the hell is the matter with me?

I've thought about her so much already this morning. I don't worry about her; Ainsley was more than happy to see me go and did not need my help getting to her classroom and getting unpacked. I worry about me. With every passing year, I know she's going to need me less and less. She will grow less inclined to let me hug her goodbye. She won't need me to help her into her uniform, to pull her hair back into her favorite ponytail, to pack her lunch. On the one hand, this is good. She needs to be more independent. I need that extra little bit of time in the morning. On the other hand...well, there goes my baby, the only one I'll ever have.

I feel today. Blurg.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Fever

You would have thought a UK basketball game was on. Had you been a fly on the wall last night, you would have seen Jason and me jumping up and down, screaming, "Go! Go! Goooooooo!" at the TV, and pumping our fists wildly in the air. There's only one event that can get us that pumped up on a summer night: the Olympics.

I am not much of a sports fan. I love my UK basketball, but as a general rule I don't like watching sports on television. Take me out the ballgame and buy me a beer, and I will cheer for our (pathetic) Cincinnati Reds. But a televised Reds game hypnotizes me and cures my insomnia. I own a Bengals jersey with Carson Palmer's name and number on the back solely because we have spirit days here at school where students and teachers are asked to wear Bengals atire. I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Sports just ain't my thing.

But for two summer weeks every 4 years (I don't count the winter Olympics; does anyone?) I watch the finest athletes the world has created engage in fierce competition in round-the-clock coverage. I have never been on a swim team, and can only swim well enough to (hopefully) save my life, but I can't help but get fired up over Olympic swimming. My gymnastics ability peaked when I learned how to execute a cartwheel, but I adore watching those super-strong young women vault and tumble and stick their landings. I ran track just long enough to respect and be awed by men who can run 100 meters in under 10 seconds and women who can three-step over hurdles. I think we all are amazed by people who have abilities we don't have; I have never been an athlete, so I am intrigued by those elite bodies and minds who are so good at running, at swimming, at calculating where in space their bodies are as to have a flawless dismount from a bar hanging many feet over their heads or a straight entry into a pool of water after flipping and twisting in the air.

This time Jason and I, like the rest of the world, are in love with Michael Phelps.

Last night saw us up later than we should have been to watch the smackdown in the freestyle relay between the trash-talking French and the underdog Phelps-led Americans. With one man left to swim, the sportscasters were all but giving it to the favored French team; they had us by a good margin, and it looked like even a silver was going to be a struggle.

But here's the thing: America became an independent nation as an underdog in a come-from-behind victory. Belittle us, talk trash, tell us we're second-best, and all you're gonna do is make us want to kick some European ass. We will win or we will break an ankle trying.

Which is what those 4 men from America did. Not the break an ankle part.

Well, it all came down to just the one. The anchor refused to give up. In the last 50 meters, he caught the French anchor. And beat him to the wall by a mere few hundreds of a second.

I have never seen 4 happier men.

The mood was jubliant in the Cranky living room, too. When they made the last turn, the announcer had made some comment about the French swimmer extending the lead, but I wasn't so sure. I got up out of my seat, feeling that something amazing was going to happen. And when it was all over but the shoutin', Jason and I whooped as loudly as we did when the "Comeback 'Cats" of 1998 scored the basket that launched us past Utah for the first time since falling to a 10-point deficit in the first half. (Of course, we were still in our car driving back from an ill-timed chorus concert when that shot happened, and couldn't holler very loud lest we deafen each other, but still.)

I can't wait to get home from the open house we are having tonight at school to watch sports. Whodathunkit?

Are you as pumped by the Olympics as I am? What's your favorite event? If you could make an Olympic event out of something you're really good at for the sole purpose of winning a medal(which I'm pretty sure is how badminton became an Olympic sport), what would that be? (When I was little I used to pretend my recess matches of "4-Square" was an Olympic event and I was the returning gold-medalist, because I was pretty good at 4-Square. Kickball? Not so much.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Fabulous New Way to Waste Time Online

A few weeks ago, a classmate of mine who has my email address from our reunion invited me to join an online community called Goodreads. I am a librarian, so naturally I love to talk to people about books and share my favorite literary experiences with my friends. But I had no idea enough people feel this way to fuel a My Space-like community.

Rather than wasting time reading my blog this weekend, go waste time on this site. You create an account and use their Amazon search tool to create a library of books you have read. From there you can rate and review those books.

Then the fun part. You can enter email addresses of people you want to search for to see if they're already on Goodreads, or you can search for people by name. You can even invite people to join. Then like My Space you can create a Friends list and see each other's profiles and books.

If you play with it, look me up, those of you who know my first and last name. If you are a lurker and don't know me, post your profile name and location in the comments and I will try to find you to add to my Friends list. In fact, if you want to do that anyway, the tens of you who read the blog regularly can network with each other about books and get a more diverse list of good things to read.

The first week I had an account, I spent hours updating my book list. And then more hours looking at some of my high school classmates' lists. It can be addictive.

But I am just a book geek.

Have fun!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

She Gets That From Her Dad

I have written in these pages before about how my husband and his family get grossed out by certain words. Most of the words that grate on their nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard have to do with food. According to Jason, the most disgusting word in the English language is "moist." Decribe a homemade baked item as "moist", and he will get the shivers.

We don't talk about this quirk in front of Ainsley. We want her to be prejeduced toward neither food nor words. She can say "sauce" all she wants to and no one is allowed to cringe.

So her reaction to a question from one of our friends the other night was surprising.

"Ainsley, are you going to have a cake for your birthday?"


Then for Jason's benefit, "Is it going to be a moist cake?"

"Ewwwwww!" she screamed loudly enough for me to hear at the other end of the house. She was honestly grossed out, though she couldn't really say why.

Apparently, there is a gene for this. Who knew?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Talk to the Animals

I knew I was in trouble when I found myself in the laundry room talking to my daughter's newly-washed stuffed animal pal.

No, I hadn't gone mental, nor was I under the influence of anything ilicit. I was just severely sleep-deprived from a chronic problem I've been fighting since I was a child: insomnia.

I don't have it all the time, but at least once a year I have a round that lasts for weeks and renders me a slow-reflexed, cranky, and mentally dull member of society. I am not a person who can function well on broken or little sleep; the first four months of Ainsley's colicky infant-hood saw me lucky to get more than 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep at a stretch and therefore also saw me on antidepressants. My husband can thrive on 5-6 hours a night; if that's all I get for longer than a day or two, I fall apart at the seams.

One of the ironies of my life is that I require a good amount of sleep, and yet I am a frustratingly light sleeper and it takes little to trigger insomnia. In spring and summer, the late evening sunlight throws me off. During vacations from work, rising later disrupts my body's clock. Add any kind of stress, change, big presentation, scary movie, or general worry and there goes the ability to turn my brain off and relax. I am a born worrier, and I worry my best around midnight.

When I struggle like I have been the last few weeks, my thoughts turn to the Ambien commercials. I am tempted to beg my doctor for some until I remember how I embarrassed myself while on sleep medication during chemo.

Some chemo drugs are stimulants, and the steroid most onocologists pump into your system to keep you from rejecting the drugs also revs up your system. When not even Benadryl could induce sleep the first couple of nights after a treatment, I was given a little drug called Restoril. Sounds tranquil, doesn't it? Gentle and mild? Well, the generic name of the drug cued me in to its real nature: it's a happy member of the valium family.

It definitely made me sleep. But here's what I learned: if you don't go to sleep right after you take it, if you, say, decide to stay awake and play around on the computer for a little bit, you will get a little loopy and a little crazy and worse yet a little forgetful.

One afternoon after a night sleeping peacefully thanks to Restoril, I opened up my email to see I had something from a favorite professor of mine from college. You Centre grads may remember him as being well-loved for more than his fabulous brain and energetic teaching; he was the object of many a co-ed's fantasy. I was puzzled and happy until I opened the email and realized it was a reply to an email I had sent him in the wee hours of the morning telling him all about how I had cancer and I just wanted to let some of my former professors know and woe is me and blah blah blah. Until I read the reply, I had had no memory of sending the email. But then it came back to me; I had taken a sleeping pill, and instead of going to bed, I had gone downstairs and surfed the internet for a while waiting for the medication to "kick in." It apparently had kicked in already and made me lose my better judgement and spill my guts electronically and then erased all memory. So when I hear about people who sleep-eat and sleep-drive on Ambien, I totally believe it. And fear it.

Now when the beast strikes I stick to more natural remedies. I make myself get up early (though not as early as I have to rise during the school year; getting up at 5am 365 days a year I am pretty sure classifies as cruel and unusual punishment) and prohibit caffeine after noon. I exercise no later than 5pm and don't allow myself to nap even if Ainsley does. I light aromatherapy candles and use lavender-scented lotion. I take melatonin but try to avoid Tylenol PM (unless I get a migraine on top of the insomnia, which is common since one seems to like the other's company.) I wait it out. And know that eventually I will sleep. And in the meantime...

In the meantime, I do things like go downstairs to take laundry out of the dryer, come across Lumpy, my daughter's favorite stuffed animal and best friend, and engage good ol' Lump in a conversation about how he's all clean and fluffy now, and will get reunited with Ains the next morning, and how cute he is, and how I would like to snuggle up with him, except that I don't sleep anymore. And finish the conversation with, "And how crazy am I to have a five-minute discussion with an inanimate object."

But that's just the nature of the beast.