Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Murtaugh List

Anybody watch How I Met Your Mother last night? (I think that might be the best little sitcom that no one watches.)

The episode centered around Ted's Murtaugh List. Remember Danny Glover's character from the Lethal Weapon movies? Roger Murtaugh? He often said, "I'm too old for this sh*t!" just before helping the younger Riggs do some crazy bit of police work. Inspired by that catchphrase, Ted made a list of all the things, as someone in his early thirties, he could get away with in his twenties but is now too old to do.

Much of the list resonated with me. Things like: Pull an all-nighter. Put off going to the doctor. Dying your hair a crazy color. Beer bong (not so much the bong part, because I've never tried that, but the excessive consumption of beer part.)

The last few years, I've started really feeling my age. Yeah, I'm only 35 and probably take better care of myself now than 10 years ago. But that's because I have to. If I don't take care of myself now, things start hurting or falling apart or accumulating fat. I can't just shake it off like I used to.

So, here is my Murtaugh List. Chime in with your own below.

1. Order the country-fried steak.
2. Wear a bikini.
3. Jump off the diving board.
4. Shop in the Juniors department.
5. Go bra-less.
6. Sunbathe with baby oil instead of SPF 30.
7. Ride questionably-maintained carnival rides.

Now you: What kind of sh*t are you getting too old for?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tattoos and Memories and Dead Skin on Trial...

For what it's worth, it was worth all the while.

Sorry, but I do love some Green Day.

I am now the proud owner of a tattoo. A real one. Seriously.

Surprised? Yeah, me too. I mean, I've been threatening to get one since last summer to celebrate five years of remission. But I had to wait until swimming pool season was over, and then people in the family got sick, and we had some bad weather, and it got shelved. And then it happened so fast I still look down and go, "Whaaaa?"

I am on spring break. Oh, glorious time! Friday was my first day of break and since I can't ever really relax unless I schedule relaxation time, I went to get a pedicure Friday morning. And while my toes looked purdy and my heels were scale-free, I thought it would be a good time to go visit the tattoo parlor I had first talked to about my perspective tat back in the fall.

I figured I would meet with the guy, show him what I wanted, and come back some time next week. I also figured I might chicken out, or something might come up like it's done half a dozen time before. I didn't expect to walk out of the parlor with an appointment for 6 o'clock that very evening.

Mom had already said she wanted Ains to spend the night, so I had no excuses. I asked a friend to go with me when Jason declined the invite to be my plus one, and by 7pm I had a purple ribbon on the top of my foot.

Did it hurt? Not as much as I thought it would. People say tattoos hurt, and the foot is the worst, but I don't even think I flinched. Once the artist actually started with the needles, it only took about 20 minutes. And after all I've been through, I am of the mindset that I can handle anything for 20 minutes.

It's amazing, really, that in 20 minutes and for 60 bucks you can get something loud and permanent done to your body.

It throbbed for about an hour after, but my friend and I met our spouses at a local bar and I had a great draft beer with 10% alcohol, so I forgot the pain pretty quickly. If you ever get a tattoo, may I recommend a glass of Three Philosophers as your follow-up? It's better than Vicodin.

It's going to take several weeks to heal, and while it heals I have to baby it (I went for a run Saturday morning and it oozed a tiny little bit of ink, so I learned the hard way that new tattoos are very fragile things.) I invested in some "dressy" Crocs to wear when I go back to work next week. It's already quite beautiful, and I've heard when it's healed it will be even more even and more subtly shaded. So long as I don't sweat off any more ink.

I will post a picture soon, but here's the description so you can form a mental image: it's on my right foot, somewhere between the top and the side. It's an awareness ribbon in a light purple color, since purple is the color for cancer survivors. The artist shaded it with a little darker purple in the shadows to add some depth to the image. It's fairly girly and elegant, as far as tattoos go.

Are any of you sporting any tattoos or other body art I don't know about? Would you ever get a tattoo? And do you think I'm a little trashy now?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

That's Just Futz, Man

The Miranda to Ainsley's Carrie, her dear BFF, sent home a little homemade invitation to her birthday party. It was sooo cute; Miranda drew a little girl in a purple dress and wrote above it:

Please come to my B party I live close to Nuck N Futz.

It was one of those things where I looked at it multiple times before the absurdity hit me.

I know exactly where the Nuck N Futz is. Believe it or not, it's a bar and grill here in the area that's actually pretty family-friendly, in spite of the name. In the past when I've driven by it, its "clever" name has barely registered. Cute, I think. I can't wait until Ainsley puts two and two together and gets THAT joke.

The other night at bedtime, Ainsley asked her dad,

"Daddy, can I go to Miranda's birthday party? Her house is by the Nuck N Futz."

Jason turned around to look at me in that special silent way of parents: Did she just say what I think she said? Jason doesn't drive the same rural routes I sometimes do to run errands in the southern part of our county, and this is an establishment he previously hadn't heard of.

I showed him the invitation to let him know our kid wasn't doing some sort of pig-Latin cursing (or pig-Jesus-language cursing, if you're Ainsley). Like me, even knowing that local kids actually join their parents sometimes in eating at a grill called Nuck N Futz doesn't make it any more comfortable to hear a six-year-old say it out loud.

I'm no prude, and I don't have the cleanest mouth. But I don't know that I want "Nuck N Futz" in my kid's vocabulary yet, you know?

It's the hypocrisy that gets me, too. My city is fairly conservative, but out in the country, around where I work and Ainsley goes to school, it's ultra conservative. These are people who preach "family values" and talk about declining morality and go about challenging books in high school libraries that feature mild sexual content and/or adult lanuage. They go to church every Sunday and are suspicious of people that don't. And yet a local family-ish restaurant calls itself Nuck N Futz and erects (har) a big, lighted sign and hails as a local landmark. I live in that subdivision across from the Nuck N Futz. No biggie.

I have no problem with suggestive bar names in and of themselves. Is Nuck N Futz really any less subtle a name than Hooters? I do however, have a problem, with double standards. If I had a library book here called Nuck N Futz, I bet it would get challenged. My principal would probably question that choice. But it's okay if it's a local entreprenurial enterprise as long as the wings are good (and I hear they are.)

Does your neighborhood have any restaurants or bars with colorful names? Would you be completely cool with your six-year-old saying it out loud and often?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Soothing, Gentle Sounds of a Spring Day...Or Not

Oh, I love where I live.

I am proud to be a northern Kentuckian like, 90% of the time. But occasionally something rubs me the wrong way, and I turn to Jason and say, "Isn't there somewhere else we can go where we won't be surrounded by idiots?"

The answer to that is, "Probably not." Idiots are everywhere, in big cities, in small towns, in richy neighborhoods, in poor neighborhoods. Sometimes I want to call up all my non-idiot friends and form some sort of commune. A moron-free zone. A group of local friends used to talk about buying a few acres and setting up our own compound, so to speak, and be each other's neighbors. Even then, one of us would probably become the neighborhood idiot, and I have just enough white trash in my blood that it might be me, and then someone will go get snarky in a blog about me, and I just can't have that.

Several years ago, I came across a blog someone had written about what he called "The Banging Class." I wish I could find it now. The blogger described the people of his neighborhood as such, and that term has stuck for Jason and I. Basically, the bangers are people who have enough money to buy gadgets and gizmos and grown-up toys, but not enough class to know to use them politely.

In case you don't live among The Banging Class, here's what a spring day in the life of such a neighborhood looks like.

Imagine it's that first glorious Saturday after a cold winter when you can open all your windows and let some fresh air in. If you're an early riser, you might have a solid 15 minutes of peaceful coffee-sipping and listening to the birds chirping in the trees before the other bangers get going. Enjoy that.

Before long, the guy down the street who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac, the one who owns one motorcycle that works and three or four that don't, starts working on one of the broken ones. He proceeds to rev the engine for the next hour. And then, just to make sure it's not purring like a kitten, he'll ride it up and down the street (without a helmet, natch) 10 or 12 times. Either he'll put it away at that point or not; it just depends on whether or not you're trying to listen to something on TV.

Inspired by the guy down the street, your neighbor on the right gets out his four-wheeler and/or dirt bike and gets warmed up by doing laps around his yard. Eventually, he'll move his act into the street, where you'll be able to hear him as he makes a loop from one end of your street to the other. If you have a small child, he'll bring out his air compressor and power sprayer to clean his bike and four-wheeler off just around the time you want to get your kid down for a nap.

Later in the afternoon, the mom across the street, who also has her windows open to enjoy the beautiful weather, will start screaming at her kids. If you're nosy, you're in luck because you'll be able to hear every word she's saying and know just what heinous things her kids do that your kids haven't learned about yet. The tirade could last just 5 minutes, or could go on an hour if her kids don't correct their behavior immediately or start crying. Of course if she does make them cry, you'll hear that, too. That's the price you pay for having ears.

If you are a terribly strict parent as far as bedtime goes, in other words, if you like your young kids tucked in by 10 pm or so, you'll have some explaining to do. When you're a "Sally Stickler" and put your 6-year-old to bed at 9:30 on a Saturday night in March, you're gonna have to explain why she can still hear the joyful squeals of the 4-year-old across the street who is still out playing, in the dark, barefoot, while her dad tries your neighbor's dirt bike on for size. At this point you need to shut most of the windows anyway because the warm sunlight has long gone, but you'll still be able to hear the bikes and the squeals and the air compressors and the power sprayers because it is, after all, a Saturday night.

Sound like fun? That was pretty much last Saturday for us. And many Saturdays and Sundays before that. And many more to come, I am sure.

I would complain, but I fear we're already the "Todd and Margo" of our neighborhood (you know, the snooty couple from Christmas Vacation) and it's so much easier to just seethe and run the air conditioner if we absolutely must have peace and quiet.

Do you live among The Banging Class? Are you (gasp!) a banger yourself? And if this doesn't sound like your street...are there any houses for sale close by?

The International Language of Jesus

Ainsley likes to sing to me while she's in the tub. Like many of us, she likes the sound of her own voice when it's resonating around the close walls of the bathroom. Really, I think my best vocals take place in the loo. If only I could have auditioned for Centre Singers there, I might have made it in my freshman year.

Last night she told me about the song her music class has been working on.

"Mommy, we're doing a song in French! I thought it would be hard, but it's really easy."

She proceeded to sing it to me, and I bet you know it. It's a little ditty that goes like this:

Frere Jacques,
Frere Jacques,
Dormez vous?
Dormez vous?
Something, something, something,
Something, something, something,
Din don din,
Din don din.

My French is pretty dim.

I praised her sweet little performance. She then told me about another song she's doing in choir.

"We're doing a song that's not in French, but it's not in English, either. It's in the Jesus Language."

"The Jesus Language?"

"Yeah, it's that language he understands that we talk to him in during mass. I forget what it's called."


"Yeah! That's it. Latin. The Jesus Language."

Spoken like a true Catholic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So Much Fun You'll Split Your Pants

Ever had one of those days at work? Where nothing goes right? Where you find yourself driving back home to change after you've been there less than an hour because you split your pants clean open?

Just me? Really?

I will preface this by saying that today's wardrobe malfunction had nothing to do with gaining weight. In fact, I've lost weight. I was out sick yesterday with what my doctor referred to as "coarse breath sounds in the right lung" and had to have a chest x-ray which may end up showing "walking" pneumonia. And I just thought allergy season had come early! Oh, silly me.

Even with my breathing problems and fever yesterday (how can I detect that Ainsley has a fever from a room away but have no idea when I've drifted above simmer?) I decided that this last week before spring break must be worked and I dragged myself in today to work unless the doctor's office calls with bad news about the x-ray. I don't feel healthy, but I've actually come to work feeling worse, so I figured it would work out.

I work a job where I am the only person who does what I do in the whole building. So when I'm out for a day, I always have a couple of hours of pure chaos putting out fires that popped up while I was gone. It's stressful enough to make me drag my carcass in even though I may have, you know, pneumonia. This morning the last fire I tackled from yesterday's absence was the small matter of a soda can (that wasn't even mine!) getting too cold and exploding in the library office's mini-fridge over the weekend. Nothing like days-old syrup to welcome you back.

As I crouched down scrubbing off the worst of the mess, I felt something cold on my upper thigh. Since much of the cleanup involved icy flakes of Coke, I figured I got a splot on my pants and bummer though that was, I just kept going, wandering out of the office to get clean paper towels and rinse the mess out in our sink.

When I got a strange look from one of my student aides, I finally looked down and realized I had split my time-worn Gap khakis from midway down the zipper seam to mid thigh.

Let's just say I am glad I didn't put the sexy panties on today. And also glad I wore a jacket this morning that helped to camouflage the rip on my way out the door.

When you work in a building with 1600 teenagers, you curse the days that you spill coffee on yourself or eat a spinach salad for lunch that leaves green stuff in your teeth.

But most cursed are the days you split your pants.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Of THOSE Parents

Ainsley's school now has an electronic gradebook program (welcome to the 21st century at last, folks!) wherein parents can log on and periodically check their child's grades.

Doing this for a 1st grader? Ridiculous. Not having it.

And yet.

On the surface, if I don't know how my 1st grader is doing based on the papers that come home every day, I'm clearly not doing my job. It's easy now to know how she's doing; every day she comes home with finished worksheets and little tests and quizzes and I am generally smart enough to keep track in my head roughly where her grades are going to fall. Add to that the fact that when she's being a tool in class her teacher simply writes, "Ainsley was a tool today and didn't finish all her work" (not really, but that's not far off the mark of these notes) and no report card or progress report the kid ever gets is a shocker.

Well, until the one we got yesterday.

It started off a shocker in a good way. A very good way. I knew from her teacher that she was doing well, but I had guessed from her math papers that she might fall a little from the A- she got in math last quarter, and I had made peace with that. She takes after me in that numbers sometimes frustrate her. But my kid got straight A's in her core subjects and all E's (for excellent) in the non-graded areas like religion, science, and social studies.

Oh, joy! She started this quarter by testing both my and her teacher's patience, so I was thrilled that she had improved and far surpassed my expectations for non-toolery. I gave her a big hug, told her I was super-proud, and promised to reward her for her hard work. It was a good day to be a mom.

Then at dinner Jason noticed something I didn't.

At the very bottom of the report card are the slots for scores for the weekly "specials", including P.E., fine arts, and computer.

Somehow, I had overlooked the two N's (for Needs Improvement) in fine arts and computers. I think I saw the N's and thought "Not graded" or "Not applicable" or something. But Jason actually took the three milliseconds it takes to look over at the grading scale and realize something was amiss.

What the?

She got S's for Satisfactory in those subjects before, and she has the same teacher for both, and this teacher also does the drama club so I see her every Tuesday when I pick Ainsley up. How did I not learn my kid Needs Improvement before the report card came out?

Ainsley didn't even know why she got those grades. Usually, she's pretty up front about what she is or isn't doing in class. During her two week "let's try jumping ahead a decade and being a defiant 16-year-old instead of an innocent 1st-grader" stint in January, one of our after-school conversations went something like this:

"Ainsley, what did you get a ticket for at school today?"

"For not doing my work and for looking out the window."

"Why didn't you do your work?"

"I don't know."

"Really? Think about it."

"Um...I just didn't feel like it."

Well, there you go.

The N's seem to have her puzzled, so they have me puzzled, too. Oh, I can see why she would have gotten them. She loves to do art work, but she's a perfectionist who takes about 6 hours to color one picture. She loves to play on the computer, but she gets frustrated and gives up easily. I can see how, over the course of a nine-week quarter, this could add up to not getting a lot done.

What I can't see is how I didn't know this was coming in time to correct it.

Every time I feel myself starting to become one of THOSE parents that killed my spirit as a teacher, one of those who questions every lesson, every quiz question, every homework grade, and the very competence of the teacher, I think of two things:

1. By just listening to my kid complain, am I getting the full, unbiased story? (Heck, no. Kids are all about self-preservation.)

2. How would I have handled this situation as a teacher, and is this teacher just doing the same things I would have done?

So far, those things have kept me from sending a lot of passive-agressive emails and daily phone calls. I was (and still am, technically) a teacher. I am on their side until I have solid reason not to be.

Which is why I hate myself a little that I am angry over the N's.

It's not going to keep her from getting into the college of her choice, for crying out loud. And I have no doubt that she earned it. But what irks me to the core is that I didn't know. That I had to find out that my kid Needs Improvement in two areas with a report card when a note home a month ago would have had the same, but earlier, effect: letting me know my kid could do better.

Ains has been told to get her act together and to stop whatever she's doing that's bad and start doing whatever she needs to do to be better in those specials. I worked for about 30 minutes to type a polite, nonconfrontational email just asking the teacher what, exactly, Ainsley needs to improve on (I backspaced A LOT to get rid of snark.) And I actually opened the small envelope that came home last week with our password to access the online gradebook program so I can monitor my 6-year-old's grades.

Or not.

I don't know if this convinces me that I want to start that while she still has just one main teacher and dutifully brings her completed papers home every day. The day will come, I am sure. Most teachers here at the high-school level see parents' ability to view grades online as the best way to communicate student performance to parents.

Except for the evil that can be awakened when THOSE parents have that ability.

Those of you with kids: will you be a daily grade checker? And will you be one of THOSE parents?

Why I'll Never Live In Brazil Or Work At Whole Foods

Did you guys see this?


I really have no words for it. Everything comes out as a scream.

I know a certain couple who read the blog and live in the same state as this market, and one of them is at least as big an arachnophobe as I, and I have to wonder...how are you holding up, Mrs. Rob K.?

Wanted: The Perfect Picture

I have no face on my Facebook.

Yeah, I caved. But with Ainsley being sick and me being tired, I haven't done much on there yet. Most of my friends have lovely pictures of themselves from past and present to let us all see how they have changed, for better or worse (mostly better from what I've seen; y'all are still hot.)

The last couple of nights, I've spent a little time trying to find a recent picture of me that I feel good enough about to put as my profile pic. In doing this, I've learned some things:

1. Once I had a kid, I stopped being the one in front of the family camera and started being the one constantly behind it, so there are very few pictures of me from the last 6 years; and

2. I am sooooo not as cute as I used to be.

Dear friend, college roomie, and blog commenter Karen has posted some pictures of me from our college years. Two of them I saw for the first time on her pages. One is a picture of me in a Reds cap from a time in my life where I remember worrying obsessively over my troubled complexion, and the other is a picture of me with obvious graduation-cap-head and her at our college graduation. For both I thought,

"Damn. I thought I was a troll back then, but I had it going on."

And in one recent pic I found, a profile picture of me at Christmas opening a gift, I thought,

"Damn. I thought I really had it going on that day, but I was a troll."

What happened?

It doesn't help that Karen's profile pick is smokin' (the girl works a red dress, let me tell you) and I simply have nothing from the last half-decade that even comes close. The closest is probably one of the shots a teacher here got of me the day I dressed as Sarah Palin for Halloween, and the only reason I looked attractive there was my wig was really pretty and I was wearing approximately five pounds of makeup.

Maybe it was hitting the kinda big 3-5, or maybe it's the winter blahs, but I've had a bad case of the uglies. The tooth bonding my mom pushed me to get my senior year in high school to fix the gap and a chip in my front teeth is getting worn and one front tooth looks a little crooked now. The "fine lines" in my forehead have deepened into something like "fine canyons." A perpetual lack a of sleep has created purple half-circles under my eyes that no concealer even begins to, well, conceal. That couple of extra pounds that even my regular workouts are not knocking down because I still like Snickers too much has made my face fuller and less oval. More often than not I am photgraphed in my librarian glasses. How am I supposed to find a cute picture of me to put on my Facebook profile that will make all those people who haven't seen me in a decade or more say, "Oh, she hasn't changed a bit!"

Two words: Photo and Shop. I mean, if I can't afford plastic surgery for reals, I can at least surgically alter my face and body through the magic of computer software, right?

No, I would never do that. Mostly because I suck at Photoshop.

Actually, I have found a simple photo of me, taken for use in a "Thank You" powerpoint our administration does for us every so often, that best captures what I look like now. It makes me look no better nor no worse than I look in real day-to-day life, so as little as it thrills me that photo will probably make its way onto Facebook soon. Sigh.

And, 20 years from now, when I am even more wrinkled and snaggle-toothed, I will probably look at that picture and say,

"Damn. I was cute back then. What happened?"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Beast

The Beast has claimed two young lives in our area this week.

Two girls from my old high school committed suicide. The deaths are not related and aren't a part of any pact or anything; they're simply independent tragedies that have rocked a small high school and a small community. I did not know the first girl, though she was a freshman here last year and her picture looks familiar. I do know the second girl's family, and have been trying for two days now to wrap my head around their loss.

Bad news travels like wild fire, and people have been talking about it. A teacher here, who also knows the second girl's family, came down to talk to me the day she heard.

"How could things have gotten so bad for her that that was the only way out? They are such a good family..."

This was said with the implied undertone: How could a kid from a good family want to commit suicide? Doesn't that just happen to "troubled" kids?

And the unfortunate answer to that, the one none of us wants to hear, is It can happen to any of us.

"Depression is a beast," I said to the other teacher. She shrugged her shoulders and wandered back to her classroom, probably still not understanding it. Because if you haven't lived it or seen it, it's easy to pretend The Beast isn't that bad, isn't that big, isn't that threatening.

Oh, but he is.

I know him well. Mental illness runs in my family. One of my aunts is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, a cousin is bipolar, and yet another aunt clearly has OCD but has never sought treatment for it (she thinks it's completely normal that she sometimes wakes up at 3am, worries about whether or not she's hung up her coat, and consequently spends the next 3 hours cleaning out every closet in the house just because it's on her mind and "getting on her nerves."). Dad used to kid that all of the "crazy" people were on mom's side, but OCD rears its head on my dad's side of the family, too; years ago, his mom revealed that the bottle of rubbing alcohol she kept in her purse and carried wherever she went, which my mom had been wondering about for years, was used to rub down every toilet she ever sat on both before and after she used it, both out in public and (to my mom's dismay) in her own kids' homes.

Swimming in that gene pool, I guess it was pretty unavoidable that I would eventually find myself floudering in the deep end. I was always an emotional kid and as young as my daughter's current age would find myself feeling inexplicably sad and easy to cry for long periods of time, most often in the winter. In college, after trying too hard for too long to be academically perfect and excel in areas I wasn't naturally talented in, I finally broke. At the end of a sophomore year where I found myself sleeping too much, eating too little, avoiding some of my friends, and crying alone in the bathroom on multiple occasions, I realized I needed help. One night, after taking a long midnight walk in the cold March rain, I had a scary thought: I had become numb. Not just physically (I barely felt the rain or the chill even without my coat) but emotionally. I didn't want to kill myself; I wasn't brave enough. But I didn't want to live anymore, either. I went to bed not wanting to wake up in the morning. The very next day, I sought help.

Thank God for Paxil and for the six free hours of Comp Care we got every year.

There's a difference between no longer wanting to live and actively pursuing a way to die. But it's a fairly thin line. If I hadn't had the support of a family who themselves had seen it and been through it, if I hadn't had a moment of clarity where I realized I needed help and that things could get better, I might have done what those two teenagers did.

I was in pain, and would eventually have done anything to make the heaviness, the sadness, and the self-loathing to go away.

My mom, herself a periodic rider on the antidepressant train, gets frustrated with some of her friends, who have actually said things like, "You can choose to be happy," and "You just need to get out of the house more." She was one of many outraged women when Tom Cruise took his jab at post-partum depression and made the statement that Brooke Shields could have felt better if she had eaten healthier and exercised more. We are firm believers, having tried therapy by itself and with modern medication, that it's a chemical imbalance that has a genetic root. Anybody who argues differently has probably never felt the way we have at our lowest and witnessed the change that occurs when our bodies' seratonin fires the way it's supposed to.

Anybody who argues against psychology and depression medication probably never lost a child to suicide.

Since that initial breakdown and breakthrough, I've only had a couple of times when I've felt The Beast near again. After Ainsley was born, when my hormones were out of control and my body was fighting a foreign enemy I didn't yet know about, I had a few dark, dark weeks that had me wondering if it was worth it to go on. Thankfully, I knew my own warning signs and pulled over before a derailment. I always know, too, when my thyroid has stepped further down and my Synthroid needs to be adjusted; things get a little dark around the edges.

I am 35, and have life-long experience with it now. I know the warning signs.

Many teenagers don't.

When The Beast breathes down their necks, and the pain of living becomes too great, too many of them will choose to end their pain in a way that ends everything else, too. Their families and friends are left to question, Why? and What if? Lives full of potential are snuffed out in the only "cure" the kid sees: death, in its unfaltering permanence.

The Beast has no favorites; he haunts old and young, rich and poor, religious and atheist, from "good" families and "bad." He could come after any of us, or our children. The only advantage we have is that sometimes The Beast is noisy and heavy-pawed and we can hear him coming. We just need to listen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top of the Mornin' To Ye

Give me back me lucky charms!

No, really, I am snacking on some Lucky Charms right now and one of my students just tried to steal one. Since I have newly discovered that I am approximately as Irish as our biracial President I don't know how else to celebrate today. I am wearing my favorite green tee, I am planning on making Irish stout beef stew for dinner (it's a favorite in our house even when it's not March 17; try it, you won't be disappointed), and I will probably open up a Smithwick's and listen to Gaelic Storm during the eating of said stew. But what else is there?

In the past, I've only done the above things because I'm a Celtic wannabe and because my husband does have a few drops of Irish blood. I've always wished there was a Poor White Trash Day for people like me who are mutts from the southeastern mountains. Now that one I would really know how to celebrate in an authentic fashion. I could obtain some moonshine, wear a house dress and put my hair up with sponge curlers, chain-smoke, fry up some freshly kilt rabbit (I wish I were kidding when I say that my mom has experience with this and could help me), and listen to Loretta Lynn records. We could call it St. Cletus's Day in honor of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel from The Simpsons.

Kidding! (Not really.)

Now that I know a couple of twigs in the Cranky family tree fork back to an Irish branch, I feel like I need to do something different this year.

Many of you claim stronger ties back to the emerald isle. How do y'all celebrate St. Patrick's Day? And if I had a St. Cletus's Day party, would you come and bring some Moon Pies?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wake Me Up When March Madness Ends

It's a sad day for many of us in the bluegrass state.

UK did not get a spot in the field of 65. This was not unexpected. But given that Louisville is in, and Western Kentucky, and even Morehead State, it stings. Add to that the insult to injury that Tubby Smith's team is in two years after he quit us, and throw in a dash of sour grapes that this look to be Louisville's year to take it all, and it just sucks right now to be a UK basketball fan. No offense to my friends who happen to be Cardinals fans, but when Greg Gumbel announced your team as the number one team in the tournament last night, it was like, "Salt, meet wound." If you guys have to be the favorite, the only way we Cats fans can cope is to hope we could be the ones to burst your bubble. Just sayin'.

It's enough to make me not even care about the bracket, not want to put a fiver into my work pool, not even want to put a buck into Jason's family's annual "pick a team out of a hat" gamble. I usually love March with all its madness, but this year I just feel like a pouty kid: I want to pack up my toys and go home. That'll show you.

To the UK fans that read this: How are you coping?

To the fans of other teams: Who are you routing for? Make a case for your team being the last one standing on the bracket I may or may not even fill out.

To those of you who could not care less about college basketball: What does one do in March when one doesn't care about the tournament? This is all so new and different.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Am Woman, Hear Me Weep

To the men who read the blog: I am going to go on a feminist rant. Look away.

I once heard a wise woman say, "A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done."

This wise woman is none other than my mother-in-law, who raised seven kids and worked at times multiple jobs outside the home, so she knows of what she speaks.

As a child of the 80s, I was told that I could be a Superwoman. I could have it all--a career, children, a husband, a nice home. I was also led to believe I could do it all, and do it well--bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and serve it as part of a gourmet meal, rear multiple children, win kudos at work, and keep a house so spotless my family could eat the aforementioned bacon off of the kitchen floor if they wanted to.

But here I am, mid-30s, raising an only child, working a job that gives me a Christmas break and a spring break and something like 8 weeks off in the summer, and I still feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. What gives?

Most of the time I do fine. I have come up with a formula of doing certain household and childcare tasks on certain days and it mostly it works.

And yet.

Every so often my ordinary routine gets wrenched and I find myself overwhelmed by the needs of work and family. It doesn't take much to throw me off; if someone or some cat under my care gets sick, or if a deadline is coming up at work, or if Ainsley has a special event at school, it all goes to hell. The other moms who read this know what I mean--sometimes just an hour a week that you have to spend doing something you don't ordinarily have to do can cause you to get behind. It baffles me that I can take the cat to the vet on a Monday after school and have laundry piled up by Wednesday. It's like the adage about a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane half a world away. One small thing can happen in any given week and I will find myself the following Sunday at 10pm, exhausted and surrounded by baskets of laundry, dusty furniture, and the scent of delivered pizza and wonder, "What the hell just happened?"

Maybe I am just easily overwhelmed. I like to know how my week is going to look and am easily thrown by the unexpected. But I suspect I am not alone.

This week has been one of those weeks. My mom is out-of-town and I have been going to her house every day to feed and water and play with the cat. Alarmed by bloody paw prints on the linoleum, I learned dear Scout has re-opened a wound in her paw, which I just took her to the vet for 2 weeks ago. So that was another trip to the vet. Then Ainsley got sick with a fever and face rash and had to miss two days of school. Then there have been multiple phone calls and emails about help needed with her school's big fundraiser this weekend and about the school choir needing to perform at mass Saturday. And I am approaching the deadline for spending all my budget here at school. I guess you could say I am spreading myself thin.

That phrase is cliche, but it really tells the story of being a working mom. I am spreading myself too thin. We all do it; we have to. The good thing about spreading yourself thin is everything gets covered. The bad thing is, nothing gets covered in any depth.

I am one of the lucky ones; Jason does help. He took a day off to be with Ainsley this week so that I only had to miss one day of work. He helps with laundry. But Jason isn't who the Spring Spectacular committee calls when they need parents to bring in appetizers. He's not the one who intercepts the notes home about today's out-of-uniform-day at Ainsley's school and how it costs $2 to participate and how the choir needs to practice an extra time to perform at a surprise performance on Saturday. He works until past the time that doctor's and dentist's and vet's offices close and past the time that Ainsley needs to be at choir practice and drama rehearsals and swim lessons. He gets home too late to cook dinner, and I usually enjoy cooking, so how and what we eat is up to me. Cleanliness and order in the house are important to me, and I firmly believe (sorry, guys) that there is a difference between man-clean and woman-clean. So when I'm not being a chauffeur, or a school volunteer, or a homework helper, or an amateur nurse, or a cook, I'm a maid.

In other words: despite having feminist leanings, despite having a husband who tries his best to help out, I am still working two jobs. I am a librarian by day, and a full-time mom and housewife in afternoon and night.

And right now, for some reason...I am hating it more than usual.

What keeps me up at night sometimes is thinking about how overwhelmed I often feel and I just have one kid. I really don't know how those of you with more than one handle it. And the Octomom? Forget about it.
We can't do it all. The whole Superwoman thing from the 80s is a myth. Something ends up being let go. And that something is usually us.

It occurred to me as I was scheduling Scout's vet appointment that my shoulder is really bothering me. It has been, off and on, since I had my bad fall in December. I think I have either re-injured it or there was more wrong with it than the doctor realized from the beginning. I have moments where I think, "I really need to go back and have it checked out." I also have a cracked tooth that I need to schedule a dentist appointment for. Just when I think I have the time to take care of these things, the kid spikes a fever, or the cat's paw starts bleeding.

I'm not trying to be a martyr. In the heat of the moment, I recognize that a sick kid or a bloody cat is more important than my aching shoulder or cracked tooth (it has been cracked for at least two years, and I suppose it could be cracked for two more.) In the moment I don't grudge it at all. But I don't think it makes me a bad person if I wish that sometimes I could be selfish.

And that's why I am writing. Not to whine (well, maybe to whine) but to reach out to the other wonderful women who read this blog.

I firmly believe that bottling things up just makes it worse. After a good rant on the blog, I always feel so much better (though I would probably feel even better if I used that time to, say, get my tooth or shoulder fixed.) So I offer to you ladies, particularly you working moms, the comment section to rant. Talk about the household chore you hate the most. Or the things you neglect with yourself to do for your family. Or just how badly your bad weeks suck. Or how you cope with the stress. Illustrate the theme above, stated so well by my mother-in-law:

A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Circle of Friends

"Ainsley, you're a good friend."

This from the mother of one of Ainsley's posse, said after school choir practice when we were both picking up our girls. As she told Ainsley this, her daugher and Ainsley's best friend (let's call her Miranda) had snuck around the open car door to hug Ainsley in her booster seat.

Last week "Miranda" was very sick and missed almost the whole week of school. Apparently while she was gone, Ainsley and the two other girls in their 4-girl circle of friends (let's call them "Charlotte" and "Samantha," for all you SATC fans out there) made get-well cards during recess and slipped them into Miranda's cubby for her to find when she came back.


Miranda's mommy, who volunteers in the classroom, was telling me how tight the girls are and how loyal they are to each other.

The loyal part I have absolutely seen in action. This fall, Ainsley told me she got half her class mad at her because a girl said something mean about "Charlotte" and Ainsley yelled at her during recess and made her cry, which in turn made Ainsley feel like a bully and start crying herself. Oh, the drama.

"It's like they're...they're..." fumbled Miranda's mom.

"Soul sisters?"

"Yeah! Soul sisters. That's exactly what they are."

See, I know what term to use, because I know all about soul sisters myself.

My sister-by-blood is a decade my senior. I love her, but our relationship is more like a mother-daughter relationship than a sister one. Not to say our moms can't be our best friends as we get older, but because my sister and I are really from two different generations and because she sometimes sternly helped to raise me, I don't feel like she gets me.

But my soul sisters...now, they get me. And you know who you are. You mostly make up the small but loyal comment section on this blog.

I am thrilled that Ains has her little posse. Miranda's mom was asking if we were planning on keeping our fourth of the equation at the school for the next few years because with the bad economic times, several in the 1st grade class are not planning to return.

And for now, we are. For a multitude of "right" reasons and one possibly wrong one: it's where her friends are.

Maybe it's a little premature to compare Ainsley's crew to the Sex and the City foursome. Though I can totally see Ainsley as Carrie in 25 years, living in a shabby-chic New York apartment, looking for love. Heck, she's already a prolific writer who loves shoes and cute boys, not necessarily in that order. But when you find a group of friends who love and stick up for you, it doesn't matter whether you're 6 or 36. Those are your soul sisters.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crazy Lady

Every American neighborhood has one: the resident crazy lady. Like Miss Gulch to Dorothy, these frequently "mean" and often misunderstood ladies are cast as the neighborhood villains. Lose a ball in the crazy lady's yard? Best to let it lie and beg Mom or Dad for a new one--the crazy lady might get you. Go up to the crazy lady's house on Halloween? Only on a dare, and it's best to throw away any candy she might give you.

This weekend, I realized I just might hold the crazy lady title on our street.

A couple of years ago, I was driving down our street on a drizzly spring day when one of the resident kids, horsing around, pushed another girl out into the street and almost in front of my car. My inner voice of reason said, "Let it go. You honked your horn; let that be enough." But my inner crazy person stopped the car right in the middle of the street, put it in park, and confronted the kids.

The monologue that followed was a blur even at the time and has now mostly faded from my memory. In my anger and fright that I could have hit a kid by no fault of my own, I had a sort of foaming-at-the-mouth out-of-body experience. Ainsley was 3 or 4 at the time, so I had a lot of the standard Mom stuff in my arsenal: You kids ought to be ashamed of yourselves, Do you think that's funny?, and the classic, How would you feel if someone did that to you? But because adrenaline was in charge at that point and all self-censoring was thrown out the window, something or other about blood and guts on my car and how guilty the pusher would have felt seeing that and knowing she sent her friend to heaven and how death is permanent made their way into the conversation. Probably not territory I should have covered with children not my own, but to this day I justify my actions: trying to get your playmate hit by a car is just not socially acceptable behavior.

I waited for the doorbell to ring with some angry parent cussing me out for chewing out her kid, but that never happened. Instead, the kids in question, who live too far up the street and are too old to want to play with Ainsley and her little crew, give me a wide berth. If they're going door-to-door selling things, I notice they skip our house. On Halloween, they only come up the drive when one of their parents says, "There's someone at that house. You can go up there." When I drive down the street, they make a big show of getting way out of the path of the car. The little girl who was pushed sometimes waves at me when her "friend" the pusher isn't outside; I like to pretend it's gratitude.

Saturday was a gorgeous day here in the Cincy metro so I went for a run. It's the first time I've run outside in a while, so by the time I ran my route and turned back onto my street I was pretty tired; my legs were wobbly and threatening to give out on me. I came across a yard where the car-pushing kids were playing with a boy I didn't recognize. This not-from-the-neighborhood boy was standing at the edge of the sidewalk as I approached, me trying to sprint the last leg. Just as I got close to him, he made eye contact with me, stuck his leg out into the sidewalk as though he were trying to trip me, and withdrew it with a smirk at the last minute. As tired as I was, I stutter-stepped a little anyway and almost lost my balance.

Again, the rational side of me whispered, "Let it go. You don't even know who that kid is. He was probably just kidding around."

The lactic-acid-filled less-rational side of me punched the rational one in the face and said, "Oh, no, you didn't."

In plain sight of the same kids who saw my wrath two years ago, I unleashed again.

"I think you should apologize for that. That was very rude. Do you want me to tell your mom?"


"Do you know you could have made me fall? Do you think it would have been funny if I had fallen and broken a bone?"


"Clearly I am not going to get an apology. Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I didn't do anything."

Oh, hell no.

I ran home, my runner's euphoria completely gone. I stood out in the yard for several minutes, cooling down physically and mentally, eyeing the little group I could just see at the top of the hill up the street.

A few minutes later, after I related the story to Jason and Ainsley, I saw the group standing on the sidewalk across the street from out house. We had all the windows open and I stood in front of our storm door, watching them whisper and point. I thought for sure we were going to get egged.

The drama that unfolded next was pretty fun to watch. The little girl who got pushed crossed the street, started up the driveway, stopped, and went back across. Then her older brother nudged her and she started up the driveway again, this time making it all the way to our walkway before seeing me and heading back. Third time, she made it to the door.

"Um, ma'am, that boy says he's sorry he tried to trip you."

Before I could even say, "Thank you, but I think he should have told me himself," she took off back to her friends, not to be seen again the rest of the afternoon.

It hit me...the nudging by her brother...the three attempts to actually come up to my door...the running home afterward...

I am the crazy lady.

Oh, no.

The crazy lady in my own neighborhood when I was a kid lived in a house whose yard was adjacent to my elementary school's playground and used to come outside with her bra over top of her house dress. I remember a group of us going up to her at her fence once, on a dare of course, to ask her about this fashion choice and hearing instead about the milkweeds that grew on the fence and how they could poison children. This wasn't said so much to warn us as to threaten us; she was rather gleeful as she said it. I remember one Halloween she and her husband sat on their front porch with candy, but no one went up to the house. Now that I am older I wonder if her craziness wasn't just an act to keep the elementary school kids off her property...nah, she was just plain-out nuts.

I, however, am not. I am reasonably sure of this. After all, I tend to wear my undergarments in the correct order.

Perhaps it's not such a bad card to carry; those kids will probably leave me alone at least until they're teenagers, and by then hopefully either they or I will have moved out. But I hate to be misunderstood this way; if I didn't give a crap about kids, it wouldn't bother me so badly when they act like disrespectful numbskulls whose actions could hurt themselves or others.

Tell me about your childhood neighborhood crazy ladies below, and break it to me...do I bear any resemblance to your crazy lady?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Take An Hour, Leave An Hour

This morning driving in to work, I saw the sun. This may not be so unusual for you; you may work a "real" job wherein you get the pleasure of arriving on site post-dawn every day. Or you may be one of those people not on the western edge of a time zone. Lucky dog.

I spend most of my work days days rising, washing, dressing, and driving to work under a dark sky. It's wearing, really, to hear the alarm go off while it's still nighttime outside day in and day out. I really feel for Ainsley, since getting up before dawn has been a way of life for her since she was two and started day care. During the heart of winter, I live for just enough snow to get a one-hour delay; on those morning, I feel in sync with the rest of the world as the sky is dark blue instead of black when the buzzer sounds and by time I put my face on I don't need the overhead light.

This week has been great. For the first time since late September, there has been a light in the sky as I get out the door. Spring is coming, daylight lasts longer, and nowhere do I feel that coming shift in mood more than in the mornings.

And just as quickly as my spirits rise...we have to move our clocks forward an hour this Sunday.


I know the logic, that it saves energy and blah blah blah, but can't we please go back to the glory days of Daylight Saving Time coming at the end of March rather than the beginning?

Here in northern Kentucky, where the central time zone line is almost close enough to spit across, the earlier adoption of saving time plunges us back into morning darkness just as those of us in early-riser jobs were begininng to taste the return of dawn into our routines. When it's still possible to get March snow and night-time temperatures can dip into the 30s, the extra hour of light in the evening just doesn't feel like an adequate payoff. From now until Ainsley's last day of school in May, the extra hour of evening light just makes me seem like a bad parent as I send my kid to bed while the sun is still up.

And don't even get me started on losing an hour on Sunday so soon after the February doldrums. My body's batteries, fueled largely by solar power and summer vacation, have not juiced back up from winter's depression. I am not yet ready to pay back that hour we gained in the fall (which came over a long weekend this year; I did not need that hour of sleep nearly as badly then as I do now). I'd be much more up to paying back that loan sometime, perhaps, after spring break.

Enough wining. Do you hate the earlier approach of Daylight Saving Time the last couple of years, or is it barely a blip on your calendar?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

To Facebook, or Not to Facebook; That Is the Question

All the cool kids are doing it.

This isn't just a phrase I tossed at Ainsley to get her to get Troy's autograph after High School Musical. It's something I've been hearing from my husband as various people from our pasts contact him on Facebook and say, "Could you please tell your wife to get with the program and sign up on here?"

I don't know why I've avoided this. I signed up on MySpace fairly readily after my 15-year high-school reunion a couple of years ago. Perhaps, like commenter DRoss writes, I'm afraid I will get sucked down a "rabbit hole." Do I really want to squander what precious free time I have? Perhaps I'm worried, with all the lectures I give my students about being careful what they post for the world to see and how easy they make it for people to steal their personal information and how often people make idiots out of themselves online, that I will put too much out there and endanger my own privacy and livelihood.

Whatever the reasons I have, I'm starting to cave to the pressure. With my beloved Wildcats blowing any chance they may have had of getting a spot in the NCAA tourney with a stunning loss last night, there will be some gaps in my TV-viewing schedule coming up soon. I will have no excuse not to accept the invitations (some of which have come from you, dear readers) to be friendly on Facebook.

Oh, DRoss, are you really going to give up Facebook for Lent just when I am jumping on the party wagon?

But here's where I draw the line: I will never, not no way, not no how, begin Twittering. Or Tweeting. Or whatever it is people do on Twitter that I don't completely understand.

After all the hubbub last week wherein some of our congress-people on both sides of the aisle Twittered (as opposed to "tittered", which last I heard was still acceptable) during Obama's address instead of, you know, being adults and paying attention, I began to wonder with more seriousness what Twitter is all about. Just a few nights later, I got a run-down from "Old Man Stewart":


The best I can tell, Twitter is just another way for people who think they're interesting to share just how interesting they think they are by frequently sending out up to 140 characters answering that eternal questions, "What are you doing?"Just think about that for a minute. I know we all love our friends, and are fascinated by certain writers, celebrities, and politicians, but do you really need up-to-the-minute blurbs on what they're doing, what they're thinking, what they're eating, and how regularly they're going to the bathroom? Is this what we're doing with the power of technology?

After watching the Stewart send-up of Twitter and Twitterers, Jason and I pondered it. He went so far as to lump Twitterers and bloggers in the same heap of self-absorption.

I resemble that remark.

He went to Twitter.com and set up an account to see what all the fuss is about. He subscribed to receive Dave Matthews's tweets, but even with my urging has yet to send out anything of his own. We discussed a few possibilities:

Just discovered some lint in my navel.

Eating dinner with my wife--wow, she's a loud chewer.

Finished clipping my toenails. Don't think they all made it into the garbage can.

Seriously, this isn't too far off the mark of what people tweet. Just look at the samples on the Twitter home page. Really, is this what you want to spend the day reading about your friends?

Maybe one of you can prove me wrong. Maybe this, like email, will soon be considered necessary for life. Do you Twitter? Or do you just Facebook? Or are you above the banalities of both? Discuss, using sweet "tweets" of 140 characters or less. Go!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Erlanger, REPRESENT!

It's a small world, after all.

One night last week, when I was first coming down with this cold, I headed to bed ridiculously early and left Jason watching TV.

The next morning, over Morning Joe, he gave me this teaser:

"Remind me later to show you something local that made it onto Olbermann last night. I recorded it."

Disclaimer: Yes, we occasionally watch Countdown. Don't worry, we recognize that it's entertainment, not news. We get all of our news from The Daily Show. Give us some credit.

I speculated all day about what it could be. Usually, something being recorded for my benefit from MSNBC is some item Jason knows will get my liberal dander up.

I didn't get around to watching it until Saturday afternoon while Ainsley was visiting Mamaw. It ended up bringing tears to my eyes.

Jason had been reading with Keith on in the background and heard our hometown mentioned. It gave him a start. In a good way.

I can't find a link to the piece Olbermann did on it, but here's a link to how the story was reported on our local station:


A 3rd-grader from Erlanger participated in the Flat Stanley Project, wherein she sent a Flat Stanley (y'all remember those books, right?) to a family friend who had moved from Cincinnati to Paris so that Stanley could chronicle his adventures there.

The family friend found himself travelling to New York city this winter and took Stanley along. He took an unexpected detour when his plane crash-landed into the Hudson.

The friend managed to get his briefcase off the plane, with Flat Stanley inside. Olbermann showed a picture taken of the survivors standing on the wing in the cold river, with the guy holding a red seat cushion and his Stanley-saving briefcase.

I found myself getting emotional while watching this story. I guess it was the interconnectedness we have in this big ol' world, how even though it's such a big place you can find connections to home in unlikely places. Or it could be my fear of plane crashes. But I suspect it's mostly that first thing.

Oh, yeah--and Sully is absolutely my hero.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Ains: Cool Kids Edition

I took Ains to my high school's production of High School Musical this weekend. Of course, she loved it. And so did I; possibly the best thing about working with young people is seeing them excel outside of the classroom.

The cast stuck around after the show to sign autographs for the bazillion kids in attendance. After Ains tracked down Gabrielle and Sharpay, I noticed Troy surrounded by a gaggle of girls.

"Don't you want to get Troy's signature?"

"No," she said, getting nervous. "I just want to meet the girls."

I didn't want us to get halfway home and hear, "But mom, I didn't get Troy's signature!", so I offered her one last chance.

"Are you sure?" And then half to myself, "All the cool kids are doing it."

"But mommy...I'm not one of the cool kids."

Fair enough, Ains. Fair enough.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ainsley's Story

Cranky is under the weather, y'all. Ainsley brought a nasty cold home from school, and though she shook it in just a couple of days it has settled into my respiratory system good and proper this weekend. So I am letting the kid blog for me tonight.

What follows is a story she wrote after school Friday, and I present it to you word for word, with her spelling and syntax. Bear in mind she's only in first grade, and her school is big into having kids sound-spell words they don't know. You can tell which words she's had as spelling words the past two years and which ones she's just taking a wild stab at.

Anyhoo, enjoy.

Onse upon a time in a fare away Land
lived a Price a pricecce a stepmother
two step sisters and a ate year old cat they
wher all frinds but one day they wher cidnaped
by a dark wich samantha She wanted to
rule ierland. but with the princceces help
they escaped and they all lived happely ever after
No, she has never watched Bewitched.