$5.99 Worth of Anticipation

December 31, 2009

Two nights ago in Target, I was standing in line when I noticed a display of Deluxe Crackers–you know, those foil-covered things you pull to produce a cracking noise and confetti and other stuff you have to shortly thereafter sweep. Sucked in by the price sticker announcing said crackers were a Great Value at only $5.99, I grabbed a box. I then listened carefully for the telltale chortles of the people closeted away in the Target security room, where they surely high-five each other every time they catch a moron like me making what can only be described as an impulse buy. I imagine they weren’t guffawing quite as loudly as they must have when I picked up that value pack of keychain flashlights a couple of months ago, but still, I’d wager someone snorted up a sip of his Slurpee. 

It's kind of the manufacturers to explain that I am the one who needs to pony up the $5.99. I tried angling it at the cashier, thinking she could be the YOU, but no luck.

When Aura woke up yesterday morning and heard of my purchase, she became intrigued.  Since then, there has been much examination of the box, some frantic shaking of it, and several related queries.  For one, how do these crackers crack? When they crack, is it loud, kind of loud, or so loud she might cry? What kind of toy is inside? A good toy or only a kind-of-good toy? Can she crack only one cracker, or can she maybe have two?  

“You’ll just have to wait and see!” I crowed each time, having no idea myself what to expect from these Deluxe Crackers. She’s napping now, probably dreaming of their contents: luxuriant thumb-sized stuffed animals, silky confetti, a few tiny Deluxe Cracker-sized lollipops trimmed with diamonds. Me, I’m getting a little nervous. Having now actually read the back of the box, I fear that this New Year’s Eve will bring nothing but crushing disappointment.  Here, let me show you what I mean: 

Nugget of advice: Never trust something called a "novelty."

I’m not sure how I feel about getting a motto in my cracker. Sure, a nice little “Live each day to its fullest!” is harmless enough. But what if I crack my Deluxe Cracker and find myself faced with “It’s never pleasant to have the widest thighs in the room!” or “Self-induced stress leads to the highest blood pressure known to man!” The crackers were made in China. If workers over there use lead paint in children’s toys, you KNOW they won’t resist the chance to insult adults imbecilic enough to buy Deluxe Crackers. 

See artful red circling.

Wait. It is me? A “surprise” bang?  Is this description actually a stealthy disclaimer for the criminally stupid? Did someone, somewhere buy a box of Deluxe Crackers back in 2008, pull one open, then promptly fall over dead from the shock of the eponymous crack? Perhaps I am just missing the point here. Maybe this is no ordinary crack. Maybe this is a earth-shaking, ear-splitting BANG so loud that the downstairs bathroom’s light fixture, the one I loathe with every loathing molecule of my being, will shatter and need to be immediately replaced. 

Apparently it is imperative that you take your crackers outside to the backyard, where you can then festively pull them open in front of your trusty boxwood shrub.

Huh. Is it possible that I have been giving the Deluxe Crackers too little credit? After all, when we open each one tonight, we won’t just be getting a prize. Oh no. We will be getting a Prize.  And that’s just different. 

Aura’s awake! Off to crack.  Will report back, if not struck deaf.

Quick, get me a life.

December 29, 2009

The other day, I was enthusiastically explaining to a fellow mom the intricacies of the Dustbuster and my proven way for making it work at full power even after its brand-newness has worn off. It was around the time I reached into her vacuum, pulled out the inner filter, and scraped away the accumulated crud with a fingernail that it hit me: I really, really need to get a hobby. 

I wish I had someone to blame for my blatant dullness and the fact that my life is beginning to toe the line of downright insipid. I suppose I could nod suggestively in Aura’s direction, since this parenting thing doesn’t leave a lot of room for leisure. Or I could point a subtle finger at Adam, whose life is rich with hobbies, all of which consume massive amounts of space and bank balances and therefore might suffocate my own creative impulses. But no. Though it pains me to admit it, I am fully responsible.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do have interests. I like to bake. I love to read. I take great pleasure from long walks.  And these are all perfectly acceptable activities, particularly if you are 75 years old. I can’t help thinking that at 32, I could ratchet things up a notch or twenty. 

It’s not as if I haven’t tried. For instance! During a good chunk of our childless years, Adam and I would try a new restaurant at least once a week, spending piles of money to earn the title of “foodies.”  But then Aura came along and there were no babysitters and it dawned on me that I hate the word foodie almost as much as I despise the word playdate. Also, in retrospect, I am not sure that eating is a hobby.

Oh! There was also the knitting class. A few years ago, this adorable little crafting studio/store opened a few blocks down from our apartment. I dropped in for a quick look-see, breathing in the scent of overpriced scrapbooking paper and imported yarn and make-it-yourself chandelier-earring kits with something like hope. Flushed with the possibilities, I rushed home to tell Adam that I was going to take up knitting, detailing labyrinthine plans for scarves and sweaters and perhaps even tea cozies.

So he signed me up for a beginner’s knitting class. And it was awful. It was like the ballet lessons, but about a MILLION BILLION TIMES WORSE.  I will say that I managed to get the hang of casting. But then…nothing. I don’t know if it was the fact that the teacher was too far down the table or if it’s just that I lacked the ability to conceptualize what was supposed to be taking place on my needles.  All I know is that by the end of the two-hour class, the other women were knitting and purling like they were fresh off 10 years in some kind of wooly, yarn-heavy sweatshop, while I had to be taken aside by the teacher no less than five times for extra help. 

After that, baking and reading seemed better. Nice and safe and private. And rarely humiliating, with the exception of one Boston Cream Pie gone very awry.

But it’s time.  The clock is ticking for New Year’s resolutions and all that crap, so I’m game. In 2010, I will research, identify, and develop a hobby. Indoor rock climbing? (Might hurt.) Organic gardening? (Might be dirty.) Playing acoustic guitar? (Might produce calluses.)  I’m just not sure. 

Please: I’m all for suggestions.

Peace to All

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and happiest of holidays from our very blessed, very happy, kind-of-interfaith family to yours.

Hi! Hey! How are all of you? 

We’re doing better here, adjusting and healing  and refraining from killing each other a solid 90% of the time.  In particular, Aura has been a real trooper, exhibiting surprisingly massive amounts of patience while I help my mother get around. We had to change up the  holiday plans a bit, but we’re trying to squeeze in stuff too important and photo-friendly for her to miss, such as cookie baking and the annual peppermint-stick-ice-cream run. Basically, anything that will propel her along the rocky yet delicious road to childhood obesity. 

Apparently, making peppermint bark was one tradition we could have skipped. It seems to inspire surliness.

Oh, and Zoo Lights, our local zoo’s holiday extravaganza. Actually, much like the sad little budget-strapped zoo itself, the event is perpetually shabby and downtrodden. Yet it is this consistency that makes it so much of a tradition.  When you know ahead of time that at least half of the light displays will be burnt out and the giant inflatable snow globes will be malfunctioning, you can hand over your $5 cheerily, your expectations so low that they can never be squashed.  Also, Zoo Lights is an excellent time to wear fake fur.  TOTALLY freaks out the downy reindeer babies with whom you can pose for another five bucks. 

 

All that being said, it might have been wise for Mommy to check the temperature outside before we headed for the zoo. Turns out maybe our expectations could have been a little lower, if only they hadn’t been completely and utterly frozen like the rest of our bodies. Seriously, nothing mars a Zoo Lights experience like 10 degrees. And it was as if only irrational anger could warm me enough to survive. As we raced by the empty outdoor animal exhibits, I became furious that the ANIMALS were not there but instead undoubtedly warm in their little ANIMAL BEDS AND CAVES AND NESTS and whatnot. Whenever we were able to duck into a building where animals were cozily ensconced behind glass, it was all I could do not to kick the windows. And they KNEW it.  The lemurs practically snickered when we stopped to look at them, their sneers eerily reflected by the half-lit snowman behind us. Also, Adam swears he heard a river otter chuckle.  Truth be told, I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re smarmy little suckers, those otters. 

The saving grace, in Aura’s opinion, was the rides. 

 

I’m a little fuzzy on why there are rides at Zoo Lights, but there they are. Four, to be exact: A merry-go-round made up of strange bedfellows (witness demonic bunny above), a rickety train, mini-motorcycles, and a preschooler-size Tilt-a-Whirl. After taking a spin on the Bunny from Hell, Aura decided it was time for the Tilt-a-Whirl. Since even squinting at any ride that rotates makes Adam nauseous, I was nominated to be Aura’s ridemate. 

Let me tell you: There is NOTHING more fun than whirling around and around and then around again in ten-degree weather in the world’s smallest ride car, except perhaps having your fingernails removed, or waterboarding. Yet I laughed, because Aura was laughing, her princess-gloved hands spinning the wheel at warp speed. And a short time later, when I threw up discreetly behind an unfortunate three-legged Rudolph, I still thought it was all worth it.

Brief Life Interruption

December 15, 2009

Life has recently become…insane.  Let’s see: A mother with a just-broken hip, two months of her rehab at our place, another cold (Aura), and another inner-ear infection (moi; remind me never to blog about an illness ever again, since apparently Fate feels compelled to snicker and re-infect me).  I’ll be back soon, once I get more than four hours of sleep and take a break from my increasingly detailed plan to murder my mother’s also newly moved cat. (Hint: He meets a bad end by both hot oil and flames.  It’s positively medieval, I tell you.)

I was walking Aura into preschool (or as I prefer to think of it, Two-and-a-Half Hours of Heaven) the other morning when the director popped out of her office to say hello to the children entering the building. 

“Good morning, Evan!” she called. “How are you?” 

Evan said he was good. 

“Good morning, Madison!” she said next. “And how are you?” 

Not surprisingly, Madison was also good. 

We were up next. “Good morning, Aura!” The director smiled.  “How are you this morning?”  

“I’m well!” chirped Aura. 

The director’s face momentarily contorted in confusion.  Then she beamed with understanding.  “Oh!” she said.  “You’re wow? Well, isn’t that great?”

I leaned in, aiming for what I hope came across as a conspiratorial tone and not a creepy-stage-mother tone. “No,” I explained. “She’s well.” 

“Ah,” the director replied. “Of course!” Then she disappeared into her office. And maybe she closed the door. 

Okay. Get the eye-rolling and derisive snorts out of your system.  Go ahead. I’ll wait. (As long as you snort well. I don’t suffer readers who snort good.) 

Needless to say, neither does Aura. It makes her kind of lip-curly.

Now that you’re done, I’d like to hop up on my Grammar Soapbox for just a sec. Yes, I was an English major in college. Yes, I am a writer by trade. And yes, perhaps I am the teeniest bit compulsive about my child speaking correctly. But I ask you: So what?  Didn’t we just finish up eight years of making fun of a president who couldn’t conjugate his way out of a paper bag? Doesn’t the rash of best-selling books and popular Web sites about proper punctuation tell us anything? 

Now I’m not saying I’m perfect. (I mean, I am. But it seems immodest to admit that here.) However, I see absolutely nothing wrong with trying to raise children to speak correctly, even if they do it while behaving like cretins most of the time. Once in a while, it feels…nice to use a word with its original definition in mind, instead of some modern mixed-meaning bastardization. Even the loudest snorter among you has to agree that there is something adorably impressive in hearing a child say difficult instead of hard, or entire instead of whole, in a sweet, reedy little voice. 

As you can see, fishing in a tutu is difficult. Especially with an entire pool of fish to catch.

Don’t even get me started on yeah.  While it doesn’t bother me in the least to hear an adult say yeah, hearing my 40-inch angel say it makes me kind of mildly homicidal. I can’t offer an eloquent explanation for this. I think my aggravation stems from the fact that English is often so dumbed down, so lowest-common-denominatorish. Kids growing up today don’t have a freakin’ chance. Look at that damn Dora the Explorer. I want to launch myself across the living room and strangle that navel-baring, animal-befriending little bugger every time she yells yeah, which is an average of 67 times per episode, if I’m not mistaken. (Perfect people rarely are, you know.)

And so Aura says she’s “well” when asked her current condition. She’s been trained in other adverbs, too, though the -ly rule and its exceptions can be tricky devils, often resulting in directives to “Run fastly, Mommy!” But then recently, when I did a particularly admirable job answering her pop quiz on Santa Claus and the snacks that must be left for him on Christmas Eve, she told me I was correct, not right. I tell you, she got the BIGGEST cookie. It was like each and every one of those chocolate chips was a testament to our shared appreciation for the literal.

Well, then. The bulk of this post is complete. So let me share the conversation Adam and I had last night. 

Adam: Want to order a pizza tonight?  

Kate: YEAH!  

Adam: Onions, peppers, broccoli?  

Kate: RIGHT!  

Adam: I’m so hungry that I think I might…  

Kate: …eat the WHOLE thing!  

Man. This language thing is hard.

A short while ago, Aura and I were having lunch at McDonald’s, enjoying the view from our usual table overlooking the drive-thru. We prefer this table because it allows us to take bets on which drivers will shove french fries in their mouths by the time they pass us. This is a satisfyingly self-righteous game I invented recently after noticing with not unremarkable alarm how tight my jeans have become. As I eat my stupid salad with its stupid grilled chicken and its even stupider no dressing, I manage to take great pleasure in the thought that those outside the window will soon be much fatter than I.  

On this occasion, as I was toying with a piece of particularly stupid lettuce, I noticed a Volvo SUV drive by. “See that silver car?” I asked Aura offhandedly.  “That’s the car Mommy wants.”  

Aura looked out at the Volvo, then laid down the french fry she had been about to eat. “But we have a car. A Toyota,” she replied pointedly. “We drove it here.”  

“Yes,” I said, nudging an undoubtedly protein-packed and therefore healthy McNugget toward her. “This is true. But I do like that silver car.”  

Now Aura was starting to look concerned, her new Happy Meal Strawberry Shortcake stamp completely forgotten. “But we HAVE a car. It is a GOOD car. I like our car.”  

 “I know, sweetie. It is a good car. I’m just talking about something I want, not something I really need. Sometimes a person can just want things.” Such a solid introductory lesson to the psychology behind economic demand deserved a reward, so I stole two french fries. Maybe more. I can’t be 100% sure this long after the fact.  

Aura eyed the nugget before responding, squirting more ketchup onto her place mat. “Okay. But you don’t need it.”  

So I agreed, taking the high road by not pointing out that the Polly Pocket Roller Coaster Resort on Little Miss Voice of Fiscal Conscience’s Santa list is not a life necessity.  I may be an all-consuming pile of greed, yes. But petty? Never.

This $10 light-up sword purchased at last week's tree-lighting ceremony was obscenely unnecessary. I am so going to remind her of that right now.

I will say that the conversation has stuck with me over the past few days. At this time of year, it’s so easy to throw money left and right toward holiday presents no one really needs. For instance, every year, Adam asks me what I want for Christmas and I always say, “Oh, I don’t know. Surprise me. ” I might mention a few vague, nebulous ideas (e.g., “Shoes are always nice. So are full-time nannies.”), but really, I’m not very helpful. Honestly, if I give him specifics, then he might get me what I really want and then I can’t start the YOU ARE NOT ROMANTIC EVER, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DON’T KNOW ME BETTER argument I do so dearly love to start every few months. And so he is left to spend money on things I don’t really need at all.  

But this year, with Aura’s stern logic bolstering me, I have decided to change my ways.  Adam shall NOT waste money on things I don’t really need. It was with this reformed attitude that I swung into the Michael Kors store at the mall the other day.  Radiating a sense of purpose I imagine is similar to that of bomb-squad officers and perhaps ER doctors, I browsed feverishly. Within five minutes, I had found what I needed. It was merlot and it was snakeskinny and it was glorious. And after speaking with the saleswoman, I discovered it was also $2,000.  Turns out real python skin does not come cheap.  

Those pythons must be attractive suckers.

I will admit, this put a slight damper on my Sense of Purpose. I mean, if ever I do have $2,000 to toss around at Michael Kors, then that bag better come with a live python that mops, bakes, and likes to play with the Lite Brite. And if said live python gets out of line, I will just brandish the bag and make not-so-veiled threats. To me, this appears to be a tidy plan.  

As for my mission? Not to fear. I also found a glorious red snakeskinny bag, about $1700 less and optimistically described as “embossed snakeskin.” Though I suspect that this translates to “overpriced plastic,” I do feel that Aura will applaud my choice.