Last Thursday, Aura and I were upstairs in the home office, packing and preparing for our long-weekend trip to NYC. (Also known as Aura’s First Trip to Manhattan, also known as A NYC Visit Vastly Different from NYC Visits Mommy and Daddy Made Before Becoming a Mommy and a Daddy, also known as Oh How I Miss Restaurants Where You Need Reservations and/or Oh How I Hate Times Square. Anyway, more gory details later.)

As we were waiting for the printer to spew out our hotel confirmation, Aura looked up at my desk and spotted the miniature American flag she had received at last year’s local Fourth of July parade. She nabbed it, then began waving it, marching, and singing a song she must have learned in preschool:

Oh, we love our flag, our country

The red, the white, the blue.

Oh, we love our flag, our country

The red, the white, the blue.

Oh, we love our flag, our country

The red, the white, the blue.

Wave it high and free!

I applauded when she finished. “What a great song to sing as we start the Memorial Day holiday weekend!” I said.

“What do you mean, Mommy?” Aura asked, the little flag fluttering in the breeze from the air conditioning. “What is Memorial Day?”

And so I tried to explain, without explaining too much. How lucky we are to live in a country where we are free to do so many things. How sometimes the very bravest people who live here have to fight other people in other places who don’t want us to be so free, or don’t want other people in other places to be free. How sometimes those brave people fight so hard that they can’t come home again. I stuttered and backtracked and edited and probably muddied the explanation completely.

“But why do some people not want us to be free?” Aura asked, watching me fold clothes into rectangles and tuck them neatly into our suitcase.

I paused, stroking errant wisps of hair back from her forehead. “I don’t know, sweetie,” I answered, although “I don’t know” didn’t seem like much of an answer at all. “But on Memorial Day we stop to really remember all the people who help keep our lives as wonderful as they are.”

Then we packed some more and talked about hotels and lit-up billboards, about pastrami sandwiches and bagels, about Central Park and carousels. And I kept thinking, Wave it high and free, baby. High and free.

***************

(Thank you to all those in the military who have served, are serving, and will serve. Always, thank you.)

Thanks to several readers for suggesting this topic. Much better than writing about mulch. I think.

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“HAHAHAHA,” I cackled. “A girl! Now THAT’S a good one!”

Because, honestly, back in 2006, the only way I was having a girl was if the boy I KNEW I was having spontaneously switched genders before being born. I was pregnant. With a boy. We already knew his first name and his middle name. I had already eyed some towels at Pottery Barn Kids that would look splendid monogrammed with his initials. Really, there was nothing left to do but sit back, eat armfuls of pregnancy-entitled cookies, and wait for the baby to float out in what I had decided would be a pain-free experience, much like a pedicure, or maybe a hot-stone massage.  All in all, it was settled.

Then the doctor delivered the news at the 18-week ultrasound. After I dealt with the shock with luridly inappropriate humor, I began to panic mildly. “We don’t have a GIRL NAME!” I bellowed at Adam. “We’re not supposed to be having a GIRL! The monogrammed towels won’t look as good with GIRL INITIALS!”

For a number of weeks, I spent a lot of time pondering names. I tossed out idea after idea to Adam: Hayden! (before “Heroes” ever started!) Daisy! (so reminiscent of straight teeth and tangle-free hair!) Ella! (would feel comfortable with the other 25 Ellas in her class!) He shot down every single one, prompting many a hormone-fueled argument that unfailingly ended with me pelting him with cookies, then immediately demanding he hand them all back to me.

Finally I went to the library, checked out a bunch of baby-name books, and forced Adam to sit down in the kitchen with me. I presented the plan: We would each flip through the books, making a list of the names that appealed to us. If we had a list item in common, then that would be The Name.

Of course, this plan was compromised from the start, since I had been too cheap to buy recently published baby-name books. Most of the library books had been published, oh, a decade or so before I myself was born. Which is why it should come as only a mild surprise that the name we both listed was Aura, a choice that I imagine many a Woodstock-visiting hippie would have applauded with incense-scented gusto.

Nonetheless, we were pleased. Aura means “light ” and “atmosphere,” of course, but Aura is also the goddess of breezes in Greek mythology. It was a pleasant name. It was a meaningful-but-not-overly-meaningful name. And now it would be her name, a name for the girl who was supposed to be a boy.

We didn’t tell a soul about our choice until Aura was born, a decision I slightly regret, since it turns out my poor mother was convinced we had chosen Euphoria, the name I always swore I would use back in my high-school days. When Aura arrived, her name seemed to fit perfectly, and suddenly I heard it everywhere, though always with other connotations. While I was nursing her in the hospital, I saw an ad for the Saturn Aura for the first time. When Adam’s aunt and uncle came to visit only hours after she was born, his uncle handed us a clipping of the morning’s crossword puzzle, in which the clue for #12 Down was “an ineffable light” and the answer was “aura.”

That crossword clue was pretty much on the mark. Aura is very definitely an ineffable light, an indescribable force of delight in our lives. Her name? Well…it has its issues. People often think it must be spelled O-R-A; a few have asked, “Oh, Ora? As in the french fries, Ore Ida?” Aura herself, when in the throes of a rhyming game, often innocently yells out “Aura whora!” thereby shaving five years off her father’s life expectancy.

There is also the fact that I can no longer make fun of anyone else’s choice of baby name.  I mean, you name your kid Aura, you have to be very, very careful in the judgmental department. When I heard that actor Jason Lee had named his son Pilot Inspecktor, I merely nodded. And when I read that Nicolas Cage dubbed his son Kal-El in honor of Superman’s original name, I could only smile wordlessly. Glass houses and all that.

And there you have it. The world’s longest blog post on perhaps the world’s most inconsequential topic. Well, except to me, to whom Aura is anything but inconsequential. As a matter of fact, I think we may have hedged our bets a bit with the whole “goddess of breezes” thing. This one? She’s a full-on gust of wind.

As I may have mentioned before, we have no yard. We have lots of mulch and tons of weedy stuff and a downright precipitous rock cliff in the back, but zip for grass. I doubt this would bother me in the least except for Aura, who is a child and is having a childhood and therefore needs Outdoor Childhood Memories. Given this, I am easily suckered into buying any outside toy that can be used on non-grassy surfaces. We have a closetful of bubble toys, a virtual hamper of bouncy balls, the world’s most annoying ring-toss kit…the list goes on. But I still feel guilty.

I tell you this because all that guilt is my excuse for purchasing the following:

Yet I am still scrambling for an excuse to explain why the woman on the pool box infuriates me so. I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that I find myself reluctantly subsisting almost entirely on cucumbers and Fiber One bars (Oats ‘n’ Chocolate!). Whatever the impetus, this Mother Who Swims with Her Kids in a Silver Lamé Bikini is really annoying the hell out of me.

A closer look.

As I spent 20 sweaty minutes pumping up the pool today, I kept casting looks over my shoulder, unable to stop glaring at the Mother Who Swims with Her Kids in a Silver Lamé Bikini’s smarmy grin. Or, for that matter, the Mother Who Swims with Her Kids in a Silver Lamé Bikini’s abs, which I am fairly certain are approximately 273% more defined than my own. Also, those fake kids of hers might very well be better behaved than mine. Though I doubt that last one, since the boy looks a bit like a Kennedy and, well, we all know how THAT goes.

Twenty minutes is a long time to glare at one hussy, so I eventually let my gaze wander over the rest of the box. And I started to feel a little better.

The above? That’s information about the pool. In Finnish. Maybe’s it me, but trying to sell an inflatable pool to consumers in Finland seems a little…optimistic. As I pumped and then pumped some more, it occurred to me that selling pools in Finland is kind of like selling snowman-building kits in Ecuador. “Snowmen in Ecuador!” I chuckled to myself, enlightened by my own genius. I tell you, I may not have abs of steel, but I am positively AWASH in marketing savvy.

Then there was this:

Maybe this is also targeted to Finns. Perhaps the Splash and Play! marketing folks believe the Finnish people to be not only a hearty people, eager to thumb their noses at a naturally frosty climate, but also a people equipped with ginormous mouths. A race of humans who could actually manage the attempted swallowing of a six-foot-long piece of plastic, which is the only possible way the Splash and Play! pool could be a choking hazard.

And that right there really put it into perspective for me. I may not have a sculpted stomach, and my closet may indeed be woefully empty of  lamé bikinis. But at least no one has ever believed me capable of trying to swallow a pool. In my book, this counts for a lot.

This one, though, I’ll have to watch out for:

If you could see what she does to Hershey’s Kisses…well. Let’s just say you’d be worried, too.

Since Friday morning, I’ve been wracking my brain for something to post about, something beyond a rundown of the numbingly boring drivel that became my weekend. But it’s SO MUCH WORK. Here, let me show you Post Ideas #1-3, all of which suck equally. I appreciate such equal suckage, though. It seems to make everything so much…fairer.

Failed Idea #1: The We-Discriminate-Against-the Vertically-Challenged Photo Booth

When you feed three hard-earned dollars into a photo booth at Bouncy Castle Kingdom,  you really do think that the camera will catch your daughter and her two equally diminutive friends posing. You believe, even. But no. The booth is apparently only for those 4’5″ and above. I’d write to the manufacturer to complain about the lack of proper warning signage, but when I looked for an address on the back of the machine all I could find was a label that said HAHAHA SUCKER I EAT PEOPLE AS GULLIBLE AS YOU FOR BREAKFAST.

Failed Idea #2: Mulch. A Big Pile of It.

You know that saying A picture is worth a thousand words? Well, in this case, I’m thinking I saved myself about 18 words. They go something like this: HELP HELP SAVE ME I’M STARTING TO ACT SUBURBAN KEEP ME AWAY FROM MINIVANS AND HYBRID DOG BREEDS.

Failed Idea #3: Bubble Guns and the Rage They Inspire

Oh, and by “rage,” I mean mine, not hers. She was fine with the fact that the bubble solution in the Fun Bubbles Gun! just pours onto the freshly hosed-down deck with abandon. And onto my shorts, the only pair that fit properly at the moment. And onto my soul, which may very well never be redeemed by a higher power because I said about five-and-a-half especially bad words in front of an impressionable child when the bubbles floated over to the grill and popped on the burgers. Turns out ketchup CANNOT cure all ills, after all. Effin’ ketchup.

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So, you see. I am completely and devastatingly out of viable fodder. Will you help? Please? Ask questions and I shall answer! Suggest a topic and I will try to address it! IT WILL BE SO EXCITING. OR SOMETHING.

Those who participate might even get a little envelope of mulch sent to them. Or a three-year-old. No promises, though.

You know, I had really hoped current pop music would improve after my earlier post on the subject. As luck would have it, industry gurus do not read my blog. However, people searching for “why does Rachel Ray’s voice sound bad” and “waistband of underpants showing” evidently do, so there is that.

But! I have this news flash: Pop music has become even worse. God help us, Ke$ha was apparently only the tip of the iceberg. Without further ado, I present to you Springtime Pop Lyrics: The Anatomy Edition.

California Gurls, Katy Perry, featuring Snoop Dogg

California girls, we’re unforgettable
Daisy dukes, bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin, so hot will melt your popsicle
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
California girls, we’re undeniable
Fine, fresh, fierce, we got it on lock
West coast represent, now put your hands up
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

You know the popsicle thing is the result of the songwriting team’s need for a phallic double entendre somewhere in the song. Banana? Candy bar? Stonehenge? The brainstorming was going decently, until Snoop Dogg arrived at the studio and everyone had to stop to explain what a double entendre is. And honestly, there’s nothing like explaining “double entendre” to a 39-year-old man with unfortunate braids to really take the fun out of the concept. You can almost hear Katy Perry saying, “Oh, screw it. Just make it popsicle. And will someone come over here and FORCE MY DAMN BREASTS BACK INTO MY SHIRT.”

Today Was a Fairytale, Taylor Swift

Time slows down whenever you’re around
I can feel my heart
It’s beating in my chest
Did you feel it?
I can’t put this down

Well, all I can say about that is THANK GOD. Taylor seems like a sweet girl, and I’d hate to think of her having a heart beating anywhere but in her chest. Then again, it might be beating somewhere else, but we’ll never know. I mean, would you go around telling people if your heart was beating in your shin or your elbow?

Exactly.

Carry Out, Timbaland, featuring Justin Timberlake

Let me get my ticket baby, let me get it line
I can tell the way you like it, baby, supersized
Hold on, you got yours, let me get mine
I ain’t leavin’ till they turn over the closed sign

Take my order cause your body like a
Carry out
Let me walk into your body until you
Hear me out
Turn me on, my baby don’t you
Cut me out
Turn me on, my baby don’t you
Cut me out

Now I know I should be concentrating on the whole treating-a-woman-like-she’s-a-fast-food-order thing. Yes, yes. Offensive, demeaning, imbecilic. But the thing I just can’t get past is this image of Jessica Biel and Cameron Diaz leaning on each other for support as they roar in hysterical laughter. “Did Justin just say SUPERSIZED?” screams Cameron, tears running uncontrollably down her cheeks. “YES!!!” answers Jessica, a fresh wave of guffaws knocking her to the ground.

Sigh. That’s it. From now on, it’s instrumental songs only. I mean it this time. Until the summer lyrics post, in which I will totally reveal how I have broken that promise. In the meantime, do me a favor and buy me some Adam Lambert tickets.

As I was on the phone with my mom earlier this week, I found myself complaining endlessly. I moaned about how Aura needed to poop more, how the rain has been washing pricey mulch down our driveway, how companies are killing the planet by sending me a thousand catalogs a week. I was just ramping up for a good grouse about cracks in the kitchen-tile grout when my mother interrupted me.”A lot’s been going on!” she mustered (lied) bravely.

“I know!” I exclaimed in agreement. “But why am I so crabby?”

Then it hit me. I WAS HUNGRY.

About two weeks ago, I went back on Weight Watchers, determined to lose the 10 or so post-Aura pounds I’m always harping about. I’ve been off and on the Weight Watchers program for years, ever since I gained—and then lost—a lot of weight sophomore year of college. As long as I follow the rules, WW works, without fail.  

The world's oldest WW Points Finder. Notice non-diet-approved grease stain in center. Also, corners dogeared from famished death grip.

Yet somehow it seems SO MUCH WORSE this time. After months of not being all that diligent, I find myself lusting after that which I now can’t have, then trying to devise ways I can have it. Such mental effort is exhausting. And when I get tired, I get really peevish. Throw in starvation and I’m Someone to Avoid. Also, Someone to Divorce or Declare Emancipation From.

It’s gotten so bad that the good, decent part of me is becoming buried under the hungry, ruthless part of me. While I was eating lunch the other day, I saw one of those TV ads with Sally Struthers, where she asks for donations to help starving children in Africa. As I sipped my fat-free vegetable soup and watched, my first thought was, “Those poor kids. They don’t deserve such an awful life.” But then right after that I thought, “I bet those little buggers are REALLY, REALLY GRUMPY.”

Yes, yes. I know I'll end up here for that last sentence.

Such a restriction of calories is getting in the way of normal life—and normal behavior, for that matter. Case in point: Yesterday, one of the other preschool moms asked if Aura and I would like to join her and her little girl for an afterschool bakery trip. I looked at her, aghast. How was I supposed to sit in a bakery, its confines practically wallpapered with buttercream frosting? I opened my mouth to yell, “What’s next? Giving me a crack pipe, then LIGHTING IT FOR ME?” but thought better of it. Starving, yes. Certifiably loony, not quite yet. At least in public.  

From the actual bakery's Web site. You see what I mean. (Droooool.)

So far, three pounds down. I may waste away before I lose the other seven. Either that or be committed somewhere with padded walls but hopefully yummy food. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stare down a box of cookies.

You know it’s been a pretty lousy 12 hours when your annual exam with the ob/gyn does not qualify as the worst part of the day. Even when you add in the fact that the exam wasn’t performed by your beloved, known-for-her-brevity-and-gentleness nurse practitioner, but instead by a nursing student. As in a person who has only STUDIED such things, rather than actually NURSED them. 

Hours later, I must commend myself for not immediately bolting from the room when she entered, all 21 virginal years of her. I dealt with the stress like I always do: by cracking questionably amusing self-deprecating jokes. I tell you, nothing beats the satisfaction of making a woman holding a speculum chuckle. Except everything else in the entire world.

But no. That wasn’t the worst part of the day. No, indeedy. The worst part of the day? This:

Allow me to introduce you to the house centipede that skitters his way up and down the walls of our garage at night, as soon as the temperature goes above 60 degrees. Actually, there are several of them, of varying sizes and total appendages, and all equally revolting. They freeze as soon as you put the garage light on, as if they can somehow blend into the walls. If I wasn’t so busy screaming at the sight of them, I would seriously consider discussing the art of camouflage with them. They’d really be better off finding another wall, one that properly blends with their BILLION LEGS and MONSTROUS ANTENNAE. Perhaps a wall in ANOTHER UNIVERSE.

I know I kept saying that I couldn’t wait for summer, but you know what? I can wait.

A lot.

Like forever. 

Times infinity.

The end.