#1. You get catcalled by a panhandler. I tell you, a girl opts out of elastic-waist pants ONE NIGHT and it’s like hell freezes over. Add some shiny red peep-toe pumps and you get an extra lewd remark (please see below). I really think that we mothers of America are not giving the male homeless population nearly enough credit. They are like the kings of compliments. A little loony, sometimes, and possibly blind, but still, really good with the flattery.

#2. You have vodka for the first time in months. When Adam got into his cocktailian phase three years ago, all vodka was banned from the house, for it is apparently “the shit of the cocktail world.” I’m not sure you knew this, but only PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW BETTER drink vodka, for it is COMPLETELY USELESS and also it SHOULD NOT EVEN BE CALLED A SPIRIT. FOR GOD’S SAKE.

So I of course get vodka drinks whenever I go out. Fueled by the knowledge that I have a “rockin’ rack,” I ordered a pear martini with vodka. Two sips in, I felt much like I imagine Moses and his people did when manna floated on down from heaven. I blew a kiss to the bartender. It was embarrassing, but I was four long sips in at the point so I didn’t notice. Viva la ethanol.

#3. You discover that the people inside your computer live outside of it, too. Turns out that the group of people I was meeting was held up at the airport, which meant more time hanging out at the restaurant bar. Another slug of pear martini and the restaurant suddenly seemed like a highly appropriate place to move. What was not to enjoy? There was no one to disparage the vodka, nary a toy in sight (even on the floor I KID YOU NOT), and the menu listed cherry-pepper calamari as an appetizer. If society wasn’t so big on parents staying with their children and actually, you know, NURTURING them, I would have pitched a tent and called it home.

As luck would have it, the ladies below showed up and shocked me back into reality. But you know what? If reality is getting to hang out with the hysterical Cher@The Only Girl, very sweet Jessalyn@Cape Cod Awesome, and adorably raunchy Monique@A Day in the Life of a Surferwife in my hometown, then maybe real life isn’t that bad.

The lack of vodka still sucks, though.

Oh, how time passes. Was it only a month ago that I said I was going to write a post on our First Family Trip to New York City? I apparently have come to my senses sometime between then and now, since nothing is more brain-numbingly boring that someone else’s account of her vacation. Except maybe a photo slide show. That’s what they used instead of water torture at Guantanamo. Seriously. My sources are solid.

Anyway, the only part of the NYC trip that anyone else might find remotely enchanting is this:

Okay, so maybe not that. But this:

Yep. Aura and Adam played a rousing game of Whack-a-Mole next to Chris Rock and his kids. While Adam did have a ten-second conversation with him about why the line for tickets was moving so slowly (computer down! so exciting!), neither of us acknowledged who he was, because that would be creepy and weird, even though both of us could recite the entirety of his HBO specials.

But then this guy walks up to Chris Rock, right smack in the middle of his little girl bearing down on a particularly frisky mole, and starts quoting one of his bits back to him. Though Mr. Rock was gracious, it was truly horrifying. Much like a photo slide show, in fact, but ten times more humiliating. Like a naked slide show.

ANYWAY. This leads me to ask: Which celebrity would I ever care about enough to approach? Sure, I’ve enjoyed John Irving’s novels for many years, so I guess I could quote a line or two from A Prayer for Owen Meany or something if I found myself in line behind him at the grocery store.

But that just smacks of literary wannabeishness. I think it’s a lot more likely that I’ll simply spot Bruce Willis in Target someday and choose to yell “Yippee ki-ay, MOTHERFUCKER!”  at the top of my lungs. Granted, it’ll be an expensive moment of spontaneity. First there will be the whole arrest-and-paying-bail thing. And then you have the cost of enrolling Aura in some kind of retroactive deafness therapy. Eh, hardly worth it.

Thank God I live in eastern Massachusetts. The biggest threat around here is bumping into John Malkovich while moseying around Cambridge. And I’ve seen In the Line of Fire enough times to know you shouldn’t go near that one.

(So, come on. Who would you choose to approach? Because someone out there has to love imagining self-humiliation as much as I do. Action movies, too.)

Apparently, the planets have aligned, the stars have crossed, and a ritual sacrifice of a Polly Pocket or two (RELAX, one of them was already missing her left arm and the other one bore an off-putting resemblance to Mickey Rourke) has been made, for we have a babysitter. This is a rare occurrence, so rare that Adam and I are downright stymied by how to fill a full six hours of evening. All day, as we’ve been in the car or at the grocery store or eating lunch at the kitchen counter, we’ve been trying to make a plan, yet it’s as if the sheer abundance of options has somehow stifled our decision-making ability.

I think we’ve settled on where to eat, since we finally identified a place that meets both our Date Restaurant Requirements. For Adam, this means the establishment employs a bartender whom he can merrily pester and badger and try to stump with his requests for arcane gins and boutique bitters. For me, this means there is not a child in sight. I am nothing but easy to please. Maternal, too.

It’s been so long since we’ve been out alone that I had forgotten that there is more to Date Night than the Date. Wearing something besides jeans, for instance. I wandered upstairs a while ago and started pushing hangers around and pulling open drawers, ever hopeful of finding a fantastic outfit that I already owned but had totally forgotten about, kind of like happens on the makeover shows except that those people are models anyway and reality television continues to screw with me.

I was rifling through one of the drawers when my fingers suddenly tangled in the straps of something. It was only after cocking my head to the side and squinting really hard that I recognized it for what it was: a push-up bra. After gently removing the layers of dust, I tried it on and found it does indeed improve the shirt I was hoping to wear. There is also a slight chance that it makes me look like an overage teenage hooker, but I choose to ignore that part. If anyone at the restaurant says anything, I plan on knocking them flat on their back with my cleavage. Especially if it’s a kid.

As summer sets in, Aura and I are enjoying a rather fancy-free season. Freed from the September–June preschool, etc. schedule, we’ve been sort of meandering, hitting a beach here, an amusement park there, an ice-cream shop or twenty over there. Since it is widely known that I’m allergic to overscheduling (seriously, there are hives involved; BIG ones), this suits me just fine.

What doesn’t sit so well is something I’ve encountered during our recent expeditions, and it is called The Mean World of Playground Graffiti. I never thought I was an out-and-out prude, but I may have to reevaluate. Either that or call the city’s Department of Public Works to request a little scrub-down. Here, let me show you.

It all starts semi-innocently enough. I mean, generations of teenagers have challenged authority. That being said, I myself may have issued such a challenge a little more eloquently. For instance, I would have scrawled “the police” instead of “The Police,” since otherwise it kind of looks like someone is screwing with Sting. But whatever.

Then the first mention of reproductive organs is made and both grammar and decency go all to hell.

Once you get past the fact that we’re talking about a lobster penis, not a “horse penis,” or a  “bear penis,” or peni of any other animals larger than a lobster, another thought jumps out at you. Our friend Spencer does not just have a lobster penis—he IS a lobster penis. Which seems like a pretty bad insult, especially when it’s all underlined like that in Sharpie marker. It’s one thing to have genitalia like a crustacean; it’s another thing indeed to BE the genitalia. I know not who Spencer is, yet I pity him.

However, Spencer is not the graffiti artistes’ primary target. Nope. That would be the much maligned Kristen:

I feel for Kristen. Not only is her alleged sexuality pronounced for all the world to see (the arrow helpfully explaining her sapphic tendencies), the one compliment offered is scratched out and refuted. Suddenly, one senses disagreement among the ranks of this particularly nasty little group of homophobic middle-schoolers.

Yet their differences do not get in the way of their constant need to elaborate. In case we still do not understand what Kristen supposedly enjoys in relationships, there is this charming clarification:

By the time I saw this gem, I didn’t know what I would do first if I got my hands on the graffiti culprits. Would I lock them in a room for a day-long seminar on verb-object agreement and words that sound the same but are spelled differently (words that are called GOD HELP ME homophones)? Or would I simply beat their insensitivities out of them with an especially spiny lobster penis, such as Spencer? I still haven’t decided.

One thing I have decided: This has got to stop. I can be fancy-free and laid-back and all that good stuff with the best of ’em. But then a few days ago Aura pointed to the following and asked, “Why did someone draw an alien on the playground tunnel?”

She’s three. I’m 32. Neither of us needs that drawing to be anything other than an alien. But to be on the safe side I’m so calling the city tomorrow.

We’ve recently had a few days of really warm weather. What better way was there to enjoy the heat than to hit the Great Outdoors? Well, not Great Outdoors as in a hike around a Great Trail, or a trip to a Great Beach. Not even Great as in a nice brisk stroll around the Great Block. Nope. When this family hits the Great Outdoors, we drive to it. And by “it,” I mean a Great Carnival.

“Wait until you see the carnival!” I crowed to Aura, threading my way through the traffic gridlock in the parking lot. Digging deep within my own childhood memories, I waxed poetic. “The scent of fried food! The nauseating pull of the      Tilt-a-Whirl! The strange allure of heavily tattooed but most probably friendly carnival workers!”

Then we walked through the gates. MY, HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED.

When the above poster is the first thing to greet you upon entering, you know that this is not the Carnival of Your Childhood. Apparently, this is the Carnival of the Magicians Who Have Bleached Their Teeth One Time Too Many. “Where are the heavily muscled but most probably friendly carnival acts?” I whispered to Adam. Alas, there was not a bearded lady or midget weightlifter in sight. Instead, there was this…Lance Gifford. Not to cast politically incorrect aspersions or anything, but Lance looked a little light in the loafers for my taste, with nary a muscle or tattoo.

We continued down the midway. As Aura inspected the games, I found myself distracted by the booths’ decor. You know we’re in an economic downturn when Christmas gift bags are used for booth trimmings. In April. Though I suppose polar bears always need scarves, it being pretty cold in the Arctic Circle and all.

Dated decorations be damned, Aura found a game to play. And since this is supposedly a mommy blog, I shall now insert the obligatory cute-child photo. Even if the child shown is holding an entirely age-inappropriate sharp object. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the guy in charge of the game was totally protecting his genital area with his right hand. TOTALLY.

After Aura won a stuffed animal that looks like the love child of a tailless monkey and the universe’s most unfortunate alien, I felt a brief flicker of encouragement. Children still played and won games at carnivals! It WAS as I remembered, minus the blip that was Lance Gifford.

Then I saw the sign.

“Adam!” I hissed, gesturing toward the knock-over-the-cans booth. “Can you believe that sign?!?” Adam looked confused, and I sighed at having to spell out the obvious. “‘Win A iPod’? A iPod? It should be ‘an iPod’!” I think it was at this point that Adam took Aura firmly by the hand and disappeared. Undeterred, I briefly considered approaching the woman working the booth and requesting that she change the sign. Then I took a better look at her. I may be a stickler for grammar, but suicidal I am not.

Happily, some other things remained the same. For one, there was fried dough.

Unhappily, there was also this…station.

Since Adam and Aura were still pretending not to know me, I was left to face this intrusion of modern hygiene alone. “Clean hands? At a carnival?” I tsk-tsked to myself. What’s next, I ask you? Actual toilet paper in the Porta-Potties?

I meandered farther along the midway, checking out the sights as I tried to understand this paradoxical carnival, where hand sanitizer abounded yet no one knew enough to use the indefinite article an before a vowel sound. I soon caught sight of Aura, who was posing with Elmo. Well, perhaps “posing” is too strong a word. “Trying with all of her might to escape” might be more accurate.

You know, before that moment, I had never once taken note of Elmo’s dental situation. Not a tooth in his head, that one. And on this particular Elmo, it wasn’t a cute kind of toothless. It was more the I-completely-forgot-to-put-in-my-dentures kind of toothless.

Yet even Elmo looked snappy compared to Barney, who was also strolling the carnival in search of photo opportunities. I can’t be positive, but I’d put good money down on any bet that said ol’ Barn was wearing a colostomy bag under his costume. Either that or a hula hoop.

I scooted closer to Aura, intent on warning her to stay away from this suspiciously lumpy Barney. Then I realized the child was already surrounded by warnings. For example:

I’m curious as to whether this sign works. I don’t picture a drunk guy seeing the second warning, identifying himself as someone with an Alcohol or Drug Problem, and getting out of line for the Ferris wheel. Then again, I can be kind of judgmental.

I kind of enjoyed the other warning sign I saw. I rather like the idea that Heart Troubles are healed with a simple band-aid to the ticker. I’m especially heartened to see that even those with Recent Surgery or Illness are chipper souls, thermometer and hand bandages notwithstanding.

I know, I know. When you pair my enjoyment of warning signs with my distaste for grammatically incorrect carnival signs, you really want to hang out with me. Like REALLY, REALLY want to hang out with me. Right?

You’re in luck. The carnival returns next year.

Aura and I went to the Museum of Science today, nipping into the dinosaur room about an hour into our visit. After one minute of standing and staring at a giant Triceratops skeleton, I found that I just couldn’t lie to myself any longer.  “I’m seriously starting to doubt this dinosaur thing,” I whispered conspiratorially to Aura.

And I really am. I’m sure there is a veritable legion of five-year-old boys out there who would happily correct me or at least shin-kick me into obeisance, but honestly, I’m not sure I could be convinced. I mean, just look at those things:

I know, I know. There is evidence, and there are fossils, and yes, scientists think dinosaurs lived on all continents and came in varying sizes and met a bad end by asteroid, yada yada yada snore. But STILL. We don’t really know, right? It’s not like they left behind these wildly revealing dinosaur diaries or scratched out some cave drawings with their little Mesozoic claws. Basically, some men back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found some bones, got out some Victorian-era Crazy Glue, and went to town. It was kind of like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition except that Ty Pennington was a paleontologist and instead of a new house there was a new creature. YES, IT WAS JUST LIKE THAT. DO NOT DOUBT MY POP-CULTURE PREHISTORIC ANALOGIES.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t just like that. However, I remain skeptical of a field of study in which there exist so many may haves and probably dids. The freakin’ explanation cards in the museum even admit to the uncertainties. For example! It turns out that no one really knows why the Triceratops had that frill thing on the back of its head. Some think it was for mating purposes, others for defense, still others for temperature regulation. No one suggests the theory that the frill was meant to draw attention away from the BUTT UGLY HORNS, but I might as well go ahead and float it.

So what is it about kids and dinosaurs? I wouldn’t say Aura is necessarily overwhelmed by the idea of dinosaurs, but she’ll sit in front of a dinosaur fossil or the show Dinosaur Train for, oh, any-amount-of-time longer than I ever will. In my mind, there are so many others things that should intrigue a child, like magnets or ladybugs or electricity or UNICORNS, for God’s sake. Every time I see a kid playing with a toy dinosaur, I want to sneak over and replace it with something like a Donny Osmond or William Shatner action figure. Yes, yes, the dinosaurs were around 160 million years before that unlucky, asteroid-lit night. But Shatner? Now THAT guy has real staying power.