Sunday, September 26, 2010

Toll

I am on the road for a few days, visiting my mother in Pennsylvania before heading to Washington DC for a work training. Travel went fine, and the highlight was that the toilets in O'Hare are now digital. You may think I'm joking, but you know how some toilets have plastic wrap on the seats and by pressing a button you can get a new clean sheet of saran wrap? The toilets in O'Hare have that, and I think it's odd that they spend so much attention on a small detail like toilet seats when they overlook other minor details like having ACTUAL PLANES leave the ACTUAL TERMINAL and fly to other ACTUAL LOCATIONS in some semblance of timeliness.

Getting stuck in O'Hare is especially awful because it's so close to home that if the plane gets cancelled it's tempting to sling the bag over my shoulder, start walking, and stick out my thumb; surely the drivers of Illinois, who are praised across Wisconsin for their kindness and good judgment*, will take pity a simple girl from the dairy state and give me a goddamn ride already. I'd even chip in the $0.40 for the toll, although I understand that now it's all electronic and the state of Illinois has eliminated one of the very last bastions of satisfaction left to humanity, which was cobbling together an entire toll's worth of pennies and throwing it in the basket with a giant CHING.

*If you are from Wisconsin you will understand that I am being sarcastic here. If you are not from Wisconsin, perhaps instead you can get enjoyment out of the fact that I worked very hard to correctly spell "judgment."

When I visit my mom, she always takes me clothes shopping because she knows if she didn't I would still be wearing a skort and a hoodie sweatshirt that I've had since eighth grade. I am just not into clothes. I mean, I am IN clothes, in the sense that I am wearing some, but if a fairy godmother gave me three wishes, I might use one of them to wish that I could wear the same clothes every day and not have anybody notice. I already wear the same black skirt to work four days a week which is akin to a dream come true so perhaps I should hoard my wishes instead and save up for something big that would benefit the entire human race. I can already hear David urging me to use those wishes to take out Favre.

In the store, the normal routine is that my mom brings me clothes and I try them on and then wait for her to tell me whether I like them or not. At one point today I stepped out of the dressing room to show her the shirt I was trying on and when she wasn't within eyesight I called out, "Mom!" Four middle-aged women turned around, all of whom I suspect would have been willing to give me their opinion on the shirt.

The toilets in O'Hare not only give you fresh plastic to rest your buns upon, but each toilet now has a small digital screen that shows the number of seconds until the new plastic will emerge. The screen also flashes short operational messages and tips. Gosh, I wish I were kidding about this. I wanted to take a picture of the toilets with my brand new cell phone that I just got a few days ago, before I remembered that my cell phone is so fashionably retro that it doesn't have a camera. Also, there is no "zero" on my cell phone number pad because that concept hadn't yet been invented at the time my phone was manufactured.

O'Hare airport was named after flying ace Butch O'Hare who died in WWII, and I feel a little sorry for his family who no doubt thought at the time that it was a very big honor for Mr. O'Hare to have an airport named after him. Nowadays I wonder how they feel about having their loved one's name on a facility that many travelers despise with nearly every fiber of their being (but being sure to leave out a few extra fibers so they can hate LAX too). The O'Hare family might want to swich the O'Hare name to a structure with a little higher status, like maybe a jail or sewage treatment plant. At any rate, the kids and I managed to make our way through O'Hare with a minimum of trauma, although I'm not sure I can say the same for my fellow passengers: they had to witness me in a skort.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Temperature

It's starting to get cold outside, and the furnace will be on soon. This means we'll be moving into the season of marital battles for control of the thermostat. We have different approaches to determining the proper temperature inside: David believes the thermostat should be set at the profligate, semi-tropical, expensive, energy-wasting temperature of 68; I'm continually turning the thermostat down while arguing that frostbite is not that big of a deal and the baby doesn't actually NEED all 10 toes. It's cliche, but I do tell him to put on a sweater. And a hat. Actually with the bedroom at 55 degrees he might need two hats. David gets up at noon most days but his heart doesn't actually start beating until about 2 PM and a cold house turns his plasma dangerously thick, or at least that's what he's trying to pawn off on me.

Also, I'm excited because we just got Netflix which means that jostling for control of the queue opens a whole range of new possibilities in marital strife.

Actually I'm a little concerned about the Netflix development. David thought it would be nice for he and I to watch some movies together. In theory I agree, but the only time available for that kind of activity is after the children go to bed, and that is very precious time. I once heard David beg off from a mid-morning work conference call (he works from home) saying that he had an important previous appointment at that hour -- and in fact he DID have an important previous appointment, but it was with his pillow, so in that vein, I will say that I have an important ongoing commitment every night at 9:30 PM as that is when my brain stops working regardless of whether I'm actually asleep. The likelihood of me being able to stay up for a whole movie seems about as likely as Sarah Palin finally finishing up that dissertation, so instead we got the first season of The Wire, thinking the shorter shows might mean we'd be more likely to watch something together and of course we haven't watched a minute because I just can't stay awake. I need something that can be broken down in really short components to watch, like maybe a whole DVD's worth of cute kitten videos from You Tube. (I occasionally try to watch short You Tube videos with Stella which is a mixed bag. You would be surprised how many of the animal videos feature them humping something.)

I won't have any time at all to watch any Netflix videos for the next couple weeks because we're going on a massive bi-coastal trip that involves airports in Harrisburg, Washington DC, Portland OR, and Seattle as well as two trains. This trip is so complex that I broke down and purchased a cell phone for the first time. Granted, it is the type of cell phone my grandmother would own, and yes I mean the grandmother who is dead because it is my understanding that only dead people have cell phones that don't have touch screens. David asked if my new phone was 3G and I had to laugh because I don't think this phone made it out of the Fs. This is not a phone that has "apps," unless you count the fact that it flips open. That's okay, since I'm thinking my primary use of this phone will be to actually talk to people. I basically went back in time to 2002 and purchased a cutting-edge phone from that year, and my understanding is that the Neanderthals in 2002 actually used their phones to make phone calls, unlike the today's cell phone users, and that the proto-humans from 2002 actually talked on their phone, at least to the extent that their not-yet-fully developed vocal cords allowed them to communicate in grunts.

I will not be posting for the next two weeks or so, due to the upcoming trip, which means you get a break from experiencing what it is like living in my brain. It's not so bad in here, but there's lots of videos of kittens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cousins

The big news is that I have a new niece! Baby Emily was 7 lbs 6 oz at birth, which after 9 lbs 6 oz Stella and 8 lbs 13 oz Walter, strikes me as DANGEROUSLY SMALL. Stella is very excited to get a new cousin, and although it's hard to tell with Baby W, I think he drooled a little more exuberantly when he heard the news.

This is Stella's first cousin on my side of the family. I do have some cousins of my own that are close to Stella's age that we sometimes refer to as her cousins, but I am loathe to credit them to her as I need all the cousins I can get. I have six cousins on both sides of the family for a total of 12, which is far less than David has. Entire Wisconsin counties are populated predominantly with David's cousins. It's a shame we didn't need to colonize other planets back mid-century, because David's grandparents would have been the perfect people to get sent off to Mars. Twenty years later the planet would be crawling with offspring. 

Every so often I ask David to estimate how many cousins he has, but the conversation tends to disintegrate into him scratching his head trying to remember whether Aunt Mary birthed 23 or wait maybe it was 32 kids out on the dairy farm. Adding to the confusion, half his male cousins seemed to be named Dan. At his sister's wedding, a man of David's age approached him, gave him a hug, and he and David had a quick affectionate catch-up conversation before moving on. "Who was that?" I asked. "My cousin," said David. Name? ".....Peeeeete?" said David hesitantly. "Mayyyyybe Pat?" See, that's a lot of cousins.

We are going to visit Baby Emily in a few weeks, and I am already devising ways to convince Stella she needs to be gentler with the new baby than she is with her brother. It doesn't help that Baby W is basically a large, genial mushroom who doesn't mind rough handling. Stella will be violently slamming his bouncy chair up and down, and instead of getting upset, Baby W squeals with glee. Baby W! Help me out here, kid! I thought we were on the same side on this! His self-preservation skills aren't worth crap. In the wild he'd get eaten by a grizzly on Day 1. Scratch that -- he'd get eaten by a hedgehog on Day 1. A hedgehog with asthma and a bum knee. (And yes, chances are good the hedgehog would be named Dan.)

Having a lot of cousins is especially handy for David when he has a band gig in Appleton. If 10% of his cousins turn out for the performance, there's a line out the door! But you never know who else is going to come to the bar. I was joking with David about the dangers of wild women throwing themselves at him at his gig, and Stella must have been listening more closely than I thought, because she said "Mama! What does s-l-u-t spell?"

I will not be going to the band gig because I desperately need more sleep. Exhibit A is that today I told Stella I couldn't go to the store until I finished "walting Nurser." He has started waking up about 2:30 AM and staying up for way too long, making exuberant aaaAAAAaaooo sounds that are not cute when they happen in the middle of the night. It's like when I see a sunrise -- I know I should be reveling in the natural beauty and the miracle that accompanies the start of every new day, but really I just wish I were back in bed. I should be cherishing the wee-hour gleeful baby burblings, but mostly I find myself thinking, shut your happy milk-hole and be adorable in the morning, why don't you?

There's multiple reasons I'm not as well-rested as I'd like recently-- it's partly Baby W's midnight news updates, and Stella's sleep disturbances don't help. The biggest reason, though, is that I have to sleep with one eye open. You never know when that damn hedgehog might attack.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Updates

Today Stella said to me, "Mama, I am being gentle to Baby W!" and then continued "But! I did wipe ear wax on him." Small steps.

Baby W's had another medical check-up, and the pediatrician once again sang the praises of Baby W's penis, almost word for word the same as the last appointment, calling Baby W's penis "nice." Poor baby is going to get a complex, because is that the word you want describing your penis? David is going to ask the pediatrician to switch to the phrase "frighteningly large."

Baby W is in the 99th percentile for weight and the 96th for height, following in Stella's very large footsteps. David immediately took this as fodder for his side of the Should We Have Three Kids Debate, pointing out that we don't need to have a third kid since we basically already HAVE three kids. It's just that their mass is spread out over only two bodies. David is a little concerned that I have declared myself "interested" in the idea of three children, although I try to ease his mind by telling him that I find a lot of ideas interesting, such as trepanning or eating chocolate covered ants, but that interest doesn't necessarily lead to action. 

I have been teaching Stella the Rock-Paper-Scissors game. She has developed a variation perfect for four year olds everywhere, called Rock-Paper-Scissors-HAMMER, where hammer is victorious over all. It goes like this:
Me: "Okay, I choose...rock [or scissors, or paper]."
Stella: "I choose hammer! SMASH SMASH SMASH! 

Stella's approach adheres to neither the letter nor the spirit of the original game, yet it has a certain utility and I am going to use it the next time a friend suggests it as a method for determining who picks up the tab at a restaurant.
Friend: "I choose....scissors."
Me: "I choose hammer! SMASH SMASH SMASH YOU TO SMITHEREENS! I suggest a 20% tip."

I was also going to suggest that the U.S. use the Rock-Paper-Scissors-HAMMER method to settle international disputes but then I realize that is more or less what we've been doing for the past 50 or 60 years anyway. SMASH YOU.

Baby W is getting great joy these days out of sucking his thumb. (And it almost goes without saying that Stella is getting great joy these days out of popping Baby W's thumb out of his mouth.) I don't know why the word "thumbsucker" is considered an insult; from my perspective, thumb sucking is fantastic because it allows the baby to soothe himself. It's like the mental equivalent of five years of anti-anxiety therapy, just waiting to be discovered right on your hand. If adults caught on to how great thumbs were, sales of Paxil would plummet. I'm glad Baby W can suck his thumb to make him happy, but I have found something else that serves that purpose for me. Stand back and pass the chocolate covered ants. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Overdrive

I sometimes like to skim the obituaries in the Wisconsin State Journal, which is a newspaper of fine journalistic standards that just happens to devote 98% of its articles to coverage of Badger games. As sad as it is, the Wisconsin State Journal -- and I can't help it, I almost always mentally call it the Wisconsin State Urinal, and devote a lot of concentration to avoid calling it that in professional situations -- is among best we have around here in terms of newspapers. When I was a graduate student at UW I liked to read The Badger Herald, a university newspaper that was apparently proofread by a flock of parakeets, which made it very rewarding to read. I always thought that getting a fairly competent fourth-grader in there to do some copy editing would have tightened things up a lot. The Badger Herald earned my undying devotion the day it described the Peace Corps as being founded by John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Another time, the Badger Herald referred to the group that sings "Takin' Care of Business" as Bachman Turner Overture, which delighted me so much that I began using that name at every opportunity. Granted, the opportunities are not numerous, but if "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" gets played on the sound system at the grocery store then by golly I use it as an chance to shout out Bachman Turner OVERTURE! I did this once with David and he gave me a look with equal parts compassion, horror, and pity before gently correcting me.

I like reading the obituaries in the paper because it gives me a sense of how much older people's lives differed from my own. I also like seeing the pleasures and accomplishments which in retrospect may seem modest but make up our lives and bind together our communities. So please do not think I am making fun of the person whose obit is included here. However, I do question whether the words "baloney sausage" belong in a memorial of someone's life. Shouldn't that space be reserved for a description of something that was more central to a person's identity? Like for example, Nutella. I am officially requesting right now that Nutella be mentioned in my obituary.

Come to think of it, Nutella will probably be the cause of my obituary. Embarrassing Nutella story: My mother-in-law has a sweet tooth and wasn't familiar with Nutella, so I bought a jar for her at the store the day before we were to a make a trip up to see her in Appleton. If you had bet money that it took me less than an hour to justify opening the jar by saying "I do believe there's grocery stores in Appleton too," you would of course be right.

This fellow was also a member of the National Riffle Association, which I am not familiar with, and yes I do realize it's not a good idea to make fun of typos made by people who like to shoot guns. I wouldn't mind being a member of the National Ruffle Association, since they make pretty good potato chips. David once sent me to the store to buy plain potato chips for a cookout we were attending, and when I returned bearing unflavored potato chips that had (gasp!) ruffles, I was deemed to have not followed instructions. He's never really trusted me with buying cookout-related groceries since then, especially since I have expressed indifference as to whether the brats were Johnsonville brand. In Wisconsin, that's a sin akin to dishonoring the flag, and the last thing I want to do is be unpatriotic. I prefer to follow the advice of a great president who once said "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I believe that president was John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bed

Stella is full of energy these days, and she is hard-pressed to use her exuberance for the benefit of humanity rather than for the detriment. Therefore we have a lot of conversations like this one from this morning:
Stella: "Baby W likes to eat boogers."
Me: "Really. What makes you think that?"
Stella: "I fed him one of mine just now and he smiled."

This excess energy gets taken out on Baby W. Many times I have left the room just for an instant and returned to find Stella grinding Baby W's face into the floor. "Stella!" I say. "Are you being gentle to your brother?" She stares at me in bewilderment. "No," she says, because, hello genius, does it look like she's trying to be gentle to her brother? Gentle is not in the portfolio these days.

When Stella gets in this kind of mood, I try to make sure she & Baby W are never alone together, and bring Baby W into the bathroom when I take a shower. Stella likes to come in too, and I can see through the frosted glass of the shower door that something is happening out in the bathroom between them but I can't tell quite what. It's a lot like Blair Witch in that you don't know exactly what's going on but you know it's not good. This morning when I got out of the shower I found Baby W fairly unmolested except for a return address label stuck on his cheek. Might be Stella's way of dropping a little hint to her parents.

If I were Baby W I would run as fast as I could in the other direction when I saw Stella coming. But of course Baby W is basically as mobile as an avocado (and shaped a lot like one too), plus he's crazy about Stella. The cats on the other hand, somehow manage to maintain a perfect five-foot radius from her at all time, and then take revenge on everybody in the household for their trouble by meowing at jackhammer volume the whole damn night. There have been many nights when I am awoken by the cats desperately meowing somewhere in the house, and I get out of bed because because I am mistakenly convinced they are trapped in a room and can't get out. They're trapped, all right. But by their own scarcity of brain cells.

There has also been backsliding from the moderate success we had in Operation Sleep In Your Own Bed Already Please Please Please. Our policy has been that she needs to start out in her own bed, but if she feels sad or lonely in the middle of the night, she may come upstairs and join me in bed. (David doesn't go to bed until 4 AM, so it's just me in the bed for most of the night, with Baby W nearby.) I don't mind this policy, except that having Stella in my bed requires what I call defensive sleeping techniques. If you think that sounds like something from a combat manual, you'd be right, since there is a war going on -- a war for bed territory. It's like Ypres, only with pillows. My approach is to spread as much as I can and start out as close to her side as humanly possible, so as to preserve maximum maneuvering space for myself when she starts climbing into my pajamas. Above all, I've learned that whatever happens, do not show weakness by getting up to go to the bathroom. She will instantly reclaim any of the ground I've fought so hard to protect, and have the Treaty of Versailles negotiated and signed before I even flush.

I sometimes spend part of the night sleeping with Stella on her single futon, which is not very restful. I have had that futon for a long time, and in fact when I first met David that futon was the bed I was sleeping on. When he stayed over at my place, we both slept on that futon together so I know it can be done, although come to think of it those nights were not very restful either. But for an entirely different reason.

David and I are both fretting a little about Stella's sleeping situation, which is unusual in that we like to fret about different types of things. I like to fret big, and David frets small. I fret about massive currency devaluation, riots in the streets, the crumbling of public systems, and whether I need to learn how to shoot and skin rabbits. David, on the other hand, worries about earaches. Also, he does not like Baby W to wear socks to bed because he is afraid they will come off his feet and somehow asphyxiate the baby while he sleeps. But I think there's one more thing that we can both agree to fret about: What if it turns out our son really does like to eat boogers?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fan

David is immersed in the Packer pre-season. This means spending significant time watching and debating the performance of nth-string cornerbacks who are not only not going to get game time in the regular season, they're not even going to be on the team during the regular season. They're going to be back in Toothville, Oklahoma working at the car wash and watching the Packers on the tube like everyone else, but for some reason in September their performance against a couple other nth-string players on other teams that the Packers may not even play during the regular season becomes very important, not that those other guys would necessarily make the team even if the Packers did play them.

You may be surprised to learn that I am not a big football fan.

Stella, on the other hand, enjoys watching football with David, although it does cause her some anxiety. After every big pile-on tackle, she turns to David and says, "Is that guy okay?" Sure! Sure he's okay! Unless you count the increased likelihood of crippling neurological damage and dementia later in life. Which the NFL apparently does not.

I used to be more of a football fan pre-kids, and once or twice even watched a game where the Packers weren't playing. Then I decided I was learning a little too much about football. One ugly day I realized I could name more Packers players than members of the Supreme Court, and I knew my brief period of being a fan needed to come to an end. (And although some professional sports players later go into politics, I don't think there's any intersection between the Packers and the Supreme Court, although Ruth Bader Ginsburg previously played for the Cardinals.) The good news is that I never fully absorbed the concept of West Coast Offense, no matter how many times David tried to explain it to me. There's hope for me yet.

David is a big Packers fan, and feels that people who root for other football teams are at best misguided and at worst morally corrupt. Still, he pities them since their poor choice in football teams is determined in part by geography, a factor to some degree out of their control. The poor things can't help it if they were born in Chicago. It's sort of like how I imagine the Pope feels towards Jews: perfectly nice people, but come Judgment Day, they're headed to a bad, bad place. That's right: they're going to Toothville, Oklahoma.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Volunteer

Traditionally I've spent Labor Day weekend working to organize a run/walk that raises money for the organization I used to work for. I'm taking a well-deserved year off from helping this year, and it feels great. The hardest part was always scaring up enough volunteers to be out on the course during the event. I certainly hit up everyone I knew to volunteer, and it got to the point where if I saw someone at the grocery store who seemed halfway responsible I asked them too. ("You, sir! By the peaches! Show up tomorrow at the Vilas Park Shelter at 8 AM!")

My friends knew to not make eye contact with me for most of August, as I would launch myself at their ankles and not let go until they promised to volunteer. They'd have to drag me around to wherever they were going and they would usually just agree to volunteer to get rid of me. ("I did -- oof --have other plans -- hey, don't hold my ankle so tight! -- but I'll cancel them and volunteer instead.")

Another tactic was to imply that people who did not volunteer were refusing to help child abuse victims in need, since the run/walk raised funds to help an organization that provided services to these victims. Like this:
Guy at Grocery Store by the Peaches: "I'd love to help out, but we're hosting a cookout and I can't come."
Me: "Oh, so you hate child abuse victims? As if these kids haven't suffered enough, you kick them when they are down."
Guy: "No, it's just that I --"
Me: "You probably are a child abuser yourself."
Guy: "What? No, I -- oof! Hey, let go of my ankle!"

Good weather helped the event raise more money, but since we had the sponsorship funding up front and a lot of participants pre-registered, the run/walk came out in the black even if there was a torrential downpour. In fact I used to fantasize about a tornado carrying away the park shelter half an hour before the event started. I would stare grimly at the structure being blown away but secretly I would be rejoicing because hey, now we can't have the event and we already have the money!

Although what if the park shelter blew to Oz? Would I have to organize a run/walk there? Problem is, I'm not sure munchkins even have ankles.