How my ‘career’ prepared me for motherhood

The other day, my son threw open the door to his room and called out, “Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

I took my cue and went in to browse. My son pointed me toward the bed, which was strewn with an array of random objects.

“The stuff in the way back is all clearance,” he explained. “But those items are final sale.”

“Good to know.”

I left the “shop” with a snow globe, a teddy bear, a single sock, two pencils, a cat toy, three books, a pillow and an earring I had lost months before, apparently behind his bed. Apart from the pillow, everything had been packed into two carrier bags.

The total had come to $5,000.

“Where are we? Venezuela?” I had asked.

He nodded seriously.

“Yes. Yes, we are.”

While swiping my imaginary credit card (he wouldn’t accept imaginary cash) he asked me to put my name and email down on his mailing list for special offers.

What can I say? The kid knows his retail.

When his dad arrived home from work, Jack scurried back up to his room.

“Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

My husband, good sport that he is,  went to have a look.

“Sorry, sir, that’s the wrong door,” my son said.

My husband stood looking confused.

“You have to climb over that barrier first,” my son said, pointing to absolutely nothing.

“I climb over the barrier,” my husband said. “Okay.”

“Now you have to duck under the other barrier.”

He ducked.

“Now you go down the slide.”

He slid. Or pretended to.

“Am I in the shop yet?” he asked and my son nodded.

“The items in the back row are clearance. They are final sale.”

My husband’s haul came to $10,000.

“That’s outrageous!” he cried.

“It’s a game, dear,” I reminded him.

He shook his head and paid, although I could tell his Scottish sensibilities were gravely offended.

“You know, your business model could use a little work,” he said, eyeing the store hours sign that read “Open: 10-11, 4-5.”

“And the entrance doesn’t make it easy for your customers to get in.”

My son shrugged and skipped down the stairs to play something else.

“Actually, I know a few stores that operate like this,” I said. “They’ve stayed in business for years.”

And herein lies the difference between my husband and me. Since finishing university he has always worked in the corporate world, where things are (for the most part) practical and make sense.

My background is in journalism. Did I wield my Fourth Estate powers as a hard-hitting correspondent for a major news network, uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government?

Let’s just say that no one got the results from the 4-H show unless I got to work on time.

As a small-town newspaper reporter I got to see it all. In some cases, twice.

Name a strange situation and I’ve been there. Think of the most outrageous lie someone could tell and I’ve heard it.

I once interviewed a woman who hoped her vast collection of Strawberry Shortcake memorabilia — rumored to be the largest in the world — would be enough to draw customers to the bed and breakfast she’d spent her life savings opening.

I spent several freezing hours making conversation with a cop next to the body of a man who had committed suicide by jumping from the highest building in town, a 6-story parking garage.

I nodded knowingly when an elderly woman hooked up to an oxygen tank and sucking back a beer at 2 p.m. informed me that the crappy post-industrial town she lived in was “God’s country.”

I’ve been cursed at by an Episcopalian priest, hugged by a prison warden and informed by a Somali refugee that I needed to gain weight. (Lovely woman, she was.)

It’s quite a job, one many ambitious young reporters use as a stepping stone to the big city dailies. That was a transition I would never make as I had little aptitude for the profession, in part because I have the world’s least developed news sense.

Here’s an approximation of the sort of conversation I had several times a week with my editor:

Me (hanging up the phone): “Gotta run! Someone’s found a frost heave in their driveway that resembles Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Should I bring a photographer?”

Editor: “We just got a tip that one the selectmen in [name of a town I covered, usually ending in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton] has been arrested for embezzling municipal funds. He planned on using the money to run away with the police chief’s wife.”

Me: “Hmmm, tough call.”

Editor: “Not really. Cover the selectman story.”

Me (shrugging): “Okay but what’s my angle?”

So when my son pretended to open a store with crappy hours, inflationary prices and an impenetrable entrance, it all felt familiar. I was immediately transported back to one of countless “Make Downtown Relevant Again” meetings I used to sit through in any number of towns that ended in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton.

The objective of each meeting was to draw visitors to the long neglected main retail drags people were bypassing to shop at the big box complexes opening up everywhere in small-town USA.

I distinctly remember the owner of a shop selling things no working class family needed or wanted — hand-thrown coffee mugs for $25 and monstrous-looking wire lawn ornaments hand-twisted in India for $75 to name two — lamenting she couldn’t compete with large retailers.

Because a journalist is never supposed to “get involved” in the story, I refrained from suggesting she’d have better luck selling things that more than five people in town could afford to buy. Or that her restricted hours 11-4, NO JOKE, might make it difficult for prospective customers who worked 9-5 to avail themselves of her pricey goods.

So I sat through meeting after meeting while artist coops and fair trade jewelers scratched their heads and fumed about losing customers to Walmart.

This resistance to logic was in no way limited to retailers. The upside of encountering these attitudes is that I never need to negate things when it comes to imaginary play. (I mean, not that I would.)

Your shop is at the end of a water slide? Cool!

You are a ballerina zombie who was brought back from the dead to fight evil? Rock on.

You made that pie out of dog s—t and rocks and you want me to have a slice? Ha-ha! Nice try. Put it down and wash your hands.

thomas-sign-e1488378491338.jpg
The sign my son made after I tried to shop with imaginary cash.

Five products that fail to deliver on their promise to parents

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
-The Princess Bride

Parents need to print out the above quotation and staple it to their foreheads. Because we repeatedly fall for marketing pitches that convince us certain products will make our existence as parents easier. They never do.

Here are five that have earned my seal of disapproval:

1. Nighttime diapers claiming not to resemble diapers

Produced for older children who are still having trouble mastering overnight bladder control — and there’s no shame in that — nearly every brand on the market claims to “look and feel like real underwear!” This is presumably so kids can go to sleepovers and not feel embarrassed.

It would work but for one simple reason: the second urine hits this diaper-in-disguise, it swells up like a marshmallow in a microwave. Unless your kid can convince his pals he has a ripcord in his drawers that he pulled in the middle of the night (“Got ‘em on Amazon”), everyone’s going to know he or she wet the bed.

2. Any lotion/cream/oil/belly balm that guarantees it can “reduce the appearance of stretch marks.”

Unless you’ve won the genetic lottery, your postpartum stomach will forever resemble the jowls of a depressed geriatric.

You want to know what reduces the appearance of stretch marks? Clothes.

Perhaps the marketing folks could start exploiting that. Cotton could go from being “The fabric of our lives” to “The fabric that lets you forget you can grasp a section of your stomach in your hands and pull six inches in any direction.”

3. “No more tears” shampoo

F—k you, Johnson and Johnson. Just. F—k. You.

4. Training pants that claim to make potty training easy.

You know what makes potty training easy? Having a kid who wants to be potty trained. All training pants do is make it easier for your child to pull down her pants and pee on the sofa while you’re in the other room.

5. Thermometers that claim to work.

Thermometers, whether of the forehead-swiping, ear-sticking, or tongue-tucking variety are presumably meant to give us a reliable approximation of our child’s temperature EVERY TIME WE USE THEM. This way we know whether to hit the “Oh crap!” panic button and call the doctor.

But unless you buy the $700 hospital-grade version, every parent will at one point be awake in the middle of the night with a feverish, sweating child and a thermometer that gives the repeated and cheerful reading of “97.5!”

 

If manufacturers really wanted to do parents a favor, they would mass-market the following products:

-A mute button. I’m kidding. Unless the technology already exists.

-A gage that shows how full your children’s bladders are since they can’t be trusted to relate these things reliably themselves.

-Five extra arms. One with a kung fu grip.

-A device that delivers controlled doses of chardonnay into your blood stream with the push of a button.

-A pill that immediately erases whatever dumb kids’ song that gets stuck in your head. (Get bent, Fresh Beat Band.)

Look back and laugh

You know when you’re going through a tough time and people say, “You’ll laugh about this one day”?

I’m kinda having one of those moments right now.

My last post here was about my daughter undergoing invasive scans to check the size of her cancerous tumors. Implied in that was all the pain this child has suffered since she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma as a baby, from the surgeries to the debilitating rounds of chemotherapy, the nights in the ER with sudden fevers to the non-stop vomiting and diarrhea.

So you can imagine something minor would leave her primary caregiver, me, completely unfazed.

Not even close.

Yesterday afternoon, when the same surviving cancer rock star daughter was closing the car door, she managed to trap her pinky in it.  As in, the door was ALL THE WAY SHUT, and she was shrieking and trying to pull her hand out.

And what did I, mother of a cancer patient, veteran of some seriously scary s—t do? I freaked the f—k out.

“NO!!!!!” I screamed, rushing to her and yanking the door open. Her pinky was slightly bent. And purple. Not good signs, but nothing major, at least compared to the botched biopsy they did on her skull five years ago.

“My baby! My baby!” I wailed, completely out of proportion to the situation at hand, hugging her tight.

“Jack!” I yelled to my son. “Get in the car, we’re going to the hospital.”

A skilled bystander in many a medical crisis, my son said, “Yay! Can I bring my iPad?”

Let me tell you I drove like I was heading to the Hazzard County line, Roscoe P. Coltrane in hot pursuit.

“Move! Please, move!” I called out to absolutely no one who could hear me. “This is an emergency.”

“Mom, you forgot the radio,” my son reminded me.

I punched the dial distractedly.

“No, not this song.”

In a Linda Blair voice I shouted, “I can’t change it, I’m driving! Your sister is in terrible pain!”

He glanced over at her.

“She looks fine to me.”

In truth she did. She had calmed down a lot and just sat sobbing quietly.

This didn’t stop me from screeching into the emergency room parking lot practically on two wheels, scooping my daughter up and running for the entrance.

“Mom! Wait for me!” my son called.

As always, the ER receptionists were calm and collected, which always drives me crazy. My daughter was quickly triaged and brought back for an X-ray.

“No shots?” my daughter asked everyone we encountered, from the receptionist to the janitor to a woman sitting with her sick baby in the waiting room.

“Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” the X-ray technician asked me as she draped a lead apron over my daughter.

“I would kick my husband’s a—,” I replied.

“I’ll take that as a ‘No,’” she said.

Back in the waiting room, my daughter asked if she would need a shot and then demanded to know where the gift shop was and if they sold stuffed animals. This kid knows her hospitals.

In next to no time, she was seen by a doctor, who, after assuring my daughter she wouldn’t need a shot, declared the pinky not broken, just swollen and tender. She wrapped it in a splint and told me to take her to an orthopedic surgeon in a week’s time to check for permanent damage.

My daughter was disappointed she didn’t get a cast, and downright aghast that she didn’t get to ride out on a wheelchair, which is how she usually exits the hospital.

“At least you don’t have to get any shots,” I reminded her.

All told, we were home in time for dinner, bath and bed.

And when the house was finally quiet, I had to laugh. Not because my daughter had been hurt, but because it was such a minor incident compared to everything she has gone through. If this is as bad as it gets from now on out, we’re going to be fine.

At least, we will be if I can learn to CALM THE EFF DOWN.

No more scans

Twice a year, we don’t get to pretend life is normal.

On these days, I drive my daughter to the hospital still in her PJs, usually fussy, sometimes crying because she is hungry and thirsty but can’t eat or drink before the tests she is about to have.

She is the youngest patient in the waiting room by decades. The nurses give her Disney princess stickers or abbreviated coloring books titled — I kid you not — “My Trip to Radiology.”

Every single time, I fill out the same form:

Has the patient had surgery?

Are you kidding?

If so, give the dates.

I list months and years because the actual dates have blurred together.

Has the patient ever had cancer?

Duh.

Does the patient have a penile implant?

Giggle.

We wait for an hour, sometimes two, once for three. When they finally call her name and lead us to the procedure area, I give her long and extensive medical history to the anesthesiologist and beg him (it’s always a him) to please, please, please put anti-nausea medicine in her IV. It will mean the difference between her vomiting once or twice when she wakes up or for the rest of the day.

The doctor always present a syringe filled with the pink liquid sedative Versed. Since I’m not allowed to walk her into the treatment room due to the completely safe levels of radiation, they want her calm when they take her from me.

When she was a baby she took the medicine easily. In her toddler years she pushed it away, or took it and then promptly threw it up. Now that she’s a mature child of 6, we have an agreement, one that many — but not all — anesthesiologists can’t get their heads around. I don’t make her drink the medicine, she goes bravely into the treatment room without melting down.

Many — but not all — anesthesiologists don’t believe she can do it, so I have to bust out my own medical credentials, namely an advanced degree in She’s My Kid, This Isn’t Our First Rodeo, So Kindly Step Off. The nurses always come to my aid, although from the way they shake their heads I can tell they are used to being ignored by Those Who Must Be Obeyed. (If it sounds like I have contempt for doctors, I don’t. I adore them, especially pediatric oncologists, who are g-d—n unsung heroes in my opinion. For some reason, though, most — but not all — anesthesiologists drive me crazy, probably because I disagree with their assessment that God wears a name tag and Crocs.)

They take her from me, weeping but not bawling, and I wave good bye smiling. Inside I am screaming.

The hospital has a chapel. I don’t know if God exists but I go into that room, get on my knees and beg. Please let her sleep soundly, please comfort her when she wakes up, please ease her pain. It feels hypocritical to pray when I’m not even sure what I believe but a parent in this position will do anything.

It’s a sentiment perhaps best summed up by the protagonist of one of the greatest novels of our time, Peter Benchley’s Jaws. At one point, when the beleaguered police chief is powerless to stop attacks on swimmers he declares, “If someone came in here and said he was Superman and could piss the shark away from here, I’d say fine and dandy. I’d even hold his d—k for him.”

Man is this is ever true. Except for the pee and d—k parts. Gross. But if someone told me standing on my head and coloring my face green would ease her pain, I’d flip over and grab the paint. It someone told me the universe is being presided over by a cosmic Elmer Fudd, I’d tell him which way the Wascally Wabbit went and ask him to grant my child mercy.

After the praying comes the waiting. At least four hours, sometimes more than six. For some reason, without fail, there is a band playing Irish music in the hospital lobby, and I don’t mean U2 or the Pogues.

Now, I love Irish folk music as much as the average person. Probably more since I have a few albums. But when this band’s music bounces off the cold marble floors off the hospital lobby, it sounds discordant and irritating, like a 3-year-old sawing at a violin or an accordion being dropped down a flight of stairs.

It’s a huge relief when the call comes in that they have finished the tests.

Upstairs in the recovery room, my daughter is a tiny body in a room full of giants. Groggy and quiet she clings to me as she slowly wakes up, while other patients groan or even rant in alarm because they don’t know where they are. If they shout I cover her ears. The nurses are remarkable at settling the patients down. They must be great with drunks.

On the drive home my daughter usually vomits, a surprised look on her face as the bile erupts from her mouth and nostrils. At home we cuddle and wait for the doctor’s phone call.

With a few exceptions it has been good news: the tumors are the same size, or they’ve shrunk the tiniest bit. We all exhale with relief. I say a prayer of thanks. We are officially granted leave to live in denial for the next six months, which is how we roll in this house.

But last week, when I steeled myself to schedule her next set of scans, I was given a pleasant shock by her oncologist. It’s been three years since she stopped chemotherapy, something I hadn’t realized in the daily chaos of life.

At this point, it is so unlikely the cancer will start growing again that the scans to check their size are considered more harmful than useful. Instead they will check her urine and test her blood once a year.

It’s a joy and a relief. She is no longer the ghostly pale baby who practically lived in a hospital bed. She’ll never again be the bald toddler with track marks in her arms. And now she won’t be the kid who is dragged out of school for debilitating tests and assessments.

She’s not completely out of the woods. She probably never will be, a thought that hangs over our heads when we let it, usually on Christmas and her birthday.

But for now, her life has gotten that little bit better. And for that, we are grateful.

When my daughter channels Steve Martin

As a parent you get used to hearing the same things over and over. This is in part because you repeat yourself so much, since children don’t hear anything unless you’ve said it three times. It’s also because kids — at least the ones I gave birth to — ask the same questions and parrot the same phrases every. damn. day.

Son: Mom, why did you just say ‘Jesus’?
Me (cringing): I was praying.
Son: You pray a lot when you’re driving.
Daughter (nodding): You do. You do pray a lot when you’re driving.

But the fun part of parenting is when your children say things you know you’ve heard before, just not from them.

Tell me I’m not alone in this.

Because so far I’ve pinpointed two famous comedians my children are channeling without even knowing it. How awesome is that?

I first noticed it when my son began starting every sentence with, “Remember back when…?” This in itself was amusing because he was only 5 at the time. It got even better when he would take a protracted stroll down memory lane, only to arrive at a non-conclusion:

Son: Remember when we went to see Nana and Papa?
Me: Yes.
Son: And we had to sleep at a hotel on our way there?
Me: Yes.
Son: And there was dead cockroach in our room?
Me: Half a roach, but yes.
Son: And when we got to Nana’s, Nana told us we could go swimming?
Me: Um hmm.
Son: And we went swimming?
Me: Yes.
Long pause.
Son: That was cool.

Tell me you know where I’m going with this.

Back in the ‘90s (I can’t believe I just said that), Chris Farley had a talk show on Saturday Night Live, in which he would do the same thing with his celebrity guests:

Chris (interviewing Jeff Daniels): You were in Purple Rose of Cairo. Remember when you were doing your movie and Mia Farrow was watching and then you came down off the screen and talked to her? And you were in black and white when you were on the screen but when you talked to her you were in color?
Jeff: Yeah, what about it?
Chris: You remember that?
Jeff: Yes.
Chris: That was awesome.

Or, my personal favorite:

Chris (interviewing Paul McCartney): Remember when you were with the Beatles?
Paul: Sure.
Chris: That was awesome.

Even better than this is when my daughter channels the great Steve Martin, something that happens on those admittedly rare nights she doesn’t want to go to bed.

Most nights:

Me: Time for bed.
Daughter: Okay!
She picks up her stuffed lion and goes to bed.

On the occasional night when she’s cranky, has had a bad day, or is coming down with something:

Me: Time for bed!
Daughter (sobbing): Noooooooo.
Me: Sorry, sweetie, but it’s time to go to sleep.
Daughter: Okay, fine, fine.
Me: Do you want Lion?
Daughter: No! (Looking around.) I just want this. (Picks up a Lego figurine.)
Me: Okay.
Daughter: And this. (Scoops up a novelty straw she was playing as a flute earlier.) And this. (Snatches a paper napkin.) And this. (Scoops up a marble.) And this….

Which is how her bed ends up looking like this some mornings:

messy-bed-2

Now, in The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character does the EXACT SAME THING. When he finds out he’s gone from rags to riches and back to rags again, he shuffles tearfully through his mansion telling his wife:

“I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff. I don’t need you, I don’t need anything. Except this. (He picks up an ashtray.) I don’t anything except this ashtray. And this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this. The remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game and the remote control and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, these matches and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game, the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need, too. I don’t need one other thing. Not one — I need this. The paddle game and the chair. What are you looking at? What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something? And this. This magazine…”

I know, I know, it’s UNCANNY.

The best part is, my kids are still pretty young. Who knows who they’ll start channeling next.

The Blizzard of 2017: One mother’s harrowing tale of survival

Wednesday, 1/4: Reports come in that North Carolina is in for two to four inches of snow Friday night. All the local stations promise extensive of coverage of this “severe” weather. No, seriously, they use the word “severe.”

Thursday, 1/5: Since people didn’t lose their s—t enough, predictions have been changed to three to six inches of snow. North Carolina residents are urged to stock up on bread and milk. We don’t eat much of either so instead I buy beer and cheese.

We’re gonna get through this.

Friday, 1/6: People are finally taking this storm seriously. When I stop by Whole Foods the parking lot is filled to bursting with tank-sized SUVs and hybrids.

Inside it is upper middle class chaos. The shelves have been cleared of bone broth and a nervous-looking mother stuffs bundles of kale into a bag while her toddler munches on a dehydrated snow pea.

The line for the express lane snakes back to the GMO-free bakery, so I decide we can live without smoked turkey legs and place my empty basket back.

On the drive home I pass a municipal salt truck preparing the roads. Spying one is like laying eyes on a narwhal for the first time: you know they exist but can’t quite believe it until you see one for yourself. Since it takes days for Charlotte to clean up after a snow fall, I always assumed the city salt truck consisted of the vice mayor shoveling kitty litter onto the road from the back of a slow-moving Dodge Ram.

Putting the children to bed that night is akin to tucking them in on Christmas Eve. My daughter details the many things she will do in the snow: go sledding, make snow angels, build a snowman. I nod encouragingly, knowing she will be lucky if there is enough to scrape together one sad-looking snow ball.

Saturday, 1/7: At approximately 3 am my daughter asks me if it has snowed. I tell her we will see in the morning. She jumps off the bed and runs to the window.

“Mom, I can’t see anything,” she says.

“That’s because it’s the middle of the night.”

“Can you turn a light on outside so I can see?”

I resist the urge to tell her to get a job and her own place and somehow get her back to sleep.

During breakfast, wide, fat snowflakes begin falling over the layer of ice that accumulated overnight. When we finally make it outside, my son stares around at the thin layer of powder on the ground and asks, “Is this it?”

It is.

He goes back inside to play Subway Surfers.

My daughter really tries to make this work. She flops on her back and moves her arms and legs to make a snow angel. She does a wonderful job of crushing the grass into just the right shape.

We walk down the street to the local park where children are sledding down the only hill they can find: a steep incline by the tennis courts. Over and over they climb the few feet to the top, then have two seconds of sliding before they thwack into the chain link fence. We listen to the thwacks for a few minutes before my daughter decides snow is cold and she wants to go home.

We spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate, going for walks and playing CandyLand. By the time the sun sets, the snow has started melting.

Sunday, 1/8: There are some patches of snow but either the vice mayor or Mother Nature did their job well because most of the roads are clear.

The kids have no interest in being outside because the ground is wet and slushy.

At 6 p.m. I receive an automated call from the school district, informing me that school will be closed the next day due to the “severe” weather. Outside the cat chases after a cardinal and a man walks two golden retrievers.

The district’s Facebook page is a pen of venom, as ticked off parents berate the district. Since every employer in town — except the school district — will be open for business the next day, parents have been left scrambling to make child care arrangements.

Others berate the beraters, pointing out that the school district is trying to keep kids safe, that school buses can’t drive safely in the snow.

“What snow???” one man asks. “There is no snow.”

A woman posts a picture of her road, which is still slick with ice. They start calling each other names and questioning each other’s level of education and general competency, so I sign off and make plans to keep my kids entertained the next day.

Our governor offers these words of wisdom: “Travel conditions are still hazardous. Do not be fooled by the sun.”

That tricky sun.

Monday, 1/9: After a long and trying day of dealing with my kids, I receive an automated call from the school district. Due to the “severe” weather, there will be no school the next day. What they mean is, “Because there is still ice on one school parking lot at the far edges of the district, we won’t have school for anyone.”

Here’s the kicker: Teachers are expected to show up to work.

I add Amaretto to my hot chocolate and try not to cry. It’s not that my kids are horrible, I am merely at my saturation point. I’ve just had three weeks of their delightful company over the winter school break. I haven’t been able to GSD (Get Stuff Done), and it’s driving me crazy.

Tuesday, 1/10: We have exhausted every game in the house. We have assembled and disassembled every puzzle. We have taken long walks along the city greenway and run around like maniacs at the park.

When the phone rings that evening and I see the district’s number, I answer it with trembling hands. The spokeswoman’s cheerful voice informs me there WILL be school tomorrow. I almost sob with relief.

And yet…

…and yet I live in fear of the next “severe” weather system to hit the region. Because every year of the seven I have lived here, we’ve had snow and ice storms that shut everything down. And every time, the locals say, “We never get this kind of weather.”

These are not wimpy people. They operate in dangerously hot and humid summers, they display no fear in the face of the rat-sized flying cockroaches that apparently have the deed to every house in the state. My elderly neighbor routinely kills copperheads with a shovel.

So to see them react with such caution to snow and ice is kind of cute. Or would be, if they weren’t in charge of the %*#ing school district.

How dolphins ruined childbirth for me. (The f**kers.)

Something parents are expected to teach kids these days is emotional self regulation. Apparently the method of clobbering your kid if he or she loses their s—t is now frowned upon. Instead you are supposed to teach them controlled breathing, visualization, even meditation to help them deal with the roller coaster of emotions that cause them to act like assholes.

This past week I was helping my son come up with a “safe space,” an imaginary place he can retreat to in his mind hen he is feeling overwhelmed. Logically, he chose the 72nd floor of a hotel in Atlantic City. I have no idea how he even knows what Atlantic City is, or why he settled for the 72nd floor when he could have easily made it the 110th, but there you have it. I’m guessing penthouse-level views of tainted sea water and drug addicts sleeping off a binge in the sand make him feel all warm and cozy. Aaaawww.

My son then asked if I had my own “safe space.” Tempted to tell him the truth — a slab of chocolate and season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — instead I said, “Mine is a spot in a beautiful forest next to a gurgling spring.”

This isn’t exactly a lie, as this was the “safe space” I came up with when I was preparing to give birth to him.

At the time I lived in what was apparently an extremely fertile suburb of London, as every childbirth class in the immediate vicinity was full. The only option available would have required two bus rides and a train journey (at night), so instead I turned to books and relaxation CDs.

So stupid.

Because every single guru on the market trumpeted the same approach to relaxation during childbirth: picture yourself on a tropical beach.

Look, I am a redhead with reeaaalllly pale skin. Being on a tropical beach is an invitation to sunstroke and/or certain death. It would be like telling an agoraphobic to make their safe space the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl.

But then one relaxation coach made it infinitely worse. In dulcet tones she suggested that, while slowly frying on the sand, I picture two dolphins swimming nearby in the surf to encourage me on my journey.

Aw hell no.

Because as anyone who knows me understands, I f—king hate dolphins. Can’t stand the little assholes. Perhaps the only thing on the planet that could make slowly desiccating in a tropical sun worse in my opinion is to have two of those snarky little SOBs swimming by.

To be fair, it’s not all their fault. About half of my ire comes from the veritable saint status we humans have assigned these creatures, mischaracterizing them as submissive and mild sweethearts who just live for the chance to perform at marine parks and rescue Sandy and Bud from sharks.

But like all animals (yes, humans included), they can be vicious and cruel.

Don’t believe me? Then I suggest you take the highly scientific step of Googling “dolphin attacks.” I’ll wait.

See?

Now, whether they have the right to attack humans seeing as how we pollute the oceans and force them to do stupid tricks such as jump through hoops and search for mines is one thing, but dolphins can also be pricks to each other. They beat up on porpoises, although I’ll bet they’re also jerks. Their sexual practices can be violent and coercive. Males sometimes engage in infanticide. I mean, all behaviors you expect of animals in the wild but hardly the sort of thing you want commemorated on a keychain.

I only became aware of my contempt for them after I went on one of those stupid dolphin encounters years ago. Like most people, I was a sucker for the creatures, having watched “Flipper” growing up. It didn’t occur to me until I showed up at the venue that if you love animals, you probably shouldn’t put them in cages and force them to interact with you but hell, I had a lot to learn. I was only 30.

The place I went to was a penned-in lagoon, the water a dingy brown color. My husband and I were instructed to stand on a platform in the water facing each other while a dolphin swam in between us. Damn, but they are big creatures up close. Once next to one, you also become acutely aware that they are strong and powerful and if they don’t like you, they could make your life pretty miserable.

We listened to the trainer’s spiel and pet the dolphin and posed for pictures and it was all amaze balls. But the dolphin kept pushing up against me, a few times so hard I almost fell off the platform.

“Didn’t it hurt?” I asked my husband after we climbed out of the lagoon.

“What?”

“When he stuck his side fin between your legs? He kept doing that and it was starting to piss me off.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“He didn’t do it to me.”

Oh great. I had just experienced “bad touch” at the pectorals of a dolphin. I’d never be able to watch The Little Mermaid again without a trigger warning.

Look, I’m not saying the dolphin was purposefully engaging in unprivileged physical contact (so to speak), but since that encounter I have heard all sorts of stories about people getting nipped, bit, pushed and even “mounted” by the creatures.

So no, they are no longer on my list of preferred animals, which is why I was forced to pull up sticks on the tropical “safe space” promoted by all the relaxation gurus and move to a climate more suitable to my needs.

My imagined safe space was in a forest glen. A very well-shaded forest glen. The only animals allowed were butterflies because for all I know deer are assholes too.

Unfortunately, as the delivery date approached, I found it harder to concentrate during my relaxation sessions. Without warning my mind would whisk me from the cool, dark floor of the forest to a broiling white hot beach, where dolphins bobbed in the waves making obscene gestures or dragging one fin slowly across their throats in a slashing gesture.

By the time I found myself in the unimaginable agony of pitocin-fueled labor, the forest glen had been leveled in a wildfire and the dolphins were sitting in the delivery room like they owned the place, making long distance calls on my cell phone while detailing their unsavory plans for my young once he was birthed.

Of course, not much could have eased the pain and stress of that delivery, but it might have been easier if those f—king dolphins hadn’t showed up.

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Reading to my children: the Roddy Doyle Experience

 

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The Grinch hated Christmas—
—Why?
—Well, we’ll find out if we keep reading.
—What’s a grinch?
—It’s like a, it’s that thing on the page.
—Is it an animal?
—I guess so. He looks like one. The whole Christmas
—What kind?
—What?
—What kind of animal.
—Maybe a bear?
—He doesn’t look like a bear.
—What does he look like?
—A fish with feet.
—Then that’s what he is. Now, please don’t
—Why’s he living on land?
—Because he’s a fish who can breathe.
—Wouldn’t that make him a different animal then?
—Probably.
—Can we keep reading?
—Gladly. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
—What does that mean?
—It means, like he didn’t think about things the way he should.
—Huh?
—He hates happy things.
—Why? Seriously?
—Why don’t we keep reading and we’ll find out.

 

My father was born and raised right here—
—Who is his father?
—The man who is his father. His dad.
—How old is he?
—Who? The dad?
—Yes.
—I don’t know.
—Can you guess?
—Sure, let’s say he’s 40.
—I don’t think he’s that old.
—35.
—That sounds right.
right here in Florida, so he grew up—
—He lives in Florida?
—I guess so.
—I’ve been to Florida.
—Yes, you have.
—How old is he?
—Who?
—The person talking.
—I don’t know. Let’s keep reading and we’ll find out. ..he grew up on the water. His dad—
—Whose dad?
—The boy’s dad’s dad.
—His grandfather?
—Yes.
—How old is he?
—The grandfather?
—Yes.
—I don’t know.
—He’s probably really old.
—I would expect so.

 

 

…and it said to the dragon, “Buzz off, that’s my witch.”
—Do the scary voice.
BUZZ OFF, THAT’S MY WITCH.
—Dad’s scary voice is scarier.
—Dad has a Scottish accent. Everything he says sounds scarier.

 

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives here in our town.
—In our town?
—No, in their town.
—What town?
—I don’t know. Whatever their town is called.
—Springfield?
—Sure. It’s called Springfield.
—Do they know the Simpsons?
—I’d imagine so.
—I like Lisa.
—Me too.
She is very small—
—Lisa?
—No, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
—Oh.
She is very small—
—Why is she small?
—I guess that’s just the way she is.
—Is she taller than me?
—Probably.
—But I’m really tall.
—You’re tall for your age but most adults are taller than you.
—So, is she taller than you?
—Sure.
—Like, this big?
—Yup. …and has a hump on her back.
—Eew.
When children ask her about the hump, she says, “Oh, that’s a big lump of magic.”
—Is it?
—Sure.
—Really?
—Well, she’s pretty awesome, so why not.
—How many pages does this book have?
—Too many.

7 crappy toys my kids won’t be getting for Christmas

The holidays are coming, which means it’s time to figure out what the hell to get your kids.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of retail advice out there. Everyone from magazine editors to “news” program producers to, ahem, bloggers have suggestions for what to buy your littles. Even my kids’ teachers and occupational therapists have sent home lists of “recommended” holiday gift ideas.

I wish I could add to these mounds of wisdom but I can’t. All I can do, after reading through all these lists, is tell you which recommended toys I will definitely NOT be buying my kids:

hopscotch-mat

1. Portable Hopscotch Play Carpet

If memory serves, hopscotch is among the most portable games in the world. All you need is chalk, pavement and a pebble. I suppose you could argue that the mat is for days when it’s too wet or cold outside to play. My response is, for $50 plus tax and shipping (the price quoted in the catalog I saw), my kids can play a game called Find Something Else To Do.

What, are parents so worried that the urge to hop and scotch will hit their children with a fury the day of a major downpour and they’ll be stuck consoling their irreversibly traumatized little tykes because they didn’t have the foresight to spring for the stupid indoor mat? In this case, think of it as a teachable moment, when you as a parent can introduce your children to a little life lesson called “Sucking it up.”

 

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2. Buddy’s Balloon Launch

According to the sales pitch, this game “can teach cause and effect, turn taking, cooperation and sequencing.”

They lost me with one word: can.

Because what is more likely to happen with a toy like this is bickering, name calling and me acting as a referee for a game that looks kinda stupid anyway.

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3. Essential Oils Beginners Best of the Best Aromatherapy Gift Set

Yes, the above was actually on a list of recommended gifts for children. In all fairness, it didn’t mention the age of the child in question, so for all I know it’s for teenagers who want to get their aromatherapy on.

In the hands of my children, however, it would be good only for saturating our furniture with vomit-inducing concoctions reminiscent of a house of ill repute.

ecobonk

4. Ecobonk Organic Cotton Bop Toy

According to the sales pitch, instead of letting your child go 10 rounds with a plastic clown bop toy, with Ecobonk “your little one can cuddle, bounce, and bop with a variety of friendly safari animals.”

Um, not sure if the Ecobonk folks have checked a map lately, but you will find neither penguins nor grizzly bears on the plains of Africa. Unless you’ve been drinking. As for the inferior plastic bop toys in the shape of clowns, I think they’re a few decades off. Clowns aren’t for kids anymore. Clowns are for nightmares sequences in horror movies.

Forgive me for being obtuse, but what is the educational benefit of this toy? If it’s to instruct children in the idea that all nature is violent and we live in a world where the only way to ensure the survival of your species is to kick the crap out of others, then that’s really depressing and accurate. If it’s that grizzly bears just want to cuddle then they’d better have a good legal team on hand.

 

 

chess

5. No Stress Chess

I’m sorry but chess should be stressful. They made a whole musical about this.

 

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6. I Got This! 

This is a game. I think. I started to read the description but it was really boring. I think the idea is to bet on whether you can complete a particular challenge and there’s a self-assigned points system.

Basically, it introduces children to the fascinating world of gambling. I plan on teaching them that by taking them to the track, like a normal parent.

 

sturdy-birdy

7. Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Perfect Balance

My kids would take one look at this game and proclaim it dumb. I would then agree with them.

Look, if I seem weary of the hypothetical joys offered by the world of retail, it’s only because I have bought the equivalent of the above — or worse — for my children during holiday seasons past, only to watch them play more enthusiastically with a bowl of sand. Among my brilliant purchases now gathering dust are a Snap Circuits kit and a $50 inflatable horse described by its Italian manufacturer as both an “involving and relaxing toy” and a “pyscho-motor tool.” What a “psycho-motor tool” is and why I thought it would be appropriate for my children now escapes me. The lesson not to buy anything like it again has endured.

Happy friggin’ holidays.

 

 

 

Why I always give my kids’ teachers booze for the holidays*

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What do teachers really want for the holidays? I would expect better pay, improved working conditions, more respect from the general populace because they are highly trained professionals, not “babysitters,” and less interference from lawmakers who have no idea what actually goes on in the classroom.

Since I can’t get them that — at least not in the next few weeks — I’m giving them the next best thing: alcohol.

Philly.com published my latest here:

http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20161211_A_present_for_the_teach.html

 

*Please understand that I check with teachers ahead of time to see whether they abstain from alcohol. I’m not completely insensitive. On the other hand, I’ve never met one who couldn’t drink me under the table.