Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Webkinz are too darn hard to play with

This morning I was helping my five-year-old daughter with her Webkinz. You have to play games and do chores to earn W dollars to buy food and accessories for them. Otherwise your animals die of hunger and overexposure. Well, not really, but the threat remains.

So, we were on a beginners' level math quiz where you have to answer 50 multiple choice math questions before they allow you to work at the grocery. Kinda like the training at Kroger, I assume. I was reading the questions to her and letting her answer those she could. If you have three apples and give one away, how many do you have? That was an easy one.

I got to the one that asked: What is a graph used for? and she looked at me and said, "What the hell's a graph?"

It might an interesting year in kindergarten.

Monday, July 21, 2008

There are some things money shouldn't buy

New Dog Bed: $25

Owning a dog that lies everywhere except on the Dog Bed: Priceless

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Perfect Ending

I spotted her at McDonalds. A mom, like me, with her children in tow. This day, I only had my youngest with me. Her three looked to be about five, three and not quite two years old. She had arrived with a plan similar to mine. After eating lunch, we’d sit and enjoy a few moments of peace while our children entertained themselves in the Playplace. I had brought along a legal pad for writing; she had a book tucked under her arm. I peered at the spine (I always wonder what people are reading) and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Her bookmarker was near the end. She only had about thirty pages to go.

My child disappeared into the play area and I began to write. Her children toddled away and, just as she opened the book, one returned to climb on her lap. She snuggled the girl for a minute and then set her down. The mom opened her book again, and her older son appeared with tears in his eyes. She rubbed his head, kissed him and he went on his way. No sooner had she opened the book and the crying boy rematerialized.

It wasn’t playtime, it was naptime. She calmly endured about ten more minutes of interruptions before she closed her book, placed it in her bag, gathered her children up and took them home. I wanted to reach out to her and pat her arm, maybe hug her neck and say, “I feel ya, sistah.” Sometimes you just can’t catch a well-deserved break from the demands of your children.

She came to mind again this week as I tried to finish a manuscript. My writing partner Joan and I had set a deadline of July 1 to complete our story. Two weeks later, we still had the last two chapters to complete and most of that burden rested on my shoulders. She had written most of her sections and I needed to fill in around her.

Of course, this week my husband was out of town and, even though one child was away at camp, the other two were here and needed my attention. Then my editor called and asked if I could write a last-minute article. Sure, I said. I ended up not sleeping much.

Yesterday, I picked up a friend for my son to play with, came home and fixed lunch. I played with my daughter and then her friend Daniel came over, rescuing me from a day of manipulating dolls around on their quest to find the castle where the prince was hosting a ball. I wasn’t playing right anyway. She insisted my doll had to wear a long dress for the ball, and I had my heart set on a short, flirty number with lace trim. Instead I ended up with the one she didn’t want because it looked like a nightgown—because it was a nightgown.

Later, I managed to hole up with my laptop in my bedroom, leaving my office free for computer games of Hotwheel racing for my daughter and Daniel. My son and his friend played soccer in the den and Playstation when soccer got too rough. I sat on my bed and finished the book. As I typed the last lines, my eyes got wet with tears and I don’t cry easily. I tried to tell myself that I was emotional from having to end something that had been a part of my life for the past ten months. But it wasn’t that at all. The ending really got to me. The characters aren’t just names on a page but have become real to Joan and me. We talk about them as if they’re old friends—they just happen to say and act the way we tell them to.

Since Joan was out of town, I sent her a text: It is finished. She called later and we shared a high-five via a wireless connection, and I emailed her the final two chapters. I slipped outside to shag balls while my son and his friend played HomeRun Derby Baseball with a tennis ball directed at the neighbor’s house. Then I went inside, fixed supper and treated myself to a glass of wine.

The kids and I played two games of Clue (I won both times—maybe I’ll share my strategy with them) and then entertained ourselves with a challenge of, Who can drink milk from a sippy cup held between their feet? Since I’m in bragging mode, I will admit that I was able to lift my wine to my mouth with the glass held between my feet. Thankfully, no pictures were taken of that achievement.

A text later from Joan read that she absolutely loved the last two chapters. I knew she would. It was the perfect ending to a story that practically told itself. The characters just needed us to put it on paper.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kit Kittredge: The Depressing American Girl

The other day, I took my daughter to see Kit Kittredge, the American Girl movie. This was one of the few times I didn’t read the book before going to see the movie (one other being The Devil Wears Prada), and I must say, I was surprised. It’s a little dark. Not very happy-go-lucky or upbeat.

Spoiler Alert! Depression-era Kit and her buddies befriend hobos and watch, as one by one, their houses get repossessed, and their fathers take off to find work in neighboring states. The eclectic individuals the Kittredge’s take on as boarders provide some lighter moments, but the movie is a bit sad at times. (I was glad to see Chris O'Donnell on the big screen. Too bad he took off for Chicago in search of a job about twenty minutes into the movie.)

My daughter had a hard time understanding the whole doll/real person concept. She understands that American Girls are dolls, and I think she expected the girl on the screen to be playing with an American Girl doll.

Luckily (ha!), I had saved the latest American Girl mail order catalog, so when we got home, I sat Mia down and explained that Kit was a doll, and the movie told her story. I tried to relate to her how The Saddle Club books have their characters also on television, and Strawberry Shortcake is a doll, a book and a TV show—the ultimate marketing trifecta.

As we leafed through the pages of the catalog, perusing the doll and all her accessories—the tree house, her attic room, desk, clothes, your clothes to match her clothes—the irony became apparent to me. Yes, you, too, could be poor like Kit and risk your parents losing their home if you bought all the stuff in the catalog. I didn’t run the numbers, but just the doll and her book are $90. The tree house will set you back $250. So, why did I keep the catalog?

Later that day she had the neighbor child help her write out her birthday wish list. Number one: an American Girl doll. Later, she said to me, “I think I’ll ask the neighbors to buy me an American Girl doll for my birthday.” Good luck, sister.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Handwritten notes

I’m not too much of a pack-rat, but I have held onto a lot of my writing that I’ve scrawled longhand on legal pads, on the backs of envelopes and other paper that managed to be within my grasp. These all end up getting typed into the computer to become part of the manuscript I happen to be writing. At first I kept them just-in-case. Just in case the computer crashed. Just in case someone accused me of stealing their work. Just in case I ever became so famous that the ‘original draft’ of my book might be worth something.

And today I read that Christie's auction house recently sold John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" for $833,654. Now, I’m no John Lennon—or John Irving (according to my friend, Sonya), but maybe someday, my children will like sifting through the wrinkled pages of my writings. They may be worthless to an audience at Christie’s, but hopefully, they’ll get a kick out of Mom’s handwriting.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I try to be a fairly law-abiding citizen. I don’t litter, shoplift or carry a concealed weapon. But this week I had two run-ins with the Long Arm of The Law.

Monday afternoon I took my son out to run an errand before his voice lesson. I Mapquested the route to the store he wanted to go to since I’d never been there before and decided to take a shortcut through our neighborhood. We were cruising along in a 40 MPH zone, and I wasn’t paying attention to my speedometer since I knew I wasn’t going too fast. And then I saw him. He was parked off the road, hiding behind some overgrown weeds and I immediately hit the brakes. Thankfully, so did the guy behind me.

He pulled out anyway and started flashing his annoying red and blue lights. The guy behind me pulled over and I think, Whew, close one, but the policeman pulled out around the truck behind me and came in for the kill. Darn it. (Not really what I was thinking, but I had my son with me.) I pulled over and he said, “What's the hurry?” And I thought, Is that the most original line you can come up with? So, nonchalantly I said, “I’m just taking my son to his voice lesson.” He responded by telling me he clocked me at 42 in a 30 MPH zone. “Thirty?” I asked. “I thought the speed limit was 40.” It was 40, about ten inches before he stopped me, when it became 30 because the road narrows. You know the drill: license, insurance, registration, sign here, blah, blah, blah. He handed over a slip of shiny paper from his handy-dandy portable ticket maker and told me I had to show up some place in our city and take care of it within 15 days. I asked, “Is this a warning?” to which he replied, “No, ma’am, it’s a ticket.” Double darn it! I wanted to look into his reflective sunglasses and say, “I’ll bet you were a tattle-tale as a little kid, weren’t you? You probably hid behind the trashcan at school and watched your friends and then told the teacher which kids were chewing gum and sneaking answers to their tests, weren’t you?” But I didn’t. Instead I stewed all the way to the store, and the afternoon I planned to spend with my son, riding around and catching up with what’s going on with him, was ruined.

Flash forward a few days and I’m in downtown Dallas where my children and I have just had lunch with friends of ours who are in town from St. Louis. After lunch I walked with three of the five children to the nearby School Book Depository so we could tour the Sixth Floor Museum featuring JFK’s last trip to Texas. On our way from the Depository to the Dallas Convention Center to watch our friends’ daughter play volleyball, I got a little lost. We were walking in 95 degree heat, my daughter was tired and wanted to be carried, and I couldn’t figure out how we got turned around. We came back a different way because we wanted to see the Grassy Knoll and Dealy Plaza. Finally I stopped a woman who quite possibly had a worse sense of direction than I do. She was friendly but no help at all. Luckily, a policeman walked by us and I snagged him and asked if he could point us in the direction of the Convention Center. He suggested we take the train since we were standing in front of Union Station. Apparently I looked a little confused and I mumbled something about having kids with me and he said, “It’s just one stop. Come on. I’ll ride with you.”

So this kind policeman boarded the train with us, told me not to buy a ticket but just stay with him, and rode with us to our destination. Short of holding my hand, he got off the train with us and walked through the station until we reached the street. From there he pointed and we could see the convention center just ahead. I wanted to hug him but I didn’t. Instead I said thanks and thought about how my view of law enforcement officers is now positive. Once again, I do love a man in uniform.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I can hear you all the way up here

I read this morning how scientists have recorded ‘screams’ from earth that can be heard in space. The theory goes that these chirps and whistles can be heard by any aliens that might be listening. My take is the noises are the collective screams from all the mothers at home with their children over the summer. It’s been weeks now since school let out, and the novelty of having the babies back in the nest has worn off. We’re now pulling our hair out, trying to come up with food they like, crafts to make, and entertainment befitting the assorted children who have landed on our doorsteps today. It’s enough to make us all scream—and knowing the aliens are listening will surely circumvent an invasion anytime soon.