Friday, February 29, 2008

The Doll with No Name

My daughter has yet to form attachments to her baby dolls. She has plenty—mostly gifts from relatives—but she seems to prefer playing with stuffed animals or painting, coloring, or other art forms. The bigger the mess, the better.

For Christmas she did ask for a baby doll she could play with in the bathtub, and her grandmother was more than happy to buy her one. Occasionally she plays with it around the house, usually it’s naked and for some reason, maybe because she got it at Christmastime, she named him Jesus. It’s a little unnerving to be in the middle of fixing dinner and hear, “Look, Mom! Jesus can do the splits!” and turn to see her hold the doll by his legs. He also sports a label on his chest and recently evoked an equally unsettling proclamation of, “Look, Mom! Jesus has a tattoo!”

When her friend Morgen’s mom invited us to the newly opened American Girl Boutique and Bistro in Dallas, we unearthed her American Girl doll from its unlikely home in a basket in the laundry room and went along. The doll was a hand-me-down from my friend Jennifer who has four daughters and more than twice that many dolls. When her twins outgrew their love for American Girl, my daughter inherited a brown-eyed, light brown-haired Just Like Me doll—that really looks Not At All Like Me.

But at four-years-old, she not exactly keen to their marketing tactics. To her, she’s just a doll. That’s what I thought until we got to the store and fell victim to all its trappings. The friendly sales staff, the books, the clothes and accessories, and The Doll of the Year: MIA. What a coincidence that it happens to share her name!

It wasn’t too bad. I was able to put her off when she started campaigning to bring one home. Her birthday is in July and I told her she could ask for one as a gift, crossing my fingers that she’d forget about her by then. Instead we found a dress for her doll, similar to one she owns, and bought a much-needed hairbrush for the doll.

As we were checking out, the saleswoman asked Mia the name of her doll, probably something she learned at American Girl U: Ask each child the name of her doll. Then ask if _____needs a new outfit, bedroom suite, riding pony or a makeover. (Yes, they have a styling salon for dolls.) Mia just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know, she just a Mexican cheerleader.”

Now the doll did have on a cheerleader uniform, but she doesn’t look one bit Hispanic. But apparently she does to Mia. The saleswoman laughed nervously and was momentarily speechless. I guess that response wasn’t in the training manual, so she didn’t have a comeback. Good thing. How do you say, “Priceless!” in Spanish?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Putting the "Man" in Manatee

You know, I love a man in uniform as much as the next red-blooded American woman, but the latest marketing scheme by the Florida Marlins’ baseball team doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Apparently in an effort to attract people to the ballpark this summer, someone within the Marlins' organization—in a moment of brilliance—wondered what would be more crowd pleasing than a bunch of overweight men shakin’ more than what their mama gave ‘em? Better still, let’s call ‘em like we see ‘em. What lurks around Florida, moving at the speed of an obese beer belly on its way up to the bar? A Manatee!

That’s right. This spring, the Manatees will dance and groove out at the ballpark for the delight of all who come to watch professional athletes play baseball. And to think someone thought this would help attendance. What would people think if the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders were suddenly replaced by plus-sized women? Surely that would be a marketing trick, right? If men aren’t necessarily inspired by overweight women dancing around, then who is going to want to see hefty men get low, low, low, low, low…? Are these men so desperate for attention—not to mention free admission to the games, which is their total compensation—that they will allow themselves to be humiliated in public?

I guess if you watch enough reality TV, you come to realize that people will do just about anything for a moment in the spotlight. I’m just wondering if they’ll limit how much these guys practice during Spring Training. If they dance and work out to get ready for opening day, then maybe the joke will be on the Marlins’ marketing folks. I’m willing to bet their plus-size cheerleading uniforms might get too loose, and then all you have left are a bunch of average Joes with moderate dancing skills, trying to boost attendance at a ballpark. Sounds like a bad plan to me.

A Raging Fever

We all seem to be sharing a bug around here. Restlessness, lethargy, general snippiness toward others. Yes, Spring Fever has taken hold of our family. It’s not as if we’ve had a bad winter. I find myself feeling guilty for complaining when the temperature dips into the forties and, with the wind, feels almost freezing. A weather update from my family in the Midwest or a picture of my sister’s boys enjoying yet another snow day, and I realize we have it pretty good here in Texas.

The mild weather might be why the Fever has hit so early. Last night, as we put the final pieces into a jigsaw puzzle that we’ve spent weeks working on sporadically, my son leaned into me and asked, “Can I stay home from school tomorrow?” I asked him why he wanted to and he said, “I just want to stay here and hang out with you.” I know it’s because I’m so much fun, but I wasn’t falling for the false flattery. “Awww,” I said, hugging his little neck. “No. Suck it up and spring break will be here before you know it.” He said, “You’re so mean.” Tell me something I don’t know.

Soon enough they’ll all be home for the summer and complaining about being bored. But hopefully between summer camps and a job for the oldest, a vacation to somewhere far from here, and lazy days on the boat, we’ll all enjoy the break from school. Then it won’t be long before the end of August rolls around and they’re back in school again, and I’ll be the one asking, “Don’t you just want to stay here and hang out with me?”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hey, Kid. Wanna vitamin?

I recommended to my sister a prescription strength vitamin I take. Since we both have the threat of osteoporosis in our genetic recipe (with just a dash of crazy sprinkled in), I thought she would benefit from it too. It has extra stuff for bone loss and some amino acid for mood enhancement. One of the differences I noticed after taking it was a sense of clear-headedness. She had her doctor write her a script and started taking it too.

Then she called me and asked, “Do you dream weird with this stuff?” I didn’t want to tell her beforehand for fear she’d think I was a little touched, but yes, I had noticed my dreams were a bit more vivid than before. She experienced it too. We can’t decide if we’re sleeping more soundly because of the vitamins, or if the amino acid content is a little light on “amino” and a little heavy on the “acid.”

For example, Monday night I dreamt that Barack Obama chose Mike Huckabee as his running mate. No joke. I did have some bizarre dreams before, but this stuff keeps causing me to dream really strangely almost every night. But I don’t mind. My first idea for a novel came from a vision I had right as I was about to go to sleep. If I keep taking the Wonder Vitamin, I’ll undoubtedly start writing paranormal, sci-fi and quite possibly, political satire.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can I put you on hold?

There are many perks to working from home. For me “business dressy” means I have on a matching pajama top and bottom. If I'm wearing business casual, I don’t answer the door unless it’s Publisher’s Clearing House. And they never ring! I don’t have to listen to office gossip, and I can pretty much take a break whenever I want.

There are some drawbacks. I’ll illustrate one for you. Friday I had an appointment at 11:30 to conduct a phone interview with two men who own a flooring store. When I called, they were busy and said they’d call me back. Twenty minutes later (and well into my daughter’s show on PBS Kids) they called me. The clock was ticking. Ten minutes into the conversation, I heard the television click off and my four-year-old “assistant” appeared at my elbow. “I need to poop,” she said, not at all quietly. I furiously gestured toward the bathroom, not ten feet away and she ambled over to it.

A few minutes later, she announced, “I’m done!” The problem was the men on the other end of the line were still chatting. I ignored her for a minute and then she announced, “I made plunkies!” which she kept repeating until I came to her rescue. I searched in vain for the “mute” button on my phone and ended up trying to cover the receiver with my finger. Finally I managed to wipe her and pull her from the toilet without having to ask for a potty-break from my clients.

Before she left the bathroom—being the polite, well-bred child she isn’t—she turned and flushed. Loudly. At this point, I had to say something. So, I announced to the men I was interviewing, “Sorry, guys, but that was not my flush you just heard. It was my daughter.” They laughed good naturedly and said they had kids too. Somehow I doubt they ever have to interrupt a conference call to wipe someone else’s bottom. Just one of the perks I enjoy, working from home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What did you give up for Lent?

My sister Amy called me last week and mentioned she had given up wine for Lent. We’re Baptists and I don’t remember practicing the act of doing without something for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. But I think it’s a great idea. Her children go to a Catholic school and she joined the other HAMs (Holy Angels Mothers) in an act of solidarity.

I have given up something for Lent the past two years. Last year it was tea (and I drink A LOT of it) and the year before it was chocolate. Ever try eating chocolate chip cookie dough and bypassing the chips? Not easy, but it can be done. When I gave up tea last year, I found myself drinking a Coke for my sugar/caffeine fix. It felt a little like cheating. So this year, I decided a true sacrifice had to hurt. I gave up tea AND Coke. And I really can salivate just driving by a Sonic and thinking about one of their fountain Cokes—with easy-ice. (Excuse me while I wipe my chin.)

It hasn’t been too bad. Had a killer headache the first day, but now I’m good. I’ve been drinking a lot of water which I should do anyway. How about you? Give up anything for Lent? It’s not too late to join me in the spirit of true camaraderie.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Friends and Flying Horses

It’s been a few days since I’ve updated my blog. Even my daughter keeps checking. She told me last night she went on, “PamelaHammonds dot Dogspot dot com.” Lucky for her it’s bookmarked on our computer, so she didn’t actually end up on a dogspot.

I guess since she’s fresh on my mind, I’ll mention that the other day she asked me what I used to play with when I was a little girl. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this:

She says the horse is flying, but I’m not so sure. Quite a few toys in the house end up in various stages of bondage, and that is after she has attached hairbows to their fur and bracelets and pony-tail holders to their appendages. I think it’s time to spring the piƱata-horse from its dangling place.

No, when I was little we lived in the country and our only next-door neighbor had two children who were the same ages and genders as my older brother and sister. So until I turned six and had a new baby sister to pester, I was pretty much left to fend for myself. I remember playing outside with the dog, picking flowers or playing in the snow. Other times I’m sure I was my mother’s shadow. That might be why I like to cook and bake and was the only daughter who learned how to sew.

When I got a bit older, a bicycle gave me all the freedom I needed. About a mile down the road lived two best friends, Connie and Brenda, who let me intrude on their friendship. We climbed trees, formed a club, baked cookies, did each other’s hair and spent many hours traipsing through the woods across the street. At some point, they told me about sex, and it took me a long time before I believed they knew what they were talking about.

We also went on long bike rides together. Even though we were no older than nine or ten, we’d take off and be gone all day. Too bad the world we live in today is so different. We went to school together from third grade to college and are still friends today. Connie now lives in Austin and Brenda lives in Indianapolis. Although it’s been years since I’ve seen either of them at our class reunion, Christmas cards and email keep us in touch with each other. Good friends—unlike flying horses—are worth hanging on to.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What's in a name?

My critique/writing partner Joan blogged recently about naming characters for her next manuscript. How if you name a character Caitlin, she’ll be a different personality than if you had chosen to name her Martha. I agree wholeheartedly.

One of my favorite names of a book character is Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Not that I was tempted to name my child that, (maybe if I were Demi Moore) but it’s a great name for a character.

In my manuscript, Mary Kyle was an easy choice for my main character’s best friend. Because the story takes place in a small Alabama town, she had to have a name that fit that part of our country. When I lived in Decatur, Alabama, I met several women named Mary who had masculine middle names, sometimes their fathers’. For example, across the street from me lived Mary Stuart Rowe and Mary Allen Barthel. I also met a Mary Frances and a Mary Scott. I’m pretty sure a Mary Kyle lived in Decatur, but I think she was a small child when I was there. The name came to me very easily, so I’m sure I heard it somewhere.

My name is certainly dated. I’m sure if you look at the most popular baby names of the past 20 years, you won’t see Pamela anywhere. Although 40-45 years ago it was fairly common. As was Julie, Kelly, Lisa, etc. Recently I read in Austin Family magazine some names of kids in area preschools: Boys—Beckham, Casper, Dason, Enzo, Finnian, Mix, and Tal; Girls: Azra, Conleigh, Harper, Koral, Mirabelle, Pepper, and Wren. (Need I say Austin prides itself on being off-beat?)

When it came to naming our children, we picked Jacob in honor of my great-grandfather, and Benjamin’s middle name, Wilson, is my mother’s maiden name. Ben was named for Ben Hogan and Ben Crenshaw—great golfers. (Maybe we should have nicknamed him Tiger?) Mia is actually Amelia Marie, a version of my sister’s name, Amy Marie. Ben chose Mia, but we wanted her to have some options in case she decides later that Mia sounds too youthful. “Introducing, your honor, Judge Amelia Hammonds” sounds better to me if she wants to be taken seriously. On the other hand, should she become a pro soccer player, Mia will work just fine.

How about you? How did you get your name or what process was involved in naming your children? Please share your stories….Sonya especially has a great one about how she and her sisters were named. I’ll let her share it if she will.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It’s not paradise by the dashboard lights

Confessions of an overscheduled parent

“Hi, my name is Pamela. And I’m an over-scheduled parent.”

An imaginary sea of heads bob before me in solidarity. “Hi, Pamela,” they echo back in unison. Eyes glassy from too many hours behind the wheels of mini-vans and SUVs, fueled by runs through Starbucks’ drive-thrus stare back at me.

Our children cannot pick our weary faces out of a crowd but intimately know us from behind; they’ve spent much of their young lives staring at the backs of our heads from their vantage points in the backseats.

I have become one of them. One of those people I swore I’d never be: An overscheduled parent. Where we once had calendars free of commitments, now we find practices and lessons nearly every day of the week. Where does the madness end and do we even want it to?

When we first became parents, my husband and I agreed with a popular parenting expert who cautioned parents to involve children in school, church, and only one outside pursuit. The first extracurricular activity in which we enrolled our kindergartener, Jacob, was T-ball. For years to follow, we adhered to this wise advice—waiting until one activity ended before beginning another.

Then we slipped. And like other indulgences that begin with just one drink or just one pill, ours began with Tae Kwon Do.

An innocent addiction

The pursuit seemed logical when my husband first pitched it—the perfect discipline for a child who needed physical activity but didn’t care for team sports. But Master Song expected a minimum attendance of three days a week. Then the other son excelled at soccer, leading us into the highly demanding arena of select sports. Unlike other activities that ran seasonally, we found ourselves committed year round. Month after month, with no end-of-the-season celebration in sight. Our bodies remained hunched over from the behind-the-wheel posture we constantly assumed.

Instead of curtailing our commitments and commutes, I have chosen to make the most of our drive time, initiating animated conversations or inventing games such as name-that-funky-smell. (The last source was an old milk-filled sippy cup left under the front seat.)

Lately we’ve been downloading soundtracks onto CDs to play in the van. We can proudly boast to knowing nearly all the words to the High School Musical II songs, and even our four-year-old can sing most of The Sound of Music, although The Lonely Goatherd can throw her into a tirade of lyrics that sounds as though she’s swallowed Silly Putty.

The perfect enabler

I’ll admit to eagerly introducing myself to new a parent with, “Hi, I’m Pamela, Ben’s mom. Do you live anywhere close to me and wouldn’t you love to carpool?” I’m sure a more responsible parent might ask about the other parent’s driving record or offer to run a safety check on their vehicle. Instead I look at her child. If he can get out of her minivan without a look of horror on his face or tales of the time Mommy outran the cops, then I figure she’s a potential candidate for toting around my kid too.

I hit paydirt the day I met Tammie. She was young, perky, had a new, airbag-overloaded SUV and a boy on my son’s soccer team. Even better than those amazing attributes, she brought to the table the title of team manager. Therefore, even when it’s my turn to drive, she often has to be at practice to pass out essential invoices for dues or permission slips for tournaments. And she doesn’t even keep track of how many more times she drives than I do! This takes me back to the days when we played pee-wee soccer: She doesn’t keep score!

And to my son’s delight, she won’t make him listen to show tunes on the commute. Instead she listens to rap, but I see it as a lesson in music appreciation and delight in the fact that Ben is expanding his repertoire. Besides, I know a few rounds with Julie Andrews will negate any ill-effect Tammie’s music might impart on him.

Turning (over) the steering wheel

Just as it did when I found the perfect carpool partner, my over-stimulated day planner practically jumped from my hands the day I typed in: Driver’s Ed. Yes, our oldest is a proud learners’ permit-carrying teen who sees driving as a privilege, not a dreaded task to be pawned off on the closest legal driver. Now when I get in the van, he’s like an efficient chauffer: the engine’s running, the air conditioner’s blowing and the show tunes are blaring.

But am I ready to let him take over my responsibilities? Can I trust him to drive himself to guitar lessons, band rehearsals and auditions? I decided to seek the advice of a professional, an expert in the field of all things about raising teens: my mom. I figured she survived the harrowing experience of raising four children who became, for the most part, responsible drivers. (At least what we’ve admitted to!)
“Weren’t you scared to death when we started driving?” I asked her, waving Jacob’s learners’ permit under her nose as though it were a ticket to the nearest hospital emergency room.

She stared at me for a minute and then smiled. “Not at all. I just looked forward to having one more person to run errands for me. I hated driving.”

Although my mom has a valid point, I’m not sure I’m ready to toss him the keys and relinquish my control. My parenting expert would probably tell me it’s a sure sign of being an overprotective parent. But then again, parenting to the excess is something I’m familiar with. And isn't admitting it the first step to recovery?

“Hi, my name is Pamela…”

Friday, February 1, 2008

Three things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other

1) My son had to select a career with a science background to research and present to his class. What to choose? Since he loves CSI shows, he thought something in forensic science or possibly criminology might be good. Then I reminded him that not long ago he’d mentioned he might want to be a doctor, and he perked up. “Oh, yeah! That would be a good one,” he said. “What’s it called? A brainiologist?” Uhhhh. “A neurologist?” I offered. A moment of awkward silence passed. He chose crime scene analyst.

B) Weirdest product I think I’ve ever seen in a catalog: Scentology fragrances. Three types: Crave, Endurance and Bliss. Apparently one controls your urge to eat carbs, the others help with energy and mood. I’m embarrassed to admit now, but when I first saw these advertised, I thought they were Scientology fragrances. I immediately thought that Southern Baptists should put out: Wallflower, Teetotaler, and Shucks. These would control your urge to dance, drink and swear.

III) I made a new year’s resolution to keep a cleaner house, and I’m bragging a bit here but—it is looking a lot better. Doesn’t hurt that I also hired a housekeeper to come twice a month. Love you, Marisol! I didn’t say how it was going to get accomplished, but it does feel good to have kept one resolution and it’s already February.

Have a great weekend. Go Giants! Go Patriots! Go Superbowl advertisers! (By the way, this is my 50th post! Thanks for hanging in there with me.)