Monday, July 28, 2008

Questions without answers

When I was in high school, our newspaper had a weekly column of questions that were basically inside jokes about what happened with people over the weekend, or what was going on between the couples that were dating. Most people, myself included, couldn't wait to see if we'd made it into the latest issue because it validated what we all needed most: to feel like somebody cared about our lives.

When it came time to write this entry, that entire crazy column that once meant so much to me (because if your name was mentioned in it, it meant you were awesomely cool) came back to my mind. This time it isn't for a fun reason, it's because my oldest son, who is 11, has been faced with a lot of questions without answers. As his mom, it's difficult to see.

I have a really sensitive son. He's not a mama's boy, a wuss, a pansy, or any of the other terms that society likes to label sensitive males, but he really wears his heart on his sleeve. He's been like this since he was very little. When we see a homeless person, he worries about what led up to that person living on the street and how he or she will survive. He has a soft heart for animals--even the annoying raccoons that are trying to take over our backyard. Unfortunately, over the past year, it seems his little heart has just been overwhelmed by the injustices in the world.

One of his best friends has a sister who disappeared after leaving home for a party. She was 20 years old. Nobody has seen or heard from her since. The FBI can't even seem to find a trail that leads to her. J has watched his friend's family struggle with the grief and he often asks me, "They'll find her, right? She just probably ran away, right?" He wants so desperately to believe she's o.k.

About a week and a half ago, another friend of his was on his way home from vacation with his mom, dad and sister. They'd taken a family trip to Alaska and as they were driving home from the airport, they were hit by a drunk driver. The mom and dad were fine, but B, and his sister were both seriously injured. They thought B was even going to die and although he's still in intensive care, he is improving slowly. However, the doctors aren't sure he'll ever be 100% again.

Everything that has been bothering J, seemed to come to a head the other evening. I need to preface this with a little background. In second grade, J became friends with a boy named Amos. I can't say what drew him to Amos except maybe Amos' stuttering problem. J used to stutter and had to get some speech intervention for it, but, thank God, he grew out of it. As a result, he's always very sensitive to those who stutter and he felt sorry for Amos. Amos has a very poor family life, he lives with his mom and step-dad, his step-dad is a child molester (still haven't figured out why he's allowed to be around Amos and his siblings), they never have any money and he usually smells like stale smoke and dirty feet, oh and to top it off, he still stutters. Jonah has always invited Amos to his birthday parties and included him in recess games of basketball much to the horror of many of their classmates. I'm not saying this to make my son sound like a hero, but because of J's stubbornness that no matter what Amos was going to be treated like everyone else most of the boys at school include him and look past his dirty clothes, his stuttering, and his shoes that are 2 sizes too big.

Now, flash forward to this summer, J and Amos haven't seen each other much. Amos wasn't allowed to play baseball this summer because his parents couldn't afford it, but Amos hung out at the ball field a lot and watched the boys play. We've been receiving phone calls that are hang ups on the answering machine. I didn't recognize the name or number of the person that was calling, so I figured that it was a wrong number. Then the other day there was a message, it was Amos, mumbling something in his broken speech pattern that we couldn't really understand. What we thought he said was, "Could you drop J off at my house next Friday?"

I immediately told J that under no circumstances would he be going to Amos' house and he got really upset with me. He told me it wasn't fair I punished Amos because he was poor and so I had a talk with him about how it had nothing to do with how much money he did or didn't have, and then went on to explain what a child molester is and that I would not knowingly send him into a situation where he'd be in the claws of one. He understood and called Amos back to instead invite him over to our house, but had to leave a message. (This phone and answering machine was actually their neighbor's because Amos' family doesn't have a phone.)

A few hours passed and the phone rang. I answered and it was a man's voice mumbling something about money. I couldn't understand him and asked him to repeat himself two or three times. I quickly realized it was Amos' step-father and he was calling to ask me for, "Five or ten bucks to buy some medicine for Amos by Friday."

This certainly wasn't what I was expecting and all at once I had feelings of sadness and anger. I was sad that this poor kid has to grow up in a family like this and angry, oh so angry, that he has to be the one to suffer while his mom and dad are chain smokers and that's where their money goes. They don't care if the child is clean, if he's well supplied for school, if he does his homework. They don't care that he wants desperately to be involved in extra-curricular activities, but can't because they won't pay for it. I'm all for helping, and we've helped Amos in a lot of different ways, but I could not in god conscience hand over money to this creep on the phone who would most likely not spend it on medication anyway.

After hanging up the phone, J asked me what happened, and he could tell by the look on my face that I was upset. I told him and he started crying--not little silent tears, but big, body shaking sobs. He listened to the message on our answering machine again and through his tears said, "He wasn't asking for me to come over! He was asking for money! Why would they make him do that?"

For the next 45 minutes we sat at the kitchen table, he was crying as I tried to answer questions for which I had no answers. His friendship with Amos has been his first up close exposure to poverty, child abuse, and the overwhelming reality that life isn't fair. His view of his narrow 11 year old world has been broadened significantly which can be a good thing, but in the process he's had his heart broken and his eyes opened and I know that he'll never be the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Party Pooper

Since the beginning of my married life, I've been plagued with a problem. It seems to pop up every few months at the very least and every two weeks in certain situations. It puzzles me. I become frustrated about it and I don't know how to remedy the situation.

I am sick and tired of in home product sale parties.

Over the course of the last 13 years, I've been invited to a plethora of these including, but not limited to, Home Interior, candles ranging from Party Light to Scentsy, gourmet food items that I'll never eat, ugly jewelry that is overpriced, scrapbooking, pretty jewelry that is overpriced, jewelry making parties, Tupperware, "romance" items (ewwww and yuck), baskets that are trying to be Longaberger but aren't, Mary Kay, actual Longaberger, Uppercase Living Wall Rubbings and the obligatory Pampered Chef.

I don't begrudge the women who do these parties to make a living or to make supplemental income, I sold Pampered Chef for a time for that very reason (my career with that had an abrupt ending that can best be explained in another blog entry). I don't even mind people occasionally asking me to have a party even though I usually say no. What really drives me crazy is the fact that I have gotten enough of these stupid invitations that I could probably wall paper a room in my house with them.

In my circle of friends and acquaintances, nobody ever seems to branch out in the invitation world which means that the first week of the month a person might receive a Scentsy invite, the second week an Uppercase Living, and the fourth a Tupperware party. Then, the following month after each woman has attended said parties and scheduled a party for herself, the entire deluge of invitations comes again!

I moved past feeling obligated to go to these parties a long time ago because a person can be expected to spend at least $40 at one of these money sucking fests, and when the invitations are coming in triplicate, that's a lot of money put towards earrings, wall crap, or a contraption with so many blades I could slice an entire salad, or all 10 of my fingers.

I love the marketing ploys these consultants use to lure hostesses in--let me spoil you, it's time away for you, when's the last time you had an evening away with you friends?

These are all valid statements for women who are trying to parent, work, clean a house, do laundry, remember to brush their teeth, and trying to find 6.5 hours to sleep. However, I would like to go on record as saying I'd just like to get together with my friends for a real party. This would be a party with fun and conversation and food that doesn't revolve around what the consultant has pulled out of the back of her van and placed on lovely display in my friend's living room.

I got to thinking about this and I think that what I should do is invite everyone over and tell each woman to bring $50 and a really good snack. We'd all sit around a bowl with each woman's name in it. I would draw out a name and let's say I chose Michele, then Michele would give me her $50. Then Michele would draw and if she drew Kim's name, then Kim would give her $50.

The whole evening would be us eating, laughing, and passing around 50's because this is essentially what we've been doing at all these dumb parties. I spend at yours, you spend at hers, then she comes and spends at mine.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Adventures with goats and other fun stories

Whenever we have to make a trip to St. Louis for an appointment for O, we try and combine it with something fun. This takes the sting out of the long drive, the long wait in the office, and the prodding that O has to endure. So, for her yearly cleft team visit, we decided to stay in St. Louis for a couple of days and have some fun.

The first day, we decided to go to The City Museum. This place had been recommended to us by several people and we went in not really knowing what to expect--partially because nobody really knew how to explain and describe it to us. It's in an old factory in downtown St. Louis. It's a little part museum and a big part of playground. It's really cool for people of all ages and I would recommend it. The only thing that might hold an adult back is his or her size because if you are too big or not very limber, you aren't going to last long. There were caves, scaffolds, ramps, slides, an actual circus, and a host of other things. The best way to describe it is what would happen if Dr. Seuss, an architect, and a hippie all got together and made something. The City Museum would be the product of their efforts.

We explored the inside and then headed for the outside structure that made me wonder how in the world it ever passed a safety code. There we were--all 6 of us climbing on this metal structure into an abandoned airplane when the thought crossed my mind, "Why am I doing this?" We decided to head up to a slide that was really, really high in the air when L decided that he doesn't like heights. We suspected this before due to an unfortunate playground incident, but this time was really bad. O decided she didn't want to climb up that far, so she stayed with Mike on a lower level. J took off like some kind of monkey-child which left me with L and K. We were climbing on metal rods that had been soldered together into the shape of a triangle. At the top of the triangle, I was supposed to encourage (translation: push) L and K through a hole after which they would climb up a few more soldered metal objects to get to the slide. Easy, right?

Three year old K took it in stride. She wasn't afraid at all. L decided to look down at this point and suddenly froze. There he stood on the peak of the triangle, with his hands grasping the hole above him and he started to cry. Really, he started to scream--LOUDLY. I tried to coax him down, but he wouldn't let go. People were trying to get around him and couldn't. Monkey-child was long gone, Mike was down below with O who is now crying because she thinks her brother is going to become a permanent fixture in the museum, K is crying because I can't lead her onward to the slide, and L frozen in fear. I first had to remove K from the triangular mess and give her strict instructions to hold onto a pole and not move, then in my best "don't worry Mommy is here" voice, I talked Landon into squatting down and grabbing onto my neck. Once we were free from the triangle of terror, he started to sob and say rather loudly, "This place is so dangerous for children! Why isn't this illegal!"

The next day, after O's appointment, we decided to head to Grant's Farm thinking that a calm, laid back day seeing animals is just what the kids needed after spending the day before climbing and screaming in fear. Our first stop was the petting zoo. This area was filled with ducks and chickens where for a quarter you could purchase corn to feed them. There were parrots, rabbits and turtles to see and in the largest pen there were goats.

I don't know how many goats there were, but once we stepped foot inside their domain there seemed to be at least 100--although I'm sure it was more like 20 or something. I should preface this by saying that before we went to Grant's Farm, we stopped for lunch at Taco Bell where O spilled her taco down the front of her dress, the major portion of it being just at goat's eye level. So, before entering the pen, we bought two bottles of milk from the milk stand people who gleefully took our money and said, "Have fun!" They should've said, "BEWARE! OUR GOATS ARE PSYCHOTIC GLUTTONS!"

J entered through the turnstile first with a bottle. Immediately goats started leaping and pawing at him. He wasn't sure which mouth he should place the bottle into and instead of picking a goat, he just held the bottle above his head. This sent the goats into a frantic fit as they started nudging him to bring that bottle down lower. Next, Mike went in with L and O at his side. I followed behind with K and the camera. What Mike didn't realize is that somehow, two goats had made their way into the turnstile with them and not only were they blocking his path to get out, they had suddenly discovered that O smelled deliciously like a taco, so they started chewing on her dress. As he pushed his way through the gate, L took off running. Goats chased him since he was with taco girl and they thought he might be tasty, too. Mike was trying to protect O from becoming goat food with one hand and in the other he held a bottle. The goats, seeing the bottle and the delicious taco flavored girl, didn't know which side was better and I guess that's why they decided to divide and conquer. Some were chewing on O while the others were leaping onto Mike. O was screaming, so Mike flung the bottle at me which caused the goats to come after me and knock K over. L began to scream because these goats were finding his shorts quite tasty. There we stood in a mass of crazy goats, dripping bottles and screaming children and I looked around--not one single family in the pen was having this problem. Everywhere around us, children were giggling and giving out little shrieks of delight. Parents were taking videos and pictures and here was our family being tortured by this gang of goats!

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow, we got Mike and the three younger ones out of goat hell and J and I fed what remained of our bottles to a couple of the more polite, subdued customers. We walked away from that pen feeling slightly violated and very exhausted. O summed it up best, "I don't know why those disgusting creatures are even allowed in this place."

The rest of our day was good. We had a great time and came home fully worn out. After such a long day, I think I lost my ability to parent effectively because at bedtime when L and K had a MMP (meltdown of mass proportions) and O, having had enough of their crying and whining came out of her room and kicked them both, I actually fell onto the hallway floor and laughed until I cried. I couldn't help myself and the more they cried, the harder I laughed. Suddenly, they stopped crying about bedtime snacks and uncomfortable panties and looked at me like I had completely lost my mind.

It was an effective way to squelch a MMP. I think I'll try it more often.

If you'd like to see pictures of our St. Louis adventure, click on the flickr badge at the top of the page.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Getting Mayerweed

The other day, L came up to me and said rapidlywithoutabreathinacompleterunonsentence, "When I have to gwhoa up and get mayerweed I am going to miss evweebody so much and I'll miss this house and you and Daddy, so I was finking that I could just get mayerweed and tell my wife that we have to wive here. I fink that Oyivia, and evweebody else could also get mayerweed and wive here too that way I won't be so sad. We could all wive with YOU, Mommy!"

Me: "Um, no."

Him (nearly starting to cry): "But, why?"

Me: "Because that's not normal."

Him: "It's called togetherness!" (I have no idea where he gets these things.)

Me: "No, it's called disfunction. You need your own house."