Friday, September 20, 2013

What Do You Want To BE this Halloween?

I should have avoided the store.  Instead, I let the nostalgic memories from childhood celebrations lure me in, and I found myself dumbstruck in the local Spirit Halloween store.  What has become of October 31st?

I won't even attempt to detail the origin of Halloween, but can we all agree that it was never a Satanic ritual, and in fact stemmed from a celebration of the fall harvest?  Are you with me?  Are we still on the same page?  Good; let's continue.

When I was young we decorated our house with a scarecrow my dad made from PVC pipes and old clothes.  Black cat pictures hung in our front window and Jack O'Lanterns were carefully crafted and carved by each member of the family.  One year I used orange halves as ears on a Garfield-inspired pumpkin.  My favorite, most comfortable costume consisted of long "footie" pajamas and a teddy bear and voila I was a middle-school 'baby'.

But now?  Have you seen the offerings?  Unless you are that awesome (i.e. crazy)  mom who decides to painstakingly create your kids' costumes from scratch, they will need to choose a store-bought abomination. Admittedly, these are more realistic than in years past, but I can't understand what sellers are thinking.  Why do they make child-sized hooker clothes?  Or little boy axe-murderer outfits?  And why are we, as parents, tolerating this shift to the extremes?  Personally, I love The Walking Dead.  But my kids should not want to dress up as Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, or the pajama zombie girl... because they shouldn't get that pop culture reference!

Let's pretend that our entire civilization collapsed (think Mayans) and future anthropologists only had access to Halloween stores to learn about our culture.  I said pretend.  I know that's not gonna happen but I'm making a point here.  They would theorize that people died off after becoming zombies (some people still say it could happen, whatever).  Unfortunately our armed forces, police units, firefighters, medical professionals, and even super heroes were unable to help anyone because they could not run in their platform hooker shoes and fishnet stockings, with their super-tight corsets pushing their bosoms up so far they couldn't breathe.  They were then easy targets for the lunatic clowns and serial killers that finished everyone off.  The babies apparently turned rabid and ate each other (seriously, what is up with all the creepy baby decorations???).  Only furry hoodies and leg warmers remained.

Do I miss the days of the plastic costumes that tied in the back and made you sweat profusely, and the plastic masks with miniscule eye holes and mouth cutouts?  Yeah, I kinda do.  I was C3PO and Wonder Woman in those getups.  Good times.  That scene in ET where the kids go out trick-or-treating in the early evening represented an ideal Halloween - maybe one that only briefly existed.  I'd love to see a return to that innocent time.

Man, if any kid shows up with a simple sheet-ghost, or better yet: a Charlie Brown sheet with multiple holes cut in it, I'm going to dump my entire bowl of candy in his or her little plastic pumpkin.  Make that their king-sized pillowcase.  I guess some things have to change.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sometimes The Journey Is More Entertaining Than The Destination

My friend, Brenda, is a die-hard Journey fan.  She purchased tickets to see the band (again) on their 2013 tour and I agreed to (once again) accompany her to one of their concerts.  I like Journey songs, I've seen them in concert three times (although never when Steve Perry was with the band), and I find it an entertaining experience.  Last night the actual concert itself took a backseat to all of the crazy events that occurred on our "journey" to see Journey!

All day yesterday Brenda struggled with the idea of not attending the concert because she wasn't feeling well.  We put a message out on Facebook that she'd grudgingly sell the tickets, but there were no takers.  Finally, at 3 pm she decided to bite the bullet and make the most of it, sickness be damned.

We headed in to San Francisco on BART, which can be an experience in and of itself.  At 6 pm it's still a commuter's world so we weren't too fazed by any passengers on the train.  Uneventful so far, right?

Our venue was the recently-created America's Cup Pavilion on the Embarcadero.  We started heading in the proper direction, intending to hail a cab, when we saw a cute man on a bicycle offering to take passengers in his "pedicab" to their destination.  We laughed and hopped aboard this modern-day rickshaw but the entire time all I could think about was my weight and how maybe I should've skipped lunch because this thin guy had to schlep my big ass around town.  All in all, it was a gorgeous, temperate ride and we enjoyed the views along the waterline with the wind whipping through our hair while his little speaker on his back pocket blared Journey tunes.

Upon arriving at the park we walked past beautiful yachts that defy imagination.  The large "boat" with a helicopter looked just about right - OK, I'll take it.  To the tune of $50 -75 million.  In that case, no thanks.  I'm good with my ten-year-old Honda.

We got settled in our seats - I mean, on our assigned bleacher numbers - and impatiently sat through the opening act, each time sighing when they started a new song.  Come on already!  I looked over to see Brenda peeling a banana.  Who brings a banana in their purse to a concert???

Banana with Coit Tower in the distance
We started people watching to pass the time and here's where it gets interesting.  Our neighbors on my side were two lovely women, about our age, who arrived carrying two wine glasses each.  They got up to get more drinks a few times, going down the benches in front of us as you would when you're traversing bleachers and your seat is near the closed-off end: they asked a few people to scoot and they stepped down two rows to the concourse.  On their second trip "Angry Lady" in the front row started yelling and got all heated, saying "Go that way to the stands!  The stairs are right there!  You can't go this way!!!" and jabbing her finger at them in fury.  They laughed and went around but Angry Lady actually "told" on them to the seating director who just raised his hands in a "what can you do?" gesture.  Angry Lady eventually told on someone smoking, and later complained about the people walking back and forth in front of her... in the walkway.  She got into a shoving match with some guy although I didn't see what precipitated it.  Who starts a brawl while "Open Arms" is playing I ask you.  Later when he passed by again they furiously flipped each other off.  Ah, good times with mature concert-goers.

The nice ladies returned with two more drinks and sat down to enjoy the concert.  The drunkier one next to me kept offering me one of her glasses of wine. "Vino?  It's OK, I don't have hepatitis or anything.  I'm actually married with two kids."  Uh, thanks but no thanks.  Although in retrospect, maybe I should've taken it just to keep her from drinking more.  Didn't matter.  She whispered/yelled into my bad-hearing ear, "I have to tinkle again".  I shit you not.  So she stumbled down the bleachers - two people away from Angry Lady - and returned a little while later with two more drinks!  Which she offered to me again!  She leaned over and asked "So, where do you work?"  Really?  Are we going to have a get-to-know-you conversation at a concert while you're sitting on my bad side?  She told me about her child who has a lifelong disease.  She introduced herself as "Anghrrgft" or something like that - I couldn't hear and she was slurring.  Pretty soon Anghrrgft was slumping forward with her eyes closed and I feared she would hurl all over me and the people in front of us.  Hey, try to aim it at Angry Lady!  Thankfully, she got up and tried to navigate the two stairs down, literally falling the last step and banging her head against a guy's head in the front row.  Her friend watched her stumbling and tripping down the stairs and eventually went to help her, but left her purse and drinks next to me, asking "Can you watch these? I'll be right back."  Uh, sure.  I'm not going anywhere.  This is all too interesting... oh, and Journey is playing some songs too.

The band sounded pretty good, although they kept playing new stuff.  Nobody goes to a Journey concert to hear new stuff.  A few times confetti shot out from the stage and wafted toward the audience and the brightly colored papers looked beautiful in the amplified spotlight beam.  Until the man behind me exclaimed, "Ooh, butterflies!"  No, he wasn't "special".  Just maybe had never seen confetti before.  I don't know.

Meanwhile, Anghrrgft's friend returned alone, drank both glasses of wine while enjoying more of the show, and eventually left with her purse when Angry Lady vacated her throne and people could step down without fear of a beating.

At the end of the concert more butterflies flew through the air and we joined in with the throngs of people heading home.  Although we planned to hop on another pedicab back to the BART station they were all on the opposite side of the wide street so we ended up walking the whole way.  Damn, no cute boy to huff and puff over us - or because of the exertion.

We stepped into a BART car and stood in an open area, noting that it smelled a bit like marijuana.  I thought nothing of it until Brenda jabbed me and I turned around to see Stoner Guy (who looked an awful lot like a poor man's Shaun White) toking on a pipe - right in the middle of a packed BART train!!!  He was blowing the smoke right on some business guy who was asleep in front of him.  Aaaannnddd, the lady next to him acted like nothing was happening!  We looked around at the other people - who happened to be mostly smiling, go figure - and nobody called this guy out.  He was stoned out of his mind and kept trying to engage people in conversation but he was laughing too much.  He got up, stumbled to the doors, realized he was not yet at his station, and flopped back to his seat.  The lady next to him, whose eyes were reddening as we watched, finally got up and stood across the aisle.  Her boyfriend or husband did nothing.  Brenda and I were looking around like, "Are we on that show 'What Would You Do'???"  You can't just light up on public transit.  Brenda tried to give him the benefit of the doubt saying maybe it was medicinal use.  NO. STILL... NO!  Thankfully he got off the train somewhere around Oakland and peoples' smiles eventually faded.

But not mine.  That was such an entertaining night.  And just think, I could've been home doing 7th grade math with my son and missed all of that!  Until next time people... Be Good To Yourself!!!!

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Are You Smarter Than a Middle Schooler?

The school bell is about to ring.  Everyone is looking around nervously, hoping they are in the correct place.  Papers clutched in sweaty hands are checked once again so that each person can compare the class schedule to the numbers on the doors. Finally the buzzer sounds and people shuffle in to find a seat - hopefully near a friend - while the teacher starts going over a wealth of pertinent information.

Back To School Night at the middle school has begun.

Parents are supposed to follow their child's regular class schedule, going to each classroom for a condensed introduction and a review of the policies for that period.  Ironically the only people who look confident and assured are the volunteer students who are helping to direct lost parents to the proper classrooms.

I suspect that the scene looked very similar when my friends were in middle school themselves.  You have the focused ones who walk briskly to the next classroom, never looking up at others passing by.  There are the people who linger in the quad and talk loudly instead of worrying about the next bell.  Still others struggle to get where they need to be - whether it's because they are lost or running behind.  My husband was stressing me out as we approached a classroom and the bell rang while we were outside.  He's muttering, "We're tardy!  Not in our seats yet!  I hope they don't lock the door before we sneak in!"  Dude, settle down.  You won't get a detention, trust me.

The teachers would introduce themselves and the name of the class, and inevitably one parent would stand up, blushing, and leave the room in search of the actual place they needed to be.  I took particular enjoyment in that.  On the other hand, there was the dad who waited for a good 12 minutes while the teacher went over a detailed handout, only to finally get up, walk to the front of the class, and ask for a copy since he hadn't received one.  While the teacher turned to retrieve the page for him he smiled at the class and did a Forrest Gump wave.  Seriously?  It took you that long to realize you were missing something that everyone around you was reading?

I left the school feeling somewhat dazed.  My head spun with information, rules, expectations, and a dizzying glimpse into the requirements my son would be expected to achieve this year.  If I had to go back and redo middle school... yeah, I don't think I'd make it.  They're completing detailed science experiments and lab write-ups, learning computer programming, typing long essays on Google Docs, and figuring out math problems that can stump the teachers.  My friend was incredulous that her 6th grade son had a year-long syllabus for his class.  I'm pretty sure I didn't know what the word "syllabus" meant until my second quarter of college.  (I am now convinced that my grades would have been much better had I figured it out the first quarter).

I sure hope my son understands the concepts because what's being taught has moved beyond my comprehension already.  Are you smarter than a 7th grader?  No.  Obviously not.

Meanwhile my 4th grader is coming home and using new words he's learning in class.  "I am optimistic that my inquisitive and loquacious friends will not be punished for the pandemonium they are creating but I'm sure that they will be elated if we can reconcile the situation in a prudent fashion."  Huh?  Let's just go back to telegram communication.

Sons smart -(STOP)-  Mom confused -(STOP)-  Use small words and short sentences -(STOP)-

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Grind

It's official.  We are back to the daily grind that is school, complete with early morning grumpiness, half-assed lunches hastily thrown together, homework procrastination and complaints, plus mental exhaustion and bad attitudes.  Oh, and my kids are affected too.

I truly enjoyed having the summer off.  I tried to keep my kids busy with camps and scheduled activities but the lazy days with no plans were just as pleasant (especially if my kids were in another room arguing where I couldn't hear them).

Every year we go through the same end-of-summer routine, designed to fool people into believing that my boys are always well-groomed and properly clothed.  As if they hadn't been running around in shoes with holes in the soles, wearing shorts so small they look like Magnum, P.I. would've worn them.  We take the kids to get haircuts and new clothes and they whine and complain like there's no tomorrow.  Why would parents torture their children so?  Fresh, new, clean, stylish clothing and comfortable shoes and outerwear - it's just preposterous!  Throw in the crazy lady at the store who is clueless that her child in the stroller has been screaming at the top of his lungs for 20 minutes straight.  She unknowingly follows us to different departments, oblivious that her 4-year-old is crawling beneath the fitting room door while my kid is forced to try on clothes.  I had to quickly yell, "no kicking intruders in the face!" to avoid bloodshed.  We made it out of the store with 3 large bags of clothing, two unhappy boys, a new store credit card activated so we could get maximum discounts... and a very empty bank account.

I wish I could say that we had a fabulous celebration to mark the end of another summer vacation.  But no. Unfortunately we had to attend my father-in-law's funeral and say goodbye to a wonderful man who shaped my husband into the person he is, and was a Grandpa beyond compare.  What a way to mark the last weekend of break.  The good news is that we got to hang out with family that we only rarely see, and got to meet relatives that live out of state.  My boys and their cousins enjoyed each others' company and messed around with bows and arrows, and pellet guns.  My husband and his brother agreed to take the kids downriver on inflatable rafts - which lost air and took on water and provided a great visual as the teenage fisherman had to pull my brother-in-law's boat to shore because it was so low.  The adults hung out, reminisced, and went through a boatload of wine and beer.  Tomm would have wholeheartedly approved.

The problem arises when you have 11 people sleeping at a residence with 3 bedrooms.  Where's everyone going to go?  Tomm's brother had been at the house already when we arrived and we of course let him keep the guest room.  My brother-in-law, by default, got the second guest room.  Something about needing their 2-year-old in the same room with them, yadda yadda yadda.  The other grandchildren had makeshift beds in Grammy's room, like a big sleepover.  That left me and my husband and our 12 year old.  Luckily my in-laws have a great support system in their town and many friends who offered to create various sleeping arrangements.  We were informed that we could use a friend's RV in the driveway.  I've already written about my family's experience with a tiny camper so we were picturing nice large accommodations.

Here's what we saw upon arrival:

Yeah, see, that's a shell, not really an RV.

So we did what we needed to do and we shut up, trudged outside to our "camper", hiked up the step stool to the oh-so-spacious musty interior, and went to sleep.  This worked out fine until the last night when it started raining.  Luckily my husband woke up and closed the vent that was directly over our bed.  I had a hard time falling back to sleep because I thought I kept hearing dripping.  I checked the other vent and it was closed.  No other sign of rain getting in, so I proceeded to fall back to sleep.  I was awoken by a slow drip of water onto my shoulder.  The "sealed" window above the cab was leaking - on my side of the bed.  From multiple places.  The owners had put a foam mattress pad down for more comfort, and I soon discovered that foam mattress pads absorb an awful lot of water, and then disperse it across the material.  So no matter how far I kept scooting into my husband's sleeping zone, I was still laying in a puddle of water.  I managed to find a position that was mostly out of the water, that was relatively comfortable, and I started to count down the remaining hours until daylight.  I considered making my way inside to a couch or recliner just as another waterfall rained down onto my back.  My brother-in-law found this to be hilarious as I later recounted our restful night.

As another year of schooling gets underway and we try to remember the routines and habits that were forgotten over the summer, we are thankful for the family that we have around us, who share the good times and the bad times, and who laugh at our expense.  And I'm thankful for my own comfortable bed with no waterfall feature.

Hope you all have a great start to fall and another year of happy chaos.  

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