Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Desolation of a Movie

This transcript of yesterday's Q&A session is brought to you by The Hobbit.

My fandom of J.R.R. Tolkien's books was created by my father. He read the entire series to me, tirelessly, and then when I begged he read it again. And again. And again.

I honestly don't know how many times he read those books out loud. A lot, is probably the safest estimate. Of course, I've tried to carry on the tradition by reading The Hobbit to my children which is why, The Desolation of Smaug, was mandatory weekend viewing for us.

It turns out that, despite having both read the book myself and heard it read many times, I'm still lacking in my Hobbit knowledge. Here's a list of the top popcorn breath questions whispered mid-movie.

1. Where are all the girl Orcs?
Me: Not sure.

2. And how do they reproduce so quickly? Is someone spawning them like in Minecraft?
Me: I don't think so, but that's a good question. Shhh.

3. Where does the shapeshifter keep his clothes? Are they in the barn?
Me: In the trees.
Them: Where in the trees?
Me: They don't show that part. Shhh.

4. In the dark forest: Why are they all acting so weird.
Me: The air is sort of like a hallucinogenic.
Them: What's that.
Me: Never mind.
Them: TELL US!!!!
Me: The air makes them dizzy. Shhh!

5. When you're wearing the ring does it allow you to understand spider tongue?
Me: Yes.

6. Followed quickly by: Do you think if they met hamsters they would understand hamster tongue?
Me: Yes.
Them: Giggles of delight.
Me: Shhh!!!

7. When the elves are going over the waterfalls in barrels: Why aren't the barrels filling up with water? Are they magic barrels?
Me: Yes. They're filled with elven magic.

8. When Gandalf sees the Dark Lord. Why does it keep showing that figure going in on himself?
Me: It's supposed to represent infinite evil.
Them: Ohhhh!

9. Who do you like better Katniss or Tauriel?
Me: Can't compare. They're different species.

10: When can we see the next one?
Me: Next Christmas

I absolutely silence my phone in the theater. But...I'm still working on my children. Until I get that figured out, you might want to sit a few rows away from us.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Creativity on Overdrive

Here's how I work. I write 2000 words a day, give or take a few. At some point during this process the idea for a new book pops into my head. That's where it stays, in utero, while I first write then edit and edit and edit the work in progress.

That's the, to use a phrase I find slightly pretentious, artistic process. At least that's what it's been until this year.

Don't get me wrong, I've been creating my 2k a day. The writing piece is working as it has in the past, but what's not working, or I should say is working on overdrive, is the bun in the oven piece.

Before I started the work in progress, I had to make a choice between this book and another book I wanted to write. Which was fine, I told myself, because I'll just write the next one, next year.

It can wait.
It'll be very tender and juicy after a year of brain marination.

And then I had another idea.

A story that woke me up in the strange daze of pre-creativity that can take over an entire day. I wandered around my house with the dawning realization that THIS, this was the story that needed to be written.

It's beautiful, sad, but I think, an ultimately uplifting modern love story. I wrote the first page. Trapped my initial ideas on my laptop and thought, okay, maybe that's next years book.

Which was my working plan until this morning when another idea struck, fully formed, characters, plot, setting, title, everything. It woke me up too (like someone's been shooting my brain full of Pitocin) and I stayed in bed imagining all the details of this new book until the alarm went off.

So basically, I have triplets in utero. And like any expectant parent of three, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.

They ALL want my attention.

As any parent discovers, it's all about balance. But each idea feels more needy than the next. For the moment, I'm locking my book babies in virtual space and ignoring their clamoring (one of the many ways parenting books differs from parenting children). Hopefully, they'll be patient and wait until I'm ready to deal with them.

What about you? How do you manage ideas that catch you off guard?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey Love

The first of our houseguests arrived Sunday night; a family of four that make me thankful for the blessing of good friends.

More houseguests arrive tonight and then more on Wednesday; the kind that make me thankful for family who are willing to fly and fight traffic to celebrate the upcoming holiday in my home.

We are bursting at the seams with love, good cheer and children who can't get enough of each other.

There's already so much that makes me thankful. On top of that, I get to play cookie crafting with three little girls and one little boy while we make our favorite edible Thanksgiving turkey placeholders.

Maybe, just maybe, if I get really lucky, the children will be convinced to put on a classic skit about the first Thanksgiving with Pilgrims meeting the Indians capped, of course, by a grand finale rendition of Albuquerque He's My Turkey.

I've copied the lyrics case any of you aren't familiar with this Thanksgiving gem. It's sung to the tune of Darling Clementine; and if it's reproduced over your Thanksgiving table, that will be one more thing that makes me smile.

Albuquerque he's my turkey,
And he's feathered and he's fine.
And he wobbles, and he gobbles,
And he's absolutely mine.

He's the best pet you can ever get,
Better than a dog or cat.
Albuquerque, he's my turkey,
And I'm awfully glad of that.

Albuquerque, he's my turkey,
He's so cozy in his bed,
Because for our Thanksgiving dinner,
We had scrambled eggs instead.
Happy Thanksgiving. Here's hoping each of yours is filled with joy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Solo Time

The kids are I are flying solo this week so here is my list of top ten things that happen when I'm the only grown-up in the house.

1. Kid food: Pizza. Chicken and Dumplings. Burritos. All eaten at a much more kid-friendly hour than dinners normally take place Chez Garth.

2. TV: On a weeknight!! *gasp* And even more gaspworthy, I sat down and watched Total Drama AllStars too so I wouldn't feel so left out of my children's conversations.

3.  Thermostat at Seventy-Eight: What? It's chilly in Virginia. Plus we have all these big windows. Seventy-eight lets us pretend we live in Hawaii.

4. Bright Lights: The entire house lit up like a Christmas tree. Not that the kids and I are afraid of the dark or anything. It's just, you know, extra dark out here in suburbia. Besides, lights in winter feel cozy and do a great job of scaring away monsters and murderers.

5. Loud Music: Another important factor for scaring away monsters and murderers. Plus it's fun. And somebody on the block should be the weird family who dances around in their PJs.

6. Trash TV: Pretty Little Liars after my kids are in bed. Don't judge me!

7. Texting and Tweeting: While I watch the aforementioned trash TV. No, I'm not a teenager. Why do you ask?

8. Queen of the Bed: It's king size. I'm the size of a seventh grader, but that doesn't hinder my ability  to commandeer the whole thing. My husband frowns on this. When he's gone, I indulge.

9.  No Bedtime: I'm a night owl. My husband is an early bird. When I'm flying solo I don't feel bad about staying up late to dig into something literary, which has the added benefit of counteracting my trifecta binge of Trash TV, texting and tweeting.

10. Of course, the best part about being solo is that it has an expiration date. See how I cheated there? Couldn't quite come up with a full list of ten. But I think, to quote Martha Stewart, that's a good thing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Email Bombs and Dog Crates

Every now and then I open my inbox and find a small explosion waiting for me. On Friday, I was cc'd on one of those bomb-type messages. It was a response, drafted by my husband, to our son's third grade teacher who is darling, sweet, very sincere and possibly not yet of legal drinking age.

Below, for your edification, follows the email exchange that blew up my Friday inbox

From: Darling, sweet teacher
To: Parents

I am seeing improvements in [your son's] behavior.  He started to get a little bit goofy yesterday morning but after some redirection he fixed his behavior.  He likes to get out of his seat a lot to chat with other students at inappropriate times.  This is something I am going to continually work on with him and if you can reinforce this at home, that would be great!  Overall, I think he did a nice job so far this week and I look forward to seeing more and more improvements every day!  Thanks so much for your support!

[My son? Chatty!?! You're all shocked, I'm sure!]

From: Husband, aka email terrorist
To: Darling, sweet teacher

Sure thing. We will continue to use appropriate methods to facilitate behavior improvement. You know, some methods include removing screen time or taking away Halloween candy and desserts. Sometimes the preferred techniques include electroshock treatment or handcuffing them to the radiator. I would lock him in the dog carrier we bought to transport his and his sister's hamsters from Oregon, but he actually enjoys hanging out in that container. So, I guess I'll have to come up with something else. 
I was joking of course, all except for the part about the dog carrier. 

Later in the day my husband called from the busy world of meetings and important goings-on that preclude him from making daily pick-up and drop-off appearances at our children's school.

Him: Any word from the teacher?

Me: I'm not speaking to you!

Him: What? It was funny. She'll know I'm kidding.

Me: The principal wears a suit every day. This is not Portlandia.

Him: It was good stuff!

Me: On the subject of dog crates...I hope our son isn't the only one who likes them.

I know what the women who read this blog are thinking, but as a good friend of mine likes to say when her husband indulges in inappropriate dinner party conversation, "Sorry ladies, you can't have him. He's ALL mine."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning Curves

In the early years of my marriage, I was too busy putting in long hours at Big Law to cook. On the rare event I did, the smallest things were major productions. Tomato soup that took three trips to the grocery store and required multiple re-readings of the recipe.

'Should the garlic be sliced or diced and does it matter?'

'What, exactly, is a rapid simmer?!?'

At that time, my husband did most of the cooking. It wasn't something that came naturally to him either. There was,  memorably, the time he prepared breaded veal and instead of flour it was breaded with powdered sugar.

"They're both white, powdery substances in canisters! How am I supposed to tell the difference?"

During those years we ate a lot of take-out. It was both easy and preferable to sugared veal.

Somewhere, in the year after Child #1 was born, I decided cooking was important. Like everything that catches my attention, I threw myself into this pursuit with a whole-hearted passion; purchasing a little wheelie bag for groceries and wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of good produce and better bread.

By the time we arrived in Portland I was in the formative stages of a dinner party obsession.

It started small. I'd have one family over and cook something from a trusted source. Small soon morphed into complicated calculations about how many people I could squeeze around the dining room table, menus pulled from the pages of Bon Appetit and days spent creating seasonally-themed table settings.

Like anything else, it was a learning curve. What felt exciting and overwhelming soon turned into the routine. I was able to put together a dinner party for twelve, themed table décor and kitchen-tested menu with the same amount of thought that used to go into that starter tomato soup recipe.

Predictably, as soon as they became easy, my passion for big, fancy dinner parties dimmed. Which isn't to say I don't still enjoy cooking and entertaining, but experience has made me simultaneously more experimental and casual.

Guests to my home might get some kind of seafood dish I've decided to recreate after trying it once at a restaurant or a homey lentil soup. I think it's the kind of entertaining that comes out of the confidence borne from all those hours in the kitchen and a track record of many successful dinner parties.

I was thinking about my culinary arc this week because a writer friend of mine was plagued by the kind of self-doubt all creative people experience from time-to-time.

Those slightly awkward, self-conscious dinner parties where I desperately wanted everything to be perfect, the outright failures scraped into the trash and the reasonably good, if not memorable meals were all part of the learning curve that led to my current place of kitchen confidence.

Simple fare or Gourmet magazine, now it doesn't really matter because my time spent in the kitchen has given me the gift of knowing it's all going to be good...and even if it isn't, there's always take-out.

Comfortable confidence borne from years of success, failure and everything in between. It's a great place to be. And it's absolutely the curve I'm still negotiating when it comes to the tricky business of stringing words together and creating books.

The good news is the kitchen has taught me that place exists. With enough practice, I'm certain I'll meet all my writer friends at that mythical place which is the roller coaster-top of the writing learning curve.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Core, Center and Community

Sometimes the themes in real life, like books, are only apparent in retrospect.

Last week's theme was packaged for me by my yoga instructor who summed it all up at my Sunday morning yoga class (my version of religion) by instructing us to find our center. Not just our center, but our core. For anyone who's done any kind of exercise in the last ten years, you know this is a reference to abdominal muscles, but she took it a step further and asked us to think about the core of our beliefs.

What centers us? From where, what or whom do we draw our strength?

As I moved through the yoga asanas, downward dog, upward dog, way too long in plank pose, it occurred to me the core of my being is centered in community.

This week my kids had two days off of school for parent-teacher conferences and so, grudgingly, I decided to take those two days off of writing. We visited museums. Had lunch out. I let them drink soda. It was marvelous.

It was community.

My friendships; the new ones I'm growing in Virginia, like tiny seedlings poking out of the ground, the ones I arrived here with that are fully grown with deep, deep roots and the virtual ones I've created on-line.

Again, community. The kind that makes me feel strong and connected to the world in a way that fills me with the passion required to lock myself away and write hundreds of thousands of words. And then rewrite them. And then rewrite them again. And again and again and again.

The concept of community was highlighted earlier in my week (I told you it was a theme) when I went to a Baptist church in downtown Washington, D.C. to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak about her brand of faith. Her words about people who stumble into her church and stay for the community struck a note with me.

I believe we're all in search of one brand of community or another.

Whether it's family, religion, yoga, friends or a mishmash created from all of the above, somewhere inside each of us is a strong desire to connect on a level that delves below the surface.

Which I suppose leads to the obvious question. Where is your center? What fills you up with passion and floats you through life?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Minecraft Marriage

Like so many things, it all started innocently. In fact, the beginning was adorable.

"Mom, I'm in love," my son said a few weeks ago after school.

"Oh, how sweet," I said then added, "what's her name?"

"I can't remember, but she's got beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes."

Since that initial declaration of love my son has a) found out her name and b) talked about this little girl almost every day. He loves everything about her, including her take-charge manner when it was her turn to assign classroom chores.

"She doesn't just say, 'you're on compost duty,' she says 'You! You're compost.' Like we're actually made out of compost." He punctuated this statement with a giggle.

"Did you want to be compost?" I asked and he assured me he did.

That's sort of the way things have gone. Daily snippets about the beautiful, blondie-blonde. And it was all absolutely adorable until last week when we were walking home and I happened to tune into my children's discussion about Minecraft, the world-building video game with which they are both completely obsessed.

My son, as he usually does, was doing most of the talking.

"And so I built this house were I live with my don't know why I said that, because we're not really married, but someday we might be because she knows how to act like a really good wife."

My ears perked up and luckily, instead of being forced to ask the obvious question, my daughter asked it for me.

"How does someone act like a really good wife?"

"You know, they look really pretty. And whenever she wants something she comes and asks me for money. Sometimes I leave it out for her on a little table that I built in our house."

My daughter, as though she had direct access to the questions percolating in my brain said, "Why doesn't she have her own money? And most wives do more than shop, you know! Is she smart? Because that's just as important as being pretty."

Because my son was born in this century he knew, instinctively, that he'd said something wrong and began to backtrack. "She's very smart. And she has her own money, but I just like to give her mine. You know, if she wants to buy something fancy."

"That!" said my daughter who saves every penny that comes her way and will soon have enough chipmunked away for a down payment on a nice pied a terre in Paris, "is just weird! It's probably the weirdest thing I've ever heard!"

"You're right," he said. "It is weird. Let's change the subject."

And with those three little sentences I realized that, while my daughter and I might need to work on redefining his version of the perfect wife, we've already given him the verbal skills necessary to someday, make someone, an amazing husband!

Monday, October 28, 2013


I've been social media-scarce over the last week. And the noun-adjective combination in the previous sentence is one of the reasons why, but I'll get to that later.

We had houseguests during the first half of last week, which, as my daughter perfectly phrased it, "Is such a special treat!"

And it was.

Especially the part where the kids set their alarms for 6:00 AM so they could get in a solid hour of Make-up Chase and Darkness Mob in the basement before they had to get ready for school.

Fun Times! No seriously, it was fun.

In the middle of refereeing games of Make-up Chase and handing out ice packs for Darkness Mob (haven't played it, don't know the rules, but it involves lights outs, a large size dog crate and is more dangerous than hockey) I received an email from Agent Emily telling me the book is so very, very close to being ready to go out on submission, but still, a few more tweaks were needed.

In a manic moment, I decided the tweaks really weren't that substantial and "absolutely, no problem, could get them done by Friday."

It's funny how tweaks always look smaller in an email than they do when you're combing through the four hundred plus pages of your book.

The first one, as I hinted at above, was easy. I love a good noun-adjective combination. They're a crutch that makes it easy to paint a quick picture. Agent Emily wanted them gone. I complied.

It was the other tweaks that turned me, like a seasonally appropriate house decoration, from writer mommy into writer-scary and created conversations like the following.

"Mom, can I just sit on the couch next to you and watch you write?"

"No, you can not. I'm WORKING."

"I'll be quiet."

"I can hear you breathing. You HAVE TO LEAVE."

Writer-scary is probably the downside of having a writer mom. The upside is I made monster brownies this weekend to soften the blow of having to live with a temporary monster writer.

What about you?

How are your Halloween plans shaping up? Do you turn into a monster when you have a deadline?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Playing Freud

In Portland, during play dates my kids would build forts, play capture the flag or dress up. Every now and then dolls would make an appearance. Swords were a no-brainer.

It seems, however, things are different in McLean.

"So what were you playing at your friend's house?" I asked my daughter the other evening as I was making dinner.

"Therapist," she said.

"Therapist!?! How do you play therapist?"

"It's like this, Mom. One person lies on the bed and the other person sits in a chair and asks the person on the bed how they're feeling. Whether they're sad, happy and if so, why."


"So, what?"

"When it was your turn to lie on the bed what did you say?"

She looked at me and sighed the kind of sigh I'm sure is foreshadowing for the coming years where it will be proven, unequivocally, like a mathematical equation that I know nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

"Mom," she said "the things you say in therapy, stay in therapy."

"Like Las Vegas?" I asked.

"What do you mean? What happens in Las Vegas?"


And that's how we ended the conversation, because even if my daughter is telling her pretend therapist things she won't tell me and has a mother who doesn't understand the rules of the game at least I still know the slogan for the biggest city in Nevada.

Which is something.

Sort of.

I'm going to hold on to that and hope autumnal love for Dr. Freud turns into an unexpected spring fling with Capture the Flag.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Torture on I-95

There are lots of reasons I-95, the freeway that runs southbound out of the Washington DC area can be classified as a torture device.

It is always, as the local top 40 radio station says, 'jacked up'.

(Brief aside on that phrase)
Child 1: Isn't jacked up kind of a swear word?
Me: Not technically.
Child 1: So I can say, 'this is so jacked up'.
Me: NO! You can not!
Child 1: But why not?
Me: Let's listen to NPR

But back to I-95. We happened to be on it this weekend, coming home on a Monday after a long holiday weekend. It was excruciatingly slow (which is the family-friendly phrase I'm going to use on this blog).

My husband was driving which left me in the DJ seat and in charge of appeasing two cranky passengers whose electronic devices WERE ON RED. Quick confession; when met with that set of circumstances my musical taste can run to the, well, let's call it eclectic.

We started with a French folk music sing-a-long. My daughter joined in using her hamster voice which is high-pitched, sort of like Miss Piggy with lots of consonants pronounced like Ws. My son sang too, substituting blah-blah-bla-bla-blah for the actual words.

"Maybe something else?!?" My husband suggested, cranky from behind the steering wheel where he was muttering other words that aren't going to make an appearance on this blog.

I put on Kimya Dawson because my kids adore her wacky lyrics. "Umm, so we're just sort of listening to this woman talk to music," said my husband.

Undaunted, we turned to Christmas music....with a twist. The kids and I made up hamster-friendly lyrics to almost every popular Christmas tune. You'd be surprised how easily this can done.

"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the shavings are so delightful."
"Hamster baby, hurry down the tube to me"
"Running on your wheel, in a one horse open sleigh"

These, of course, were sung in full falsetto hamster voice, because how else do you sing hamster-themed Christmas songs?

After that we listened to a little bit of Miss Piggy (did you know she has a whole album? I didn't either. Thank you Spotify!) and then circled back to Selena Gomez.

On an interesting side note, I don't think I've ever seen my husband quite so happy to hear the three of us belt out "Love You Like a Love Song" in the interior confines of our car.

Or maybe it was a smile of gratitude because traffic was finally moving and he knew escape was close at hand. Personally, I'm going to chalk it up to a late in life appreciation for tweenage music. Next road-trip we'll break out the Taylor Swift.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Kiss and Ride

The first time I heard this term I thought it was a colloquialism. Something people say in Virginia because, after all, Virginia is for lovers and all that.

Turns out it's a real thing. As in prior to the school year I got an email reminding me to register my children for Kiss and Ride if I planned to use it. There are signs at the Metro stations pointing to the Kiss and Ride lanes. People talk about it without a hint of irony. Like this....

"The Kiss and Ride line was so long this morning."

"Yeah, it always is when it rains."

For those of you who are in the dark when it comes to Kiss and Ride, it's what the rest of the country calls 'drop off'. However, when it comes to my children's school Kiss and Ride takes on a hint of military precision.

Children wearing safety guard vests are lined up on big blue dots approximately five feet from each other along the sidewalk next to the school parking lot.

A teacher stands outside directing traffic, both vehicular and human. A line of cars pulls up, stops at the blue dots, the children dressed in fluorescent gear open the back doors and like a well-rehearsed dance the backpack toting passengers hop out and make their way to the classrooms.

The line of cars who take part in the Kiss and Ride ritual each morning stretches for several blocks. My kids and I figured out early on we could park our car, hop out and be at school for kisses good bye long before the idling line of Kiss and Ride vehicles.

As much as I'm trying to embrace the customs of my new home, I'll admit to having a little trouble with the Kiss and Ride debacle. In Portlandia, in lieu of cars inching forward, the streets were filled with lawn signs reminding us of the nasty environmental impact of idling vehicles.

The information in those signs now play on repeat in my head each morning and afternoon as I pass people in their cars and/or watch them try to do the vehicle equivalent of cutting the Kiss and Ride line.

Wouldn't it be so much simpler and green-clean to park and walk? And by the way, I feel compelled to mention that, to date, I haven't witnessed any actual kissing in the Kiss and Ride cars.

Although, I'm sure it happens. Virginia IS for lovers, right?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Women's Reading Month

I didn't plan to read only from the canon of female authors last month, but looking back over my Goodreads reading list, I realize that was exactly what I did.

Here are my favorite discoveries

Rachel Kushner's, The Flamethrowers

I can't say enough about the incredible art-world dialogue and the author's steadfast refusal to adhere to strict plot guidelines. Did I ever really know Reno, the main character? It's impossible to say because reading this book was more like experiencing a world as it's happening, like jumping inside someone else's skin midstream.

Erica Jong's, Fear of Flying

I'd never read this classic look at the first wave feminist approach to sexuality. To say it was the 50 Shades of Grey of it's time is selling it short from a literary standpoint, but it had similar shock value when first published. All these years later, it stands up to the test of time with its challenges to social norms and customs imposed upon women, that all too often, we accept without question.

Hart Johnson's, A Flock of Ill Omens

The first two installments of this series have been unputdownable (autocorrect tells me that's not a word, but I'm putting my disagreement on record). I love the setting because it hearkens to home, the characters and the way Hart bravely jumped into a brand new genre without even the smallest hint of hesitation.

Molly Ringwald's, When It Happens to You

I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but when I saw this book, I had to pick it up because well, it's Molly Ringwald! I was sold the minute I read the back. Interlocking vignettes told on a family scale. The stand-out in the bunch features a mother as she struggles to accept her young son's desire to cross-dress.

There you have it! My month, week-by-week, book-by-book. All so different, satisfying and a perfect reflection of the myriad of ways women experience the world.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Parenting Congress

As I scrolled through yesterday morning's Facebook feed, littered with descriptions of how the government shutdown is hurting a far flung cross-section of people, it occurred to me our elected representatives, on both sides of the aisle, are behaving like children.

It just so happens I have some experience dealing with recalcitrant children and so I've drafted a short plan for encouraging better behavior and avoiding governmental gridlock.

1. Immediate Consequences.  Even pet owners know consequences for bad behavior should be immediate and relate directly to the bad act.

If my children refuse to eat dinner they don't get dessert. This consequence wouldn't be nearly as effective if, say, their refusal to eat dinner meant the neighbors didn't get to eat dessert.

If Congress can't pass a budget, they should go without pay. Immediate. Connected. Consequence.

2. Time Outs. Time spent alone is an effective, nonviolent reminder that your inability to play nicely will result in a set period of time where you are disengaged from all your normal activities.

Elected officials who engage in bad behavior could take a time out in their office (minutes equal to their age, of course).

Maybe they'll miss a vote on the floor. Maybe they'll miss two. I can guarantee the parenting public will reap the benefits by seeing a pleasanter Congress that knows its boundaries and how to be first time listeners.

3. Bad Behavior. Of course we'd need to define what constitutes a time out-worthy offense. Since Congress can't even agree on a budget, I'm under no illusion they'll be able to agree on something as basic as behavioral guidelines.

Don't worry, elected officials! My son's third grade teacher has a list of expectations that are similar to those that have decorated classrooms every year since my children started Kindergarten. Even if you can't agree, the rest of us can, have and will expect you to comport yourselves with dignity and respect equal to that which is required of our nation's school children.

4. Loss of Privileges. I admit it. Sometimes time outs and immediate consequences aren't enough.

Those are the times when I have to dig deep into my parental bag of tricks. Phones and screentime are a favorite privilege of my children which means they're first on the parental chopping block.

Clearly, threat of not being re-elected is not a sufficiently immediate consequence (see point #1). But that doesn't mean our elected officials don't have privileges they enjoy.

Their staffers, their drivers, their exclusive access to the Congressional café? It doesn't have to be a one-size fits all answer, but like a good parent, I have faith a good group of constituents would have that special insight necessary to determine their Congressman's favorite privileges and then deny them until good behavior (the kind on classroom walls throughout the country) is achieved.

5. Perspective. I want my children to understand their desires aren't the end-all, be-all.

Yes, I know that new Skylander is really, really cool and possession of it might open up all kinds of video game doors, but we can't drop everything to go buy it RIGHT THIS MINUTE because we have things like homework and dinner and the daily grind of life that takes precedence.

And yes, Congress and President Obama, I understand Obamacare either (depending on your political viewpoint) needs to stay in place, as is, because it's really, really cool and will open up all kinds of health care doors or the failure to defund it will be the end of modern civilization.

But I also have the perspective necessary to understand we shouldn't drop everything to have it pass RIGHT THIS MINUTE because there are people who need their paychecks to buy the groceries required to make dinner and dying, indigent people who can't get treatment until their Medicaid forms processed.

No parent worthy of the title would put up with this behavior from their children, so please, legislative and executive branches, get a grip on your perspective and put an end to your Capitol Hill tantrum before it grinds our country into an economic standstill.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Fictional Nonsense of Porn

Don Jon!

Have you seen it?

Every now and then I hear about a movie and know I need to rush out, buy a ticket and surrender myself to 90 minutes of inspiration. Which, admittedly, is an odd way for a happily married mother of two to feel about a movie that's ostensibly about porn addiction.

Just for the record, it wasn't the story of the self-styled Jersey Shore porn addict wannabe that resonated with me.

It was the movie's underlying concept; which spotlights how the media portrays human acts like love and sex and the way we, as a culture, often mistake what were always intended to be shorthand constructs, for the real thing.

The story, in brief, is about Jon, who hooks up with a different girl every night. Despite his success with the opposite sex, he prefers his computer porn because the women he brings home don't offer the intimacy and acceptance he finds alone. It dawns on him (SURPRISE) his existence is unfulfilling and he sets out to create a relationship that is, ultimately doomed, when his porn ideals clash with his girlfriend's equally unrealistic views that big screen romance is an accurate representation of a relationship.

For me, the movie was a reminder that the most engaging stories are both entertainment and a glimpse in the mirror of social relevance. The reflection we see is often most interesting when it's at its most accurate. Blemishes and all without a picture perfect bow.

It's also a reminder that, even though I can't change the culture where bikini-clad models eat hamburgers while the voiceover announces wink-wink, nudge-nudge that, "the newest sandwich isn't just another piece of meat," I can be aware of it, not be numbed by its constant presence.

Unchecked, the stream of media-ideal, fictionalized versions of women, sex and relationships has the power to warp all of our perceptions of reality. Don Jon reminds us these prepackaged items have no more sustenance than Diet Coke and are as unreal as the photoshopped models used to sell them.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Where One Door Opens

There's a saying, popularized by a last century Chicago song, that goes, "You don't know what you got until it's gone and I found out just a little too late."

That's the song I've been singing every morning in the shower as Child  #2 wanders in and out of my open plan bathroom.

A door.

I really underestimated the importance of a door!

Our new house is the antidote to our old one. Where, it was old and respectable, this one is newer and modern. Lots of levels, lots of stairs, lots of fun. From outside it kinda looks like a ship.

I love everything about it, except the fact that there is no door to my bathroom.

When I say no door, I don't mean a doorframe space where a door has been removed. I mean a great big open space where bedroom melds into bathroom when you walk around the corner.

Have I mentioned my son likes to talk?

Saying he likes to talk is an understatement, sort of like saying fish enjoy water. My early morning shower time has become his captive audience time. This morning's pre-coffee conversations went like this.

"So, I breeded a Nose Breather and a Funky Monkey and if you had to guess would you say I got Smelly Feet or a T-rexasaurus?"

"It's bred and could you please give me some privacy."

"I am giving you privacy! My back is to you."

"I need you to leave the room!"

"How do you define the room?"

"Where the floors change color. Leave! Now!!"

"How about if I stand at the edge of where the floors change colors so you can still hear me?"

The indignity of my less-than-private shower is compounded by the cheerful chatter that awaits me the minute I step out of the shower.

"Do you think gummy worms contain any vitamins? If you had to pick a number that looks the most like you, what would it be? No really, Mom, you're just saying a number and not thinking about one that looks like you."

This morning, in a weak moment, I sent him back upstairs to see what his sister was doing.

Two minutes later I, along with everyone else in the neighborhood, heard her shriek, "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" Followed by the loud bang of a door.

I know I should feel bad about playing one child against the other, and I really would if only I wasn't so jealous of their doors!

Monday, September 23, 2013

At the Intersection of Constitution and Twelfth

Attendance at the National Book Festival seems almost compulsory for any kind of writer, sort of like the core curriculum, English 101 on the National Mall.

This is why, family in tow, I headed into the Nation's Capital yesterday to check out some good books and the writer's who wrote them.

We wandered through the white-tented pavilions, stopping at the Fiction & Mystery tent where Khaled Hosseini spoke to a standing room only audience.

"Maybe you'll be speaking there next year, Mom," my daughter said.

"If that ever happens, I'll save you a front row seat," I promised her.

My husand found his niche underneath the History & Biography tent where he caught a snippet of Evan Thomas.

We all stopped to ponder a white board that invited us to think about 'Books That Changed the World'. Green Eggs and Ham was on the list, as was The Great Gatsby. My son included Captain Underpants and, after a lot of measured thought, my daughter included the Bible.

The thing that probably holds true for any book festival, is that the under eleven crowd quickly loses steam. Even though I'm eleven years into parenting, my offspring's need to eat at regular intervals still catches me off guard.

We were suddenly, as these things alway seem to happen, in rubberlimbed, meltdown territory.

Child #2 informed me he couldn't take another step. We hurried off the mall in search of nutrition where we were, literally, waylaid by a parade.

It's amazing how quickly a parade can make a person forget he's just claimed he is close to dying and CAN'T EVEN MOVE HE'S SO HUNGRY!

Especially when the parade participants were dressed in costumes like these!

Fortunately, for everyone, sustenance in the form of celebratory Latin Day street food was located on the other side of Constitution Avenue.

Hunger pains and sit-in style protests against overzealous mothers who spend too long at book fairs were both successfully averted.

As we drove home, I realized we all have memories of childhood activities we did at the whim of our parents. I can't help but wonder if book fairs will be something my adult children will avoid like the plague.

Or whether, twenty years from now, they too will find tables heaped with books and surrounded by the people who wrote them, fascinating enough to make food irrelevant.