The Barbie Quotient

by Jason Tudor

My 4-year-old daughter has 28 Barbie dolls. I counted each of them. Twice. I came up with 28 both times.

To be clear, that’s 16 more bodies than the Los Angeles Lakers can put on the floor, including bench players, on any given night. It’s Oprah’s hairdressing staff. It's an all-toy cast of "Glee." With just the human capital in this lot, you could do a pretty good production of "Les Miserables." About this many eager faces flock to meet you when you walk into American Eagle Outfitters (provided you're under 25). You get the idea.

Up until a few weeks ago, I figured my daughter had four or five of the dolls around the house. Wow, did I lowball myself like the media trying to count Tiger Woods mistresses. The truth? The others were hidden like plastic, blond ninjas.

My wife and I bought the dolls, mostly as rewards for good behavior. They also came as birthday gifts and gifts from friends. A few of the dolls were actually passed on from grandparents, including many of the clothes. However, the majority of them were off-the-shelf, fresh-from-the-box models.

Speaking of, if you haven’t bought, attempted to open and distribute the contents of a new Barbie doll, take heed. Opening the packaging and removing every … singlepieceof plastic … brings about the same amount of joy as standing in line at the DMV – for the rest of your life. Now, picture yourself doing this 28 times. Every pink high heel. Every small purple brush. Every hair dryer that needed a flower sticker. Every accessory that will eventually find its way into our vacuum cleaner bag.

Now, at some point, I knew we’d reached critical mass. When I finally counted all of them (a very guy thing to do), I presented this fact to my wife.

“She has 28 Barbies,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, unimpressed.

“That number doesn’t bother you?”

“She’s a good girl.”

“Wait. Don’t change the subject. Are we going to continue to buy her Barbies?”

“If she wants them.”


Now, if you’re scoring at home, then you know the cost for these dolls. Their clothing and the litany of accessories that accompany the dolls would make the cast of ‘The View’ blush. Mattel should hang a plaque at corporate headquarters with a picture of our family on it that reads, “Thanks for funding our corporate 401K account.”

The thing is, if a guy has 28 guns or, like Jay Leno, 28 cars, we’d barely blink an eye. That 28 pairs of shoes easily line my wife’s closet floor doesn’t even faze me (any more). Twenty eight stuffed animals? No worries (unless you’re like 30; then, that’s just … odd).

And it’s not like the want for dolls will end soon. She’s 4. When the opportunity comes to add another to the Ken's Tribe of Artificial Stepford Wives, my daughter’s eager. Aggressive. She’s even making choices online so that when the toy aisle appears, she’s prepositioned for success. Did I mention she’s 4?

Realizing that my daughter’s Barbie story is similar to many of your own, what I seek here is not sympathy. Rather, as I am the first male Erma, I seek solutions. That is, I want to get some return on investment from these dolls that, collectively, would have bought me an iPad. I have three ideas so far:
  • Garden markers. Dress each up in a different outfit and stick them into one of the rows of the garden to indicate a plant type. Of course, that only accounts for about a half dozen.
  • Creepy stop-motion zombie extras. A film you might see on YouTube; a little ketchup on the outfits, some bad sound effects, a guy screaming “Why are you picking on zombies? WHYYYYY?” Long, leggy, artificial BRAAAAAINZ!
  • Barbie juggling. Still working the logistics of this one.
And of course, she’ll continue to play with them, but there are 28, which means some will be waiting for my daughter's attention. So, your ideas are welcomed here. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go count them again to see if she's sneaked any others in on me.

(You can read from Jason at http://www.jasontudor.com)


Ghosts R Us

I live in a 1920s house where only two families have resided. And even then our families are related by marriage. Something like we are tenth cousins three times removed. So the spirit that lurks in the basement, attic, and bathroom, is a relative.

This particular relative, though, is mostly impish. She was an older woman who is said to have had three little dogs by her side at all times. One of the dogs supposedly is buried beneath the cement in the basement. (This being New Jersey, I find this perfectly logical.)

One night, when Son the Second was raiding the fridge, the stereo in the family room turned itself on. To an opera. Our ghost's choice of stations freaked my younger son more than her turning the system on.

This ghostly woman can also be bossy. One time I was angry at one of my sons and my voice boomed. An unseen hand shoved my left shoulder, effectively cutting off my tirade. My husband applauded her. She accomplished something others have tried and failed at.

And then there is the electronic equivalant of a whoopee cushion that impresses this spirit immensly. I think most of us have been introduced to this wonder of technology.

One day, about two weeks ago, Son the First was asleep in the afternoon. A very loud noise--louder than any male could make--echoed throughout the house from his room. Then stopped. I left my writing and opened his door. My son looked up from bed, bleary-eyed, and said, "I didn't do it!" I looked over to his dresser where he usually keeps his beloved fart machine remote and also its speaker. There they were, the ultimate jokesters. I climbed over the mountain of clothes mixed with you-don't-want-to-know stuff. There was no way he could have hurled himself across the room to press the button then fly back to bed without being buried up to his neck.

A few nights later, around two in the morning, various types of breaking wind woke me. I rolled over and saw my selectively hard-of-hearing husband asleep. And quiet. I padded into Son the First's room while Son the Second followed me, laughing. Again, my older son was in bed, but sitting up, amazed that his precious machine could turn itself on like that. The machine was going non-stop this time. Again the remote was on top of the dresser, the speaker near it.

It took me a half-hour to maneuver through his room, but I did it. I took the batteries out and killed the machine. For the time being, that is.

My only hope is that our resident ghost won't learn how to use our cell phones. She might think it great fun to text everyone in our contacts. Or take and send photos....

We better lock our phones away.

*When Anne Skaltiza isn't chasing down the resident ghost, she battles MGD or Multiple Genre Disorder with her writing. Her blog is Mightier Than A Sword.


Old Red - retired, but not forgotten

Sixteen years, two jiggly mirrors, and 201,000 miles. Throw in one anemic engine, 0.3 cup holders per person, and an air conditioner that went clunk, and the numbers added up to one thing. In cowboy vernacular, we had ridden the hair off that horse, and it was time for a new ride.

When my resourceful husband did the research, he found that the nearest one that met all his specifications was one state over. Thus, on a recent spring evening we piled into Old Red – two adults, four boys, one stroller, three suitcases, and one portable crib.

Oh, yeah. And a pack of howler monkeys, judging by the shrieks that erupted when someone’s sibling dribbled cold pop on his leg.

“Can you throw some napkins back there?” The Chief asked.

“I would, but I’ve got a suitcase in my back, a stroller across my legs, and your soda on my lap,” I said. “Need a drink?”

“Forget it,” he said, looking tired.

I could tell he was counting the miles.

Upon returning, I was surprised by a twinge of nostalgia as I watched Old Red being wheeled into the barn. To the ordinary eye, it looked like an old, tired van, but to me, it looked like the answer to our long-ago prayers. Far from being just a piece of junk destined for the scrap heap, it was a museum of family history, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many times our merry band had spilled in and out of its doors.

A lot of character had been developed using that humble van. Week after week, we packed in four boys who had (theoretically, anyway) been freshly scrubbed the night before, and hauled them to church. Out they would tumble afterward in a flurry of Sunday School papers, shirts untucked and shoelaces untied, looking for lunch.

Further character was developed when the teenagers started driving. For the oldest one especially, it was the bane of his existence, thanks to its unique shape and the fact that it was clearly the only van to come over on the ark.

Being dropped off at school was particularly stressful for him. We would pull up to the sidewalk with only a pair of eyebrows, two eyes, and a tuft of hair showing on the passenger’s side. I would pause, sighing with impatience, as he waited for all upper classmen and cheerleaders to pass by before slinking out and bolting into the school.

Over the years, Old Red faithfully carried us to and from many sporting events. We’d load up the stroller and toss in the equipment, followed by the players and the baby. After whooping and hollering per “The Good Parent’s Handbook,” we’d return home and unload the whole caboodle, this time in reverse.

Old Red also served as my counseling office. For some reason, boys open up when you get out on the open road. Maybe it’s the locked doors, I don’t know, but I did discover that if you keep it above 35, they can’t jump. When they get tired of circling the block, they’ll lean back and sing like canaries, giving you an opportunity to speak wisdom into their lives.

I’m sure I don’t need to mention the countless scuffles that took place in the back half of that van. You will not be surprised to hear that on a recent drive with three of them, I happened to look in the rear view mirror and noted the silhouette of a shoe. Above the seats. Obviously, there were some limbs seriously out of place.

This is why you pack some heat. Firing a few blanks in the air settles the dust in a hurry. So does a brief, impassioned sermon delivered from behind the steering wheel. I don’t mean that “I have a dream” one, either. I’m thinking more along the lines of “Little sinners in the hands of an angry driver who is being distracted.” I’ll bet you have the notes for that one, too.

And how can I forget the wild ride we took the night Baby Schrock was born? With three brothers eager to welcome him and a mama in labor, The Chief chucked everyone in, throwing in a suitcase and pillows, and gunned it.

With every jolt and bump in the road triggering a fresh contraction, I think I screeched something like, “Do you want me to deliver this child in the glove box?!” while hanging on for dear life. I’m pretty sure we slewed into the parking lot sidewise in a hail of gravel and dust, but that’s not what The Mister says. He claims it was far more dignified than that, but I’m awfully suspicious of his supposed memory.

Yes, Old Red served us well. I’m pretty sure the pain will fade when it sinks in that wet thighs are a thing of the past, thanks to all the new cup holders. The boys will feel out of place in a vehicle that has a built-in DVD player, but I think they’ll feel right at home once they’ve had a tussle or two just to break it in.

It’s the heated seats that may cause a problem. Come winter, I may never get out. Hot cross buns? Bring it on.

Author's note:  "Old Red" received an Editor's Choice award, placing in the top 10 in the Faithwriters Challenge.  It was published in one of the Faithwriters' quarterly books.


True Confections: The Irish Potato Famine in Reverse

I have a few cooking rules. I never cook ethnic food for people of that ethnicity. Another rule is not to try a new recipe for a dinner party or social event.

We were having a dinner at church for the ladies on St. Patrick's Day, celebrating the anniversary of the founding of our women's group. The corned beef and cabbage was being prepared by our resident chef, last name O'Kelly, so we knew that part of the dinner was in good hands. Someone else was bringing Irish Soda Bread. I had volunteered to bring a dessert.

A search for "Irish desserts" on the Internet brought up many interesting options. However, it wasn't an easy task to find a dessert without liquor or the more highbrow-sounding liqueur (don't ask me the difference because I haven't got a clue) for a bunch of Mormon teetotalers. Finally I found the perfect recipe--Irish Potato Candies, a sweet little confection made of cream cheese, shredded coconut and sugar. This was not an official Irish recipe, so it didn't break rule one, but that didn't matter, because short of the O'Kellys, I don't think we have any other people of Irish descent in our congregation here in Hawaii.

The reason for my first rule is obvious. Never cook for people who can detail all the ways in which your offering falls short. This was, however, a new recipe, untried and untested. Still, how hard could it be? Surely even someone domestically challenged could successfully combine three ingredients and shape the mixture into little potato-like entities. And let's not forget the fact that I was born in Idaho.

I mixed the ingredients. Tasting it along the way, I decided to leave out the last cup-and-a-half of sugar. I chilled the mixture, formed it into little potato shapes and then rolled them in cinnamon-sugar. It was amazing! My miniature potatoes looked just like the ones in the picture with the recipe. Usually the difference between my final product and the food in the picture is like the difference between my body and the air-brushed figure of a supermodel on the cover of Vogue. I was so proud!

I sampled one. Even without the missing sugar, it was sweet. In fact, it was a little too sweet. I'm not one to back down from the goodies, but those little "potatoes" were just a tad on the rich side. What could I do? I took them anyway, at least knowing they were visually pleasing. I'm not sure which is worse, the dish that looks awful but tastes delicious or something that looks good sitting on the buffet table but which doesn't look that great sitting half-eaten and politely discarded on the edge of a paper plate.

The women of our congregation can collectively polish of at least one pig's worth of kalua pork, and they made short work of the corned beef and cabbage, but it turns out that few among them could finish even one of my little sweet potatoes. The end result was that I brought back home a large Tupperware container chock full of little cinnamon-covered potato-shaped wads of sugar held together with cream cheese and coconut. As a health-conscious person over the age of 50 (a "Twenior") participating in our family's version of The Biggest Loser, the logical thing would have been to toss them. But I was raised by a "clean your plate" mother, and was fed, along with with the food, the faulty notion that my overeating and not wasting food was somehow beneficial to the starving masses in Botswana. So I stuck them in the freezer. (The potatoes, not the people from Botswana, in case that wasn't clear.)

Over the next few weeks, when I got the urge for something sweet, I pulled one out. It cured the craving for several days. It is like the Irish potato famine in reverse. I don't think we'll ever get rid of them. It has been over a month now and there are still over thirty of them left. I stopped eating them a couple of weeks ago, but my husband says they are great when you need a jolt out of that afternoon slump. And he told our doctor his recent weight is because he is retaining water.

So first, I apologize to the people of all starving nations, but today, after I take a photo for this article, the potatoes are going on the compost pile. If you see some hopped-up birds and frantic felines in the vicinity of our home, I plead the fifth.


Match Made in Heaven

There are some couples who make even the die-hard, destined for spinsterhood loner in me think longingly of finding a nice guy and settling down. Couples whose good humor and kindness toward one another keep them floating through the rough times; couples who do nice things for each other just for the heck of it; couples who make the whole "relationship" thing look easy.

And then there's...we'll call him "Jack" and his wife, "Jill." Names changed to protect the innocent.

Jack and Jill are a bit...let's say, "loopy." Odd situations just seem drawn to these two, and they delight in telling the stories, even when the stories make them look rather silly. Jack is generally the one looking silly, but he joins in the telling anyway, laughing along at the absurdity.

For instance: Jack, retired now, used to work as a guidance counselor at the local high school. For a school function, members of the faculty were asked to bring a dish, potluck-style. Jill would be busy all day and would have to meet Jack at the school. So she made a nice salad that morning, covered the top with foil, and instructed Jack to bring the foil-topped bowl to the school with him as their offering.

That evening, Jack and Jill met at the school, had a nice time visiting with other faculty and families, and finally made their way to the buffet line. Halfway along, Jill noticed a bowl with some sort of old-looking meat in it, covered with that lovely coating of white fat that a roast grows after being cooked and placed in the refrigerator. She wondered who on Earth could have brought such a thing, and others were whispering about it too.

Later that evening, as everyone packed up to leave, Jill looked for her salad bowl but couldn't find it. She realized she hadn't seen her salad on the way through the buffet either. Sure enough, when questioned, Jack had to admit that he must have grabbed the wrong bowl. Instead of Jill's lovely salad, he'd grabbed a week-old leftover roast from the fridge. The next day, when teachers in the lounge were discussing the previous night's potluck and wondering who brought that awful leftover roast, Jack piped up and cheerfully admitted that he & Jill had brought it.

The silliness didn't end after Jack retired, either. Retirement for Jack is filled with part-time work driving charter buses and working at a local community college. One of his tasks, early in his career at the college, was to find an activity for students for an upcoming event. His research led him to the website for a virtual car racing game - the player would sit in a simulated car, complete with steering wheel and pedals, and "race" in a realistic, 3-D environment. The site provided a demo of the game on the website, though the makers pointed out that it wasn't nearly as good as the real thing. Jack tried the demo, and became increasingly impressed and excited about the game. Finally, he ran out of his office and gathered several coworkers. "You've got to see this website! It's amazing!"

Having gathered his coworkers into his cramped little office (thankfully, there was a breeze from an open window), Jack proceeded to play the demo again. His coworkers watched for a few minutes, getting more and more confused. Finally, someone asked, "It's cool, Jack, but what's so exciting about it?"

"Can't you smell that?"

His coworkers glanced at each other in confusion.

"Smell what?"

"The cars! This is the coolest computer game I've ever seen - you can even smell the cars!"

After nearly choking themselves with laughter, his kind coworkers finally pointed out that someone was burning something at a construction site not far away, and the smoke smell was coming from the cracked window.

Lest you think I'm unfairly picking on the male half of this duo, Jill has had her own "little adventures" as they like to call them. Perhaps the most memorable one involved a mall near the state capital that had received rave reviews from several of Jill's friends. Jack was driving a charter bus to the area, so Jill and her daughter (both die-hard shoppers) decided to ride along one day and check out this heralded mall.

They got into the city early, and Jack dropped them off in front of a little strip mall. None of the stores were open just yet, so Jill and her daughter sat in the food court and ate breakfast. The food court wasn't very big, but they figured all space had been reserved for the many stores they'd heard were in the mall.

After breakfast, they walked around the mall...and around it again. They visited every store, then visited many of them again. By the time Jack finally showed back up at five o'clock that evening, the pair had been in nearly every store several times and were on a first-name basis with half the mall's staff. Climbing back into the bus, Jill complained, "I don't see what the fuss is about. That is the smallest, most boring mall I've ever seen."

Jack gently turned her back toward the building and pointed out a much taller, longer building behind it. "This is just a strip mall. The big mall is right behind it."

The silliness of their escapades of course appeals to the comic soul in me, but it's the gentle good humor with which they meet these adventures that leaves me longing for my own silly adventures with a partner who can take them with equal humor.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get the leftover roast out of the fridge. I have a potluck to go to.


A Mother's Panic (kerSMACK!)

Scene: Middle of the night. Moonless, pitch black. Filled with slumbering quiet.

I was fast asleep, likely dreaming of iced mochas or, even better, the clearance rack at Target.

Yes. Yes, a medium will fit fine... with just a little more whipped cream...

“Mommy! MOMMY!” cried my daughter, a toddler then, from the top of the stairs.

Her too-late hysterics frightened me, and I fumbled for my glasses. Throwing them up the bridge of my nose as I rounded the bed, I aimed for the family room. But with my dreamy state and (this is always the most important part) clumsy body, I cut the corner too tight.

Just there, where the wall extends at a right-angle from the door, I met the flat, solid expanse with great and hurtful force.


My body bounced one way; my glasses sprung the other. My face throbbed as I bellered into the night, “My nose! My poor, aching nose!” (Or, er, something like that.)

But I righted myself--my baby needed me!--and retrieved my unscathed glasses. Made it upstairs in record time to find...

My daughter was cool as a cucumber, her moment of distress passed. She was okay, whatever it had been.

As for me and the wall, well. I'll let you guess who won that battle...


Read less-destructive things about Janna at her blog, Something She Wrote.

*No Jannas were harmed in the making of this post.


In This Corner...Kangaroos

Not all women have it. A few of us were still asleep the morning they handed out the I love housework gene.

“Dust bunnies are for wimps” became my motto when I discovered dust kangaroos, with families of dust joeys springing out of their pockets every few days to stir up some fun.

Because we live in the parsonage and my husband’s desk is a pulpit, I figure I should try to appear neat once or twice a year. So I force myself to clean by inviting guests to dinner.

The only problem with this clever plan is that I wait until the day of the party to start my cleaning mania. I race around the dining table disrobing chair backs of their sweaters, flinging them into shocked closets. The windowsills resent my removal of the dust that’s kept them warm for the last six weeks. My kitchen floor gets tipsy on Spic ‘n’ Span.

After the guests leave, I flop on the couch and moan. “Why do I torture myself like this? What possessed me to invite seventeen people over? Well, at least the house looks sparkly. Let’s keep it this way forever!” I know I am duping no one but me. It’s as realistic as stating, “I will never overreact again.”

The only time I enjoyed housework was when we were first married, and the pride of reigning as queen over my own domain spurred me to dust, mop and scrub. That cleaning frenzy lasted two whole weeks. After that, I concocted my brilliant invite friends over scheme.

Once we had kids, I began worrying: what if they asked their Kindergarten teacher what a dustpan was? To avoid this embarrassment, I gave them chores at very early ages. But we had to hold off when our daughter whipped a sewing kit out of her pocket and offered to mend her preschool helper’s ripped jeans.

When the kids were eight and eleven, we took them to a discount store and let them pick out their own laundry baskets. On the way home I casually asked, “Guess what we’re doing today? I’m going to teach you guys to wash clothes.”

From the rearview mirror, I caught our son’s eyes roll as he snorted, “I knew there had to be a catch!”

“Someday you’ll thank me,” I said.

As teenagers, our kids did all the cleaning except changing the sheets on our bed. It worked beautifully. Until our daughter moved to college, and my son and I divided her chores between us. He got his done all right, since I raised his salary two dollars a week. But mine…well. I always have had a fondness for baby kangaroos.


Boys Fart and So Do I: A Tomboy’s Guide to Dating. Kind of

The other night at dinner, my seven-year-old son got out of his chair and knelt on the floor as though in prayer. We’d already blessed the food, but if he had more to be thankful for, who was I to tell him to get back in his seat. Pray on, I thought. He then proceeded to fart for the next 15 seconds. While I had to bury my face in my elbow to keep from laughing aloud, my husband looked at him with an almost serene expression. My son got back in his seat and took a bite of his food.

“Feel better?” my husband asked.

My boy nodded his head and continued to chew.

“Maybe next time you need to fart like that, don’t do it at the dinner table. Good job, though.”
My husband resumed his dinner with the corner of his mouth turned up while I shook the water glasses on the table with my hysterics. The event reminded me of another delicious difference between my husband and me. Where I am grossly inappropriate, he is gentlemanly and reserved in the most uncouth of moments. When we started dating, I wondered why he was interested in a girl like me. He seemed much better suited for a genteel, southern girl with lady-like qualities. I was not that girl.

I was a major tomboy, thanks in large part to my brother, who is only a year younger than I am. Sure, we fought, but it was nice to have someone my age to play with. As a result, I did more boy type play things than girl things. I was not interested in Barbies and did not like wearing dresses. I’d rather someone give me play clothes and let me catch frogs by the creek. I knew how to play with boys, talk to them, shoot, even spit like them, but when it came to dating, I needed a little finesse. It took some serious trial and error (and then more trial and error) to get it right. So, for all the tomboys out there approaching their coming of age, here’s a little advice about what NOT to do.

When he farts for the first time in front of you, don’t laugh. He’s probably embarrassed. If he does laugh go ahead and giggle.

If you begin to play-wrestle, don’t take it seriously. He’ll feel like a girl if you actually dominate him. If you do lose control and end up the victor, don’t sit on his face and taunt him.
Don’t beat him in sports. Just don’t.

When you’re the new girl at school, and a nice young man walks you to the soda machine to ask you to the homecoming dance, do not point out that his fly is down after you accept. He has friends that are more than happy to tell him this. Common sense, ladies.

If he has difficulty hot-wiring the moped you plan on commandeering, do not roll your eyes, push him aside, and get it started quicker than you ever have before. Don’t smile smugly afterward, gloat as you get on, and expect him to hop on the back. On second thought, don’t even try to hot-wire a moped to begin with. What’s a moped?

Don’t take his face in your hands, move your lips close to his, gaze into his eyes and say, “You’ve got an eye booger.”

If things are going well and you’re full on making out, do not extract yourself from the situation, and exclaim, “I’ve really got to pick this wedgie.” (Honestly, no self-respecting young lady should ever be in this type of position. I certainly wasn’t. Cough.)

Hopefully you can learn from a few things from these completely fictional and made up events. The road from awkward tomboy to dating aficionado is a long and bumpy one, but with practice and a great set of….mopeds, you will get there.

The tomboy in me is still alive and well, (I still keep my sling shot in my underwear drawer) just curbed to a healthy level. To clarify, I do not think you should change who you are for a guy. Not at all. If a man wants you to change for him, then he is no man at all. When you do meet the love of your life, he’ll be far from perfect, no man is (except Jesus), but he will love you for you. This does not give you freedom to boast of your burping expertise, ladies.

Lastly, do not be frightened of makeup, purple pens, skirts, and other girly things. Who knows? You might learn to like them. I can say this from experience as I now have an unnatural love of stilettos. Marry tall, ladies. Marry tall.

Harley May enjoys jogging and eating Nutella. Often at the same time.


I'd like a chance to 'suffer,' please

Coming up shortly, our tribe will be having an interesting week. Interesting, I mean, in the way that a train wreck is “interesting” or a colonoscopy is “interesting.” While there is surely a certain level of discomfort involved in having a scope inserted into your exhaust system, you are definitely interested in what is happening outside your range of vision. “Interesting” doesn’t necessarily mean “fun.”

Here’s what’s happening – the chief of the tribe is going on a business trip, leaving me to ride shotgun on the four braves. When he issued this proclamation, I had a full-color vision wherein he was heading out the door with me clinging to his leg like a barnacle, crying and begging him not to go. As this seemed rather melodramatic, I immediately began reviewing other options.

I could secede, I thought, and retire to a villa in the south of France. However, the idea of leaving the inmates to run the asylum for five days just seemed risky to me. It was entirely possible, I knew, that by Tuesday the pantry would be bare and the house would be burned to cinders. This was clearly not a viable option.

Next, I began a carefully orchestrated campaign, lobbying for the privilege of going away to a hotel by myself for five days sometime this summer. When he reminded me that he wouldn’t actually be having any fun, hotel notwithstanding, I snorted. Where was the suffering, I asked myself. There would be no diapers to change and no baths to give. He wouldn’t have to make sure all four kids get to bed. He would get to control the volume and eat out every day.

“When is it my turn to ‘suffer?’” I wailed. He rolled his eyes.

The key here, I thought, will be slugging it out one day at a time. As a mother of sons, I’ve learned that celebrating the little things helps me endure. For instance, I chalk one up in the victory column when I come out of a store and see that the offspring haven’t laid the van over on its side in my absence.

I count it a miracle when I see four sets of tail lights heading straight north to their little beds – and they all stay! Considering that we have one with boomerang tendencies (you throw him up, he comes right back), it merits a brief, heartfelt rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Tired mothers everywhere will empathize.

The chief assures me he will certainly miss the braves. He is also going to miss Brave Number Two’s wrestling match. I must admit – it’s tough for me to watch him wrestle. There’s just something unnatural about watching someone else’s kid bend your kid into nine different pretzel shapes.

My motherly instincts kick into overdrive and I have to fight the temptation to wade in, swinging my red purse at his opponent. Seeing as how this would likely result in a hair-pulling catfight with the other mom, which could then involve a mug shot, a chubby jailer named Hank, and an orange jumpsuit, I try hard to restrain myself. I just don’t look good in orange.

Another thing he may miss that week is the baby’s next major step toward liberation. This kid is every inch an adventurer. He climbs onto the table and empties the salt. He stands on the toilet and clears the shelves. He throws remotes around like so much confetti from a standing position on the back of the couch. There is little, anymore, that can stop him.

When I complained to his father that it was becoming very difficult to work with a VSP (Very Small Person) sitting on my foot pedal, chewing on the phone line, and “typing” his own documents, not to mention throwing the switch on the power strip mid report, he went to work. He spent an entire Saturday building two wooden gates with metal hooks and installed them.

Within weeks, his tiny son, whose theme song is, apparently, “Don’t fence me in,” was sticking his little hand through the bars, flipping up the hook, and toddling right on through. You can see, then, why I fully expect to come into his room one day and find him standing in his crib wearing a welding helmet and going to work on the bars. It could happen, and he will miss it.

If you’re a praying person, shoot one up for me. If I come through your neighborhood with a petition asking the “sufferer” to send me away for five nights, please sign it. If you find me in a corner repeating my name, call the men in white coats. Otherwise, hit me with a mocha, white chocolate, light on the syrup. It will ease my pain and suffering.

Note:  This column originally ran back in February 2008.  While The Lively One did survive (just barely) without throwing the kids up for sale on eBay, you can read the follow-up column on her blog, "The Natives Are Getting Restless," to see exactly what their father missed while he was "suffering" in his hotel.


Water makes me poop.

by Julie Fletcher

For some, water can be fatal.

My 3-year-old son enlightened me to the danger. If not for him- I may be in critical condition, right now.

Yesterday my husband and I had decided it was time to pull the soft drink I.V. drip to the 3 year old. Go ahead and tell me of the evils of pop. When you're done, I'll let Rob Jr give you a run down on what's wrong with water. Trust me- after you hear his lecture, you'll run right out to buy him a 20 oz bottle, if only to get him to shut up.

Normally I am very proud of my children's eating habits. They eat tomatoes like apples, beg for salad and think broccoli is a treat. How often do you hear kids fight over the broccoli stem? We're not even vegetarians, so hush your filthy mouth, now. I love my bacon. Try to take my steak and you'll end up with a bloody nub. Don't even tell me how the cow suffered for my tastebuds, I was born and raised a farm girl, raised my own cows, and ATE them. Pass me the A1, Skippy.

Whoa. /rant.

Back to the deadly water.

So yesterday Jr asks for a drink. I get him some water. The next thing I know the little man is yelling at me. "No, no water! Water is nasty."

"Water is not nasty, honey. It makes you grow."

"No. NO water. It makes me throw up."

"Honey, it does not. Now drink your water."

He gave me a look that made it pretty clear what he thought I could do with both myself and the water. Later I offered him water again. This time I was informed, "Water makes me poop." After some coaxing, he drank it. I mean, really. Water makes him poop? God forbid the Zombie Apocalypse happens and this kid can't find Pepsi. Maybe he can poop the zombies to death.

The biggest problem was that he'd seen the bottles of Pepsi his dad had stashed. Honest, you cannot have Pepsi inside of this house- the kid can smell it. Upstairs and in a hidden closet- he just knows.

I was feeling pretty good about everything this morning though. He came into the kitchen while I made breakfast- asked for drink. Gave him water, no complaints. SCORE! Battle won.

"Mommy what you cookin'?"

"Pancakes, hun."

"Pancakes make me die."


Micro-Sized Birthday Budget

Recently we celebrated my second son's 11th birthday. Of all the things he could ask for, including a pony, he requested, no--he desired, yenned for, would only be happy with one thing: a laptop.

My first reaction was that this was way out of the birthday budget and thus crushed his hopes and dreams by telling him to think of something else. Well, he couldn't. Only a laptop would do. Butthead.

Being the wonderful, gracious mother that I ultimately am, I decided to do some research. We found a local store that held some promise in the form of less expensive laptops. Off we went.
The whole way to the store I was thinking: Why don't they prepare you for this in high school during Health Education or Home Economics when they discuss sex? Surely, the possibility of having to spend hundreds of hard-earned dollars on a child for his birthday might convince one couple to use a condom prior to getting it on. I am sure that at least one woman immediately refilled her birth control prescription after seeing my chaotic gang of 5 kids at the store.

So there we were shopping, feeling a bit disappointed as most of the laptops were at least the cost of one whole paycheck. I went from feeling saddened to feeling mad at the child. What the hell was he thinking? There has been no precedent in this family that would demonstrate that several hundred dollars was an acceptable birthday budget. Why didn't he just ask for a space shuttle while he was at it? Go big or go home 'lil fellow!

We did ultimately find a laptop we could afford, but not before I considered a whole new laptop specimen: the Netbook. It looked like a computer for hobbits. Seriously, who can work on something so small? If bought that for my son, and it did cross my mind since it did cost considerably less, he would end up spending hours hunched over it. Soon he'd be complaining of neck and headaches like a stressed out, middle-aged, white-collar drone. I'd hate to rush his future for him.

Besides this netbook, plus his other "micro" sized electronics would surely have some detriment on his posture. The shrinking size of our children's electronics is such that when you combine the effects of handheld video games, text messaging and the use of a netbook (and some laptops as well) we will be raising a generation of hunchbacks.

We opted for a laptop and I was in shock the whole way home. The only way I could get myself to chill was to tell myself that if he didn't treat it properly or use it regularly I would be well within my rights to confiscate it. I mean, what's he going to do? Run after me? Last time I checked I could out run a hunch-backed hobbit.


For Whom the Phone Rings

A cell phone is an incredible invention, designed with amazing technology by intellectual minds, so that our children can talk to us in the bathroom even when we're not at home.

With high hopes for a goal of widespread family communication in the new year, I finally submitted to the cell craze and bestowed the most basic instruments upon the family, admonishing the kids that these phones should be used only in cases of dire emergency such as a vehicular crisis more severe than a broken radio knob, physical injury resulting in the use of the family health insurance, or an unbelievable shoe sale at the mall.

Minutes later I received a text message from my oldest son who was located directly across the kitchen table, typing furiously on his new phone’s keypad. During several attempts to read the message, I managed to call myself twice, change the screensaver, and turn on the speakerphone function.

“Mom, just press this button,” the Alexander Graham Bell of the electronic age reached across and tapped the keypad. With a resounding beep, the message leaped to the screen. “Pass the potatoes.”

New rule. No more text messages between people who are close enough to cut each other’s meat.

Over the next few weeks, I began to suspect that some of us were taking the definition of emergency-approved telephone use with a dose of salt large enough to increase my blood pressure. Son One called to tell me that he was tired of having chicken for supper, Son Two phoned to make sure I was aware that he knew how to make a call without dialing the actual number, and someone purporting to be the dog called to tell me he didn’t care what we were eating or when, he just wanted to be included. The digital display flashing my husband’s number gave me a clue to the culprit’s true identity. Besides, the dog is too smart to give himself away so easily; he would have had the cat make the call.

On my next trip to the mall, I visited the convenient restrooms thoughtfully located in the luau-themed food court. Hanging my purse on the pineapple, I assumed the classic public restroom hover-squat position recognizable to health-conscious women everywhere. Suddenly, the unmistakable sounds of Beethoven’s most famous four notes exploded against the ceramic walls. DA DA DA DUN!

The phone. I looked up. My purse hung tantalizingly above my head like an overripe coconut on a palm tree.

If I could kick the bottom of the bag, I could knock it from the hook to the floor and retrieve it with the toe of my imitation leather flower-bedecked thong sandal. I reached out tentatively with one shoe and immediately appreciated the disastrous results of stretching further.


An attempt to use the spare roll of toilet paper as a projectile also failed.

DA DA DA DUN! Beethoven played on, more insistent with every note.

In desperation, I lunged for my purse, grabbed it off the hook and fell back in place just as the automatic flusher sensed evacuation and commenced operations, sucking the tail of my skirt into unknown depths. I pulled the phone from the depths of its nest and flipped it open with a flourish. The caller was my firstborn son, obviously in some turmoil that only his mother could resolve.


“Mom, do we have any clean spoons?”

It figures. To me, crisis avoidance is saving my skirt from the self-flusher. To him, it’s getting a snack before CSI comes on.

Join me on Mind over Mullis for more laughs!


My Crappy Birthday


Today is my 42nd birthday. I planned to write something lovely and fun. However, as it always does, my life made a turn for the weird and unexpected. I should have known better, really. Birthdays are thought of as celebration days. At the very least, they are days when the birthday guy or gal doesn’t have to wash dishes, do laundry, mow the yard, etc. Unfortunately, my birthdays never seem to cooperate with that notion.

My kids live in another state, my husband works out of town, and something in or around the house always breaks on my birthday. It’s never anything easy like, say, a busted blowdryer. It’s never been as simple as broken doorknob. No. This year, my present from the malefic gods of all I observe is a broken sewer pipe under the house. The one that’s connected to the toilet. THAT sewer pipe. I discovered it late yesterday. Can’t wait to grab a shovel and get started on the disaster relief effort under my house today.

Then, before I was fully awake this morning, my mother called. She always calls bright and early to tell me happy birthday, but today she was obviously out of whack. She barely talked above a whisper. I was worried.

“Mom, is something wrong?”

“No. OK, yes. Your dad. He was hateful this morning . . .”

She went on for a while talking about campers and gardens before eventually saying, “Oh. Happy Birthday”.

Well, Howdy-Do. I love being awakened on my birthday by someone who was already in a bad mood before they called. I’ve never understood why people do that sort of thing. By the time we got off the phone, she was angry with me over something I can’t quite my put my finger on, but imagine is related to the fact that she and my dad had a disagreement over their morning coffee. She is usually very chipper on my birthday, so their disagreement must have been a doozy. Aren’t birthdays fun?

Last week, before the plumbing incident, I decided that this would be a fantastic birthday. I’m comfortable being in my forties now, my husband has an incredible job offer that he is getting ready to accept (if they will ever send him his contract), and winter seems to have finally gone back to sleep. Life was good last week. I should have known better.

I called my younger son for one of our bi-weekly two hour talks. All I ever want from my boys, as far as birthday gifts go, is a phone call. I decided to drop a hint.

“So, guess what next Friday is.”

“Um . . . lemme think. Oh! It’s Good Friday!”

“Yes. And?”

“Um . . . oh! Good Friday is in April. It’s somebody’s birthday. Is it Nana’s?”

“Good guess, since we have at least a hundred birthdays in April, but no. Guess again.”

“Aunt Alyse?”

Heavy sigh

“It’s not your birthday, is it?”

“Yes. My birthday is on Good Friday this year. You’re going to call me, right?”

“I can do that. Oh, wait. Will you send me a text to remind me?”

“You’re joking.”

“Why would I be joking?”

“You want me to send you a text to remind you to call me on my birthday.”

“Was that a question?”


“Oh. I hoped it was a question.”

“Please explain to me why you think I should text you to remind you to call your MOTHER on her birthday.”

“Um. Because I am forgetful?”

“Was that a question?”

“Mother (He always calls me ‘Mother’), seriously. Being in college makes a person stupid. You should know this.”


“That’s not what I meant. I meant that being in college requires a person to remember so much that normal stuff doesn’t fit anymore. So please, would you send me a text so that I can remember to call you?”

“Nice try, and no. Get a pen and write it down.”

“A pen?”

A pen and paper. Write it down on a piece of paper.”

“I don’t use paper.”

“You don’t use paper.”

“Was that a question?”


I doubt he will remember to call me until tomorrow when his brother asks, “Did you call Mom?” and he responds with the proverbial head slap.

This will not be a good birthday. I am certain of it. I sent the pity party invitations out yesterday when the sewer pipe broke. Mind you, I’m not really planning for it to be bad, I just know that it will. My birthdays are always lame. One year I decided to bake myself a cake, but I forgot it was in the oven until it was too late. I really wanted cake; I got a giant chocolate hockey puck. Another year, I colored my hair and it turned orange. Yet another year, I stepped on a nail and ran it completely through and out the top of my foot. (Tetanus shots are not good birthday presents, no matter how hot that male nurse happened to be, but on the upside I didn’t have to have one the next time I stepped on a nail.) Still another lamentable birthday found me cleaning up loose fiberglass insulation all over the laundry room. My dog fell through the ceiling (don’t ask), landed on top of the dryer and knocked himself out cold. Ok, so maybe that birthday was a little worse for him than me, but still.

Considering my bad luck with birthdays, I could have just stayed in bed today. However, something besides Gypsy’s wet nose on my cheek made sure I couldn’t fall back asleep this morning. It was the eternal hope. Everyone has hope about something. Even I have hope for birthdays, and that’s saying a lot. This morning, as I sip my coffee, I fantasize about getting a real bakery cake. I imagine someone singing Happy Birthday because they want to, and not because someone is pinching the tender flesh beside their elbow. I think about someone -- anyone -- saying, “Put your feet up; I’ll handle the dishes.” Some day, that will happen. Today, I get to shovel.