Monday, May 28, 2007

Conversations over fast food

A story from last week:

G and I are sitting at Carl's Jr. (worst restaurant ever for two vegetarians, by the way), eating dinner and killing time while waiting to pick up a package at the FedEx office.

"Only four weeks left to go till second grade is over," I say, "and then you'll be a third-grader."

"What if I fail second grade?" she asks.

What the heck? I wonder. Aloud, I say, "That's not going to happen."

"How do you know?"

"I know because you've done all your work and learned everything you need to know for third grade, plus you've gotten almost straight As on all your report cards."

"Even in math?"

"Yes, even in math."

"But I hate math!"

"Yes, I know, but you are aware that you're good at it, right? Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you can't do it."

"Oh," says G, looking surprised. "I guess I will be going to third grade after all, then."

I'm totally befuddled by this. Pretty much every paper she brings home has a 100 on it, so how could she think there was even a remote chance that she might flunk second grade? How does she even know you can get held back, for that matter? She didn't seem all that worried about it, but she'd clearly considered it as a possibility.

Now I'm starting to wonder whether I haven't done enough to let her know that she's a good student. I point out often that she's smart or has done an excellent job of figuring something out, but I've never made a big deal out of grades because a.) I don't want her to get hung up on them, and b.) I really don't think grades matter all that much in early elementary school. After a conference, I just tell her that she's doing well and her teacher likes having her in class, which is true.

I know she thinks of herself as intelligent (which is also true) because she describes herself that way. Maybe she's just not aware of the connection between doing well on assignments and tests and doing well in general, or maybe she's heard someone talk about failing a grade and assumed it could happen to her too. There's not a snowball's chance of this -- in fact, at the beginning of this year, her teacher consulted with last year's teacher about skipping her a grade -- but she doesn't seem to realize it. Apparently I need to rethink my strategy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

If you insist

Tonight, after viewing an episode of "Drake and Josh," G asked, "Mom, what does it mean when you're grounded?"

"It's a punishment," I said. "It means you have to stay home after school and you can't go anywhere fun."

Her eyes lit up. You would have thought I'd said being grounded meant someone would turn up and give her chocolate and puppies.

"Can I be grounded, Mom? Can I?"

"Uh, G, you already don't go anywhere after school. I don't think you'd be able to tell the difference."

"Pleeeeeease! Please ground me!"

"But G --"


"Okay, fine. You're grounded."

"Oh, thank you, thank you Mommy! Yay!" And she ran upstairs and wrote GROUNDED in big orange letters on her wall calendar. She is planning to be grounded until June 4.

Have fun, G!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Open mouth, insert foot

What not to say to someone who has lost a spouse:
"Are you going to start dating again?"
"Have you thought of putting an ad on the Internet?"
"You never know when you might meet someone!"
"My [friend, aunt, co-worker] got remarried and had a whole new family after [his/her] spouse died."
"You're so young ..." [translation: that you're sure to get married again]
[At a wedding] "Come on and line up for the bouquet toss!"

I honestly don't think people intend to upset or offend me by saying these things. Every awkward life situation has its associated group of boneheaded statements -- a foot-in-the-mouth FAQ, if you will -- and widowhood is no different. Still, it amazes me that anyone could think, after ten and a half months, that I am interested in dating/marrying again (I'm not), or that I would make a good, emotionally healthy partner for anyone. Can you imagine?
Guy No. 1: I went out with some woman last weekend.
Guy No. 2: How'd it go?
Guy No. 1: She told me about her late husband and how she found him dead in their bed and still misses him every day.
Guy No. 2: Criminy!
Guy No. 1: I think she might have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Guy No. 2: So, no sex then.

I'm starting to think that perhaps I should have stayed a theater major after all, since clearly I'm a better actress than I thought I was. I'm walking around half-dead myself, as hollow and empty as a blown-out eggshell, and yet the entire world seems to think that I'm just fine and A-OK to move on with my life -- which I've lately come to realize is code for "start a new relationship."

Well, I don't want a new relationship. I don't want one now and I don't know that I want one ten years from now, either. There are too many things about P that can't be replaced; too much about myself that I can't explain to anyone else. He and I had grown up with each other in a way, even though at 23 and 21 we were technically adults when we met. We lived through a lot of milestones together, and you can never, ever duplicate that. And maybe sometime in the future I'll learn how to settle for something less, or to form another sort of connection that doesn't feel like second-best, but please, please, please don't ask me now. Just don't.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Dear lady in the Target snack bar who thought wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt under a short-sleeved T-shirt would provide enough support for your very large breasts:

It didn't.

Sorry. You looked like a very nice lady, but you were at least two cup sizes bigger and probably five or six years older than me, and I can't pull that one off. Next time, wear a bra.

Your sister in sagginess

In other news, I don't think I should ever be allowed to go to Target and the supermarket in one afternoon. It drains me. When we came home, I had to spend some time sitting on the sofa and restoring myself with chocolate-chip cookies while G watched something called The Shiny Show on our cable company's BBC Kids on Demand channel. (IT'S A JOINING-IN SHOW, or so the puppets yell at least once per episode.) If G were taking one of those surveys that ask you to name your guilty pleasure, little-kid television would definitely be hers -- while all her friends are watching That's So Raven and Hannah Montana, she's secretly gorging herself on episodes of Blue's Clues and Little Einsteins, plus stuff like The Shiny Show that is clearly intended for toddlers. Not that I mind; I just think it's funny that a kid her age is already a fan of something that would embarrass her if other people knew about it. :)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I'm impressed

When I went downstairs to get my clothes out of the dryer just now, G informed me that she was fixing her own breakfast. Sure enough, she'd gotten out the (heavy) toaster, plugged it in, and was making waffles for herself. They popped up just as I walked into the kitchen. She even had a plate waiting for them.

I know this is probably nothing remarkable in most homes, but G does not tend toward independence at all, and I get excited every time I see a glimpse of a future in which she does things for herself. Not that I mind making her waffles that much, but I don't want to still be doing it every morning when she's in college!

Friday, May 11, 2007


This afternoon, G gave me the Mother's Day craft she'd made for me in school. On the front side, it has a picture of the two of us holding hands, and says:

Mommy: Pretty, nice, smart, sweet, kind, silly, working, loving, hugging, teacher

I [heart] you Mom!

On the back side, it says:

My mom is really smart. Mom spends most of her time working, cleaning, and taking care of me. Her favorite toy is her computer. It really bugs her when I wake her up. I think she likes me [because of] my knowledge. I really appreciate what she does for me like giving me allowance.

Love, G

I love you too, sweet girl.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why don't you write a book?

A couple of friends of mine have recently sold their first novels to publishers. They're both wonderful writers and I'm happy for their success ... and yet I can't silence the little voice that keeps whispering That's great for them, but what about you?

Yes. What about me?

My job title doesn't have "writer" in it anymore, but when it did, people were forever asking me when I was going to write a book, or worse, assuming that I already had written one, and when told what sort of writing I actually did, saying "Oh," with an unspoken I thought you were a REAL writer trailing behind it. And it wasn't that I didn't want to write a book, to write fiction. I did. I do. But somehow it's never worked out for me. Either I sit around wanting to write and wondering why I can't think of anything to write about, or I do think of something to write about, but then realize that the idea has no legs, or that it sounds like a great idea because I've already read it someplace else. From there, it's only a short journey to thinking that perhaps I'm a boring person with nothing to say, and then just a hop, skip and a jump to the deep, dark pit of failure and self-loathing.

Neil Gaiman once said "The ideas aren't the hard bit," but for me they're the stumbling block that stops me ever moving on. Sure, I can fool around and write little character studies and bits of dialogue, but without a story -- without an idea -- they're no different than the exercises you do in creative writing classes. They don't lead anywhere. I have a file on my computer with more than 60,000 words of writing in it, but none of it adds up to anything like the book I wish I could write, the book I'm supposed to write. And who knows if it ever will?

The thing is, though, it has to. Writing is all I have to offer; it's the only thing I know how to do. I loved theater but I gave it up because I knew I didn't have enough talent for it. I thought of teaching, but subsequent experiences with groups of kids have shown me that it's just as well I didn't pursue that either. I can't draw or paint or sing or dance; I'm not good at building things; numbers put me to sleep; I'm not an outgoing salesperson type; and even if I magically acquired the independent wealth it would take for me to quit working and be a homemaker, I'd be awful at it. Words are the only area where I have any facility at all, and if I can't use them to contribute something to the world ... well, then, I'll probably live and die without making a contribution. (Yes, I know that raising a decent human being is a contribution, but the older G gets, the more I realize how much of her is just who she is, and has little if anything to do with my mad parenting skillz.) It scares me.

Quotes of the day

"I want to cuddle you until you barf!"

-- G, to one of the cats

"I don't believe in those mythological creatures."

-- G, disdainfully, when I suggested the possible existence of a "Clean-Up Fairy"

She's a funny girl, that G.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Radio silence

I haven't been much with the content-rich posts here lately. This is because I'm still feeling all out of sorts, and daily updates would look a lot like this:

Day 1: Grumpy and despondent.
Day 2. Irritable and melancholy.
Day 3: Snappish and morose.
Day 4: Not too bad ... oh, wait a minute, crappy.

And so on. I mean really, who wants to read that?

Anyway, life goes on no matter what sort of mood you're in, and you've just got to go along with it. And I have been: I go to work, G goes to school, and we meet at home for a few hours in the evening before going to bed and getting up to do it all over again. I'm trying to get G's day camp lined up for summer -- she's not attending every week, but probably for four weeks out of the seven weeks it's offered. I was tempted by a cool-sounding "zookeeper" -themed camp that she would have loved, but part of the session was an excursion to the San Diego Zoo, and I'm not prepared to send her 80 miles away on a bus to tour a huge attraction with a mob of kids. If she were 12 or 13, sure, but she's eight. I can barely keep track of her at the zoo.

As for myself, when I'm not thinking up synonyms for negative emotions, I've been continuing to get rid of clutter. Yesterday I tossed out a big box of P's leftover vitamins and medications that I'd been hanging onto. It was harder than it should have been, considering that P hated all the pills he had to take, and would not only have joyfully thrown them away, but probably would have jumped up and down on them and run over them with his car a few times for good measure. I hesitated for a moment over the Imitrex sprays, which were a huge part of our lives for years, but then I reminded myself that P isn't going to have migraines anymore and doesn't need them, and I threw them into the dumpster. I suppose I ought to have felt a sense of freedom and relief as I was walking away, but the sun beat down on me, and all I felt was hot and tired.

I also had to wash the quilt from my bed because Catherine kindly greeted me the other morning by horking up a hairball on it while I was still underneath. This was P's favorite quilt -- he even used it when he was taking a nap on the couch -- and I hadn't been planning to wash it well, ever really. (Okay, eventually, but not just yet.) But if P were still alive, the idea of continuing to use a quilt that a cat had thrown up on would have killed him, so I stuffed it into the washer. Now it's clean, but it doesn't smell like P anymore. Slowly but surely, he's slipping further away from this world. Soon all the ties will be unbound, and there won't be anything left of him at all.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pop quiz

If I were your neighbor, and I needed to quickly vacuum my living room at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, you would:

A.) Be glad I'm maintaining my home in proper condition.

B.) Kill me.

I'm afraid the latter answer is probably correct, but I don't think I have a choice. G made microwave popcorn for herself earlier this evening (a new skill of which she is very proud), and the carpet is crunchy.

If I don't post again, you'll know the lady next door chose B.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Finally, someone who disapproves of me as much as I do

I don't know why Disapproving Rabbits is so funny, but it is. Rabbits do have a sort of stuffy hauteur about them, don't they? I never realized it before.

I want a bunny.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A word to the wise

The difference between buying the Good-But-Expensive Cat Litter that you can only get at the pet store and the Not-So-Good-Much-Cheaper Cat Litter they sell at Vons is the difference between coming home, opening the front door and greeting the cats, and coming home, opening the door, passing out from the stench, and coming to with the cats licking your face.

Don't say I didn't warn you.