Nanny Jo Rides Again

My kids insist I’m a dinosaur.

When they were four years old, I cheerfully went along with it.

Now that they’re twenty, it’s not so cute.

They tease me that they can make me a grandparent whenever they feel like it and there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

They say, “We’re not going to call you Grandma though…we’re going to promote you straight to ancestor. You can teach our kids about the Stone Age.”

I’m pleased to report that although I am nowhere near the grandparent zone, I am officially a nanny to a sweet little one year old girl. I began as a babysitter but she quickly promoted me to Nanny Jo, a title I don’t take lightly.

When I was approached about watching her on a regular basis, I balked. I’ve raised my five kids past the age of 13 years old now and going back to “square one” is not my idea of smart.

Every time my youngest passed a milestone, I was ecstatic.

I couldn’t wait to toss the crib. The sad two-seater stroller had a ripped canopy, a broken wheel, and was faded from multiple washings. Kicking it to the curb was such a good day.

When your youngest has finally potty trained and you don’t have a single diaper in the whole house…this my friends, is freedom.

But her mama was ready to start back to work part time, and I’ve been vaguely considering rejoining the workforce (ie: having a paycheck).

Don’t ever ask a mother if “she works”.

First, she will laugh hysterically. Then she will go all crazy in the eyes and come after you with a bulb syringe.

I agreed to try it for a while and see if everyone involved still thought it was a good plan after a few weeks.

The drooling, squirmy package was placed into my arms and mama waved good-bye.

The moment the door closed, we had a little sit-down.

She sussed me out immediately, the bright thing, as a lady who was rather no-nonsense.

“Look kid,” I told her, “this isn’t my first rodeo.”

She patted my face and babbled on about her morning.

She took some time to explain that her mama very likely didn’t mean it about naps. That basically naps were for sissies, and there were plenty better things to do. She offered me up to half of her little kingdom if I wouldn’t lay her down in the crib.

Thankfully, I speak fluent eight month old.

When I explained that napping was basically heaven in a pillow, she saw it differently.

I had to demonstrate a couple of times to prove it.

But she got the message.

She showed me around her home, pointing out the particularly great refrigerator door handles they had and took me to every spot that was naughty or unsafe within the first half hour.

She really made sure I understood the job.

She is very helpful like that.

She admired my shoes. She admired my jewelry. I admired her extensive hair bow collection.

We chatted over lunch about her taste in music (I lean toward classical, she likes dad’s stereo system) whether Barney still exists (Oh I hope not) and why, if you baked four and twenty blackbirds into an actual pie, did they get away and bite off a lady’s nose?

It doesn’t make sense.

We planned some tea parties, a couple of field trips, maybe a play date or two.

We discussed the pros and cons of siblings, and what the definition of “toy” is.

And then I rocked the wee bundle of charm to sleep and placed her in the crib.

I stood there, suddenly speechless and shook my head.

Now we know how I ended up with five.

I did have the last word before backing slowly out of her room:

“You are kind, you are smart, and you are important.”

Courtesy of Aibileen.

Made With Love

You can feel it in the air!

Spring will be springing soon, triggering mass hysteria in the form of fabric sacrifices and smoking hot glue guns.

I would like to reminisce about my “Martha Stewart Days”: a restless nesting time in every woman’s life when you are certain that watercolors, cake decorating – or maybe a little light carpentry – is the only thing between you and that one thing that will make your heart sing.

Admit it with me! There was the rubber stamp phase, the quilting phase, the wallpaper borders phase, the scrapbooking phase… I even had a cookie cutter phase.

Thanks to my mile-a-minute lifestyle, I went through them all in rapid succession looking for that song. In the process, I surrounded myself with boxes of unfinished flights of fancy.

I learned several things about myself over the course of the years.

I am not an artist.

I appreciate arts, crafts, music, and gorgeously turned out homes, but I will never be able to do it myself.

Also (and probably because) I have the attention span of a gnat.

And the patience of a charging rhino.

This does not lend itself to the “making of beautiful things”.

I am missing a key chromosome that most females use when they walk into IKEA or Home Goods, and proceed to pick out coordinating and tasteful objects that transform their living rooms into magazine photo shoots.

All of my taste is in my mouth.

I stand in front of a thousand color swatches and my eyes cross.

My limited skill set is my girlfriends’ delight.

I pull one into my bedroom and say, “There are eight shades of green on this wall. Pick the one I will love.”

They always know.

I have just enough DNA to feel the urge to create and not enough to pull off the job.

I once sewed myself a dress. The arm holes didn’t actually match where my arms were. But the dress fiasco helped to purge my sewing machine compulsion before I drowned in fabric.

Not in my wildest dreams will I be able to compete with my foodie friends in the kitchen, but I could watch them cook for hours on end. I passed them all my odd spices and random ingredients that made a unique meal that no one here would eat.

I am not a musician.

I taught music lessons with PTA for many years. I learned along with the kids how to read notes and play the recorder and sing in rounds. I taught myself piano.

Yes, I can play it. No, not for you.

I play piano the way I dance which is also the way I snorkel: tense and waiting for the barracuda to arrive.

Awkward at best.

I am delighted with symphonies and things operatic. I enjoy theater and dance and museums. I don’t care what you’ve collected, I would love to see it.

But I’ve stopped saying, “Hey, I could do that!”

Thank you, Martha, for showing me what I’m made of.

And what I’m not made of. Money is one. Time is another.

Her little secret to success lies in her trick of keeping a “staff”.

I’m on my own as the butler, the baker and the candlestick maker. (It’s safe to say you’ll never read a post about my having a candle making phase. That one was third grade.)

“Keep it Simple Sweetheart” reminds me to focus on the project I was actually meant to create: my family.

They make my heart sing every day.

Year of the Ram

As if there’s not enough activities written on it already, my calendar holds far and away too many ‘holidays’.

When I say ‘holidays’ I mean all the wannabe’s.

A ‘holy day’ is entirely different, but as we live in the American Melting Pot, every single day of significance from around the globe gets it’s moment of fame here.

I don’t think “Canada Day” is on the Nepalese calendar.

And where there’s an empty day, we make stuff up.

I have a calendar that takes “The Land of Opportunity” way too seriously, because I had the opportunity to celebrate National S’mores Day last fall and frankly, it’s the only time I’ve taken all year to consider the delicacy. I think I was supposed to make some. But I’m not sure why we’re doing it all together as a country. Was there a run on marshmallows?

I’m not remotely Catholic yet I use the little reminder from St. Valentine to say “I love you”. St. Patrick reminds me that wearing green never goes out of style. And the Feast of St. Lulu…no wait, that’s a Muppet Movie. My bad.

What I’m saying is that “Boxing Day” sounds pretty great because according to my research, it’s basically a “made up for entirely ambiguous reasons” thing on the calendar so I can make it into anything I want.

Awesome.

We all need to decide together what we’re doing, so I don’t look ridiculous all by myself.

Here I am, seeing the Chinese New Year on my calendar and doing the Happy Dance. We aren’t even a smidgen Chinese, but we have a deep fondness for orange chicken and Jackie Chan and my kids – while having no idea how to work a dishwasher – can wield chopsticks like ninja stars.

We looked up our birth year animals. Perhaps a noble horse? Of course not. We have no less than three monkeys, a dog, a rabbit and a snake. My oldest is a ram. I’m sure the Chinese zodiac will insist these are all great Patroni, but it’s no surprise to me that I live in a zoo.

I buy a bag of fortune cookies for the occasion.

Everyone grabs for theirs like it matters.

You can wish on your birthday candles or a shooting star; you could scratch a ticket and win the lottery.

It’s fun because it might come true but we have better luck with fortune cookies.

You can always find a way to make the fortune work:

“Your ability to accomplish tasks will follow with success.”

You see? This is deep and meaningful stuff.

This is the one that means “Learn how the dishwasher works and mom will start cooking again.”

Like a great many ‘holidays’, this one celebrates with fireworks. If only they were legal in California backyards. I’m not saying the occasional cherry bomb doesn’t go around the block, but I think we’re adding occasions purely for the fun of eating or blowing things up.

Or both.

Like S’mores.

And Groundhog Day.

We are obviously bored and in need of something to celebrate on a daily basis. Just getting out of bed and drinking coffee is not enough.

I would be exhausted trying to keep up with my calendar.

But I’m trying.

National Pi Day is coming on March 14th.

As much as I’d like to blow up every math equation ever made, I think instead I’ll add an “e” and make some apple pie.

Y’all come.

The Upper Cut

It’s weird how none of my kids have ever liked to be touched on their head. They didn’t grow hair until they were one and are quite possessive with it.

When my daughters had enough hair to scrape together into pig tails, they would barely tolerate it. Hats, headbands, clips and bows were out of the question. I had to bribe them with videos while I french braided them, but it was a rare treat.

My girls inherited stick straight brown hair and the boys all received lush blond locks that grow out in curls. The girls tell me how stupid this is all the time. What can I do?

In an effort to help out the strangers who invariably guessed the wrong sex of my small children, I wasted a lot of time trying to plant hair bows on my girls and keep the boys’ hair trimmed up.

You would think cutting hair would be easier than styling it.

But no.

It’s a cage fight every time.

They square off with me across the arena, bobbing and weaving and feinting. If I can catch them off guard, duck in and pin them to the mat, I have a chance.

But someone will have to hand me the clippers.

It’s like shearing galloping sheep.

It’s like getting a growling Chewbacca ready for date night.

It’s like trimming hedges into a topiary. A banker-shaped topiary.

And I only have to the count of 10 to get the job done.

Round One:
Wait until the last possible moment of bad hair tolerance before attempting the job. Circle ‘Cousin It’ slowly. Wait for his hair to fall in his eyes before lungeing.

Round Two:
Corner victim onto the barber stool and clip a massive sheet around his throat. Get halfway done before he flaps around and finds the sheet opening.

Round Three:
Pull the bribe: “Here is a lolly for you while mommy cuts your hair.”
Pull the threat: “If you turn your head while I cut your hair, you will have a divot in your hairdo and I will leave it there!”

Round Four:
When he makes a break for it, pull the tears: “Please please please do not go to your high school graduation with hair longer and glossier than your sisters! Please Fabio!!”

This scenario happened, and was swiftly followed up with:
“Stop flipping your golden locks at me or I’ll sneak into your room at night and pull a Delilah.”

And that will be the fifth and final round.

At the moment my sophomore son sports delicious curls all around his head and he twirls them without realizing that he does. He will be engrossed in a good book, turning the pages with one hand and twirling his forelock with the other.

I’m thoroughly annoyed.

The President of the United States does not twirl his curls while pondering the state of the union. Not even George Washington. He pulled his wig into a proper ponytail and stayed focussed on chopping down the cherry tree.

It’s scary that my oldest just removed his own mohawk of three years’ standing. I have been chasing him with scissors for years with no luck.

So I really can’t imagine what he’s going to do next.

How awful can it be to have a nice conservative banker’s haircut? Maybe a little movie star edgy but definitely a head of hair that looks like a million bucks?

You could sell ring-side tickets to our haircut events. The amount of hair that hits the canvas would make a rug.

We usually go the distance.

And once in a while, my son is a knock-out.

Don’t get excited. It won’t last.

Fat Kitty

There are very good reasons why I am anti-pet these days.

I suppose I am actually anti-cage.

If I have a bird, I want it to grow feathers and fly free. If I have hens, they get to roam with the buffalo because it makes them happy. Dogs should have at minimum five acres of running space.

I absolutely refuse to accept that Shamu is happy in a tub.

I’ve looked into Shamu’s eyes and I’ve looked into the eyes of a mama whale off the coast of Maui.

The two whales told me very different messages.

When the kids were all young we had many smaller pets. We had hamsters and parakeets and guppies and lizards. I raised hens and cockatiels.

At some point, it occurred to me that I couldn’t have five kids and still do pet maintenance, so they all went to new homes. Anything more than a Beta fish was just out.

Betas live in tiny solitary puddles in the wild. That works.

When you name a thing, it belongs to you in a sense. You have given it an internal tie to yourself.

If you are raising a cow intending to make meatloaf out of it later, it may be best not to name it after your sweet Aunt Matilda.

I think God had Adam name each animal so that he would feel a personal attachment, a responsibility, to them. So he would understand that these animals existed in his world and depended on him to take that seriously.

Fat Kitty was never named, in a futile effort to avoid this.

We did not want a cat.

Perhaps she’d been abandoned. She just appeared in our backyard frightened and sad one day, and it was over.

We did not adopt Fat Kitty. She adopted us.

The giant calico must have been someone’s pampered princess kitten once.

She was always a lady and never scratched, bit or growled at us. She let our youngsters pull her by the tail, carry her like a baby, and ride her like a pony. When we put a harness on her, she instantly turned over, four paws waving in the breeze.

This cat didn’t ‘go for a walk’ on a leash. It was more like ‘go for a drag’.

But when she heard our car pull into the driveway she came waddling out to greet us, just like a dog.

In return, we fed her, groomed her, spent money on food, toys, and treats. We actually gave this outdoor cat a litter box which she deigned to use on rainy days.

I planted catnip in the herb garden once and she rolled around on top of it and then passed out, drooling, completely cross-eyed drunk. Once we stopped laughing hysterically, I decided not to replace the crushed plant.

For Kitty’s sanity and ours.

She never had kittens and she never got sick. She never invited the neighborhood cats over to play. She regularly placed dead birds, lizards and gophers at my doorstep.

As busy as our street was, she never crossed it.

Fat Kitty was not hit by a car.

She waited until Hubby and I were out of town and fell, overnight, desperately ill. The children called us in tears to say she would not eat or drink or walk. Several phone calls later, my sister took Fat Kitty on her final car ride and had her put down.

My oldest son buried Fat Kitty, wrapped in her favorite little blanket, deep in our garden.

I was not there to say goodbye or to comfort my family.

I want to say, “Well, it was just a cat.”

But she wasn’t an “it”.

And she wasn’t “just” a cat.

She was “our” cat.

And she mattered.

Every day of our relationship, she had the complete freedom to walk away and find a different life.

Turns out, love is pretty strong cage.

All That Glitters

Little things make me wicked happy.

I send my girlfriends birthday cards. When I can remember to.

Always I add a colorful balloon and a dash of confetti. Who doesn’t like a little festive snow globe in the mail?

A while back, I realized that my mom uses highlighters on her cards, and my sister is partial to putting stickers on her envelopes. I didn’t realize it was a genetic disorder. Took some of the fun out of it once I realized I was predisposed to greeting card playtime.

Whatever.

I think each year is worth celebrating with a tiny flash of brilliance.

They are starting to remember though. Usually, after a year has gone by, they have forgotten and cover their living room floor in sparkles all over again. But lately I’ve seen one or two of them shake the envelope first.

That’s cheating ladies!

It’s interesting to me that no one has gone so far as to exact revenge. Certainly if I were annoyed enough by someone regularly toilet papering my front yard it would only be a matter of time before I visited them at 4am armed with cans of snow flocking and silly string.

Take comfort then, in my funeral arrangements.

I’ll be lying in my coffin with the lid closed. At first my plan needed it open but you have to realize that I’m focussing on being dead so the lid up is just going to distract me from my job.

So if you’re around for the part where I get lowered into the ground, instead of tossing flowers at me, you can toss some confetti.

If you don’t make it to the services, that’s perfectly okay. You can swing by the cemetery anytime and sprinkle some glitter over my grave.

I’m telling you.

They can mow for a thousand years. That sparkle will still be there.

Ask our school custodian.

I had newbie parent helpers one fateful day in our multi-purpose room, and put them in charge of the glitter station for 800 kids. They were quite enthusiastic.

Glitter does not come out of industrial carpet. Ever.

Or velvet curtains that drape majestically around the stage, especially if it’s mixed with the smallest bit of Elmer’s glue.

I know Mr Calvin thinks of me fondly every time he vacuums. That room was hit by fairy dust and it will glow far into the future.

When my big moment comes for popping out of the ground, I want it to explode with confetti!

In the meantime, I’ve been shopping for a chandelier.

I’m celebrating my One Year Mark as a blogger. One whole year of writing!

It has to be dripping with crystals and lit with tiny white fairy lights and hanging from a delicate silver chain. It doesn’t have to be very large, only extremely glittery.

If it throws prism rainbow drops on the walls, even better.

I am marking my milestones with exploding bits of twinkles.

These aren’t gray hairs.

They’re strands of glitter growing out of my head.

The Smart Car

I have a smart-aleck car.

It’s bad enough I have a smart phone that tries to out-think me. Which it occasionally does.

But my ridiculous car just made a fool out of me. How do you take revenge on an inanimate object?

You all heard the stories last year about our old faithful Suburban finally dying and our trial by fire of car shopping.

We ended up with a small car suitable as a taxi, with enough warranty that the taxi won’t suddenly go out of service.

Only a couple of months in, the unthinkable happened.

It was a dark and stormy night.

My son and I were driving down the freeway, wipers going furiously, when a red light suddenly appeared in the dash panel.

Accompanied by a loud frantically dinging alarm.

Naturally, I calmly and slowly veered across several lanes onto the nearest exit ramp and reminded my son that screaming was not going to help the situation.

“Mom,” he said, “that was you.”

So.

We parked beneath a street light to assess the damages. The red light was a circle around an exclamation point.

That was it.

The car was trying to tell me something. Important.

What? What is it car?!

My son decided to do the intelligent thing and reached into the glovebox for the manual.

What to look up? Alarms? Red light? Circular memo?

We finally narrowed the chapters down to discover that this particular alert indicated a serious issue with the brake system. We were advised to stop immediately and call a tow truck to take the car to the nearest dealership.

Proceeding was sure to lead to certain doom. The manual writers could simply not take the blame if we were foolish enough to proceed.

So you’re telling me that a new car with a fat warranty has decided to suddenly lose it’s brakes?

As I’m not James Bond, I decided that no one (probably) had a contract out on me, and that (possibly) the brakes had just gotten a lot of rain water up inside of them and (maybe) we were going to make it the last two miles home because (darn it) it’s late and I’m tired and we’re just going to address this tomorrow when (very likely) this will all go away by itself.

It’s happened before.

I put on my “I’m smarter than a car manual” face and we crept home and snuck into the garage, leaving it in solitary for the night.

The next morning, Hubby drove everyone to school while I made phone calls. We bought the car in Riverside. But I needed to service it in San Diego. Once I had the proper person on the line, I explained my situation and secured an appointment right away.

They were very concerned. So sorry that a car could have escaped a dealership anywhere with faulty brakes. Understanding that, yes, of course the warranty will apply unless, of course, they discover that perhaps it won’t. I had to make a two hour appointment so they could fully investigate the situation. Please, ma’am, if you really must drive it over here, do be extremely careful.

And I was.

I drove gingerly up into the service bay of the dealership and parked it.

An eager to please service man walked up with his clipboard and pen and wrote down all the pertinent information, including everything from the Riverside people and so forth.

I explained again what had happened. I may have been a little peevish. After all, we’d had quite a little scare. And I had trusted the car salesman in Riverside. I really couldn’t believe that after all our trouble, we ended up with a lemon.

The service man listened carefully, a concerned frowny crease in his forehead and an empathetic look that clearly said, “Well WE would never have done that ma’am. You’ve come to the right place. We’ll just get to the bottom of this, shall we?”

And then he asked me to turn on the engine so he could take a look and a listen.

Immediately the warning light came on. The alarm pinged shrilly across the parking lot.

He stared hard at the whole business and then calmly asked me to turn it back off.

I could see many emotions crossing his face but he obviously hadn’t yet decided which one to go with.

So he said, “Well. The good news is…it’s not your brakes.”

“But,” I said bewildered, “it says right here that it is!” I pulled the manual out of the glovebox and rapidly found the page. “Look! Here’s the symbol and the instructions.”

“If I could ask you to turn to the next page?” he asked.

On the next page was another row of symbols, none of which had I ever seen on my car’s dash.

One was almost identical to the alert from last night. Only there was a tiny gap in the circle at the top. That was it.

“Your tire pressure is low,” stated Mr Helpful.

We stared at each other for a full 30 seconds before I lost it and started laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I gasped, “why in the world would my car fall to pieces because the tire pressure is a little low? It’s ridiculous.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but if you drive with low tire pressure over time, the tires will wear unevenly and that would be dangerous later.”

I just stared at him.

“Well,” he said, “Why don’t I just take it around the back and fill the tires for you?”

“Yeah.”

My two hour appointment was over in ten minutes.

It was nice to meet him, but I really would prefer not having a reason to see him again for a long time.

If my car has a meltdown over low tire pressure, I just don’t want to know what it does when something important happens.

If I’m driving down the road and the transmission falls out, I don’t care if the car goes into auto-pilot and tries to eject me from the driver’s seat.

I’m going to buckle down and tell the car to man up and keep going.

Big whiner.

Stupor Bowl Sunday

An annual highly American life-eclipsing event occurred on Sunday.

Not sure if you caught it.

It garners more attention than our President’s State of the Union Address. Probably because the commercials are better. If Mr Obama would invest more in his half time show than his constituents’ agendas, he would gain some popularity.

I really have no opinion of football.

Thanks to our president, I have that right.

The game’s about as messy as a group of warthogs rooting up truffles and the sock puppet announcers are as entertaining as watching a golf tournament.

So many words. So little to say.

Don’t get me started.

I do, however, enjoy a good party.

By “good” I mean a group of friends on my roster who don’t mind dribbling their guacamole down their shirt fronts while screaming incoherently at the TV over some pass interference by the other team. People who have no problem lounging in awkward positions around the room, cheerfully double-dipping nachos and if strongly provoked, fiercely switching loyalties three-fourths of the way through the game.

I love watching the fans. The more worked up they get, the more entertained I am. When I was in high school, my girlfriends and I formed the “Pep Club”. We were as enthusiastic as the cheerleaders, but got to wear warmer clothes and worked on a consultant basis.

If the fans weren’t doing their job, we stepped in the gap and whipped them into the proper level of frenzy. They had to care about the penalty on that play to the point of storming the astroturf.

This is why my house was set up with Patriot and Seahawk colors, a table groaning under tailgate party snacks, and a giant bingo game for prizes every quarter.

You have to set the stage just right to achieve this level of mayhem.

Turns out, this was a year I didn’t have to try too hard.

For the first time ever, I was sucked into caring, but only at the last minute. When the game began, I chose the Seahawks based on the fact their uniforms contain the color lime green. But when their player caught/fumbled/caught/touchdowned…I mean, that man worked it…I had to give a standing ovation for pure shock factor.

Followed not five minutes later with a barroom brawl that would make every cowboy in the west proud. The refs, not so much.

The game finally showed a little passion.

One year, the Super Bowl failed us. The game was so awful that even the best fans went lukewarm, and by halftime, the party was spiraling into apathy. Not even body paint and jalepeno poppers would have resurrected the vibe.

Had I seen this coming, I would have added “pinatas in the shape of each team’s mascot” to my playbook.

I’m sure a few fans would have been delighted to take a whack at them.

Usually though, most of us are watching purely for the commercials. Which, like the Stupor Bowl, went the opposite way this year. This year, we had cute puppies…almost get eaten by wolves. And little kids…who died young. And if a giant Pac Man Game hadn’t shown up, we would have had to throw the Doritos out the window with disgust.

Seriously. They paid how much to advertise here? And this is what they came up with?

The half time shows, in my humble opinion, aren’t always up to snuff. Sure, if you’re a fan of Katy Perry and pyrotechnics you were watching, but I’m not emotionally invested.

Riding into the stadium on a gold lion: A.  Not falling off of it: A+. Dancing with sharks doing the Macarena and freaky beach balls while wearing a Hot Dog On A Stick uniform? F.

Thank you for totally topping Russia’s Olympic Ceremonies but all I’m thinking about while you’re flying around the stadium singing about fireworks is that your lyrics could easily be screams and I wouldn’t blame you. Duck!!

It’s Tuesday and I’m still finding popcorn under the couch; the sign of a great house party the world over.

My State of the Super Bowl Address:
Come for the fans, always bet on lime green, and if this particular team has to win the trophy….better deflate the top just a teensy bit, yeah?