Tuesday, October 31, 2006

NaBloPoMo, OR, Do I Have Any Self Awareness Whatsoever?

For the whole month of November, inspired by Fussy, I will be posting to this blog every single day.

Please hold your laughter till the end.

National Blog Posting Month is the creative spawn of National Novel Writing Month. By participating in the latter, writers are forced to produce an entire manuscript in a 30-day span. I am not so delusional as to think I can pull that one off, so I am instead embarking upon the former: a program designed by Fussy in hopes that "the act of putting something of yourself out for the world to see every single day will make writing become a more fluid, natural, and integral part of your day." As fluid, natural and integral as I'd like to consider my words once they are committed to the computer screen, I cannot claim that my writing process is any of those things. So I welcome the NaBloPoMo inspiration and I hope, however naively, that the forced dedication of the next 30 days will extend far beyond that in terms of my literary follow-through.

I've heard that it takes 30 days to make any given act a habit. Why should I limit myself to blog posting? Perhaps I should go whole hog in the personal improvement realm by simultaneously enacting NaDuJoStroMo (National Dust off the Jogging Stroller Month). On the other hand...

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Drive in the Country While the Time Changes

Late fall in New England is a shaking off of skin. What was ruddy is a skeleton. The vestiges of what was once green and sunny whip away in the wind. On short country straightaways, lines of trees reach out with gnarled limbs to pull us into the raw.

At the end of October, porches don't creak with the weight of lingering feet. The heat is all from within, where fires or televisions crackle in a bluish light. Dead leaves spin in a vortex of crisp dustiness against the cavities of gabled homes. Tiny goblins hang from trees. If you listen closely, you can hear the ringing of so many phones in support of local politicians on both sides of a hotly contested race.

We drive calmly, as always. The dog presses her nose against a window that is viscous from sightseeing. The baby sleeps in her carseat. I turn onto another road designated "scenic." There are flanneled farm stand attendants hawking gourds. I can tell they are closing up. With a nudge to the heat knob on a many buttoned console, I check the baby again in the rear view. Everything is fine. We head home.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


This photo answers a couple questions you may have.

1) When are you going to show us pictures of your purple house, anyway?


2) What does your front door look like? (Okay, so even if you aren't wondering about that, Wordgirl is).

I was worried when we had our house painted last month that it would remain the shocking purple color manifested in the first strokes of wet paint. Luckily, it dried into a darker and more pleasing--but almost as shocking--blue. This photo does not do it justice. [Note: the brown windows still need to be painted cream to match the trim. That might happen sometime this decade.]

There's a new family of six that moved in next door right around the time the painters set up shop outside our antique Cape Cod-style home. The other day, at the clothes line situated next to the fence that divides our property, my neighbor told me that our house is now the landmark against which town residents pinpoint the position of any other home, building or truck stop in the vicinity. For example:

"Oh, so you moved in next door to THE BLUE HOUSE."

Or, "If you're driving down the Interstate and you pass that BLUE HOUSE up on the hill to your left, you've gone too far. Don't worry, you'll know what I'm talking about."

Or, "Do you know where the municipal garage is? It's that brick building with all the busses lined up next to it."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"It's across from the BLUE HOUSE."

"Oh, right! Why didn't you just say so?"

There are times when it feels nice simply to be known for something.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Pet Peeve, Or, What Really Piques Me

A public service announcment for message board users in English speaking countries the world over:

If you want someone to take a quick look at a photo, link or message you've posted, the correct phraseology is this:

Take a peek.

It is not:

Take a peak.

I offer up this mnemonic in a last ditch effort to save a perfectly innocent word from extinction:

Correct: Tommy took a peek while Janie took a pee.

Incorrect: Tommy took a peak while Janie took a pea.

Please, for the love of the OED, get this right. Spell check will not save you.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Return of She Said/He Said

SHE SAID: It is 58 degrees inside the home from which my husband and I are working today. I am sitting next to him at the large desk in our den. I look him up and down for signs of hypothermia, but I see none. His lips are ruddy. There are no visible goosebumps. If his quick and accurate two-finger typing is any indication, he is not too numb to feel the keys.

I, on the other hand, am losing blood pressure by the second as my body fights to preserve heat. My sweater drawer is just out of reach upstairs. If I go up there, the baby will wake up from her nap. My only option is to sit here in the ice cold lap of indignation as I try to understand why my husband won't let me turn the heat on.

HE SAID: Here's an idea. Go outside, grab a shovel and start digging until you find oil. Either we'll be able to afford all the heat you want, or, you'll be nice and toasty from the effort. It's a win-win.

58 degrees is only cold if you think it is. Spend 4 years in a 100 year old stone fraternity house with leaky windows and it's not so bad by comparison. The temp never got over 60 degrees there. And we had to walk uphill to school in the snow. Both ways.

SHE SAID: Maybe if I was drunk all the time and/or spooning with a student from the all girl's college down the street, 58 degrees wouldn't seem so bad. But I'm stone cold sober and the only living, breathing animal willing to climb into bed with me right now is the dog. Which, actually, wouldn't be so bad, except that you'd start complaining about why I'm in bed with the hot dog when I should be doing laundry.

And do you expect me to believe that you actually walked uphill to school? Yes, I know you lived downtown. I know you needed to climb a steep incline to access the education for which you braved the upstate New York winters in the first place. But you did not hoof it. You drove. In a car with heat. So don't tell me about round-trip trudging in the snow.

Our baby sleeps in a snow suit, for God's sake, and it's only October!

HE SAID: If you want to bring a girl over and spoon with her, that's fine with me. That'll get things hot enough.

And for your information, I did actually walked uphill to the main campus--many times, at 3:30 in the morning. And one of the times my car was out of commission because I crashed it, I had to hoof it for about 3 weeks. As opposed to you, at school down in Virginia, where 40 degrees is cause for panic and 1" of snow is a State of Emergency.

Anyways, this is the role I am resigned to. I don't like being the bad guy but as the one who has to pay the oil bill for a drafty 200 year old house, I get to be the proverbial Dictator of the Thermostat. Put on a sweater, throw some Jimmy Buffett in the CD player and fire up the vacuum cleaner. You'll be sweating in no time.

SHE SAID: Sigh. I'm the one who's resigned, honey. To living with an idiosyncratic modern-day Dickens character who counts degrees Fahrenheit like Scrooge counted pennies. But for now, you've won.* I haven't racked up almost ten years as your significant other without realizing that picking my battles is the only way I can hope to stay competitive in the war that is our life together. A war that requires arctic camo.

*Until tomorrow, when you leave for work and I hike that baby up to a balmy 62.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Baby Steps

Photo courtesy of Lauren

She toddles. Almost fifteen months from the day she first set foot on Earth, she began making her own treads. I know she's no trailblazer, but the implications in her own small sphere are enormous. My daughter is making her way in the world.

Her gait is precarious. Each step seems too light to hold her, but the halting weight of one foot against the ground, then the other, pushes her forward in a baby gust. I stop counting the movements; it seems as if she will go on forever. Then her confidence falls out from under her as she folds to a neat stop on her knees.

This is how she will get where she's going. It's literal now, but soon enough the baby steps will mean something different. It's careful exploration. It's tentativeness. It's the way one feels out a world where solidity, texture and layout is uncertain. Her first day of school. A part in a play. A sleepover. A test. This is how she will learn, by pushing herself on her own terms.

I am proud of her pacing. I thought early on that I wanted her to be the first at everything. I wanted her to be precocious. A fat, walking, talking bundle of joy. And don't get me wrong--she's joyful. But she's also small and comtemplative; calm and observant. I am so enamored by her unexpected personality that any desire I had for her to be something other than she is vanished in the gray fog of so many pre-parental ideals.
Now I know that her whims are her own. Her timing is impeccable. She is exactly right.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Because I Think You're Punny

I love words. I always have. I remember being four and seeing a faded hexagonal shield with white block letters that no longer reflected the light so well. I remember each separate letter. And—I swear, this is true—I remember the word. Not my first said word. It was my first read word. “S-T-O-P!” I was in dad’s little Nissan truck with the white cap. I strung each letter together. I came up with a word. I didn't heed its meaning, though, because once I started reading, I never stopped.

The written word lends tangibility to emotion. Things that are hazy become real; the fleeting becomes permanent. A word can be funny, serious and sad.

I read a lot of words now in the form of weblogs, particularly those of other mothers. One of my favorites is Redneck Mommy. She serves up heaping portions of real life to sit back and savor, and she doesn't forget to pass the puns. Sometimes I read her posts and laugh, sometimes I cry. There are times I go to her site and have both those reactions simultaneously. I think she must love words, too.

A fellow writer, Mrs. Chicky, asked us not to be stingy with our own words when it comes to showing appreciation for the blogs that mean the most to us--and to do it now, not later. Redneck Mommy told us to make the most of the moments at hand. They're smart women, these mother bloggers. But you don't have to take my word for it.

T, this one's for you. It's been my favorite joke since I was about nine. If you've already heard it ... well, just humor me, okay?

A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On Being Her Mom

It's foreign to me, this concept of letting my child define my very existence. This means I am a stranger in a strange land, because the cloying glory of being somebody's mommy is all around me.

I belong to a local newlywed message board, where members will often use their own names to sign off at the end of each post. A lot of them are only weeks or months removed from their wedding day, still blushing in the bridal afterglow. Others have been married for several years. But it's almost universal that as soon as they become--or even decide to become--mothers, their own signed identities disappear and "Mommy to So-and-So" replaces them. It is easy to forget the given names of these women and to think of them only as they relate to their children.

Frankly, I get very uncomfortable when I think of my own mother behaving in such a linguistically sacrificial way. It's a lot of pressure, knowing that I am my mother's EVERYTHING. Or that, semantically speaking, I am my mother--because in viewing one's self solely in terms of someone else, any separation between the two fades into obscurity.

I need to know that my mother isn't just a composite of my siblings and me. Now, more than ever, I need to know that. I need to know that it's okay to be me. I need to know that I can be a good mother, but I can also be a good wife, a good writer, a good friend. I can be good to myself. And I need to know that my mother can, too.

I think that we, as moms, fight amongst ourselves a lot, and it's this issue of identity that underscores most of the sticking points. We fight inside ourselves, too. There are questions like these: Are you one with your child through breastfeeding, or are you separate? Are you one with your child by staying home to raise him, or are you separate? Are you one with your child through long nights in the glider, or do you cry it out, separately?

It's a shame that the whole argument must be fought within a framework that defines any distinction between mother and child as bad. I am fundamentally opposed to that assumption. I want to be able to speak with conviction when I tell my daughter that she is her own person, that she can shape her individuality into any form she chooses. And I want to know that if I can't find the words, she can stand back and see it for herself, in me.

If you're wondering what I use for my own signature on that newlywed message board, I'll tell you. It's a thumbnail photo of myself on my wedding day, riding a mechanical bull. Below it is a link to this blog.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How Things Work Around Here

The day The Partner left for his business trip, I was overwhelmed by the urge to paint the living room. This was momentous on many levels, not the least of which is the lazy level, where I subsist on a daily basis. What was more amazing was that I went to local paint store, procured the necessary supplies, and came home to begin stripping the wallpaper from our living room. By that evening--the first of his three away--I had almost all the paper removed. I surveyed the scene with contentment and thought I just might be able to finish the project before his return.

Perhaps my subconscious wanted to prove that I could do it myself. I have come to rely on The Partner for everything, not out of necessity, but sloth. Though this generally bothers him more than it does me, I guess his constant allusions to my incompetence and lack of motivation began to lay a little too thick on my psyche. At the end of my first day's work, I was pleased with my progress and the prospect of this first successful Do It Myself experience.

What should not come as a surprise is that I got sick the next day. That's how Fate flies around here. I could barely feed The Boss breakfast, let alone get all tippy-toed on a chair while sanding off wallpaper glue. Instead I laid on the couch, which was squished in the center of the room alongside The Boss's playpen, a coffee table, two bookcases, a standing globe and a dog bed. Drop cloths sat forlorn all around me.

The following afternoon I was able to tear down the last sheet of wallpaper, but sanding and priming would have to wait till the next day. That day is now, and The Partner is home. I was disappointed not to have a finished project with which to shock him into submission, but the fact remains that my laziness is so extreme that even stripping one room's worth of wallpaper by myself in a three day period is enough to render him at least temporarily speechless.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In Sickness and In Health

My husband is on a business trip and I am sick. Until yesterday, I took for granted the gift of having someone else in the house while I am ill. I realize now I never had any appreciation whatsoever for the toast and tea my mother brought to me faithfully whenever I got sick as a child. Whether she brought the tray to my infested bedroom or to the living room couch upon which my sick self would alternately sprawl out or huddle, fetus-like, it always arrived right when I needed it. When matrimony transferred to my husband the role of primary caregiver, I instilled in him the importance of these toast and tea deliveries. He carried out his duties admirably. I was not so much grateful as satisfied.

This weekend he left for California and I came down with a laundry list of maladies best not described here. I almost vomited into The Boss's oatmeal as I spooned it as fast as I could into her birdlike mouth. Two day's worth of dishes are piled into the sink, where they will remain until I can look at the congealed spaghetti sauce without retching. Tasks that I was so eager to complete in The Partner's 3-day absence either never got started or are sitting in slovenly wait.

By yesterday evening, I could finally stomach the idea of eating something--a tiny something--and I yearned for toast and tea to arrive miraculously at my side. For a long time I just laid there, since standing up would inevitably cause a series of abdominal spasms that would leave me nauseated and doubled over. But my sad solitude won out, and I trudged to the kitchen to put an English muffin in the toaster and a mug of water in the microwave.

Back in the living room, The Boss was fixated on the same Baby Einstein DVD that had been playing on repeat for the past hour and a half. A foreign female recited the names of various animals as a result of the fact that I had programmed the DVD to play in French translation. It's something that I do each time in homage to The Boss's paternal ancestry. A little seal peeked out from an ice hole. "Le phoque," said the voice. This "phoque" sounded, for all the world, like my favorite American swear word. I giggled through another stomach cramp. I looked to see if The Boss had any reaction. She just stared at the screen.

Settling back into my hot indentation in the couch, I brought the mug to my lips and spilled a long dribble of tea onto my tee-shirt. I had no napkin, so I rubbed it in with a sigh. I was sick, sad, and lonely, and I couldn't keep anything in. "Le phoque," I said.

Friday, October 13, 2006

10th High School Class Disunion

It is time for my ten year high school reunion. Apparently, nobody cares.

I called my upper-secondary alma mater to find out how best to determine if any plans for our tenth reunion were in the works. The ever-helpful guidance secretary imparted these words of wisdom:

"Call your class president."

Ah-ha. I nodded thoughtfully into the phone. "I see. Who the hell was my class president?"

"I don't know."

"And, even if I was able to remember the identity of this mystery president, how would I contact him or her?"

"I don't know."

"Um hmm, um hmmm." I rubbed my chin in thought. The phone line went static-y. "So the school is not able to offer any resources whatsoever in this regard?"


But it all makes sense, really. The Guidance Department never did a thing to help guide me out of school; I have no idea why I thought they'd be of any assistance whatsoever in drawing me back. I was on my own.

The high school Web site, which I accessed through no help of the useless Guidance Lady, actually did have a class reunion page. It came as no suprise that every class except mine was listed.

I tried myspace.com, but an unexpected error occured, repeatedly.

Then I gave up, and it occured to me that it was for the best. To tread too deeply into the waters of a poorly planned (or non-existent) class reunion is asking for trouble. There are sharks there that can smell blood. So, you've come to find out about a reunion ...

Next thing I know, I'll be up to my ears in catering menus and an itemized list of top shelf liquors, not to mention a tidal wave of save-the-date postcards marked "return to sender."

No, thank you. Besides, I've got Google. A few hours of specific keyword searches and I'll know more than I ever wanted to know about a yearbook full of people I didn't hang out with then and don't particulary care to now. Then I'll take the $100 I would've spent on a reunion ticket, putting it instead toward a night out with the few high school classmates I am still lucky to call friends.

And the only thing I will miss is the open bar.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Writer's Gridlock

I have no freaking idea what to write today. Since reality just isn't cutting it, maybe a little fiction will get my motor running.


This morning, on my way to work, I saw the Grim Reaper driving a Saturn Vue. It was bumper-to-bumper on the Mass Pike as I glanced up at my rear view mirror to see a pair of dark eyes staring back. He was all dilated pupils, the blackness spilling out into his irises, his eyebrows, his receding hairline and the mole on his right cheek. His skin was so pale that I should have been able to see each blue vein. I sucked in a breath and looked down at the plastic grill riding my own bumper. He had Connecticut plates.

For the second time in my life, I knew something with complete certainty. The first time was when I met Pete D’Ambrosio in person after chatting online for six months. Him, I knew I would marry. This time, I knew someone would die. Since I was the one inching through Boston’s morning rush hour with Death on my tail, I could only assume it would be me. I refused to look into the rearview mirror again, but I knew exactly who it was burning a hole in the back of my head.

I would’ve reached for my cell phone to call Pete if I thought that a) he would believe me and b) he would have any useful advice. Pete is good for a lot of things, like fart jokes, morning sex and engine repair, but constructive sympathy has never been a bullet point on his curriculum vitae. He’s the type of guy who drives with one hand on the horn and the other brandishing a middle finger whenever he is forced to make a right lane pass of someone driving too slow in the left. He is amused by midgets and the mentally disabled. The only way for me to get him to buy into the Grim Reaper line would be to say “Hi, honey. Would you believe I saw Death today on the Mass Pike? He was a retarded midget driving 55 in the fast lane.”

Even then, Pete would regard my story as more of an amusing anecdote than a cause for concern.

To be continuted, maybe.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Job Posting

The Partner is looking for a new job. A day job, that is. He's under contractual obligation to remain in his other position until death do us part.

I'm not sure if The Partner has an exalted idea of what he's worth or if he's truly underpaid, but the fact of the matter is that he has received several recent offers, and none of them are up to snuff.

If I worked outside the home, or more productively from home as a freelancer, it would be a different story. The Partner would not have to be as picky about landing a salary that allows a family of three to sit at the dinner table each day, clothed, under a non-leaky roof. For all intents and purposes, the burden of that responsibility is on him. Instead, the jobs for which he was so qualified and for which he was enthusiastically extended an offer will end up going to recent college grads of the single persuasion, or professionals with their own partners to share the burden of living in a state that dictates surging numbers of two-income families.

We do it because we're not the ones in charge; The Boss is. Her 18-year plan does not allow for outsourcing. We take care of each other--The Boss, The Partner, and me. In our small house, raising children is a family business. It's not a lucrative one. Our family will likely grow before our house does. The nice car I bought as a single woman will have to last for many, many years, or I'll be searching the classifieds for the least rusted out piece of metal going for $500 OBO. We eat out only on special occasions with friends. We do not go to the movies or rent them. We drink bottles of wine that cost $2.99 each (which are quite a tasty value, by the way. Try a Lost Vineyards red or rosé sometime). We transfer the balance on our credit cards to the next 0 %financing promotion and the cycle begins again.

It's stressful and sometimes alienating, but I guess that's what parenthood is. "Stay at home mom," "working mom," it doesn't matter. The circumstances aren't what's most important because, as much as each situation can differ, we're all in the same boat of cluelessness and hope. We're a bunch of wandering means justified by the same end.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Your Arse is in my Arugula

I once went food shopping with my friend and her 2 year old daughter. As we navigated through the bakery section, I watched her toddler ask to be moved from the cart's front seat to the basketed back, which was growing full with groceries. My friend plopped her daughter on top of a few boxes of cereal and some greens and we were on our way.

My first inclination was to question the logic of such a move. Wouldn't 30 pounds of toddlerhood smush almost any bag of cruciferous produce beyond recognition, or at least beyond use? But before the thought became real in the form of hasty words uttered from a naive mouth, reality set in.

Who really cares?

Though childless at the time, it didn't take me more than a few seconds to realize that a few crimps in a Cheerios box or a footprint in the pre-packaged chicken breast were a small price to pay for a free and happy child. I began questioning my own preconceived notions about propriety and limitations.

Certainly, children need to understand the word "no." They need to learn that their actions have consequences. But there are a few things I need to remember, too. The world is a playground. It should hold true for us adults, but it's especially so for the little ones. It's bright colors and motion and refreshment. As long as the kids are attended and safe, why not let them explore it with that wild abandon of discovery?

In the shopping cart, at home in the playroom, at the park in the mud. It doesn't matter. My daughter is washable. So is the floor. Though she will learn early and clearly the meaning of "no," I do not want that word to be my default declaration. The extent and duration of the freedom I afford her will vary from day to day, of course. Not every afternoon will be a puddle jumping orgy of personal fulfillment. But in small ways, each day, I hope to remember that letting her wiggle and squirm her way to a new revelation is what childhood is all about.

And it's what parenthood is about, too.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What's A Little Slobber Between Friends?

They're lucky to have each other, these girls of mine.

Even if they don't know it yet.

Photos courtesy of Lauren

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Yesterday, I had my first Real Life rendezvous with a Blogosphere buddy. Having met my own husband through AOL Instant Messenger, it's the kind of situation to which I am no stranger--but it served to remind me of the unique relationships that are built when familiar screens trandscend cyberspace and become a very real part of life.

I had no doubt that Lauren and I would get along famously. I just knew it. I think I've been reading her blog for almost a year now, and in that time I've gotten to know her AMAZING photography, her friends, her boyfriends, her freakishly strange luck, and her ability to make ordinary people and situations seem extraordinary. How could she not be--as they say a little to the east and a little the north of here--wicked cool?

She's generous, too. She shared her photographic gifts with me in the form of a ton of pictures of The Boss and The Boss's best friend, Roxie. In turn, I will share some with you.

I love the Internet for the way it makes an overwhelming world seem small and close. And I love this real life for all its dimensions. When they come together, well, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beyond Vigilance

A freakishly perverse scene unfolded in the neighboring town last week when, according to newspaper accounts, a man cornered a six year old child at knifepoint and proceeded to remove the boy's shoes and socks and slice his shoelaces. All this played out in full view of several neighbors, who watched as the boy extricated himself from this attempted kidnapping and ran home. At that point, the child's father and some neighbors went into action.

The perp made a few deluded turns around the block in his pick-up truck before the group was able to stop him, using their bodies as human shields. The Norwich Bulletin newspaper attributed this quote to the boy's father: "He would've had to run me over in order to get away."

In a relatively small, rural region riddled with convenience store robberies, parking lot hold-ups, and attempted kidnappings, I am freakin' freaked out. Drugs feed part of the problem in this area, which serves as a convenient rest stop not only between Providence, RI and Hartford, CT, but between Boston and New York. Poverty eats at it. Mental illness is an issue everywhere, and we've got no lack of it here.

I have no idea what to do. This community is sick. How do you start to treat a disease with myriad causes and seemingly infinite symptoms? I realize this is a bigger question than any one community; any one state; any one nation. It is, I think, one of the biggest questions of all.

Mine is a small family. Mine is a small child. If I can see the big picture, that doesn't mean I have any idea what to do about it. It doesn't mean I have a clue where to start.

So, tell me. I really need to know. What's the game plan, people? How can we keep our children safe?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In Bed

When I was small, my mother would get me ready for bed, pulling a nightgown over my head and folding back the covers in a straight, clean diagonal--a perfect pocket in which to slip my exhausted, squiggly body. Then she would read to me. Sometimes, if it was a book I had heard enough times, it would be me doing the reading, not by eye, but by memory.

My favorite book was Holly Hobby, its pages filled with calico-frocked girls and blue-jeaned boys. I remember the rhyme of the text and all the shades of yellow in the illustrations. On one page the sun was replaced with cerulean rain drops, and Holly Hobby danced under a blue umbrella. That is the way I remember my childhood--yellow and blue, but mostly yellow.


I was sleeping over Kelly's house one night when we were nine. We were camped out in Red's bedroom on that hot summer night, sprawled under the arctic blow of the house's only air-conditioner. Downstairs, a drunk voice and a panicked one reverberated thoughout the small colonial. We were alone in the room, the lights off and door open just enough for some light to seep in.

On the plaid flannel of the open sleeping bag, Kelly and I made shadow puppets. Our hands became barking dogs and winged insects that fluttered by on a white wall made bright in one spot where a sliver of light shone in from the hallway.

The next day, out of nowhere, I started crying and I didn't know why. I wanted to go home.


At twenty, I sometimes slept over at the fraternity house of the guy I was dating. The brothers called it The Castle because that's what it looked like. It was built in 1896 by a rich businessman named John Paine, who had a wife and a mistress. My (sort-0f) boyfriend lived on the third floor in a room that used to belong to Mr. Paine's mistress. During his first year at the house, he and his roommates were situated one floor below in a room featuring elaborate murals of men in various stages of women's seduction.

I was never too fond of the bed I slept in upon my visits to The Castle. I'd tell Chris it was gross, but he couldn't understand why.

"This mattress is gross!" I wailed the first time I climbed up into the loft. "It is absolutely gross!"

"Gross? What's so gross about it?"

I wondered if he was being rhetorical. Surely, he could not truly wonder what was so gross about a sunken, stained mattress with coils sticking out of it. Rusty coils!

"At least my mattress doesn't have puke stains with chunks," he argued, and it was true. My own mattress at school had puke stains with chunks. Well, not real chunks, at least not anymore. They could more accurately be described as black specks, scattered in between the yell0w-brown circle of faded acid, that clearly indicated the former presence of chunks. The worst part was that they weren't my chunks. Who really knew how many people had vomited on my bed over the years.

Later, during that same visit, while Chris was at the liquor store where he worked part-time and while I was trying to take a nap, I turned over the mattress so the coil in the middle of the bed wouldn't keep jabbing my quasi-boyfriend in the back. After all, I wasn't the one who had to deal with it, sleeping as I did securely on the right side. If Chris wanted to hold me, it was he who would have to lay right on top of the offending piece of metal. I turned the mattress over because I didn't want him forever associating me with the sharp end of a rusty coil.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I was not an exceptionial high school student. I was mediocrity personified during college. Only now, as the 28 year old mother of a one year old, am I coming into my own as an individual and a writer. This is why I have a special respect for those whose self-awareness and motivation brings them to a much earlier understanding of, and appreciation for, their special place in this world.

Today, I'd like to point you toward the blog of a high school senior here in Connecticut's Quiet Corner. She is delight and insight. She is gramatically correct. She writes with a relevance that speaks to people of all ages. She reminds me that though I'm no longer a kid, I'm not totally grown up, either.

Having selectively blocked out my entire high school experience, reading Pamela Suzanne's blog allows me to view the frustration and confusion of adolescence through a much more optimistic lens. Forgotten mindsets and ideals come back. I can see more clearly where I've stayed true to my teenage self and where I've strayed. There's a value there that goes beyond the enjoyable, cleanly written text she puts out on a regular basis.

But don't take my word for it. Go here to read for yourself. Tell her I sent ya.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Change in Behavior

As a member of the Blog Exchange, I invite a guest blogger here to 24/7 on the first of each month for a little variety (being, as it is, the spice of life). Please welcome this month's guest blogger, Christina, who will be participating in a sort-of debate with yours truly on the issue of violence in the media. You can find me over at her site today. More info about this whole blog exchange thing can be accessed at the bottom of this post. Without further ado, here's Christina. . .


I know I'm not the perfect mother, who doesn't let her child watch any TV until 2 years old, and then after two, only a very limited amount and only educational programming. OK, I've got the last part, at least. Cordy has watched some TV since she was very little, but we limit her TV to only Playhouse Disney or Noggin. I admit that she probably watches too much TV. She can quote parts of Blue's Clues, she sings and dances to the Wiggles, and she adores Pablo of the Backyardigans.

But at least all of the programming she watches is nonviolent, promotes positive behaviors, and contains no commercials. I've seen her learn things from watching TV, such as songs and some basic things like shapes and colors (which we reinforce - we're usually watching it right with her). So it makes sense to me that by watching TV she could just as easily learn behavior. That's why we do not show her any TV containing violence or sex or anything else intended for an older audience. If she can pick up the saying "A pirate says Arrrr" from Backyardigans, she could just as easily pick up "You suck" from teen programming.

While I've always thought that TV could influence a child's level of violence, it wasn't until a month ago that I was certain of it. I am now certain that violent programming can affect a child's behavior. Allow me to give you my proof in the study of a single child. Sure, it's a lousy study group for a scientific study, but for this mom it is enough.

One of my friends babysits for Cordy once a week. She also has a toddler, and he's 5 months older than Cordy. I've always thought of him as a quiet, shy, and sweet little boy. Before a month ago, the most violent thing he would do was knock Cordy over accidentally by hugging her too hard. Like Cordy, he was obsessed with Wiggles and Blue's Clues. I was always in awe of how my friend had such an even-tempered child compared to my tempest.

Enter Spiderman.

I only know the beginning details through my friend's description. He met a little boy down the street, older than him, who had a Spiderman toy. At that point, he was curious, and wanted to know more about Spiderman. She says his dad let him watch Spiderman the Movie to see the swinging parts, but eventually he started watching the entire movie. Wait. Think about that for a second. Spiderman the Frikken Movie. Sure, the swinging is pretty cool, but there is a lot of violence in that movie. People having their heads bashed through glass windows, punches thrown, throats grabbed, and people dying. It's not a movie for kids, especially not for toddlers. My friend says that she tries to remember to fast forward through the violent parts of the movie, but that sometimes she forgets or is busy doing something else.

My friend's son was immediately entranced. In just a month, he now has all sorts of Spiderman toys, pajamas, clothing, etc. He insists on watching Spiderman or Spiderman 2 every single day. And in just a month of this new obsession, I've seen his personality change dramatically. Spiderman is his hero (he even occasionally insists people call him Spiderman), and anything Spiderman does is considered OK. Instead of playing with his cars and racing them around the house, he picks up two figures (usually Spidy and something else, maybe even a Little People figure), then smashes them together over and over to simulate them fighting, adding lots of fighting noises like "ugh, bam, pow". Spiderman now fights with every toy in the house. Last week I even watched my friend draw a picture of Spiderman, which he took and then made the picture "fight" with other toys. This Spiderman fella doesn't seem like a very nice guy to me.

But there are other changes in his behavior now, also. He's started pushing and hitting Cordy, and last week I witnessed him bite her on her hand. What provoked it? She dared to touch his Spiderman figure as he was walking past her. She made no effort to take it - just touched it. He now hits his mother when she upsets him, too. This sweet, mild-mannered little boy has suddenly become a fightin' man. And while I know all toddlers go through hitting stages (Cordy did before 18 months), this sudden change can really only be linked to Spiderman. He tries to mimic what he sees Spiderman do, and if Spiderman can be aggressive and fight others, then it must be OK.

My friend tries her best to discipline him when he acts out like this, but by continuing to let him view this movie, I don't think she's going to get far. He is punished for acting like his hero, but then is allowed to watch the movie again, where he learns that violence is OK. He's simply too young to understand the concept of fighting only against evil, and only when necessary. It must be a very confusing message for such a little person. It upsets me because I see him practicing his new aggression on Cordy. I think any parent wouldn't like their child to be a punching bag, and I worry that he will eventually teach her to be violent as well. I really don't want to look for a different babysitter, but the thought has crossed my mind that if my friend's son becomes more violent, I may need to consider alternative options. It is my hope that this issue doesn't affect our friendship, but there is the chance that it could if things get worse.

I don't want to criticize my friend. We all have our different ways of parenting, and I've certainly made my share of parenting mistakes. She is a very attentive, loving, caring mother, and has taught her son a lot of good things. But I feel that letting him watch Spiderman was a serious lapse in judgment, and I worry the effects will be hard to undo. I also don't know if my friend sees how much this is affecting her son. I can't imagine why she would let him continue to watch this movie after seeing the behavior it has produced. I think she can't deal with the disappointment it will cause him to deny him this pleasure. I suggested to her that she look into getting some of the old Spiderman and Friends cartoon episodes, which contain little to no violence. Instead of punching someone, the cartoon Spiderman will simply wrap them in webbing and let the police deal with them. I hope she'll take my suggestion.

If only one movie can change a child's behavior this much, I wonder what a steady diet of programs like this can do to a child? I agree that we as parents are the ultimate decision makers as to what our children should and shouldn't watch. However, we know there are parents out there who don't pay attention to what their children watch, or simply let their children watch whatever they're watching. But I worry about what kind of people will come from being raised by negligent parents who let their children watch things far worse than Spiderman? We know there are many people out there using the TV as babysitters, and letting their children have unlimited access to more adult-oriented programs. Are these kids destined to be the next generation of thugs, vandals, thieves and murderers?

I don't think I'm advocating government action on this issue, but something does need to be done to combat this growing problem. Several groups have published their studies linking violent TV to violent behavior in children, but I don't know if enough is being done to educate parents about how little it takes to affect a child's behavior. All I can do to address the issue is make sure my children only watch age-appropriate TV and encourage those I know to do the same. As Cordy gets older, she will be allowed to watch programs that deal with more complex issues, but I hope to be watching them with her, and be there to answer her questions and explain what she's seeing.

For now, maybe I should start looking for those Spiderman cartoons as an early Christmas gift for my friend?

Christina can usually be found at her blog,
A Mommy Story, where she writes about her warrior princess toddler, Cordelia, and the trials of motherhood.

This month's blog exchange consists of a series of debates on issues that matter. Click here for the other op ed pieces (and their opposing sides) today. And if you'd like to participate next month, send an email to kmei26 at yahoo.com.