Monday, June 28, 2010

Hot Town, Summer in the City

I hate summer. It’s hot. It’s sticky. It’s buggy. The days are endless and need to be filled on a constant basis with new activities. Every water park, amusement park, zoo, and aquarium is filled with families desperate for fun and all roads that lead to the shore are jam-packed with cars. Throw in the cost of the average outing and stay-cations start to seem like a perfect idea – until you realize all that means is that you are still at home, but for an extended period of time.

What to do, what to do? Play outdoors? In summer, an average day means that the kids cannot go outside without being shellacked in a healthy coat of sunscreen. When they sweat or play various water-based activities, the cycle of spray, melt, repeat begins. Then they start to stink. Hose water leaves a metallic undercoat to them, pool water, a chemical one. Feet are rank from sandals and their hair has bits of leaves and grass stuck in it. If they were lucky enough to be given popsicles, that adds a layer of sticky, multi-colored stains to their bodies and clothing. By the end of the day, I don’t need a wash cloth; I need a scrub brush and a scraper to get the various coats of grossness off them. That doesn’t even include their nails, which at this point, I am thinking of removing entirely rather than try to uncaulk the layers of gunk and dirt they seem to acquire within minutes of going outside. Thank god for Shout stain remover, because without it, I would be reduced to tie-dying all of my children’s clothes to cover the spots or moving to a nudist colony. And people, no one wants to see me naked.

Ok, how ‘bout keeping them indoors? I heard once that having children relatively close in age means they will play with each other. That is so not the case in this house. Left to his own devices, my son could sit inside at his train table alternating between Thomas and Lightning McQueen or outside in the water table alternating between boats and pails for hours, with occasional breaks for snacks. Left to her own devices, my daughter goes crazy. Even the mandatory quiet time is usually filled with the dual sounds of audio books played on her iPod and princess games played on her Leapster. Combined, they two cancel each other out entirely as she refuses to leave him alone and he refuses to let her join in. I can’t count the times I remind them to share, play nice, don’t hit, don’t yell, etc. I wonder if there is an App for that? Rare is the moment that they can actually occupy the same space without inflicting bodily harm. Sure, I can actually play with them, but I can only play so many rounds of Hungry Hungry Hippos before wanting to serve them with a side of cornbread and both kids cheat at Candy Land.

Find free activities! Yes, that is always the answer, but how many vacation bible schools can one child attend before getting confused about religion? Several theaters have free summer movies in the morning, and there is usually a story time at a local library or bookstore once per week to keep us entertained. A park visit here, a play date there, a random birthday party or visit with grandparents here can easily fill a few hours per week. But this is summer! They get up at dawn; try to linger on til dusk. That’s a lot of time to fill. Lots of summer activities start when their day is usually ending (fireworks, baseball games, etc.) so one late night of fun equals two days of grumpiness. And that’s just me. They turn into beasts that make the ones in the Wild Things seem like fluffy bunnies.

Paid activities could fill the entire summer, but they will also empty my entire bank account. There are enough camps, clubs, teams, and memberships to keep any child occupied, but the trick is to find one that takes both children for a short period of time and a little amount of money. That’s quite a hat trick. Just one of the three doesn’t do me a whole lot of good.

What is a mother to do? Well, I could stop bitching and realize how lucky I am to even have endless summer days to spend with them, before school calendars erode into our time or before the jig really is up and I have to go back to work. But what fun would that be? Or more importantly, who would want to read that blog? Instead, I will just keep plugging away, trying to find the balance between play and rest, sun and shade until I send my daughter to full-day kindergarten and find myself writing a post of a different nature about how I miss all the time I had with her. (Yeah, right.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Little Girls All in a Row

Last week, I found myself telling my daughter that while blush, eye shadow, mascara, and lip stick were all ok, I was drawing the line at eye liner. Then I made her blot. How did we get here? Two words: dance recital.

At five, this was her first year in dance, putting her a bit behind the curve in terms of joining. My thought process was that I have the next two decades to pay for activities, why start earlier than necessary? She smiled throughout her entire first class. Often, the leotard and tights would be worn for the rest of the day, so happy was she to even have them on. With her first recital around the corner, she was adamant that she had to grow her hair long so that it could be put into the required bun. As she informed me of this a mere week beforehand, and her hair is currently bobbed at her ears, this presented a problem. Also a problem? The full face she needed to wear onstage, not one item of which I owned. Thankfully, my SILs came through and gave their niece all the makeup she required in a cute little leopard-print bag, which my daughter openly covets.

On picture day, I took her to a local kiddie salon to get her hair done. If I did to her what they did to her, she would have screamed to the high heavens and police would have been called on suspicions of child endangerment. But, no, a total stranger in an apron pulled, sprayed, pinned, and glued her hair into the smallest, tightest bun ever and all she could do was smile.

I was lucky enough to skip the dress rehearsal due to a very kind friend, but was unable to skip out on full hair and makeup. This time, I did it myself and liberally applied half a can of spray to my child’s head while using enough pins to secure an entire Rockette’s worth of buns. I apologize to anyone in my immediate area who suffered extraordinary sunburn this past weekend because I most definitely put a hole in the ozone layer. I wonder if you can name them, like stars?

Finally, finally, dance day arrived. Early. Very early. Breakfast, hair salon (this time they used so much product I thought for sure she’d have that bun for life), snack, makeup, costume, and off she went. No nerves, not even the idea of stage fright passed through her head. And let me tell you, she was a star. They all were. Cute as buttons, twirling here, pointing there, and if it wasn’t the smoothest or most professional performance I’d ever seen, they were five. They didn’t have to be professional, just adorable.

Of course, she is already asking when she can start lessons again and has barely taken off her costume. And though we said we wouldn’t, we already bought a DVD of the performance, took dozens of pictures, and posted on FB about it. I’m sure, once that video arrives, it will get watched on every rainy day, overly sunny day, or just days ending in “y”. And that’s what it’s all about right? At this age, it isn’t a career, a scholarship chance, or even exercise. For her, it’s just about the joy of dancing and for me, the joy of watching her. And though I had to point out which one she was for my father, and my mother missed her entirely during the closing bow, I could spot her in an instant – because she was the only one without eye liner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book 'Em, Dano

My hatred of shopping has been well documented. But, as with every rule, there is always an exception and in my case, this comes in the form of book sales. When the annual bargain book sale at comes around, I will go through every entry in my little black book (which contains not phone numbers, but authors and titles) to find hardcovers for the price of paperbacks. So, it should come as no surprise that when the twice yearly Camden County Library sale came around, I anticipated it with the joy usually reserved for brides at Kleinfeld’s sample sale.

With my children once again happily squirreled away with their grandparents (whose main goal seem to be to fattening them for slaughter), I was able to enjoy shopping by myself. Book sales are not for children. The children’s book section is a hotbed of insanity. At this sale, the insanity took place in a tiny, windowless room absolutely packed with tables, adults, children, and strollers. Being at elbow height is not a good vantage point in a crowd. Strollers became low-riders as they groaned under the weight of the works of J.K. Rowling and even the most patient child can only be hit in the head by Disney books so many times. Plus, you haven’t experienced ruthlessness until you’ve watched a woman trying to find the few Junie B. Jones her child doesn’t have. I was lucky to get out with my life and a handful of Little Golden books, a few Step One readers, and one Oh David!

Then, I headed over to the fiction tables – where I stayed for the next two hours. I fondled more spines than a chiropractor as I looked through row after row after row of hardcovers. When I came upon a particularly juicy find (say, the newest Stephen King, still in stores at full price), or a title long listed in my little black book, but never acquired, I actually let out little squeals of excitement. In the real world, this type of behavior is frowned upon, but there, it was just another happy noise. But a quiet, hushed happy noise. This was a library after all.

Book sales are not for the faint of heart. You do not simply wander around, casually browsing, pausing to read a back cover here, a book jacket there, while sipping a latte. That type of behavior will get you trampled and killed. Plastic bags are verboten. Instead, cloth bags are preferred, allowing you to contribute to deforestation in an eco-friendly way. Hoarding is also frowned upon. Even the re-sellers (easy to spot because they scanned every book with an electronic wand) usually only had a box or two of books at their feet. The goal is to skim the titles, take what you like, and move on quickly and efficiently. As such, there is a system to perusing. All of the titles face the same direction and as there are hundreds of books in a row you must keep moving to keep reading. The polite way to get someone to move the hell out of your way was to ask them to “switch” with you. I must have heard this word dozens of times. This also happened beneath the tables, where I would tunnel under and open all the unpacked boxes to unearth new treasures. The unspoken rule was that you always gave the person next to you time to peek into the box, and if there was a bottom row of books, then you would lift the top row in unison. This sounds crazy, I know, but readers are not the most confrontational people, so there was a truly epic level of civility on display.

All told, I bought a case of books for less than the price of a case of beer. My husband even joined in the fun during the second day of the sale and picked up his own baker’s dozen of random tomes. Now I just have to get them all read before the next sale in October. Switch!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Save the Ta-Tas

So, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new information recently stating that they no longer believe mammograms are necessary for women under 50. Apparently, because “the 10-year breast cancer risk for a 40-year-old is only 1.4%, their absolute reduction in death is very small.”

Ok, so saving 1.4 percent of lives isn’t worthwhile then? What percentage would be worthwhile? Who decides that number?

The report further states that women under 50 who receive mammograms are at risk for “false alarms.” A false positive will cause them “additional pain, expense and worry because of additional scans and biopsies.”

Well, yes, but won’t they feel so much better once they realize they are cancer-free? Wouldn’t most women choose a false positive at 35 rather than a definite positive at 50?

Then of course, both sides of the debate are presented. The under-50 group believes that mammograms have reduced mortality rates by 30 percent. The over-50 group claims that mammograms still miss very aggressive cancers that can spring up between screenings. They believe the results of mammograms are overly hyped.

Ok, sure, it might not catch all cancers, but isn’t some better than nothing? Thirty percent (of what I assume is all women with breast cancer who were diagnosed under 50) is a whole lot of women. Let’s put it in perspective. If out of 100 women, 30 were saved, that is an entire class of first graders who didn’t lose their mothers. It is a transit bus full of people who didn’t lose their sisters. It is a plane full of men who did not lose their wives. Now magnify that by the thousands, nay millions of women, the reduced screenings would eliminate from the world. Schools full of children, parking lots full of buses, airfields lined with planes – all filled with grieving family members. I think 30 percent is worthwhile, don’t you?

This entire concept is a head scratcher. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would choose to put women at risk rather than just get them tested. The test itself isn’t invasive, just embarrassing. I just had my first mammogram and what the technician did to my boobs was nothing short of miraculous. My voluptuous womanhood was mashed between two plates of plastic to become nothing more than a boob pancake. This was done a few different times in a few different ways. For some it may be painful, but for me it was just odd. I haven’t been that manhandled since high school. The entire test took 10 minutes. The government mandates a 15 minute break for every four hours of work. It can't spring for a once a year test that takes less time than the average coffee break? Even adding in the travel time to and from the office and waiting time, the test took an hour. I think out of 525,600 minutes in a year, women can spare 60 to make sure they live another one. And I think it is a crime if they have to pay for the privilage of doing so.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It’s a Cookbook!

I came home from my book club the other night to find my husband watching, quite possible, the dumbest television show ever. I’ve seen every version of the Real Housewives franchise, so I know from dumb television. He was watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. In this ridiculous series, proponents of ancient astronaut theory (!) give examples as to how they can prove that aliens have been buzzing our proverbial flight tower for millennia. They cite references to the journal of Christopher Columbus, where he wrote that he saw strange lights in the sky while sailing. DUN Dun dun. Why mention it if it wasn’t important, they wondered. Well, it probably scared the shit out of him, that’s why! The video of the meteor careening across the Midwest back in April scared the shit out of me – and I knew what it was! Back in 1492, you couldn’t just Google it and find thousand of camera phone clips to determine what you saw. But, you see, he was sailing through the Bermuda Triangle at the time of the sighting. Dun Dun Dun! An area that has been so thoroughly debunked of being mysterious that even Oceanic Flight 815 managed to miss it. So, unless Columbus also recorded the score of Close Encounters note for note in his journal along with the sighting, I’m not buying.

On another episode, the topic is Nazi Germany and aliens. Hitler happened across a UFO in the Black Forest and using reverse engineering, replicated its weaponry and used it on the Allies. Ok, so let’s take this step by step. Hitler stumbled upon an alien craft during what, his morning stroll? Were they blonde, so they were ok? Because, let’s be honest, he wasn’t known as being the most inclusive and welcoming of people. And then, using the technology of the era, he figured out how to replicate its weaponry? I’m not sure 1940 technology could replicate an iPod let alone a “foo fighter.” (Not Dave Grohl). Hmm. That’s quite a mouthful. I’m not sure I can swallow it.

I’m not even going to touch upon why the Pyramid of Giza was probably not a hydrogen power plant. Or why Noah probably wasn’t carrying human DNA on his ark, or even why ancient depictions of flying discs were nothing more than art. However, I am amused by the thought that the Black Plague was created by aliens. Ignoring the obvious, which is that even in our Purell-coated world, the Avian Flu managed to get a toe hold and that 1300s Europe, with its severe lack of basic sanitation, medical care, hygiene, food, and shelter wasn’t exactly a sterile environment, I would like to focus on the obscure. Due to popular belief in witches, cats were slaughtered en masse. No cats, more rats, lots of plague. I’d bet good money that the people currently shouting “Alien!” are descended from the people who were once shouting “Witch!” It’s like a circle of stupidity.

This brings me to my final point. Why are aliens as stupid as the people they abduct? The human race hasn’t managed to send a man past its own moon, yet we are working on decoding the human genome. But aliens, having managed to fly light years, and in stealth and secrecy, descend on a far distant planet can’t seem to figure out that our brains aren’t actually in our butts? Why would any intelligent creature, equipped with enough technology to navigate the Milky Way, continually fly over the most desolate and isolated regions of our country? Broken GPS? Womp rat practice? (I hear there’s a kid who can hit one from two meters.) Why not New York City, Paris, or even Dubai? The Palm Jumeira has to be at least as beautiful at night as say, the Badlands.

Do I believe aliens exist? Well, it’s a really, really big universe. There may even be a restaurant at the end of it. And I’d much rather hope that there are creatures of greater intelligence floating around out there than despair that the average Wal-Mart shopper is the best our entire existence has to offer. But I really don’t want them to stop by anytime soon. If we learned any lesson at all from Christopher Columbus, it was not that aliens exist, but that if they come ashore, it will not end well for the natives.