Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kate Plus Hate

If you can give me a plausible explanation why Kate Gosselin still exists as a “celebrity” and further expand on your thesis to explain why she was at the Emmy Awards, I will give you a cookie.

I think I have reached maximum exposure to fake celebrities. Why it a Kardashian and why is it on my television screen? Why does Matthew Morrison, who sings, dances, and acts his hot little ass off on Glee make as much per episode as Snookie, the vile orange Oompa Loompa from The Jersey Shore whose sole marketable skill seems to be drinking to the point of falling down? A few years ago, admitting to using an online dating service to find true love was considered embarrassing. Now, going on a televised dating show to do the same is worthy of magazine covers. And I bet there was a lot less sex on Match.com than there is on The Bachelor/Bachelorette and your grandmother wasn’t watching you do it.

I understand reality television, but not what about being on television constitutes reality. Even as I type, I am wearing yoga shorts and my husband’s faded college tee, glasses, and a ponytail. Breakfast consisted of me throwing the occasional granola bar at my kids whenever they wandered past me in their quest to cover my house in Matchbox cars and musical instruments. Does anyone need to see that? Nope. But would they if I had a television crew in my house? Nope.

Let’s use for example, the evil incarnate that is Kate Gosselin. In the beginning, her show really was just about a mousy SAHM, her relatively useless working husband, and their litter of babies. (I’m going to ignore the older two much the same way their parents do.) They appeared, if not happy, then at least settled into their lives of quiet desperation. Then product placement reared its ugly head, whoring out the kids became a full-time job for both of them, and their small day trips to local attractions spiraled into all-expense paid trip to exotic locales. At one point exactly do you think Kate realized that her reality was no longer very real? That without the show, there was no life? Obviously, for anyone who watched Dancing with the Stars or any episode of her awful television show, the answer is that she can’t tell the difference between what is real (she’s a soulless shrew with no talent or personality) and what is reality (she is a hot commodity who brings in ratings and money). She got to dance with the cast of Glee on an award show that supposedly celebrates the best of all that is televised and now thinks she should be an actor! What the hell is wrong with the world?

If video killed the radio star, then what can we do to kill the reality star? How can we teach people the difference between famous and infamous? I sure as hell don’t know. I live in Jersey, where reality has reached an all-time low. You want an onyx, granite, and marble mansion filled with leopard print and fur? I know where you can get one - cheap. You want all manner of STD and ‘roid rage fueled violence? I know just the town. You want the lowest common denominator of all humankind, preening for a camera? “Come See for Yourself” indeed.

My only hope is that one day, Kate Gosselin gets her comeuppance. One day, her world, built entirely on the backs of her children, will come crumbling down. One day, in the not-so-distant future, those neglected older children will, taking a page from their mother’s bible of selling your soul for a sou, write a tell-all that will put Mommy Dearest to shame. And I will read it. Oh yes I will.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Sixth Sense

My daughter asked me the other day if I have eyes in the back of my head. Of course, I answered in the affirmative. Why allow her to think otherwise? Then I sat and thought about it and realized the obvious truth, she really does have no idea how easy it is to use my basic senses (we’ll leave out taste since I have no intention of eating my young anytime soon) to be a good (or at least moderately successful) parent.

Sound It is a mystery to my child that I can tell when she has not flushed the toilet or washed her hands. She is amazed when I tell her to sit back down at the kitchen table when I am in another room. My ability to suss out when her brother hasn’t taken his shoes off, or when he has stopped eating his dinner, or when she has left her bedroom without permission is practically epic in her eyes. And they are all such easy tricks. Bathroom fixtures and moving chairs make noise. The boys’ shoes have bells on them - he’s practically a walking musical instrument. He sings when he should be eating (as does she), so the only time the dinner hour is actually silent is when they are stuffing their faces. I have a chain of bells on her bedroom room (DYI motion detectors), plus the door itself sticks a bit, so she has to heave-ho her little body into the frame to get it open. This is not a quiet procedure. And yet, she is always amazed when I yell up the stairs for her to flush, wash, and get back into bed. She’s not deaf. I assure you, the child will pick out the one word in a sentence that you don’t want her to hear – from two rooms away, with the TV on – even if you say it under your breath and/or using sign language. But the average every day sounds of daily living are not pertinent to her, so they become just so much background static.

Sight My children seem to think they have the gift of invisibility. Hide under the covers, and no matter how big the lump, how loud the giggling, and how often this hiding place is chosen, they will shriek with surprise when they are found. My daughter once sent her brother on a top secret mission to get Goldfish from the kitchen. To do so, he had to walk past me in the dining room. He waved. He also, as noted above, jingled. Plan thwarted. However, she really did think that if he just walked quietly enough, I wouldn’t notice. My children are also terrible liars (a skill upon which I do not want them to improve). Ask my daughter a question and she either tells the truth or umms herself into trouble. No imagination equals a complete inability to manufacture a lie. Thus, my ability to simply look at her and tell what she is planning to do or what she just did is no harder than glancing at ESPN for a sports score.

Smell My son has a habit of denying his bowel movements. No amount of sewage smell emanating from his general direction like a real-life Pigpen will convince him that I can tell when he’s pooped. I have often walked into his room after nap to find that the air has a toxic quality comparable to a low-grade fertilizer factory – and yet there he is, breathing it all in and entirely bewildered by my retching noises. It must be some sort of built-in survival mechanism.

Touch I can heal the sick with just the touch of my hands. Didn’t know I possessed that little trick, eh? It’s magic! In reality, it is simply the strong belief by the little people in my life that if I kiss it, it will get better. No matter what the ailment, real or imaginary, I can heal it instantly. It’s a pretty neat skill and probably the most fun one to have.

Umami I have always understood this sense to mean sort of the distillation of all the senses. It is essence of what you are experiencing. For example, when eating a mushroom, you would be able to smell the forest and the earth in which it was grown while simultaneously enjoying the sight of the food and the texture of it. I could be wrong. I watch a lot of cooking shows, but until they come in Smell-O-Vision, I am taking my best guess. With kids, I think this occurs in the exact moment before the crying starts, before something falls, before something burns, and before the fever actually starts. It is the whisper in the air that wakes us up to tell us something is wrong just moments the shit really hits the fan. Everyone has it – but with parents, we can focus it with pinpoint precision on our children’s daily existence.

One day in the far, far, far distant future (after they have achieved college degrees, matrimony, and financial, emotional, and personal stability of course), my kids will have kids. And they will learn all the little tricks of the trade that come with that duty. But until then, I much prefer for my kids to think that I can see through walls and read their souls in a glance. It keeps them on their toes. Learning right from wrong is important, but learning how not to get caught, well, that is something else entirely.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

Can someone please explain to me the logic behind one store carrying the same character, made by the same brand, but in completely different styles and patterns? As in, why is there a Hello Kitty black and silver star backpack but only a hot pink with blue butterflies lunch box? Does that make any sense? I can’t have the only child in the world who wants everything to match, right? Wouldn’t it make more sense to sell them by sets? Double the price, throw in a “bonus” reusable bottle and it would fly off the shelves. Fly!

And what the hell is going on with reusable bottles nowadays? Back in the day when I had to walk five miles to school, each way, barefoot, each tin lunchbox came with a thermos. The lunchboxes were probably pounded out by convicts at the local penitentiary for pennies an hour. The thermos took on the smell of anything you put it in and one bad milk day could ruin it forever. But they were cheap. Now, with plastic being completely verboten, all reusable bottles are made of hard metals. Steel, titanium, hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some made of kryptonite considering how much they freaking cost. My kids went to dance camp six days this summer. (Yes, the boy went and yes, he loved it, particularly the tap shoes. What boy doesn’t like making noise?) Anyway, while there, they managed to lose three different pieces of Tupperware. I buy it in bulk and I buy it cheap, so it was no great loss. But at $10 per metal bottle ($12 if it has a character), the only way I’m sending one to school with her is if I shackle it to her wrist, nuclear code style.

Once I do find non-poisonous bottles to go in her lunchbox (and thank God indeed for the Christmas Tree shop, proud purveyor of crap, nonsense, miscellaneous, off-brand, and unnecessary items for selling them at $2 a pop), I also have to find tree-hugging ways to send the food to school. To help save the environment, should I wrap her sandwiches in newspaper? Better make sure it isn’t the funnies as I don’t want to get in trouble for accidentally letting red ink into her food. Plus, what am I supposed to do with the metric ton of Disney brand plastic snack bags I already picked up to help make her lunch special? I like the idea of reusing the bags, but I also bought little motivational stickers to put on her lunch every day. I think she’ll notice if she gets the same one for a week. I doubt my mother had these problems. Then again, my mom probably sent me off to school with a bowie knife to hunt my own food.

On top of the sartorial and environmental concerns, I also have to focus on nutrition. This is my first year packing a daily lunch and snack. (Or, to give credit where credit is due, this is the first year her father will have to do it. Daddy does mornings.) Her occasional forays into after-care at preschool allowed me to focus on carb-loading to get her through the extended play day. She didn’t have to learn anything after 11:15, so I didn’t worry about making sure she had her essential food groups. Now, however, she needs a “healthy” snack for midmorning, her lunch, and I assume that as soon as she gets home, a second lunch because my child is nothing but Hobbit-like when it comes to meals. I anticipate much higher grocery bills come September. Luckily, my daughter loves fruit, carrot sticks, hummus, and whole wheat. Sure, she’ll cut your heart out with a spoon for bowl of ice cream or a bag of popcorn, but everyone has a vice. Many a night, the only reason my husband isn’t locked out of the house entirely is because he comes home bearing Rita’s mango water ice. Who am I to judge?

So, come fall, we’ll begin the next stage of our life – lunch at school. Biodegradable, environmentally-friendly, ecologically sound, and nutritiously delicious. I wonder if it might just be easier to give her a cardboard box to eat.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You Are A Toy!

Is it just me, or are the “classic” toys of yesteryear kind of crappy? My kids love to play Hungry, Hungry, Hippo. My son cheats by using his fingers to hand-feed his hippo and my daughter cheats by dumping all her balls into the middle first so that she is also the first to scoop them back up. I cheat my giving my hippo lockjaw. Fun is had by all (though my tolerance for the game is much, much shorter than theirs.) But I have to admit that the first time I took it out of the box, I was appalled at how poorly made it was. Every time you put it away, you have to detach the cheap plastic hippos from the base. I live in fear that I am going accidentally rip a hippos butt off and have to explain to my children what euthanasia means.

Lincoln Logs have proved similarly disappointing. My son just received a set for his birthday and I was really looking forward to helping him build a veritable dream cabin to rival his uncle’s. My son has a good imagination and likes to manipulate his toys (as opposed to my daughter who has no imagination and expects her toys to come to life and entertain her, a la Toy Story) so anything he can build, take apart, etc. makes him happy. Imagine my surprise when I dumped out the gigantic box and realized that there were barely enough pieces inside to build a shack. Sure, you could build the exact model pictured on the front, but where is the imagination in that? (Fun fact, the original sets came with instructions on how to build Uncle Tom’s Cabin! Imagine explaining that one to your kids.) When I was a child, I remember my cousin having a veritable forest of logs at his disposal. Maybe he had multiple sets, maybe everything seems different through the haze of time, but he surely had enough for three cousins to play simultaneously. My son and I built his “Old West Jailhouse” yesterday and thought the set comes with wee little lawmen to make the structure seem that much more imposing, it didn’t fool him and he just keeps begging me to make it bigger.

I’m sure it is just my memory playing tricks on me. The tea sets of the past were probably coated in lead paint, the train sets probably ran on oil, and the toy kitchens didn’t even come with microwaves. After all, I was raised in a home where my first Barbie was actually a knock-off called Darcy who was two sizes too big for all the clothes. In fact, when I finally was given a real Barbie, her “fun” accessory was a briefcase and she was wearing a boring gray suit. Who wants Working Girl Barbie unless her profession is the oldest one in the world? The few memories I do have of playing with actual brand-name toys are all away from home. One cousin had an actual Donkey Kong machine in her basement. Full size! In the 80s! The other was actually allowed to use Play-Doh indoors! He had buckets of Lego’s (which were banned in my home for being too easy to step on), the aforementioned Lincoln Logs, and these odd, round plastic building toys that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, but we would use to build fanciful towers Rapunzel would have been proud to call home. Surely, they weren’t sold in sets of ten, right?

I guess in my head, the toys were classic because they were unbreakable, abundant, and offered unending hours of delight. In reality, they were probably just as shoddily made, probably came in even smaller sets, and probably played with in the same ten minute increments that my children use now. Ah well. Who knows what my children will remember playing with when they grow up? With my luck, it won’t be the huge playhouse, the cabinet filled with crafts, or the backyard filled with a bone yard of plastic toys. It will be the one gadget, gizmo, or geegaw that I didn’t buy them.