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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feed a Fever, Starve a Wallet

According to my experience, the only things children share without being threatened are asparagus, blame for painting the refrigerator, and the chicken pox.

I think my kids plan their sick days at the beginning of the school year according to when major projects and compositions are due or when there is a day I’ll have a schedule that’s tight enough to be shrink wrapped. On awards day, they tally up their doctor visits and the one who has the most sick days gets to hang on the refrigerator door and ask what’s for supper every ten seconds until I get that thumpy vein in my neck and we all go out for pizza.

My kids are so adept at trips to the doctor, the Olympic committee is considering accepting flu-spreading as a winter sport. Their record is six office visits in a week, but that takes conditioning and discipline, so they can’t do it every time. Besides, my two boys aim for less conventional fare than mere strains of bacteria can provide. The Adventure of the Invisible Glass Sliver and the Mistaken X-Ray comes to mind. When that doctor finally fished the dainty dagger of glass out of the swollen, bloody foot (no I can’t make him wear shoes in the house, not for all the Frosted Flakes in Battle Creek), the best part was being able to say “I Told You So” to a man whose car costs more than the yearly junk food bill for my teenagers. Twelve months of Twinkies and Yoo Hoos can add up.

I know a mother with three young daughters who runs a regular route to the doctor every Friday at closing time. She figures if nobody’s sick at that particular moment, strep throat will set in just as the clock strikes five and the doctor loads his briefcase full of communicable diseases into the Lexus sports car for the trip home. This same Mom qualified for the Employee of the Month parking spot at the doctor’s office and is in line for a punch card that will give her a free visit after ten minor emergencies. With her record, she’ll be cashing in a full ticket before grocery day rolls around. She’s wondering if she will qualify for a retirement package once her kids are grown.

And why can’t a family of children all come down with the flu or a nice case of mumps at the same time? Instead, they carefully plan a timeline of late nights and weekends at least two days apart. It’s not that they’re not all sick at the same time. At any given point during the winter months at least 50% of the kids in my carpool (with an incidence rate that escalates to 85% the day before a science project is due) are suffering from various forms of diseases that gives them an intestinal discrepancy, runny nose, and makes them sneeze on the baby.

But they don’t start out that way. By prearranged plan, they space out the onset of their illnesses over two day increments, thereby increasing the trips to the doctor and the chance to see Mommy make the “co-payment” face. I’m convinced the children have a betting pool with all wagered candy bars going to the kid that gets the best noises out of Mommy when they wander into the kitchen, teddy bear in tow, and announce forlornly “My tummy hurts.” They probably get bonus points if Mommy’s face changes color, she makes audible strangled retching sounds, or Daddy has to administer cold packs and CPR.

Now that it’s fall and sinus infections are just around the speed dial, Saturday mornings will inevitably find me with a thermometer in someone’s ear, dialing the doctor’s office during weekend emergency hours while checking furtively for swollen lymph nodes. Faster than you can say “Refinance the mortgage” his neck swells up like a jumbo marshmallow over an open flame, and the lining of his throat boasts enough spots for a dice game.

But I’m not a new face in the fever fighting lineup. I know that with time, tender care, and terrific insurance we’ll all make it through the flu season.

Just in time to start treating spring allergies.

These cold & flu germs first found a home in the Sept./Oct. issue of The Wham Magazine.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today there is change. I watched the inauguration with my teenaged son, which is sort of like inviting the Incredible Hulk to the opera, only without the purple pants.

“You want to watch the inauguration?” I asked, eyeing the living room’s big screen TV.

“Ummm. No,” he answered, sending a random Italian pizza maker to his death with the push of a button.

So, strictly speaking, we didn’t watch the inauguration together, but we were in the same house. While he was playing video games in the living room, I was in the bedroom with Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and about 40 zillion other American citizens. But the door was open. AND I had the sound up.

Two months ago, we packed the car full of hope for the future and took the kids to vote. Taking your kids to vote in their first presidential election is like baking biscuits without a recipe for the first time. You know you put in all the right ingredients, but you’re iffy on the amounts of everything, not quite sure if you left something important out by mistake, and you hope you turn out with a basic building block of sustenance and not a crumbly mess that falls to the floor and sticks to the bottom of your shoe.

We didn’t all vote for the same candidate. Of course, out of the four of us we can barely get two to agree what to eat for supper, so it’s probably too much to ask that we see eye-to-eye on the person who will hold the highest office in our nation. The only thing we ever agree on is the need for high speed Internet access, and even then fights break out about cost, time-sharing, and the reliability of Wikipedia for research purposes.

But no matter who you voted for, Inauguration Day is about the American people, exercising the right to be governed in a way that gives them a voice. Come to think of it, sometimes I’d willingly vote for the candidate who could do something about the voices in my house.

“Why does it matter that he’s black?’ says the kid who has always used race more for identification purposes than anything else. His posse has more different nationalities than the opening ceremonies at the Olympic games. He’s as likely to say, “the tan kid with the curly hair” as he is “the one in the green shirt” or “that kid who’s so awesome on Guitar Hero.”

“He’s the first African American president. That’s historically important.”

“I’m the second Pokemon Professor in South Carolina. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Well, I’m proud of you, but people traditionally celebrate the first person to do something. The first black president. The first man on the moon. See?”

“I have a Pokemon Professor T Shirt.”

“Mr. Obama has a plan to revive America’s economy.”

“Does he have a T Shirt?”

About that time an enthusiastic supporter waving to the cameras on the National Mall held up a T Shirt of the first family, featuring a smiling Mr. & Mrs. Obama and their two daughters.

I grinned. “Yep. There it is.”

He studied the television screen and shook his head. “Well it’s a good thing he got the job. Maybe now he can get his own T Shirt instead of having to share.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Tracks

It wasn’t so hard to recycle when the boys were small. It really wasn’t any trouble to toss the glass juice bottles in one bin and the pamphlets for weight loss programs I’d decided not to try in another. But now that they’re big enough to leave six month old soda cans in places I can’t reach, the job is a little tougher.

My first instinct was to don a HazMat suit and spray their room with that industrial strength foam OSHA recommends for cleaning up chemical spills. However, I decided that this wasn’t the example I wanted to set. First of all they’d both want to be the next to wear the suit and the first to spray their brother. I decided on another tactic: put them in charge, a course of action that usually ranks second behind, say, shaving my legs with fire. But I'm trying to pull myself out of the dot matrix printer age and get in step with the times.

Son Number Two, Destructo the Younger, flattens cardboard boxes and maintains order in the mixed paper box. Each warlord, er, boy, gets to enforce the rules governing his domain. (By royal decree, crushed cans go in the Christmas coffee can painted like a Gingerbread Man and flattened boxes go upright in their own tall kitchen trash can--I guess vertical is the new green.)

I let the oldest son, Destructo Senior, be in charge of can smashing. There’s not a piece of recyclable aluminum in the tri-state area that’s safe when he embarks on a tour for additions to fill the Gingerbread Man. From what I can see of the soda containers, our family is responsible for the financial success of not only the Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies but many of their lesser known relatives and stalkers. If there's a bubble in the can, somebody in my house is going to pop the top and drink until the last drop of artificial flavoring is gone.

So, from what I can tell, we’re doing well on the recycling. But it sure looks like we’re leaving one heckuva carbonated footprint.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

WiiCovery Woom

My kids are threatening to get me the Wii Fit for my birthday. The name Wii is a clever pun made up by people who think of English as a substitute language for people who don't use twenty dollar bills for Q-tips. It is pronounced “We” and means, “We will own your grandmother before your hip replacement heals.”

I wouldn’t worry, but these kids are old enough to find ingenious ways to get the money. They are fully capable of selling tickets and offering to broadcast my workouts via webcam to people in a position to share my humiliation worldwide or to the inmates of Folsom Prison who need just one thing like this to send them into a full Jailhouse Rock and Revolt frenzy.

For the last few of you who were involved in brain surgery or afterschool detention when the Wii Fit hit the shelves and are in a Wii Frii state, this is an exercise program that can determine, through your participation and cooperation, precisely what happened to the last piece of pecan pie that was in the refrigerator just yesterday.

The machine reflects your image on the television screen as an iconic picture called a Mii that is a computer determined reflection of your innermost fears. It sees you when you’re sleeping and it knows when you’ve been drinking whole milk. Back in seventh grade when we drew unflattering pictures of Fat Elaine, we got a visit to the principal’s office. This electronic fellow generates a quidmillion dollars in sales and markets another zillion units every time you waddle across the pixels.

The most frightening idea is the nauseating list of exercise opportunities that are available. I don’t know if the thought of watching my pudgy onscreen caricature rolling into yoga’s Downward Doggie position is more frightening, or the idea of getting stuck in a Hula Hoop loop. All I know is that the first time that wretched machine is foolish enough to flash my weight or body mass index in high definition on my widescreen television where both teenage boys and the Dachshund can see, it’s going to lose some mass of its own.

Now that’s Wii-assuring.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Doggerel in the Kitchen

Once upon a weekend sunny
Tried to think of something funny
Searching through lines of illegible notes.
While I scrambled, thumbing pages
Looking for the laugh of ages
Came there then a scratching sound
Pawing at the kitchen door.
“Darn the doggies evermore!”

I was deep in concentration
Humor lost to contemplation
Dialogue from his Playstation
Which as parents we deplore
Curious, stilted conversation
Made me chuckle even more.

Then the doggies made their entrance
As it is in every instance
Muddy feet on my clean floor
Paws and tails were wildly flailing
Patience in persistence failing
I succumbed to waily wailing
As they muddied up the floor.
“Darn the doggies evermore!”

I lost my pen and grabbed a pencil
Wrote a tale with hands prehensile
Shining like the Christmas tinsel
Of the doggies at the door.
Lashing through the kitchen wildly
Hit a spot to put it mildly
Slid across the kitchen floor.
Dog ballet; I laughed still more
They crashed into the outside door
Thank the doggies for this lore!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blow Dryer, Flash Fryer

I’m convinced my hair dryer, the Flame Thrower, is trying to kill me. Oh, there’s nothing I can point my finger to and say, “Here are the transcripts from a conversation with the hot rollers which definitely points to annihilation by hair sabotage.” It’s subtle things like hurling sparks at my ear early in the morning when it thinks I’m not paying attention. But I’m too cheap to throw the thing out until it chokes on a hairball and sputters to a stop for good. So unless it bites off more once-blonde locks than it can chew, we’re together for another year.

Luckily, since this is a low wattage appliance and therefore has a limited capacity for complicated planning, it has been limited to spitting fire and summoning bursts of superheated air dedicated toward restyling my hair into the flash fried appearance of an overcooked Dorito. My left ear is scorched and it appears that I shrink wrapped my head in an old Brillo pad, but other than that I’m fine.

Lately the wretched thing has been sabotaging me with clandestine bouts of guerilla warfare. Its latest campaign involves the secretive, but effective technique of grabbing clumps of hair and consuming them in a teeth-gnashing frenzy like a buffet-bound supermodel on the first day of retirement. Whenever I bend over to dry the back of my hair, I end up with a festive “hairdo by shredder” look. And the hair dryer looks like a Chia pet in full bloom.

Given the embarrassment of losing daily battles with an appliance that can’t make ice, iron my clothes, or dispose of my garbage, I hoped my hairdresser wouldn’t notice. Perhaps I would sneak in for a trim.

Hairdresser: Well, Amy, what shall we do to. .OH MY GOD! HAVE YOU BEEN IN A FIRE!?

Me: Just even up the gaps, please.

Hairdresser: That’s like pulling up your knee highs to meet your push up bra. Did you lean too close to the birthday cake again?

Me: No, I just had a little trouble with the settings on my hair dryer. It thinks off means "off with her head." Say, could you make me look like Jennifer Anniston?


Me: Never mind. Just shave it and I’ll tell everybody I’m sympathizing with Britney during the bad years.

I slunk out of the hair salon looking like a cross between Michael Jordan and last year's geraniums. My resolution for the New Year? That blow dryer’s going down. Even if I have to get the hot rollers to help me.