Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Step Away From the Spray Cheese!

As the only woman in a house full of males (even the dogs are packin' testosterone) you get used to certain things that you, as a young, doe-eyed dreamer and proud owner of the Barbie dream house high rise where Ken and Barbie had separate sleeping quarters, never imagined you could get used to. The occasional late-night, sleepy-eyed trip to the bathroom that culminates in a butt baptism and frantic flailing to save yourself from falling ALL the way into the toilet, the nervous giggling and silent prayers for safety as everyone enthusiastically votes for Taco Bell AFTER the movie, the thousands of dollars of Saran Wrap I used to protect the walls, cabinets and every other surface of the house as Kyser was celebrating his freedom from diapers and went through a strange singing and swinging phase, these are the things that NO little girl dreams of. But they are the certainties of being in a home full of boys...I wouldn't have it any other way.

And I never cease to be amazed by the things that evidentally simply come naturally to the male of the species. At only six years of age, Kyser does that rearranging thing, if you know what I mean and I think that you do... I once asked James what was up with that and he said that, like any other high precision tool, sometimes that geographic area requires some fine tuning. I often wonder if perhaps Kyser has seen his father do the relocation maneuver and that is why he does it, so I asked all the "girl/mom" questions: 1. do you have to go to the bathroom? 2. does it hurt? 3. does it itch? 4. did you put Hot Wheels down your underpants again? He simply looked at me and said "I'm just making sure it's still there."

Perhaps it was never so obvious, this difference between the gentler sex and those other guys, as it was tonight. As we did a turbo lap through the local Wal-Mart we came upon a display of Ritz Crackers and canned cheese, the kind that comes out of a nozzle - kind of like edible Silly String. Kyser was fascinated. He just kept looking at the can, trying to figure out how to get the lid off. I hadn't had squeeze cheese as we called it in college, since college. I had a roommate that loved the stuff and we would sit in the second floor lounge pretending to do homework watching "Pretty Woman" over and over again while squirting our mouths full of squeeze cheese and then shoving a cracker in as a chaser. I stumbled down memory lane long enough for Kyser to figure out how to get the can open and was brought crashing back to reality by a glob of squeeze cheese landing in my hair. Kyser had discovered the secret of the squeeze to get to the cheese and had blown the little nozzle clean of the inevitable hard crusty wick and had showered the display with sharp cheddar. About half of the cheese was out of the can and I was desperately using the last 10 wet naps I had in my purse to clean up the remnants of Fromage Fest '08.

My conscious would not let me put back the remaining 1/2 can of squeeze cheese and so I threw it in the cart, fully intending to leave it in the car or better yet toss it in the trash can on the way out of Wal-Mart.

But I got distracted...they were giving away free samples of those shower cap looking things you use to put over your leftovers and Kyser had gotten his head stuck in one and I had to use my car key to cut him an airhole until I could stop laughing long enough to get his head out of the Reynold's Ready Wrap or whatever. He kept sitting on the scale part at the self-checkout and I kept getting the red light special blinky thing happening.

So we finally get home and I headed to the kitchen with one of the bags. It wasn't long until I heard a low hissing sound from the living room and it was then that I remembered the squeeze cheese. I stuck my head around the corner to see Kyser laying under the Christmas tree with the squeeze cheese resting on his chest. Every now and then he would pick up the bottle, open his mouth and expell cheese until he was satsified. I watched him do this a couple of times then he got up and approached the dog, our beautiful, white, old dog Zeus.

There are defining moments of motherhood when you know that no amount of nurturing and training and love is going to give your child the platform to leap into the vast gap that is anything contraintuitive. I realized this as I watched my son do shots of squeeze cheese while watching that show Dirty Jobs. Standing in the doorway of the kitchen watching him cock his head the same way his father did, as if mesmerized by the television, taking drags off the squeeze cheese, every now and then patting his pants, just to make sure it was still there I suppose, and occasionally paint a squeeze cheese smile on Zeus' face and giggle as Zeus desperately tried to lick it all off and come back for more, a gesture which thrilled and delighted my little man and made me want to yonk like a spoiled sorority girl.

But soon enough the squeeze cheese lost its umph and pooped out. It was fun for about 10 minutes to tell Kyser he just needed to shake it, but then he figured out that it was simply kaput and gave up on it. Gone but not forgotten, our weekly trip to the grocery store resulted in two cans of squeeze cheese hidden somewhere he nor his father will ever find it: the cleaning supplies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LOST - and there ain't no sexy Italians around...

I always wonder about people that get lost in the wilderness. You know about every three months or so you turn on the television and sure enough, someone somewhere went out wandering around in the wilderness and got lost. Why doesn't someone pull these people aside and let them know that you don't go wandering off into 500 miles of unfamiliar territory armed with a compass and a collapsible shower? It seems to me these are the kind of people that would know not to do that, you know the kind of people who buy their hiking boots at special hiking boot specialty stores and who know how to find magnetic north with a paper clip and a wooden match. I always wondered what it would be like to be completely lost...to have no idea where you were, how you got there, and how you were going to get out. I always wondered about the fear and the loneliness, the desperation, the horror. I always wondered, until tonight.
Tonight I found out.
It started about dusk. My last appointment for the day, about an hour from home on a blacktop, nothing out of the ordinary. Driving this time of year always makes me a little nervous. Normally, I would worry about deer, but this time of year, driving through the dark Missouri night I worry about the drunk out-of-towners dancing around the campfires with a can of Milwaukee's Best in one hand and a high-powered rifle in the other, drenched in deer pee, firing off random rounds to prove his manhood to the locals.
My handy-dandy GPS was on, I had a Route 44 Diet Dr. Pepper, I was listening to the 80's radio station, I was safe as a kitten...until I hit Route RB. I've grown up in Missouri, lived here all my life, learned to drive on blacktops and gravel. I've driven on CC, JJ, BB, ZZ and a couple of times I've driven on PP, but never two different letters at the same time. I should have known trouble was coming when I saw the little yellow sign: Pavement Ends.
I looked to Gladys, because that's what I call my GPS, and her little yellow arrows were pointing me in the direction of the ending pavement. Then I heard Gladys' soothing, synthesized voice: continue on the current route. And so I did. And the pavement ended...no...it didn't end. When something ends, there is a closure, a finality, a diminishing somehow. This pavement didn't end. This pavement disappeared and spread out before me is a winding, tree-lined single lane gravel trail. If I was a skinny blonde with big breasts, this would have been the point where the guy with the chainsaw steps out of the woods, climbs on top of my car, cuts the roof off and pulls me out by my weave.
But Gladys said go...so I went.
Two miles...three miles...the road was getting narrower, the trees were getting closer to my car and that's when I heard it. Shots fired! I slammed on my brakes and did what any rational, educated woman would do. I turned down the radio and rolled down the windows to determine which direction it was coming from. That way I could determine whether I was going to die from a gunshot would to the forehead, the temple, or the back of the head...Another shot, and another. I decided my best course of action was to hit the deck. I looked to Gladys for guidance, contemplated risking a bullet wound to pull her down off the windshield into safety, decided she could risk it and hunkered down in the driver's seat.
This lasted for about 30 seconds. After all, I had someplace to be. But the thought of being shot in the head, well, it didn't set well. As luck would have it, my son had left his Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet in the car. I crawled into the backseat and located the helmet which was made of a thick, white plastic and was heavy enough that when my son put it on his neck muscles soon gave way and he had to rest his head on the back of the seat. Of course, sometimes he would just fall over...so I figured it had to have some sort of protective attributes so I snagged the helmet, put it on and headed off, eighties music blaring, ducking down looking at the road through the curve of the steering and the top of the instrument panel wearing the Speed Race Sound Effects helmet.
Now while the helmet provided me with some comfort in the knowledge that my brain was protected in some capacity, there was a problem. It was a sound effects helmet. As long as I held my head stone still, I was fine. But if I turned my head to the right it sounded like cars were speeding past me on my left. If I turned my head to the left it sounded like cars were speeding past me on my right. Every now and then I could hear the crowd cheering me on and Trixie would tell me to "Go, Speed, Go!"
Perhaps it was Trixie's fault. Perhaps it was the Route 44 Diet Dr. Pepper. Perhaps it IS a bladder control problem. Perhaps it's a fact of life for me that I shall never be spared any embarassment as long as I live. There, in the middle of nature, as I lay in wait to hear dueling banjoes and catch a glimpse of a young Ned Beatty streaking in front of my car in his tightie whities, I had to pee. It wasn't just tapping at the door, it was carrying itself across the threshold. It was a full on urination situation requiring judiciary urinary intervention.
I'm a country girl and I always carry toilet paper, wipes, and Tootsie Roll Pops in my car because my Mama taught me right. It was just the thought of stopping there in the middle of the woods where I was sure they shot portions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pulling down my fabulous dressy shorts, my tights and my undies in the 33 degree darkness and leaving my scent on Turkey Ridge Road.
I stopped the car and looked at Gladys for suggestions, but she was no longer talking to me following my decision to use her as a human shield, me being the human and she being the shield. I will not give you the gory details, I will just say this: I don't care if you're in Montana, Oregon or Washington in thousands of miles of unchartered wilderness and terrain without a compass or a can opener; you have NEVER been lost until you are attempting to hold your clothing out of way so that you can pee by the light of your own headlights in 33 degree weather in the middle of nowhere wearing a Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet.
Meanwhile, back in the car, I could now rest easy. Music up loud enough to drown out the sound of Trixie and Chim Chim cheering me on, empty bladder, somewhere in Mid-Missouri on Turkey Ridge Road. That was when Gladys went black. It's not like she didn't warn me. "Satellite signal unavailable" Gladys said and then went blank.
"Gladys? Gladys? I'm sorry about the whole bullet thing...Gladys, don't leave me. Gladys...Gladys...Gladys no, no, no, no, no...." And then she was gone. No cell phone signal. No Gladys. No idea where I was... I let the Speed Racer helmet pull me head forward to bang on the steering wheel.
"M'am?" It was a male voice and for a moment I thought it was either Speed Racer or God. I jumped and screamed as I looked up to see the covered face of a deer hunter. I put my window down a little. "Can I help you?" we said to each other at the same time.
"Are you lost?" he asked me.
"Yup, I am completely lost. I have no idea how I got here, no idea how to get out of here and frankly I have no idea where I want to go when I do get out of here."
He laughed for just a moment and pointed straight ahead of my car. "Go around this corner and up the hill turn to the left and I-70 is right there."
I barely understood the directions because I was nodding so hard the Speed Racer helmet was cheering me on nonstop. I pulled ahead and about half a mile down the road, Gladys started talking to me again. I pulled onto I-70 and with the whizzing headlights allowed myself to enjoy the Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet and made myself a promise. If I ever get home, the first thing I'm going to do is nail my feet to the floor.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Son, My S-elf

There are a plethora of genetic defects that I could have passed on to my son. For example, I have the longest earlobes in the free world; I can actually bend them up and stick them in my ears and they stay there. My mom once got them caught in my pigtails. I spent an entire summer in therapy after a traumatic Bible school experiencing involving my participation in a skit acted out during the old VBS standard "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" Thank goodness, so far, Kyser's earlobes seem to be of relatively normal size. Then there is the issue of my chin. There is no delicate or politically correct terminology to describe the horror that fate, destiny, genetics and God visited on my chin so I'm just going to put it out there: my chin looks like a butt...seriously. So "Butthead" to me is not a derogatory phrase, it's simply a way to get my attention for pictures...

These two things, along with my short, fat fingers, my freakishly wide Ubangi warrior nose, my chipmunk cheeks, which come in handy when traveling for extra storage, and my frighteningly long tongue caused me some concern when I discovered there was going to be a condensed soup version of my husband and my self.

But Kyser escaped with relative normalcy...literally.

It wasn't until the Thanksgiving after his third birthday that I began to notice. At first, we just dismissed it. Not wanting to see the signs, James ignored it. But that Thanksgiving night, after supper and our traditional habit of sitting around and complaining about how full we were until we had enough room for dessert it happened. We were all in the kitchen, except for Kyser. And when we went into the living room we found him standing in the middle of the floor with about 500 multicolored Christmas lights wrapped around his various appendages and torso. He didn't apologize, he didn't look like he expected to get in trouble. He looked up at me with those big blue eyes shining and handed me the cord and said those three little words that were the beginning of the end: "Plug me in."

Kyser is a Christmas nerd. He comes by it honestly. By age two, he knew all the words to "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch." That was the year our dog, Zeus, nearly escaped having pencils glued to his head when we weren't watching...antlers like Max. That was the year Kyser learned some of the words to Jingle Bells...which he began singing in July...and usually in Wal-Mart.

It was the next year, the year he decorated himself, that we discovered the movie "Elf". That was the year Kyser attacked a Christmas tree at Walmart in a futile attempt to put a star on the top of it. He also started requesting maple syrup on everything he ate and got trapped in a revolving door in Columbia.

Tonight we put up a Christmas tree in Kyser's room. His reasoning is that the light from the tree will help make his room warmer. But he doesn't have to explain to me. I come from a long line of premature decorators. I was fine with putting up that little Shrek green three foot fiber optic tree. He wouldn't let me put ornaments on it yet because he just wants to look at it for awhile while its "naked". Then we're going to turn it into a race car and candy tree. But for now, Ky is content to look upon the tree naked...

I often wonder why I feel called upon to start thinking about Christmas after the Fourth of July. Could it be outside marketing pressure? Could it be greed? It could be, but it isn't... It's genuine Christmas nerdology. We didn't have much when I was a kid, but we always felt rich around Christmas...as rich as poor folks could I guess. There were always people in and out of our house, someone was always cooking something and my grandfather, who was a pastor, would take me with him in that old green Dodge Dart Swinger with a huge cooler in the back full of foil covered plates of cookies and candy and full-on Christmas dinners and we would take them to people's homes. It would be so cold in that old car that the vinyl seats were as hard as a church bench, and the smell of all the goodies didn't make it any easier. But Grampa always snuck along a huge thermos of real hot chocolate (the kind that didn't come in a pouch and had no water in it) and peppermint drops to ease the pain of charity. Growing up in a small town, watching Santa Claus come to town on the firetruck, riding my bike uptown to watch them put the Christmas decorations up, I realize that though there were years when our Christmas tree was not sitting atop a huge pile of presents, I never felt like I was missing out.

And so tonight, in our house with no heat because the furnace broke...AGAIN, with a pot of camper's stew cooking in the crock pot and the prospect of a family campout in the living room because it is the warmest and best insulated room in our house, Kyser and I will decorate his naked tree with old, wooden ornaments. You see, we were going to go out and buy new ones but as we were going through the Christmas decorations Kyser and I happened upon a box of little wooden toy ornaments that my family acquired when I was about five. "Mama, mama, mama," he held the box up and shook it to get my attention. "I love these, they are beautiful...can we put them on my naked tree?"
I opened the box and there were the little snowmen and the little toy soldiers and the little rocking horses with their black circle dot eyes and their peeling paint and I thought about all the nights my brother and I would lay under the Christmas tree with all and look up through the branches and my brother would try to tell me how to cross my eyes to make it look like all the lights were moving and about how I would always get a headache trying. And one night my brother had a sneezing fit and shook some of the ornaments loose and I got pelted in the head by the little wooden snowman and it left a mark.
"Please Mama? I promise I won't stick them up my nose again. And I won't put them in the toilet to see if they float. Don't cry Mama, I'm not going break them. I'll be nice with them."
He comes by it naturally, even the nose and the toilet things were familiar to me. And I wasn't crying because I was afraid he was going to flush my wooden gingerbread man down the toilet. I was crying because I was so proud and so happy that the little nut didn't fall far from the Christmas tree.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Beauty in Ugly

Today I saw many things.
I saw my six year old attempt to figure out what tomorrow is all about.
I stood in a crowd of 15,000 people who know what tomorrow is all about.
I heard words come out of the mouths of babes who are confused about what tomorrow is all about.
Today I saw many things...and they brought me to one revelation.
First, my six year old son was full of questions when I picked him up from school. "We had an election in our classroom, Mama, and I voted." He informed me he voted for the one with the M and the girl who is a mom that has a baby. Then he asked me this question: Are all ticks girls?
"All ticks are girls, aren't they?" He asked again.
"I don't understand what you're saying."
"We learned about ticks today in school. All day long we talked about ticks and they were girl ticks."
"I'm very confused, Kyser, please explain to me what you're talking about."
He sighed. "We talked about ticks named Paula all day..."
I said it to myself slowly...ticks...Paula....Paula....ticks..."
He learned about politics. Girl bugs.
He then proceeded to ask me if politics meant fighting. He asked me if one was the good guy and one was the bad guy and if they were going to fight. He asked me if either candidate had any kids.
These were the things that mattered to him, once he found out he wasn't going to have to have a cage match with a female bloodsucker.
I thought about how I had spent the day. My friend Caryn and I went to Jefferson City to hear Sarah Palin speak. Mothers and fathers, children, teenagers, senior citizens, all races and persuasions packed around the steps of the Missouri state capitol to hear a historic address. I heard over 15,000 voices join together to sing our national anthem. I heard a young girl say she felt like she had to be there because this was a historical election. I felt my breath catch in my throat when an elderly gentleman standing close to us wearing a VFW pen replied "every election should be historic." He should know...somewhere along the line he put himself in harm's way so I could attend the event, so that tomorrow I can go cast my vote without putting myself in harm's way.
After the rally I came home and went to pick up Kyser at school where I found some very vocal first graders in the hall waiting for their bus. They were talking about who they had voted for in the mock election. Two of the boys were asking another little boy who he voted for. He wouldn't tell them and then one of the boys said "You better vote for Barack Obama because if you don't that means you are a racist and if you're a racist we ain't gonna play with you anymore."
I saw many things today.
And now I see. I really do see. I see that ours is a generation that doesn't understand how valuable our freedom is because we have never been challenged. I see that we take for granted so many things. I see that our lives and our ideals are not our own but they belong to our children as well, whether we are indoctrinating them or simply living our lives without examining ourselves. I see passion diluted with ignorance and I see ignorance enflamed with anger. I see patriotism and stupidity. I see hands out and I see hands raised.
I see many things now and they lead me to only one conclusion:
America is a beautiful place. It's beautiful because it is made up of people like my son and like those little boys and like Sarah Palin. It's beautiful because of thousands of people standing in line to catch a glimpse of history in the making. It's beautiful because it is flawed and it is flawed because it is comprised of human beings.
Tomorrow I will exercise my right to have a say in what happens to my country, a country that my grandfather fought for in WWII, a country that may disappoint me at times, frustrate me on a regular basis, and forget that I exist because I'm "rural."
I never knew that I was a patriot. I never knew that I understood deep down what a sacrifice getting here was. I never knew until I was just a face in the crowd like I was today. I never knew until I was called upon to explain the basic principles of America to my child. I never knew until I took it personally, not as a white person or a person of color but as an American, when someone implied that selecting a leader for our nation was something that required only as little consideration as the pigment of someone's skin.
Today I saw many things and I learned one: I am a patriot and I will continue to share my heart with America no matter who may be standing beside her and guiding her for the next four years.