Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Three LittleThings That Bug Me

I don't want to sound like a giant crankopotamus here, but certain things bug me.  I'm going to get them off my ample chest here and now, and then I'm going to Choose to be Cheerful again.  K?

1.  I hate getting emails with a subject line that reads "Re:".  Just "Re:".  Re: what?  People:  are you really SO BUSY that you can't take the time to write even ONE WORD to identify the content of the email?  ONE STINKING WORD?

An email without a subject line is like a canned good without a label--open at your own risk. It's also a missed marketing and communications opportunity.  Q:  Are you listening?

2. "Lol" tacked onto the end of texts, FB comments, and emails to show that you have just made a joke.  If we can't tell it's a joke without you including a virtual laugh-track, then it's certainly not laugh-out-loud funny.  So knock it off.

3. OK, I can only think of two things that bug me at the moment.  That's a good thing, right?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pool of Ambivalence, Pool of Doom

The pool is great.  The pool is awful.  The pool provides hours of active fun in the sun.  The pool sits idle, like a brackish, mosquito-nurturing swamp.  I love our pool.  I hate our pool.

We set up the pool in mid-May, during one of Chicago's brief interludes of sunny weather. Since then we have had enough rain to support a rice paddy, which I think I might prefer to this stupid pool.  We--and by "we" I mean M. Peevie and two of her little girlfriends, plus A. Peevie--found the pool parts in the garage and took it upon themselves to put it up.  They stuck all the tab As into the slot Bs, putting the metal frame together without too much trouble.  It kept them busy for a couple of hours, so everybody was happy.

We filled it up, and the water was sparkling and clear--for about a week.  The kids played and screamed and made whirlpools and generally enjoyed the kind of simple childhood fun that you could imagine showing up on a Norman Rockwell canvas.

Then the rains returned, and my amateur chemical maintenance program failed miserably.  My amateur chemical maintenance program involves dumping a random, unmeasured amount of chlorine bleach into the water every day or every other day, and stirring it around with the handle of the broken leaf skimmer.  (The filter pump only worked for one year, so pool maintenance has been less-than-ideal for three years.) Last year this program worked just fine; but this year?  Not so much.  So the rains came, and the pool turned green.  Yuk.

We emptied it out, adding even more water to the rain-saturated ground--but the drain plug on the stupid pool isn't exactly at ground level, and about two or three inches of water stagnated in the bottom, turning greener by the day.  Finally I Tom Sawyered the neighborhood kids into helping me scoop the water out so we could clean it up and fill it again.  Two Peevies and five neighborhood kids kicked off their shoes and socks, grabbed primary-colored beach buckets, and hopped into the murky mess. 

"Are there leeches in here?" one kid asked.

"What are leeches?" said another.

"Jahaylia is throwing water on me!" somebody complained.

"This is my section! Move over!" a territorial water-flinger ordered.

They scooped and flung buckets of icky water until the vinyl bottom appeared; and then they kept going until only tiny puddles remained.  Then C. Peevie and I tipped the pool up on its side, snapping off one rusted support pole in the process.  We hosed it down, scrubbed a bit with rags to loosen the more stubborn algae stains, hosed some more, and set it back down on the bare mud-circle (like a crop circle, only without the crops, and without the mysterious origins).

In about six hours the pool sparkled and tempted, and everyone ran and got their bathing suits and goggles and started whirlpooling and bouncing on bright tubes.  Happy screams and the vocabulary of newly-invented water games wafted through my kitchen windows, and once again, I loved our pool.  In a little while, I grilled hotdogs and sliced a watermelon, and everyone took a break to scarf down a perfect summer lunch before leaping back into 1250 gallons of fun.

Two hours later, they were still at it.  I could hear their raucous hilarity through the windows--my poor neighbors--and occasionally I'd go deckside to make sure everyone had a turn with a tube and no one was bleeding.  Finally, when it was almost time to close the pool down and send the neighbors home, I went outside to give a 10-minute warning.

The pool was dark brown and murky.  It looked like someone had dumped a bucket or ten of mud into the water.

"Wha...wha...?" I stuttered, uncomprehendingly.  "What in the hayride happened to the pool?"

"M. Peevie dumped MUD into it!" the boys screamed in unison, quick to tattle.  M. Peevie just stood there, not denying it.

"We were playing in the pool, and she just dumped a bucket of mud in!" they reiterated.  "And then she did it again!  We told her to stop, but she kept doing it!"  M. Peevie's stood in stoic silence, but a tiny crease of worry appeared between her eyebrows.

Oh, she better worry, all right.  Smoke started coming out of my ears, and I felt my natural goodwill evaporate.   I sent everyone home, and took M. Peevie down to the dungeon. I closed the chains around her wrists, a la Phoenix and Crowe in Gladiator; and I began to interrogate her.

"What were you thinking, M?" I asked.  "Why would you dump mud into the clean pool?"

"I don't know what I was thinking!" she said.  "I wasn't thinking about what would happen!"  The tears started to fall, but I remained unmoved, and continued to interrogate her, but without success.

Later that evening, I tried once again to understand what would motivate an otherwise smart girl to ruin her best summer fun activity.  This time I tried gentleness instead of harsh torture techniques.  Not surprisingly, I got better results.

"M. Peevie," I said, putting my arms around her sturdy shoulders and kissing the top of her head, "M., tell me about when you put mud in the pool."

She looked up at me, still worried, but better able to think clearly.  "Well," she said slowly, "We were playing, and then most of us got out, except New Neighbor M.  NNM started swimming around and pretending he was a squid."  A light went on in my mind, and suddenly it all made sense to me.

"And the mud?" I asked, wanting her to tell the rest.

"He was being a squid," she continued, looking at the ground, "and squids squirt ink, and I thought it would be fun to give him some ink."  She looked up at me to gauge my reaction.  "I put the mud in because I wanted the squid to have some ink."  She started to sniffle again.  "But I didn't realize that the mud would make it so brown.  I'm sorry, Mommy, I'm sorry!"

I sighed and held her close.  The pool was still brown and murky, but I felt relief, and a strange sense of pride.  M. Peevie wasn't motivated by meanness, like Sid in Toy Story II; she wasn't being intentionally thoughtless or randomly inconsiderate.  Actually, she was being sort of creative, and her choice to dump mud in the pool was prompted by her big imagination.  How could I stay mad at her?

The pool stayed muddy for a few days, and the kids swam around in it anyway.  Gradually, with the getting in and the getting out and the stepping into the muddy puddles around the outside of the pool, the muditity levels became too much for me to bear, and I ordered the pool to be emptied once again.  It leans like a smelly vinyl wall up against the deck, waiting for its next tour of pool duty.

I don't know whether to fill the pool again, or to toss it into the alley for the metal scavenger trucks to pick up--and instead, plant flowers or vegetable in the circular brown scar that remains as a reminder of happier pool days.

What would you do?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I will NOT be there for you, nor do I want you to be there for me.

I swear.  There is one trite, annoying, meaningless, banal, cliche, hackneyed phrase that English speakers and writers rely upon to express the concept of emotional support that I believe has lost all meaning, if it ever had any to begin with.  It is "is there for [personal pronoun]," as in "he is always there for me," or "my mother was never there for me," or "What the hell do you want from me? I just want you to be there for me."

Maybe the long-lasting sit-com Friends started it 16 years ago, giving U.S. popularity to the catchy but lyrically lame song by The Rembrandts, "I'll Be There for You."

I'll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I'll be there for you
Like I've been there before
I'll be there for you
'Cuz you're there for me too...

But it's not just a sitcom theme song.  It's all over pop music:

Wyclef Jean, in Class Reunion:  

Baby girl, the world is yours, just look through
That open door, I'll be there for you
If you ever feeling blue (oh), it's a beautiful world

Until the end of time
I'll be there for you.
You own my heart and mind
I truly adore you.

Bon Jovi succumbed to the allure of the cliche, with "I'll Be There for You"

I'll be there for you
These five words I swear to you
When you breathe I want to be the air for you
I'll be there for you
I'd live and I'd die for you
Steal the sun from the sky for you
Words can't say what a love can do
I'll be there for you

It's all over TV and movie dialogue, all over eavesdropped conversations on the El. It has become the catchphrase of a generation, and it makes me want to puke.  (Although I do kind of like the Bon Jovi song, in spite of the hated phrase.)

When I was teaching freshman composition, I gave my students the assignment of writing an essay on a person they admired.  The phrase "she was always there for me," or some variation, showed up more times than the word maverick in a Sarah Palin speech.  I made my students rewrite their essays without using that phrase even once--and they complained like I asked them to make their own ink out of mangos and Elmer's Glue.  But when those essays came back, the students instead discovered creative and thoughtful language, images and illustrations to convey the love and support they received from their admired one.

"She stayed up listening to me until 2 a.m. the night my boyfriend broke up with me," one girl wrote about her mother.  Another wrote about her best friend, "She's a great listener, and she lets me borrow her clothes, even after I got a stain on her sweater."  See what I mean?  Specific, meaningful illustrations that put a clear picture in your head of what the speakers/writers appreciate in their friends.

Here's my challenge to you, my readers, who are clearly smarter and more talented than all the rest:  Count how many times you hear or read this phrase in a week--on TV, in music, from your friends and colleagues.  I heard it six times the other day on TV and in the grocery store.  In one day! 

Each time you hear it, ask yourself if the phrase gives you a clear sense of what the person means when he uses it, or if he could use more specific and descriptive language to communicate more effectively.  And then take the pledge to rid the English-speaking world of this phrase which is the zucchini of language--it's all over the place, and virtually tasteless.

The Reason We Have Kids

"A. Peevie," I said, "I'm still waiting for you to bring me my wine glass!"

"Why don't you get it?" he asked impertinently.

"Because I gave birth to you and I asked you to get it," I said.  "Obviously."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rules for Parenting a Teenager, Part I

Boy.  When you take a week or so off from blogging, your blog stats plummet like Obama's approval ratings. So, this is me, getting back into the swing of things. 

My big boy, C. Peevie, has finally reached that age when he does not have to be bribed or coerced into showering.  I thought it would never happen.  Now he not only showers, but he even has shampoo preferences, and appears to be single-handedly keeping the Axe brand profitable.

He was sitting on the floor next to my Chair of Don't-Bother-Me-I'm-Watching-TV, and we were watching a Castle re-run.  I looked over at him, and he was sweet and lovable, and his hair was all clean and shiny and soft, and I had the maternal urge to pet him.

"Can I pet you?" I asked, reaching for his hair.  I was sort of proud of myself for respecting his personal boundaries by asking before touching.  Usually I'm a bit more impulsive.

He looked at me, and tipped his head away from my hand.  "Did that sound less creepy in your head?" he asked.  And then he laughed hysterically at his own hilariousness.

Yes, son, as a matter of fact, it did.  It did not sound creepy in my head AT ALL, thankyouverymuch.  I'm still figuring out how to navigate the turbulent waters of teenagerdom.  C. Peevie just turned 15, and it seems like the rules keep changing.  I can hug him, I can't hug him; I can touch his hair, I can't touch his hair. I can watch TV with him, I can't watch TV with him.  He wants junkie snacks, he wants healthy snacks.

But I can always give him rides, or give his friends rides.  That has not changed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Birthday Gratitude

Ahhhh.  I love my birthday.  I wish I could have a birthday every month. 

Oh!  Oh!  We should totally do this.  Let's start a FB page called "I love to celebrate my Monthday!"  You would celebrate your Monthday like a birthday, on the same day of the month that your actual birthday falls on.  So my Monthdays would be the 2nd of every month!  Who's with me?

So anyway, my birthday brought me a great deal of delight this year, as it does most years.  (We won't talk about last year's birthday, mmmmkay?)  My birthday is a day when I get loved on by tons of people.  Some send hilarious or touching cards, some offer friendly birthday wishes on FB or email, and some!  Some give gifts.

Have I mentioned that my love language is gifts? Earlier in my birthmonth (two weeks before and two weeks after my birthday) I posted my birthday wish list.  Everyone should do this.  As Mr. Peevie wisely said, "I like to give a girl what she wants"--and what better way for people to know what you want than to use social media to get it out there?

So at this very moment, I'm listening to my new Bruce Cockburn CD, You've Never Seen Everything.  And tonight I will be creating a delectable dinner in my beauteous oval covered casserole dish, thanks to Mr. Peevie and the kids.

Other birthday highlights included:

  • Being serenaded in front of my house by three neighborhood children.
  • The softest fluffy pink slipper socks you will ever touch.
  • A birthday note from a 10-year-old that read, "you are very nice, pretty, and very good at working things out."  I love that last compliment especially much.
  • Reminiscing with a friend at dinner about Howard Johnson's clam strips and chocolate ice cream with tiny ice flakes, served in a chilled metal bowl with a buttery, crispy cookie.
  • Having the same friend guess my actual age to be 41.
  • Planting my flower planters on the deck.
  • 37 birthday greetings on FB, including one in Pig Latin.
  • Homemade cards from each of my children, including a promise from C. Peevie that I "get to watch (3) 24 episodes with me without any complaints (any!!)!"  He has started watching season 1 of 24, and for some inexplicable reason, he hates it when I plop down next to him on the couch to watch part of an epi with him.
  • $49 from my thoughtful MIL and FIL--one dollar for each year.  You're never too old to get money for your birthday.
  • Birthday coupons from M. Peevie, including ones for "unlimited kisses," 1 cuddle," "1 masage [stet] and spa treatment," "1 storybook night," and "1 kick in the butt."  Girlfriend has a bit of an attitude.
  • Birthday coupons from A. Peevie, including these: "As many cuddles," "As many free hugs," "5 of anything you want," "20 takings out of the trash," "50 stories," and "30 foot massages."  
A. Peevie," I said, "Does this coupon mean that in 30 years, when you're 42 and I'm 79, you'll still give me cuddles?"

"If you still have the coupon," he said.

When I told Roseanne this story, she laughed out loud and said, "You can't even keep track of your keys for one hour, let alone a scrap of paper for 30 years!"  Ouch!  But I'm taking it to the lock box at the bank today.  So there.