Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gym Class Heroes

This was the best day ever, although I'm not sure what we learned 
on parachute day.
There are plenty of things I learned in school I've never needed to use in real life. Pythagorean theorems come to mind. But also, gym class. Like, all of it, actually.
I went to a small public high school. We did things in gym like canoeing and cross country skiing, which were fun, and while I haven't actually gone canoeing or cross country skiing since graduation, I totally could. Of course, these things are easily picked up even by adults who've never done it before, and I didn't actually learn anything while doing them for gym class other than how far away I needed to ski or row in order to be beyond the sight of the teacher so I could smoke without getting caught.
But we also did things in gym class like line and square dancing. Now, I understand Zumba's a thing and people actually pay other people money to shout dance moves at them for fun and fitness. But never in my life have I needed to know how to do si do. In fact, I could probably have gotten by without knowing the rules to pretty much every game or activity we played. Like those little saucer things we scooted around on that were really just good for running over your own damn fingers? Yeah, I haven't used whatever skill I learned from that, ever, because I still hurt myself at every possible opportunity (accidentally, of course.)
What I didn't learn, that actually would have been helpful, is how to properly do a squat or the correct form for planks. I was well into adulthood before I realized I'd been feeling the burn in all the wrong places when it came to just about every exercise I tried.
Actual Gym Class Heroes
Running the mile once a year in order to pass some arbitrary fitness test? Didn't really prepare me for the 5Ks everyone and their brother are signing up for now- which I'd really like to do, except for the tiny fact that I only run to bakeries, and even then it's in my car.
This has been on my mind because now that the monkeys are all back in school, they're assigned physical education every day. I truly wonder how much they're actually learning when they report that Fruit Ninja was part of the curriculum. This I can't make up.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Romancing the Stone

When I was about 10, I received a trunk full of romance novels as a gift. My great uncle had been told I was an avaricious reader, and somewhere in his travels between his California home and mine in New York he managed to score a trunk full of books- probably at a yard sale. Even though they might have been slightly inappropriate for a child my age, this huge gift began my love affair with the most popular genre in print. Since then, I've stretched my literary interests into every other genre, but romance novels are to me the comfort food of the reading world. I return to them again and again, even though I'm now old enough and jaded enough to have picked out several major flaws. Here's a list of a few of those flaws.
I call it "How romance novels are full of shit":

1. The couple always manages to overcome every obstacle. In the real world, love doesn't conquer all. Love doesn't even conquer most, which is why the divorce rate for first time marriages is at nearly half, and climbs higher still for second and each consecutive marriage after that. But in romance novels, there's always a major problem, and it's always overcome by the power of love.

2. Speaking of major problems, there's never smooth sailing. How many of us would seriously pursue a relationship if we had to literally scale mountains or change the ocean's tide in order to be with a person we'd barely gotten to know but found ridiculously attractive? A giant part of Husband's appeal for me was that his shit was mostly all huddled together in a corner and the life we would share would be calm and smooth with little need for drama or antics. Obviously we argue and fight, but neither of us had to protect the other from an evil villain, fend off a crazy and dangerous psychopathic killer, or in any other way save the world.

3. Saving the world, while required, is only ever done by the hero.  Can we please talk for a minute about how no matter how strong the heroine that's been written into a story is, the hero somehow still manages to save her, all while being, well, heroic? She's a cop/firefighter/some other noble and heroic profession? Obviously he's going to be bigger, stronger, calmer, and appreciate what she does while still managing to take care of her. No hero is ever an accountant, or an out of work actor, or living in his parents' basement while working on a screenplay. The dude is never just an average guy living an average life.

4. Neither of them are ever unattractive to mainstream society. There are no romance novels about troll-like men or ghastly women. Which is unfortunate, because we all know not every person in this world has an intriguing and sexy mole above their full pouty lip, or a strong, firm jaw with muscular abs. I firmly believe there's a lid for every pot. That doesn't mean we all see our partner as the sexiest man (or woman) alive. Some people settle for less than what their ideal physical type is because you know, looks aren't everything. Some people are genuinely more attracted to taller or heavier to thinner or shorter or whatever type isn't currently being called sexy by modern society. Other people become more attracted to their partner over time because they have an amazing personality or a fantastic sense of humor. Still, in romance novels there's always an immediate and visceral attraction that just isn't realistic.
5. Every romance novel couple's sex life is all amazing, all the time.  Forget how similar every sex scene actually is- how many different euphemisms for penis, vagina, and breasts are there, after all? But there's never one partner with a higher libido, never any sexual dysfunction, never any dissatisfaction with an encounter. No one in a romance novel ever just has sex because their partner wants sex, there's never a quickie that leaves much to be desired, nobody ever gets bored halfway through and starts mentally planning a grocery list, there's no whiskey dick or period blood to deal with. It's always tab a fitting into slot b through either missionary or woman on top earth-shattering sex where the partners either reach climax simultaneously or the man holds his orgasm off until right after the woman has her own, and she always does, most often more than once. This standard alone is impossible to achieve, let alone the rest of the impossible issues with romance novels.

Beyond all of the above, the thing that gets to me the most about romance novels is the lack of planning for the future- well that and the lack of farting. We're left with a couple of people declaring their undying love for one another with no real plan about how they're going to actually manage to make it work. The happily ever after is always implied, with no thought to the fact that these people are going to have to live together.

Do we love romance novels because they're so completely at odds with the mundane everydayness of our lives? Do we not come to expect flowers for no reason and men to save us from whatever impossibilities the world throws at us? Do we not, in some small part of our inner selves, compare our men and women to those written neatly into perfect stereotypical categories, and find ourselves and our partners lacking? Do we not wonder why the earth fails to shatter every single time we have sex?

There's a lot of talk about reality in the media and how impossible standards are setting the tone for our children, daughters especially. Yet we turn, collectively, most often to literature that sets a completely impossible standard for ourselves and no one complains about how unrealistic it is.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Take my hand, we're halfway there

Today is the 211th day of the year. More importantly, we've reached the halfway mark of summer vacation. This milestone is important because as many of you might have guessed, hanging out with kids all day really cramps my style of reading, pretending to do housework, binge-watching completely child-unfriendly shows, and just generally enjoying the quiet.
I know, I know, the monkeys in my house are all half-grown, and they shouldn't need my attention every second. And they actually don't. But the minute I start doing something, one of them does, and in case you were unaware, they make a lot of noise. Like, a lot. And I can't stand cleaning with people around. Even young people who could be put to work to make the process go faster.
So now that we're halfway there (there being the start of school, or as I like to think of it, the best day ever) I'm taking stock of our summer thus far. And, really, I'm coming up short.
I haven't really done much with the kids. Sure, we've skated outside and gone swimming and geocaching some. But the weather has kept us indoors for most of the summer. That is, I tell them it's going to rain every day and therefore our tentative plans must be canceled. I'm batting about .500 as far as that goes, so they haven't really caught on to my nefarious scheme yet. Mostly I'm just an indoor person who doesn't people very well.
My life would be a lot more convenient if I was one of those people who found genuine enjoyment in children. In fact, considering, it would be fan-fucking-tastic. Since that isn't the case, all I can do is congratulate myself on having survived half of the summer. The second half should be much easier to get through, knowing the end is in sight.
I was thinking about this the other day, and I really feel like I got shafted in the divorce lottery. The only good thing about being divorced (well, other than not being married to a giant douchecanoe anymore) should be the regular break you get from your kids.
However, because I'm divorced from someone who's an even bigger parenting fail than I am (yes, it is actually possible), I don't get to send my kids off every other weekend and for three hours on Wednesdays. Which means they're with me 100% of the time.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm only halfway decent at being a stay at home mother when the children don't also stay at home.
Just knowing I'm not enjoying every precious squabble, every mess left for me to clean up, every blatant disregard for simple rules sort of makes me feel guilty. I've a friend who'd love to have children, but for various reasons does not. Bitching to her about kids makes me feel, well, like a horrid bitch who can't find it in her to enjoy what others would kill for.
But if I can't be real here, where can I?
I'm not a people person. And kids? They're just newer people.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Birthday Blues

For my next trick, I'll teach you how to ruin someone's birthday.
Husband celebrated his birthday last week. Normally, I'd say we celebrated Husband's birthday, and I guess technically we did, only not with him.
Let me explain.
Generally, in our house when there's a birthday, the person aging by a year chooses a meal and a type of cake. Since Husband doesn't typically eat dinner with us, I chose the meal for him. Well actually, the ingredients I had on hand were the deciding factor.
Not such a big deal because he wasn't going to eat it anyhow and I still made his choice of cake. He didn't specify an ice cream flavor, so I just grabbed a random carton that looked good at the time. He's not picky, or he'd have made his wishes known, right?
So the cake's made, dinner's been eaten, the ice cream is all icey and creamy in the freezer, and still, Husband isn't awake yet. The kids are begging for their treat like it's their collective birthday, and finally he awakens just in time to be harangued by everyone about eating the damn cake.
He's awake but not yet out of bed when everyone goes traipsing into our room like it's Grand Central Station. As an aside, I have serious issues wit kids in my bedroom. Husband has no such issues, so when he's home it's like the damn family room and when he's gone it's like Fort Knox because they have their own freaking rooms and while Husband will go hang with them in their rooms as well, I find this behavior bizarre and think we should all just stay out of each other's bedrooms. But that's another topic.
The kids leave our bedroom, and I'm bringing him coffee and we're chatting, and he says "You guys might as well go ahead and eat the cake without me." I'm all "Are you kidding me? It's your birthday cake." and we laugh and he doesn't tell me he's kidding.
This, my friends, is where the problem starts.
You see, I can be very sarcastic but I also have a problem with not being able to understand sarcasm coming from others. I'm like, deficient in catching unspoken clues. Tone of voice, body language and whatever other nonverbal clues normal people use to communicate with others are completely lost on me. If you want me to pick up on something, being subtle about it isn't going to net you the results you're looking for.
So Husband told me to serve the cake without him, and while I thought he was an insane person, I still went ahead and served the cake without him.
For the record, he was kidding, ate his cake alone, and we both ended the night feeling pretty damned bad- him because it was like an un-birthday, and me because I ruined his birthday.
I'm a terrible wife.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dream a Little Dream

I woke up at 2am sobbing uncontrollably. Was I injured, sick or recovering from some real-life trauma? Oh, no. I was bawling my eyes out simply because of a dream.
This could be reasonable- I'm surrounded by monkeys and have an extended family. Sometimes we dream of calamity striking someone we love, right? Not this time.
Instead, I dreamt of a hawk that I'd attempted to rescue. Some jackeen was fucking with my rescue bird which was actually quite ugly, and this caused me to cry.
In my dream, I walked into a house that was vaguely familiar but not actually known to me, and was confronted by baby animals all penned up and crying. Tiny little fuzzy sheep, adorable goats, a couple of bunnies, and some sweet little downy ducklings all needed, in my mind, to be freed from their inhumane cages and set free in the pastures and ponds that handily, I happened to have ready for them.
As I freed them, there was a sense of urgency, as it was somehow imperative that my task be complete before their captors returned to find me loosing the menagerie.
So I'm hastily opening pens and herding the animals outside when I come upon an injured hawk, whose been fitted with a breastplate of feathers as it'd lost its own. Its wings were also comprised of makeshift prosthetics which, as far as I could tell, involved gluing plastic feathers to the hawk's wing bones, which were exposed. Even though this bird was obviously in no condition for the wild, it became my mission to release it from its tiny cage, to a safer and more humane rehabilitation facility.
As dreams are wont to do, this one left no shortage of impossibilities that were magically plausible, and somehow there was a nearby wildlife rescue where the hawk could recuperate in peace, if only I could get him there.
Enter the villain. This man came upon my attempts at playing savior and under the guise of being helpful actually started to tear what few feathers my hawk had left off in a sort of singsong-y he loves me, he loves me not manner.
I became inconsolable and starting fighting against the ma, scooping up each feather and putting it back on my hawk's fake breastbone and asking the man very politely to please allow me to handle the bird, which until this point had been very docile and allowed my ministrations.
Now, of course, it was getting riled up and becoming increasingly more agitated.
I've never been near a hawk, injured or otherwise, but at least in my dreams, they're quite ferocious when injured and provoked, and my hawk tried btiing this man and clawing him, but was too weak to actually do any damage. The attempt, it seemed, only made him weaker. 
So now I'm distraught, fighting for the hawk who was powerless to fight for himself, and trying to get the man gone without agitating the bird even more.
This started the flow of tears, but I really started bawling hard when I realized I was waking up and would therefore be unable to know if I managed to successfully save him or not.
That's right. In my sleep-hazed brain, it made sense that I'd be so upset that my imaginary hawk wasn't saveable because I woke up and realized it was imaginary.
Since husband works nights, all I could do was text him the basics of my dream and try to calm myself down. He offered to make a "hug run" on his lunch, but even traumatized and half awake, I realized how silly I was being. There was no hawk. There was no villainous hawk tormentor. I didn't need to save a nonexistant hawk from a nonexistent man and certainly shouldn't be crying- not because of the dream, but because it was a dream.
Brains, man. They're whack.
I looked up what dreams about birds mean, and they supposedly represent your hopes, goals, and aspirations. Now, I'm no expert, but an injured to the point of death hawk doesn't seem to be a good symbol for my goals, really.
It seems my subconscious is either telling me that my wishes are a hopeless, dead in the water cause, in need of so much life support I might as well just give up, or that whole interpreting your dream thing is a bunch of nonsense and I shouldn't internet anymore.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Teen angst

Parents of teens have a whole different set of worries than parents of any other age group. And worse, they know they're less powerful, which means, obviously, that their children are at greater risk than any other children.
Most of the parenting blogs I read talk about mischievous toddlers and growing gradeschoolers. Very few of the blogs I frequent talk about the trials of teengers.
I have a couple of theories about why this is so, but the foremost idea is that the parents of teenagers have all been driven crazy, both by their children's behavior and also by the constant, nagging worry that it's going to get worse, and therefore don't have time to talk about the struggle.
Because actually? It does get worse.
In addition to raging hormones and snotty attitudes and an overwhelming sense of entitlement that parents of teens are dealing with, there's also the normal fears: they'll get sick or injured, have issues with bullying or problems within their peer groups, have trouble in school, or trouble adjusting to life's curveballs. Then there's also the fears and worries that come on once kids reach a certain age: drugs and drinking, sex, peer pressure, teaching them responsibilty, allowing them a certain amount of freedom, and just generally trying to convert them from the natural assholes that kids are into something slightly less.
Don't think kids are assholes? You've either drunk too much Kool-Aid or haven't been around any teenagers yet. But wait, your time will come.
The real trouble isn't actually with the new set of worries. Those worries could easily be managed if only we could all lock our children up, homeschool them, take away their communication devices, and bar their windows for the next seven to ten years.
Unfortunately, I'm informed that this isn't a viable option.
Not only can we not imprison them for their own safety, we must also be teaching them independence, as they're only a few short years away from doing whatever the hell they want without needing or even wanting our approval or guidance.
I spend the majority of my time- well, whatever's left after settling squabbles about whose turn it is to do the dishes or sit in the front seat or who left the milk out- the majority of the rest of my time is spent encouraging these kids to make their own choices, and helping them see which ones are good and which ones get them grounded.
I'm not raising kids. I have kids. I'm raising people. And these people, young as they are, have all realized at some point or another that I don't have one frigging clue about what I'm doing. Parenting books focus on keeping babies alive and teaching toddlers not to bite.
Very few people talk about how to tell your child she can't wear a certain item of clothing without slut shaming her. Don't understand that struggle? You've never had a headstrong young woman on your hands whose body has developed far more quickly than her brain, who can't understand why leggings and a crop top aren't appropriate for twelve year olds to wear to her uptight Christian school. Or anywhere. There's a fine line between giving her a reason that doesn't start and end with "Because I said so" and shaming her about her body- something she has no control over, and something you want to encourage her to feel good about, no matter what she wears.
But the world? It's a scary place, and while I'm prepping these monkeys to be let loose in it, I'm also striving to keep them safe from it, for just a little while longer.
At the same time, I have to ensure that they don't grow up to be part of the danger. Sure, at some point I'll not hold myself responsible for their actions, but for right now? Everything they do is because of me, or the other adult influences in their lives.
They learn much more from watching us than they do from my near-constant nagging.
Which is precisely why parenting them is so much harder. They're sneaky, you see. Skulking around listening to conversations that don't involve them, watching me text while driving even as I pass a sign that tells them death is imminent if they participate in such risky behavior, seeing me sneak a cookie when they're supposed to be in bed.
Teens, let's face it, don't listen to half of what we say. But unlike with younger kids who sort of follow rules and have regular bedtimes and can be fooled into believing we're nearly perfect, teens are also aware enough of their surroundings to call us out on all that bullshit.
They see our flaws, they notice our mistakes, and they're not shy about bringing this knowledge to our attention. So not only do we know we're just people who fail at a good many things, but we know they know.
The whole business is enough to drive a person to madness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Social Media for the Socially Inept

Most of the time, I'm bad at being a people. In person, this is especially true, as when faced with another human I tend to become a giant shitshow.
Stuttering, stammering, sweating profusely, and internally freaking out that my hair/face/clothes/makeup/shoes/teeth/breath/weird hand movements are all working against me to turn me into a freak. You know, because freaking out hasn't already done that. Externally, I know I must look like I have at least some of my shit together, as people trust me with their children and money. If there's one thing I know people don't trust others with easily, it's their money.
Unlike the majority of people, for me small, intimate gatherings are the absolute worst. Because nothing about me can be normal, I handle public speaking remarkably well, and actually prefer it to having a conversation with another person. Of course, what I really prefer is to not have to interact with other people in real time at all.
Enter social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, blogging, even texting all allow me to respond to people in my time, after having carefully chosen my tone of voice and the words I'll use. There's no one looking at my facial features or checking my body language for clues. All a person has to go on are my words.
You'd think, giant ball of narcissism that I am, that I'd revel in and enjoy the spotlight. And I do. Only not in person and not with people I can actually see.
Public speaking only works for me because I'm in charge of whether or not my audience reacts. There's this unspoken code of conduct that requires a group of people who are being addressed by one person to hold their counsel unless and until invited to do otherwise. I simply never invite them, and luckily, at least so far, no one really breaks the code because the rest of the world has better manners than I do.
I can't imagine living in any other era. I rely so heavily on my internet-connected devices to communicate with any and everyone that I truly can't imagine having to actually interact with other people face to face. The very thought of having to make individual phone calls if there's a scheduling change makes my palms sweat.
This is why getting a new comment or like or twitter follower- or even better- engaging in a conversation with another person via some type of online media is so thoroughly enjoyable for me. First, there's the human interaction everyone needs- even me, even though I don't want to actually see or hear any humans. Then there's the narcissism that kicks in, telling me I'm obviously beautiful and smart and funny if someone else takes the time to comment or respond. Clearly this makes life worth living.
It's quite the dichotomy: my desire to be left alone mashing up against my desire for outside forces to validate my very existence. I'd say I'm not alone in it, but frankly, I wouldn't know, as I tend not to talk to strangers. Or friends. Or the mailman.