Monday, April 30, 2007

Here Comes My Girl

Uttered by Miss M today, and in inadvertent summary of our entire 30-year-old-to-3-year-old relationship:

"I want you! I want you! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Getting To Feel Free And Easy

We now continue the Getting To Know Your Blogger series with my inaugural but sure to be repeated IM conversation with Stephanie of One Of Each, who I've just cyber-cornered at her desk during her mid-day break.

SAM: What's for lunch?
Stephanie: A turkey sandwich and a 100-calorie bag of microwave popcorn. That is my standard meal if I'm not at a restaurant for lunch.
SAM: Every dang day?
Stephanie: Pretty much.
SAM: Sounds sort of chillingly efficient. Is that why you drink so heavily in the evenings?
Stephanie: When I was doing Weight Watchers, I ate a light lunch so that there would be points left over for that evening's wine, so I guess they're related. But the kids are the main reason I drink.
SAM: Of course. With kids like yours, I'm not sure I’d have anything in the pantry but bourbon.
Stephanie: It's easier to ignore the size of Chloe's head if I have a good buzz.
SAM: That explains why you always bring wine to monkey gatherings.
Stephanie: We bring wine to every gathering. We love wine! We went to Napa and Sonoma on our honeymoon.
SAM: Okay, we can explore that more deeply in the Cry For Help section of the interview.
Stephanie: I thought this was supposed to be uplifting. I guess painting me as a lush is funny?
SAM: Well, your attorney asked me not to talk about the crack.
Stephanie: My attorney earns his retainer.
SAM: We can explore that more deeply in the Way, Way Too Personal Information About the Chockleyblogs section of the interview. Or not.
Stephanie: It's helpful to have an attorney on staff. Especially to fight the credit card companies when I keep getting my wallet stolen.
SAM: So let's get right to what the people really want to know: what is it, exactly and in as specific detail as possible, that makes you such an avid admirer and appreciator of SAM?
Stephanie: First of all, she's beautiful. Secondly, she's super-smart and a fantastic writer. But mostly she doesn't say much, so she almost never interrupts me when I'm talking.
SAM: This is the best interview ever. Microwave popcorn's on me for the next month.
Stephanie: I just bought a box of 42 at Costco! I got a tear in my eye when I saw the box- it's a new addition at Costco.
SAM: Costco makes me weep a little, but not really for the same reason.
Stephanie: Am I about to receive a lecture about its evils? Because I've got a box of Easy Mac at home that says you're wrong.
SAM: Oh, no, no. I don't necessarily equate soul-sucking with evil. Speaking of, what's your favorite reality TV show?
Stephanie: If buying in bulk makes me soul-less, I can probably live with that.
American Idol, of course.
SAM: I usually keep at least passing attention on it, but I've completely ignored it this season. I just can't stand that they've let Simon's haircut go on this long.
Stephanie: I think Simon is hot.
SAM: So does Simon.
Stephanie: True. That's part of his charm. Last night was their big charity/telethon thing. It has inspired much email debate about fundraising between me and my brother.
SAM: Your side being?
Stephanie: We were just questioning how much of a profit Fox made from advertising on last night's show, for one thing. Also, I thought their fundraising lacked focus. It was like they couldn't agree on one charity to support, so they just said "Poor kids!" and left it at that.
Plus Celine Dion did a duet with Elvis, and we were debating which level of hell the people who put that together will end up.
SAM: Handy segue: In my extensive research (i.e., reading the comments on my own blog), I uncovered that you have a background in fundraising. Tell the good people about that, please.
Stephanie: This will easily be the most embarrassing part of the interview.
I work at Rhodes College, my alma mater, in the Development Department. Development is a fancy word for fundraising, for those of you not in a non-profit. My job is to research potential prospects.
SAM: Dig up rich people?
Stephanie: Yes, it's as crass as it sounds. Part of the job is to dig them up, but a lot of my job is to prepare those who are going to do the asking before they go visit someone. Rich people know you are going to ask them for money, and they expect you to have a proposal geared towards their interests.
SAM: And teaching them the Secret Rich People Handshake?
Stephanie: Oh, the fundraisers never actually learn that. We don't make enough money.
A lot of my friends think I'm a stalker, but it's really about doing the ego dance with these people. Ask them for the right thing, ask for the right amount- they get insulted if you ask for too much or too little. Rich people know I exist. It's poor people who find my job repulsive.
SAM: In your extremely entertaining and informative interview with RJA, you made a comment about having "a mindless job that would leave you free to pursue your true passions." Or something like that. I'm too tired to look it up. Is that how you would describe your current job situation? Except not, you know, in front of your boss?
Stephanie: I wouldn't describe my job as mindless - I was really suggesting that for him. But I do have a job that I can leave behind at 5:00. I don't have so much work that I have to bring it home, or so much responsibility that I end up thinking about work when I'm not there.
My true passions are being a wife and mother. I realized too late that I was meant to be June Cleaver.
SAM: You do rock the heels.
Stephanie: I don't want anyone to know that I'm only 5'4''
But I was smart, went to college- I thought I was supposed to have a big career. I realized later on that my calling was more domestic than I had hoped, and I quit trying to satisfy my ego through my work.
SAM: So where do you see yourself in 15-20 years, when the kids are out of the house? Finishing that Masters?
Stephanie: Whatever for? In 15-20 years I have to still be working here so that the kids get a discount on college!
SAM: Yeah, that's our college savings plan, too. We figure the best way to get a kid to want to go to a specific college is to tell them they HAVE to.
Stephanie: I have a variety of options for my kids. Rhodes is free, but other colleges give a big discount. Associated Colleges of the South.
SAM: So no pressure at all for them to hang around home?
Stephanie: No. I sometimes regret not leaving Memphis when that perfect opportunity presented itself. I'm happy I stayed here and met Chip, but otherwise I should have taken the chance to leave when it was staring me in the face. It would have been easier to leave town at 18 than it would, say, now.
SAM: Because you're more established in your career and homelife or because of your irreplaceable, relentlessly cool social circle?
Stephanie: A lot more to uproot at this point than just myself, I guess. Everything from not having my mom right around the corner to Chip having to study for and pass another state's bar exam. But I'm not exactly pining to leave town right now. I just think I missed that easy opportunity to experience something else.
Right now I'm anxious to leave East Memphis. All the cool people are in Midtown.
SAM: And it's way safer.
Stephanie: I imagine my new cool neighbors would notice if someone walked out of my house with a TV.
SAM: We tend to be more alert to stuff like that. And we can try to block their escape cars with our hybrids.
Stephanie: Of course. Or run them down on your bikes.
SAM: Well, that would risk tipping over and crushing a basket full of organic papayas.
Stephanie: Well, I hope to get there soon.
SAM: We'd be lucky to have you.
Stephanie: Yes. Then we could have conversations like this in person, and perhaps they would make more sense. Of course, we're both in Midtown right now, but we can pretend like I was at home when you IM'd me.
SAM: Feel free to query any midtowner to see if they've ever had a conversation this long with me in person.
Stephanie: In person my answers would have been longer.
SAM: Ready for the Lightning Round?
Stephanie: Yes.
SAM: Alright. Here we go.
Who plays Stephanie in Chockleyblogs: The Movie?
Stephanie: Chip has long maintained that I look like Elisabeth Shue, but I'm not sure she has the chops to pull it off. I'm a complicated character.
SAM: Okay, Chip's insane. But moving on.
Farmer's market or grocery store?
Stephanie: Grocery store. We're not much for fresh vegetables in my family. And with that answer, Midtown will be rejecting my passport.
SAM: Yeah, you're lucky you got a work visa.
Paris or London?
Stephanie: Paris. (I've decided to embrace the spirit of the lightning round and quit explaining my answers.)
SAM: There we go.
Connery or Brosnan?
Stephanie: Connery
SAM: Paper or plastic?
Stephanie: Paper
SAM: White or red?
Stephanie: White
SAM: Movie theater or DVD?
Stephanie: DVD
SAM: Dining With Monkeys or Fertile Ground?
Stephanie: Fertile Ground
SAM: January or July?
Stephanie: Ugh. July
SAM: Back yard or front yard?
Stephanie: Front
SAM: Pro or NCAA?
Stephanie: Pro
They're all pros, though.
SAM: I'm still trying to explain to my dad why college athletes shouldn't get paid to play.
Stephanie: But they should!
SAM: They do. It's called a scholarship. To college.
Stephanie: So many people making so much money off of them. Pay them market value, and maybe they'd stay in school and finish their degrees.
A scholarship to college is valuable to someone who is going to use their education to earn a living. College athletes do not fall into that category.
SAM: Sigh. You're drunk right now, aren't you?
Stephanie: I wish!
SAM: I'll let you get back to soliciting the Howells in a moment, but because I think everyone should get a chance to publicly answer them, we'll close with the the Ten Questions from Inside the Actor's Studio and ... that French show about boullion.
What is your favorite word?
Stephanie: It's a tie between cocktail and kumquat
By the way, I hate these questions.
SAM: Angelina Jolie would never say that.
Stephanie: We can't all be Angie.
SAM: Okay, I'll just make up the other nine.
Stephanie: No! I'll answer them.
SAM: No, no, I don't want to end on a grudging note.
Stephanie: Well then, don't print the part where I say I hate these. I'll honestly answer. I just always feel I have the wrong answers!
SAM: How can it be wrong? Just don't do that actor thing where you pretend to stop and think about it when they've already got their responses all prepared.
Stephanie: Cocktail and kumquat were definitely prepared. I debated which one I would say, but had to go with the tie.
SAM: What is your least favorite ... American Idol theme night?
Stephanie: This season it was Latin night.
SAM: What turns you on?
Stephanie: Instant messaging, of course.
SAM: (flipping hair over my shoulder) Well.
What makes you turn the TV off?
Stephanie: When the electricity goes out.
SAM: What is your favorite curse word?
Stephanie: Douchebag
SAM: What sound or noise do you love?
Stephanie: Such a cliche, but my kids' voices
SAM: What sounds or noise do your children love making in public places?
Stephanie: Burps and farts. An occasional screech.
SAM: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? (I love how they say, "attempt," because James Lipton knows you're never going to make it without the proper job training.)
Stephanie: Sideline reporter on Monday Night Football.
SAM: What do you think is really the World's Oldest Profession?
Stephanie: Blogger
SAM: If Heaven exists beyond the lobby of Sakura, what would you like to hear The Great Sushi Master say when you arrive?
Stephanie: It's okay- we'll let you in anyway.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Working For The Next Day

Last night the SAM household hosted A Big Discussion. Or as big a discussion as is possible when I'm one half of the participants, anyway. We were going over our family financials and came to a number of unpleasant realizations about our current and foreseeable future status. Such discussions always lead to the question, spoken or not, about just what the hell I'm doing with my life. Am I an at-home mom? Well, obviously not, since I go to work five days a week. So am I a working mom? Well, that's sort of tricky to answer. I do run two businesses on my own, yes. And that's work. But most working adults draw a salary of some sort to pay for things like food and shelter and the childcare required to allow a full-time work schedule. So, really, what the hell am I doing?

I've been trying to answer this question for months now, ever since I announced that I was putting the store up for sale. At that point, I'd decided that it wasn't in our family interest to keep a stake in a business that was taking so much of my time and wasn't bringing any income, especially with another time-sucker ... er, baby on the way. I wasn't happy about it, per se, but I could see the advantages, especially when The Admiral's massive swaths of vacation time were repeatedly wasted by my tether to the store.

The plan then, as I saw it, was to sell the store and focus fully on booking, perhaps expanding into management, promotion or publishing. There would be virtually no overhead, my hours would be extremely flexible, and my pay would be determined by how much I was able to work rather than the fickle demands of the sling-buying public. Plus, I'd get to keep that minor degree of coolness imparted on music professionals. Maybe once the babies were bigger, I could tour manage, actually hitting the road and seeing all the cities I was vicariously working in.

But then something happened. Or a few somethings, maybe. Firstly, a really cool group of moms started coming to the store on a regular basis, anchoring our playgroup and resurrecting our breastfeeding support group. They became good friends and compatriots, and their concern over the future of the store made me start questioning the true necessity of my leaving. And listening to their questions. Could I make a go of it if I had more help? Were there marketing opportunities or revenue streams I wasn't yet taking advantage of? If I couldn't find a buyer, I wouldn't really, truly just close the doors, would I?

Then I noticed a For Rent sign in a newly renovated house across the street and started having fantasies about what we could offer in that kind of space - more classes, bigger gatherings, maybe even a diaper service. I told the other moms about it, I discussed it with The Admiral, I practically decorated it over the phone with my mom. I started making a business plan to include the capital I'd need to expand. I could really see things working out.

And then the sign went down, just like that. As if the owner couldn't psychically glean all my big plans for that space. When I saw the empty spot on the lawn, my first reaction was disappointment. I didn't know how attached I'd gotten to my hypotheticals until I realized they couldn't happen. It got me wondering how I'd really feel about selling or, worse, closing the business, and whether I'd really considered all of my options.

During all of this, of course, I was trying to set up anywhere from 1 to 4 multi-state tours at a time. And that ... was not fun. As much as I enjoy working with musicians and going to shows, the daily drudgery of pimping gigs is a consistently soul-sapping venture. I also felt like I was always behind, always neglecting at least one artist (usually more) for the sake of another. I have a very low tolerance for disappointing people, and even when I was trying my hardest, I couldn't shake the feeling that someone was constantly disappointed in me. And then I'd get just a teence resentful that I was exhausting myself on behalf of grown (childless) adults when I could have been spending an equal amount of time doing something more personally rewarding. Like napping.

So ... easy decision, then? Scrap the booking and save the store? Sigh. Of course it can't be that simple. For starters, I'm about to the end of the fraying rope that's passed for my operating capital. I can't keep the store open without an investor or outside loan, both of which I'm reluctant to pursue. And then there's the reality of this tiny person about to emerge from my body. I had 8 weeks of maternity leave with Miss M before I had to go back to the rigors of my at-home office, and it was still a very tough transition. I imagine being able to spring back and come to work with a 2-week-old strapped to my chest, but I have to keep reminding myself how fatigued and frazzled and possibly physically encumbered I'll be. I've had lots of moms offer to help out, but I know I'd still need to be heavily involved in the day to day, just to make sure bills were getting paid.

Yet another factor: the most likely potential buyer for the store won't be making a decision until at least late May. As in, two weeks before I have a baby. So at this point, my options aren't fully known, and they won't be until it's just a fraction before too late. And as much as my college study habits would indicate otherwise, I really prefer not to put anything that important off to the very last minute.

All of this was going through my head last night as we were trying to figure out how we're going to afford Miss M's next month of school and the dog's overdue annual exam all in the same pay period. It's a crushing feeling, as anyone with money woes knows too well. But I tend to take it personally, too. It wasn't all that long ago that The Admiral and I were bringing roughly the same size paychecks into the house, and it's still a blow to my pride (and degree) that I'm not making that kind of contribution anymore. It's also a scary feeling to be a mother to almost-two and not have any sort of financial independence. Without The Admiral, we'd be sunk (boat pun intended but regretted).

So, much like this post, there's no quick, easy wrap-up. The questions are still lingering, with no obvious answer in sight. The sign is there one day, and then gone the next.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

La La La-La La Laaa

There are certain things I expected as a parent. The diapers, the late nights, the constant, inexplicable stickiness - all part of the territory. But I also had certain expectations regarding the small, simple pleasures of parenting. The first smile, those big gummy kisses, and perhaps most importantly, the distant but vivid promise of weekend sleep, granted by the blissful tranquility that only four straight hours of animated programming can provide. I have waited three years for Saturday morning cartoons and now that we can actually make use of them, I've made a startling discovery. Saturday morning cartoons suck.

The first problem is that none of the major networks, at least in Memphis, airs cartoons before 10 am. How, exactly, does that help me? Do they think my pre-schooler is going to sit quietly through a rebroadcast of last night's news or the championship round of Knowledge Bowl? The only hope of finding a "baby show," as Miss M calls them, is to flip on Fox or the CW or the church channel. Giving us the unsettling choice between Power Rangers or low-rent Muppet knock-offs spouting Bible verses.

By the time the big guys start showing cartoons, we're all up and nearly ready for the day, but if we bother to turn something on, odds are good that it will be something ridiculous like "Horseland" or "Trollz" (actual title of the Trollz theme song: "It's A Hair Thing!"). With enough scanning, it's possible to find a couple acceptable options - The Replacements on ABC is decent, but it's sandwiched between a bunch of live action tween fluff.

Maybe the networks have given up trying to compete with the increasing number of all-cartoon or kid-directed cable channels, but as a family that had to bail cable so we could afford to feed our recovering Noggin addict, free TV is our only hope. If we're lucky, we might hit the Babar/Dragon double-header while we're trying to shower or do laundry, but that's really not what I need. I need wall-to-wall, small-child-friendly entertainment from 7-9 am. I need shows that don't make my daughter think that femininity requires a credit card and equine companion. I need the ever-lovin' Smurfs!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt

I hate The Ticker. You know, the string of random, unrelated items that appears in a constant stream across the bottom of the screen during morning programs and cable "news" shows. The local NBC affiliate has an especially strange collection of ticker fodder, throwing together 9-word reports on everything from traffic accidents to Britney Spears. So I can't decide if it is a colossal insult or an amazing universal joke that, somewhere between headlines about the Minister-Shooting Wife and the Racially Insensitive Radio Host, I read that, "Author Kurt Vonnegut has died at the age of 84."
Photo credit: Jill Krementz
The words hit me straight in the gut, and I made some sort of noise. "Oh," maybe. Or, "shit." Something very literary like that. I went on with my morning, getting the child ready for school and reassembling the house and preparing for work, but with that initial ache still present somewhere deep inside me.

I've never understood the people who lay memorial wreaths on the gates of celebrity homes, making such a public demonstration of mourning for someone they never met. But this morning I felt more sympathy for them, understanding from a personal perspective how the loss of someone unknown but revered could bring out that need to remember and respect the ways a stranger's life can affect your own.

Like so many other avid fans, I discovered Vonnegut as a teenager, the perfect age to come across literature that recognizes the total lunacy of nearly every human institution. But as a burgeoning writer, his work also struck me for its ability to mix satire, parody, and scatological humor yet still make it onto the required reading list. It was the first time I was aware that "serious" literature could also be really, really funny. Other than my beloved Twain, I hadn't come across another writer who got any credit from the society at which he poked such merciless fun. Reading Vonnegut was like learning the secret handshake into The Ironist's Club.

I admit that I haven't read the entire Vonnegut oeuvre, but I hold three of his novels to me like cherished friends: Bluebeard, Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five. Rabo, Kilgore and Billy have lived in my head since my adolescence, speaking clear truths with fingers crossed behind their backs, cracking their deadly serious jokes. They're just as alive today as they were yesterday, and they will live on for lifetimes to come. It breaks a place in my heart to know that the brilliant, hilarious man who created them is gone from our midst, but it's hard to mourn a man whose work has left an indelible mark on this and at least three other planets.

He survived the firebombing of Dresden. He died because he fell down.

So it goes.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Doctor, My Eyes

I'm an admitted minimalist when it comes to medical interventions, but when I do bother to see a doctor, I believe in being upfront and providing all necessary information in order to receive an accurate diagnosis. Unless, of course, it's the eye doctor. Before I even arrived at Dr. W's office this morning, I'd already practiced my not-quite-truthful answers to questions like, "How long do you usually wear your (supposedly disposable) contacts before throwing them out?" (Um, two weeks ... ish.) "How many hours a day do you wear your contacts?" (Ten is a reasonable number, right? I put them in at 7 am and ... okay, maybe 11.) and "How long have you been wearing this current pair of lenses?" (For some reason, 5 months seems less irresponsible than 7, so ... let's go with 5.).

I don't think I fooled him, though. Dr. W. busted out the PowerPoint slides of his corneal ulcer patient, carefully explaining how bacteria can eat through my eyeball, which is already nearly dead from lack of oxygen. It seemed a bit dramatic, but maybe that's just because no opthamologist has ever given me a single warning about wearing contacts. In the ten years I've been sticking foreign objects into my eyes, I've never had a doctor detail any serious consequences of contact lens use. I haven't been as bad about taking care of my eyes as I have, say, my teeth (what? 8 years is longer than the recommended period between check-ups?), but constant changes in insurance coverage have stymied any efforts at consistent care.

I wanted to explain all that to Dr. W, that my failures as a patient were really due to financial issues and not a general disregard for my corneal health, but I was too busy trying on my fancy new non-toddler-warped glasses. After all that discussion on the importance of airing my eyeballs out, I figured I might as well have a cute way to do it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

You Went To School To Learn, Girl

Last night, as we were sitting outside watching Miss M sing and sign her way through an unbearably cute and thoughtfully brief Montessori Centennial program, I realized it's been almost exactly one year since she began attending her school. It's hard to recognize that so much time has passed since her squirming, screaming body was wrenched from mine. Lovingly wrenched, of course. The thing that most impressed and comforted me as Miss M spent her first days away from my constant presence was knowing that the staff was looking out for her emotional needs just as much as her social and educational ones. They acknowledged her need for a temporary pseudo-mom and let her spend her first couple months attached to them rather than pushing her out onto her peers. Their experience gave them patience with her shyness, into which she retreated for several weeks. I was surprised when I picked her up one day and a teacher exclaimed happily, "She's talking now!" It hadn't occurred to me at that point that my little stream-of-consciousness reporter wouldn't be talking, although having seen her work through an increased number of new social situations over the past year, I now realize that's her M.O. But her teachers understood the pattern right away, and rather than stressing either of us out about it, they helped her find her place and get comfortable enough to show her true self.

As I wrote after our parent-teacher conference, Miss M has more than found her place - she has set up a fiefdom. She has a gaggle of friends, a stunning new skill set, and the love of her teachers. All in all, it's a perfect situation. The only problem lately is that she's decided she doesn't want to learn her letters, and this pains me. Not only because she says it makes her "feel shy" when she tries to practice them, which I interpret to mean that she's encountering those first prickles of shame at not being able to catch on to something as quickly as other kids, but also because, what? My kid? Not being interested in letters? This is a possibility I hadn't considered. While Kristy is trying to overcome her math-phobia on behalf of her offspring, I'm now trying to let go of the expectation that my child will be the voracious reader that every other woman in our family is. When my first grade class had library time, I was given special permission to wander away from the picture books and indulge in the high shelves of chapter books. My sister made reading into an Olympic sport, breaking world records as she sped through Little Women for the ninth time. And I can't even think of my mom without picturing a book in front of her. She could even fall dead asleep and still manage to balance an open book on her chest. (Usually one about a serial killer, the cover illustrated with various bloody, dismembered body parts embossed on a creepy, domestic tableau of a background, but that's a traumatic recollection for another day. Oh, and happy birthday, Mom!)

I don't really even recall learning how to read - it was just something I could do, almost from the time of my earliest memories. I don't know if I ever resisted it, or got frustrated by the trickier elements - silent letters, irregular verbs, what a participle was and how to avoid dangling one. The only performance-based school activity I never dreaded was reading out loud. But it has recently come to my attention that The Admiral was just the opposite. I've never known the man to sit down with a novel, but he can burn through an electrical engineering textbook like it's the latest Patterson confection, so I was surprised when we were talking about school memories and he shuddered in remembrance of being called on to read aloud. He abhorred it. It terrified him. I daresay it made him "feel shy." Knowing this, and seeing Miss M's reaction to the dreaded letter boards, has forced me to dump my prejudices against "non-readers" and acknowledge that a passion for fiction isn't necessarily a predictor of future success.

Her ability to perfectly time every movement to their choreographed school song, however, clearly indicates she's an unstoppable genius.