Friday, February 29, 2008

Head Cold Haiku

Will someone please tell my cold that by now I should be getting better, not worse? Six days into this, I suddenly ache so much it's hard to type, and I can barely talk. I would swear I have the flu, only this didn't come on like flu, and I don't have fever. Do you think it will embarrass Ben if I drive carpool this afternoon in my pajamas?

In my compromised state, I'm not feeling particularly creative, but I did pen this little piece for Haiku Friday.

Haiku Friday

I doubt a high school English teacher would like it, but at least it's topical.

Chicken soup almost gone,
I still can’t breathe through my nose.
Colds suck donkey balls.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

At Least They'll Fit In With The Other Diesel Mechanics

It has come to my attention that the Bird boys lack certain fundamental hygiene skills.

It's nothing I smell -- we undoubtedly consume more Speed Stick per capita than most households in Fox Valley. I'll never need air freshener as long as Billy and Ben and their manly-yet-fresh aromas are around.

No, the clues are more subtle than mere B.O.

The first came a couple of years ago, when Billy began to develop acne. When I bought him special cleanser, he couldn't seem to get the hang of what he was supposed to do with it. That's when I learned that he didn't actually wash his face. He just let the shower run over it and called it clean.

(Perhaps this misunderstanding of product usage is genetic. Years ago my mother and I ascertained after exhaustive investigation that the reason my father's hair always looked peculiar was that he thought cream rinse was to be used to rinse shampoo out of hair. The man was wearing a 20-year accumulation of Tame and Prell.)

Then there was Ben's hair. He's got more of it than the other three of us put together, and I began to notice that about two-thirds of it wasn't wet when he finished shampooing. It turns out that he was only washing the top of his head, not the sides. We've repeatedly discussed the fact that all of it gets dirty, but I haven't seen much improvement.

The boys' hygiene is weighing heavy on my mind this week, as they dress rehearse for their roles in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Ben is PigPen, which means the girls in the cast take great delight in smearing his face, neck, hands, and arms with all manner of brown cosmetics to make him look appropriately filthy. (Boys who won't do theatre because you have to wear makeup are missing a vital point: it's the girls in the cast who know how to apply it. You don't see football players sitting there being rubbed on by several girls, at least not while they're actually playing football.) He's arrived home each of the last several nights a complete mess.

The problem is that when he comes down to breakfast the next morning, he's still a complete mess. Twice I've had to grab a washcloth and start scrubbing to get the "dirt" off his arms and neck. He seems to think this is much ado about nothing.

Bob and I have done our best to coach on these things, but I fear we've waited too late. Only a couple of neat-freak girlfriends can save our boys now.

I wish I'd been as smart as that clever Anne Glamore, who writes Tales From My Tiny Kingdom. Earlier this week Anne pulled on her bathing suit, instructed a particularly grimy young son to don his, and took him into the shower for a body washing workshop. (Here, read for yourself. She and her brood are ever so entertaining.)

Unfortunately, 17-year-old Billy and 14-year-old Ben are way too old for us to legally teach them the same way.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Am My Own Mother

After weeks of avoiding the dozens of viruses flying around Fox Valley like so many golden snitches, it appears tonight that I've finally succumbed to one. Either that, or a bale of hay has taken up residence in my throat and chest.

I know, of course, exactly where this bug must have come from: the talent show. (It's the volunteer commitment that just keeps on giving.) Not that it matters. Wherever they came from, these germs are mine to deal with now.

It's times like these when a girl needs chicken soup, preferably cooked by someone else, ideally her mother. But my mother's several states away, and she wouldn't be a source of soup even if she lived next door. My mother -- under most circumstances a woman of incredible intelligence --is one of those people who reaches for antibiotics at the first sign of a cold. I suspect that she is the largest single consumer of Z-paks in the southeastern United States.

Nor were any other chicken soup cooks available tonight. My husband does many things around this place, but cooking is not one of them. Back in his bachelor days, he and a housemate learned how to make two things: spaghetti and chicken thighs. One night it was spaghetti, the next it was chicken thighs, then back to spaghetti, and so on. (If they wanted variety, they plopped some cottage cheese on top of the spaghetti and called it lasagna.) Our marriage has yet to provide Bob the opportunity to expand his repertoire, and I've yet to be both sick and in the mood for either of the dishes in it..

My kids love to cook, as long as it's expensive, unhealthy, and requires the dirtying of many dishes. Chicken soup would not interest them. Besides, they had play practice tonight.

So it was clear that if I wanted chicken soup over the next few days, I was going to have to make it myself. So I did. I made some chicken broth (I don't know if science backs this up, but it seems to me that there's bound to be more of whatever is cold-fighting in homemade chicken broth than in Swanson's) and then I made the following soup. This recipe serves 10, which means it should last me until my cold is better. In the meantime, the rest of my family can eat spaghetti and chicken thighs.


5 T. butter (normally I'd substitute olive oil but when I feel bad I want the real stuff)
1 c. (or more) sliced mushrooms
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. (or more) chopped celery (be sure to chop up a bunch of the leaves because that's where the flavor is)
1/3 c. flour
6 c. chicken broth (homemade stuff, or the Swanson's kind from the box)
1 c. half and half (since I went with butter, I had to use the fat free half and half)
salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste (just a pinch of cayenne -- this isn't Mexican, for gosh sakes)
a pound or more of cooked chicken, mostly white meat, shredded
a box of Uncle Ben's long and wild rice mix, cooked with the seasoning packet according to directions
2 T. dry white wine (I'm all for wine, but don't go pouring in a cup or anything -- 2 T. is perfect)

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Cook the mushrooms until they're tender. Add the onion and celery and cook until tender.
Sprinkle in the flour, stir, and let it cook two or three minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and wine, and season to taste. Cook a few minutes until it thickens a little. Mix in the chicken and the cooked rice. When everything's heated through, turn off the heat (actually you can just turn it real low if you use regular half and half), and mix in the half and half. Serve and feel better.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Friday has always been the best day of the week, but when you've just been sprung from the prison of a lengthy volunteer commitment, it's sublime. I've been buzzing around like a happy and relaxed bee all day now that the middle school talent show is one for the books.

I can't say that the show went off without a hitch, but I can say that it began, it ended, and that I never have to do it again. Britney, Jamie Lynn, and the other dancing girls all participated; once their parents accepted that the same rules applied to their girls as to the other 27 acts in the show, the girls magically appeared at dress rehearsal and were all crowd pleasers in the show. We had a bit of a problem with a rather frightening dad who couldn't be convinced that the piano all the other kids were using was good enough for his son; he showed up with an electric keyboard the size and weight of a rock-filled coffin and the "family" sound system. We finally gave in on the keyboard -- the dancing girls had taken their toll on our psyches, although not as much as hauling that damn thing around took on our rotator cuffs -- but the dad consented to use the school sound system after our sound guy (who had the distinct persuasive advantage of being male) convinced the father that we little women and our substandard microphones could do his son justice.

And though dealing with some of the parents was a tremendous pain in the ass, dealing with some of the children helped me to understand why there are those who claim they love to work with teenagers. (Let me be clear: I am not yet a convert. I just understand the point of view a little better.)

For every overly polished, overly choreographed, overly indulged dance duo, there was a sweet young thing with pitch problems who was just thrilled to get to sing in front of her grandparents.

For every band infected with a terminal case of too-cool-for-school, there was another that ended their set looking at each other in disbelief as dozens of girls -- many of them fully grown -- stood up and cheered.

For every child who acted like he could teach us a thing or two, there was one whose eyes filled with tears when his guitar string broke right before he was to go one.

And for every child whose hands and voice were trembling as he or she started to perform, there was a slightly more confident young person standing there when the curtain closed.

All in all it's been a lovely week ... and I couldn't be happier that it's over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Stage Mama Scorned

When I started blogging at the first of the year, I assumed that the PTA arts festival I've been co-chairing at Ben's school would provide lots of material. Adolescent children, helicopter parents, my own totally undeserved reputation for being "so organized!" -- really, what more could I ask? But week after week, this six-week "celebration of the arts" -- visual, literary, and performing -- has droned on, with nary a mildly amusing anecdote to relate. I was about to give up hope. Until a couple of days ago, when the universe IM'ed me. Oh ye of little faith! it said.

Actually, the universe was starting to drop little hints a year ago. I was a co-chair of this event in 2007. Our best-in-show winner -- an eighth grade boy who was just like Jimi Hendrix, only rich, white, and not nearly as talented -- decided he had better things to do than honor us with his presence at the dress rehearsal for our showcase, the public event where the kids the judges have picked as winners get to perform for parents, friends, and classmates. When we called him to say that if he wanted to strut his stuff in front of the entire school the following night, he'd better be there in 15 minutes, he told us he'd be there within an hour. My fellow chairs and I are patient women, but after four hours of listening to middle school rock bands, country singers, and dramatic actors, we were ready to head home and pull out the corkscrews, so we told him not to bother. The next morning, Jimi Jr.'s dad called the vice principal, a man who walks the halls swinging a stick; the vice principal told us we had to let the kid in the show; and the little darling thumbed his nose at us with a way-over-the-time-limit jam session that met with thunderous applause. (If only Jimi knew that one of our mom/roadies had been trying to yank his amp cord out of the socket just as he stopped on his own.)

This year, we were ready. At the suggestion of no less than the school principal (he'd been out of town last year when the vice principal told us to shut up and tend to our knitting), we required the parents of each performing entrant to sign a pledge, carefully drafted by moi (for this I went to law school?) promising that their child would show up for dress rehearsal if chosen as a winner. "FAILURE TO DO SO MEANS YOUR CHILD WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN SHOWCASE," my pledge stated.

And that wasn't all. We told the kids back in December not to enter if they couldn't be at the dress rehearsal. We broadcast the policy, as well as the fact that the dress rehearsal might go on for hours, on the school website. We even sent parents a letter in January saying that the dress rehearsal would last until 6:30 or later. This year, we were covered.

Or so we thought.

Our first inkling that perhaps we might have a problem came just minutes after we announced the winners last week. Two of our winners, twin sisters who danced together, timidly approached us. "When is the dress rehearsal?" one of them -- let's call her Britney -- asked. "Cause we have a dance team dress rehearsal that day," the other -- let's call her Jamie Lynn -- told us. We reminded the girls that their mother had signed a form saying they'd be there. "Yes, ma'am," they said in unison and hurried off.

Friday night, as I was settling in for a three-day holiday weekend, I got an e-mail from another mother. "My daughter has a mandatory dance team dress rehearsal that conflicts with your dress rehearsal. We were hoping you could work with us so that our girls can do both."

Now, on the face of it, I'll grant you that the mother's request didn't sound unreasonable. Nor did the e-mail I got on Sunday from yet another dance team mother saying she wanted to "work with us" so that her daughter could be in both our talent show and what apparently is the Most Important Dance Team Competition in the History of the Western World.

But there's more to this than meets the eye. I won't bore you with all the reasons, only two of them.

First, back in December we told five very talented children -- including one who beat Britney and Jamie Lynn last year -- that they had to choose between the talent competition and a play they'd been cast in because the two shows had conflicting dress rehearsals. Was it fair to those kids to let Britney, Jamie Lynn, and their dance teammates bend the rules because they didn't tell us about their conflict until after they'd already won?

Second, "work with us" apparently means something different in the dance team world than in the one where the rest of us live. Our idea of "working" with these moms was for each side to give a little to get a little. Their idea of "working with us" was to try to wear us down until we consented to let them do whatever they wanted.

Their "Operation Make 'Em Change Their Mind" began on Sunday. In the wake of the e-mails, I'd conferred with Carol, another of the show chairmen, but Alice, our evil triplet, was out of town. I was awaiting her return Sunday night when Britney and Jamie Lynn's mother -- let's call her Lynn -- called.

Lynn's voice was dripping with honey, but what she said was anything but sweet. She told me our rehearsal was too long because we'd scheduled far too much time for each act. (Obviously she hasn't dealt with adolescent rock 'n' roll bands, with their endless sound checks and their parent roadies. Those folks would keep Jesus waiting.) She told me her kids didn't need a dress rehearsal because they'd been on stage so much. (Maybe not. But were we supposed to consider each act one by one to decide who had sufficient experience and who didn't?) She told me that we'd never made clear that our dress rehearsal would last more than a couple of hours. When I told her that in fact the parent letter I'd sent out last month actually did just that, she said she'd have to "take my word" that I'd actually e-mailed it to her.

That was it. My voice was rising to an unchairmanly volume. I told her I would get back to her once we'd reached a decision.

Alice got back to town later that night, and she agreed with Carol and me that we should stand our ground. But we decided we'd e-mail the principal and make sure he had our back before we told these girls' mothers their children had to come to our dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, Ben was launching a flank attack. (I realize I'm using vaguely militaristic language, but this had started to feel like war.) "Mom, you've got to let them in," he said. "Jamie Lynn's the only cheerleader who speaks to me."

Monday we waited. Around 7:30, Lynn called. "Just checking to see if you've made a decision," she said cheerily.

"Not yet," I snarled.

Around 8, Britney and Jamie Lynn's dad called me. "I know you've got a tough decision to make." He sounded like I was the president and he was seeking a pardon. "I just wanted to make sure you knew how important this is to Britney and Jamie Lynn. I hope you haven't gotten the impression somehow that we think the talent show dress rehearsal doesn't matter." (Strangely, I had. That was probably because Lynn had essentially told me Sunday night that the talent show dress rehearsal didn't matter.)

Perhaps sensing that I wasn't convinced, Jamie Spears -- I mean, the girls' dad -- kicked it up a notch. "We've spent $600 on Britney and Jamie Lynn's costumes and music and on their choreographer just for this talent show."

Now I don't mean to be judgmental, but on what planet does it make sense to spend $600 on a talent show entry? Not only is it a sign of incredibly poor judgment, over-indulgent parenting, and distorted values, it's not a real persuasive argument for why you should receive special treatment. If it were, I'd phone Yale up right now and tell them they should let Billy in next year because we've spent a hell of a lot on SAT prep.

No sooner had I gotten off the phone with Daddy than I received an e-mail from the principal. "I've got the flu and will be out all week. We've accommodated people for years. Now it's time they accommodated the PTA. I support your decision to require these girls to attend dress rehearsal." I phoned Alice, who agreed she'd be the one to call Lynn with the news.

Fifteen minutes later, she called back. Lynn was just as outraged as we'd expected. She'd eventually hung up on Alice, but not before saying "Do you even have children?" To which Alice replied, "Do you think I'd be chairing a middle school talent show if I didn't?"

I'd love to say I slept better Monday night, but I didn't really. I kept thinking things like "Our best argument is ..." and "we should make the case that ..." For this, it turns out, I did go to law school. And I wasn't the only one who wasn't getting much sleep.

At 7:45 this morning, my phone rang. A croaky voice spoke to me from the other end of the line. It was the principal, calling to get a little more detail, since he had already received a phone call and an e-mail from two different sets of parents about our decision.

He still supports us, and we've heard nothing more today from the dance team parents. But it's still 17 hours till the dress rehearsal begins. I won't be surprised if the superintendent of schools calls me tomorrow for a little chat.

So this is what we've come to, folks: a world where some parents are so determined that their children get every single opportunity to show off in front of an audience that they insist the rules shouldn't apply to them, spend $600 on choreography and a couple of costumes, and get a sick principal out of bed at night, all while their children are watching.

It's enough to make Mama Rose blush.

Friday, February 15, 2008

You Must Remember This

Show me a premenopausal woman, and I'll show you someone who secretly worries she's got Alzheimer's.

There's my friend who forgot she'd agreed to feed the neighbors' dog while they were gone for the weekend. (Fortunately, the doggy's owners returned and reclaimed their key, which is what finally prompted my friend to think "Dog... what dog... oh my God, that dog.")

There's my other friend, who had a detailed discussion with some mutual friends one night about exactly what grade Billy is in. "Billy's a senior, right?" she asked. My friends told her he was a junior, which surprised her and prompted several minutes of "are you sure?" conversation. The very next night, she was out with the same group. "Billy's a senior, right?" (She still swears the topic had never previously come up.)

And then there's me. I routinely call Billy Ben and Ben Billy, and I can't find my car in a parking lot without whirling my keychain panic button over my head like a lasso.

I'm happy to report there's a new book out there for women like me and my forgetful friends. It's Where Did I Leave My Glasses: The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss, by Martha Weinman Lear. (Pictured beneath the title on the cover of the book is a woman with her glasses on her head. This title and cover are so perfect together that I really hate whoever came up with them.) Yesterday, I think it was, Ms. Lear was interviewed on Fresh Air. You can listen to it here.

She says we shouldn't worry, as long as we can still do things like list fruits and vegetables. (For these purposes, I'm sure it's fine if you classify a tomato as either.) It's completely normal for people at a certain stage in life --I'm not saying exactly when it starts, but smart-ass teenagers who make fun of forgetful parents ought to count their memory blessings while they still can-- to have trouble with three things: remembering names ("remind me again who you are?"), multitasking (i.e., living in America), and processing new information (so that's why I can't get photos in my blog entries!).

I couldn't help but note that Ms. Lear's research indicates a key component to improved memory is paying attention. If you're doing three things at one time but only really focusing on one, the other two aren't going to make much of a footprint on your gray matter. Which means before the night is over I'll have totally forgotten that I watched The News Hour this evening while I wrote this entry.

So check out this book. If you're like me, though, you better order it from Amazon right now, or in a day or two you'll see it in a bookstore and say "What a clever idea for a book! Why didn't I think of that?"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sleeping Through the Night

I knew my boys would keep me up all night when they were babies. The surprise is that they still do.

There were a few years in there, from around 3 to 13, where pretty much everyone in this house went to bed when I thought they should and got up when I wanted them to. But those days are over.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly sleepless ones for the Bird family. Bob and I do our best to make sure one of us is awake until the kids get home, although sometimes exhaustion takes over, in which case the late arrival has to wake us up when he gets in. There's an obvious flaw in this plan; a child who doesn't come home isn't going to be rousing us. But sometimes it's the best we can do.

Billy's into technical theatre, and last week he was working on a show till 11 or later most every night, arriving home just in time to do a few hours of homework. One night he called Bob (I was in California) when rehearsal was over. It was 11. "I'm going to Kate's for a study group for the AP Chemistry test," he said. Had I been home, my response would have been a quick "Oh no you're not." But Bob's a pushover, and so Billy was out studying -- and Bob was up vegetating -- till 1 a.m. (I know what you're thinking, but based on his test grade, if he was somewhere besides Kate's, AP chemistry was nonetheless being discussed.)

The final production of Billy's show was Sunday night, and again, he didn't get home till after midnight -- with a paper yet to write. Now here's the amazing thing. HE WASN'T PARTICULARLY TIRED. The same could not be said for Bob and me. Monday our asses were dragging. By that night, when Billy and Ben arrived home from practice for a different play at 9:30, Bob and I were propping our eyelids up with toothpicks. But relief was not in sight. Ben was so freaked about how much homework he had left to do that he was literally vibrating. I thought he needed a good dose of Momitol, so I sat nearby while he plowed through. By the time Tuesday rolled around, I felt like I'd been plowed.

Even had I been well rested, I would've still been Bitchy Mom when Billy announced that night at 10 that he was headed out for another group study session. I put my foot down. Which was why I was surprised when 15 minutes later he announced he was running to the grocery store to get the cookies and Cokes he had signed up to bring for the next day's student government blood drive. He would've gone, too, if I hadn't convinced him all the groceries in our area were closed. (This is because they are operated by adults, not teenagers.)

By Wednesday a.m., I was so tired it hurt. But help was finally on the way.

The last year or so, I've become quite the snorer. My husband, who is sweet, merely has to wake me up a few times a night to ask me to reposition. My friends, who are not sweet, refuse to room with me on our annual trips and make obnoxious jokes about the insufficiency of earplugs. So I saw a sleep specialist, who set me up for an overnight sleep study. Wednesday was The Big Night.

For some reason I had to be photographed when I checked in. The nurse told me I was the first patient who'd smiled for the camera all evening. "Why are you so happy?' she asked.

"Because I'm so excited to be here!" I told her. Yes, folks, this is what I've been reduced to: an exhausted mother smiling like a crazy person about the prospect of a night in a sleep clinic.

It's not that I like wires, about 700 of which are taped to you before they let you turn in, or hospital breakfasts, which they serve you the next morning. (Beware of orange hash browns.) It's that when you go to a sleep disorders clinic, no one there wants you to help with homework or finish cleaning up the kitchen or spend another four or five hours on a work project. You're not expected to stay up until someone else is ready for bed. The only thing they want you to at the sleep clinic is sleep. It's your job.

I excel at sleeping, or so I thought. According to some of those 700 wires, I was asleep exactly 90 seconds after the nurse told me good night. But some of the other wires revealed something else. My snore is so loud that I'm waking myself up. A lot. Okay, if you must know -- approximately every 30 seconds.

This puts my constant exhaustion in perspective. Not only am I staying up way later than I want to, when I'm sleeping I'm not really asleep. I'm just impersonating a sleeper. And Bob? He's what they refer to in the sleep business as "collateral damage."

Obviously this has got to stop. Next week I'll see an ENT to decide what to do. Apparently there are all sorts of vaguely menacing sounding surgical procedures -- you don't really want details -- that will likely take care of the problem.

"If they can't fix it, though, we're not done with you," the doctor said. "We'll bring you back in here, and after you finish your night sleep, we'll keep you here for a day and watch you while you take five naps."

I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bird Baths

The only bad thing about my annual “girl” trip to Palm Springs is that I have to come home. Not that I don’t love my family, but the times I spend with them are not nearly so relaxed as the five days I just spent with my best girlfriends. (Actually, one of those days was spent in an airport, but given that all I had to do was read Middlesex, which is thus far a really incredible book, it still felt like a vacation.) The cost of time away is piles of dirty clothes, a dirtier-than-usual house, and moldy food in the fridge. I can’t describe the feeling any better than one of my fellow travelers did in an e-mail last night.

So I was just comparing:

a random day in Palm Springs (breakfast cooked by someone other than me / hiking / laughing / lunch cooked by someone other than me / laughing / spa treatments / sunshine / laughing / shopping/ chocolate / hot tubbing / crisp white wine followed by a pinot noir/ laughing / dinner cooked by someone other than me)
my first day back home (kitchen counter covered with week's worth of mail / scheduling appliance service call / refilling teenagers' acne prescriptions / threatening letter from internist for unpaid bill / SOS call from director of development at local charity whose board I serve on / false alarm from malfunctioning security system / boatloads of unreturned phone calls and e-mails / Whole Foods and Publix / eye exam for daughter No. 1 / arrival of port-a-potty-emptying tanker truck/ prospective parent interviews at school).

Do we have an exact date yet for next year?

Not that my trip was totally problem-free. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I have an annoying tendency to fall down when I’m with these women. The first night we were in Paris, for example, I didn’t see three steps, at the bottom of which I discovered that my right ankle no longer worked. (I’m here to tell you – Paris is lovely even from the window of a tour bus.) I was with these women when I landed on my butt on a foggy beach in Brittany; when I walked straight into a screen door last week; and last Friday, when I fell on my face while hiking down an alarmingly steep mountain. I’m not a particularly clumsy person, and these tumbles all occur long before cocktail hour. After my Friday fall, one friend kindly suggested that perhaps I trip on my trips because I’m looking at the friends behind me, not the road in front of me. I suspect she’s on to something. Note to self: next year, bring up the rear.

But my mountain tumble led to one of the highlights of my vacation. While the rest of my friends went on a desert tour with a Native American guide, I settled my strained shoulder, bruised knees, and scraped palms nto the world’s best bathtub for some California dreamin’.

This was no ordinary bathtub. It’s wide and deep with arm rests, a view of the mountains, and, at the foot end, there’s … are you sitting down … A FIREPLACE!

This tub, and the condo in which it lives, belongs to my friend Jane. Jane owns this vacation haven, as well as a huge house back home, because she works 23 hours a day (22 on weekends). Two years ago, when Jane led us on a tour of her place during construction, she took pains to point out her special tub, which is right off her bedroom. Last year, when I mentioned the bathtub, Jane famously said, “What bathtub?” Which just goes to show that for most of us, the way to get a bathtub with a fireplace is to work so hard you forget you have a bathtub with a fireplace.

As I lollygagged in hot water out in California, the Bird boys were taking baths of a different kind.

The day before I was scheduled to leave for Palm Springs, Billy woke up with The Largest Pimple in the History of the World on the end of his nose. It was so terrible, and so painful, that I took him to the dermatologist to see if she could shoot something into it to make him more comfortable and allow us to avoid homeschooling.

The dermatologist took one look at Billy’s nose, and suddenly my travel plans changed. “That’s staph,” she said, writing out a prescription for a month of antibiotics and casually mentioning that if the “pimple” didn’t start clearing up real fast, she was putting Billy in the hospital for IV antibiotics.

I postponed my trip; Billy took the medicine; his nose got a little better. I took off, leaving behind detailed typed instructions for Bob about staph management.

The next night, Ben woke Bob up to show him the rapidly expanding “rug burn” on his elbow. My husband may not have natural gifts in the healing arts – he is apparently unable to read dosing instructions, for example – but he can follow directions to a T. The next morning he called the doctor, and within hours Ben became the second Bird in 96 hours to be diagnosed with staph.

Again, the doctor prescribed antibiotics. But with staph clearly making plans to establish permanent residency in our home, she offered an additional prescription for Bob, Billy, and Ben: bleach baths.

For those of you yet to be diagnosed with the staph that is eating the world, a bleach bath is a tub filled with water and a quarter-cup of Clorox. (This is one situation where you probably don’t want to pinch pennies.) You settle in up to your neck, soak for five minutes, and emerge (at least temporarily) staph-free. Each family member only has to do this until all cases of staph in the household are completely cured, which quite possibly means it will be a very pallid summer around here.

The Bird boys were incredibly busy while I was gone, and I’m not sure just how many bleach baths they took. But that’s about to change.

Because I’d flown the coop and spent five days away from Staph City, I had figured I was safe. So it was a surprise last night when I discovered a pimple in an area not typically associated with Clearasil.

Just to be safe, I dropped in for a visit with the dermatologist today. (She’s probably already planning her new Bird-subsidized bathtub/fireplace combination.) She looked my bump over and declared it innocuous. “But just to be safe,” she said, “all four of you REALLY need to be taking bleach baths.”

So that’s where I’m headed. The Bird bathtub is rimmed with mildew and mid-70s tile. It has no armrests or fireplace, and the only view it offers is of the toilet. But these bleach baths may still carry me away.

Because for once in my life, I’m going to have a really clean tub.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Betsy Bird has flown the coop! Yours truly is in California in an undisclosed location with her favorite friends in all the world. I'll report back once I'm home and have done the laundry that has most assuredly piled up in my absence.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Celebrity Smackdown

It’s the day before Lent, and I’m struggling with what to give up or take on this year.

Dark chocolate is a distinct possibility, as I’ve developed an almost carnal attraction to it, and the thought of having to get through forty long, sleepy afternoons without a few bites seems, while not quite alone-in-the-desert wretched, pretty darn bleak. I could give up wine, but I’m due to leave tomorrow for a few days in California with the fabulous Group B (more details in coming posts), and since drinking wine is one of the points of these gatherings, it would almost seem rude to arrive and ask for club soda.

I could also take on something, as I did last year when I volunteered to “teach” the four- and five-year-olds on Wednesday nights at church. This did in fact turn out to be educational -- I learned that I don’t like other people’s four- and five-year-olds nearly as much as I liked my own children at that age. This should not have surprised me; no one is at their best at 6:30 on a midweek night, especially when they’ve missed their nap. (I’m not talking about the kids, I’m talking about me.) While I don’t think I harmed any child’s future, I’m guessing Jesus would suggest I try another discipline this year. I will note that I offered both comfort and edification to one rather nervous little girl who, midway through my reading of a bizarre storybook about a little boy who witnessed some terrible things happening to Jesus on the way to the crucifixion, raised her hand and asked, “Is this story going to have a happy ending?”

But, as is the case every year, I also feel I must give serious consideration to the cessation of saying mean things. I am pretty sure this is what Jesus would pick for me, and therefore I am giving it serious consideration, although I suspect doing so would have quite the dampening effect on my particular blogging career and would also be a lot harder than giving up dark chocolate or wine. Still, being nice is undergoing an eleventh-hour surge in popularity among the alternatives my conscience is considering, and therefore I must act quickly to get the following thought off my chest:

Why on Earth should I care who Robert DeNiro and America Ferreira are voting for on Super Tuesday?

Monday's decision of these two “stars” to endorse Obama and Clinton, respectively, had zero impact on my own decision, as I’ve been leaning toward Obama for a year and made my mind up for sure after Bill Clinton acted despicably in South Carolina. (Talk about someone who needs a nap!) But if I hadn’t already decided, the announcement that Robert DeNiro thinks Obama is the best choice would have meant absolutely nothing. Likewise Ugly Betty’s campaigning for Hillary.

I suspect that most people are like me, and frankly don’t give a rip who any movie star is backing. (Now Oprah is different. Any woman who can get people to read books is one to watch.) If that’s the case, and these endorsements were announced in the mistaken belief that we care, it suggests that Robert DeNiro and America Ferreira both have egos the size of the SpongeBob balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Some of you may say “duh,” but I for one had more faith in people who make classic movies like “Meet the Fockers.” (See, I told you I was thinking mean thoughts.)

But let’s consider a scarier alternative. What if Bobby and America are right, and there are in fact people out there who will decide that since Ugly Betty has braces and they have braces, Hillary will make a damn fine president? Or men who go around saying “You talking to me?” in voices that sound not the least bit like Travis Bickle’s who decide that Obama’s their man because “Bobby” says so?

I would dismiss this possibility out of hand, but Arnold Schwarzenegger IS the governor of a very big state, and Fred Thompson got pretty far down the road to being taken seriously as a statesman because he showed those Yankees a thing or two on Law & Order. And standing behind Mike Huckabee at every speech I’ve seen him give has been Chuck Norris, for gosh sakes, and a blonde woman who I’m pretty sure used to be the model Kim Alexis before she became a Huckabee prop.

Still, I think big egos are more likely the reason for celebrity endorsements. I suspect the candidates are secretly horrified (“Oh, that’s so nice of you, but really, you don’t have to. Really.”) Except for Huckabee, who probably has some sort of special action-star envy a man develops when he’s spent most of his life shopping at the Big & Tall store. Someone needs to tell Mike Huckabee that Chuck Norris just doesn't lend a lot of gravitas to a campaign. Oprah could whoop Chuck's ass any day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Just Wait Till They Let Her Watch Dora

Sometimes stories need a little help -- or a lot. Like pasta cooked in unsalted water, they're bland and mushy and must be seasoned with a heavy hand.

Other times, however, stories need no help at all. The conversation my sister just related about my two nieces, ages 6 and 3, is such a story. So, without further adieu, I give you Savannah and Maria.

Savannah (6): Maria, you don't say "look" right. It's "look," not "wook."

Maria (3): I don't say "wook," I say "wook."

Savannah: See, you just did it. You said "wook," not "look."

(brief pause)

Maria: I'm saying it in Spanish.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Birds and Bees and Bonds

Saturdays are usually slower around here (proof that there is a God), and we often begin the day with the paper and several cups of coffee. This morning, Ben joined us, although he drank peppermint tea.

I glanced at yet another headline about the economy going down the tubes. These things worry me, and not just because we rely a lot around here on money.

"Ben, you know all these stories in the news about the recession?


"I know they're scary. But the economy's basically been in good shape since you were born. Daddy and I have been around long enough to know that--"

"I know, I know -- every 10 years or so we have a recession."

"Right," I said. "These things come in cycles. Things may be bad now, but they'll get better."

Ben looked at me like I was both precious and clueless. "Aww, we're having 'the talk,' aren't we? 'When a Mommy and Daddy's assets get together and lose value, it's a recession.'"

In his best fatherly voice, Bob chimed in. "That's right. So you need to be sure to practice safe consumerism."

Friday, February 1, 2008

You Think It Was That One Glass of Wine in the Third Trimester?

I'm not bragging, but my kids are smart. Just today, Billy came home to tell me he'd moved up three places to 27th in his class of 340. (A major corporate relocation or an epidemic of some sort and he could make it to the top 5 % before he graduates. Just kidding. Really.) And Ben always hits the highest percentiles on standardized tests.

But sometimes I wonder about these boys. You will too when I tell you about the thank you notes. (Yes, that would be the Christmas thank you notes. I ask you -- is it better that they write them promptly or that they write them, period?)

My boys -- who both have jobs; who sometimes wash their own clothes when they're beginning to run out (you know what they say about good help); who have checking accounts they've yet to overdraw -- still don't address their own correspondence. They write it; they stick it in the envelope; they expect me to do the rest.

This year, though, they helped ... a little. They wrote the name of the addressee on each envelope.

At the very top.

Without a last name.

I was left with a stack of sealed envelopes with things like "Uncle Joe" and "Dee-dah" scrawled on them in big letters. (Please imagine the graphic I'd insert here if only I could figure out how to do it.) Suspecting these names would not be particularly helpful to the letter carrier, I slapped big white address labels over them and wrote the recipients' grown-up names on the envelopes. And mailed them. And worried a little about what's going to happen in 18 months when Billy leaves for college.

But at least he knows what to do with cheese.

Ben came to me a couple of weeks ago with a yellow square in his hand. He handed it to me. It was a Kraft single. And then he said:

"How do you open this?"

Maybe he's been cheating on those tests.