Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I don't know which was funnier, the stuff he said or the wandering around.

Much has been made of the moment in the second presidential debate when John McCain nodded his head toward Barack Obama and said, "That one there." It was an odd thing to say in a very odd debate, I think we would all agree. What did he mean by that? Was it a way of saying "That punk over there" or a way of pointing out that he was the senior member on stage? Was it simply a disrespectful thing to do by not using his name or title? I wasn't really sure but it was noteworthy and gave Saturday Night Live even more material.

I was reminded of the strange expression this past week at church. Our minister was wrapping up the Christmas pageant by thanking all the adults involved...she thanked them all by name and by title, "Thanks to Pam for leading the choir, to Jan for playing the piano, and of course, big thanks to our writer...." and here she hesitated, struggling to remember Becky's name. We all held our breath. It was clear she could not remember her name. Finally, she just said, "That one there," which got a laugh since it came close enough on the heels of the debate for all of us to get it.

I totally sympathize with my minister (who by the way is about my age). She managed to forget the name of a very prominent church member, the woman who has written the play for about 10 years, who is also a friend, and member of a book club we all belong to. I feel her pain.

Yes, most of us are really, really bad at remembering names. I don't know why that is. I am not talking about forgetting the name of someone you have only met once or twice casually. I am not talking about forgetting the name of someone you knew a long time ago and just ran into. I am talking about forgetting the names of people very close to you.

Don't worry, I already checked and this is, unfortunately, fairly normal memory loss. It's like when a word is on the tip of your tongue and you can't retrieve it. You will eventually, it just takes longer.

This happened to me the other day over coffee with my Coffee Friends. I literally forgot Coffee Friend 2's name. I said, "Hey, I came by the other day and...." I looked at my friend helplessly. "Val," she supplied, "Yeah, Val was out front shoveling," I went on as if I hadn't just done that.

But alas, she would have none of it. "You just forgot my name you crazy old hag!"-- she called me out on it. Errr, yes, ummm, maybe I did.

Another time I called my good friend Martha. I have known her 12 years. I was expecting to hear her voice but her husband, Dan, answered. I was so flummoxed by having him answer that I forgot his name. I've known him 12 years too. They are among our closest friends. We all have dinner out at least once a month. But I could not think of his name. I panicked and said the first thing I could think of, "Umm, is your mother home?"

He chuckled, "No, I'm 55, I don't live with my mommy anymore."


So it was with great empathy that I watched my minister make this mistake on Sunday. And since misery loves company, it made me fell a little better because at least I have not done this in front of a large crowd. Yet. And when she said, "That one there," a light when on in my head.

John McCain did not call Barack Obama "That one there" as some sort of old man disrespecting a young man or as an insult or as a way to demean him.

He simply forgot his name.

As I am more than 20 years junior John McCain I can hardly hold that against the guy.

Still, I didn't vote for ole' what's his name. I preferred that one there.

Friday, December 12, 2008


No, I never look this good in my pajamas.

On Wednesday I drove Grace to school because the bus never showed up after a night of snow. As I came back down our street I saw Coffee Friend 1 out shoveling her driveway. I stopped the van and rolled the window down.

"Can you believe the wife?" I said referring to the drama that has been unfolding all week about our incredibly inept/corrupt governor Rod Blagojevich.

"I haven't heard the details about her, what?"

"I skimmed the complaint. I'll forward it to you. They have her on tape yelling over her husband's shoulder 'You tell that F***er he can forget his deal on the F***ing Cubs if he won't fire that editorial staff!'"

"Holy shit, I knew she was a bitch," Coffee Friend said as she leaned on the handle of her shovel.

"Yeah, but really, who does that? Who stands over their husband's shoulder while he's on a business call telling him what to say?"

We both shook our heads, trying to imagine the scenario. It was really one of the most shocking revelations in a shocking week of revelations. We talked a few minutes more about the scandal, the possiblity that Rahm Emmanuel dropped the dime and the prospect of hearing him on a tape cursing like Ari from "Entourage" the character based on his real-life brother, and then I drove on.

As I pulled into the driveway it occurred to me that the entire conversation had taken place while we were both in our pajamas. Both of us had been wearing winter coats and boots over our pajamas, bed-head hair, and not a stitch of makeup (by the way, that expression makes no sense, makeup does not come in stitches).

This is not that shocking for me. I can often be found in my pajamas until 10:00 or so (I am right now actually, polar bear flannel, thank you) and even on my wedding day I don't think I wore anything more than mascara. But for Coffee Friend...well she was a model in her youth. I'm sure there was a time in her life she wouldn't have been caught dead outside un-showered and in p.j.'s.

I thought about this the next day when I drove another child to school for band and I saw a mom in the pajamas/boots/winter ensemble as she helped her special needs child on to the bus and I realized, consciously for the first time, that I LOVE seeing my peers like this.

To be sure, I usually see them fully dressed, coiffed, and made-up, and many of them could audition for a part in "Desperate Housewives" but I like them best this way--when they've just rolled out of bed. They look more vulnerable, more approachable, more human, and much younger. Like a sleeping child, an un-groomed mom is the sweetest mom of all.

This made me feel better about the time I went out to get the paper wearing the shorts of one summer pajama set and the top to another, my sad post-breast-feeding boobs hanging low in their natural braless state only to look up after scooping up the paper to see my children's principal as he jogged by our house. I played it cool, "Good morning, Mark," I said. "Good morning, Judy," he said as he continued on. He never spoke of it. What happens in the driveway stays in the driveway.

I wonder if Patti Blagojevich is ever caught in her jammies. Probably not. She is the daughter of a prominent Illinois politician who bought the governor job for her husband when she was only 35 so she's probably been the picture of an entitled brat her whole life. She probably hasn't taken out the trash or shoveled a driveway in her entire life or, God forbid, been caught in her jammies. And therein lies much of the problem I suspect.

So here's to all my mom friends today. If I see you in the 'hood with your hair rumpled and your snowflake patterned jammies peaking out from under your coat as you run kids to school or fetch the paper, rest assured you've never been more beautiful to me.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Last year instead of getting the cheap, $2.99 advent calendar from Trader Joe's I got a substantial advent calendar from Crate and Barrel that is a sturdy cardboard concoction in the shape of a Christmas tree. The tree is formed of a stack of tiny drawers and each drawer represents a day. When you open the drawer you find your treat. It's so cute I saved it and this year I stuffed each drawer with a piece of Halloween candy or a note with something on it like "You get to ride in the front seat for two days" or "You get to choose dinner" which I hoped were things of value to my children and of course congratulated myself on the incredibly clever, cheap, green use of things we already had in the house.

Yesterday, Lilly (10) pointed out that there was nothing in the drawer for day 7. Hmm, that's funny, I was pretty sure I had systematically filled each drawer but sure enough it was empty. I threw a quarter in there and forgot about it.

This morning however, the mystery was solved. Several of the drawers were open and there were candy wrappers all around the advent tree.

"Atticus! Did you eat all the candy from the advent calendar?" Lilly roared.

He shrugged as only a 15-year-old boy can and said shamelessly, "Yeah."

"Dude," Jeff said, "You got a problem. That's like something you do just before they send you to rehab."

Atticus tried a diversionary offensive tactic, "Hey, those things are like $4.00, you couldn't have bought a new one this year?"

"What the hell does that have to do with it?" I asked. "I'm reusing it because I can not because I'm cheap. And, hey, eating the candy from the advent calendar sounds familiar. Oh yeah, that's what Billy Bob Thorton did in 'Bad Santa'. Nice, you're Bad Santa."

"Whatever, I just didn't want to eat frozen candy. I meant to replace it with the other candy from the freezer. "

"But you didn't," Jeff pointed out.

By now Lilly had gone to the freezer and found the frozen Halloween candy and refilled the tiny drawers. As she did this she spoke in her parent-voice to her brother, "Now Atticus, you are forbidden from taking anything from the Advent calendar. You have to learn there are consequences for your bad behavior."

"Yes I see the consequences--my little sister will lecture me and my parents will make fun of me. I can live with that."

And that, my friends, is the problem.

Clearly Atticus needs better parents. Just the other day I asked Lilly to help me put away a complicated building toy he'd left out for weeks. "Didn't you ask Atticus to do that?" she asked skeptically as she started to help me dis-assemble the tiny pieces.

"Yes, but he'll take forever to get to it," I said realizing how lame that sounded as soon as I said it.

"You would not train a dog that way," she said calmly.

"You're right," I admitted and we left the project there and he did indeed eventually put it away.

There's a lesson in all of this. Something about parenting and dog-training but I'm not really sure what it is.

I'm hoping that Lilly will explain it to me later when she tells me how to punish a puppy who eats all the candy in the advent calendar.

Monday, December 01, 2008


Today I will helpfully translate the names of the classes our children in junior high are enrolled in.

Let's start at the very beginning a very good place to be:

Middle School means Junior High. At orientation night they will tell you that middle school is a more nurturing and transitional educational experience than junior high. Instead of moving every hour on the hour to a new class as they do in high school, the kids move from "block" to "block" every hour or hour and a half or two hours depending on the complex scheduling grid that only a Homeland Security spy or a junior high kid can even keep track of. Whatever. If it's a school full of 11 to 14 year olds with poor personal hygiene habits and an obsession with the word "popular" it's still Junior High to me.

English class is now called Language Arts: I have no idea when or why this changed but I strongly suspect it is due to the propensity of all vocations to invent jargon to make them sound more knowledgeable/inscrutable. Because it is "arty" it means a heavy emphasis on the creative-writing and not so much on the grammar and punctuation but that switch occurred way back when. Diagramming sentences and using good grammar is so 1950's.

The Library is now the Learning Center: Now this one I can embrace a little--I mean the need to rename a library. As books are replaced with computers it does seem a little silly to keep calling it a library. Still, "learning center" is a little vague --isn't the whole school a learning center?

Foreign Language is now Global Language: Who knows why? Maybe foreign sounded derogatory? But isn't any language that isn't your own foreign? Whose feelings were being hurt here?

Art is Visual Art: So as not to be confused with the other arts such as music and dance, I suppose. But isn't this derogatory to the sightless? I think it should be "visual if able art".

Good news--Math, Science, and Social Studies are still Math, Science, and Social Studies. For now.

And now, for my personal favorite. The other day my son said he'd have time to finish his homework in PCT. Please elaborate, I said. Productive Choice Time, he said, snickering. Do you mean homeroom? I asked incredulously. Yes indeed.

Now I don't know about you but I'd have to say that in Junior High, a time in which I made more unproductive choices than any other time in my life (with the possible exception of the last term of my senior year in college), I made the MOST unproductive choices of all in homeroom. Passing notes in the form of quizzes (How bored are you? Check one: bored enough to 1. Yawn noisily 2. gouge my eyes out 3. actually do my homework), discussing who likes who and who said that to whom and endlessly ranking my crushes though the list was almost always topped by bad-boy Joe Doga and boy-next-door Kenny Gratton. Sigh. Now that was productive choice time.

So, if you have kids heading into Junior High, consider yourself a little more prepared now that you've read my handy guide but remember that Junior High, like politics and sausage, is best if you don't look at how it is made.