Monday, November 24, 2008

Work of Art

Caroline, as I may have mentioned before, is an interesting creature in our home. She lights up our days and fills our nights with song --- and has provided me with much blogging material.

This fall she began the wondrous journey of Kindergarten. And every day I’m in awe of her teachers who not only instruct with love and patience, but allow her to come back, morning after morning. Never more in awe, however, than I am right now, this Monday morning.

Let me begin by saying that Caroline, at this point, has been publically (and correctly) recognized by her teacher, Mrs. MyHero, as being “not like the others,” relative to our three oldest (and model citizen) children. The distinction came early but has snowballed in recent weeks, starting with her near-sabotage of parent-teacher conferences.

My husband and I had planned to address Caroline’s chronic complaints about a supposed bully in the class. A real monster. The kind of kid who will likely finish high school in juvie, with a rep for teasing, taunting, and terrorizing classmates, according to our daughter. And we were more than ready to call this child out. But just hours before conferences were to take place, we got a call from the principal. Caroline, apparently, had stabbed said “bully” in the hand with a pencil in a fit of vigilante passion.

But just when we feared this would greatly reduce the likelihood of our concerns about a classroom terrorist being taken seriously, Mrs. MyHero forgave her without a second thought. And the “bully” (actually, the entire class) has yet to mess with our Caroline ever since.

I know she’s learning things at school too, though. She comes home eager to share her newfound knowledge nearly every day. Her Catholic school recently presented a lesson to the children on “good touch, bad touch,” and I greatly appreciate their willingness to protect my child from molestation with dignity and a sense of security. Caroline couldn’t wait to let us all know, however, that it’s not really called a “fanny,” but rather, a “ba-gina.”

We always look forward to seeing what Caroline brings home. So I was happy to sit down with her Friday and read the “Alphabet Book” she had been constructing at school for weeks now.

We had flipped nearly halfway through pages of impressive writing and illustrating, all by Caroline, from apples and bears to ice cream and jars.

And then came the letter K.

Caroline had very beautifully copied the sentence, “The man has keys” across the bottom of the page as instructed. Above the sentence she had, very thoroughly, brought the story to life with her own illustration. Standing gingerbread-man-posed above her written piece was, indeed, a man holding keys in his right hand. He also had a bad comb-over atop his head and a great big smile.

And we know without a doubt that this was a man, as opposed to a woman, or even a boy, as he was not only drawn completely and 100% buck-naked, but anatomically correct as well. Yes, indisputably a post-pubescent man with 10 fingers, 10 toes, all other appropriate appendages and hair growth, and a bellybutton.

And keys, of course.

But when others might have greeted me arm-in-arm with SRS upon seeing such art, Mrs. MyHero did not question or judge. She had simply smiled at me after school Friday as she scooted Caroline (and her backpack filled with hand-drawn soft porn) into my arms, knowing quite a surprise awaited me for the weekend.

So my 5-year-old, quite graphic, artist is welcomed back to school each new day. And for that, among many other things, I am extremely thankful.

Enjoy a week filled with gratitude and loaded with laughter.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Status Update

Hi, thank you for being here. What I'm about to do is not easy for me. But the time has come for me to step forward and own my addiction.

I started doing it, sadly, because a friend told me to. "It's totally safe. Don't be so paranoid," she told me.

My husband was already doing it, and he seemed to handle it just fine. "Don't worry. You're in complete control,” were his words.

And so, with nothing but an anonymous photo and my back-up email address, I joined Facebook.

Was I nervous? Yes, I'd heard stories. Stories of online predators waiting for me to post something they could use to find my family and hold us captive as musical servants in the hills of West Virginia. Stories of respected citizens shamed by pictures from college resurfacing online. So I set my profile to private, believing I was safe from the dangers of Facebook.

But, alas, no one had warned me of its addiction and the havoc it can wreak on an otherwise nearly-functional housewife.

It started out so harmless, with requests to be friends with people whom I already considered to be friends. My husband, a brother, a couple of friends from college, even a priest for heaven's sake. We wrote on walls, sent free virtual gifts, played a game or two.

But one friend led to another. I found old pals from college, high school, even grade school. Next thing I knew I was a part of a virtual mafia family (thanks, Danny) and planting acres of cyberplants (thanks, Amy and Drew).

And that's when I got comfortable.

I collected flair. I joined causes. I opened up about books I had read, my activities and interests, favorite books. I unleashed with rapid velocity not witnessed by any therapist my entire past and all my hopes and dreams with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Oh, and I "friended" people. Yes, I just used "friend" as a past-tense verb. I've not only plastered masses of ridiculously boring trivia about myself all over my own profile, but I've spent precious minutes, okay hours – whatever – DAYS reading about people I barely know, at the expense of clean laundry and home-cooked meals.

(Is there ANYONE left on the planet who has yet to read Eat, Pray, Love? Or who came of age in the 80's and DIDN'T find "Say Anything" to be life-changing?)

I'm not sure how the sun used to rise each morning without knowing it would find me at work every day tagging photos, managing my wall, and finding friends (and by "finding friends" I should clarify that I 100% mean stalking old boyfriends).

THIS is why my kids suggested I come to Career Day and speak about my role in the Oprah Winfrey Facebook Fan Club or my newest endeavor, United To Get Broeckelmann Onto Facebook. And don’t even get me started on the many perils of Facebooking under the influence.

I've tried to cut back. But the fact remains that I have FBBFF’s ranging from immediate family to mere acquaintances, people overseas to people I see in the flesh every day. And, thanks to the Status Update, I even know, at any given minute, which of those FBBFF’s …is wishing it was Friday, …is enjoying a beautiful fall day, and …is STILL eating her kids’ Halloween candy. How did I get through my days before without knowing any of this?!?!

(sigh) I'm not saying I’m proud. What I'm trying to say is…

My name is Weekly Jules, and I am a Facebook addict. And if any of you know of a Power higher than that of the Live News Feed, I beg you to tell me. Please. My kids are starting to smell funny.

(dedicated to Tracie and all my FBBFF's)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dealer: No Deal! (and other car games)

There are a handful of places you can’t take children for an extended period of time without being driven to drink. Airplanes, shoe stores, any restaurant with mechanical entertainment (do they sell beer at Chuck E. Cheese?). Recently, though, I discovered a new form of Purgatory.

After a weekend spent using jumper cables to get our minivan started each morning, I found myself at the local dealer where an extremely polite Customer Service Agent gently broke it to me that the DVD player was the problem…..a $450 problem. I briefly considered how many pairs of shoes I could buy instead but remembered I don’t walk in cold weather, so we still very much needed wheels. I let him fix the DVD player with high hopes the battery, which he also replaced for $300, would live to see each new tomorrow.

But alas, the new DVD player didn’t work. It kept the battery alive but didn’t actually play movies. Wouldn’t be a big deal, were it not for an impending drive across Kansas. I know, we got by just fine when we were growing up playing games like “License-Plate-Round-Up”, “Alphabet-I-Spy”, and “The-Next-Person-To-Speak-Is-Walking” (that was my dad’s favorite). I prefer to play “Put-In-A-Movie-That-Should-Keep-Them-Quiet”.

So it was back to the dealer – this time with kids – for what my CSA said would be a 20-minute job. We made it in early the next morning and crammed into the 4x8 play room, where the kids played their favorite game, “Make-Ellie-Cry”. I grabbed an issue of Glamour, hoping it would rub off on me, and we all settled in for our 20-minute stay.

Forty-five minutes, 15 “can I have a candy bar/chips/pop/gum/mints/cookies/crackers”, and one mop and bucket later (I caved on the pop – big mistake) later I consulted with my CSA, leaving the kids locked in the play area where Ellie was, indeed, crying.

“Should be any minute now,” he assured me with the kind of smile a good department store Santa gives a kid who just asked for a baby brother.

I shared the good news with Ellie and her tormenters, who celebrated with a choreographed rendition of “Baby Got Back”----opera style----while my fellow waiting room patrons, I’m certain, resisted the urge to chime in. After half an hour of musical highlights from Shrek I-III, we hustled to the parking lot for a game of Keep Away with a koosh ball Amelia had peeled off the bottom of a Lego table.

Within 90 seconds I was prying Caroline off the rear of a nearby Escalade.

My CSA appeared. “You should be up next,” he said, oblivious to the child on his $70,000 truck which, by the way, boasts a whopping 12 mpg.

We decided to cruise back inside where, for 30 minutes, my team test-parked, complete with sound effects, every car in the showroom. Ellie only cried once this time, and that was my fault for telling her we probably weren’t buying her a Yukon for her 16th birthday someday.

As a courtesy to my fellow carless patrons in the waiting room, and because I am grossly undertrained for what I’ve come to call my Day Job, I herded everyone back outside for another round of Keep Away, when my team started questioning the rules of the Waiting Game.

“Are we going to be here all day?”

“Do they have any snacks?”

“Can they change the radio station to MIX 93?”

At this point we had survived nearly two hours at the dealer with nothing but a mysteriously gooey koosh ball and $500,000 worth of inventory for entertainment without technically breaking anything.

Clearly I needed to quit while we were ahead, so I decided to check on the car again, this time with backup. I rounded up my support staff, and, like the Pied Piper, led the critters to my CSA who chirped, “I’m not sure what’s taking so long, let me check.”

He disappeared into the repair shop, where I envisioned a team of highly trained – and concerned – professionals hard at work replacing the DVD player with pit stop speed.

He returned ghost white, “Our guy is on hold with customer support right now. It could take awhile. Would you like a ride home?”

“Wouldn’t YOU like us to hitch a ride home?” I replied as the kids wrote their names in their breath on the clean storefront windows. He led me through the abandoned repair shop where I found our poor van looking like it was halfway through a C-section, its guts spilling out all over the place and the technician’s note “WTF?” stuck to the windshield. I grabbed the car seats, strapped everyone into the courtesy shuttle, and we were on our way home to torture each other in private.


“Well, it looks like the problem is your DVD screen.” He took a breath, I braced myself, “it’s gonna be another $800.”

“$800 for a screen in a car with 95,000 miles?!?” I cried foul, “Are you KIDDING ME? For $800 I could hire the cast from ‘Camp Rock’ to perform for us LIVE all the way to the Rockies and back!” I was on a roll, “In fact, I’d rather drive two straight days armed only with duct tape and Benadryl for family fun than spend another second waiting for YOU to pimp my ride!”

And then I politely told him thank you anyway for trying.

Surely we can make it without a steady stream of movies; I’m just not sure how to convince my husband to let the Jonas Brothers ride shotgun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hail to the Chief

The following was obtained by the Oxygen Network. It is a copy of the most recent stump speech Julie has been delivering before school every morning for the past seven years, which is almost as long as the 2008 Presidential Election has been going on.

“Good morning darling children whom I adore and couldn’t wait to jump out of bed and cater to today! What could I make you for breakfast on this beautiful morning? [Engages the audience early, earns their trust]

“We’re out of that.

“That too.

“I’m going to the store later.

“No, not Fruit Loops. How about Fiber One? [Health Care Reform]

[To the senior member] Careful, the milk’s pretty full, why don’t I pour--- Get a towel. [Homeland Security]

“A wet one.

“Wring it out first.

“So it doesn’t dribble across the--- [Forces a smile] Never mind. I’ll get it, you get dressed.

“No, I’m not mad.

[To the oft-neglected middle child] I don’t know, I’m not the one who took them off your feet last night. Did you check under your bed?

[To Luke 6-Pack] Of course you can go on the field trip.

“Four dollars and twenty-five cents? Today??

“Give me the permission slip and go dig 17 quarters out of Dad’s change jar. [Re-distribution of wealth]

[To the youngest – and most passionate – constituent] That is a great collection, but I’m not sure you should bring a handful of dead ladybugs for show-and-tell. See if there’s a toy you could bring.

“Did you check for your shoes in the bathroom?

“Please stop crying, I’m not mad at you for spilling. [Compassionate Conservative] Are you wearing mascara?

“Buddy, those are nickels. [No Child Left Behind] Quarters are the big ones that are bumpy on the outside.

“Did you leave your shoes out by the swing set?

“Sweetie, the Barbie Condo won’t fit in your backpack. [Addresses the mortgage crisis]

“Please stop crying, your mascara is running. In fact, why don’t you wash it off? Back in my day, we didn’t wear mascara until eighth grade. [Not true. Julie was in seventh grade. See]

“Honey, I’m not in charge of your shoes. Did you try the car?

“…14, 15, 16… This one’s a Chuck E. Cheese token. Are there any more quarters? [Free Trade]

“That’s better, now you look more like an 11-year-old girl. Go eat your Fiber One.

“No, you can’t bring matches to Kindergarten. [Weapons of Mass Destruction]

“Why were your shoes in Luke’s closet? [Deregulation]

“Great job, bud. Here’s your permission slip. Put the baggie full of change in your backpack and give it to your teacher as soon as you get there. [Regulation]

“Sure, you can take your Barbie toothbrush. Just remember to bring it back home after show-and-tell.

“Can you please start putting your shoes where they belong? [Change is Coming]

“No, sorry, it’s 55 degrees outside. We’re walking. [Energy Independence]

[Strong finish as she exits] You’ve got your library books? You’re ready for your spelling test? You have jackets? Got your lunch? Let me give you a hug. Seriously, none of your friends are watching.”

She kisses four babies on their heads and walks back to party headquarters while the chant “Twelve More Years!” resonates. Another crowd-pleaser, we must say. And, like usual, she wasn’t even wearing any lipstick.