Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Family Holidays: Putting the Fun Back in Dysfunctional

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. This endearing American holiday signifies the start of the holiday season and represents an event that inspires dread and fear in the hearts of many--family gatherings.

Over the years, my own family has hosted many memorable holiday get-togethers. And if you are imagining some warm family camaraderie like you would see on a rerun of "The Waltons," you have watched far too much television.

Every family has one member with strong views on politics, religion, race, etc. This person just has to get on his or her soap box during every family event. My brother Jeff is the token radical (and I do mean radical) Republican in our family who cannot resist taunting our more liberal family members. The problem is he gets so angry while trying to get his point across that his opinions become senseless. My personal favorite is his claim that "the Jews" were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center back in the 1980s. Considering who was just elected president a few weeks ago, I am really looking forward to this year's confrontation.

My brother is just one of my many interesting relatives that make holidays so special. I recall one Thanksgiving when my uncle made White Russians with strawberry vodka that were just a bit too strong. He probably had about three of them prior to dinner. By the time the turkey and trimmings were served, he was so intoxicated that he loaded up his plate with food, set it on the table, crawled into the next room and passed out on the floor. Dinner concluded with my mother asking someone to check on my uncle to make sure he was still breathing.

My brother Kevin is the family clown, so we always expect something entertaining from him. One holiday he had one beer too many, declared he was a rapper named "Ice Floe" and started making up a ridiculous rap song. Unfortunately, he lost is balanced and fell backward into a toy box. He didn't spill a drop of beer, however.

All these events have been memorable, but the crown jewel of holiday faux pas has to be when one of my siblings, who shall remain nameless, had a little too much to drink (are we detecting a pattern here?) and admitted to doing something that would have caught the attention of federal authorities. Even though this particular event happened nearly 20 years earlier, my mother was absolutely furious. I guess there are some things even the passage of time cannot soften for mothers.

As strange as this may sound, these things do not keep us from having a great time together. They just become part of the folklore that every family gathers and passes down through time. My children still enjoy hearing stories of my Uncle Jim, who passed away several years ago, even though they barely knew him. Their favorite is the story of how he got a shark fin and decided to swim underwater with it in a popular watering hole near his home. This is around the time when the movie "Jaws" was terrifying swimmers everywhere. People were actually screaming and pulling children out of the water as he swam by. And this was in a creek in the middle of Pennsylvania.

So as you gather together this holiday with your family, make sure you take the time to laugh and enjoy those family members. Gather stories and make memories to pass down, no matter how strange or bizarre they may seem at the time.

And if your children ever commit a federal offense, make sure they never tell you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Last week, Cliff and I attended parent teacher conferences for the kids. They are both excellent students and we had no issues save one. Apparently, Sean said the word "s**t" on the playground earlier that day, and it was overheard by his teacher.

When we asked why he used that word, his response was, "Well, I meant to say 'crap.'" Yeah, that's much better.

Of course, we had the obligitory conversation about appropriate language. It is one that all parents have at one time or another after our child uses a word he picked up on the playground or, God forbid, from us.

I remember when Shannon was about two years old and my mother was playing a game with her and asking what sounds various animals made. When she asked her "What does Daddy say?", Shannon replied, "Dammit, dammit."

Thank goodness she did not say it front of one of her then 80-something great grandmothers. And thank goodness she only blamed her father.

All of us--and I know I am guilty--have occasionally let a mild swear word out when driving with the little ones in the back. Women tend to let an occasional "damn" slip out. Men, unfortunately, are often guilty of much worse trangsressions.

I am talking about the dreaded "f-bomb." When Shannon was about two, Cliff was speaking with a friend of his on the phone while she played nearby, and he let one fly. Let's just say if laser beams could have come out of my eyes, he would have been vaporized.

She did not repeat it. After two weeks, I figured we were safe. Then one evening while I was bathing her, she took her Big Bird tub toy, began pounding it against a cup and yelling "f***ing Big Bird!"

Naturally, part of me was horrified. However, being that "f***ing" is not generally an adjective you hear preceding the name Big Bird, I had to step out of the bathroom for a moment before I could talk to her.

Since my daughter is now in high school and my son has only a year to go before junior high, I am sure we are in for more language faux pas. It seems offensive language is the norm rather than the exception today. I am certain Sean's playground incident is not the only time foul language will slip out at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in front of the person you least want to hear it.

Thank God my 96-year-old grandmother is now hard of hearing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Men - Need I Say More?

Today is Tuesday, when I normally work from home catching up on paperwork, Mary Kay orders and other duties in my home office. A few hours ago, my husband called and said he is having some dental problems, so could I make an appointment for him?

Now, he obviously has a phone and time to call me to make his appointment. But, being the good wife, I called the dentist's office. The conversation went something like this:

"Where is exactly is the pain he is experiencing?"

"I don't know."

"Is it localized?"

"I don't know."

"Did this pain just start?"

"I don't know"

I got the appointment and called him back to make sure it worked in his schedule. I left two messages on his cell phone. He finally calls me back and tells me that time slot won't work for him. So I call the office back and cancel.

This entire episode took about 45 minutes. It would have taken about five minutes for him to do it himself. So why didn't he?

I have decided that most men spend their entire lives being taken care of. They go from being taken care of by their mothers to being taken care of by their wives. They probably don't even realize it, but they like it that way. They want it that way. They see no reason to change.

When a woman gets married and becomes a wife and later a mother, her entire system of priorities change. She learns to put the needs of everyone else first and put herself last. Men never learn to do this. In general, they go on exactly as they did before the wife and children came into the picture.

Say your husband's friend "Frank" calls him up to go golfing. The process goes like this:

1. Put golf clubs in trunk.

2. Meet Frank at golf course.

Now say your friend "Mary" calls and wants to meet a restaurant with you and some other friends to catch up. Your process would go like this:

1. Make dinner so that no one will starve and you will not get repeated calls at restaurant saying "I'm hungry, when are you coming home?"

2. Supervise homework because husband will be sleeping on couch when he comes home rather than help daughter with geometry.

3. Call husband to make sure he will be home in time to transport children to and from activities.

4. Call mother-in-law to beg her to pick up children from activities as husband has made a pit stop at the driving range on the way home from work.

5. Drive kids to activities yourself

6. Look for something in your closet to wear that does not scream "I am a soccer mom."

7. Stop at gas station because your gas tank is empty from transporting children, and stop at ATM machine since you have given out all of your cash for lunch money tomorrow.

By the time you accomplish all of this, Mary and the girls left the restaurant half an hour ago. I imagine it is easier to get national security clearance than for a mother to plan an evening out.

I have made it a priority in my life not to allow the dependent man syndrome to continue. My own son helps with laundry, cooking, cleaning and pet care. He will grow up to do auto maintenance and yard work like his dad. I will be darned, however, if he will have any excuse for leaving laundry on the floor beside the hamper or dishes in the sink next to the dishwasher for his wife to pick up. Some girl is going to thank me someday.

And if he ever calls his wife at work and asks her to make an appointment for him because his tooth hurts, I will go over there and give him a smack-down.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Election Time! Praise the Lord and Pass the Antacids

It is finally election day! By tomorrow at this time, we will know the results of one of the most interesting elections in a long time.

We will also be able to watch television, listen to the radio and open our mail without being bombarded with political statements. I have not been able to do any of these in months without feeling like I need to down a bunch of Tums and go outside to dig a fallout shelter from the chaos that will ensue if the wrong person is elected to the water commission.

Frankly, I don't know what I will do when I can finally answer my phone again. We have been screening calls for weeks to avoid all the pitches and automated phone messages from candidates, unions and political parties. My daily mail delivery will probably be cut in half without all of the political flyers. Do candidates really believe the the best way to reach voters is to kill trees and annoy people at dinnertime?

It seems some people have really gone over the edge with this election. I heard on the news that a woman handing out Halloween candy refused to give any to children whose parents were Barack Obama supporters. She claims she finds Obama "scary."

What I find frightening is a person who would take an enjoyable children's holiday and turn it into a political statement. What is most bizarre is that she aimed it at those who are not old enough to vote, yet alone understand all that is happening.

I am also perplexed by the consumer products out there in honor of the election. I was watching the Today show, and they showcased at least 25 products emblazoned with the images of the presidential candidates and their running mates. There are actually two cereals called "Obama-Os" and "Captain McCain." What I want to know is, would anyone actually eat these cereals and what is the daily fiber allowance in the Captain McCain?

They actually had Cabbage Patch Dolls for each of the candidates. If you are buying one of these for your child, you should also purchase gift certificates for the therapy sessions they will need as adults. I can see kids in 20 years telling their therapists, "I know my parents never loved me. Do you know what they got me for Christmas when I was eight? A Joe Biden doll!"

In the meantime, I will be investing in therapy sessions this Christmas for all my friends and family members who insist the country will turn to communism if Obama is elected. I will also give them to the ones building bomb shelters for the nuclear attack that will ensue after President McCain bombs the daylights out of Iran and North Korea.

Happy Election Day, everyone!

And, just think, we get to do this all over again in four years!