Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

We got back from our trip Monday night. All of our bags are still sitting by the laundry room, waiting for the Unpacking Fairy to get around to them. (Unpacking is the worst, because at the end of a trip, haven’t you grown to hate the sight of all your stuff?) But a great time was had by all, and there was only a little whining and angst about being in the car so much. The kids mostly watched dvd’s, or sometimes we all sang along to the soundtrack of Undercover Brother (just the record, not the movie). I must plead total ignorance about why we have this cd. I blame Matt, thanks to whom my Pandora radio thinks I REVERE the entire oeuvre of Lipps, Inc.

On the Undercover Brother soundtrack, Hank really only wants to hear one song: “Play that Funky Music, White Boy.” That is what he means when he yells, “More rock and roll baby!” Play any other song, like, say, “Ladies Night,” and he just says, “What happened to the rock and roll?” or “Play funky music!” His way of singing along is shouting out, “’Til you die!” during the chorus. So this was totally adorable until we were driving back through endless west Tennessee for the second time. And that’s when it hit me; somebody turned around and I felt like I was actually inside the song—that I was imprisoned in the chorus and that we would actually be playing it ‘til I died.

So we boogied our way back home. And on Thursday the kids and I are going to disco up to Washington, D.C. with my parents to see my brother and sister-in-law. We’ll be leaving from their house in North Carolina, but I think we’re looking at an eight-hour trip, easily. It will probably go fine—we’ll get through it the same way we did this weekend. But this brings me to my ambivalence, which is probably familiar to anyone who has a car with DVD or who has taken a portable DVD on a trip: I love love love the convenience and the kid-distracting power of take-along movies. Then part of me wonders, wouldn’t the Good Parent come up with car games for us all to play? Like Hinky Pinky, or 20 Questions, or whatever those dumb license plate games are (I always thought those were boring). Now, interesting a toddler in some of that would be tough, but for him I could make felt scenes on the ceiling of the car and tell stories to go along with them. Or something. Am I cultivating children who require media input to be happy? If only I weren’t so lazy. (Still another part of me also suspects that this very question may be a symptom of overly-indoctrinated, attachment parenting, self-indulgent hand-wringing. There are many parts of me.)

The thing is, I don’t remember that every long car trip in my childhood was an idyll of family bonding. But a couple of them were. I don’t know, maybe if my parents could have gotten a dvd player in their 1986 Ford Aerostar, they would have. It's far from perfect, but I’m thinking that until Hank gets a little older, maybe we’ll just do whatever it takes to survive, which may include watching The Incredibles over and over, tootsie-roll pops, and funky music.

I am open to testimonials and advice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


We are hitting the road on Thursday night to visit family in Nashville and Little Rock, and to go to a few nice parties honoring Matt’s cousin MK, who just got married in Italy. We are excited to see everyone and to celebrate the newlyweds. Little Rock in July is hot, like Hell is hot. But we can handle it. And we’re driving there with a two year-old, but our minivan has DVD. No problem, right? I am sure that you can’t think of a thing that could go wrong.

So, when the details of this trip were coalescing, months ago, my first thought, right after, “Oh, how lovely,” or it might have been right before “Oh, how lovely,” was, “What are we all going to wear?” In this house, Mama dresses everybody, young and old, especially if it’s any kind of big event. It’s not my favorite part of the job. I mean, I like shopping and picking out outfits for the kids, especially Laura. (I’m still trying to figure out this whole Hank is a boy thing.) But as I may have let on, I’m kind of a miser when it comes to my mental energy, and all the details of four peoples’ wardrobe and grooming really add up to a lot of stuff to think about. So, four people times three parties equals potentially twelve outfits. But, as I figure, we don’t all need to have unique outfits for each event—the guest lists won’t overlap much and who cares anyway—so there’s plenty of wiggle room. The only person I was really worried about was my husband, who deserves his own paragraph:

Many times, Matt has arrived at a destination with nothing in his suitcase but board games and socks that were put in to cushion the board games. Many, many a family beach week has started with a trip to buy Matt some underwear. Then he wears the same clothes everyday. I honestly don’t have a problem with this. I didn’t marry him for his sartorial gifts, and I’m simply not going to add his clothing to a list of things that I think about. For work, he has a limited selection of khaki pants and polo shirts, like Garanimals for adults—a system that has served us these many years. But when there’s any kind of occasion in the offing, I know without it being discussed that it’s up to me to get us all there dressed appropriately.

So this post will serve as a confession that I put drastically different amounts of time and effort into dressing the various family members. The timeline was, two months ago, I bought myself five dresses, carefully considered them at home with the proper undergarments, tried them on for my mother-in-law, and kept three of them. Two for these weekend wedding parties and one for some future funeral, because we decided it was a little dowdy for a cocktail reception, but just right if someone dies. One of the keepers, a really cute little black number has—free your mind—kind of a bubble skirt. (That is not the funeral dress.) Anyhoo.

Then a month ago, I found this website called Little Mercado (thanks to Maggie at Mighty Junior), and when you get past some of the scary “pageant” get-ups, there are amazing bargains on flower girl-type dresses. I got Laura two adorable party dresses, deeply marked down, for $10 each. Then I spiked the ball and danced around the dining room, because dang, that was awesome. They arrived and were just as cute in person. She tried them on, we picked out shoes, done.

So, on to Hank. This is a matter of personal taste and family culture, maybe, but I don’t want to dress a tiny boy in a man suit. Those little clip-on ties? Yes, they’re cute, but I can’t get down with it. I understand this may be controversial. Dr. Phil even did an episode in which a husband confronted his wife for dressing their toddler boy in “girly” clothes like seersucker rompers and shortalls with smocking. I could see that it was kind of traditional, maybe, but it just looked normal to me. Then Dr. Phil brought out some little models wearing what he suggested as more masculine attire. They looked like tiny members of Pearl Jam. Whatever. So I waited until there was a super sale at Olive Juice, then got H two little outfits. Picture these shortalls with a white shirt underneath. Plenty dressy for a two year-old in July.

Then, the one I really loved, but is no longer on the website, was the boy version of this. Picture instead of a dress, it’s a one-piece with shorts, and no Peter Pan collar. It’s a linen material. I put it on him tonight for the first time, and it is super cute. He’ll wear it with his little fisherman sandals. He obviously felt very special in it, ‘cause he kept saying, “Hank is a princess!”

So now our timeline has brought us up to this week. I knew Matt’s one suit was somewhere in the house, though I haven’t actually seen it with my eyes since we moved in. I worried, without actually doing anything, that it wouldn’t fit anymore. I mentioned this to Matt a couple of weeks ago and he offered to stop eating, since buying another suit would be cost-prohibitive. I didn’t really know what to do so I was putting off dealing with the whole issue. Finally, last night, I told Matt that we needed to find it. He vanished into the basement, and Bob’s your uncle, came back out with his blue suit, an extra pair of gray dress pants, and a pair of good shoes. The suit jacket still fits fine. The pants are a little snug but wearable. And the extra gray pants fit great. So I balled it all up, threw it in the van, and took it to the cleaners today. We’ll pick them up tomorrow on our way out of town, not a moment too soon. And sometime, someone has to iron some shirts. That will probably be me.

Y’all have a good weekend! And keep it casual.

Edit: in the interest of full disclosure (always our goal here at Suburban Matron), I wanted to say that Matt's mom ironed his shirts, because she is that wonderful.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Laura has a friend over to spend the night. It is 11 pm, and they are going strong, having announced their intention to "stay up until midnight, then lie in bed and read from midnight to 6:00." I told them I was perfectly fine with this plan. Laura's friend, F, is a new girl in the neighborhood. They swam together on the swim team, and F will be starting second grade at L's school.

So L and I have matching mother-daughter crushes. Laura has a crush on F (they are totally in the friend infatuation stage), and mine is on F's mom, because she likes to drink a beer in the afternoon and she is pretty like a doll. And she's smart, y'all, and normal, and nice. I'm smitten and I just hope she feels the same!

When I meet someone new in the neighborhood, and find that I talk with them easily, that we share a basic common language of living in the social world, and that words, facial expressions, and gestures still mean what I always thought they meant, it reaffirms to me that Frenemy Neighbor is perhaps a visitor to our planet, struggling to live among us, and while she needs our help and tolerance, I am not the weird one here. Phew! (Lately, though, I see signs of FN's humanity and vulnerability that are troubling to me. Rest assured, there will be more about that later.)

Anyway, Laura and I are both enjoying getting to know our new ladyfriends. On the Suburban Matron scale of playdates, F would rank as a solid 1 on her own merits, AND would score in category 2 because I like her mom. Pretty Neighbor and I just clicked right away. When she drops her kid off, she doesn't do that SUV-idling-in-the-driveway-waving-out-the-window thing. She turns off the car, comes inside, and honest-to-god sits down when I invite her to. No hovering, no perching, no refusing a chair then sitting on the ottoman. And then we have a conversation. Sometimes we have a beverage. Awesome.

And Laura and F are funny together. Right now they are sharing a blanket and watching Barbie: The Island Princess (it's the least creepy of those Barbie movies--that's my endorsement). It's the scene where the pretty but obscure girl is lamenting the fact that she has nothing to wear to her big night at the castle. The girls are rapt. F just sighed and said, "I bet she's going to look great at that ball."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wordle Mania

Here's Yeats's When You are Old:

That postcard thing is a great idea, btw!

Here's one more:

John 1

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fun Toy Flursday

Thursday is the new Friday, so here's a fun gadget to while away your afternoon. There's a website called Wordle that will make a "word cloud" of another website or piece of text that you give it. From Wordle: "The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes." For someone (like me) who loves to play with the autosummarize feature in Word, and who frequently uses it as a form of divination, or a diagnostic/psychotherapeutic tool, this is crazy fun. And the result is pretty.

Here's the dissertation chapter I'm working on (click to embiggen):

And here is this blog:

My most prominent word is "really." Maybe I really should work on that.

Here's Matt's development blog, http://www.brainaroo.com/:

Go there, try it, no big whoop.

Edited to add: I figured out a cool thing you can do with this that will tickle your inner post-postmodern poet (oh, you have one). Let's do a bunch of these and put those flarf people to shame. When you put a poem in the wordle creator, the result still reminds you a whole lot of the poem, but it is nicely visual, and you can enjoy all kinds of fresh associations among the jumbled and recombined words. I just tried two of my favorite short poems that came to mind. If you are into modern poetry, you can tell what these are without the titles.

Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

. . .and Wallace Stevens (you can tell the poem title just from the thumbnail pic):

Playing around with this makes you realize how distinct a poet's vocabulary and register really is. Fun. If you could get these to print nicely, or if you used one of the countless websites that print photos and make things out of them, like Zazzle or Snapfish, these would be fun postcards or something for your wordy friends. Or arty objets to hang in your bathroom.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cue the World's Tiniest Violin

Due to some fiscal reprioritization around here, we decided to stop paying for a housecleaner. For almost two years, Bobbi has come every two weeks. She would start at the very back of the upstairs, and clean her way down the stairs and eventually out the door. She straightened, changed beds, dusted, vacuumed the carpets, cleaned the bathrooms, damp-mopped the wood floors, and cleaned the kitchen. This started out costing $65 a visit and then moved up to $75. She was also interesting company and I liked chatting with her. She always did a good job—though perhaps not an A+ white glove job—and I was happy. A lot of this relationship, I realized, involves non-cleaning issues like personality and compatibility. We were a great fit in those respects. I know because for a couple of months before I found Bobbi, I used a friend/protégé of Frenemy Neighbor, and this lady would stay for six hours, giving me childrearing advice and trying to sell me the Amway products she was using. No, no, no.

It isn’t that I never had to lift a finger, of course. Two weeks is a long time in a house with little kids. There’s always something to do. I never did deep cleaning of the bathrooms, though, and I only spot cleaned the floors—I didn’t mop. To me, those are the two big jobs that she took off my hands. A major thing for me, too, is that having someone else clean the house is intensely pleasurable. It just is. I’ve heard people say that having another person working in their house, doing chores that they themselves could do, makes them uncomfortable. Not me. When Bobbie was ready to do the floors downstairs, Hank and I would go upstairs to play in the freshly cleaned and fluffed bedrooms. I would sit in my room and drink coffee, listening to her bustling around downstairs, and feel total happiness and serenity. So even though we’ve decided that that our $75 every two weeks has more urgent uses, I am really going to miss that feeling.

Matt and I agreed we needed to cut this expense, and I was trying to be a big girl about it. I said that I would rather have Bobbi than cable TV or a cell phone. Or electricity. So Matt said to make a list of everything Bobbi does, and we would build a routine where we each do half of it. Last night, we made the first big push. Today is the first Bobbi day that we’ve missed, so some chores on the list had come due. We might need to work on our scheduling a bit, because we didn’t start until after we’d put the kids to bed AND put in a little time on our own projects. So it was about 11pm. I cleaned all three bathrooms and mopped the bathroom floors. Matt did a deep kitchen cleaning, cleaned the cabinets, corralled toys, straightened the living areas, and vacuumed all the carpet and hardwood downstairs. It got too late to damp-mop, so he’ll do that tonight. I must say that we did a better job than Bobbi does. And it was actually kind of fun. While I was working upstairs, I could hear Matt blasting some techie podcast (he calls it his Nerd Radio) while he worked, and that made me feel happy and serene too, to not be tackling everything alone.

Plus, I invented a cocktail. I’m not sure what to call it, maybe the Tidy Up? At around 1:30 in the morning, we were wrapping up, and I realized we were out of both vodka, for cosmos, and tonic water, for G&T’s. So I improvised:

Over ice, pour some gin, a few fingers.
Add a dab of triple sec, then add another dab.
One squirt of lemon juice.
All the lime juice you can muster.

Shake gently, and drink standing at the sink. Tastes like a new tradition!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Parenting Furlough

Matt took the kids up to Signal Mountain this morning to spend the weekend at his mom's. They'll play on the slip n' slide and walk to the fireworks at the golf course tonight. Signal Mountain is really a pretty idyllic place, and they'll have a great time. It gives me a chance to have some concentrated work time, but I wish I could be both there and here. A weekend of quiet time is too good to pass up, though, even if it is the Fourth of July, and memories are being made, childish hearts are being gladdened, etc.

And because my husband is such a mensch, he did not leave me with a wreck of a house, either. Last night he cleaned the kitchen and breakfast area while I did the nightly toy roundup. Then he got the kids up, clothed, fed, and out the door this morning. For me it's hard to sit and read, think, and write if my surroundings are messy. The place doesn't have to be sterile, but topsy turvy won't work. Now everything is clean and I'm ignoring the laundry I could be washing/drying/folding/putting away.

So it's just me and a snoring dog. If I get a lot done today, I might even get a movie on pay-per-view tonight. Or watch the episode of House I have tivoed. I am one of those Women Who Run With The Wolves.

Enjoy the weekend, y'all!

Edited to add: Matt called me after they got back from the fireworks. He said Hank watched about half of the show before hiding his face and saying, "Makes me nervous! Makes me nervous!" Poor little guy! Matt put Hank on the phone with me, and I could hear him say, "Saw fireworks. . .it's loud. . .don't worry!"

That's what we call an executive summary.