The Twelve Days of Fishmas

(an edited version of the following, written by me, was printed in the Dallas Morning News on Jan. 31, 2001.)

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a really cool fish tank.”

My oldest daughter turned six on Thanksgiving Day, and we surprised her with something she’s wanted for a year: an aquarium.  Only this is no ordinary aquarium.  This is the 1.5 gallon Undersea Encounter Aquarium, ordered from the JC Penney Christmas catalog, complete with “underwater viewing scope” which moves up and down and rotates so kids can get a “face to fish” view!  And the tank has a “3-D undersea environment” with a fake volcano that bubbles if you buy an optional air pump! “Just add water and live fish!”  Even though I know from when I was a kid how hard it is to keep goldfish alive, I think maybe this time things will be different.  Surely things have changed since the 60’s and 70’s.  I mean, when I was a kid, my goldfish were in a bowl from Woolworth’s and didn’t have a fancy pump.  And I never had printed INSTRUCTIONS, for goodness sake. So I have high hopes that this time will be a success. My daughter eagerly awaits the trip to the fish store to choose the fish.

“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

After all the other things we had to do finally got done, she and I got to the fish store about thirty minutes before they closed.  I read the aquarium instructions for the first time while sitting in the car in the parking lot of the store.  “Oops,” I tell my daughter.  “It says here that you have to sit the water in an open container for 24 hours before pouring it into the fish tank.  We may not be able to get the fish tonight, but we’ll get the supplies.” Disappointed but still hopeful, she bounds into the store.   Instruction sheet in hand, I tick off the list of supplies we need, to the clerk.

“Gravel, a cellulose sponge, an air stone, three feet of tubing, goldfish food, water conditioner, and a small air pump.  Oh, and it says that the water has to sit for 24 hours before adding the fish.  Is that true?” I ask. “No,” the clerk says.  He tells me that as long as I put the instant water conditioner in, the water will be safe.  Great, I think.  I never had water conditioner when I was a kid.  Then another thought occurs to me.  “But another reason they say to sit out the water is to get it to room temperature.  If I get it straight from the tap, won’t it be too cold?” I ask.  “No, goldfish are cold water fish.  They’ll be fine,” he assures me.  Allison stands in front of a tank brimming with frisky goldfish that all look alike, trying to decide which to choose.  She chooses one that looks like it has a white mask on, and a non-descript looking one, and the clerk puts them in a plastic bag filled with water.  She carefully holds the bag of fish on her lap on the drive home, and by the time we get there, she has decided on names.  The white-masked one is christened Glowy, and the regular-looking one is Goldie.  She says that today is the happiest day of her life.

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

Allison says she didn’t sleep well because the air pump hums too loud.  Still, she is extremely happy and sits in her bedroom watching the fish before we go to church. Goldie and Glowy do not look so happy.  They are swimming listlessly and do not dart to the top when we sprinkle on a little food. When Glowy finally eats, she appears to regurgitate it back into the water.  (Great, I think.  I have a cat that throws up and now a fish.)  I think the air pump is churning and bubbling much too hard for such a tiny tank.  Maybe that’s why they are distressed.  I turn it off.  I worry that the fish may not be alive when we get back from church.  While there, I say an extra prayer for Allison that she will be able to handle it if they die.  When we return after lunch, they’re alive.  Hallelujah.


“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

Allison actually gets ready for school on time this morning because she can’t wait to get to school to tell her friend, Emily, about her new pet fish.  Though the fish appeared to perk up for a short while yesterday, this morning they again refuse to eat and look like they’re breathing heavily. The water is cloudy. After Allison goes to school, I bundle up the baby and we head back to the fish store.  This time, Barry, the owner, is there.  He reminds me of “Nick Burns, the Computer Guy” on the Saturday Night Live skit– he is an expert in his field and can’t believe everyone else isn’t smarter about this stuff.  Barry rolls his eyes at my predicament and declares my aquarium a “toy”.  He informs me that I shouldn’t be feeding them every day at first, that I should have sat out the water to let chlorine escape into the air before I added the fish, and that I should turn the pump back on.  I buy an “air control valve” to help the pump not churn so much, and he promises to stop by my house later that day to check out the set-up. He says he wants to see what this new toy is all about, in person. Later that day, he stops by and has a good laugh.  He looks at my instructions and shows me which ones are completely wrong.  He vows to e-mail the company with a complaint. I say great, but my daughter loves this aquarium, can’t we make it work? He helps me hook up the air control valve, and shows me the proper amount to feed.  He says the cloudiness is normal with a new aquarium.   He says to page him if I have any more questions.  He leaves shaking his head, saying he’s tired of toy manufacturers getting into the business of selling aquariums, because they don’t do it right and then kids have a bad first experience with fish and don’t ever want to have them again.  I am hoping that is not the case with my child.


“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven scoops of dirt, six tiny flowers, five salty tears, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

When I was picking up in Allison’s room today, I looked in the tank, and there was Glowy, showing the obvious signs of fish rigor mortis.  Ah, how I remember it as a child– the blank staring look, the body on its side, curved into a “c” shape.  My mother-in-law had told me that if one of the fish died, to just replace it and Allison would never know the difference.  But of course the one that died just had to be the one with the unique white-masked face.  Damn. 

And there was Goldie, still looking distressed.  I found a paper cup and scooped out Glowy.  I decided to let Allison decide what to do with her when she got home from school.  I broke the news in the car on the way home.  She cried.  “At least you still have one,” I said.  What I didn’t know was that Glowy was her favorite of the two, and she was really upset, and cried all the way home.  This is the worst day of my life, she declared.  She decided to bury her in a backyard flowerbed.  “Can I go back and dig her up when I want to look at her?” she asked.  “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I answered. Later that afternoon, I fed Goldie a little bit and she seemed to perk up.  Oh well, I thought, Barry said the tank was too small for two fish, anyway.


“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight cups of cloudy water, seven scoops of dirt, six tiny flowers, five salty tears, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

Well, the fish really didn’t even make it twelve days…when I went to wake up Allison for school, I saw that Goldie was now dead as well.  I tried to stand in front of the aquarium as Allison wiped the sleep from her eyes and sat up.  I was hoping she might be able to get to school without noticing– sometimes she got ready and didn’t look at the tank.  Not this morning. As soon as I left the room, she noticed.  She came into my room and softly said, “Mom, come here.  I think Goldie’s dead.” Yes, she is, I assured her.  She was sad, but didn’t seem to take it as hard.  She says she wants a beta to replace the goldfish, and a new aquarium.  I say okay to the new fish, but not a new aquarium.  “We’ll do things correctly from the start this time,” I say.  Before she leaves for school, she tells me she sprinkled some food in the tank, hoping it might revive Goldie.  Later that morning, I can’t believe I’m burying the second goldfish and will soon be elbow deep in the aquarium, sponging off the walls instead of “decking the halls” of my house…              
(Author’s update: the fish tank has forever since been stored in the garage, and we never got any fish again.  Our next pet after that was a long-haired guinea pig named Snickers.  Allison was allergic to its hair.)

Growing a Giver

I know some families who, when giving their kids allowance, or birthday money, or money earned from jobs, or all three, make them divide it up: the kids have to put some aside for savings, some for charity, and the rest they can choose to use how they like.  While I do understand the reasons/values behind this (one of which is the hope that they’ll get in the habit of doing that all their life), I haven’t been of the mindset to want to force giving—I’ve wanted to encourage giving and saving, and hope my kids will do both, but give them freedom and see how the chips fall.  At my house, it didn’t take long to see the chips falling on two very opposite sides.  One child has been saving money and showing concern for the world’s less fortunate almost since she could talk, and has been giving her saved allowance to all sorts of charitable causes (last Christmas we began sponsoring a child from Africa for her from ChildFund International and she’s covered a couple of the $25 monthly payments completely on her own); my other child spends money almost as fast as she receives it, usually spending hours planning how she’s going to spend it before she receives it.  When Christmas comes around, Emmie buys gifts for many people with her own money, but for Allison, well, let’s just say that there’s not a whole lot under the tree from her. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong—she still has a giving heart.  She has a special concern for disabled people, especially those with brain injuries and Downs Syndrome.  Last year, she spent an hour every day helping a special needs student in art class at her junior high—sometimes she’d get yelled at by the student, but she’d take it all in stride (imagine that!!).  She’s spent many hours helping out at Special Olympics events, and last summer, she spent about 40 hours helping out at a day camp for special needs children and adults.  Again, she got yelled at and had to deal with some difficult kids, but she just laughed when she recounted the week’s events—“They are so funny and fun to be with,” she’d say.  She wants to work there as much as possible next summer.

But when it comes to giving gifts at Christmas, it’s not high on her list of priorities.  And it’s hard for me to relate… I remember around age 12 or 13, I was so excited and proud to be old enough to buy gifts for my family on my own, with money I’d earned babysitting.  No more gifts with tags on them that say they’re from me, when they really weren’t! I was old enough to finally be a discerning consumer.  I remember going into Woolworth’s with a friend and buying a “spoon rest” for my mom, and a heated “hunting cushion” for my dad, to sit on when he went hunting…and wrapping them myself…

I asked Allison why she never buys gifts for anyone and she said it’s because she has to pay for so much stuff on her own, like makeup and jewelry and movie tickets, that she never has anything left.  (Sorry, but a teensy weensy makeup sponge for TEN DOLLARS is not my idea of a good buy…) No, violins are not playing a sympathy symphony for her.   So this year, I decided to change my stance on “no forced giving” and try “suggested giving”.  Last week, I gave her a small empty Christmas cookie tin, and told her she should start putting aside some money in it now so that on some upcoming given date, I’m going to drop her and a friend at Target so she can buy presents for everyone in the family.  I saw a glimmer of hope—she didn’t throw the cookie tin back at me!!! But I just checked this morning, and it’s still empty…
Maybe I should stand next to it and start ringing a bell…

My Elusive Perfect Holiday Season

Gee… just when I was feeling proud of myself for getting the Halloween decorations put away by Nov. 15… the jingling, snowflake-filled ads on TV are reminding me that in less than two weeks, it’s time to get out the Christmas decorations…but first I have to clear the birthday cards off the fireplace mantle in order to make room for the patchwork sitting turkey and vintage pilgrim candles…and the next round of birthday cards.  See, in our house, the “holiday season” starts with Halloween and doesn’t stop until New Year’s Day, with all four of our birthdays thrown in there in between, in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Add in all the school programs, music recitals, class parties, and holiday parties for every other organization of which somebody’s a member, and it’s truly a nonstop celebration of fun!  You don’t believe me? Seriously, this can be fun—I mean, who wouldn’t love celebrating four birthdays and four holidays in only 8 weeks? C’mon, now,… don’t everyone raise their hands so fast…okay, it is often a major pain in the a##.  It can make for some major stress.  And of course, the domestic engineer in me is always trying to come up with creative ways to make it less stressful. I collect holiday “teacher gifts” throughout the year and start collecting frozen casseroles and pies in the freezer a couple months in advance, in case I need to take something to a holiday gathering; I shop online as much as possible and sometimes send my Christmas cards electronically.  I started a gift exchange for extended family, where we draw names, to cut down on Christmas shopping.  And, I only have to plan one child’s birthday party each year. (They take turns–child A gets a birthday party one year, and child E gets a party the next year, and so on. During the off year, the “no party” child gets taken out to a nice birthday dinner, and gets to invite one friend.  This has worked out quite well, by the way, for all involved!)

But in spite of all my ideas and “solutions”, things just seem to get worse.  Last year I found myself crying in my car in the overcrowded mall parking lot, completely overwhelmed a week before Christmas.  A time of year I had once adored had become a Bah-Humbug experience.  And unfortunately, Charlie Brown’s friends did not suddenly surround my car and start singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”…no Clarence the Angel or Ghosts of Christmas Past magically appeared in the passenger’s seat to straighten things out, either…

he jingly ads this year tell me if I just use this turkey recipe or shop this sale I’ll have the perfect holiday.  But what exactly is the perfect holiday? I proposed, to my kids, that maybe it’s giving up all our gifts and giving the money to charity instead.  That did not go over too well.  How about getting out of town as soon as possible and spending time on a beach or ski slope? They didn’t like that, either.  After much thought, I’ve decided that, for me, a perfect holiday would be, being able to savor the traditions I most enjoy, whether it’s making Chex Party Mix, giving to others, playing games with family or sitting in church on Christmas Eve, and pushing all the stuff that I don’t enjoy out of the way as soon as possible, or eliminating it all together. 

Guess that means I’d better head to the mall—RIGHT NOW! ###  



Disappearing Doos

Did you know that a lot of women over a certain age never wash their own hair? And they have it “done” only once a week?
“That’s so GROSS!” say my girls.  (Hmmm, if I were them, at least some of the time, I wouldn’t be talking…)

I think about “the generation gap of hair” once in awhile, especially lately as my 85-year-old mother has been staying with us for her annual visit.  That visit always includes finding her a local “beauty operator” to “do” her hair once a week.  Just like she’s been doing ever since she was in her 20’s.  I can remember accompanying her to the beauty shop when I was a child, to a house whose ground floor was filled with rows of bonnet hair dryers, which were filled with women getting “beehives”…it’s a wonder I could see them through the haze of hairspray!!  And it’s amazing how weekly “hairdoos” live on in 2009.  But I realized a few years ago as I sat at a women’s luncheon, staring at the backs of several “coiffures” in front of me, that the days of “doos” are numbered.  The look of older white women is completely going to change someday.

I say “white women” because from the looks of the new Chris Rock documentary, “Good Hair”, frequenting the beauty shop is alive and well among other cultures/ethnicities.  But I think it’s an endangered activity elsewhere. I mean, look at Baby Boomer Caucasian women who are in or close to their retirement years.  They wash and style their hair on their own, sometimes every day, just like they’ve done since their 20’s.  They became adults in the era of hand-held blow dryers and Wella Balsam shampoo. And look at white women younger than that.  We’ve never known it any other way.  Sure, we still visit a “styling salon”, but for a haircut or highlighting once in awhile– not every week.  I tried to explain this difference to my mother, but she just didn’t “get” it.  “Of course women will still be going to beauty shops every week,” she said. “Even if they haven’t, they’ll start.”  I asked my hairstylist, Brian, who’s been in the business over 20 years, what he thought.  He said lots of older women, like the women in his family, switched to do-it-yourself doos in the late 60’s/early 70’s when short hair for women became popular.  “The traditional beauty shop started dying then,” he said, and he doesn’t see it coming back.  My sister-in-law agrees.  At 61, she washes her hair on her own and has no plans to stop.  (Her sister, who is a few years older, has gone to the beauty shop every week since she was a teen and still does. My former neighbor Sonja, also in her late 60’s, also still treks to the salon each week. So it looks like beauty shops will still have some weekly customers at least for another 20 years or so.)

Having two girls, I guess I should count myself lucky that they wash their own hair. I’m sure our weekly beauty shop bill would be staggering if weekly outsourced “doos” were still the norm.  But when I hear the shower running for “forever” in our house on many occasions, try to scrub do-it-yourself hair color out of the bathroom rug, and find myself shelling out bucks for stuff like Bedhead Thickening Paste, John Frieda Clear Glosser/Shine Booster, Clairol Intensive Conditioning Creme, “Root Awakening” Shampoo, Chi Hair Straighteners and special wooden hairbrushes, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t all even out in the long run…

Maybe We Should Just Buy A Rooster…

Jim Fay, co-author of Parenting With Love and Logic (one of my favorite parenting books) often says “You can’t make a kid go to sleep, but you can wake him up, so stop trying to control what you can’t and concentrate on what you can.” In other words, let kids stay up as long as they want, but feel free to bang pots and pans and play musical instruments outside their door early in the morning.  His experience has been that kids will naturally regulate themselves on their bedtime and eventually go to sleep at a decent time once they see how tired they are from “staying up”.  Something tells me this advice was meant for younger kids and not teens.  At least, not my teen. 

We stopped arguing about bedtime with Allison once she hit the Jr. High years, and she’s stayed up ’til 11, 12 and even later every single night since, even when she has no homework and even when she’s said, “I was so tired today.  I’m going to bed early tonight!”  It’s not that she’s spending all those late hours on Facebook or texting, although sometimes that’s part of it– but when homework is done and the hour is late, sometimes I catch her reading magazines, or experimenting with a new hairstyle, or just simply staring in the mirror.  Anything but going to bed.

People have told me, and I’ve read, that a teen’s internal clock is different from the rest of us.  They prefer going to bed late, and staying asleep until very late in the morning.  But unfortunately, our high school doesn’t start at noon. It starts at nine.  So mornings are usually pretty, uh, interesting at our house.  Andy and I always have to wonder each day if she’s going to make it to school on time or not. She always has to rush.  Papers that need to be signed by us are frantically shoved in our faces at the last minute. Necessary shoes and pieces of clothing can’t be found.  She used to blame us if she was late (“You didn’t wake me up on time!!! You must have put my shoes somewhere!!!”) but we’ve made it clear that it’s not our responsibility to find her clothes or make sure she gets up, though we each pop our heads into her room and speak to her at least once every morning. If she chooses to stay up so late, she has to deal with the consequences on her own. I’ve learned to make myself scarce– I throw a waffle in the toaster for her and then head out to my minivan, where I enjoy reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee, in sweet silence. Sometimes I get to read a lot, sometimes barely a paragraph before she and her gigantic school bag tumble in.

Over the years, we’ve tried to help by getting her alarm clocks.  And I must say, we’ve had a “unique” assortment. The first one was called “Talk Time”, with a recordable feature that lets you record a phrase so that when the alarm goes off, you hear the phrase, again and again. Sometimes she and her sister would record silly stuff, sometimes I would sneak in during the day and record something corny like, “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!” While it was fun, the Talk Time’s batteries would always wear out fast (it included a radio that the girls left “on” all the time), so it didn’t turn out to be a very reliable wake-up device. 

The next alarm clock came from the Discovery Channel Store.  It was silver and round and modern-looking, and it was faceless–on first glance, it didn’t look like a clock at all.  It had two waving “wands” on top, almost like antennae, and as the wands moved back and forth, they’d beam the time so that it seemed to hang in the air between them, just above the clock. In addition to the time, Allison could program it to beam about 10 different phrases in a row, whatever she wanted to type, and she really liked it.  Except that it showed the hours and minutes in MILITARY TIME. Huh? There was no other option? Nope.  What numbskull would make a cool clock for kids in MILITARY TIME? (And what numbskull would buy it? Hey, nowhere on the box did it say MILITARY TIME!) I would have taken it back except I bought it in WASHINGTON, D.C. and there was no longer a Discovery Channel Store in Dallas. Allison said she could get used to the Military Time.  She didn’t.  It broke anyway.

Our last alarm clock was pretty simple.  A four-inch cube, plugged into the wall, digital time on front, no radio, just a clock and an alarm. And, the cube changed colors every few minutes.  She liked it at first, then quit using it and told us the alarm feature wasn’t working right.  She says she’d rather use the alarm on her cell phone.  Which is fine with us, except that doesn’t seem to work that great, either. 

We once tried playing fast classical music in the house to see if that would help (see the post
My Teenager Was A Science Fair Experiment) but it didn’t help too much, and eventually annoyed everyone… Wish they made something with an arm that comes out and bops the kid on the head with a pillow…  I did see an alarm clock the other day that has some kind of mini helicopter thing that shoots out of the top when the alarm goes off– it hits the floor and buzzes and bumbles around like crazy until you get up and catch it. I showed her the ad and asked her what she thought.  She said it didn’t look very stylish (yeah, I guess you’ve got to have something good lookin’ among all those dirty clothes, socks, underwear and empty makeup bottles strewn everywhere…and besides, the helicopter piece would get lost in that quagmire and she’d never find it!).

And so, sometimes she gets her act together and sometimes she doesn’t.  Yesterday she was still in her pajamas when we said good-bye and left for church (in spite of the fact that she was woken up two hours in advance), so she “missed her ride” (or I should say, two rides– Andy leaves earlier than I do) and after finally getting ready, she called and begged and pleaded that someone come back to get her.  Sorry, we said, “You made the choice not to ride with us.  Call a friend to get a ride.” Instead, she decided to ride her bike the 4.32 miles to church, wearing her “nice clothes”, including UGG boots and a cardigan sweater.  Will wonders never cease.  And I think she kinda enjoyed it.  
“That sweater flew out behind me like a cape,” she said, smiling.  
Faster than a speeding bullet, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SUPER STUBBORN PROCRASTINATOR TEEN!! ###

A Day in the Life

When I was once a part of the 9-5 business world, there was a time I followed the adage, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.”  So lately I’ve been thinking maybe I should start dressing like a jazz dancer.  Or an art gallery/gift shop owner…or anything other than a work-at-home mom…    
Monday was my birthday, and although my 85-year-old mother was staying with us for her annual visit and I got to spend most of the evening at dinner and a movie with my husband, the day was filled with so many To-Do’s I didn’t have time to open and savor the birthday cards that had come in the mail.  I went to sleep at 1 a.m., looking forward to “Getting to Everything Else” when I woke up.

The next day dawned with a noon deadline for a freelance story– I’d blocked out the whole morning to sit at my desk and write, since I’d finished interviewing the day before.  But that was quickly replaced with the realization of a surprise dental visit on the horizon: Emmie thought she’d cracked a tooth on a bag of Wonka “Runts” the day before (there’s another Halloween candy I’m putting in the Reject Pile). She was in pain. When I inspected, it did look suspicious, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  So I was able to get her a last-minute morning dental appointment, and decided to squeeze in her teenage sister as well (our dentist is also our orthodontist).  Allison had been moritified that they’d put on a WHITE “power chain” last week (some type of rubber-band-type thing) when she’d requested CLEAR, and it had turned yellow from eating cheese, and she was about to pose for photos for a high school theatre production, and she’d been begging to go back to the orthodontist for a re-do– so I thought, why not combine two trips in one?  Little did I know it would take almost a half hour just getting her pulled out of class (high schools these days are pretty secure) so by the time Mom and I got Allison, and picked up Emmie from elementary school, we were late (as usual) to the appointments.  After x-rays, it turns out Emmie had cracked a filling off of a baby tooth (thanks a lot, Willy Wonka)– and the dentist/orthodontist recommended pulling the tooth rather than re-filling a tooth that was supposed to fall out within 6 months.  Rather than waiting to schedule the “extraction” at another time, Emmie the Fearless wanted it done immediately, so she was prepped for “oral surgery”.  And this office is like Dental Disneyland– it’s a very large practice, with more than one dentist, numerous brightly colored rooms filled with patients and two play areas for little ones, so I knew we’d have to wait a bit.  Meanwhile,  Allison gleamed with her new clear power chain and the staff recommended she get her teeth cleaned and inspected, since she was scheduled to come in next week for that, anyway, so why not save a trip? I said yes.  My mother waited patiently in the patient waiting room.

I kept busy by walking a triangular path between the “surgery side”, the “cleaning side” and the waiting room, alternately holding Emmie’s hand and whispering reassuring words, checking on Allison to see if the dentist had found any cavities, and making sure Mom was okay. By about the third time I’d made my way to Emmie, the tooth had already been pulled and she was enjoying the 100% oxygen she was getting through a plastic snout, which flushed out the strawberry-scented sedation “gas” she’d enjoyed earlier.  Allison was picking out a “prize” from the prize tray “for her sister”, since she was too old to like any of the plastic jewelry or racecars offered, and my mother had just about finished telling her life story to the clean-cut male receptionist.  I took a deep breath and sank into the chair in one of Dental Disney’s “payment rooms”, wondering what the financial damage would be and wondering what  I was going to tell my editor.  Not only that, but Emmie had to recover at home for an hour or so and have a special lunch of soft foods– and I had to eventually get them both back to school…so I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to the story…

As expected, when we went to get Emmie her favorite chocolate shake from Which Wich after leaving the dentist/orthodontist’s office, Allison wanted lunch from there, too, since it was her lunch period at school then…and she wanted to eat it at home right alongside Emmie, since lunch didn’t end for another hour.  I frantically wrote about 1/4  of my freelance story while they ate lunch– luckily, I’d heard from my editor via email and had been given an extension.  Then I took both girls back to school and had about an hour left to finish the story before school pick-up. Triumphantly, just before 3 p.m., I was satisfied with what I had and was about to email it in, when I decided to  do a quick “fact check” on something in the story, using the Internet.  The page on which I landed included a weird video application that wouldn’t allow the page to load properly. And it froze up my computer so badly that nothing worked anymore. The entire computer had to be shut down and as I left to go pick up Emmie from school, I just kept thinking, “I hope I saved the rest of the story, or I hope the computer autosaved it….I hope I saved the rest of the story, or I hope the computer autosaved it…”  Well,  I hadn’t, and it didn’t. The “recovered” version only included what I’d saved earlier in the day– 1/4 of the story.  A search in computer “trash” bins and temporary files proved fruitless.  I took a deep breath.  I would have to re-create 3/4ths of the story. This time I telephoned my editor to speak to her in person.

Luckily I didn’t have to pick up Allison from school that day.  I finished the story at 5 p.m., sent it off, and immediately was supposed to begin typing up the minutes for a meeting at which I had taken notes as the substitute secretary last month. This month’s meeting was to start at 6:30 that night, and I couldn’t start typing until I found the notes I’d taken…and it took me a long time to find them…and I wasn’t even dressed properly for the meeting yet…and I was supposed to give a ride to someone to the meeting…and luckily there was frozen lasagna in the freezer for Andy and everyone else…

When I got home around 9:30 that night and went straight to walk Luke the dog, who no one had paid attention to for several hours, Mom was exasperated that my stack of birthday cards was still unopened.  I took a deep breath, asked her, “When did I ever have the time?”, and went upstairs to bed. ### 

The (Almond) Joys of Parenting

Ahh, the simple pleasures of being a parent on Halloween– at the end of the evening, we get all the candy rejects our kids don’t want.  This year, out of Emmie’s massive collection of 130 pieces of candy, I was given 1 mini Almond Joy, 4 mini boxes of Milk Duds, 2 pieces of banana Laffy Taffy (NOT the strawberry, of course, which I really would have enjoyed), 4 packs of Whoppers malted milk balls, 1 butterscotch candy, 1 peppermint, 1 Rolo, and a mini Heath bar. Not a whole lot to get excited about, but it made me laugh on the inside—this “reject pile” not only looks the same every year for both of my children, it contains the same stuff I rejected when I was a kid.   The same stuff about which I always think, “The adult who bought this doesn’t have a clue what most kids like.” For example, most kids don’t like coconut– so Mounds is a perennial reject as well.  Ditto for “Dots”, Good ‘N Plenty, “Chick O Stix”, any Tootsie Rolls other than the original flavor, red hot Jawbreakers, and black licorice.   While I’ve grown to like most of it, I still scratch my head about some of it, like the Milk Duds.

I asked Emmie why she didn’t like Milk Duds.

“I don’t know, “ she replied.  “I’ve never tried them.”

“Huh?” I responded. “Then why are they in the reject pile?” 

“The name just makes them sound bad,” she said.  “Milk DUDS.”

She decided to try one for the first time, and I hadn’t had one in years, so we opened the tiny box and shared this momentous occasion.  It was not a good experience. My jaw hurt trying to maneuver to get the sticky mass of caramel off my teeth. 

“I can’t get it off,” I said.  “I think we’re supposed to suck on them.”

“I’m already trying that,” said Emmie.  That didn’t help her enjoy them much more. The rest of the Milk Duds boxes remained in the reject pile.

Sifting through said pile some more, I wondered if stuff I’d given out to Trick-or-Treaters over the years ever ended up among their rejects.  No “Now and Laters” or imitation Sweet Tarts come from my hands—I usually try to do something different and maybe even (horrors!) healthier, like mini bags of pretzels or Goldfish crackers, mini packages of unpopped microwave popcorn, even one year, much to my older daughter’s dislike, 4-packs of “Halloween crayons” in colors like Ghoul Green, Black Cat and Ghostly White.  She put her foot down when I thought up the idea of giving away old McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  “We will be the laughing stock of the neighborhood,” she said.  “No kid wants to get a Happy Meal toy in their sack for Halloween!” 


Okay, okay!! But I still think it would’ve ranked higher than the Bit-O-Honeys. ###