“And don’t tell anyone I’m in the bathroom,” I told my ten year old daughter. This was part of the litany of admonishments about things to not do while she is texting, Facetiming, or (god-forbid) actually answering the ancient phone sitting on our kitchen counter.
“Just tell them I’m busy,” I reminded her. Even though everyone my age knows that’s a euphemism for “she’s in the bathroom,” I was determined to pass on that specific phrase since I had learned it the hard way when I answered the phone as a child and was a bit too honest about the whereabouts of my own mother.
Not that anyone she speaks to even cares what I am doing.
So, the phone rang yesterday. I was (shocker, I know) cooking, so Dimples ran to answer.
“Hello?” Pause. “Hello-o-o?” A bit more insistent this time.
Telemarketer, I thought.
“Speaking,” Dimples said, a bit forcefully.
Why would a telemarketer be calling her? Or was Dimples just pretending to be me?
She listened for a moment.
Then she hung up.
“Um. Did they ask for you?” I asked.
“Okay. Did they ask for me?”
“No. They didn’t say anything.”
“Then, why did you say, ‘Speaking’?”
“Well, that’s what I always hear you say,” she said, shrugging.
After I stopped laughing, I explained that I only said that when someone asked for me by name – not as some kind of angry rebuke to the person on the other end of the phone for not bothering to respond when I answered.
“This is going on your blog, isn’t it?” she asked, as I continued to smile at the thought of her listening to my end of the conversation all of the years, and assuming I had to deal with stubborn silence every time I answered the phone.
“Only if you say it’s okay,” I grinned.
And she did.
It became quite clear while we were on vacation that my child has led ten years of a very deprived life. Evidently, this is an ideal child-rearing strategy because it truly makes kids appreciate the simple things.
Chasing fireflies and a light-up frisbee in the dark, playing tetherball at the beach, and taking a satisfying nap in the rental car during a two-hour drive all completely delighted Dimples.
But nothing compared to the ultimate entertainment – the Whirlpool tub in the master bedroom of our condo.
Dimples is not deterred by the fact that this huge tub is in the master bathroom, which is connected to the master bedroom, which is not the bedroom in which she sleeps. Because she is not the master. This makes no difference to her because, by her estimation, these tubs are designed especially for her, and it is her intent to monopolize all use of the tub for the duration of our visit. Any plans that I may have of relaxing with a book and a glass of wine quickly take a back seat to Dimples’ tub schedule.
Just to give you an idea of her complete enjoyment of this amenity, here is a video I took on our last night there. I was standing outside the bathroom door as she reveled in her final bath. So, the video is of the door. So, really, it’s the audio that might be interesting. But there is a picture at the end. Because, despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t believe in complete sensory deprivation.
Your Summer Challenge: To Figure Out How to Inflict Mind-Numbing Boredom Without Getting Caught in the Cross-Fire
My latest project has been to try and figure out how to make my daughter’s summer miserable. You have to do this, you know, so it makes life easier in the fall when it’s time to go back to school. If you’ve planned the summer right, your child will be begging you to take her shopping for school supplies by the end of June. In July, she will spontaneously volunteer to write a report on every country in the world, alphabetically. And when the postcard announcing “Meet the Teacher Night” arrives in the mail in August, she will exclaim, “Finally! Thank God! If you don’t drive me there right now, I’m going to start walking.”
Or, so I’ve heard. So far, I have never been able to achieve this Summer Nirvana. As an adult. As a child, I hit these milestones annually. So, I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what my mother did right and I’m doing wrong.
I remember the one summer that she decided I was going to summarize every book I read on little index cards and put them in a file. I don’t remember the purpose she expressed for this assignment, but in my head I heard, “Since you like to read so much, I thought I would completely stifle your love of books by requiring you to write something every time you finish one.” Maybe she was trying to make sure I was eager for school to start again – or maybe she was tired of filling her trunk with books every time we went to the library. Most likely, she was tired of looking for the books that we had filled the trunk with 2 weeks before whenever it was time to return to the library.
By the end of the summer, I hadn’t completed any books – just started 103 and read until the 2nd to last chapter. In my spare time, I participated in a weekly scavenger hunt for lost books, and started my own school in the basement for stuffed animals. One of the subjects I taught my extremely well-behaved class was Handwriting, which obligated me to pretend to write in 15 various styles every day so I could “grade” their writing. The irony is not lost on me that I filled about 1500 pages with the writing of my stuffed animals while simultaneously avoiding to set a pen down to the index cards that remained blank for 2.5 months.
Now that I’m a mom, I’ve tried to carry on the tradition of mind-numbingly boring summers for my own daughter, but I seem to be failing in this area. I call our summers, “Mom Camp”, and the provided activities have consisted of: Closet Cleaning, Drawer Depuration, Find Something to Do Besides Playing on your iPod or Watching T.V., and For God’s Sake, Run Around in the Backyard with the Dog Because You’re Both Driving Me Crazy (I Don’t Care if It’s a Hundred Degrees and There are Giant Mosquitoes Out There).
But every August, my daughter becomes increasingly depressed as the first day of school approaches.
Obviously, I need to change the program of “Mom Camp”. The challenge is to do this without ruining my summer. I mean, I think we can all predict the response to me saying, “Here’s some index cards. Every time you play an app during the next 8 weeks, you need to summarize it in complete sentences. Oh, and teach your Build-a-Bear how to write, for crying out loud. That thank-you card he sent me for the blue tropical swim trunks looks like chicken scratch.”
Of course, making her increasingly question my sanity could be my new strategy…
If the four sisters in Little Women suddenly received a telegram announcing that they were really witches with secret powers, and their father needed their help fighting zombies in the Civil War, my daughter might have been a bit more interested when I proposed reading the book to her. As it was, though, she looked at me quite doubtfully when I told her that one of my favorite childhood classics is about “four sweet girls who lived a long time ago – before Facebook”.
As I pointed out, however, she had chosen the last couple of bedtime books, and it was my turn. “Just give it a try,” I said. “If you don’t like it after the first three chapters, we can pick something else.”
So, she settled in, and listened to this completely unbelievable tale of girls who endlessly lose or soil the gloves that they must wear to parties, and who think of pickled limes as the ultimate luxury.
As I read, I began to yearn, as I always do, for simpler times – times when receiving a pair of slippers at Christmas as one’s only gift was cause for great exuberance, and youngsters spent afternoons innocently picnicking and playing games like “Authors” instead of sexting each other or congregating at the shopping mall.
Last night, we read the chapter in Little Women called “Castles in the Air”, wherein each of the characters describes her dreams for the future. At the end, I closed the book, and asked Dimples about her castle in the air. As is usually the case when I ask such illogically sentimental questions of my 9-going-on-10 daughter, she just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
“What do you think mine is?” I asked, wondering if she was perceptive enough to realize that, like Jo, I have always wanted to be a published author, and probably wouldn’t mind being rich and famous to boot – with a castle on the beach instead of in the clouds.
“Here.” She waved around the room. “With me.”
In an instant, a wave swallowed my beach castle, and I said, “You’re right! As long as I’m with you, I am in my castle.”
“And you’ll always be in mine,” she replied, giving me an unexpected hug and nearly reducing me to tears.
“Christopher Columbus!” I thought, still in Jo March mode. “This book is actually rubbing off on her!”
Of course, once we get to the part where sweet little Beth dies, she’s going to kick me out of the castle and never let me choose a book again, so I guess I better draw this out as long as I can.
Dimples may be somewhat unsentimental, but she only tolerates novels in which the villains meet untimely deaths.
I’ve come to the conclusion that being the Best Parent in the World is all a matter of timing – and media coverage.
Sure, these parents who built a roller coaster for their kids in the backyard are being touted as the epitome of great parents. But when this PVC pipe construction one day collapses just as the kid reaches the peak and the poor child comes crashing down, whose door do you think Child Protective Services will be knocking on?
Even more likely, how long will this kid be enamored with his new toy before he demands something bigger and better? How many times will it take before he develops a tolerance for that roller coaster rush, and the whole experience becomes a yawning bore?
Who will he cite during his adult therapy sessions for his insatiable quest to get involved in an endless number of life-threatening activities, causing his wife to leave him for the boring, but stable accountant that lives next door?
Best Parent in the World is a temporary title that lasts as long as a kid is happy. And no kid is happy forever. In fact, they are rarely happy for longer than 47 minutes, according to my experienced calculations.
The good news is that it works the other way too. When my daughter tells me that I’m the Worst Parent in the World. Ever. Since Time Began – well, she hasn’t actually called me that out loud, just glowered it pretty effectively, like today when I said that I was not buying her any more tops for school and she decided to abandon her locked iPad (yes, thanks to the former Best Parent in the World, she has my old iPad) in the room I was in, loudly playing Justin Bieber as punishment – I console myself that someone else will earn that honor fairly soon. And, more than likely, their shame will be posted on YouTube.
My Best Parent in the World moments will never be filmed, and may never even be appropriately acknowledged by Dimples. But all I have to do is flip through some reality T.V. on the remote, and I am quite happy to leave the fame and fortune to the moms on Toddlers and Tiaras or to Kris and Bruce on The Kardashians.
I’m fine with not being the Best Parent in the World. My greatest wish is that some day my daughter will build a roller coaster for me in the backyard.
Actually, I’d be fine if she just comes around to sit in my backyard with me every once in awhile.
And, if she doesn’t marry Justin Bieber.
One of our relatives has been visiting this week. She has been living in Spain, and is in the States for a two-month visit. A few of the other relatives were asking her what brought her here for the summer. Every time, the relative patiently answered that she was here to “visit family and to renew my visa”.
Last night, at dinner, my mother-in-law said, “I know she needs to stay a little while because she still needs to – what is it, again?”
Our 9-year-old, Dimples, who had already heard the question asked and answered several times, helpfully supplied the answer, “Renew her credit card.”
I think she’s seen one too many Olympic commercials.
I have a question. Who do you think is better at video conferencing – my nine year old daughter, or my 21 month old bulldog?
If you answered the bulldog, then you are obviously well-acquainted with Wonderbutt,and rightly suspicious that anyone with my genes could be good at anything.
Dimples, the nine-year-old daughter, only has half of my genes. I think that we’ve all wondered at one time or another where the other half came from. Apparently, someone who immediately turns into a complete goofball whenever he is on camera. I’m not sure how this could have happened, but I think she might be related to Will Ferrell.
I am in Boston for a week right now, attending an educational conference at Harvard – which sounds somewhat erudite. But, rest assured, conversing with my family in San Antonio has kept me very grounded.
We arranged for some “Face Time” using the iPads on Monday night. As soon as I called in, we tried to get our bulldog, Wonderbutt, to join in. Cap’n Firepants held the iPad down near Wonderbutt, and I said, “Hi, Bud.”
He tried to go around to the back of the iPad. Then I asked him for a kiss,and he licked the screen up and down before Cap’n Firepants could get it out of his reach. Wonderbutt was very attentive, and completely engaged in the conversation.
Then it was my daughter’s turn.
The last time I attempted to Skype with my daughter, Dimples, she was about 5, and new to the whole concept. She spent the entire time ignoring me and making faces at herself in the monitor, delighted with seeing herself on the screen, and completely uninterested in speaking to the mother who had been absent from her life for three days.
Since then, Dimples has had a bit more practice with video communication with other family members.
We had arranged this particular Face Time call so I could read to her from my Boston hotel room. We have been reading a book together that is quite suspenseful, and didn’t want to wait until I got back to continue the story.
I spent the entire chapter reading out loud while Dimples did everything she could to make me lose my concentration – contorting her face, pulling her hair into goofy looking do’s, and covering up the iPad with her blanket.
Yep, 30 minutes. I tried to be more stubborn than her, and completely ignore her silly shenanigans.
But, I usually read two chapters. So, you can judge who was the most stubborn.
We are supposed to go another round tonight.
I’m going to ask if she can just hand the iPad over to Wonderbutt.
If anyone knows Will Ferrell, can you tell him he has a daughter in San Antonio who likes to do synchronized swimming? I have a feeling there is movie potential here…
I can’t remember if I’ve told this story – which means that I’ve been blogging too long, I suppose.
Today, I was trying to think of a time when I laughed really long and hard. It seems like it has been far too long. And I remembered a time from when my daughter, Dimples was about 5 years old.
We were eating dinner at my in-laws’. They lived out of town at the time (or we lived out of town- depending on your perspective), so we did not eat there too frequently. In the middle of dinner, Dimples hopped out of her seat, and said, “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.”
Embarrassed by our daughter’s lack of manners, I quietly prompted, “Say, ‘May I please be excused?'”
A bit louder, “Say, ‘May I please be excused?'”
“Huh?” She looked at me quizzically.
Preparing myself for a Battle of the Wills that I really did not want to fight in front of the in-laws, but, more importantly, did not want to lose in front of the in-laws, I loudly and firmly said, “Say, ‘May I please be excused?'”
Dimples, a bit upset at my insistence, cocked her head, and said defiantly, “Why? I didn’t pass gas.”
My father-in-law burst into a guffaw as I dropped my fork, and my husband grinned. My mother-in-law smiled. Poor Dimples had no idea why we were laughing so hard.
“So, what do you two have planned for the week?” my husband asked my 9 year old and me at the dinner table.
“The pool.” “Clean out a couple of closets.”
I think you can figure out who gave which answer.
Dimples is such a neat freak.
O.K. Fine. I was the one with the closet response. Because I was trying to impress Cap’n Firepants with my planned productivity for the week, and trying to spare him from regretting too much that he is not a teacher or a nine year old that has 2.5 carefree months lying ahead. I am a caring, kind-hearted person who does not like to rub things in. Unlike some other people who shall remain nameless, but may or may not have the nickname of “Dimples.”
O.K. Fine. My idea of fun is organizing closets. You got me.
As you can probably tell, Dimples and I have very different ideas on how this summer is going to go down. Our divergent objectives started to become apparent about two months ago when I unsuccessfully tried to sign her up for various different classes. To each offer, she shrugged, and said, “I don’t really think I’d like that.” I quickly realized that she did not want “to be tied down”. If there had been a class which included unlimited access to the neighborhood pool every day from 8-4, she still would have declined – because that would have held her to a schedule.
Plan B was “Mom Camp”. We did this a couple of summers ago. It was a complicated arrangement involving popsicle sticks and two cans that helped to ensure that she did not spend her entire weekdays watching the Disney Channel. Although she rolled her eyes every time I responded, “Mom Camp” to those who inquired about her summer activities, I believed that, deep down, she secretly liked it.
Or, I could have been wrong.
“I don’t want to do Mom Camp!” she said, quite firmly.
“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked.
“Whatever I want.”
My turn for eyeball rolling. “I am not letting you watch T.V. and play video games all day.”
So, I came up with a compromise, which I think is more than fair. For the next week, she gets to do things her way. She can prove to me how great she is at monitoring her tube time and coming up with creative activities for the rest of the day.
If, after a week, I am dissatisfied with the way she is conducting her summer, then I get to take over – with the New, Improved Version of Mom Camp.
We shook hands. And I pretended not to notice how limp hers was.