theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

The Funniest One in the Family…

One of my favorite childhood memories is of eating dinner together as a family.  I could say that this is because it was when we used to share things about our day, or because it was the only time each weekday that the four of us spent quality time together, but I would be lying.  I loved dinner together as a family, because during dinner, we would have votes as to who was the funniest person in the family, and I was almost always victorious.  It drove my little brother crazy.  I would make a funny editorial comment on somebody else’s story, my mother would announce a vote, and I would garner 3 out of 4 votes almost every time.

These days, I’ve been relegated to second funniest, behind my husband.   I feel certain, however, that when my daughters outgrow ‘pull my finger’ and other jokes that involve bodily functions as a punch line, I will once again claim my place at top of the funny heap.  (My husband, who is reading over my shoulder as I type this, vows to never give up the title.)

This is not to say that my brother is not funny.  My brother has always been funny.  Sometimes it was in a ‘ha-ha’ kind of way, and other times in a more ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ fascinating kind of way.  My brother collected baseball cards, but also toilet paper tubes.  His bedroom was like a strange science lab, with jars of gangly potato sprouts and dishes of slowly spreading moss.  Like a lot of ninth grade boys, my brother started a band with a few of his friends.  They called themselves ‘Marsupial Cannibals’ and they specialized in exclusively playing a cover of ‘Proud Mary’ and making lists of alternative band names.  My curly-haired brother even ran for class president using the slogan, “Go with the Fro!”  So, he is funny.  He’s just not the funniest one in the family.

These days, he has a lot of competition from my very funny kids.  On a recent trip to Costco, my older daughter took off on a floor model tricycle yelling, “you’ll never catch me alive” as she pedaled away.

My four-year old has already started writing her own material:

Knock Knock

Who’s There?

Popcorn

Popcorn Who?

Poop.

You might not find it funny, but that joke killed in her preschool class.

My brother is amazing in many ways.  First of all, he totally brings out my twisted sense of humor.  In the early 1990’s when I had dreams of some day being a comedy writer for ‘SNL’, he was an intricate partner in writing my first fake infomercial.  Together, we created our own song compilation album called, ‘Waco Rocks.’  Included on our album were only the ‘hottest’ songs such as ‘Burning Down the House’, ‘The Roof is on Fire’, and ‘Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot.’  (Insensitive? Perhaps.  But clever.)

My brother is a master with words.  As a kid he used to make up funny songs about our family.  Now, he is an inspiring poet and song writer who has recently gotten involved with the local spoken word scene.  I would link you to his website, but the last time I tried to draw attention to his massive talent he accused me of  pimping him out so I’ve learned my lesson.

My brother also wins the award for least judgmental sibling on the planet.  After seeing the movie ‘Cocoon’ as a kid (I’m embarrassed to say how old of a kid I actually was), I was having trouble sleeping so I went into my brother’s room to see if I could sleep in his vacant bunk bed.  But after a few minutes of worriedly staring at his ceiling I woke him up for a second time and asked him, “are you sure you’re not a pod person?”  He assured me he wasn’t, but I returned to my own room just in case.

Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due.  As the younger sibling, he had to endure my parents on his own for three years after I went off to college, which must have taken a sense of humor far beyond mine.   Even if he’s not “the funniest”, he is definitely the favorite.  When my brother shows up at my door, I am invisible to my children, something for which I am simultaneously envious and thankful.

Plant Parenthood or When Two Plants Love Each Other Very Much…

In the fourth grade, my teacher asked our class to write down what our parents did for a living. Easy, I thought- my dad taught PE and my mom worked for ‘Plant’ Parenthood. My teacher got quite a chuckle out of this, after all, my mother worked for Planned Parenthood, not some lab that cross-bred orchids or a nursery that adopted ferns out to doddering old ladies.

Looking back, her working at Planned Parenthood (as a community educator and women’s health advocate among other roles), made a lot more sense. My mother first tried to explain the facts of life to me when she was pregnant with my brother. I was not yet three years old and most of what she was trying to tell me went way over my head. By the time she was done explaining, I was convinced she had an eggplant growing inside of her. She must have tried again a few years later. In first grade, I was pulling my classmates under my teachers desk to try to explain the birds and the bees to them (complete with the correct names of all anatomical parts).

Having a mom who worked at Planned Parenthood definitely had its moments. In sixth grade, I made a new friend- I’ll call her Annie. Annie and I had been friends for a few months when we excitedly scheduled our first sleepover at my house. It was your run of the mill sleepover – magazine quizzes, makeovers, and junk food- until my mom knocked on the door and asked if we wanted to watch a movie. This might seem like an innocent enough question, but knowing my mother I immediately went into panic mode. It was too late- Annie wanted to watch a movie. We went into the living room where we spent thirty (long) minutes being guinea pigs watching a film strip called, “Am I Normal” while mom inquired, “so do you think this is appropriate for kids your age?”

Annie sat quietly- probably in a state of shock, until the end of the film, after which we resumed our sleepover activities and never spoke of the “movie” again. (The first rule of puberty films is that you never talk about puberty films.) I recently asked Annie what she remembered about this incident and she has conveniently blocked it from her memory.

In high school, I was so (over) educated about the dangers of unprotected sex that I avoided dating all together. While other kids were getting hot and heavy in the back seats of their parents cars, I was snug in my bed with visions of herpes dancing in my head. My friends would even sometimes take me as a chaperone on their dates as if my wealth of knowledge alone could protect them from unintended consequences.

There were some also some upsides to my mom’s job. While other kids were working at fast food restaurants, or babysitting, I was trained as a Peer Educator. I got paid to teach classes on teen health, birth control, decision making, and peer pressure at my own and other local high schools. I went on lobbying trips to my state capitol and got to meet my state and U.S. Senators. I was living proof that giving kids accurate information about sex and birth control does not make them more likely to be promiscuous.

What I have written so far only scratches the surface of a childhood filled with both awkward and enlightening conversations, questions that made me want to be swallowed up by the earth, and far too many TMI moments. (I really didn’t need to know about the condoms my mom put in my cousins graduation cards.) Yet, it could have been worse. I can only imagine what the conversations would have included if my mom had truly been able to fulfill her occupational goals. What she really wanted to be was a sex therapist. Thank goodness for small favors.

Turns out, you can lead a girl to a 5k and make her run.

My eight year old spends a lot of time looking in the mirror.  She is as girly a girly girl I have ever known (something she doesn’t get from me).  Sarah spent much of her early childhood  pretending to be a princess.  She even once referred to me as her “servant” (once being the key word in that sentence).  Even now, she maintains a second residence in Fairy World.  While Sarah likes to ride her bike, jump on the trampoline, and swim in the neighborhood pool, she doesn’t like any scheduled or structured sport or exercise time.  Sarah has no interest in soccer, softball, basketball, or even swim team.  I tried to convince her that swim team would be fun because she could pretend to be a mermaid while racing at swim meets.  Mermaids, are her second favorite mythical creatures  behind fairies- but mermaids, she tells me, do not race.  They frolic.  Sarah would rather be doing something, anything,  creative.  She has already decided that a career in the arts (preferably the performing arts) is in her future.  If her dramatic tendencies at home are any indication, I’d say she’s well on her way.

But when Sarah started looking in the mirror and asking if I thought she was fat (I don’t and she’s not), I was concerned.  I had heard about Girls in The Run (GOTR), a running group for girls in grades 3-6.  In addition to training the girls for a 5k race, they also use part of their meeting time to talk to the girls about decision making, values, body image, and other relevant topics.  It seemed like just what Sarah needed, but selling it was going to be hard.  When I asked her outright, she said no.  When I started dropping the names of the girls from her Brownie Troop who were going to participate, she still wasn’t interested.  Finally, I resorted to a bribe.  With the promise of a mother/daughter pedicure outing to a “real salon” (told you she was a girly girl), she begrudgingly agreed to complete one season of GOTR.

I know I could have just MADE her do it.  I know plenty of  kids who are signed up for soccer season after season against their will.  But Sarah is already feeling subjected to Hebrew School and she’s in that for the long haul, so I really wanted her to do Girls on the Run on her own volition.  Providing someone with the motivation to complete a task, however, does not mean they will enjoy it.

Humor me through a brief but relevant diversion.  When I was 13 (you know, that magical age that turns normal kids into snarky space aliens) my parents decided that I needed to revisit piano lessons.  I had taken lessons for a couple of years in third and fourth grade, but stopped due to scheduling conflicts.  Fast forward four years and my parents had found a piano teacher who could come to our house after school.  I was no longer interested in piano lessons and told my parents as much but they insisted that if I didn’t resume lessons I would always regret it as an adult.  At that time, I was taking violin lessons, playing in two orchestras, and singing/performing with a show choir.  I understood the value of music in my life, just not piano lessons.

I was determined that piano lessons were not going to work out.  I didn’t practice, hoping that the teacher would find me not worth his time.  When that didn’t work, I took more drastic measures.  I would “accidentally” take the wrong bus home from school, getting me as far across town as possible.  This would leave me a long enough walk home to allow my allotted lesson time to lapse.  When that didn’t work, I would pretend I didn’t hear the doorbell ringing, or once (this was really bad) I had one of my friends answer the door pretending to be a non-English speaking housekeeper (piano lessons, no comprende).  I eventually wore my parents down (or maybe the teacher just refused to come back) and I no longer had to take piano lessons.

Back to the present.  One morning, I reminded Sarah that she had Girls on The Run after school that day.  She responded that she didn’t think she was going to GOTR that day.  I quickly vetoed that option, and silently thanked our school district that they do not allow kids to take a different bus home without parental permission and a transportation pass.  I was also less than shocked when Sarah came home on the bus that afternoon saying she had “forgotten” about practice.  The Orange apparently does not fall far from the tree.  Since there was not time to bring her back up to practice, I took Sarah up to the park and had her run laps around the basketball court followed by an obstacle course around the playground equipment.  It was, by her own admission, a harder workout than she would have faced at GOTR.  She did not “forget” practice anymore after that.

I had really wanted her to love GOTR.  I wanted her to find a passion that would help her lead a healthy lifestyle, and an interest she could share with her dad.  I wanted her to feel the pride of working towards a goal and then achieving it.  Who knows, it could still happen.  I’m not holding my breath.  Sarah did complete the 5k this past weekend, whining and crying for 3.1 miles.  My husband commented to the coaches that he had literally dragged her across the finish line, to which they responded that they had been pulling her around the school track for seven weeks.  Surely, I asked Sarah, there was some positive morsel gleaned from this experience.  “Yes,” she replied “I got to miss Hebrew school this morning.”

Yesterday, I saw a glimmer of hope.  At school, Sarah’s GOTR team got to lead the pledge of allegiance and had a group photo taken wearing their medals.  Of all the girls in the photo, Sarah is wearing the biggest smile.    Plus, since starting GOTR, she has not once looked in the mirror and asked if she looks fat.  Despite all her grumbling, I think she is glad she stuck it out.

P.S.– This morning I walked past our piano and thought maybe it’s not late to take those lessons…

Master of the Universe

Confession time. I have a smidgen of an addictive personality. A mild case of OCD. As a teenager, I would sometimes get my allowance in rolls of quarters which I would then feed successively into one of those claw dropping, prize grabbing machines you can find at a mall or an amusement park. I have managed to avoid any “12 step” worthy addictions but I have spent enough hours playing online Scrabble to know an obsessive personality when I see one. I have to have my coffee in the morning; I can’t go into World Market without a chaperone (self imposed); and did I mention I watched two seasons worth of ‘Sports Night’ in less than two weeks?

Now, I have a new time suck- one that I had to tear myself away from to sit down and write this blog. It’s called ‘My Town’ and I play it on my other new addiction. The iPad. ‘My Town,’ involves building a town from nothing. The player builds houses, opens businesses and schools, and provides community features such as a fire and police station, parks, and a post office. The game uses the iPad’s locator feature to allow you to buy businesses in your pretend town, that match the businesses in your real city of residence, making it a sort of personalized monopoly game- but this feature, while cool, is not what draws me to the game.

The residents of ‘My Town’ are happily out and about all the time. I like watching them amble around, leaving their homes, visiting stores, even doing their jobs. The police officers in uniform are out on patrol, the construction workers clear land and build homes, and although everyone is walking around in the middle of the street- nobody ever gets hit by any of the cars, buses, or ice cream trucks that roam the neighborhood. This is especially good because I have not yet built a hospital in my town. Sometimes, groups of residents gather together and sing- little musical notes escaping their little animated mouths. It’s all so darn cute.

But what I enjoy even more than the adorability factor is that I control the whole darn thing. I am the master of this tiny little universe. I choose the style of each house that is built and where it is situated. I choose which businesses will open, and what they will look like. If I want a park bench- poof! There’s a park bench! If I want a food cart- poof! There’s a food cart. And if I want them to disappear? Poof! They are gone. In my pretend world, unlike my real world, nobody complains, and everything is predictable. There are no messes to clean, no kids to carpool, and everyone just seems so darn well rested. In the midst of all of the chaos that surrounds me, I have control over one tiny little thing, and that gives me the ability to deal with the rest of it.

Despite all that, I fear I have to quit ‘My Town’. As is typically true with addictions, I don’t like how this game is changing me. First, I cut down acres and acres of trees to build cute little houses. Then, I knocked down all of the affordable housing to build condos and strip malls. I’ve tried to make amends by planting flower beds and completing other “beautification” projects, but the urge to bulldoze the trees and build, build, build keeps coming back stronger. I am like the bionic urban planner- ‘My Town’ can be bigger, and better and well, clearly I have issues.

Whatever happens with ‘My Town’ there is bound to be an addiction that follows, and one that will follow that. I checked the iPad today to see if there was an application to help wean people off their iPad, but it seems that there is NOT an app for that.

Advice From Mom….

Since we have now established that I am an expert at wasting time and doing nothing, it should come as no surprise that one of my guilty pleasures is watching beauty pageants (I’m sorry- Scholarship Competitions).  Let’s get the peanut gallery comments out of the way:

Peanut Gallery:  But Meryl, don’t these “scholarship competitions” support the notion that a woman’s value lies in her physical appearance,  thereby pressuring women to conform to conventional standards of beauty and essentially setting the women’s movement back by sixty years?

Meryl: Yes.  Yes, they do.  This blog post isn’t really about beauty pageants, so let’s move on.

When I was in high school, I used to watch the Miss Teen America pageant with my mom.  One year, we watched as the finalists answered the following interview question: What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your mother?  For the life of me, I can’t remember what their answers were but when they were done,  my own mother turned to me and asked me the same question- what was the best advice she had ever given me.  I thought about it for a minute – all the advice she had given me thus far- just say no, just be yourself, speak your mind, try your best- all good advice.  But I settled on this little tidbit of wisdom, which I still try to follow whenever possible.

Flush as you go.

The first time my mother offered up this suggestion, I’m sure she meant it in the “courtesy flush” sense of the phrase.  After all we lived in a small house and noses can be easily offended.  But even then, I saw that ‘flush as you go’ has relevance beyond the bathroom, and perhaps it is advice we can all benefit from.  Take a look:

Flush As You Go:  Clean up your messes as you make them- this includes both physical messes and metaphysical life messes.   Letting any kind of mess or conflict just sit will allow it to grow, fester, and morph into something that is much more difficult to resolve or clean up later.  So as unpleasant as it might be to take responsibility for the mistake that you made or have that difficult conversation with someone, doing it sooner rather than later will likely limit any collateral damage and prevent you from having to deal with an even worse situation down the road (perhaps we should email this advice to Congress as they seem to have trouble with this concept).

Flush As You Go: Let it go and move on.  Face it, how often do you think about what you have just flushed once it is gone.  In my opinion, anger is only a productive emotion in the very short term.  Being mad can spur someone to take positive action to attempt to change a negative situation.   But when anger is allowed to fester, it can easily become bitterness, resentment, and even hopelessness and very little good ever comes of those emotions.  Reserve anger for the most egregious of offenses (murder, child abuse, cancer- you know- the big ticket items); refocus the anger and do something productive with it.  Everything else, just let it go and move on.  Did someone cut you off on the highway?  Let it go and move on.  Someone take your parking spot? Let it go and move on.  Mother in law criticized your cooking? Let it go and move on.  We have become a very angry country and seem to look for opportunities to make ourselves victims.   If we stop looking at every tiny inconvenience or insensitive remark as a personal affront maybe we can finally get our priorities in order and start moving forward again.

I say we start a movement (pun fully intended).  A variation on “Dude, Chill!” or “Curb your dog.”

Flush as you go.  The best advice my mom ever gave me.

The Art of Doing Nothing

The Art of Doing Nothing

 One Sunday afternoon, late this summer, I walked in on my husband doing something I never thought I would see.  He was sitting on our bed doing absolutely nothing.    I asked him, “what are you doing?”  He answered, “Nothing.”   I was quite shocked.  I didn’t even know he knew how to do nothing.  My husband is the king of double tasking.  If he is watching TV, he is also paying bills, putting together a piece of furniture, or doing pull ups.   A black belt in karate, and several half marathons (and a full marathon) under his belt; my husband lives a life of perpetual movement.  It is extremely difficult for him to do nothing.  I, on the other hand, could teach a master class.

This got me thinking.  How would one teach a class in doing nothing?  Here’s how I would do it.

Syllabus- Doing Nothing 101

Class Objective:  Learn enjoyable ways to pass the time when one has time to kill.

This is especially useful during long airport layovers where no WiFi connection is available, carpool trips with people you don’t like, or when you are trying to block out incessant, repetitive chatter from your children, coworkers, or loud-talking cell phone abusers.  In this class you will learn three effective tactics for wasting time.

  1. Writing letters in your head that you will never mail.
  2. Preparing imaginary auditions for reality shows you will never be on.
  3. Random celebrity fantasies.

Tactic 1: Writing letters in your head that you will never mail.

The key here is to keep things light.  Writing depressing letters to dead relatives, or ex-girlfriends or boyfriends will only leave you feeling sad.  I recommend writing a letter to someone letting them know of your appreciation for a job well done.  For example, while I was recovering from surgery this summer, I watched the entire two season run of ‘Sports Night’ on Netflix over the span of about ten days.  This show (which I missed out on when it originally aired) had everything I could want in a distraction:  smart dialogue, liberal politics, adorable cast members;  I was hooked.  When I wasn’t watching an episode, I was writing the following letter in my head:

Dear Aaron Sorkin,

Thank you for creating Sports Night.  With such quick, witty dialogue, and provocative subject matter, it was clearly a show ahead of its time.  Other than the theory that a show this intelligent went over the heads of most TV watchers, I cannot understand why the show did not last more than two seasons.  Perhaps if you had voted someone off the set each week you would have attracted a broader viewer base.

Sincerely,

Meryl

Tactic 2: Preparing auditions for reality shows you will never be on.

There is definite strategy here.  You would need to pick a completely different act to audition for ‘America’s Got Talent’ (i.e. The New Gong Show), than you would for ‘American Idol’ (i.e.  You don’t need to sound good as long as you look good).  If you are pretending to audition for America’s Got Talent you should plan to incorporate acrobatics or fire into your routine.  Or you should be younger than 14 or older than 60.  If you are pretending to audition for American Idol, it doesn’t really matter what you sing or how you sing it, but you should pretend to be as  mainstream America as possible.  Also, you should look very beautiful all the time.  Otherwise, J.Lo and Steven Tyler won’t have anything to talk about.

Whatever you are preparing to hypothetically audition for, be sure to have your sob story ready.  There are very few reality stars who have had happy, uneventful childhoods and have grown into rational, emotionally stable adults (have you seen ‘Big Brother?’).  Perhaps, before you do your imaginary audition, you could pretend to live in your car to give it more depth.

Tactic 3: Random celebrity fantasies.

If you seriously need help with this one, you automatically fail my class.

 Final Exam:

Have so many completely random and useless thoughts, and waste so much time doing it, that you can write an entire blog entry about it.   If you are daydreaming so well that people think you are asleep, you get bonus points.

Welcome to The Orange Inkblot!

Sometimes, when we get too focused on how life is hard and times are tough, we forget that life is also quite funny. This is important because it is the laughter that gets us through the dark times and brings light back into our lives. When I plunged into stay at home parenting six years ago, I quickly realized that finding the humor in situations that were otherwise exhausting, frustrating, or outright disgusting, was a definite prerequisite for the job.

Earlier this year, I had to have knee surgery due to a tear in the meniscus. According to the surgeon, it was a simple procedure and I would walk out of the recovery room with no required assistance. It turned out to be a little more complicated than that, and the first words I remember hearing while coming out of the anesthesia were, “she is not allowed to put any weight on her right foot for 30 days.” Decidedly not funny.

Being on a short leash gave me a chance to sit and write- a luxury these days. I began writing down funny memories from my childhood (stories that were not all so funny while they were happening, but looking back I can appreciate the humor in them); funny conversations that took place between myself and my husband; or interesting ideas for books or blog entries. Now, six months following surgery, physical therapy, and recovery, I am finally ready to share some of these tidbits with the world.

I can’t promise how regularly I will be posting. After all, I have otherwise exhausting, frustrating, and outright disgusting things to deal with.

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