Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Audition

As most of you know, last week I auditioned to be the emcee in a local community theater show called "Salute to the Tony Awards." The theater's website said that you could try out to be a singer, a dancer, or the emcee. The instructions for the emcee said, "Please prepare a comedic monologue."

The instructions also said, "Must be able to read," but I didn't see that part.

So, as you can imagine, when they have to stipulate that auditioners be literate, they're probably expecting most of them to be children.

And most of them were.

When I got to the audition and realized that every single person there was in about seventh grade, I wanted to bolt out the door. I felt like a pedophile, or at the very least a huge loser who tries to boost her ego by besting children. Like, "Hey, you guys, do you need a ride home? I don't! I got my own car, so, umm, yeah, seeya."

But I figured most of the kids would be singers and dancers, and they would still want an adult emcee, right? Plus they already saw me come in, so it would be totally obvious if I left without auditioning. And fortunately right then another adult showed up to try out.

"So, you're auditioning?" I asked her, just to ascertain that she wasn't some other auditioner's mom or something.

"Yeah, but just for the emcee," she said.


Fun side note, the audition was held at the clubhouse of a former public pool that was recently closed because the pool was sinking into the ground.

And at that audition, I sat in my stupid plastic chair hoping that the sinking ground could somehow swallow me up.

While I was doing that, the other woman auditioned. It turned out, she interpreted "comedic monologue" to mean some sort of humorous soliloquy from an already-existing play. Plus she had a British accent, which was a strike against me. Because wouldn't you rather your emcee have a pleasant, lilting British accent, than some kind of nasally California/Illinois hybrid accent?

So, okay, eventually it was my turn. Now, here's the thing. Picture your standard average community theater room, with gray walls, low ceilings, and florescent lights. You know, the kind of place that hosts Cub Scout meetings at night and senior luncheons by day? The kind of place that just screams "awkward"?

And we have an actual term, stage fright, but I would have been way less frightened to be on an elevated stage in a darkened room than three feet away from the directors on a linoleum floor.

"Umm, I wrote my own monologue," I mumbled. "You know, like Jay Leno does a monologue?"

"Cool," the director said.

And I did my thing, somewhat awkwardly. And afterward, the director said, "Shannon, do you have comedic training?" Which I think was a compliment. I said no, but I watch a lot of TV.

"But you do write, don't you?" the director asked.

"I guess I do," I said. "I have a blog." I gave her the address. She wrote it down.

She asked if I would be interested in writing jokes for the show. I said sure, because that would be awesome. But I was wondering if her asking me to be a writer was like saying I had a great face for radio. And as much as I love writing, when it comes to community theater, what little glory there is to be had is reserved for the on-air talent. I mean, it's prestigious to write for Saturday Night Live or something like that. But in community theater, I want to be seen. I mean, even in the big leagues, the stars are better known than the writers. Tina Fey made a very wise decision to star in 30 Rock in addition to writing and producing it.

I was told that the cast list would be up on the community theater website on Monday (which was yesterday). And I kept on clicking "refresh" until finally the list showed up. And ...

It's a tie. The other woman and I are both going to be emcees.

And I don't know about Yvonne Ambrose, but I am so excited! And I get to write and star in this show. I'm like the Tina Fey of this particular community theater production!

You guys should totally come. The performance is at an Italian restaurant, so for the price of your ticket you get to see young people singing and dancing, the comedic stylings of me and some other women, and free sausage.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Home Stretch

NOTE: The pea soup recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Wow, tomorrow is the last day of NaBloPoMo! Don't worry, though, I'll still post on December 1. (You were worried, right?) I have had so much fun doing this month's NaBloPoMo. I have really felt a change in my writing this month. And it's good to have goals that force you to do something. Like when I vowed to go to the gym every day in March 2009, that was good because I felt like I had to go. This whole "all or nothing" approach is good for me. Perhaps I should have joined the army.

Anyway, yesterday was heavy around here, wasn't it? So I thought today I'd post a few lighter updates.

First off, RE: last week's audition, I still haven't heard anything. The cast list is supposed to be up on the park district website today. I'll tell the whole story when I get a definite answer.

And speaking of the gym (3 paragraphs ago), I have invented a new treadmill workout for myself. I warm up with 4 minutes of fast-walking, and then my goal is to do the following intervals:
  • run 6 minutes
  • walk 3 minutes
  • run 5 minutes
  • walk 3 minutes
  • run 4 minutes
  • walk 3 minutes
  • run 3 minutes
  • walk 3 minutes
  • run 2 minutes
  • walk 2 minutes
  • run 1 minute
  • walk 1 minute
  • fast-walk 5 minutes with 2.5% uphill grade
  • cool down
Notice how I made some of it red. Those are the parts I could. not. do. today at the gym. (See, it's like my workout deficit, "in the red.") I thought I might die if I continued. To be honest, I feel pretty sad for myself that I started the Couch to 5K 11 weeks ago, and I still have to walk about half the distance. You're supposed to be running it all within 9 weeks.

But really, who cares? I have the heart-rate monitor, and I know I'm working at an aerobic level for a full 45 minutes. And afterward I feel pretty good (minus the whole "wanting to die" part).

Also, on Friday when I was doing that 5K out in the frigid cold, I was thinking about how I am not the fastest or the thinnest or the most athletic, but I was the one who showed up, dammit. This one girl at the other 5K had on a shirt that said, "The miracle wasn't that I finished. The miracle was that I had the courage to start." Now, I'm pretty sure her shirt was referring to a marathon or some other run of great distance, but for me, it's a miracle that I even started running a 5K.

Yay for me.

The working out with the trainer is going well. Nothing to complain about there, which means I can't really tap that source for any blog fodder.

We got the train tickets. Which means I also got the iPad! No cookie runway yet, though.

And now that I'm going to be playing with the iPad, I probably won't read any more books, ever. But I did finish a book yesterday,
The Imperfectionists. DISLIKED. It was one of those books that is just a bunch of short stories about different characters, and in the end the characters are supposed to intersect in some meaningful way. Except, the author forgot the part about the characters needing to intersect, which means there was no moment at the end where the book redeemed itself.

After finishing that gem, I started
The 19th Wife, by my hometown's most famous author, David Ebershoff. (Actually I don't know if he's my hometown's most famous author, but he is an author from my hometown. And anyway, I went to elementary school with the kid who played Urkel, which trumps any author anyday.) So, The 19th Wife tells the parallel stories of the wife of Mormon head honcho Brigham Young and a modern-day polygamist woman accused of murder. Let me note that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Mormon church. (In case the frequent references to wine and coffee didn't give that fact away.) Mormonism isn't really my thing, but I do find stories about them interesting. And Mormon studies are totally hot right now! The creators of South Park actually have a Broadway musical coming out, entitled The Book of Mormon!

I probably won't be seeing that musical. But I do have tickets for another show in a large theater in December ... Jerry Seinfeld doing stand-up! Now, as I'm sure you know, I am a huge
Seinfeld fan. What you may not know is that I watch Seinfeld DVDs every single night. And sometimes I just watch the same episode over and over, even though I mock my kid for doing the same thing with his DVDs. (But seriously, Seinfeld is a way better choice than Wow, Wow, Wubzy ... right?)

So, I had to find a babysitter for Nathan for the night of the Seinfeld show. In the three years of my parenting career, I have more or less sucked at leaving Nathan with a babysitter. And it's not even really so much that I don't trust anybody else to watch him. It's that I feel awkward asking people to babysit. I know that sounds dumb, but I find it uncomfortable to be anybody's employer. So, my friend from the gym gave me a referral for a babysitter, and I seriously had to psych myself up
for several days before I could call the girl. And then I stalled on making the call. I was actually nervous. And then I was grateful I got her voicemail, except that I knew this would lead to phone tag and the whole process would never end.

The thing is, I used to babysit a lot in high school. And I always felt like the parents had the upper hand in our relationship, because they were my employers. But in actuality, I had a lot more power than I thought, because these people were so desperate to find somebody who could babysit for them. You know how it is. You're invited to some event, or you get tickets for something, and it's like,
oh crap, I have to find a babysitter. And you're just so glad if anybody says yes to watching your kid.

Anyway, I felt like I had to do the whole quasi-interview with the girl before she came over to watch Nathan for a long, late night, so she's coming over Wednesday afternoon for a couple of hours. So at least I can table my awkwardness until then.

And just to bring it full-circle, let me say that when I used to babysit, one of the parents I babysat for had been a writer for
Seinfeld. And he had VHS tapes of Seinfeld Season 4, commercial-free, that I could watch after the kids went to bed. And of course now I have every season of Seinfeld on DVD, so I can watch several episodes commercial-free anytime I want, but back then that VHS tape was cool. Plus that family bought Trix yogurt, and I took full advantage of the babysitter refrigerator privileges there. There is just something so awesome about a sugary-sweet, unnaturally-colored yogurt. And so even though I can now watch my Seinfelds back-to-back in a much better digital medium, I have to do it eating my boring, low-fat, grown-up yogurt.

And since we're talking about healthful, unpleasantly-colored foods, I give you the split pea soup recipe:

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

  • 1 cup dried green split peas (I actually used a 1-lb bag)
  • 5 cups water
  • 2/3 cup chopped shallots (2 to 3 medium-size)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage
  • salt to taste (I find that in this particular recipe, "to taste" = a buttload)
  • dash of cayenne pepper
1. Put the split peas in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Pick over, discarding any that are discolored. Put in the slow cooker along with the water, shallots, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and sage. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on LOW until the peas are completely tender. (Note that this recipe says that it takes 12 to 15 hours. I find the recipe is completely done in 8 hours.) Remove the bay leaf.

2. Puree the soup, using a blender, food processor, immersion blender, or the fine blade of a food mill. (WTF is a "food mill?) You may need to do this in batches. Season the soup with salt and just a bit of cayenne pepper.

Original recipe serves 4 to 6, although you can get more servings if you use a whole bag of peas. And really, who wants a half a bag of peas in the pantry? And again, let me emphasize that you have to add a lot of salt. I think I have average taste when it comes to salt, like I don't automatically add salt to everything I eat, but I don't pick off all the salt from pretzels, either. But the split pea soup will be gross and bland if you don't add a good amount of salt. And then you'll be all, "How could that Shannon say this was a good recipe? I don't trust her. I'm never reading her blog again."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The issues that separate us

This past week, I created a minor stir on Technorati with an article I wrote entitled "San Francisco Petition Seeks to Ban Circumcision."

It was even the main story on the Technorati homepage for a short while. I took a screen shot:
Now, I don't mean to make it sound like I created the Internet's next big controversy. The article was featured on Thanksgiving morning, not exactly a high-traffic time. Shortly thereafter it was replaced on the homepage by a generic "Happy Thanksgiving" greeting.

But my article did get a few comments. One was spam, one was pro-circumcision, and the rest were anti-circumcision. I think circumcision is the kind of issue where one side is going to be much more vocal than the other, in this case the anti-circumcision side. Is anybody really going to be all that vocal with the "yay circumcision" argument? Can any of us really say that we love circumcision?

Now, in the article itself, I didn't argue pro-circumcision or anti-circumcision. I merely argued that I don't think the government should have the right to make the circumcision decision for individual parents, particularly because circumcision is an important religious practice for many of those parents.

I have friends who chose circumcision and friends who did not. And guess what? We can still be friends. I'm not expecting you to be incredibly shocked that a snipper could be friends with a non-snipper. It's not like I just said that Glenn Beck and Arianna Huffington suddenly became BFFs.

It's just that, if you read the rhetoric of the two circumcision camps online, you get the idea that this is a very divisive issue. You might get the impression that this is the Most Important Issue Ever.

Just like everything single other issue that has to do with early parenthood.

Off the top of my head, I could rattle off:
  • breast vs. bottle
  • natural childbirth vs. epidural
  • vaginal vs. c-section
  • hospital vs. homebirth
  • cloth vs. disposable
  • co-sleeping vs. crib
  • homemade baby food vs. Gerber
  • cry-it-out vs. tend to the baby every time he/she cries
  • SAHM vs. WOHM
  • schedule vs. feeding on-demand
  • organic vs. non-organic
  • TV vs. no TV
Now, if you are reading this and you don't have any kids, you might be thinking that all of these issues are actually really silly things to argue about. And you would be right. And in actuality, most of us never argued about any of those things. I used disposable, my friend used cloth. We can go on being friends, so long as I never have to do a load of laundry in her washing machine.

I breastfed, and many of my friends used formula. Do I judge them? No, and in fact in some ways I think maybe they're right. No! The antibodies! The bonding! The rapid weight loss that comes from breastfeeding, which I'm still waiting for!

But also, I didn't go on antidepressants when I should have because I felt like I had to breastfeed him until he was one. I cut him off on exactly his first birthday. What an arbitrary point, but I picked it because the world said I should at least breastfeed for a year.

I shouldn't have made decisions based on what the rest of the world said, I should have made decisions based on what was right for me. On all of these issues, parents should make an informed decision, based on their circumstances, and not on all the stupid crap you read online. These are not the be-all, end-all decisions that some people on the Internet make them out to be. In the end, it won't matter if you chose to make organic, lovingly-prepared vegetable purees to feed your baby, or you popped open the can of Gerber. (And let me note that Gerber is actually not in cans anymore, but little plastic containers, which I know because Nathan was exclusively Gerber-fed, and I have no problem with it.)

I just feel really bad that new parents are led to believe these are the really important decisions. Based on some of the rhetoric online, new parents might think that the wrong choice could permanently damage their child. Your baby won't suck properly if you have an epidural. Would you choose genital mutilation like that if you had a girl? Letting your baby cry it out is child abuse! I don't eat all my food out of cans, so why should my baby? Why have children if you're just going to leave them with a babysitter while you're at work? Exposing babies to TV alters the neurons in their brains! Formula isn't natural!

The thing is, a new baby is a completely blank slate, and you get the feeling that if you make all the right choices, you can raise a perfect human being. If you make the wrong choices, someday you'll be that mother having to decide whether or not to turn in your son to the authorities for the murder you know he committed.

Except, it's not all that cut-and-dry. Some decisions are not objectively right or wrong. They're just decisions. You have to make the right decisions for your family, given the confines of your reality. And it will all be okay in the end.

And actually, the vocal people on the Internet are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Most of us don't have strong feelings about the choices others make on these particular issue. And the people who are making sanctimonious comments might be doing that because they feel like they need to justify their own choices.

I hope this doesn't come across like I'm attacking the people who commented on my circumcision article. I don't mean to insult them by suggesting that the circumcision decision is totally inconsequential. In actuality, the decision as to whether or not to alter your son's genitals has more far-reaching consequences than any of the other decisions mentioned above. Parents of boys should obviously not take the circumcision decision lightly. They should sort through the issues and make the best possible choice for their families.

And they shouldn't be made to feel bad about their choices. This "don't feel bad" argument was really my point in comparing the circumcision decision to the myriad other decisions that new parents make. On all these issues, you should make the right choice for you. And another family should make the right choices for them. And there shouldn't be a vocal minority out there making other people feel like the worst parents ever because of their choices. Because, in the end, when it comes to all these decisions, no matter what your choice, the world will go on. And this complicated world of parenting will be be just a little easier if we stand united rather than divided.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You Capture: I Ate That

So, as you know, I occasionally participate in the You Capture photography carnival sponsored by the blog I Should Be Folding Laundry. Normally the carnival is held on Thursdays, but since it's a holiday, you're free to post and link up throughout the four-day weekend.

Now, this week's theme, "I Ate That," is obviously meant to tie in with Thanksgiving. But since I don't have any pictures of food that I actually ate on Thanksgiving, I'm going with this:

Split pea soup! The greenness! The gruel-like texture! The placemat!

And do you like how the green accents on the soda can pick up the color of the soup? That was totally intentional, and not at all because one member of my family always picks the Diet Coke with Lime, which another member of my family believes to taste like artificially-sweetened window cleaner.

There's a story behind the soup. Because doesn't everybody have a good split pea soup story?

In my native California, there is a famous pea soup establishment known as Pea Soup Andersen's. At one point I think there were multiple Andersen's establishments, but the only remaining one is in the town of Buellton, California, just north of where I went to college. Here's a picture of Bill eating at Andersen's in 2000:

He's having their famous Traveler's Special, a combo that includes all-you-can-eat soup, bread, and a beverage of your choice. It would appear that he chose a milkshake as his beverage. I probably chose Diet Coke, but not that vile lime version that I don't even think was invented back then.

Outside of Andersen's, you can stick your head in a photo-op thingy featuring their mascots, Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee. Again, this is Bill ten years ago:

What I like about Andersen's is that they make a good vegetarian split pea soup. Most split pea soup recipes rely on ham for flavor, and I don't really care for ham. But the vegetarian version of Andersen's is perfectly flavorful. They sold it in cans at my local grocery store growing up, and I used to bring a thermos of split pea soup for lunch every day in high school. It's a wonder I wasn't more popular.

Here in suburban Chicago, though, the grocery stores don't carry Andersen's soup in cans. So I was really excited when I checked out Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook from the library recently, and I realized they had an Andersen's copycat split pea soup. That combines two of my favorite things: Crock Pots and nostalgic soup recipes!

The result is the soup you see above in the first picture. I don't remember Andersen's well enough to know if the Not Your Mother's recipe is a reasonable facsimile, but it sure was good. It lasted several meals, the above picture being taken at its very last run.

I realize most people find pea soup kind of gross, perhaps because its color, "pea soup green," refers to the most hideous hue in the 70s-era color palate. So since this soup is not all that popular, I will not take the time to type out the recipe here. But if you want it, leave a message in the comments and I'll e-mail it to you.

And ... I can't help it ...

Have a soup-er day!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Butterball eating, butterball burning

Welcome to the holiday season, everyone! I don't really get into the holiday spirit until the day after Thanksgiving, even if that dang WLIT switched to playing all Christmas music on November effing Twelfth. So, let me be the first non-commercial outfit to wish you a happy holidays!

I really enjoyed my family's Thanksgiving this year. As I said, we went to a restaurant, so my morning was filled with watching this year's B-list star lineup on the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, rather than frantically trying to clean maple turkey brine out of the bottom of my refrigerator like last year.

Our reservations at the restaurant were at a pretty early 11:30 a.m., which was a good thing because I didn't eat breakfast beforehand and was kind of starting to hallucinate due to low blood sugar. The place we went to was a castle built by an eccentric millionaire in the 1930s in Dyer, Indiana. It was a cool place. Another visitor remarked that it was like Batman's Wayne Manor in its gothic-ness. I'd show a picture, but it was pretty dimly-lit, and the weather was pretty dark, so I didn't get any good shots.

The food was good. We were right next to a window, and they had peacocks running around the grounds outside. (That is, I think they did. That may have been the hallucinations. Because I think peacocks would be one of the first things to show up in a hallucination, especially with all that NBC I was watching that morning.) Anyway, I had a few servings of mashed potatoes liberally-topped with cranberry sauce, like many people might put gravy on them. The yams were not marshmallow-topped, but they were still pretty good. And they had this really good sort of rigatoni alfredo thing that I think was the restaurant's take on some people's traditional Thanksgiving macaroni and cheese. All in all, it was a good meal in a nice atmosphere.


The place didn't have pie. No pie. On Thanksgiving. That's un-American, right?

We stopped and got some pie on the way home at the grocery store. Yes, I know, Weight Watchers is revoking my membership right now. Or else giving me gold membership status, because a no-willpower member like me will be pretty cha-ching for them.

We had planned to go to a movie, but food coma + gross weather outside = staying home. We hung out here and watched part of the 1982 classic Tron (Bill's choice), then played some board games.

Then this morning was the 5K Butterball Burner on the streets behind my gym. I was calling it the "Butterball Freezer" because it was 21 degrees, and 7 degrees with the windchill. But, and this is hard to admit, it was so much fun. Yes, my lungs were burning from the freezing cold air. And yes, I was running harder and faster than usual because I just wanted to get back indoors. But that get me to shave 3 minutes off my time from the last race. At the 5K I did three weeks ago, my time was 42: 53, on their official precision timing systems. At today's 5K, my time was 39:42, on the less-official timing system of my iPod. And after the run I had fun complaining about the weather with the other runners in the post-race food area.

The thing is, I think I'm starting to like running.

Well, shit. I hate it when other people are right.

Oh and also, I got a free t-shirt from the run. It's black polyester with orange writing. Win-win.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nathan at the park, Thanksgiving 2008

It's Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. What I like about Thanksgiving is that it has the warmth and family togetherness of Christmas, without the insane stress and commercialism. Plus, is there anything better than mashed potatoes mixed with cranberry sauce? What, is that just something I like?

Also, there's the sweet potato casserole. I list that as one of the foods I would eat with reckless abandon if I found out I only had a month to live. (The other food is the strawberry Jell-o and pretzel salad.)

This year, my small family of three is going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. Some people think going to restaurants on Thanksgiving is kind of sad. I used to think that, too, until last year when I cooked the whole meal. It was so stressful. And it was so expensive. I spent $200 on just the basic ingredients to feed 4 adults and two extremely picky toddlers. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I drove past this one restaurant that still had the advertisement up that they were offering an all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet for $18. And I thought, I could have paid for everyone to go to that restaurant and only paid half of what I paid to cook. So this year, we're going to that restaurant. (I should note that our guests from last year's Thanksgiving are out of town this year.)

Honestly, I am so happy about how low-key this Thanksgiving is. I admit that it is sad that I'm not with my extended family today. It would be nice to have a big family dinner where we all pitch in and cook. But if I can't have that, I'll settle for a quiet Thanksgiving dinner that somebody else cooks for me.

After the restaurant, we are going to see Megamind. That movie has something for everyone. It's a kids' movie for Nathan, a superhero movie for Bill, and it has the voice talents of Tina Fey for me.

What I like about Thanksgiving is that everything slows down for a tiny little while. I didn't really realize how much our recent schedule has kind of stressed me out. But between the twice-weekly preschool battle, the gym, running around between children's activities, and, yes, even my blog obligations (blobligations?), things have seemed pretty crazy.

And it's nice to have everything shut down for a weekend. I mean, yes, the gym is still open (and in fact I'm doing their Butterball Burner 5K tomorrow). I will still be completing my blobligatory last few days of NaBloPoMo on this blog. But I'm taking a little break from my other blogs, because I figure not many people will be reading this weekend anyway. And we'll all be home, indoors where it's warm, with an excuse to be schlubs for a few days. Because it's Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for my family and the time I have to spend with them. I'm thankful for my vast network of loving extended family members, even though I won't see them today. I'm also thankful that we all have our physical and mental health. And of course I'm thankful for a financially stable lifestyle with enough to eat and a roof over our heads, because there are many people who don't have those things.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Sometimes I'm lucky enough to get up before Nathan in the morning. I feed the cat, apparently just in time to prevent her from starving to death, if her incessant meowing is any indication. While down in the basement to feed the cat, I tend to the laundry at whatever stage it's at. I come upstairs and empty the dishwasher, then refill it with whatever cups are hanging around. I straighten up the kitchen. If I'm really lucky, after all these chores I still have time to sit and drink my coffee and surf the Internet in peace. By then the cat has come up from her food dish and planted herself on the floor.

And then, all of the sudden her ears perk up. They say cats can sense when an earthquake is coming, and apparently they can sense when a three-year-old is coming too.

Then Nathan appears.

And I think, the chaos ensues.

He's just one child, but hoo boy. Immediately he starts making requests. He wants to watch TV. He wants to put his underwear on. He wants milk ... please?! (See, the please is an afterthought, uttered after a three-second nagging stare from me.)

I say, "Okay, we have to get dressed because we have to leave for the gym in 20 minutes. You can watch TV and have milk after you get dressed."

Now, this seems pretty cut-and-dry. Clothes = TV. And this is straightforward ... to a rational human being. But then there's The Three-Year-Old. I imagine that The Three-Year-Old's brain is sort of like anybody else's brain, except the thoughts are just swirling in a tornado-like whirlwind, and it's everything the kid can do to grab just one logical, reasonable thought.

So we go in his room to get clothes. I say, okay, you can wear x, y, or z pants. This system of offering just a few choices is what all The Books say you should do with young children. Make them feel like they have the power to choose, but don't give them an overwhelming number of options.

So, right: Pants options x, y, and z.

He says, "I want to wear shorts."

So I go through a speech about why he can't wear shorts, a speech that is liberally peppered with terms like winter and Chicago and 32 degrees. He says he will just change into pants later, when it's time to leave.

And the thing is, on days when we're just hanging around the house, the "change into pants when we leave" policy is fine. But at that point, it's like 10 minutes before we have to leave. Not really enough time for a wardrobe change. And yet here we are, trapped in some stupid gray area because I made a policy that it was okay to change from shorts to pants at one point, even though obviously you would think that a person would see the difference between "hanging around the house for 2 hours" and "leaving to go out in the bitter cold in 10 minutes." But again, that's assuming rationality on the part of the other person.

We go through the same battle over short sleeves versus long sleeves. At some point it occurs to me that I have been sucked into some weird universe where I'm standing there, having some completely illogical conversation about the very basic issue of what pants to wear, and that I have no idea how to get out of this.

Eventually I give up and say, "Fine, I will meet you downstairs when you're dressed." That's usually my ace in the hole. He talks a big game, but eventually he chooses to cooperate. He comes downstairs dressed in pants and a long-sleeved shirt, but just as one last little in your face, he has chosen none of the pants that were offered. Fine, whatever.

And the power struggles over clothes have nothing on the power struggles over food. Today I was talking to somebody about the food issue, and she was asking, "Does he like oranges? Does he like broccoli? Does he like this, that, and the other?" I replied, "Yeah, he likes all those things, he would just rather choose not to eat them sometimes because he knows I want him to." And so entire plates of food just go untouched, even if those plates contain the foods that I would previously have included on his list of favorite foods. And maybe even he would have included them on his list of favorite foods, except that all but the most delicious cookie is worth giving up if it means he has a little bit of power to lord over me.

Now, the thing is, you would think that eventually a person who chose not to eat would get his comeuppance. He would go, "Oh, okay, now I'm pretty hungry, and this is unpleasant. I will choose to eat in the future." And I would feel just a tiny bit smug thinking that he learned his lesson after all.

Except, no. Somehow the fact that he chose not to eat turns into my problem. Because when he doesn't eat his dinner, he doesn't poop. (THAT'S RIGHT, KID, I'M PUTTING IT ON THE INTERNET.) And then he doesn't sleep.

Sleeping, that's another matter. Since the boy was two months old, he could just be put in his bed and fall asleep on his own. Sometime around turning three, this all got shot to hell. And I became the parent I swore I would not be, the one who has to lie there with a kid until he is dead asleep. Having to lie there with a reluctant sleeper at the end of a long day, in the pitch dark and total silence, that is a form of torture. All you want is to get to that point in the day where the kid is asleep and you're finally free. And all that kid wants is to avoid sleeping at any cost. What does he have to lose?

I have to turn the lights off because even the tiniest little light illuminates his twiddling his thumbs or playing with his toes, or whatever asinine behavior he has invented to stall on going to sleep. Sometimes even the stupid little light from the cable box is enough to keep him awake. And I have to be totally silent and totally still. I swear, even the movement created when I breathe in too deeply jars him awake from his near-slumber. So, I'm lying there, consumed with the crushing stress of ohmygosh when will this child just fall asleep already? and not even really breathing fully to combat that stress.

At that point, I have this thought like, How am I going to make it through another day tomorrow?

And when he finally goes to sleep, I quietly tiptoe out of my room, then wait a couple of hours to move his sleeping body into his room. But then sometime during the night, he comes back into our bed. I have no idea how to solve that problem.

Speaking of solutions, I feel like I've mostly failed to solve a number of problems here. Maybe I'm not mean enough. Maybe I don't set clear enough limits. Maybe I'm allowing myself to be manipulated by a three-year-old. Definitely I'm a big fat failure.

But, for crying out loud. How many limits can you set? Take, for example, the other day when he dumped half my can of Diet Coke into the sink, all while laughing maniacally. Of course I was mad, but I also thought, could I have done something to prevent this? Did I need to make a rule like, "No dumping another person's soda into the sink"? And if I didn't make a rule like that, does that mean it would be unfair and arbitrary to give him a time-out for it? I mean, I could cite something like "disrespect" as the cause for time-out, but, again, he is three.

And time-out, that's another thing. I use this system because it seems to be what all the parents use, and Nathan's school uses it. But just once I would like to have the child walk obediently to the time-out chair and serve his sentence without a battle. I would like to not develop this out-of-control, vindictive-sounding tone wherein I say, "Fine, if you're gonna argue, that's another minute!" And I would like to have him sit in that chair without making spitting sounds.

With Nathan, I think the only solution is to pick my battles. He is extremely stubborn, and I have to let a lot of stuff go. Most days, I seem to get him to carry out the basic functions of life, and I feel like that tiny victory should be enough. Except I am constantly feeling inferior to other parents. You know, the ones who say things like, "I tell Suzy that she doesn't get a sticker on her chart if she puts her shoes on the wrong feet." And I'm thinking, "I'm happy if Nathan just puts some pair of shoes on, period. Left foot, right foot? Who cares?" I feel like these other parents are in much better control of their kids, even though in some cases I think they just mention their tiny victories because they feel insecure about all their defeats. But I still think they are judging me. What's wrong with her? Why can't she get that kid to behave? Did she just crawl out from under a rock? Let's give her a bunch of unsolicited advice because clearly she is clueless!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I will write a happier post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Delivered by carrier pigeon

Well, my home Internet connection is down. So I’m using the Wi-Fi at the gym to post this blog. At least my need for Internet got me to the gym. (Note to self: They also have Wi-Fi at McDonald’s.)

I’m assuming that the underlying cause of my Internet access problem is that my landline is down. When it first went dead, we still had very pathetic, limited Internet access that moved at about dial-up speed. (Dial-up! The horror!) During that time, I was able to look up AT&T’s phone number and write it down, which I mention because, I kid you not, I wrote down on a notepad with the heading “Idiots at AT&T.” Ahh, I amuse myself! AT&T earned the title idiots because when we lost Internet access back in September (September 2010, that’s relevant), I was on the phone with them for two hours, being transferred to different departments all over the world, and the bottom line seemed to be that there was a disconnect order on my line dating back to September 2009. What!? Had I accidentally fallen in a wormhole and gone back in time? Was I at the nexus of the universe?

Anyway, back to today’s problem. This morning we had no phone or Internet, so it was time to suck it up and call AT&T. Of course I called on my cell phone, which is what any normal person between the ages of 13 and 85 would do these days. But when I called, the automated AT&T system said the following: “Please provide us with an alternative number where we can contact you. This could be a work number, or the number of a friend or relative.” WHAT?! Cell phone wasn’t even mentioned as an option?! Wouldn’t the cell number just be your automatic choice, even if you had a work number, since you don’t know if they will call during work hours? And how the hell would the number of a “friend or relative” work? How would the friend or relative get in touch with you to relay the information from AT&T? Write you a letter? Use two cups connected with a string?

And speaking of people who are stuck in the olden days, why do I still have a landline? Many people I know have done away with the landline, and I think the fact that we survived for two days without it indicates that the landline is clearly unnecessary. The trouble is, I don’t get a great signal on my cell phone at home. And also, since I’m home during the day, I talk on the phone sometimes during the day, which is a time when cell minutes are kind of limited. (Though truth be told, I could easily adapt to a no-phone world, wherein all we do is text and e-mail. I’m kind of awkward on the phone.)

And I think the bottom line on the landline is that most people have that number, and the hassle of changing my number with every single website, doctor’s office, and utility company keeps me paying the stupid $30/month for a landline.

We also still get two newspapers delivered to our house each day. So clearly we are not on the cutting edge of technology.

I think I had planned to talk about something else today.

Well, first off, I am a sucker for things that smell good. And every time I go to a mall, I end up buying a bunch of stuff from Bath & Body Works. I justify my purchase there by saying that I deserve a reward after spending two hours hitting every kid spot in the mall (playground, carousel, kiddie train), during which my only retail experience is at the pretzel place.

Now, the thing about Bath & Body Works is that they are the champion of the upsell. I would seriously hate to work there, because you would always have to be saying things like, "I see you have two lotions there. You know if you buy 8 more, you can get 3 more free." Now, as a shopper, when presented with such an opportunity, I figure I'd be an idiot not to take it, because the cost of each lotion goes down from like $7.50 to like $4, and it doesn't even matter that I would not be able to use that much lotion if I spent a year in the Siberian desert. And I could give the lotions away as gifts, except all my friends have so many lotions already, having fallen victim to the Bath & Body Works package deals themselves.

So! We now have four soaps in holiday containers: the snowman, the peppermint candy, and two Christmas trees. (Tree #2 was free.) And my house is going to smell like chocolate mint because I bought the air freshener refills in that scent! Plus I have a new C.O. Bigelow butterscotch pudding lip gloss. And the peppermint lotion that makes me feel kind of cold!

And also, should you be the kind of person who likes to actually buy gifts for other people, my blog friend Caitlin has a Chicago Kids Gift Guide up on her blog, Wee Windy City! I guess it's mostly for Chicago people, but there are some cute things on there for people who live in other cities, too. And let me say, most holiday gift guides are kind of dumb. They either include items you could never afford, or items that nobody would ever want. (I'm looking at you, combination cooler/iPod speakers that I saw at Target the other day. Because I like to plug a $150 electronic gadget into something that will probably leak.) Anyway, Caitlin's gift guide actually has some real items I might actually want to buy (Nathan is totally getting the "L" train toy), so I'm giving it the official Shannon Seal of Non-Dumbness.

And finally, tonight I have a big audition, so think positive thoughts for me at 7 p.m. CST. I know what you're thinking, Audition?! Because if you don't know me personally, you may have assumed that I'm not really a performer. And if you do know me personally, you know I'm not really a performer. But I'm doing a stand-up monologue to try out for a community theater production. It's one of my hare-brained ideas I occasionally get to branch out, like when I decided to take ice-skating lessons or run a 5K. Except hopefully stand-up doesn't have such a high potential for a hamstring pull. Anyway, tonight I'm doing my monologue. I sing and dance a little in it. And I speak German. Umm, yeah.

Monday, November 22, 2010

With every Christmas card I write

The question before us is, should we send out Christmas cards this year?

I love to get Christmas cards. December is the only time of year when it's actually fun to get the mail. I mean, I look forward to getting the mail every day of the year (except Sundays, of course). Each day's mail delivery holds such promise, even though it's unwanted items like bills and advertisements every single day. But still the possibility of the mail delivery makes me as excited as a dog about to get a Milk-Bone. When is the mail gonna get here? Ooh the mail is late. Oh look, the mail is HERE! Mail, mail, mail, MAIL!

Inevitably, I am let down by the day's mail offerings.

But in December, there are actually fun, personalized(ish) greetings in the mail! Fun red envelopes containing letters and pictures!

Since I like to receive Christmas cards, I feel like it is my duty to send Christmas cards to other people. And I have carried out this duty every single year since Bill and I got married in 2004.

Our first few years of marriage, we did some kind of a picture/update combination. Mind you, we have never been the type to write the double-sided, single-spaced, 8-point font holiday update letter, the one that recounts every single thing we did in the past year. (I mean, if people want to read several paragraphs about the minutiae of my life, they could just log on to this blog.)

No, our holiday letters included like a two-sentence update on each family member, which in our early years of marriage consisted of Bill, me, and the cat. We always had a lot of news to share, because in those years we got new jobs, moved, had a baby, and changed jobs. The cat's life was more-or-less status quo, but we made up for her lack of news by including a picture of her in her Santa suit. Doesn't she look thrilled?

Anyway, once Nathan was born, we switched over to doing the photo-only cards. I figured a picture of him pretty much conveyed whatever news updates we needed to provide. Some years we were all in the picture, and other years (okay, most years) I felt like I was too fat that year to be in the holiday photo. Some years Leia still made it in, others she did not.

But every year, the Christmas card picture was a big fat pain in the ass. It is so hard to get a cute picture that doesn't have bad lighting or some hideous pile of toys in the background. And sometimes the photo looked okay on my computer, but came out kind of weird-looking when we picked up the photo cards.

And then there was the hassle of making the address labels. First I had to collect everybody's current address. And then one year I tried to make those labels that you buy with the cute little holiday icons on them, and the ink got all smeared. Another year the labels were somehow off in the printer, and half of each person's address was on one label, and half was on the other. And rather than fixing and reprinting the labels, I seriously just cut the labels in half and stuck them together with the label containing the other half.

Sometimes I buy little stickers to seal the envelopes. Sometimes I order holiday-themed pre-printed return address labels. In the end, you're stuffing and sealing 100 envelopes, and then sticking 3-4 stickers (including stamps) on each one. And with each photo card costing a minimum of about 50 cents (and a maximum of way the hell more), plus 44 cents each for stamps, you're looking at about $1.00 per card. And that's before all the cutesy labels and stickers. In all, it ends up costing about $150, plus a huge amount of time and effort.

All this to send updates to people who are updated on our every move on Facebook every single day.

I just counted, and I have 68 photo albums on Facebook. Figuring each album contains an average of about 10 photos (which may be figuring conservatively), that's almost 700 photos of my family.

You know what we look like.

And you know what we're doing, down to the most minute details. Forget the big news like new homes/babies/jobs, you know what we ate for dinner last night. (Let me note that, in addition, we have no new homes/babies/jobs to report this year, so that's another strike against Christmas cards.)

There was a time when I'm sure Christmas cards made sense as a means of keeping in touch with people. You would often hear people describe their relationships with old friends by saying something like, "Well, we're down to just exchanging Christmas cards once a year."

Except, nowadays, you are in touch with everybody in that "Christmas card" category on Facebook. In addition, there are people you're slightly closer to, who you are in touch with via e-mail, text, phone, IM, Skype, or in-person visits. With all these means of communication, there isn't a single person who needs a Christmas card to update them on the goings-on of my life.

So, I might cut out the cards this year, as one way to stop the insanity. I think there will be enough insanity this year with the 40-hour ride Amtrack ride with a 3-year-old.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'Tis the season to argue over stuff, Part 2

So, the train vs. airplane argument is a new one this year in our house. But when it comes to arguments, a holiday classic in my extended family is "What should this year's gift policy be?"

That's right, Family, I'm putting our problems on the Internet.

For many years, my family did the traditional "Everybody buys a gift for everybody else" system. This worked for us for many years, until, like in most families, the family got bigger as children grew up, got married, and started families of their own.

[I should pause and note here that I am, in fact, a member of more than one extended family. My parents divorced when I was a kid, so I have the extended families of my dad/stepmom and my mom/stepdad. Then I got married and now have my husband's extended family as well. In particular, the story recounted in this blog post is occurring in my mom/stepdad's family, although the issue came up last year with my in-laws. My dad/stepmom's family celebration just consists of our original nuclear family, so that gathering is small enough that we don't really need to invent an alternative gift-giving policy.]

Anyway, a few years ago it got to the point where I looked down at my list of people to buy for, and there were 40 names on there. Forty. Now, figuring you spend an average of $20 per gift, that's an astounding $800.

And the thing is, I love to get gifts for my loved ones. I love to receive gifts from my loved ones. I love the gift-opening experience on Christmas. It feels so warm and fuzzy and cozy. And, at least in my adult life, I like watching other people open gifts from me as much as I like opening gifts from them.

But sometimes when I have to purchase a lot of gifts, I hit a very negative point that I like to call the Checklist Phenomenon. You see, I have a tendency to just want to get. the. shopping. over. with. And so I get to the point where I no longer care about getting the perfect, cherished gift to suit the recipient's individual personality. And instead I'm like like, "I don't know. Just get him something. We have to check his name off the list. Just get SOMETHING!"

The low point of this was when I got my husband's uncle the Power Squid power cable/surge protector a few years ago. What? I said to a slightly disapproving Bill, I'm sure the man has multiple electrical appliances he wants to plug into a single outlet, and he wants to be protected from, umm, surges.

And so, having hit the insanity of the Checklist Phenomenon, I cried Uncle. (I'm pretty sure the term "Cried Uncle" was actually invented when somebody got his uncle a surge protector for Christmas.) The problem is that as much as we love exchanging gifts, there are too many of us now, and there are certain people we don't see enough to know their specific tastes well enough to pick out a thoughtful, individualized gift.

Since then, debates have occurred among my various extended families as to how to handle the gift-exchanging. And I know many friends whose families are debating the same issues. Now, I'm not going to name any names and get my own relatives so upset with me that they don't even want to have me in their homes, let alone buy me gifts. (Hey! Problem solved!) So, I present the following gift-exchanging options, listed with various pros and cons. Let me note that I see the pros and cons to all of these situations, and I'm not siding with/arguing against any particular person. I actually don't know what system I favor, and I'm open to input from people as to what systems work for their families. Okay:

Gift-exchange Option A: The Name Draw
Also known as the Grab Bag, this is a system where all the adult family members put their names into a hat and each person draws the name of a person to buy for. In some families, people include wish lists of desired gift items on the paper with their names.
  • Pros: This system allows for a gift exchange at the family gathering, without the insanity/expense of everybody buying gifts for everybody else. I also like how this might forge a special bond between two family members who might not know each other that well.
  • Cons: More and more lately, with the proliferation of gift cards, the Name Draw has just led to "the exchange of the gift cards." This is, more or less, like exchanging money. And I always laugh because there's a price limit of, say, $25, except if you're just getting back the exact equivalent of what you spent, you might as well set a limit of $1,000.

Gift-exchange Option B: Game-style Gift Exchange
With this system, everybody brings a wrapped gift to the party. There's a set dollar limit for the cost of the gift. Then at the party, there is a game wherein people draw numbers to indicate the order in which they get to pick/unwrap a gift from the pile, and then there is the option of stealing/trading a gift that has already been opened. This is sometimes also known as the Yankee Swap, or White Elephant. (Though the latter usually indicates the bringing of an unwanted, tacky item that the person already owns, rather than a store-bought, supposedly desirable item.)
  • Pros: This is a fun game to play at a holiday gathering. It really gets people interacting, which is why it's a popular activity at office holiday parties. It's interesting to see what people bought, and the silly interpersonal drama created with the "stealing" is all in good fun (usually).
  • Cons: Again, this setup often leads to an exchange of gift cards. And then the big question is whether you'll get a gift card to Target or the Cracker Barrel. Oooh, the suspense! Also, if you bring something that isn't a gift card, it's nearly impossible to come up with a gift that will be pleasing to any recipient. Men don't really want scented lotions or candles. (Actually, most people are kind of maxed out on candles at this point.) The Mormon cousins do not want coffee. Children don't want the Beers of the World set (or maybe they do, but just don't go there).
Gift-exchange Option C: Stocking Stuffers
Under this system, everybody brings a small item (say, a $5 limit) to put in a bag for everybody else. It's kind of like your old elementary school Valentine exchange, but with Christmas gifts.
  • Pros: This is an inexpensive way to acknowledge everybody with a little something. It's fun to open your bag and see what people thought up.
  • Cons: Sometimes the cost really adds up. Like, say, if everybody gets a $5 gift for each of 20 relatives, that's $100. And in order to achieve any level of girth in the stocking, each individual (rather than each family) needs to bring a gift. So with my family of 3, that's $300.
Gift-exchange Option D: Charity
Clearly the most enlightened of the gift-exchanging options, the system involves everybody forgoing gift purchases for relatives, and instead giving their money to a charity.
  • Pros: The pros here are obvious. Your money goes to a needy and deserving charity, rather than to another picture frame for your aunt.
  • Cons: If you decide that everybody should give to the same charity, there are going to be fights. And, while I always support the idea of giving to charity in addition to giving to your relatives, when you just do the charity option and don't exchange any gifts, it's kind of a downer at the holiday party. We all saw the "Human Fund" episode of Seinfeld.
Gift-exchange Option E: Everybody gives to everybody else
This is the system we've all been using for years. You just suck it up and buy something for everybody else. You purchase and wrap 20 gifts, you schlep them all to the holiday party (and let's remember some of us are coming all the way from Illinois), and then Christmas is just a giant gorge-fest of commercialism.
  • Pros: Most people have been doing this for so long that it's no longer all that controversial. Nobody gets offended, and you cover the whole "But if I get something for Such-and-Such, then I have to get something for So-and-So" phenomenon. You don't have to give up getting a gift for your beloved mom, just because you didn't want to get a gift for that one distant cousin who you still can't tell apart from his older brother.
  • Cons: It's ridiculously expensive. And most of the adults in your family don't really need anything. And if they do need things, they probably want to save their money and buy the things themselves, rather than buying a Target gift card for you.
Gift-exchange Option F: Nobody gets anything!
This is kind of like when two kids are arguing over a toy, and their mom says, "Fine, if you're going to argue about it, I'm just going to take it away!" After awhile when families argue back and forth and up and down about the gift-exchange policy, it's easier to just ban gifts altogether.
  • Pros: No fighting. Totally free. No wrapping, purchasing gift tags, or mailing stuff back and forth.
  • Cons: Christmas becomes kind of boring. There's something about the Christmas gathering that makes people feel like there should be a gift-exchange portion. (I'm not sure why this is, because we all get together on Thanksgiving without exchanging gifts. But then, that's why people watch football and/or go to movies on Thanksgiving.) And it legitimately feels wrong not to get a gift for your parents (or, I'm told, your adult children). And this leads to, "Oh, but I just wanted to get you a little something," phenomenon, which then sets off a trend of guilt-based gift-exchanging, and the whole gift ban is off. Plus, most families agree that everybody should still get gifts for the kids (cue debate about what age constitutes a kid). And then there is one family with 6 kids, another family with one, and another family with zero, and people grow resentful at having to always fund other peoples' kids video game habits without getting anything in exchange. Or else the people with many kids feel guilty about the childless couple having to buy them so many gifts, and then they get "a little something" for the childless couple anyway ... aaand again the ban is off.
So, those are the only systems I know of. There are slight variations on each, of course, but I think that's the gist of them. Throwing another wrinkle into the gift-exchange dilemma seems to be that not all relationships among people at the family gathering carry equal weight. That random neighbor who had nowhere else to go doesn't seem to deserve the same level of gift attention as your beloved grandmother, but you don't want anybody to feel left out at the gift exchange. And you don't want to ban gift exchanges between two branches of the family, because certain people are closer to certain other people in those branches. (For example, your dad wants to give to his beloved cousin who was practically a brother to him growing up, but does that mean you have to get something for that cousin's grandkids? Theoretically no, but you don't want the Christmas tree to become a symbol of who you love more.) And on and on and on and AHHHHHHHHHHH!

And I know that says "Posted by Shannon," but really The Grinch hijacked my computer this week. But not the Jim Carrey version. That version was creepy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Tis the season to argue over stuff

My husband and I have been discussing our upcoming holiday travel. Both of us are originally from Southern California, and all of our relatives live out there, so we fly out for the holidays every year. Well, as you know, the air travel industry has been in the news a lot lately because of the new security measures. Personally, I don't feel all that threatened by the possibility of a full-body patdown. I've given birth, so at this point a lot of random strangers have touched my junk. And about 75% of the times I pee are with my kid watching, so there's no modesty left here. And the full-body scanners? I'm sure the TSA officials are not ogling over my naked body.

But my husband reads the kind of blogs that express a lot of outrage over things the government does, and besides that he won't even let the cat in the bathroom with him, so he is having none of this TSA business. He insisted that we take the train, even though it costs about three times as much and takes approximately eight times as long. (Win-win!)

We were at an impasse. Each day he would send me Facebook messages about another TSA-related outrage. Meanwhile the holidays were drawing closer, and we still didn't have any concrete travel plans.

So I gave in to the train. Transportation Security Administration FTW!

Bill thinks it will be fun. Nathan loves trains, he tells me, he'll have a great time. And I'm sure he will have a great time ... for about half an hour. That only leaves 39.5 hours left to try to keep him entertained.

I decided that, as a consolation prize (?), I would lobby to get an iPad to keep us all entertained while on the train. Because, you know, let's throw more money at this problem.

The thing is, I have wanted an iPad since they came out, but especially since a few weeks ago when Martha Stewart introduced her cookie app. You can scroll through the cookies as they go by on their "cookie runway." A runway of cookies. And then you can sort out recipes by the type of cookie you want, like fruit cookies, nut cookies, and chocolate cookies, all of which are on a big Price is Right-style cookie wheel that you spin.

Now, there are several "but"s you might be thinking right now, such as (1) But you can look up recipes on several websites, cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, from friends, etc., (2) But won't your destructive kid break and iPad?, (3) But won't you break an iPad, (4) Is a cookie app really a good reason to want a $500+ gadget, especially since you have a laptop, iPod, and Android phone?, and (5) But isn't a cookie runway a bad thing to stare at when you're on Weight Watchers?

My answers are (1) Yes, but none of them have a cookie runway, (2) Probably, (3) Definitely, (4) Yes, and (5) Shut up, are you saying I look fat?

Anyhow, I'm still getting the iPad.

So, in conclusion:

Airport runway? No.
Cookie runway? Oh yes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Human of the Year Award

Yesterday I wrote this:
"In addition to not being easily inspired, I also have a very jealous streak, so a lot of times one person's inspiration is actually my trigger for jealousy. Take, for example these cheerleaders who cheer about science. Part of me is like, it's great that these women are destroying stereotypes and promoting women in the sciences. But another part of me is like, umm, if I knew you, I would kind of hate you, with your multiple graduate degrees and your stunning cheerleader body."
This paragraph got me thinking about a concept that I've had in the back of my mind for awhile, the idea that we're all sort of competing for the Human of the Year award. Who can do the most? Accomplish the most? Be the most frazzled? That person is Human of the Year.

Now, not everybody buys into this competition, and maybe you're one of the lucky people who doesn't. But I think most people do. How often do we say things like, "Oh, I feel so inadequate compared to her, because she's a cardiologist with three children who runs a successful Etsy shop on the side"? Or, "I feel like I should do more, like maybe get a part-time job." Or, "Oh, well that accomplishment is not a big deal, because I only have one kid and no job."

(That last one was me. I say it at least once a week. And I think it at least once an hour.)

In my mind, we earn points for Human of the Year from the following categories: Family, Work, and Personal Accomplishments.

In the Family category, you get more points the more kids you have. Bonus points if you have some weird situation like your husband travels for work 30 weeks out of the year.

In the Work category, there are opportunities to earn points from a full-time job, part-time job, work-at-home job, small business, successful blog, and volunteer work.

You earn points for Personal Accomplishments through exercise-based achievements (e.g. running a marathon, losing weight, or even just going to the gym x number of times per week), having a super-organized home, earning an educational degree, taking some kind of personal enrichment class, reading a lot of books, or having a busy social life.

The points system for Human of the Year is very complicated. For example, you steadily lose points for every minute you're on Facebook, even though most of us are on it all day long. You earn a bonus if you say things like, "I didn't have one opportunity to sit down and catch my breath all day," or, "Oh, there goes my BlackBerry AGAIN!"

I think you get my point. We all feel like we should be doing more, juggling more, being more like her with her [life responsibility], [bigger life responsibility], and her [lucrative vocational endeavor], and she still has time for [major personal accomplishment].

But here's the thing. None of us are going to actually win the Human of the Year Award. I'm pretty sure that award goes to the likes of Mother Teresa. And maybe we're still competing for Human of the Year because it's like a lot of large athletic events: most people aren't in it to win, they're just in it to improve on their personal bests and/or beat a few other people in their age categories.

But I'm sick of competing. I'm sick of feeling like no matter what I do, it just isn't enough. It's not as much as she's doing. Maybe some of this was borne out of the mentality a lot of us had in high school, wherein you were supposed to sign up for as many extra-curricular activities as possible, while still maintaining a high GPA and working at a part-time job. I mean, that all looks good on your college application, right?

Except, did the college people even look at that stuff very carefully on your application? My guess is that they did not, at least in the case of the large public university I attended. And knocking myself out doesn't matter now, because in life there is no college application. I mean, yes, there's your resume, but you don't put "raised four children and schlepped them to 37 after-school activities" on your resume.

Why, then, do I feel like I always must do more and accomplish more? Is this the Internet's fault? I mean, not only does the Internet present us with more and more opportunities for achievement (Etsy! Blogs!), it also gives all these achievers a place to brag about themselves. Look at any blog, any blog (except this one), and you'll see a tab where the blog's author lists all her professional appearances and publications. And I think, geez, my only publications have been in the community section of my local paper, and my family's Christmas letter.

But I think a lot of times, these people are lying. Well, not so much lying, just leaving out the part where they spend half their days trolling Facebook, too. And when people say, "Wow, I don't have enough time to get it all done during the day," it's because they were playing Mafia Wars for 5 hours. (I can see you're on Facebook half the day, because I'm on there half the day, too.)

I'm sick of feeling inadequate. And the thing is, I have friends who I think do so much, so much, and are higher than I am in the Human of the Year rankings. And you talk to those friends, and they say they feel inadequate compared to some other person. I should do more is the mantra of too many of us.

I want off this crazy train. So for now, I'm announcing that I am actively trying to withdraw from the Human of the Year competition. Notice I didn't say I was actually withdrawing, because I don't think I can just snap my fingers and make that kind of personality change. I've had years of do more, accomplish more, be more ingrained into my being, and it will take awhile to unlearn habits and behaviors. But I think awareness of my own personal insanities is a good first step on my journey to a life free of inadequacy.

Will you join me on my journey?