Speak for yourself


It’s not just a stringy, carb-loaded, fork-twirler’s dream. It is now my son’s new randomly inserted catchword, as in, “Mom, do you know what I found on the soccer field at practice today? Spaghetti!” with that last word belted out in a tone that will one day split my eardrum, make my eyes bleed, and cause the wood floors of my house to erode as I wear them away with the figure 8 pattern that I will compulsively and repeatedly walk, while simultaneously scratching a bald spot into the back of my head.

I’ve heard the “Spaghetti!” refrain so many times that last night I made the bold move of banning its use in my presence. Unfortunately, I levied said ban when we were on the way to a Boy Scout event, where Jake found all too many willing recruits, whom he trained to taunt me with “Spaghetti!” as I passed by, helpless, in the pot-luck dinner line.

I’ve been told by the children that the “Spaghetti!” thing is funny because it’s random, and random is the new funny. But I’ve also been told that random isn’t random if it’s done intentionally to be random—if you say something random and say that it’s random, it’s not funny anymore. Because then it’s so not random.

So I guess the upshot is that even though my kids and their peers are laughing less and less at my jokes (because, duh, they’re so related to whatever we were talking about), there’s no way I can do a modern comedy makeover, because that would be too intentional, and intentional ain’t random, and random is where the funny is. So I am doomed, unless I come up with something so unexpected, so random, the non sequitur to end all non sequiturs—so expected that it’s unexpected, so unexpected that it’s completely hilarious. At the saying of it, kids will reach for their inhalers, stunned into jiggling, soundless hysteria, hoping against hope that at the end of the unending giggle there is some breath to be had. Dogs will howl, hamsters will dance, kings and queens will put their underwear on their heads and bow down to me, children will tug at my velvet cloak as I walk to my clown car with the square wheels and take my rightful throne as comedy regent.

But what, oh what, to say? What do I have that’s so ground-breaking, so non-mom, so now, so ridiculously random that it will one day take its place in the comedy hall of fame?

I got it.





OK, I’ll admit it. Yesterday, I made Hayley cry.

She asked me to read through an essay she’d written for school, and I asked her before I did it, “Do you want me to just make corrections or can we also talk about the content? If you don’t want to hear suggestions about improvements, then I’ll stick to capitalizing and punctuation.” I’m not sure if she knew what she was getting into—not sure if she knew that I still pride myself on an award-winning writing from second grade, not sure if she knew that my typical approach is to provide three details (at least) for every point made, not sure if she knew that “Can you help me with my homework?” sessions with my Dad always ended in conflict and crying—but she agreed to the content review, and off we went.

Things went fine until we got to the following sentence fragment: “Not just with the problem I mentioned, but with all the kinds of problems that are destroying nature.” Yes, I told Hayley, there is a capital letter in the beginning of the sentence. And, yes, there is a period at the end. And, while ‘I’ is a noun and ‘mentioned’ is a verb, this is only part of a sentence and not a complete thought. How, I wondered, as she looked at me with an expression similar to the one she’d have if her balloon had just been ripped from her hand and released by her evil, uncaring excuse for a mother, who then shot down said floating balloon with a rocket-propelled grenade—how could I explain independent vs. dependent clauses to a 5th grader who was just trying to write a simple essay?

And even if I could get the clause concept across, how could I mandate that she write a complete sentence when this, her writer-mother’s blog, is probably riddled with fragments intended to ring snarky and hip? Let me tell you—I couldn’t. At least not with much authority. (See, there. A sentence fragment.) (Oops, that was another one.)

Well, as the tears rolled down Hayley’s cheeks and she said, “Dad said it was fine last night, and now you’re making all these changes,” as I saw the train lean dangerously close to the edge of the tracks, I said, “Dad was right! Your essay was fine last night! It’s still fine! And making some minor changes will make it even better! But if you want to leave it the way it is, that’s OK with me.” Then I told her, gently, that I wouldn’t be able to help her if she was crying, not because I thought she was stubborn or baby-ish, but because I felt uncomfortable helping her if it made her feel so bad that it drove her to tears.

At this point in the homework drama, I have to give Hayley credit. She left the room, wiped her eyes, and came back ready to work. We added 150 words worth of quality content to her essay (her words, not mine), and at the bus stop this morning she even volunteered to read her essay to a friend.

She learned a valuable lesson about writing that I didn’t learn until about a year ago: no matter how good you may think it is, a first draft is just that; the second draft is where the magic happens. Aside from that, Hayley may not know what a dependent clause or a sentence fragment is, but that’s OK. At least for now.

See? There I go again.

“I don’t want to, but I will.”

This is my son’s new catchphrase. I ask him, “Can you empty the dishwasher?” and he answers, “I don’t want to, but I will.” I ask him, “Can you pick up the towels from the bathroom floor?” and he says, “I don’t want to, but I will.” I pose a variety of questions, asking him to practice his trumpet/clean his room/walk the dog/brush his teeth/put away his pile of clean clothes, and I get the same answer: “I don’t want to, but I will.”

Part of me appreciates the kid’s honesty. I mean, who really does want to do chores? People who are not lazy, TV-watching slugs like me, who hope against hope that house cleaning fairies really do exist and are about to make themselves known, that’s who.

Even so I wonder, is this the kind of honesty that borders on flip disrespect? I ask myself, would Mayberry’s Aunt Bea accept such an answer from Opie? Would she, as I do, just give a laugh and say, “Oh, you kid, get outta here and get it done!” or would she double Opie’s workload and take away his shoo-fly pie for a week as a consequence for his lippy sass? I haven’t consulted the Nick at Nite archives, but I’m pretty sure that we may never know.

Again, I find I have an opportunity for parenting self-reflection. Did I want to practice the viola as a kid? Um, that would be “no.” Did I do it when my parents asked me to? Again, “no.” Sure, I’m at a point now where I get nerdily excited about new music coming in the mail, and I’m choosing enriching, Alzheimer’s-busting musical practice over my usual diet of mind-numbing reality TV reruns. I’m at the “I want to, and I will” point. That’s still a far cry from “I don’t want to, but I will,” and I think it may take a bigger person to still do what he or she doesn’t want to do.

I guess it’s like drinking chocolate milk. If a kid doesn’t like white milk, it’s better for him to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all. In the same way, I’ll take the doing without the wanting to do, confident in the fact that practice at doing is likely to make future doing less painful.

Although now that I think about it, Jake may do things he doesn’t want to do, but he sure doesn’t drink milk—white, chocolate, or otherwise.

I guess I’ll take what I can get.