Sunday, December 22, 2013

All I Want For Christmas is a Free Pass

For the first time in 23 years, my husband and I have decided to forego exchanging Christmas gifts.  We have a lifetime of cheerful holiday memories but a long history of misfires when it comes to giving gifts to one another.  There was the year he bought me a vacuum cleaner.  Or the Christmas I gave him a Kenneth Cole button-down that he never wore, because he insisted I had accidentally purchased a woman's shirt.

It all began during our first year of dating.  With giddy expectations of our first Christmas together, I proposed the idea of presenting one another with gifts that were not purchased but handmade, inspired by our new love.  For several days, I created a mix tape of romantic ballads that memorialized the progression of our relationship, and filled an entire poster board with handwritten sentiments about how grateful I was to have found my soul mate.  (Mind you, this was 1991, and I was seventeen.)

On Christmas morning, we met for the momentous gift exchange.  My naive, teenage female brain had already concocted so many hopelessly impossible scenarios that I'd already unwittingly set him up for failure.  Even so, nothing could have prepared me for what I received: a solid wooden cylinder holding a toothbrush, with a plastic tube running from the head to the opening of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste attached to the end.

He proceeded to explain how the requirement to make a present had given him a huge amount of stress all week, and that on Christmas Eve he still had no gift and no ideas. He had paced all night and finally walked into his bathroom (apparently to brush his teeth), at which time he was suddenly inspired to invent an all-in-one toothbrush that dispensed toothpaste with one swift pump. 

I'm not making any of this up.  To this day, there are no words to adequately explain what was going through his seventeen-year old brain that night, confounded by a combination of sleep deprivation and sheer desperation.  I still have the contraption in a box labeled "Our Mementos", because someday I will give it to one of my sons when he has royally screwed up with a girl he loves.  I will show him the wooden handle where my husband wrote my name and scrawled a little heart in bright blue marker, and I will tell him: "Look, this is what your dad gave me for a Christmas present.  And I still married him."

But to be fair, our history of poorly chosen gifts is a mutual one.  It's not even Christmas, and 2013's gift-giving debacle already belongs to me.  It can be summed up in two words: Hoodie Footie.  

If you’ve never heard of this trademarked article of clothing, the Hoodie Footie is a plush one-piece pajama that comes with attached booties and a hood.  Or, as I like to describe it: It's a little piece of heaven on earth.

I purchased one last winter after realizing I’m the only person who constantly feels cold in the house.  The kids, on the other hand, spend most of their lives at home not wearing shirts, even in the dead of winter… because boys, I suppose, need to cool off from constantly jumping off furniture and swinging from stair railings.  And since I’m outnumbered, I'll never win the battle over the thermostat.

Then one day, I received in the mail a Pajamagram catalog featuring the Hoodie Footie on the front cover.

The marketing for the Hoodie Footie always makes me laugh.  There’s usually an attractive blond woman wearing one in pink (or leopard print), with an alluring look on her face… as if there is anything remotely sexy about a Hoodie Footie.  But never mind the disingenous advertising.  The plush microfleece fabric, built-in slippers that zip on and off, and thick wrist cuffs with thumb holes were all too tempting to pass up.  In haste, I ordered myself a Pajamagram, which arrived a week later.

I was not disappointed.  I wore my pink Hoodie Footie all last winter without complaining once about the cold, and I found myself napping a lot more often... both of which were positives, in my opinion.  So this year, I ordered my husband a blue Hoodie Footie as an early Christmas gift and told him he was about to experience a little piece of heaven.

“I don’t think so,” he shook his head reluctantly, when I presented it to him.

“Trust me,” I insisted, “You will thank me for this later.”

"Well, why don't you wrap it up and give it to me on Christmas?" he suggested.

"Because it's cold enough for you to wear it now," I exclaimed happily. (It was early November.)  "You can enjoy it for two whole months in advance!"

One Saturday morning, he informed me that he was headed to the gym after finishing a book assignment.  I slyly suggested he might be more comfortable reading in a Hoodie Footie.  He muttered something under his breath but finally agreed to try it on.  Before I knew it, he was out cold.  Four hours later, we had the following conversation: 
Me:  You’re still sleeping?  
Him: What time is it?  This Hoodie Footie is like kryptonite.  
Me: Isn’t it fabulous?   
Him: No, it’s not.  I missed my run.  I feel lazy.    
Me: Napping is like hibernating.  Now you’re all recharged for Spring. 
Him: Hibernating is for bears. 
Me: Well, you look adorable.  Like a giant blue smurf.  
Him: This is horrible.
He wore it only two more times after that.  On both days, I found him languishing from oversleeping.  A few days ago, he handed me the blue little piece of heaven. 

“I think I’m allergic to this,” he remarked.  “You’ve got to put it away.”

Having struck out on the early Christmas present, I attempted to make a last minute replacement this week by buying him something from Lululemon Athletica.  Apparently, this company claims to have invented a fabric that neutralizes sweat, such that you can perspire in the same shirt over and over without reeking of body odor.  At least that is how he explained the $100 price tag for a t-shirt he bought last year.  (I believe these were his exact words: "I can run in this shirt every day for a whole week, and only wash it once on the weekend.  Think of all the loads of laundry we save.")

The first problem with buying a present from Lululemon Athletica is that the store is so exclusive and trendy that it does not even have a name in front.  Like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, Lululemon Athletica is apparently not spelled out but only designated by a symbol that looks like the Greek letter Omega.  The store is like an underground club that only stylish, athletic types know about, and I am obviously not a member.

I spent over half an hour just trying to locate the store.  For some people, strolling through a shopping mall the week before Christmas makes for a pleasant opportunity to window shop and try samples of perfume.  For me, dragging a two-year old through crowds of holiday shoppers--while trying to find some elitist clothing store without a name--sucked every last ounce of Christmas spirit out of me.  

So when I finally arrived at the store, I was already not in the mood to shop.  Two minutes later, I walked out empty-handed, still in shock from every price tag I examined ($15 for a pair of gym socks?!?) and slightly annoyed by the svelte, young saleswoman in a skin-tight yoga outfit who kept asking me to feel the material of the men's shirts.  

"I have no Christmas present for you this year," I confessed reluctantly to my husband that night.  He stiffened in surprise.  

"I thought we weren't exchanging gifts this year," he replied.  "Remember, you gave me a free pass?"

This is true.  Back in March, I proposed this arrangement as we were standing in front of a jewelry counter choosing my birthday present.  ("It's too expensive," I remember saying, admiring the bracelet he would later wrap up as my gift.  "If you buy it, why don't you have a free pass for every other holiday this year?")

"No, I remember," I nodded, "You're definitely off the hook.  I just thought I could have come up with a nice present for you."

"Don't worry about it," he smiled.  "Really."

He meant it.  When it comes to presents, he's always cared a lot less than me anyway.  The Hoodie Footie might possibly be the worst gift I’ve ever bought him.  At least the Dyson vacuum cleaner gets a lot of use around here.  

But alas, every mistake in life can be redeemed for a noble purpose.  I plan to lay the blue Hoodie Footie to rest right beside my homemade toothpaste-dispensing toothbrush.  And someday, when one of my grown sons needs a reminder, I will take it out and say: "Look, this is the ugly Hoodie Footie I gave your dad as a present one year.  It was a bad idea from the start... but it never truly mattered and we had a good laugh about it.  Because, son, there's so much more to a good marriage than what fits inside a box."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Minecraft Halloween Party

Right now, my husband is untouchable.  I mean, the guy can do no wrong around here.  A few weekends ago, he found me despairing over a stockpile of cardboard boxes I'd accumulated for the last several weeks.  We're having a Minecraft party for our boys, and I had my heart set on making a life-size Enderman with glowing eyes.  (If you've never heard of Minecraft, my guess is you don't interact much with boys under the age of 10, especially the geeky variety that live in my house.) 

Unfortunately, I often come up with ideas that I can't engineer into reality.  That's why I'm so glad I married Macgyver.

"I need your skills," I lamented to him, late on a Sunday evening.  I handed him a picture of the towering humanoid mob with gangly arms and legs known as an Enderman (on the left), and then pointed to the mess of boxes and duct tape I'd gathered as building materials.  Slowly, I laid out my idea of fashioning the beast out of cardboard, battery operated tealights and crepe paper streamers.  The plan sounded even more ridiculous when I heard myself explain it out loud.

Twenty four hours later, he finished constructing a six-foot Enderman out of cardboard, with a lamp kit rigged inside.  My boys went bonkers when they saw it. I mean, it was like Christmas in October.  Here's the finished product in our backyard, with two of the boys wearing their Halloween costumes. 

Like all of his projects, there were no building plans or instructions of any kind... the man is a genius but he never writes anything down.  So this is my sketchy version: He started with the head and body, which are two boxes attached with duct tape.  For the arms and legs, he cut flat boards into the right lengths, and then scored them with a utility knife to create straight folds.  Because the Enderman is so top heavy, he added weights on the bottom of each leg to anchor it.  After securing all the pieces with duct tape, he sprayed black metallic paint over the entire creature.  After two coats, he sprayed glossy black paint (with stencils he created from leftover cardboard) to create the pixelated details.  For the eyes, he used clear magenta-colored cellophane paper.  Don't ask me how he rigged the light bulb inside the head, but it works and it looks really cool at night! 

With the Enderman finished, the rest of the Minecraft party was easy.  Here are a few of of our other Minecraft party ideas. 

Minecraft is all about building blocks, which translates well into party favors!  I bought clear wedding favor boxes, and filled them with brown and green jelly beans (grass and dirt) and silver candy coated chocolate nuggets (stone).  The TNT boxes were filled with Twizzlers cut into small strips.  I wish I could take credit for these favors, but I got the idea from Pinterest. So many amazing, crafty moms out there!

These frosted sugar cookies were a lot simpler to make than they appear.  I created the graphics on Photoshop, and sent them to a bakery to print onto 8" x 10" icing sheets.  These sheets are gluten-free, dairy-free and completely edible.  I cut each paper-thin sheet into 2" x 2" squares, and then laid each image on top of a sugar cookie, with a thin layer of cake frosting underneath. Scroll down to the bottom for the printable cookie sheets.

In the Minecraft world, players can create their own potions by adding ingredients (such as Nether Wart, Glowstone Dust, and Fermented Spider Eye) to water bottles at "brewing stands".  So I decided it would be fun to create a beverage station inspired by Minecraft, with a menu card borrowed from the game interface.  Making the potions required no alchemy on my part: Just mix water and Kool-Aid powder. 

Finally, because it's Halloween, I found a template for the boxy pumpkin from the game.  Funny thing is that in Minecraft, the pumpkins spawn with jack o'lantern faces already carved into them.  To create our cardboard pumpkin, I produced the graphic (enlarged to measure 10" x 10") from our color printer and applied all five sides to a cardboard box.  Finally, I painted a few real pumpkins to match, and then turned two squashes into creepers.  

Well, we're all waiting for fifteen boys, aged 9 and under, to arrive at our house.  And when the party is all over, at least we have an Enderman to remember it by.  I'm thinking we could use it as a night light or maybe it can stand guard in the foyer to ward off unwanted solicitors.  As my oldest son remarked: "It's a little creepy.  But in a good way."


Here are the printable cookie sheets for your party!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

How To Make a Quick Twenty Bucks (According to My Kids)

Last Saturday, my oldest son's soccer team had their first big win.  Six to nothing.  My 9-year old was happy because he scored one goal during the first half, and then played goalie the second half without letting a single ball fly past him.  Usually, I don’t get very excited about soccer games, but this one was pretty extraordinary.

“That was an incredible game,” I remarked to my son after all the handshakes and high fives were exchanged.  “Your defense was great.  And your teammate Gabe was a scoring maniac today.”

“Gabe was awesome,” he replied, beaming with pride for his winning team.  “He gets twenty bucks every time he scores a goal.”
I paused in mid-stride.  “What did you just say?”
“Gabe's grandma gives him twenty dollars for every goal he scores,” he replied matter of factly.  
“That can’t be right,” I remarked.  “Twenty bucks?  He’s probably joking.”
“No, he’s serious,” he shook his head in complete earnestness.  “That’s why Gabe tries so hard.”
A moment of tacit understanding passed between us before he launched into a summary of the game highlights.  I knew there would be no follow-up conversation from him to strike the same financial deal in our family.  For better or worse, my oldest son isn’t particularly motivated by rewards, especially money.  This is a good quality in the sense that he’s not especially materialistic; but it’s also problematic because he isn't readily incentivized to complete chores or improve his grades.  

Nevertheless, the price of a soccer goal wasn't all that surprising since my 7-year old had served up a similarly newsworthy tidbit a few weeks ago.  At the time, he'd just yanked out another wiggly tooth.  Upon proudly presenting the baby incisor to me, he asked why the Tooth Fairy never visited our house.  By his count, he’d already lost (rather unceremoniously in his opinion) five whole teeth before realizing that other kids were getting paid for something he’d inadvertently given away for free.
“So, can you ask the Tooth Fairy to come tonight?” he suggested eagerly.  “How much do you think she’ll bring me?”
“Let me think about this," I replied slowly.  "I seem to recall it was about a quarter per tooth in my day.  So, given the rate of inflation over thirty years--”  
“There’s a girl in my class who gets twenty bucks for every tooth!” he exclaimed before I could finish my calculations.  I had to give the kid credit for instinctively understanding two cardinal rules of negotiation: First, control the negotiation by going first; and second, always aim high with your opening offer.
“Twenty bucks?” I cried.  “That’s the going rate for a tooth these days… Really?”
“You know there’s no Tooth Fairy,” my 9-year old interjected.  “And if you get any money at all, I wouldn’t complain.  I've never gotten a single penny for my teeth.”  
After recovering from the sticker shock, I felt compelled to apologize for never having staged a tooth exchange in the middle of the night for either of them.  The list of childhood traditions we hadn't celebrated had grown by one.  I had discounted Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny from the start, but I'd always liked the idea of a quirky lady who flies around the world on a shopping spree.  Reeling from the guilt, I pictured my second son lying on a therapist’s couch years later.  I imagined him revisiting, in painstaking detail, a bereft childhood in which the Tooth Fairy never left a crisp Andrew Jackson under his pillow and the generic knockoff Elf on the Shelf sat on the shelf all December because someone kept forgetting to move him.  
Unfortunately, despite an initial surge of inspiration brought on by guilt, I completely forgot about our conversation later that night.  While my newly toothless 7-year old slept in his bed with dormant anticipation, his 5-year old brother woke up after midnight complaining of a stomach ache.  A few minutes later, the little guy regurgitated his dinner on the floor of the bathroom.  An hour after I cleaned up the mess, he delivered the remnants of his lunch as a bonus.
Needless to say, the next morning I awoke to an indignant scream: “The Tooth Fairy forgot me!”
I rushed in and found the poor kid holding his tooth in one hand with an expression of utter bewilderment and destitution.  I fumbled through a lame explanation and assured him the Tooth Fairy would not fail him tonight.  While I considered how to remedy the situation, my imaginary grown son kept rambling to his future therapist in my head.
The next morning, he received a five dollar bill and the following handwritten note:
Please forgive me for not making it to your pillow yesterday.  I meant to buy your tooth last night, but on my way in, I bumped into the Vomit Cleaning Fairy.  She looked very busy, so I decided to wait one day to visit you.  I see you've left me a nice tooth, and I am pleased to give you five dollars for it.  Enjoy!   
                                                                     Yours Truly, the Tooth Fairy
The child was ecstatic.  He ran around the house screaming and parading his newfound fortune for all to admire.  To him, this was as hard-earned as any day’s wage.  He had bravely extracted a tooth with his own bare hands and thereafter negotiated a payout that set a precedent for all his brothers to benefit.  When he finished his celebratory rounds, I saw him carefully and proudly deposit a crumpled Abraham Lincoln into his plastic bank.  
Which brings me back to last Saturday.  For a moment that day, I considered whether twenty bucks might actually represent a fair market price for a soccer goal, especially considering the buyer was a loving grandmother.  I compared the relative worth of a point-scoring kick versus a baby tooth.  (The former required skill to produce, while the latter was limited in supply and endowed with sentimental value.)  In the end, I realized it didn’t matter.  Twenty dollars, which initially struck me as inflated, simply represented one of many expressions of a parent or grandparent’s love.  And love can never be commodified.  
I also realized I was proud of my boys.  One son had always been content to score goals for free, while the other had happily accepted five dollars from an opening offer of twenty. What's more, even with over a dozen teeth lost between them, neither had truly minded that the Tooth Fairy had been delinquent all these years. To me, that alone was priceless.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Confession #9: I Didn't Cry on the First Day of School

Last week, I received a much-needed bit of parenting advice from an unlikely source: my personal trainer (who has no children of his own).  Now first off, I feel compelled to throw out this disclaimer: I employ a personal trainer not for the purpose of looking svelte and well-toned on the beach.  I’m hardly that type of woman.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.  But, just so we’re clear, I pay a trainer who forces me to do situps, pushups and various exercises involving a kettle bell for only one reason: so I can enjoy some regularly scheduled peace and quiet away from home.  On Wednesday nights, I make a beeline out of my house for the sake of, ahem... exercise, of course!  

“Goodbye, boys!”  I usually holler as I hastily sneak out the back door before one of them realizes I’m gone.  “Hopefully you'll be in bed when I come home!”  
Chances are one of the boys is mid-sentence and halfway out the door (“But Mom, when are you coming back?  I need—”) when I make my getaway to the gym.

But I digress.  This past Wednesday, I casually mentioned to my trainer how excited I was that school was starting the next day.  “But I’ve noticed,” I remarked in between crunches, “that every other mom I know is sad about the first day of school.  So many women seem weepy and sentimental about how much they’ll miss their kids during the day.”
I took a deep breath, the mom guilt flooding over me, and confessed: “Either I am the worst mom out there, or my boys are menaces compared to other people’s kids.”
The truth is, the summer had lasted long enough.  The family took one big vacation and then spent the rest of the summer getting on each other's nerves at home.  Granted, our vacation consisted of visiting seven countries in over three weeks, and should have provided enough action to last the rest of the summer.  And while the trip satisfied my husband’s and my own wanderlust, the kids probably would have been just as happy spending three weeks at the neighborhood pool eating hot dogs and practicing their cannonballs.  
Case in point: The only memory my 4-year old has apparently retained from all of our travels in Europe is--not the view at dusk of the Eiffel Tower from the River Seine or the morning we ran circles around Stonehenge but rather--one wildly exaggerated story of how Daddy almost got his body chopped in half in a London Underground station.  I would explain, but the truth is a lot less exciting than the version he spins.
Then, of course, after returning to the States, the boys dawdled away the next two months by engaging primarily in the following three activities: (1) Bickering non-stop about who accidentally smacked the other first with the iPad; (2) Fashioning ninja stars and other weapons out of copier paper, and then waging battles that ended with scraps of paper (“scrapnel”) strewn all over the house; and (3) Coming up with “epic” versions of popular songs by replacing the word “poop” in the lyrics (for example, “Poopy Gangnam Style”, “Don’t Poop at Night” and this little gem that is performed with, um… dance moves, to put it delicately: “Everybody Poop Now”). 
And oh, the noise.  It was noisy all the time, every day, around here.  And I don’t mean the kind of giggly, happy kind of noisy that makes you feel sentimental about your kids growing up too fast.  The brand of noisy that exists in my house is the Guantanamo Bay variety that deprives you of all rational thought and makes you want to confess to being a terrorist just to stop all that high-decibel yelling and stampeding. 
So during the last few weeks of summer, I started feeling giddy whenever I thought about the first day of school approaching.  After all, it's not like I had managed to make that DIY water slide for the backyard that looked so easy on Pinterest, or put together a single picnic lunch like I'd dreamily imagined in the Spring.  I had reached an all time low by letting the boys binge-watch Disney shows on Netflix so I could sneak on my laptop for a few hours of solitude.  And last Wednesday, the singular thought of soon having quiet time to read or write during the day, made the stomach crunches all that much easier.  

But, unfortunately... the mom guilt kept bothering me.
“Should I feel sad?” I asked, mostly to myself.  “Is there something wrong with me?  Does this make me a bad mom?"
My trainer, who is part drill sergeant and part therapist, replied, “Let me ask you one question.  How many kids do these ‘sad moms’ have?”
I thought about it for a moment.  “I guess most of them have one or two.”
“Four,” he replied, holding out his fingers.  “Don’t forget you have four.  Give yourself a break.”  
I guess he meant we all need a little perspective when we're afraid we don't measure up. It's easy to forget this perspective while you're trying unsuccessfully to produce tears during the morning sendoff (when you're actually thrilled to have the next hour to play Words with Friends over breakfast). 

So, thank you, personal trainer, for the free parenting advice that came with last week’s ab workout.  My two oldest boys are off to school this week, my preschooler is about to start his half-day program next week, and I will resolve not to feel guilty about relishing whatever quiet time I can muster with the feisty 2-year old I still have at home.  It’s only Monday, and I already feel like a new woman.  The house is clean.  The baby is napping.  And I’m so recharged I might even break out in a few lines of “Everybody Poop Now.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Confession #8: Maybe It's Time to Take Up Birdwatching

After writing about the abundance of boy-related vanity plates around town (see my previous blog entry on "5BOYS"), I thought it would be fun to visually document the phenomena.  I spend a lot of idle time in parking lots anyway, waiting to pick up the boys from school and extracurricular activities.  I figured I could use that time patrolling for license plates, and it might make for an interesting hobby.

"That's not a hobby," my husband shook his head, when I told him what I was up to.   

"How is it any different from, say, birdwatching?" I asked.  "Apparently some people spend entire weekends looking for rare birds."

"Birdwatching is a legitimate sport," he answered.  "Well, I guess it's not a sport.  But there are official field guides on birds."

"Well, this is my version of birdwatching," I retorted.  "So can you canvass your side of town when you're at work, and I'll cover the suburbs?"

"No," he replied.  "I'm not going to take pictures of license plates for you.  That's just odd. And a complete waste of time."

"You wouldn't even have to get out of the car," I replied.  "You could just whip out your iPhone if you happened to spot one at a red light.  How difficult would that be?"

He grimaced and shook his head again.  "You are so weird.  Did I mention this sounds like a huge waste of time?"

Having hit a dead end with him, I decided to solicit help from my next of kin: my sister.  A few days later, she sent me a photo of "3SONSMOM."  Her picture was just the motivation I needed.  I figured I'd see how many license plates I could capture on film in a week.   

On Monday, I snapped a photo of "TWO BOYZ" in the school parking lot.  This was kind of a freebie because I see the black SUV bearing this plate almost every day in the pickup line.  A few months ago, I met the mom who owns this plate at a birthday party.  I think I awkwardly blurted out something like, "So you're TWO BOYZ!" when we were introduced.  As if I need another reason to be a nerd.

Here's another "BOYZ" plate I snapped after soccer practice.  I'm guessing it belongs to a family named Butler.

I see "2GR8BOYS" around town a lot.  Incidentally, I also spotted "3GR8SONZ" at a traffic light but wasn't quick enough to capture a photo of it.  It has become by great white whale.

This one took me a little while to figure out, but I finally concluded that "DBOYZ NI" is license plate slang for "The Boys and I."  

Continuing on the same theme... I snapped a photo of "DA3BOYZ" at a red light some time later.  

Here's another one my sister sent me.  She captured  this "MOM4BOYS" plate at night.
Another SUV with 4 boys... I wanted to roll down my window and call out "me too!" when I saw "MY4SONS" at an intersection.

I saw this car on a rainy night, and loved the not-so-obvious, slightly geeky way of describing three boys!

This quality of this photo is pretty poor, but I like the message on this plate: "BOYS RUL".  Yes, they do!

Sadly, the quality of this photo is terrible.  Blame it on the fact that I had four boys in the car throwing Cheetos at each other while I made the discovery at a red light.  I'm guessing the plate either belongs to a mom with three boys, or the baby of the family got a car for his birthday and his mom picked out the vanity plate.

In the course of one week, I spotted "4ARROWS" three times.  This is probably a reference to Psalm 127:4, which refers to children as arrows in the hands of a warrior.  Older translations of the Bible use the word "sons" instead of the gender-neutral "children", so at first I thought the plate belonged to a fellow mom of four boys.  But the second time I saw the minivan, I noticed a stick figure family on the rear windshield.  I realized that said arrows were in fact three sons who enjoy basketball, weightlifting and soccer... and finally a daughter who dances ballet.  So technically, this one doesn't really belong in my collection... but I like it nonetheless.

And then there was "3FELAS&I".  I passed this plate at a stoplight and assumed it had something to do with cats.  Unfortunately, after the light turned green, I realized it was Southern license plate slang for "Three Fellows and I".  Alas, I circled back in hopes of finding the sedan bearing this plate, but it was gone. 

On Friday night, I thought I spotted "3BOYSMOM" on a Toyota Sienna ahead of us.  I let out a giddy scream, startling my husband who was driving.  Energized by the good fortune, I frantically gesticulated to catch up to the black minivan in the right lane.  He obliged, muttering, "I can't believe I'm doing this for you."  I unrolled the window and held out my camera like a seasoned member of the paparazzi. After scrutinizing the photos, however, I realized that the plate actually read "3BY30MOM"... probably belonging instead to a woman who had three kids by the time she was 30 years old.

And alas, my final sighting, "MI3SUNZ", was likely a legitimate boy-related plate, but it was too dark that night for me to capture a good photo as evidence.  

During my little enterprise, I was surprised that I never encountered any license plates referencing daughters.  The scarcity of girl-related license plates started to bother me.  I began coming up with my own theories.  Perhaps there is a some kind of misogynistic conspiracy in the DMV.  Or maybe mothers of girls are more creative and therefore come up with vanity plates that don't state the obvious.  I asked a few moms their opinion on this question.  They all gave me variations of the same answer: "Girls are easy.  Raising boys is a tough, thankless job.  If you're a mom of a boy, you might as well come up with your own badge of honor, even if it's just a license plate." 

On that note, my own vanity plate finally came in the mail.  It might be the last plate I add to my collection, because as much as I hate to admit it to my husband, it might be time to resign this fake hobby of mine.  Summer's almost here, and there will be plenty of easier ways to waste time.  I might even try birdwatching.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Let's Not Mistake Laziness for Efficiency

In a house overrun by boys, I often find myself snickering at behavior that is inexplicable and bizarre to my female brain.  It's tempting to poke fun at things you don't understand. However, this week I realized the converse is true: A woman is just as likely to engage in behavior that is utterly absurd and pointless to the male brain.  For example, if you're a woman, you're probably familiar with the following type of image:

If you're a man, a little explanation may be required.  You see, there is a segment of the female population that enjoys creating virtual outfits like the above, and then sharing them with other women on sites like Pinterest or Polyvore.  Their fashion ensembles are often posted with pithy comments like: "Perfect outfit for a summer garden party!"  And, you must understand that no detail is spared on these compilations.  We're not talking about simply pairing a blouse with a coordinating skirt.  These women have scoured the Internet for matching heels, earrings, two choices of necklaces, a handbag that can double as a crossbody purse if you switch out the strap, sunglasses in case said garden party takes place at high noon, sparkly hairband for wind contingency, the precise hue of Revlon nail polish and lipstick to accent aforementioned hairband, lacy bra and panties intended to be worn under outfit, and a complementary perfume that smells like hibiscus.

This "hobby" is basically the modern day, adult version of playing dress up with paper dolls.  Why a grown woman would spend hours of her life putting together outfits for non-existent future social engagements is completely beyond male comprehension.  Men don't plan what they're going to wear the next day, let alone next month to a hypothetical garden party that may or may not take place in a field of hibiscus flowers.

The way a man picks out clothes is very simple.  He walks into his closet and figures out what's clean, often by using the "sniff test," as we call it in my house.  (If there is nothing clean, he sifts through the dirty laundry pile to find something that doesn't make him wretch.)

My husband has distilled this process down even further by wearing only black shirts and jeans.  And whenever he finds jeans that fit, he buys several pairs of the exact style.  This way, he doesn't have to waste time thinking about what color he should be wearing on a Tuesday versus a Wednesday.

"Don't you ever worry that someone thinks you're wearing the same thing you wore the day before?" I asked him one night.  "All your black shirts look the same to me."

"Haven't you heard that Steve Jobs wore the same thing for twenty years?  Black turtleneck, jeans, sneakers.  Mark Zuckerburg always wears a grey hooded sweatshirt, even when he meets with Wall Street investors.  These are guys who have better things to do with their time than think about what to wear.  That's what I call efficiency."

My boys are already adopting this predilection for "efficiency", if you can call it that.  For example, a few months ago, the older two boys decided they could save a whopping ten minutes in the mornings by going to bed wearing their school uniforms.

"We can't let them sleep in uniforms," I told my husband, when the idea first came up.  "Doesn't that encourage them to be lazy?  They might grow up always looking for short cuts in life."

"If it saves me time getting them ready for school," he replied, "I'm all for it."

With a decisive vote of three to one, I was quickly overruled.  Apparently, there is a fine line between laziness and efficiency that my female brain cannot appreciate.

Which brings me back to my original point on how much time women spend thinking about what to wear.  Maybe the household majority is onto something here.  After all, I waste a lot of time admiring fancy dresses that I can't imagine myself ever wearing in real life.  I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to the pin-tucked and lace-embellished frocks featured on "Downton Abbey".  However, the truth is that I hardly wear dresses, not even the simple, unadorned kind.  So, why do I bother browsing for a pale yellow number that reminds me of what Lady Mary wore to the cricket game in Season Three? 

Perhaps I can learn a thing or two about "efficiency" from the men in this houseI mean, it's not like I can't appreciate the difference between laziness and efficiency in other areas of my lifeI'm all for saving time when it comes to cooking dinner or cleaning the hardwood floors.  Am I lazy for making spaghetti again this week?  No way, mister, that's what I call... efficiency!   

Or maybe I should just throw my own garden partyIt wouldn't have to be that girly.  The boys could play cricket in the backyard.  I could dress them up in
fancy sweater vests and white knickers, and I could wear a wide-brimmed hat decorated with cream-colored satin gardenias.  I wonder if Anthropologie sells a pair of ballet flats that would match such a pretty hat.  Maybe if I just take a peek on Pinterest...

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Little Serendipity, A Lot of Boys

There must be a lot of families with boys around here, because I keep driving by minivans with vanity plates that read "TWO BOYZ", "MY3SONS", "2GR8BOYS" and so on.  On Sunday, I found myself once again stopped at a red light behind such a car.  I turned to my husband and remarked that perhaps I should join this friendly contest of the vanity license plates.

"Why don't you get one that says '4GR8BOYS'?" he suggested.

"Or I could outdo all these moms and get a plate that says '5BOYS'," I muttered, mostly to myself.  "You being the fifth boy, of course."  In my mind, I thought: Now that would be simple and effective.  Not overly braggadocious.  But it would get the point across, and the point is: Muhahaha... I win! 

However, after some Googling, I discovered that the DMV has a search engine that allows you to check if your desired vanity plate is available.  And alas, "5BOYS" was already taken!

The following day, I kid you not, I pulled into a parking spot at Target... right next to a black minivan bearing the plate "5BOYS"!

"Oh my goodness," I exclaimed, "I don't believe it!"

"What's going on?" my oldest son asked.

"I've got to get a picture of this!" I screamed, giddy with excitement.

I bounded outside and pulled out my cell phone to snap a photo of the license plate.  My mind was whirling, and I felt a little light-headed from the euphoria of this rare sighting.  I casually peered inside the car and spotted a toddler seat, booster seat, and a few toys on the floor.  I considered whether to stake out the parking space to see what mother of all mothers had procured this coveted vanity plate.  I wondered if I'd be able to track down this queen bee inside the store.  Surely a woman with five boys buzzing around a shopping cart would not be hard to spot!

While I was still standing at the back of the minivan admiring the license plate, a woman with two boys approached the car.  She was in the middle of yelling at one of the boys when I lunged toward her and cried out, "Is this your car?"

She looked startled and replied tentatively, "Yes..."

Before she could write me off as a stalker, I launched into my story.  I have a vague recollection of using too many words and speaking too quickly, the way one might upon meeting a celebrity.  She laughed while I rambled.   After I finished, we exchanged a few stories about raising boys, and I felt as if I'd just met a kindred spirit.  She understood the husband bit completely, and joked that she could buy a new plate that read "6BOYS" so that I could have hers.  At the end of our conversation, she ordered her boys to help my youngest son out of the van, as if we were already old friends. 

As she got into her car, she turned to me and said, "You know, when you first ran over to me, I seriously thought you were going to tell me how dirty my car is!"

By now, we already understood one another so words weren't really necessary.  What mom of multiple boys has a minivan that isn't littered with empty juice boxes, week-old cracker crumbs, and a small collection of die-cast race cars?

After she drove off, I excitedly sent the photo to my husband.  Still flustered from the brief encounter, I smiled to myself and loaded my four boys into one shopping cart.  I can't recall having experienced many moments of serendipity like this before.

As for the vanity plate contest, I'm fresh out of ideas.  Either I have to settle for some variation of "4BOYS" (which incidentally is already taken), or maybe it's time to admit defeat.