Ill-advised Double Features

Long, long ago, when I was allowed near the remote now and then…

It was possible to rent movies, but a person had to actually walk to the store to do so.  I lived in a funkier part of town then, one with decent public transportation, cheap, interesting restaurants, and a movie Mecca called Leather Tongue Video.  That place had just about anything you could imagine–from the craptastic to the inscrutable and obscure.

Every Tuesday, the painfully hip folks at Leather Tongue offered a double feature deal. They rubber-banded two VHS tapes together and you could rent them both for the price of one.  The catch was, you had to take them both.  I probably only made it there once on a Tuesday–I also had a regular paying job and a life in those days– but I will never forget the first pairing I randomly picked up:  Joe Piscopo Live and Misery.

I didn’t rent them, of course.  Is it really necessary to see if you can survive those two back to back?  I went home empty-handed, opened a few beers, and spent the entire evening making up equally hilarious pairings with a pile of my beloved housemates.  It was one of those magical times when you laugh so hard you weep and hiccough, and the next morning your abs are mysteriously sore.

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A couple of days ago, I had the good fortune to see a few of those former housemates, and it was delightful to hang out once again.  An hour or two in, I mentioned the doomed double feature night.  “Remember?”  I asked them.  “I want to write about those mythic double features in my blog, but I can’t for the life of me recall any of our inspired pairings.  Help me brainstorm a few to get me going on the post.”

They looked at me blankly as we sat in silence for an awkward couple of minutes.

“I think it was really about the beer,” one woman finally offered.

Damn!  Is that why I used to think I was funnier?

Now that we are on a cleanse, pregnant, ill, gluten-free, living in the suburbs, and/or trying to keep the wee ones regular, it’s rare to see us really let loose.  It’s not like grown-ups are always boring or even necessarily sober, and parenting itself can be goofy delirium on a fairly regular basis.  Still, I have some mighty fond memories from a time when everyone was single-ish, childless, and too broke to go out.  We all just lurked on the sofa and amused ourselves night after night.

So here I am sitting here at a coffee house chain, sucking down a lame-ass decaf latte and racking my brain for a couple of decently ridiculous double features, to no avail.

Dead Ringers with episodes of Saved by the Bell?

Bigger, Longer, and Uncut with Yentl?

Ugh.

Maybe you’ll have better luck.  Ping me if you do.

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The Milk of Magnesia Incident

You may have wondered why new parents no longer socialize with others.  Why do they only hang out with other parents?  It’s really not what you think.  New parents don’t believe they are better than you.  They are not tired of you or your random anecdotes.  They are simply constantly talking about poop, and have thoughtfully excluded you from the conversation.

No one tells you this as they coo over your swelling belly, and, later, over the squeaky drooler in the stroller.  No one talks about this at the baby shower, or in the pregnancy books, or at the obstetrician’s office.  No one.  My only inkling came from a wine-tasting event I once attended with a whole pile of new moms.  Three glasses into the evening, a woman I barely knew suddenly turned to me and shrieked, “I didn’t know that my whole life would revolve around FECAL MATTER!  I NEVER would have signed on for this job!”

I should have listened.

Hundreds of crap-tastrophes preceded The Milk of Magnesia Incident, of course, and many, many followed.  I have blowout stories.  I have double blowout stories. I have stories of Leila eating and excreting pachinko balls.  I have seen poop ingested.  I have seen it laid on the table on Easter.  I have power-hosed a screaming infant at a gas station in mid-winter, to the shock and dismay of the public at large. I have also had to yank half-digested seaweed salad from Josephine’s nether parts.  Even now that the girls are six and eight years old, few days go by without a reference to excrement, but the day I am about to describe was the one that nearly broke me.

Come to think of it, this was the same day I got my belly stuck in a play structure trying to rescue tiny Leila, who was teetering precariously 15 feet above the concrete.

I was seven or eight months pregnant and quite sick.  I was also completely exhausted from running after a non-napping toddler while lugging a six-pound parasite in my uterus.    In a moment of desperation, I did what politically correct parents are never supposed to do.  I plopped that kid in front of the television.

Please let mama lay down for twenty minutes or she is going to fall apart!”

Leila looked at me oddly, but she must have known how serious I was, because she readily acquiesced.  I headed upstairs.  “Whatever happens, whatever you need, it can all wait for TWENTY MINUTES,” I said repeatedly.  I closed the door and lay down.  What followed were the most amazingly peaceful three minutes of my life as a parent.

Then Leila started to call to me.  “Mama…” she whimpered.

I played dead.

“Mama.”

Silence.

“Mama!”

I refused to cave in.

After she called for a minute or two longer, I heard her footsteps on the stairs, and I broke into a feverish sweat.

The door slid open, and I continued to feign sleep, even as her little feet slapped closer and closer to the bed.  Lord knows how long I would have lain there like a corpse, but Leila said, very quietly, “Mama…something happened,” in a way that induced real terror.

I opened one eye.  “Where are your pants?” I wanted to know.

“Uh oh,” she said.  This was not good.

I noticed smudgy little footprints from Leila to the top of the stairs and, as I discovered, all the way down them and across to the couch, where her pants lay in a gooey pile.

I suddenly flashed back to a conversation I had had with my spouse a couple of days earlier, when we discovered that two teaspoons of Milk of Magnesia miraculously cured our constipated kid.  Now I wondered if, perhaps, after he said, “That works well,” did he then continue to put two teaspoons of it in EVERY SINGLE TIME HE FILLED HER SIPPY CUP?  Why, yes he did.  And at the time, Leila drank about a half gallon a day.

“Stay right here, honey,” I said.  “Mama is going to clean this up, and then we’ll give you a bath.”  Instead, she walked back through the mountain of poopy goop and continued to follow me as I went to get old towels and Pine Sol.  “No, no, Leila.  STAY RIGHT HERE FOR A MINUTE.”

“Mama!”  Even as she said it, I knew what was happening.  The second bout was starting before I had had the chance to win the first round.

“Sweetheart, STAY RIGHT HERE AND I WILL GET MORE TOWELS!”  Splat, splat, splat, she followed me wherever I went.  I have no idea what I said right then, but I am certain it was nothing to be proud of.

She tried, I’ll give her that.  But as soon as I would get a load in the washer, or disinfect another room of the house, one more travesty would occur and she would forget, running anxiously about, spraying and tracking poop like some raccoon with dysentery.  I bathed her and got her into clean clothes multiple times, but in desperation she would pry them off and leave large, runny deposits in any available nook or cranny.

The whole ordeal was simply foul, but the nadir was scraping the residual solids from the sides of the washing machine while hearing Round IV or V happening in the background. My hands were raw from disinfectant for days, and I was terrified to walk barefoot or eat anything brown.  Plus, everything smelled a bit funky.  Everything.

I’m sure I could have handled the incident more gracefully, and I probably could have done something to avoid the unending fountain of diarrhea from spewing over the entire house.  You might even have a few suggestions, but go ahead and keep them to yourself.  We don’t allow Milk of Magnesia in the house anymore.  If the kids are backed up, we give them a glass of water and a pat on the back.  That will have to suffice.

Learning to have an opinion

I’m not trying to sound pathetic when I say this, but when you are the mother of small children it is so much easier if you have no needs or desires.

Babies can be very sweet, and they can also be ridiculously helpless and demanding.  Any ideas you might have about the purpose of evenings or weekends–or NIGHTS, for that matter–are best left repressed.  Just go with the flow.  If baby is hungry, baby gets fed.  If baby needs a fresh diaper, by gum she gets it.

If you are at the playground and the bathrooms are locked you simply do not need to go to the bathroom.

If you are at the zoo and everyone is happy, then it does not matter that you forgot to eat breakfast.  And lunch.  Or that the only snacks you brought are teething biscuits and boobs.  You just wait until you can pry your child away from the lemurs.  It’s not like you’re going to die.

On the weekend, you dump the baby with the spouse and race to lay in groceries and supplies for the week.  Who knows when you might next escape unchaperoned.  It is so much more bearable to drop a small fortune on pre-landfill when no one is screaming or battling diarrhea in your orbit.

If your infant does not nap or tolerate being set down, any serious business just has to wait for the spouse to return.  And if he happens to be in Japan like mine often was, you’re just fucked.

Around this time, a friend asked me if I had seen the movie Kill Bill.  I laughed maniacally in her face.

“I’m on house arrest,” I explained.

She looked at me quizzically.  “It’s out on dvd now,” she countered.

“I know,” I sighed.  “It’s just that–”  I cut myself short.  How could I explain that even if I did manage to get the kid to sleep without dozing off myself, I was still going to have to get up two or three or five times during the night.  I wasn’t about to squander the opportunity to restore my sanity on 111 minutes of choreographed violence.  Chances are, if something was published, released, sung, built, or exploded between 2003 and 2008 I’ve never heard of it.  You can ask, though, and I’ll do my best not to get huffy.

Now that the girls are six and eight, I am realizing that I have completely forgotten how to figure out what I would actually like to be doing.  Not only is my spouse willing and able to step in, the girls can amuse themselves for an hour or so, yet I can’t decide how to spend my precious sixty minutes.  Occasionally I figure it out at the end of the day, when it’s too late.  Oh, yeah.  It would have felt great to write and exercise, but I spent the whole day playing with the dollhouse and schlepping the kids around town.  If I set clear goals, I could squeeze in dolls and exercise, right?

Lookout world.  I’m thinking about formulating an opinion.

Novel excerpt: Bad Parenting 101

I cannot account for the drive to swap ‘most embarrassing moments.’ Perhaps it is just a “misery loves company” sort of phenomenon, or a chance to release old baggage and laugh at ourselves in the process.  I do know that it is more enjoyable if you follow certain rules.  You have to pick the right sort of person with whom to share, and then make sure to speak last—just in case. Gauge the level of trust based on how heinous your friend’s story is.  Personally, I have such an accumulation of humiliating moments that I like to select one that is only very slightly less mortifying than my companion’s.  I was about to share a truly devastating, ego-crushing debacle with an acquaintance, but LUCKILY I made her share first.  Since when does accidentally running a load of laundry twice through the wash count as embarrassing?  I immediately reneged on my promised reciprocation.  After that lame-ass, milquetoast non-revelation, there was no way was I going to talk about what happened to me in a port-a-potty once at a rock concert.  NO WAY.

Swapping bad parenting stories follows the same principles, and it feels even more liberating to get that shit off your chest and begin to forgive yourself–especially if your friend did something even worse.  That feels great.

I was once in a terribly uncomfortable situation…trapped in a station wagon with a gallery-owner I had never met, despite the fact that I had been interning at his place for months.  He was driving around downtown like a maniac.  My job was to run into places and pick up ridiculously valuable objects here and there, and toss them into the trunk while he double-parked and stared at me vaguely.  “WHO are you, again?” he asked for the third time.  I realized he would never get the hang of my name, so I changed my tactic:  “I’m the fool who found out I was pregnant 3 weeks into art school and has been trying to finish ever since.”  Suddenly, his vision cleared and he started talking with me like a real person, to my great relief.

We talked about everything:  art, philosophy, truth, but mostly parenting. When I told him my two year old threw down her crayon and yelled “fuck it,” when she got frustrated, he just laughed and said, “That’s nothing.  On his first day of kindergarten, my son turned to his neighbor at the lunch table and said—in front of the teacher and half a dozen other parents–‘Wanna toke of my cookie?’”

He won that round, but lately I’ve been working on some seriously competitive material.

Novel Excerpt: Dangers of Parenting

Parenting is dangerous work.  Kids will do, throw, and say things that make it impossible to watch where you are going, by foot or by car.  Thanks to legions of alert drivers ahead and behind, we have avoided countless close calls.  Small people seem strangely intent on committing suicide.  They throw themselves off of slides and into the street on a regular basis.  They eat rocks and shiny metal objects.  They put small round things up their nose.  They choke on all manner of harmless-looking food items.  Meanwhile, schlepping their tiny bodies and their disproportionate mounds of accompanying crap screws up your back and shoulders.  Even playing with them can be treacherous.  I once threw out my neck playing Oogie Boogie.  I got physically stuck in a maze of tunnels ten feet off the ground while pregnant with #2.  No one had explained that being pregnant while raising a toddler is a Herculean task.  Instead of resting when you get sick or tired, you take a whiney child to the zoo, and carry them around when they refuse to walk or sit in the stroller.  The needs of a pregnant woman and her eighteen month old are diametrically opposed.   As they get older, they start to walk reliably, but it’s still dicey.  That last round of spanky tag got so heated I twisted my ankle and had some discomfort sitting down to ice it for the next hour or so.

Yet long-term sleep deprivation is by far the most hazardous aspect of parenting.  It endangers life, limb, sanity, and all personal relationships. You snap at your spouse.  You can’t tell your friends from your frenemies.  You become bitter and stupid.  You can’t finish a thought, let alone a sentence.  You drop things, spill things, break things, and lose things, especially your shit.  I once got out of the car while it was running to wander around and rummage in the trunk.  It took a moment before I realized that the car was still in reverse and careening backwards down Potrero Hill with my babbling child inside.  As I stared dumbly at the unfolding debacle, I knocked myself over with the door I had left open.  Though secretly impressed by my wonder woman leap to the rescue of surrounding people and property, I never told anyone about the incident until now.  I’m pretty sure it is more indicative of my stupidity than any sort of heroism, but it does illustrate nicely why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique.  You become completely unglued and irrational.

Day two: another excerpt

But baby was born and she was just perfectly beautiful. She latched on and started nursing eagerly, and I thought, “when she’s done, we’ll just sleep and sleep and sleep.” She didn’t finish, though. She was insatiable. And, it turns out you have to do stacks of paperwork before they let you go to the room. It took hours to fill it all out, administer exams, tests, shots, eye drops, the whole nine yards. When we finally headed to the room around 4 am for some sleep, guess what? Baby did not want to sleep. Baby wanted to scream. She wanted to nurse. She would not be put down. This frustrated me to no end. I had made a rational and informed decision that the baby would sleep in her own crib from day one so I wouldn’t ruin sleep patterns for the whole family as well as end my sex life. It had never occurred to me that the baby might have her own opinion on the matter. She wanted to be held. At all times. She nursed relentlessly, and when the colostrom was gone and my milk had not yet come in, she bit at me until my nipples bled. “See?” I thought to myself. “It’s because you weren’t well-centered enough throughout the pregnancy. You didn’t do enough yoga. You harbored bad thoughts about your hippie birthing coach. You didn’t sing stupid twinkle songs to the fetus. Now you’re fucked.”

Ooh! Today’s novel excerpt!

“My main concern about art school was a vision of quirky painter types, holing up in their studios and spewing arty masturbations about their tiny inner lives onto giant canvases.  What if I got sucked into their self-indulgent little cult?  Ugh.  But I was studying photography!  I would journey out into reality, recording lives legions away from my inner world.

Sadly, when I found out I was pregnant, I felt tremendous pressure to turn the lens on myself.  “If not now, when?” my teachers queried.  Here was this tremendous opportunity for self-exploration, they persisted, a once in a lifetime chance!  And so my work devolved into self-indulgent arty masturbations about my tiny inner life.  As I transformed into my own worst nightmare, at least I was too broke to make the ginormous prints that would have reified the accompanying self-loathing.”