Friday, December 29, 2006

And so I write

My mother died five years ago today.

It's funny how grief can sneak up on you. On Christmas, at the end of midnight mass, when we were dismissed to 'go in peace' and the organ blared the first strains of some triumphant postlude, I realized that I had not shed a single tear. This would be the first midnight mass since my mother's death that I did not dissolve into tears at the first verse of 'Silent Night'. I wondered if that meant something; have I come to terms with something? I pondered. Am I healing? Am I healed?

What a crock. Yesterday evening something, and I can't even remember what, sent me reeling. My eyes welled, and I was absolutely stricken with grief and pain and longing and it was like it was new again, like it had just happened. I cried a bit, although not much, because I'm very unattractive when I cry and didn't want to subject my co-workers to my blotchy face and snotty nose.

In the car on the way home, free to sob unattractively to my heart's content, I was thinking about my mother. About how she had so many notebooks and pens when she died, but they were mostly empty, with the exception of the occasional to-do list or a the beginnings of a short note to a friend. I remember going through those notebooks, page by page, wishing and hoping against all hope that I would find something, anything. A short essay, a declaration, a diatribe, anything that reflected her and who she was and what she stood for and what she wanted, for herself and her children, what she thought about God and religion and world peace and politics, her thoughts on global warming. Her thoughts on parenting. Her memories of our childhoods, at least those that weren't destroyed by the shock therapy. Her thoughts on heaven and hell and everything in between.

There's really nothing on this blog that I would object to Jacelyn reading. Maybe, one day after I'm gone, she can somehow read what I've written here (if it's still around in some form) and think, "wow, my mom was crazy, she was overly wordy, she used punctuation VERY poorly, but she really, really, really loved me". And so I write.

And my sisters write, too. And I love them, and hope they keep writing, because they are good at it. And Mike, my brotha from anotha motha, the same goes to you, you talented, witty bastard, you. And to everyone that blogs, and loves: keep on.

Happy New Year.

This goes against everything I believe in....

...but I find myself coming to the defense of Britney Spears. I am aghast and ashamed of myself.

I saw an online article that said George Bush was voted to be both the number one hero and number one villain of 2006. I was amused, so I started reading. Towards the end of the article I read this:

"When asked to choose from a list of names, nearly three in 10 adults, or 29 percent, bestowed the honor of worst celebrity of the year on Spears.

The 25-year-old pop singer and mother of two young sons recently filed for divorce from Kevin Federline, her husband of two years. She then followed with highly publicized nights out with party girls Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, including photographic evidence of Spears wearing no underpants, which raised questions about her fitness as a parent."

I italicized the absolutely ridiculous part. Oh. My. God. What? What kind of idiocy is this? Speaking as a mother myself, I will say that:

-I have occasionally and unabashedly gone about my business sans underpants. Gasp! Am I a bad parent? Of course, when I go without underpants, I don't attract as much attention, (or any) because, 1.) I am not NEARLY as attractive, 2.) I am not a pop star, 3.) I don't wear really short skirts, nor do I have to clamber awkwardly out of low-to-the-ground, European made sports cars. Regardless of all that, there are few among us who have NOT had a wardrobe malfunction of some sort, and we are fortunate enough not to have people following us about and photographing us from eighty different angles. Should she have been a little more careful? If she cares that her sons will one day be able to Google-Image her private parts, yes. Does it make her a bad mother? No.

-News flash, people: Mothers are human, too. We are. And we have desires, and needs, and we get stressed out and want to relax, just like ANYONE else. So Britney goes out and parties. SO WHAT. If she went out and partied and locked her children in a bathroom with some newspaper on the floor and a bowl of water, then yes, going out makes her a bad mother. If she left her children with a loving relative or loving paid caregiver while she went out and blew off some steam, does that make her a bad mother? Not in my book. Since becoming a mother, I have gone out and left my daughter at home with her father or a grandparent. I have had a drink or two, and I have danced badly, sang too loudly, and "WOO!"'d enthusiastically. I have held a friend's hair out of their face while they threw up in some bushes. I have said things like, "I don't think Sammy's will take a credit card for a cover charge" and "If I keep one foot on the ground, it makes things stop spinning and I probably won't throw up".

Granted, I haven't said things like that often, nor do I go out often. Maybe the frequency at which Ms. Spears is going out for the evening, maybe that is what is bothering the nosy, celebrity-obsessed public. Maybe, if the nosy, celebrity-obsessed public had lives of their own, instead of living vicariously through public figures, this would be a non-issue. Now, I can be just as fasincated as the next person - I will admit to perusing through Brian's mother's Star Magazine sometimes while eating breakfast, but COME ON, PEOPLE. Leave the poor woman alone.

Mothers are just as entitled to time away, time to themselves. Just because a mother does not spend every waking moment at their child's side does not make them a bad parent. I spend as much time with my daughter as I possibly can, yes, as do most parents I know. I cannot imagine why anyone would begrudge a woman having some grown-up time, even if it is with Paris Hilton. Motherhood is a job. The catholic church calls it a vocation. It is a job that one enters voluntarily, yes, but you wouldn't expect ANYONE to work at their job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without taking a break now and then. At 2AM, when the house is quiet and everyone is asleep, a mother is awakened by a cough, or a cry, or the sound of a toddler puking onto an army of stuffed animals that will have to be washed. You're never not a mother. And sometimes, a couple of drinks and some freeballing help you to remember: that isn't such a bad thing.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The New Addition to our family

Meet our new friend, RoboPet. We can't kill him! Only his batteries die. Shaun, Jacelyn's Godfather, gave her this for Christmas. It is so cool. She has named him Best Friend Nikki:She is scared of him, but thankfully he is remote controlled, so she can appreciate him from a distance. Some of his finer points (blatantly stolen from the Best Buy website):

*Realistic, fluid, biomechanical movements include walking, running, crawling, sitting, lying down, getting up and rolling over
*Moods range from playful to naughty, curious, angry, depressed and rude
*Environmental awareness and interactivity include IR Vision, which detects and avoids obstacles and table edges (from me: a lie - Best Friend Nikki has fallen off three tables)
*Sonic sensors respond to sounds (according to moods), while motion sensors respond to human movements
*Emits digital animal sounds, such as barking, whimpering, growling and panting
*Responds to positive and negative reinforcement, performs tricks on command and even responds to commands from Robosapien V2
*"Laser" leash technology lets you trace a path on the ground and he will follow it
*Includes visual and sonic guard dog modes as well as sleep and auto shut-off functions

AND she's getting a Robosapien for Christmas from Brian's father, so she will have robopet and the roboguy. The dog also farts, and mimics peeing, and you can't go wrong with toilet humor for a four year old. I must confess to playing with him, under the guise of 'figuring it out for Jacelyn', even at one point holding the remote over her head and saying, "Mommy has to figure this out so I can show you how to work it". Riiiiiiight. I just wanted to play. But, 1.) I'm the mommy, and I earned the right to play with her toys first, and 2.) I'm bigger. Ha! Welcome to the family, Best Friend Nikki! May your batteries last long, and may nothing important be broken off your wiry body by my enthusiastic child. I explained to her how fragile he was and how she shouldn't bend or break any parts of him. And then while in the car on the way home, Jacelyn announced, "His foot can turn all the way around". I sharply asked her to repeat herself, and she quickly said, "Nothing, nothing". Mm-hmm.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Crab Named Mish

Tuesday was Brian's Christmas party at work. He invited Jacelyn and I to attend, and although it was an invitation, I knew that turning it down was not an option.

I had risen early that morning and showered and dressed. I left Jacelyn in her pajamas for the trip over, so she couldn't muss her outfit by spilling something or wallering around in her car seat. I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, watching Jacelyn brushing her teeth, when the thought struck me: why can't I be comfortable, too? So I changed into pajama pants and a t-shirt, crammed my 'nice' clothes (jeans and a sweater, ha) into a bag, slipped on some cruddy old sneakers, and off we went.

We drove down Main Street to get to the 3-Mile bridge, passing the water treatment plant. Jacelyn was looking out the window and humming, and I heard her pause and sniff and then she said, "Mama, what did you do?". I laughed and said it wasn't me, it was the building behind us. She was skeptical, and then asked me if I would roll down a window. A couple of moments later she got panicky - "Get the stink out of the car, mama! Get it out!". Once the stench was finally behind us, she settled in for the ride. She wanted me to stop in the middle of the road so she could count the birds on the jetties. She wanted me to make the fog go away so she could see. She wanted to listen to the Rudolph CD. When I finally relented on the Rudolph CD, she only wanted to listen to the song "Misfits".

The ride was a long one. Some statistics:

Road Kill Count: 3 cats, 11 possum, 1 armadillo
Bathroom breaks: 1, although it was a long and stinky one---Jacelyn had an upset tummy
Number of times Jacelyn said "MAMA!": one hundred gazillion
Number of time we listened to "Misfits": also one hundred gazillion

I had spoken with Brian while en route; when he found out that both Jacelyn and myself were in pajamas, he expressed horror and the hope that we would find a place to change before arriving. So we did; we stopped in at a McDonald's to change. We entered the bathroom in pajamas, and emerged looking gorgeous, Jacelyn especially. We arrived at Wal-Mart, where Brian showed Jacelyn off to everyone. She ate up the attention. People would say to her, "Oh, look at you, aren't you cute!" to which she would reply, "Yes, thank you". She got a lot of compliments on her boots (Hello, Kitty cowboy boots, which she wore with a skirt--so cool). She was sweet with Brian but a devil with me, at one point performing a spin kick to my shin, which I would have been more appreciative of the skill involved had she not been kicking me in the shin.

We went to the employee lounge in the back of the store. It was very festive - whoever did the decorating wrapped every flat surface in gift wrap - even the walls. Brian introduced us: "This is my daughter Jacelyn. Oh, and this is my wife". I didn't even merit a name - just 'wife'. The food was catered by Sonny's Barbecue. Jacelyn cut open and buttered her own roll, which she then did not eat and squished into little balls. She took the little balls and squished them together, put them on her chin, and said, "Look, mommy, I have a mustache". I was slightly amused.

There was karaoke. Yes, friends, karaoke. It was wrong and it was bad. It wasn't even Christmas karaoke. Two consecutive country songs were 'sung' (using that term very, very loosely), and I was already despairing when the opening strains of "Copacabana" blared over the speakers. I called Jen at work. "Do you hear that?" I asked her, as the Tire and Lube Express manager enthusiastically shook his hips to the music. "Oh, God, yes" she answered.

I was able to leave shortly thereafter. Brian offered to replace the front two tires on the jetta, so I dropped off the car and proceeded to wait. And wait. With a cranky, napless four-year old who had spent three hours of her morning cooped up in the car. Brian walked us around a little, and we stopped at a huge tank of hermit crabs. A very nice woman pulled out one for Jacelyn to check out, but he was dead. After explaining that he must be asleep, she pulled out another crab.This fellow was a bit more adventurous, and alive to boot, so after a moment he popped out of his shell and scrabbled around on the counter top. When he moved, Jacelyn made some sort of exclamation, causing the crab to pee and then go back into his shell. We all laughed, and Jacelyn said he was the one for her. "...because he peed" she explained. I guess they have that in common.

We walked away laden with a 'crab condo' complete with everything a hermit crab could possibly need for a lifetime of hermit-ing. I asked Jacelyn what his name is, because she proclaimed him to be a boy. "His name will beeeeeeee.... Mish." Hmm. "Mitch?" I asked, uncertain. "No, MISH. Like fish, or dish, only not. MISH." Oh.

So we departed Panama City Beach a little richer than we were when we arrived. I had two new tires, and Jacelyn had a hermit crab named Mish. Sweet. And the quality time together in the car, that was great, too. Annoying, but great.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Worst Christmas Program Ever

Jacelyn's school Christmas program was last Thursday. She was pretty much over it by Tuesday or Wednesday, saying at one point, "All we do is sing, sing, sing!", followed by a scoff beyond her years. The big day arrived, and Brian, who came into town solely to watch her in the program, picked her up from school. Instead of following my suggestion and putting her down for a nap in between school and program time, he took her to waffle house, where she ate an entire waffle and a bunch of bacon. The child loves bacon - and who doesn't? Bacon is meat candy. And then they ran errands, and messed around with his car outside.

I left work early and met up with everyone at the house. Brian and Jacelyn were still cleaning his car. Jacelyn's method of car cleaning involves spraying whatever product she can get her hands on, whether wax or cleaner, onto whatever she can reach, and then showing her father: "Look daddy! I'm helping!". Brian then has a mini-stroke because she has sprayed tire cleaner or some other inappropriate substance onto the painted finish. They go back and forth: spray, stroke, wipe; spray, stroke, wipe. There's lots of yelling involved. From Brian: "Baby!" and "Stop, put that down!", and from Jacelyn, "I'm helping! I'm just helping!". It would be amusing, if it wasn't so frustrating.

I told her to come inside and get dressed, and was met with great and whiny resistance: "I have already been to school, and I don't want to go back". Sigh. I finally convince her to change into her pajamas, and she spends the next half hour running around, crazed, hopped up on syrup, bacon, and lack of nap. I would occasionally catch her while she was making laps around the living room and explain how she needed to be good, to behave, to in fact be on her very best behavior. She would nod and break free, and I would send up a little prayer: please let this go well.

Brian was sleepy and decided he didn't want to be there early, that he would ride with his mother and father. Michelle came with Jacelyn and I. I made sure she went to the bathroom, and we left. Jacelyn was singing loudly in the car, something I later found to be greatly ironic. We got to school and faced a parking melee: everyone was there early. We dropped Jacelyn off with the other K4 and K5 kids. The room was insane: little children clad in pajamas running around, screaming at the top of their lungs, bumping into and off of each other. I gratefully escaped the classroom and Michelle and I went to find seats.

The only available seating was in the very back row. We sat on either side of the four additional seats we would need, and then Michelle went outside to wait for the rest of the family.I was left to apologize to the elderly and infirm who wanted to sit there. Sister Patricia, the school principal, made an announcement about how many children were out sick (30 out of about 167), that there were only 5 children in second grade that day, and how we needed to give the kids a standing ovation for their hard work. The rest of the Bernardos arrived, and we anxiously awaited the start of the program.

The second through eighth grade filed onstage, taking their place on the high risers at the back of the stage. I was somewhat relieved to see the older kids up there; I had already pictured children falling like dominoes if the pre-k and kindergarteners were up top. Giggling quietly, I leaned over to Brian and pointed out a kid who had on pink shorts and a limey-neon green polo shirt - "What, is he golfing?" I asked. Brian pointed out that they were kids and I was being mean. Thoroughly chastened, I settled in to watch. Where are the little kids? I wondered. The older grades opened the show with a rousing number, "Our Promised King is Born". Bad skit from three eighth graders, another number. I saw a door open and short little heads bopping around, but it turned out to be the first graders filing in. Cute, yes. Downright adorable. But not my kid. Where is my kid?

The first graders sang a song by themselves, and despite their lesser numbers, around 15 of them, were louder than the rest of the school combined. I guess they haven't learned to be self-conscious yet, bless them. Another bad skit, Mary and Joseph enter (tripping over the spotlight stand and almost dropping baby Jesus). More singing, more bad acting, some angels wrapped in silver garland who, for some reason, stood very still making jazz hands for the duration of another song. Where's the little ones?

Finally, during 'Away in a Manger', the door opens and in they file. The K4 and K5 kids. So very, very cute. They filed onto stage and were seated in front of the first graders, on either side of the stage. My eyes teared, as I watched Jacelyn sitting on stage. She looked angelic, resplendent, even, in shiny blue owl pajamas ('Whoooo's Up Late?' the pajamas pondered) and fuzzy blue slippers, her pigtails hanging down in ringlets, cheeks flushed with excitement, my daughter, by baby, was gorgeous. How did I manage to have such an attractive child? If I hadn't spent nine and a half months feeling her tap dance on my insides, I would question whether or not she was mine.

New song, joined by the 4 and 5 year olds. It was great - you kept hearing those one or two kids who held a note too long or started too soon. Jacelyn sang her heart out on that first number. End of song, beginning of another skit, Jacelyn gets restless. A wise man comes down the center aisle, and Jacelyn turns to watch him carry his gift to Jesus, choosing this moment, her head in profile, to pick her nose. She picks and stares, picks and stares. Her curiosity momentarily sated, she turns back to the front. A little more nasal digging and she peers at her finger, checking out whatever she might have hooked, then looks around and, finding no better receptacle for her nose gold, wipes her hand on her pajamas. I was amused but basically unconcerned. She's 4. They do that.

Then it really went downhill. She stopped singing, except for the occasional chorus. She started pulling at her lower lip, a compulsive-type of behavior I had noticed before, but it really stood out when she did it for the better part of twenty minutes or so. At one point she leaned over and lightly popped the hand of a neighboring classmate, much to my horror. She spent two minutes with her hands over her ears, scowling like an angry monkey. Two minutes is an eternity, by the way, when your child is misbehaving in a very public manner and you can't get to them to stop the bad behavior. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, vehemently whispering, "Stop it! Stop stop stop!". Brian had crossed his arms and was bouncing his leg. The bouncing started with the hand pop, and continued for the rest of the performance.

I don't remember the music (except for the really bad soloists on 'O Holy Night'), I don't remember anything. All I remember is how my sweet daughter turned into a horror. She started waving to random people, waving and making a very ridiculous face. Anytime the spotlight got near her, she acted as though she had been blinded. She would wince, and cover her eyes, and then put a hand to her forehead and squint dramatically at the crowd. She turned around and started talking to the children behind her. This prompted me to again attempt mother-daughter telepathy: "STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT NOW". It didn't work. She continued talking, and when the child she was talking to shushed her, she turned around the other way and started talking to someone else. I was aghast. Her actions were magnified by the fact that the other children around her were acting like angels. Even the kids who I hear about in the car on the way home: "Emily pushed Arianna" and "Mitch said a bad word" and "Arianna had to go see Sister because she hit Fisher and made him cry", even those kids were really good.

Finally, after a dramatic ending, it was over. I was exhausted. After a lengthy standing ovation, Sister dismissed the K4 and K5 parents to go get their children. I marched grimly to the classroom, Brian running after me, asking over and over, "What are we going to do? What are we going to say?". I didn't know, but I wanted to get to her.

In the end we talked to her about it, mostly on the ride home. We made certain that she knew that we were proud of her for taking part in the program, that it was fun to see her doing something so neat, but we also talked to her about her behavior. Here's hoping she learned something. In her defense, she was sick of it anyway, and she had not had a nap that day. And she's 4. But that doesn't completely excuse blantant misbehavior. Oh well; we've got a year until the next one, we can work on it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Everybody Loves a Parade

Everybody, that is, except me. Call me grinch-y, call me whatever, but I am actually somewhat relieved that Jacelyn has been sick (although now she is much improved) and will not be able to attend the parade this evening. The last couple of parades have not been the enjoyable family fun you hope they would be. The attraction is wearing off for Jacelyn, as well. After forty five minutes or so, she is pretty much done. She's ready to go home and eat dinner or watch a Barbie movie. However, the parades around here take about two hours to see through to completion, so forty-five minutes is not nearly long enough. We collect a bagful of beads, that we promptly take home and add to the OTHER bags of beads we have collected previously. The little stuffed animals get lost under the bed, the candy gets hidden, lost, and rediscovered a year later. The beer coozis end up in the trunk, rolling around until they deform with the arrival of summer heat, and the plastic cups bearing the name and logo of some bank or radio station will enjoy a short life in the cabinet, only to be tossed out a week later. It's just more....STUFF.

Two hours in the freezing cold, screaming for trinkets and t-shirts, is not the way I particularly want to spend my evening. Visions of pajama pants, a sweatshirt, a blanket and a good book are dancing through my head. We can do the Mardi Gras parade, if Jacelyn wants to and isn't sick, but I think we're skipping the Christmas parade this year. I say that, but I'm awaiting and dreading the phone call I am fairly certain I will receive later, most likely from Michelle: "She's feeling so much better, so we're all going to come for the parade. Make some coffee!". Sigh. There go my pajamas, blanket, and book. And Jacelyn really doesn't need to be out in the weather. She slept well last night, but the night before....she was up every fifteen minutes, unable to breathe. I had to sit up and let her sleep on my chest, so she would be elevated enough to breathe. She didn't settle in until 4:30am, after some Motrin Cold (which is so good it could be currency, and possibly is somewhere). She finally fell asleep sitting up on a wedge pillow on the sofa. I laid down on the floor with a short blanket and snatched an hour or two of broken sleep. Life the following day is a blur: got up the next morning, got her settled in, and worked all day. Came home, cleaned house, did laundry, took care of Jacelyn. Watched the Polar Express, which had me sniffling and saying, "I believe too!" at the end. Realized again how much I love Tom Hanks, no matter what anyone else might think. I went to bed between midnight and 1AM, and here I am at work, getting ready to jump back into my inventory.

Brian is in town for the weekend. That's really all I have to say about that. Church Sunday, and Jacelyn and I were invited to an ornament exchange at one of her classmate's home, but I think we're going to cancel on that, as well. I'm feeling very anti-social. The thought of having to make small talk for however long it takes to complete the ornament exchange process is making my head hurt. These are all very lovely people, don't get me wrong at all, but I just want to be home. We were invited to a birthday party today, but we're not doing that, either. Mostly due to illness, but also due to the fact that I'm a jerk who doesn't feel like being around other people. Does working in retail do that to you, or am I just becoming cranky in my advancing age? Frankly, I don't care. I've got a hot date with my new pink plaid flannel pajama pants and a big roomy sweatshirt. I'm getting to work, and hopefully a better frame of mind.