Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Biggest Problem

I cannot stop yelling at my kid. Is this normal for parents of almost-four-year-olds? It's my biggest daily struggle. I often think that I was well-suited to the daily care-taking of an infant, but a three-year-old is outside of my expertise. Somewhere I picked up the idea that I shouldn't have to repeat myself so much, that he should just listen to me and behave the first, or second, or third time that I say something. I'm not sure why I think this is true. Parents for a millennium have bemoaned the inability of children to listen or pay attention or follow instructions. Somehow I thought I'd be better at this.

So he sneezes full in the face of a pregnant chick, and I snap at him because, really? The whole "Vampire Sneeze" thing that we've discussed ad nauseum and that I remind him of daily, multiple times? And he says, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Like, "Let it go already!" He's gonna sneeze in a pregnant chick's face and then give me attitude about it, like I'm being a dick for reminding him to cover and telling him to go apologize? Really?

And of course I immediately feel guilty every time I lose my cool. My mother told me when I was a kid that being a parent was all about guilt, but, I don't know, I thought I'd be better at this. I remember watching Bill Cosby's stand-up routine about "Come here. Come here. Come HERE. Here! Here! Here!" and thinking, "That's funny." It's not so funny anymore. The phrases I repeat more than three times in a row, several times a day, day after day, include, "don't touch," "get down," "eat your veggies," "get your finger out of your nose," and maybe a hundred others. I try not to think of each of those as a knife in my back or a middle finger in my face, but yeah, I kind of do, really.

So I know, intellectually, that he's a kid, he's three, I can't really change his behavior except in a strictly long-term sort of way. I know that in his purely id-driven three-year-old state, he does not think, remember, or judge before acting or reacting to immediate stimuli. I get it. But man, I just told him, 30 seconds ago, not to do what he is currently doing. While he looks right at me. With that look on his face.

How is it that anybody ever has more than one kid?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


One of my long-term goals for ushering is never to become bitter and cynical as so many long-time ushers seem to become. They expect the worst of people and are given no end of opportunities to see their expectations met. I do my best to remember that for every angry, demanding, selfish, or entitled patron that I encounter, I meet at least a couple who are friendly, kind, funny, and generous, and there are of course hundreds that come and go without ever drawing my attention at all.

While eating my breakfast before heading to work this morning, I read some old blog entries about ushering, including this one, a meditation on the sentiment, the pride and the poignancy, on display at high school graduations.

Today, though, was not one of those days.

I know that for so many of the families in attendance, graduation is the culmination of years of work, both for them and for their graduates. I know that parents of graduates often feel quite literally like participants in these events. In fact, some of our signage outside the building directs "participants" one way and "public" another; when I'm outside helping get people to the proper spots, I always call them instead "graduates and faculty" while pointing one way and "family and friends" while pointing the other, because mothers especially, in my experience, truly believe themselves to be participants in this triumphant moment.

Still, it's amazing to me to see how many family members will behave as if their child's graduation entitles them to specific benefits that other families, celebrating the exact same achievement by their own children, are not entitled to. People set up tripods for their video cameras on stairways and landings, blocking other people's views and access to whole rows of seating. One thoughtful young man once even set up his tripod across three mobility-impaired seats, which are in high demand for grandparents at these events. Some people will "save" three and four rows of seating, upwards of 40 individual seats, for their friends and family who are "parking the car" when other families who are here, now, with only minutes before the start of the ceremony, have nowhere to sit. Entire families fill the mobility-impaired seating sections, bristling indignantly at the suggestion that one of their party sit with grandma while the rest sit in regular seats a dozen feet or so away from grandma so that another family's grandma, who is also in a wheelchair, may take advantage of the mobility-impaired seating sections as well.

Trying my best to resolve such a conflict today, I told the Hatfields and the McCoys, who appeared on the verge of coming to blows over a half-dozen seats they both wanted to sit in, that "we're all here for the same reason. We're all part of the [insert school's name] family; let's all behave in a kind, courteous, and loving way toward each other." Two people involved in the conflict actually snorted in derision at my suggestion.

I called the police to one of our vendor's concession stands today, too, because a woman, dressed to the nines and there presumably to show her pride and to celebrate the achievement of a close friend or family member suddenly decided that this place and this time were the appropriate moment to engage in a dispute with that vendor over payroll money she felt she was owed; presumably she had worked for or with that vendor at some previous event. She was screaming with such force and gesticulating so vehemently at the vendor that I was afraid she was about to start throwing punches. When I approached, she turned her venom on me without missing a beat. The spittle was flying. The police were called. The vendor was visibly shaken. I thought, how delightful it is that this patron has stolen this day from the graduate she was there to honor, turned the attention from the graduate to herself and even involved the police.

So, as much as I love ushering, and as much fun as I have, and as much gratification as I get from helping people enjoy our events and helping them in other ways whenever I can, sometimes I can't help walking away feeling that people, in the broadest, most general terms, suck.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Maybe it's the mold, which is high, though it's always high. Maybe it's because I'm poorly rested, poorly hydrated, and poorly nourished. But I just can't get it together the past two times I've tried to run. I can't get my breathing and heart rate under control. I can't move enough air. I've only run just over two miles each time, and I was struggling to do that. And my iPod kept pausing itself throughout my workout today, which is extremely annoying, and ridiculously symbolic. I have to do something. I'm not losing weight, and I fear that I am on the verge of quitting and gaining it all back again, as I've done so many times before. Though on the plus side, my knee isn't bothering me much.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Through the miracle of Netflix streaming, I'm watching Shaka Zulu for the first time since it was first broadcast on television in the '80's. Aside from the inherent racism in the fact that bare African breasts were acceptable on network television when bare European breasts most certainly were not, I'm thinking about how many of my most admired heroes are military men willing to do anything and everything to achieve their goals.

I love war movies; I've recently obsessed on Toshiro Mifune as the unstoppable samurai. Years ago, I went through a Civil War period, reading memoirs and biographies of men like John Mosby, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and William Tecumseh Sherman, men who were willing to break the rules in order to win.

I'm currently watching the episode where Shaka defies the general who tells him that warfare is fought at 50 paces, with long spears and small shields, with little chance and no intention of killing or dying. Shaka remakes the tools of war, and the strategies, and in doing so creates an empire to rival Napoleon's, or Alexander's.

Odd that these are my heroes, since I am as far from a military man as one could possibly get, and I can't commit to losing 50 pounds, let alone commit to sacrificing everything for the sake of a principle, such as honor, or pride, or God, or country.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I haven't done Velvet Verbosity's 100 Words in awhile. I write so many product description blurbs, using the Word Count feature on MS Word so many times to make sure that I'm writing enough but not too much, that it feels a little odd fitting a paragraph to a purpose that isn't selling a product I've never seen or touched. So here's my 100 words.

I'm trying so hard these days, but it's tough, to use only one space after a period. A graphic designer friend of mine Facebooked this article, pointing out that it's a sin in the modern world to use two spaces after a period, regardless of what my 8th grade typing teacher told me. So I'm trying. Anyway, "Chasm:"

Each trip down this path has worn something away, crushed underfoot some small living thing, until the way is hard as rock and void of life. From the very beginning, we have known that it leads nowhere, yet we cannot resist following it one more time. Regularly as seasons, we pass over it again and again, year after year. Our persistence has worked magic on the landscape between us, laying waste, scuffing out a line, a ditch, a ravine, finally a vast chasm, until there is nothing left to say, no way to reach across. Next time, let us leap.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Talking About Giving

"Good night, buddy. I love you."

"What are we going to do tomorrow?"

"We're going to give blood. Then we're going to Central Market."

"Am I going to do it?"

"No, I'm going to give blood. You're too young."


"Because you have to be bigger to give blood. That's the rule."

"Well, when I'm bigger, I don't want to give blood."

"OK. You don't have to. It's your choice. I like to give blood."

"Well, I don't. I like to give poop!"

"Good night."

"I said 'poop.'"

"Yes, I know. I heard you."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Begins at Home, But It's Where It Ends That Worries Me

I've spent much of my life as a misanthropic intellectual, but since the arrival of Thumper, I've tried to reinforce the idea, for him and for me, that service to our fellow human beings has value for ourselves and our world. I don't do a lot, but I regularly give blood, and our family donates money where we can. I'm not above clicking on a "sign this petition" or a "send your Senator or Representative a letter" link, even if it does mean I'll start getting smug reply letters from John Cornyn, but one of the things we do that makes me feel best about myself is driving a Meals on Wheels route. It's easy, taking up about an hour-and-a-half of my life each week, but it makes me happy. And since we pick up the meals at a Senior Center, it means that Thumper gets the loving attention of several more grandmas in his life.

Some people have no interest in us, just opening the door to accept delivery and then closing it again, and that's fine with me. Some people on our route are very open and friendly, especially with Thumper, and invite us in to sit and chat and pet their dogs, which is also just fine with me. I've met a couple of very interesting and likeable people, and dogs, this way. We've been doing it since Thumper was 18 months old, and our Senior Center friends and our Meals on Wheels clients have known him for more than half his life.

I'm not particularly proud of how one of our clients makes me feel about myself, though. She's in her 80's, is disabled, and lives alone. She wants most of all to have someone to talk to, and there are days that we spend 20 minutes or more standing on her porch. There are some days when I just want to finish, to move on, so that we can have lunch. Sometimes I dread stopping at her house, and that dread makes me feel guilty.

Recently, though, she's begun to ask more of me. Perhaps because I've been willing to let her talk and tell the same stories over and over, and perhaps because Thumper is an adorable charmer, she's said how much she feels like she can trust me and what a wonderful job she thinks I'm doing with my son. So she's asked if I can help her out here and there. I've changed light bulbs for her. I've shopped for a portable DVD player for her so that she can watch Armageddon prophecy videos. She has talked about maids and landscapers and pest control techs who've treated her badly and stolen from her. She's asked me if I know anyone who can mow her yard and pick up the beer bottles her inconsiderate neighbors have thrown over her fence, help her around the house, and help her sort through and sell or donate her 80 years of accumulated belongings. I connected her with a couple that I thought would make a perfect match for her, but it ended badly, with them declaring her "impossible to please" and angrily extricating themselves from her life.

My former work history has demonstrated that I have a remarkable capacity for monotony and repetition, and I have a remarkable patience for dealing with difficult people with whom others have been incapable of dealing. I could be her lawn mower, and her sink de-clogger, and her Craigslist and eBay expert, and her confidante and companion. She's made it clear that she has money and wants very much to pay someone to be her man Friday. But at this point in my life, I really don't want to. The more I do for her, the more I am sure that she will ask, and I just don't want to be drawn in any more than I already have been.

Does that make me uncharitable?
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