Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Numbers Never Lie

Earlier this summer, we received our children's standardized test scores, and I couldn't be more pleased! Numbers never lie, and I now have evidence that I've been right all along. Apparently, two of my children have no capacity whatsoever for "listening." These two precious children scored somewhere in the 40th percentile in the "listening" category. Math? Fine. Spelling? Got it. Reading? Ditto. Listening? What's that you say? Huh?

I don't give a flip about how my kids test in categories like "Environment," because that smacks of Al Gore and his stupid toilets, but I do value strong listening skills. I've been pushed almost to tears, crying out, "Nobody ever listens to me around here!" And now, thanks to the fine folks at SAT, I have the proof.

Sure, you might be saying to yourself, "In this age of competitive parenting, where every kid is off-the-chart brilliant, why in the world would you admit that something is sort of wrong with yours?" I will tell you that these computer printouts prove how special these kids are. They may qualify for some sort of government funding some day.

"See? They have a DISORDER," I will tell the resource administrator.

"No, ma'am, this does not actually qualify as a disorder," she will say. "They simply did not follow instructions. Or maybe they didn't pay attention to the teacher during this portion of the test."

"Well, then, wouldn't you consider that a little disorderly?"

Everyone can't be great in everything, and some things are more important than others. For example, one of these two non-listening children can draw fairies like you wouldn't believe, sometimes until almost 11 p.m. Each fairy has a name and a list of character traits--many you would expect to see in a fairy; others, not so much.

The other non-listening child used to say that she wanted to be a butterfly when she grows up. She is now 10. When she plays outside, she occasionally still wears butterfly wings and takes with her a bottle of Germ-X. We don't ask any questions.

Will these skills earn them high-paying jobs? College scholarships? Fame for their mother who has raised them? No, no, and probably not. That didn't stop me from telling them earlier this week how beautiful their fairies are and how butterflies sure work up a sweat in the August heat.

But they didn't listen. They never do.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

My mother, who has never, ever touched a dog in her entire life, despite the fact that I always HAD a dog while growing up, once agreed to take on a golden retriever because "it would look nice in front of the fireplace." Like many things in our house, the dog was a prop, an accessory.

The golden retriever, in this case, became a part of our family because she blended nicely with the wood floors and ceiling-high bookshelves. She would transform the room into a gentleman's library, perhaps, or maybe a cigar room of some sort.

All grown up now, I have taken a different approach to selecting pets. Dogs and cats have to fit in with our family in some way. Size, personality, hair color. I adopted Penny seven years ago from the Humane Society because we had a CONNECTION. When I saw her in the kennel, I saw My Dog. She was a great fit. She and I had almost the same hair color. She was housebroken. She seemed like a loyal dog and was good with kids. And she needed a home. So we gave her one for the next five years.

On Oct. 7, 2006, I sent the following e-mail, which I have kept in my outbox for almost two years:

A few of you have already heard, but I wanted to let those who knew of Penny's illness know that she died this morning at Dr. Day's office. Her cancer had returned a few weeks ago and had apparently spread throughout her body. I took her to the vet yesterday to get a shot for pain and anything else he could give her, and Dr. Day said she was nearing the end. I took her back this morning and was holding her when she died. It was very peaceful for Penny, although I'm certain that my wailing permanently scarred every child in the waiting room.
It's been a really crappy day.


Last month, Ruby (who was called "Betsy" at the animal shelter) caught my eye because I saw a lot of Penny in her, and who wouldn't want another Penny, the Most Awesome Dog Ever? And while that's not fair to Ruby, it sealed the deal for me. I set high standards for her before she ever entered our door.

But Ruby had something else, too -- something more than a Penny likeness. She had the look of a disc dog. At our first meeting, I had visions of touring her across the state as part of a PR campaign to raise awareness about rescue dogs. I would look sporty throwing a frisbee across the park, while Van Halen (of the Sammy Hagar variety, not David Lee Roth) played from the van stereo. I would grab the mic and explain to the crowd that Ruby was a shelter dog, the sometimes end-of-the-road for a dog like Ruby, who was surrendered by her owners who, according to the shelter documents, "just didn't want her anymore." The crowd would gasp.

I would go on to explain that upon our second visit with Ruby at the shelter that she laid on her back in her kennel, displaying fresh stitches from her hysterectomy, as if to say, "I'm not sure why they did this to me. Can you please get me the crap out of here?"

I would stop mid-field in the disc dog demonstration area, put one hand on my hip and recall my response. "They did this to you so that we could take you home today. Come on." The crowd would applaud.

During our disc dog demonstration, Ruby would leap several feet in the air and wow the crowds with her frisbee moves. I would throw treats toward her airborne body, and she would run in a perfect circle, as if she were running a victory lap. People would toss $5 and $10 bills into the empty water cooler jug that I would position beside the van, and all the money would go toward the animal shelter, which would later be renamed The Amy & Ruby Animal Care Center.

So I brought home Ruby and my dreams of being a disc dog demonstration performer. Unfortunately, these dreams may never be realized, for what we have instead is a dog who runs around the coffee table and occasionally uses the floor as a toilet. She sheds to the point that she should be completely bald. Three nights ago, she drank so much water -- wiping out not only her bowl, but our Boston terrier's bowl as well -- that she took one step outside and threw up water all over the sidewalk. She tries to jump like the Boston does, but her legs are unbelievably disproportionate to her body, so she can only hop. Her leash gets wrapped around her front right paw every single time I walk her. After she does her business, she walks five feet away, faces the opposite direction and slings dirt behind her, nowhere near her business.

So Ruby might not be a Penny after all, and she doesn't show a lot of promise with disc dog demonstrations. In fact, she may have a few screws loose. But what she lacks in dog-smarts, she makes up for in loyalty. And a nice hair color. She's a good fit.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A New Orleans Scrapbook

I did not alert you to the recent blog break because that would be the electronic equivalent of saying, "Hey, Mr. Burglar, why don't you rob me blind while I'm out of town? I mentioned--ADVERTISED, practically-- in a blog entry a few short weeks ago that we have TWO color TVs. So, help yourself!" Identity theft is one thing; property theft, however, is serious business. Safety first, I say.
In recent days, the highways and byways led us to New Orleans for a working vacation and a heat index you would not believe.

For those of you not hardy enough to brave the Crescent City climate in August, I have compiled a brief glimpse into our adventure that was Too Much Fun. And lest you get all preachy about introducing four kids to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, I will tell you to Get Over It. We didn't permit dancing on tables or overindulging in any way (except at Café du Monde--eating, not dancing). We're very Baptist that way.
Here you go ...

We had the opportunity to hang with the locals in the French Market.

I spent most of my waking hours trying to figure out how to construct a wrought-iron balcony onto the front of my house and to grow ivy without aid of ground.

Requisite pretentious shot in front of a stretch limo. This child will likely tell her friends that she rode in this stretch limo and was treated like a princess. A princess wearing a dirty t-shirt and torn capris.

If you ever wonder who has the hottest job on the face of this planet, stop. We found him, across from Café du Monde. The temperature hit about 150 that day. Coating himself in silver paint, I'm guessing, made it just seem hotter.

We versed our children in the merits of Happy Hour in the hotel lobby. They caught on quickly that a bottomless glass of Coke and unlimited visits to the trail mix bowl constitutes a full meal. The "happy" part must have come after this picture was taken.

We assessed the status of the cleanup of a July 23 oil spill in the Mississippi River.

In Parenthood, Diane Wiest's character tells her daughter, Julie, something like, "Well, when my kids want something, I want to get it for them." This is an example of such parenting policy. One of my kids wanted to walk on the field of the Superdome. So I got it for him. Because I spoil my kids that way. And I did not break any laws or windows to make it happen. It just happened. Anything else I write might be incriminating.

And then we found the Saints' locker room. It was very locked. Despite our efforts, we could not open this door. We were not entirely disappointed, as we never expected we would get this far. Neither did Superdome Security.

A footnote about food: No blog entry about New Orleans would be complete without mention of food. Yes, of course, we ate food. And a shameful amount of it. Of particular enjoyment was a sandwich as big as your head, served at Mother's. It will forever be remembered as The Meat Sandwich, though the menu refers to it as a Debris Sandwich. Debris is the stuff that falls off the roast during baking and lands smack-dab in the gravy. It's the stuff that everyone eats in their own kitchens, but would never admit it. Like the crumbs that fall off fish at Captain D's. The nice people at Mother's scoop the Debris out of the pan and stuff it between two slices of French bread. (Try doing that with Captain D's crumbs.) What I couldn't finish at the restaurant, I polished off at midnight in the hotel in the middle of my bed. It was a very New Orleans thing to do. And while I should be embarrassed, I am not.

There's more, but I shall save it for the paying gigs, which will be published later this year. I'll provide links in the fall.