Thursday, June 25, 2009

my children are talented at freaking out

Yesterday I noticed several pages, stapled together with an illustration on the cover, lying on the coffee table. I picked it up and took a look. It was a short story, which I assumed was part of Iris's schoolwork which she'd brought home on the last day of school (Iris had brought home some similar documents, including one short story, "The Killing Dude", which had deeply disturbed the school's lower school librarian. I swear that I do not watch horror films with the children or worship Satan about the house; it comes to the child naturally. Maybe she'll be Clivette Barker when she grows up). I started reading it. It was a very well-written piece about a girl who had moved and was taking skating lessons.

Nine year-old Iris uber Alles walked into the room and freaked out. "You can't read that!" It turned out that it wasn't a school assignment; it was something she'd written recently on her own (she often uses computers to do some creative writing). She started crying uncontrollably and couldn't calm down or explain why she was upset. In yet another display of terrible parenting, I paid her ten dollars to let me finish reading the story (which was really very good; obviously writing comes naturally to her and equally obviously she has profited from her writing classes at 826 Valencia Street). She didn't stop crying for hours. I told her (and later her father reiterated) that, if she wants something to be private, for the love of God don't leave it on the frigging coffee table and that it was excellent and nothing to be embarrassed about, but our evening was ruined by all the uncontrollable crying.

Then six year-old Lola started playing the DvD of her recent dance recital. Lola had nagged me about this DvD repeatedly, saying "ISABELLE has a copy of it; why don't I?" and "I KNOW there is a DvD but I don't have it." I had finally picked it up that day, and Lola had eagerly asked permission to go watch it, but the moment it started playing, she freaked out crying uncontrollably (joining her older sister), saying that she was embarrassed and couldn't stand to watch herself. "So why the hell did you ask to put it on?" was my thought; "honey, just watch the parts you're not in" was my ineffectual attempt to calm her down. One might assume this was Lola's attempt to copy her older sister in the hopes of attention and ten dollars of her own, but she was upstairs while Iris had that freakout and got the payout and had witnessed only Iris's later inconsolable, inarticulated crying.

I went down to the kitchen and had a couple glasses of wine. The Sober Husband arrived home to a house filled with neurotic, crying, talented children and a very cranky wife. "We had a GOOD DAY," I tried to explain. "Right up until mid-afternoon, we had a GOOD DAY." The children wailed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

having horrible hobbies

When the children were very small, the Sober Husband and I used to bitch that we couldn't pursue our hobbies. The children ate up all our time and energy. However, as they got older and more independent, we were able to start following our interests from time to time. I quilted, until the World of Warcraft started eating up far too much time (and also I'm suffering from Quilter's Block right now, sigh, a subject for another day). The Sober Husband revived a boyhood interest in chess, sparked by playing chess with coworkers over his iPhone, which I encouraged initially. When we were on one of our extremely rare date outings downtown, I dragged him to the chess club at the Mechanics' Institute. He'd scoffed at the very idea of this chess club, sure it was beneath him, but he agreed to stop by the library to look for some chess books. Walking around the crowded and old-fashioned chess room, he lost his disdain. "Some of these ratings are really high," he said as he looked up at the handwritten results of the last tournament. "Really high. International player level." I noticed a picture hanging on the wall showing Garry Kasparov playing chess in that same room. He got in touch with the chess director the next day and was soon a regular at the institute's chess room.

Soon the Sober Husband was studying chess in books, playing online, working out problems on a chessboard, typing in the moves from his games into a chess analysis program, and generally spending every non-work moment possible immersed in chess. He made flashcards to test himself on the classic openings, which amused the children, particularly after I suggested they could add some cards to his deck. Lola made a study card, among others, for "Vomit: Has Many Powers" which we giggled over together hysterically.

Characteristically he is now seen at every possible moment checking his multitude of chess games over his iPhone. Once a week he goes straight from work to the library on Tuesdays to play in a chess tournament, not getting home until after the children's bedtime. The children were terribly annoyed by this, but I considered it fair enough as I had taken up going out one night a week to an evening art class.

The problem is that the Sober Husband's hobby isn't relaxing. It drives him to despair. He frets that he's studying the wrong thing, that he'll never become good enough so there's no point, etc.., etc... A bad game leaves him in a dark, dark mood, and I've lost count of how many pep talks I've administered. This chess stress also seems to happen to an acquaintance of ours who is a long-time serious chess player, who reportedly was cast into self-doubt at being defeated by a child in a recent tournament. Recently I asked the husband, "Why do you have a hobby that causes you stress?"

"I thought that was the point of hobbies. That all hobbies cause you stress."

"Most people have hobbies that are RELAXING," I contended. The Sober Husband failed to take my point.

"I play Warcraft. It is RELAXING," I insisted.

But even traveling around a strange and rich world on an oversized pink bird, having adventures and slaying monsters, can have its stressful moments. Today I found myself hating Blizzard, Warcraft's corporate creator, as well as its customer service idiots. In the World of Warcraft, it's the Midsummer holiday, and at all the settlements, be they Horde or Alliance, there are bonfires and celebrations. There are a lot of quests related to this holiday, and I spent about four hours yesterday pulling one of the most difficult ones off: getting into the hearts of the Alliance's four capital cities and stealing the flames from their most special fires.

Getting this done did not go smoothly. I joined a raid group which managed to get a warlock (after many, many, many deaths) and some others into the subterranean tram underneath the dwarven capital of Ironforge, which meant they could summon the rest of us to join them as they teetered on a ledge in the dark. We got a bit giddy as our numbers grew, and we danced and threw rose petals on each other. Finally we stormed into the city itself, fighting off the guards and the Alliance players alike in a crazy scrum, and we got to the fire and back to the tram in a nonstop frenzy of fighting. This went wonderfully, and I didn't even die. Then an idiot in our group pulled a Leeroy Jenkins: he screamed, "KILL THE KING!" and ran back into Ironforge with no premeditation. About half the group impulsively followed him, while the other players, dumbfounded at this (we had explicitly, repeatedly discussed that we didn't have enough players to assassinate the king, barely enough to get the fire) stayed in the tram. Naturally the Jenkinsing players died and died and died, whining that the rest of us weren't helping them, and many of the sane players left the group. After the Jenkinsing players had finally managed to rejoin us, our sadly diminished group went on by train to Stormwind City, where we fought desperately, all dying over and over again, until we almost all of us got the flame. We were giddy at this hard-earned achievement (which would have been a piece of cake if the whole group had stayed together).

Then I got back home to my own territory and turned in these flames to the Horde Lorekeeper, so happy to have gotten it done, and nothing happened. I didn't get credit for stealing the fires. I didn't get the achievement. I did open an online ticket, and the next day I was told, "Good news! You can try it again!" I felt rabid. I spent an embarrassingly huge amount of time doing this silly thing, and I endured a classicly witless raid group of Leeroy Jenkins proportions, and I didn't get credit for it and now I have to do it over again? And this is my hobby? I bitched about it on the online Blizzard customer service forum to no avail. I can't believe this is how I voluntarily spend my time. I suck.

Addendum: I stole all those flames again, this time soloing because I couldn't face being in another big raid, and I got it done in a few hours. Ironically I got it done in about the same length of time, dying more, but that was compensated for by time saved not standing around waiting for other people.

an insult

Iris complained, half-laughing, half-peeved, that "Lucy called me a child of the devil, living in a hellhole" and asked, "Is that what I am?"

I had to admit that at times, I would find that description pretty accurate. Lola ran about squawking in triumph, and Iris tried hard to overcome the giggles and mold her features into a stern look of admonition.

Monday, June 22, 2009

the greatest idea

"Momdude, I just had the greatest idea! Has anyone ever invented beer milkshakes?" asked nine year-old (and future frat party attendee) Iris uber Alles.

"Umm, I've never heard of anyone drinking one, but I'm sure someone has tried it."

"Do whatever it takes to remember this," Iris charged me. "On my 21st birthday, at my party, beer milkshakes!"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

geeks and a non-geek

Nine year-old Iris uber Alles and I had been looking forward to Robogames for weeks (once a year robot hobbyists gather in San Francisco for a variety of competitions). Lola, however, had no interest in attending. "I'm not going," she proclaimed over and over again, and she took the strategic move of refusing to get dressed. Her father wrestled a shirt over her head (ignoring her shouts of "DON'T MESS WITH ME!") which she shrugged off after he left the room.

"I'm not a geek!" she shouted. " I don't want to see the robots fight! I am not a geek!"

I pointed out that I do lots of things I am not interested in for her sake, but Lola was unmoved. I noted that many of the robots at Robogames are cute little things; it's not all about fighting 'bots (indeed I was intrigued at the awards ceremony when two tuxedoed men accepted a bronze medal in the "Bartending Robots" competition for their robot named "Khaz Modan." First, how did I miss that there would be bartending robots? And secondly, why am I not hanging out with these people who share my interests in formal dress, cocktails, and Warcraft? Khaz Modan was bested by "iLush", however, whose creator was shaggy but happy).

Finally it was Iris who got Lola dressed and ready to go, after both parents had failed (the Sober Husband having issued some threats involving withholding of videos, television, and chocolate milk, but Lola viewed these as empty threats). Iris told Lola that if she didn't have fun, Iris would pay her five dollars... but if Lola did have fun, Iris was going to take five dollars out of Lola's piggy bank. This bet got Lola dressed, but what got her scurrying down the stairs was Iris's musing that some of the robots were bound to have butts. Our scatologically-inclined kindergartener headed for the door, giggling about "pooping robots!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

pranks and how to spin them

Not long ago I picked up kindergartener Lola to take her to ballet. A propos of not much, she remarked in the car that she hated her older sister. I said, "You don't always hate her. Sometimes you love her."

Lola thought about it. "I love her when we're playing games, but I hate her when she is bossing me around or playing pranks on me."

I had never heard of any Iris-on-Lola pranks. "She plays pranks on you?"

"Once she told me Bob Marley [our faithless ex-cat who moved in with a neighbor] was in the hall, so I ran down to see him, and she dropped a parachute on my head," Lola said wearily.

Later I picked up Iris uber Alles, while Lola was at school. I repeated to her what Lola had said, and nine year-old Iris interrupted self-righteously, "I don't play pranks on her." I continued with the story. Iris said quickly but yet judiciously, "That may have happened, but it was for entertainment purposes only."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

a lonely vegetarian in a protein-crazed world

About a week ago I picked up third grader Iris uber Alles at school, and, when I asked her how her day at school was, instead of her usual "Meh", she said with intensity, "Momdude, I made the biggest mistake of my life today. Telling the PE teacher that I'm a vegetarian."

First the teacher went off on a sort of rant in front of the whole class, according to Iris, going on about how Iris should go on a mission to teach the world not to eat animals. But then, after considering it further, the teacher called Iris to her office for a private conference, where, turning her big earnest eyes on Iris, she asked, "Where do you get your protein?" Iris felt put on the spot and humiliated and embarrassed.

Hearing this, my blood pressure soared. I ranted in the car for a while. I hatehatehate idiots who turn their blank gaze on you and ask, "Where do you get your protein?" If I were ruder, I'd ask them in return, "Well, where the fuck do you get your fiber, vitamins, and minerals, because they sure as hell aren't in that meat you're so freaking fond of."

I realize that I've built up a chip on my shoulder about being a vegetarian. Whatever sense of humor I ever had about it wore off over a decade ago. I'm tired of being asked where I get my protein or being told that in Genesis, God gives animals to Adam to eat like fruit or being asked if being a vegetarian makes me have to forego oral sex or being informed that I'm at the bottom of the food chain while intelligent people are at the top of it. More than anything, I wish my beautiful, smart daughters wouldn't have to put up this crap.

Then last Friday I chaperoned an all-day, teacherless field trip for the third grade. Another chaperone had the very good idea of taking our group to Juban for lunch, a Japanese restaurant where you cook your own food on a little grill inset into the marble table. Of course the girls were thrilled with this, and this chaperone ordered filet mignon for them all, with one order of shrimp as a bit of a side, with rice. I intervened as gently as possible. "Iris and I are vegetarians." For us, I ordered tofu, corn, zucchini, and asparagus, which we happily cooked together. The chaperone (whom I actually like, a very nice woman) looked over at me and asked, "Where do you get your protein?" I could not believe that with everyone else at the table eating the nutritionally questionable choice of meat and plain rice while Iris and I had a rich and full meal of corn, tofu, zucchini, and asparagus, someone would question OUR nutritional choices. I responded as politely as I could, pointing out gently that the average American is rather protein-crazed and eats far more protein than recommended, including American vegetarians, and noting that as ovo-lacto vegetarians, Iris and I eat cheese, tofu, beans, eggs, and many other protein-laden foods regularly.

Meanwhile the end-of-the-year picnic for Iris's class was coming up. Last year this was held at a prestigious country club and catered, with each family required to pay a hefty charge. I asked, as civilly as I could, whether there would be any vegetarian food included, and I was told in return that no, there wouldn't be, and I would need to bring plenty of food for my family and assume we'd get absolutely nothing, but I still needed to pay the full, outrageous catering charge because it wouldn't be fair for our family not to help pay for the picnic. Neither the Sober Husband nor I felt like driving for well over an hour to pay for other people to have a catered picnic, so we skipped that one. This year's picnic was happily being held within the city limits at a reasonable price, but I still didn't feel like asking about vegetarian food. I'm sick of being the only vegetarian parent of the only vegetarian child in the third grade. I don't want to talk about it or bring it up with any of those people.

There are supposedly vegan families in the upper school, but I don't personally know them. The Sober Husband is a weak ally, given that he scarfs down meat on a regular basis and occasionally goes off on me about how he hates to go to fine restaurants with me because he feels constrained about ordering meat. Given that he lived primarily off taco chips and ramen noodles when we met, I do not feel any guilt about my impact on his diet.

Today I was feeling upset and unhappy, and a strange thought came to my mind. I realized that I missed my ex-husband. For all his faults and failings, the man was a dedicated vegetarian, and I never felt lonely as a vegetarian during the decade we were together. I always had someone who understood these issues and who was just as quick with an eye-rolling over that ubiquitous "how do you get your protein" or to take offense at foie gras. My children are more strongly and vehemently vegetarian than me, but they are children. (Indeed Lola recently learned that her father isn't a vegetarian and burst into tears. "I thought we were all vegetarians," she said between sobs). I don't have any other vegetarian friends these days, particularly vegetarian friends who are parents. I used to post on a board for vegetarian parents, but iVillage shut it down, the carnivores. I'm alone in this, without allies or anyone who gets it.

I tried to talk to the Sober Husband about the gym teacher's faux pas, but he didn't get it. "I thought you said the other chaperone asked you where you get your protein, but it was the gym teacher? Or the chaperone?"

"BOTH. They both did," I said impatiently. "EVERY idiot asks that. There used to be a vegan zine called 'Where Do You Get Your Protein.'" I hung up. How low I have sunk indeed, I thought, to be missing my ex-husband.

starting too soon

Today at a large picnic commemorating the end of kindergarten, six year-old Lola said to me wearily as we arrived, "Don't do anything to embarrass me."