Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thanks for the (Altered) Memories...



Register columnist

The worst part about having the memory of a goldfish is that people can mess with you.

Don't want to take out the trash? Say I didn't ask you to. Want to cut me off in the middle of a boring story? Tell me that you've already heard it. Go ahead and be an hour late to our lunch date. Just claim I told you the wrong time. I'll never know the difference.

Being of unsound mind, I have no idea whether my friends have used my low brain RAM against me. But I can promise you that my family has taken full advantage of it. Mom, in particular, has made a sport of altering past events to directly contradict my memories of them.

I have (vague) recollections of missing my best friend's seventh birthday party so that I could be entered in a beauty pageant. I (barely) remember being very confused the entire time I was at the pageant. And I (think I) recall being startled when the winning trophy was thrust into my hands. Over the years, however, this story has been retold as a glimmering example of how Mom successfully pumped up my withering self-esteem. Each telling omits the missed birthday party – and, in truth, I'm no longer sure what happened.

That's fine for minor childhood traumas, but when the Memory Game creeps into my adult life, to events that are only a few months old, the results can be infuriating. I was about 15 minutes into an argument with Mom about whether or not she told me my nipples were too big to effectively nurse my son (she had), when I realized it didn't matter that I was right. I wasn't going to win.

A simple "I never said that" is all it takes to deflate my argument. How can I – a woman with a head the size of a grapefruit and memory that won't outlast a stick of gum – possibly produce any proof to the contrary?

Sis has the same memory issues, and I've often imagined us flubbing through our grandkids' questions about our lives. I figure we'll have to usurp other people's histories or make stuff up altogether: "My father, your great-grandfather, was originally supposed to give the Gettysburg Address, but he got a lozenge stuck in his throat and couldn't talk. And would you believe he didn't get that lozenge out until he made the closing arguments at Nuremberg? Incredible man, he was. Invented wheat."

But maybe there is hope for Sis and I – and a way to put to rest future arguments with Mom. When Zev was born, Hubby's dad bought us a video camera. The idea was to record every precious second of our little boy's life for posterity. But the camera doesn't just pick up Zev's babbles and coos. It picks up all of our nonsense, too.

When Zev turned a year old last week, I asked his family and friends to gather around the table and help blow out his birthday candle. I requested that everyone make a wish on Zev's behalf and help him welcome in his second year of life. Then, right before everyone was about to help blow, Mom chimed in, "Don't spit on the cake." About half the people standing there were so dumbfounded, they just kept the air right there in their inflated cheeks.

It's the kind of bizarre buzz-kill statement that Mom would normally deny having said. Except this time, it was caught on tape.

A few days after the party, we watched the footage Sis had shot, and sure enough, there was Mom's voice warning guests against any insidious saliva spraying. Mom said, "I said that?" But this time, she couldn't deny it. There it was. On video.

There is no way anybody can possibly deny having said something when it's on tape. I mean, you'd have to be some kind of spin-meister Donald Rumsfeld to refute … wait, rewind that part. Sis, did you really say, "Eew," when you panned the camera over to one of our guests? That's kinda mean.

"No. I said, 'It's you!'"

"Let's replay that."

"Ew," Sis says on tape.

"You said, 'Ew.'"

"No, I didn't," Sis says, the pitch of her voice growing higher to meet my rising eyebrow. Never mind that it was as clear as a bell. Never mind that everyone else in the room heard it, too. Sis managed to undercut the one weapon I had in the war against the Memory Mafia. And she used the oldest trick in the book.

"I never said that."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dirty, Dirty Girls



Register columnist

Until I gave them away, two of my dining room chairs had odd markings on them. No one ever asked about them, particularly the one that looked like the wood stain had been bikini waxed right off. Guests just sat in them, politely, and hoped not to stick to the seats.

What stained the chairs? I have no idea. It doesn't matter really, because my chairs suffered less from a specific chemical than from a force: The Girl Sty.

Women don't like to admit this, but we all at some point in our lives were messier – filthier, really – than any of the men we know. We piled wet towels on the floor of closets, we shoved candy wrappers under beds, we have left apple cores in our cars for so long they developed ecosystems.

Men can be plenty gross, but their bathroom counters never seem to develop that layer of film – what the hell is that stuff, anyway? – that coats our tiles. Try as they might with their quaint piles of smelly sweat socks and tightie-whities, they will never match the power, the wonder, the stench of The Girl Sty.

My car is just a rolling Girl Sty with a great sound system. CDs, empty water bottles and scraps of paper are crammed into every corner of my car that isn't taken up with baby blankets, baby socks, baby toys and, of course, my baby. I change Zev's diaper right on my passenger seat hoping 1. His tush isn't going to transfer any germs to my next passenger and 2. Desitin is good for leather.

Still, nobody beats the Queen of The Girl Sty: My sister. Growing up, Sis would curl up in bed with spent razors and bottles of hair spray. It was The Girl Sty that she created while living with us one summer that left my old chairs stained forever.

After visiting Sis' new place in Northern California, all my mom could talk about was how clean Sis' apartment was.

"Everything is so neat and so clean," Mom gushed. "You wouldn't believe it."

I didn't. I suspected Sis' newfound cleanliness was a ruse, and without much pressing, she very cheerfully admitted as much.

"Right now there are big things of trash," she said. "I'll take it out later. It's just me, I'm not being harmed by the trash. Why do people rush to the trash? I have a lot of room, I can share it with the trash."

Apparently, though, she's not as bad as she used to be. When Sis lived with Hubby and I, we kept the door to her room closed and prayed that an earthquake would break it off from the rest of the house. I guess she learned from that because these days, the bulk of her Girl Sty is confined to her second bedroom – the door to which she also leaves closed.

The rest of her place, she promised, is actually pretty clean.

"Right now, the reason it's clean is my friend's roommate is a boy and he keeps their apartment so clean, so when they come over I'm embarrassed."

I'm convinced that this peer pressure is the reason many women clean at all. We don't want men to know we're filthy. We want them to think we wash our hair every day and that we'd never leave the house without showering. We want them to think we have never licked a spoon clean and put it back in the drawer. Because if they don't – if they catch on to the fact that we're hardly the "fairer sex," how can we ever browbeat them into doing our dishes?

Sis agreed. Our conversation turned nostalgic, and I reminded Sis of the time she heard a crunch as she settled into a chair in her old apartment and found she'd killed a mouse.

"Ha. Oh yeah," she said. "Well, so far, I haven't seen any bugs, so I'm OK."

I can't wait to drive my Girl Sty up north for a visit.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Mommies and Me



Register columnist

Aside from my fantastic bum, I thought I had nothing in common with Britney Spears. Even when she started to get picked on for being a bad mom, I shrugged off the circumstance as mere coincidence. But as the media flogging intensifies, I feel, suddenly, like Britney's my kindred spirit. Mine and probably every other mom's on the planet.

Britney deserved to be excoriated for driving with her child on her lap. That was just plain stupid. But the high chair thing was a little murkier. And driving with Sean Preston's car seat facing forward is actually notin violation of state law, provided her toddler weighs more than 20 pounds.

A few weeks ago, America's Worst Mommy was back in the news for tripping and bobbling her baby. I challenge any of those tabloid editors to raise a child without ever once dropping him or bumping his head.

But it wouldn't matter. It's like the paparazzi have been replaced by a pack of meddling yentas: "Oy, she's such a bad mother. Like this, I'd never raise my child."

Don't you have a Jennifer Aniston uterus-cam to monitor? Leave poor Britney alone.

I'm not the only one saying this. Last week, The Associated Press reported the results of a Parenting.com poll that asked whether the media have "gone too far" in skewering Britney. Of nearly 10,000 responses, 75 percent said yes.

I'm guessing moms are siding with Britney because they're fed up with their own paparazzi-esque critiques. For a society that won't talk on elevators, we sure have a lot to say about other women's children: I've been chastised for dressing Zev in hats and for taking him outside without one. A homeless guy once followed me for a block, yelling that I should give my crying baby a bottle. (What he really needed was Orajel, which I was on my way to get; but thanks for your concern, Mr. Homeless Man Baby Whisperer).

After I wrote a column about my dog biting my son, reader Stephen Thompson e-mailed to say my child should be taken away from me.

I'd liketo write back, saying, "Hi, Stephen, we haven't met, but I have a suggestion of two things that should be taken away from you." But of course, I wouldn't actually say that because who would say such a thing?


Similarly, nobody would ever stop a woman CEO and say, "Oh, darling, that's not how you hold a briefcase." But they would if they thought they could get away with it. Motherhood may be the last grassy plain where misogyny can roam free, and Britney is stranded in the middle of it.

Not all celebrity moms are subject to Death By Scrutiny. Nobody's calling Gwyneth Paltrow a bad mommy. She's willowy, so she can go ahead and name her children Apple and Moses and no one calls the police. The worst anyone could say about O.C. native Gwen Stefani is that she had the temerity to give birth the same weekend as Angelina Jolie, thereby ensuring nobody would care. And, by the way, who's to say Brad and Angelina haven't already dropped Shiloh 150 times by now? As the saying goes, if a child falls in Namibia, nobody hears about it.

But Britney is a different class of celebrity, the class that is just as unclassy as the rest of us. And, therefore, she's subject to the same kind of unsolicited critiques we are – albeit under a much bigger, harsher lens.

So the next time you see an "Oops! She Did It Again!" headline (and you will), remember that your own mother did not strap you into her car with anything more than a seatbelt (if that) and that you have likely made your own share of mistakes. If you do, if you cut her some slack, maybe one day we will live in a world where people don't feel as casually entitled to stick their noses in everyone else's dirty diapers. A world where well-intentioned moms can feel good about simply doing their best.

A world where all I have in common with Britney Spears is my fabulous rear end.