The Early Bird Gets On My Damned Nerves

I don’t know why, but just about every morning this week, I’ve been in a rage. In fact, it’s been an all-day-long rage. I’m 37 weeks pregnant and one of the angriest bitches you’ve ever met. Not that I’m acting out on that rage, but all day long I have these fantasies of getting into fights, yelling and screaming at people and do all sorts of other nasty things as well. It’s a 24-hour mad-a-thon, and I can’t seem to stop it.

Well, maybe I do know what the problem is. I’m damned tired. I’ve been waking up at all hours of the night, having to get up to pee because I have contractions. Then for some reason, I can’t seem to sleep past 5:30 AM no matter how late I go to sleep. So I climb out of bed at the butt-crack of dawn, get dressed and head downstairs to my morning chores. And just about every morning this week, Cassie’s woken up shortly after me and gone down too.

There’s the real problem. A three-year-old is no fun at 5:30 AM (on Wednesday, she came into our bedroom at 5:15, shouting, “Mommy, I’m awake!” and wasn’t that a fun way to start the day). Cassie never wakes up in a pleasant mood. Wonder where she gets it from, hmmm? She’s cranky, demanding, whiny and inconsolable if she doesn’t get what she wants. And at 5:30 AM, I’m in no mood to coddle anybody, even my own child. I’ve been taking her downstairs with me, trying to keep her quiet so she doesn’t wake Michael, and then I spend all morning trying to manage her temper tantrums. No, she may not watch a movie. Yes, she may watch the Weather Channel with me, but we’re only watching for ten minutes. Yes, she may have milk, but she has to say please first. No, she may not go wake up Daddy, because he gets to sleep until seven.

That last one really chaps my ass, because Michael and I go to bed at the same time, usually between ten and eleven PM, yet I’m the one up at 5:30 dealing with an angry baby. I warned him yesterday that was going to stop. I can’t handle Cassie all day long if the day starts before dawn. It’s just too much right now. I don’t care if he isn’t a morning person. I’m not one either, but if I can haul my pregnant ass out of bed, he can haul his non-pregnant ass out too.

I’m not entirely sure why Cassie is getting up so early. The best I can figure is a)she hears the birds singing in the morning, and they’re pretty dang loud, b)at 5:30 AM the sun is already coming up and flooding her room, and c)she’s no longer in her crib and can get out whenever she wants so she is. Whatever the reason, mornings have been ugly, and it just sets the mood for the entire day.

Yesterday, she woke up soaking wet. We finally took her out of pull-ups at night a couple weeks ago, so every now and then Cass wets the bed. She was wearing her favorite nightgown yesterday morning, and you should have heard the screaming when I told her it had to come off. She howled for about fifteen minutes, and straight out of bed I was contemplating giving her a time out just to keep from throttling her. So you know I walked around with an angry black cloud over my head the rest of the morning. And since Michael slept through it, I spent all day long fantasizing about running away and leaving him alone to deal with Cass, or taking Cass with me since I felt like he was no help to me whatsoever. Which isn’t true. Michael is a great help, shoulders 50% of the workload around the house and helps out all the time with Cassie. Just not at 5:30 AM.

You know how some people call 3 AM the witching hour? I’m thinking of calling 5:30 AM the divorce hour, because that’s how angry I feel when I’ve been getting up. Fortunately, I learned long ago not to act on those emotions. If I give the day enough time, something eventually turns around. Usually. Well, most of the times.

Okay, some nights I am going to bed still pissed. Maybe I’ll just start waking up Michael by beating him with a pillow to blow off some steam. Or I’ll let Cassie wake him up at 5:30 AM and see if he likes the early bird any better than I do. That at least is something I can laugh at, and laughter is a much better way to start the day, especially if it’s the cruel, evil, mocking kind.

Helen’s Home For Geriatric Cats

I have three bags of dry cat food, twenty-four cans of wet, six cans of tuna, two packages of salmon and three cats who are damned and determined to starve themselves to death.

Well, not exactly. I do have a ton of cat food in the house, but the cats aren’t intentionally starving themselves to death. They’re just taking turns not eating for various medical reasons. Or maybe it’s for religious reasons. I don’t know. I’ve had cats all my life, but I don’t understand them.

A few months ago, BJ, my Himalayan, suddenly lost a lot of weight. We only discovered this because he also stopped grooming himself, and all that long lovely silver fur quickly became a tangled, snarled nightmare. So we took him in to have him groomed and the vet discovered that BJ was down to 5 1/2 pounds in weight. Not good on a cat that used to weigh ten.

BJ came home that day shaved and looking like a walking skeleton. I was horrified. My beautiful, proud pussy (get your minds out of the gutter!) looked so sick and weak, I was afraid he’d die at any moment. I spent the next several days nursing him. I bought every brand of wet food I could to try and induce him to eat. I spent extra time with him, brushing him (actually polishing him really, because he was pretty much bald after being shaved), petting him and talking to him. He just sort of laid there, watching me with those enormous blue eyes of his, wasting away. Then one day I got desperate and brought home some jars of baby food. Miracle of miracles, BJ got up and starting eating. I spend several more days feeding him baby food, an ounce at a time, until eventually his appetite came back. I also spent several evenings with my husband giving BJ subcutaneous fluids. That’s basically an IV set up for the cat, where you have to inject a special fluid mix beneath the skin until the cat has a big hump of fluid sitting on his shoulder. We kept sticking BJ with a needle every night and pumping him full of fluids until he eventually got strong enough to claw the crap out of my husband, at which point we both declared him fully recovered. BJ is now back to his proud, glorious self. His majesty subsists entirely on a diet of cat treats, tolerating only the occasional mouthful of wet food, but he’s at fighting weight and the vet said as long as he’s eating, don’t worry.

About the same time we discovered that our other two cats had lost a bit of weight as well, so we started feeding them more wet food. Seemed like they’d lost the taste entirely for dry. Since all three cats are over the age of fourteen, I’m inclined to cater to their persnickityness. These three felines have been my constant companions since 1992, and I’m not ready to see them go just yet. At least, I certainly don’t want to watch them waste away. Seeing what happened to BJ just horrified me to no end. I thought it was my fault and that I had managed to starve and neglect my beloved pet. The vet had to reassure me repeatedly that at the age of fourteen, these sorts of problems can happen, and in BJ’s case, it appeared to be a kidney related, not owner-related, problem. In other words, I had not starved my cat; he had gotten sick and quit eating.

Now it’s happening again, this time to Lydia. Again, this appears to be kidney related. Unlike BJ, though, Lydia isn’t just simply wasting away. She’s also been vomiting and having diarrhea all over the place. I was pretty pissed the first time I saw her pooping on the carpet, and I banished her to the garage while I cleaned up the mess. A week later, I’m kicking myself for that. I hadn’t yet figured out she was sick. I had to see her vomit a few times and leave more messes on the carpet before I got it through my thick skull that something was wrong. That’s when I recalled she wasn’t coming down in the mornings to eat anymore. For a day or two I tried bringing food to her, only to find she wasn’t interested.

So we went back to nursing and coddling a geriatric cat. This time, in order to get Lydia to eat, I’ve had to feed her by hand. This means six times a day I wrap her up in a beach blanket so she can’t claw scratch my eyes out and then take a syringe full of chicken broth, rice cereal and jarred baby food and squirting it down her throat. I’ve also had to squirt a mixture of Gatorade and Pepcid AC down her gullet too, and then some amoxycillan. And to top it off, we’re giving her subcutaneous fluids as well, meaning my husband gets to hold a struggling cat while I stick a needle under skin and pump 200 ml from an IV into her. The fun never stops.

The good news is Lydia is recovering at a faster rate than BJ did. After a few days of hand feeding, she started eating on her own again. I’m still mixing up chicken broth, rice cereal and baby food for her, but now I can feed it to her in a bowl. She’ll also occasionally eat some regular dry food, and she’s drinking plenty of water. The vomiting and diarrhea have stopped, too. And Ms. Lyds is back to her usual affectionate self. I expect she’ll make a full recovering. Once again, I have staved off the grim reaper of cats.

I won’t be able to do so forever, I know. But it’s a comfort right now to be able to enjoy my cats and not have them die a slow, debilitating death. Like I said, I’d rather not watch them waste away. When they go, let it be quickly and peacefully, in their sleep. Cats don’t really have nine lives, but the one they do have should be a comfortable one.

Mommy Writes Porn

If you’ve looked at my sidebar and clicked on my “About Me” description, you’ll notice I mention that I write erotica. Strangely, I thought I would have visited this topic before now, but most of this blog has been taken up by my struggling with day to day stuff like taking care of my daughter and dealing with my husband’s techno geek lifestyle. Since I’m currently packaging up my first erotica novel for submission to a publisher, I figure it’s about time I mention the subject.

Notice I called it erotica in the above paragraph, but the title mentions ‘porn.’ What’s the difference? I don’t know, and honestly, I think that’s got to be one of the oldest, most tedious debates I’ve ever seen over the subject of sexually explicit writing. Some folks say porn is crude and goes straight getting the audience off while erotica has literary pretensions mixed in with a lot of purple prose sex scenes. I say it’s both or neither, depending on what I’m writing at the time and the mood I’m in. I certainly want to write a good story, one with a well thought-out plot and well-developed characters, but I also want to get my audience aroused to the point of climax if I can do it. I hate purple prose, but I have been known to wax poetic (sort of) in my own writing. However, I’ve almost never called a cock anything other than a cock, and a clit is a clit and I don’t mind getting down and dirty as the story requires.

Other grand debates about the subject of erotica/porn – is it a serious genre of writing? Let me just say that if I’m going to spend two or more hours a day on a project, it damn well better be serious. I take my writing seriously, and I get damned annoyed with writers who claim they’re only writing erotica until they can break into a more ‘legit’ genre. I don’t mind people writing in more than one genre. I write in more than one genre, but I treat each story I write very seriously regardless of whether I’m writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy or porn (note that all these genres have been scoffed at as less-than-legitimate endeavors; guess I’m a sucker for underdogs). Anyone who doesn’t take their writing seriously needs to quit writing. Put down the pen, step away from the word processor and go scrub toilets, because if you don’t take your writing seriously, no matter what the genre, then nobody else will either and you are going to fail as a writer. The only sales in writing I’ve ever made have been in erotica. They were all damn good stories and I busted my ass working on them. If you want to see some of them, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Treasure Chest. I’ve got a couple stories posted in there. While you’re at it, take time to read some of the other folks in there as well. There’s some damn good stuff at the ERWA.

Speaking of ERWA, they’ve got a book coming out this summer called CREAM: The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. One of my best stories is in there, and I can’t wait to see it in print. This will be the fifth story I’ve sold, the ninth I’ve published, and the second time I’ve got a story appearing in a book. Erotica isn’t serious my left butt cheek…

One of the final big issues regarding erotica/porn, and this one is currently getting rehashed on the ERWA lists, is whether or not authors should use a pen name. I’d say about 98% of the erotica writers I know use a pen name because they’re afraid of what might happen if people ever found out they write about sex. I’m not one of that 98%. I don’t know why, but I’ve never had any problems telling anybody I write sexually explicit stories. In fact, when most people find out I write, the first thing they ask is what do I write, and I tell them I write erotica, stories about adults written for adults. Most people just say ‘Oh,’ and that’s it. Nobody’s ever called me names or told me I’m going to hell or that I’m a filthy pervert. My husband has never been threatened professionally because of what I write. Even my family knows – Mom, Dad, my sister, my aunts and uncles, cousins. I think my even my very Catholic mother-in-law knows. Nobody says ‘boo’ to me about it. In fact, those folks who do say anything usually just grin and say, “Well that’s Helen for you!”

I’m not saying those other authors don’t have a legitimate reason for using a pen name. There are plenty of writers who’ve been hassled and threatened and had scary encounters with the authorities or some weirdoes because they chose to write porn/erotica. But this is one of those things that I think goes hand-in-hand with taking your writing seriously. If you treat what you do seriously, and are willing to stand up for it, regardless of what people may say to you or about you, then maybe people won’t hassle you because they realize you mean business and you’re not going to run and hide because they say nasty things to you.

Of course, people might just not hassle me because I scare the crap out of most folks. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

How Many Remotes Does It Take…

Another class yesterday, this one on infant care. And yes, we sat in the same hard-ass seats again. I was going to take a refresher class on breast-feeding, but my pelvic girdle just can’t take any more torture. It already feels like someone’s taken a hammer to my groin.

My husband and I hired a babysitter for Cassie while we were at class last night. Our sitter is great – fifteen years old, smart, hard-working, responsible, and she lives right next door so I know if there’s any problem, her mom is right there to help out. Of course, before we leave, we always go over the necessary info for the evening – where we’ll be, what time we’ll be back, how to get in contact with us if there’s an emergency, and how to turn on the TV.

Now remember, I said our sitter is smart, and she is. This teen is sure to get into college on a scholarship and will probably graduate with honors. So I am in no way implying she’s a little thick because we always have to instruct her how to turn on the TV. Instead, I am implying that my husband has made it damned near impossible to operate our television without a degree in engineering and computer science.
Yep, my husband the genius has turned our TV into a regular nightmare.

It all started a few years ago when a friend of ours decided to hook up a computer to his TV so he could download movies online and watch them at his house. Of course, the movies were all pirated, and Michael didn’t care to watch pirated movies because of how strongly he feels about copyright issues (I’m with him on this one – I’m a writer and I’d be pretty pissed if I caught someone stealing my work when I busted my ass writing something). But the idea of hooking a computer up to the TV appealed to Michael, especially when he realized he could use it to record his favorite programs just like a VCR and then watch them later at his convenience (an activity which is legal and therefore meets his approval).

So Michael gathered up various computer parts from around the house and built a new system which he installed into the living room next to our entertainment center. And that’s when the nightmare began, because he couldn’t just install a computer. He also had to install a sound system, because why bother going high-tech if you’re not going to go all the way. And along with the new sound system he just had to install a device to switch between the various audio sources so they’d all come through the new speakers crystal clear, and of course the whole thing had to go onto our wireless network and cable modem so he could surf the net from the TV if he wanted, etc., etc., etc.

Boxes started arriving at the house on a daily basis, each carrying some new technical do-dad. We had to save every box of course, in case Michael needed to send something back, so pretty soon we had a mountain of cardboard in our garage, making the garage absolutely useless for anything else. But that was a small inconvenience compared to the other problems that we encountered along our way to building the ultimate high-tech multi-media system. For starters, there were no manuals out at the time to explain step by step how to do this, so Michael was building everything on the fly, and of course there were bugs to work out. Lots and lots of bugs. Some days he’d get the computer to record everything he wanted. Some days the damn thing wouldn’t even start up. The computer lost time, sometimes as much as five minutes, screwing up Michael’s recording schedule. Then it gained time. Then it locked up repeatedly during recording. Then there were all the little annoyances like being unable to use the computer for anything else while it was recording, or not having enough disk space to save all the programs it programed to recorded. And let’s not forget all the remotes we suddenly had to have to use this new system. There was one for the switcher, to pick what audio source you wanted to hear (TV, radio, DVD, CD player, etc.). That was supposed to be the master remote that would control the whole deal, but since it didn’t have all the buttons to operate the DVD and the VCR, we had to have a remote for each of these as well. Then there was a remote for the cable and another for the VCR, because the master remote didn’t have any buttons to operate those two things. It could operate the TV, but we still had to keep a separate remote for that in the end because none of the other remotes had a way to turn closed captioning off and on. With a light sleeping three-year old in the house, we pretty much had to have that, otherwise we’d never be able to hear the TV after she went to bed in the evenings. In total, we ended up with about nine remotes to operate the whole system, and you can’t use just one remote to do anything, you have to use at least two and they have to be the right remotes. Thus the reason we always have to sit down and explain to our sitter how to turn on the TV each time she comes over.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. My biggest beef with the whole deal? My husband started spending more time with that damned machine than he did with me. Entire weekends went into taking the system apart and putting it back together again. Some days I’d spend more time talking to Michael’s ass than his face because he spent so much time with his head stuck in the computer, trying to fix whatever the latest glitch was. And this went on for a year, until I finally put my foot down and told him if he didn’t start spending time with me, I was going to trash the whole set-up and send him packing.

That seemed to get Michael’s attention. He declared the computer finished and we went back to talking to each other face-to-face and spending the weekends together doing the usual husband and wife things (i.e. shopping at Sam’s Club and cleaning house). Then I made a horrible discovery. The computer had developed an artificial intelligence. That’s right. The multi-media center from hell had a mind of its own, and it decided it hated my guts.

I first came to this realization around the time the television show “Lost” came out. I was sort of interested in seeing the first episode, so I asked Michael to record it for me. He did. On the computer. After getting detailed instructions on how to retrieve the recording so I could view it, I sat down and watched the most enjoyable hour of TV I’d seen since Cassie was born. Keep in mind that I had pretty much quit watching TV after Cassie was born (except for Sesame Street and Wiggles), but “Lost” really appealed to the sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction nut in me, and after the first episode, I was hooked. So I asked Michael if he could set up the computer to record “Lost” every week. He assured me it would be no problem.

He was wrong.

I have never seen the third episode of season one, because the computer failed to record it, when it first ran and again when it re-ran a couple months later. I was a little annoyed about that (actually, a lot annoyed), but I figured I could live with missing one episode. Then the computer failed to record other episodes. It never screwed up any of Michael’s programs, just “Lost,” the only hour of television I watched each week that didn’t involve puppets, learning the alphabet, or grown men dancing around in brightly colored shirts singing about the amazing Captain Feathersword. After the third missed episode, I began to suspect that the computer had it in for me because I was Michael’s wife, and therefore competition for his attention. When the damned thing started breaking down again on a weekly basis and Michael had to go back to spending every weekend repairing it, I was certain it was out to get me. When it failed to record the first season finale, leaving me completely in the dark about what happened to Kate, Locke, John and all the other characters stranded on the island, I knew we had a serious problem.

How did I solve that? I’d like to say that one afternoon while Michael was at work, I took a chainsaw to my digital rival and hacked it into little pieces. Or that I finally made good on my promise and threw the whole damn thing out the door, where it landed in the street and was crushed under the neighbors’ big-ass SUV. Or even that I threatened its hard drive with Cassandra and a really sticky peanut butter and jelly sandwich. None of that is true. The truth is, I sucked it up and let Michael devote several more weekends to the problem until he finally – FINALLY – got the computer fixed. I don’t know if he ended up switching in a new motherboard, or if maybe he replaced all the computer’s memory and thus wiped out its budding artificial intelligence. I just know that when he finally declared the computer done for a second time, it really was done.

I’’ve got the last five five episodes of Lost stored on the computer right now, and being an indolent pregnant woman, I’ve been using Cassie’s nap time to catch up. I must say the computer runs like a charm now, and even I can figure out which remote to use to switch back and forth between the television, DVD player, VCR and cable. As for our babysitter, well we still have to give her a refresher course every time she comes over. But eventually, she’ll get the hang of it. After all, she’s a very smart girl and we’re only talking about nine remotes here.

Stay-At-Home Moms And The Price Of Gas

I never realized until I became one how much the term “Stay-At-Home Mom” was an oxymoron. Quite frankly, I did more staying at home before I had my daughter than I do now. I’m the sort of person who’s quite content to be by herself (i.e. hermit), and before Cassie came along, that’s exactly what I did. Don’t ask me how I spent all that time by myself, because I honestly can’t remember much about my life before Cassie. I just vaguely remember I had one and it was very quiet.

These days though, Cassie and I have quite the booming social life. Because I think it’s important for my daughter to socialize with other kids her age, I joined up with a mommies’ group. Now Cassie can meet and play with other toddlers and I can meet and talk with other adults (hey, even hermits get a little stir-crazy). We also spend time with my handful of friends who have kids but aren’t part of the mommies’ group. We’ve sort of become a second unofficial mommies group because we get together so often. Between these two groups, I find myself shuttling back and forth between Chuck E. Cheese, Chick-Filet, various parks and playgrounds, and the houses of other moms. I take Cassie to two play dates a week, which turns into quite a lot of traveling because none of these families live in my neighborhood. On top of that, I’ve got Cassie signed up for the pre-school story time that meets at the local library every week. Cassie loves to go to the library and hear stories and sing songs, and I really want to encourage her to read. We also go to the YMCA a couple of times a week, right across the street from the library. On those days, Cassie either gets to play with other kids in the Y nursery or I take her swimming in the pool. Then there’s the two days a week we go to karate class. This is my activity, not Cassie’s. She gets to sit, watch and cheer as I punch and kick my way through an hour-long workout. I was worried at first that Cassie would be bored by it because she’s the only kid there, but she seems to enjoy watching the class and loves chatting with the other adult students. And I, of course, get some much needed exercise.

When I look at all the activities we do, I realize there’s probably not a single day of the week when Cassie and I stay at home. We’re always going somewhere, and that’s really starting to bother me in light of the current gas situation. Admittedly, gas prices have recently come down, way down, in our area. Three weeks ago, the prices topped three dollars a gallon. Today I saw one station advertising as low as $2.39 a gallon. That’s an astonishing drop in just a couple of weeks. But I still worry about wasting gas and money every time we head out the door, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to avoid using the car. Unfortunately, I can’t come up with any.

This is where the rant starts, folks. I live in the suburbs, a nice upper middle-class area in Southeastern Virginia where we have all the amenities a person could want, except sidewalks. I don’t know why, but there are very few sidewalks in our locale. Our neighborhood has a sort of jog trail that runs intermittently through the blocks, but that’s about it. And that jog trail doesn’t lead to any of the places I’d like to take Cassie, like say to a playground or park. There are supposedly two playgrounds in our neighborhood, but one (the really nice one with lots of slides, swings, and a huge jungle gym) is strictly for condo owners so we can’t use it, and the other isn’t really a playground. It’s just a rusty old slide that lets out into the nearby swamp, plus a couple of creaky swings. The whole thing is falling apart and I won’t let Cassie play on it for fear she’ll fall through a rotting board and hurt herself.

Thus we have to go outside our neighborhood to find a decent playground. Fair enough. There are some places only a few miles away. I could bike there. Unfortunately, in addition to the lack of sidewalks, we also don’t have bike lanes on any of the major highways in our area. Now this really bothers me. The YMCA and the local library are only five miles from where we live. That’s an easy bike ride, if only I dared to bike on Magruder Boulevard to get there. The speed limit on Magruder is 55 MPH. Most people drive a lot faster than that, and there have been more than a few fatal accidents on that particular stretch of highway. So there’s no way in hell I’m going to risk my life or Cassie’s by trying to ride a bike alongside that kind of traffic. I was considering it for a while but killed the idea last Friday when I saw a van skid fifty yards down Magruder to avoid running a red light. Fifty yards, people. That means this guy saw the red light far enough out to stop without a problem… had he been doing the speed limit. He almost didn’t manage to stop, and I had my heart in my throat as I waited for him to smash into the cars that were crossing the road as he came tearing down the asphalt. The intersection where he finally managed to stop is right in front of – you guessed it – the YMCA and the library. If I’d been trying to cross the road to get to either place, there’s a good chance Cassie and I would have ended up as small greasy spots on the front of this guy’s grille. Did I mention that there are no crosswalks in addition to no sidewalks and no bike lanes?

Oh, and before anybody asks why I don’t just take the bus, forget it. There isn’t one to take in our area.

So I’m ticked off. I really don’t want to have to drive everywhere I go, especially when so many of the places I go to are within a few miles of where I live. But at the same time, it’s just not safe to walk or bike anywhere I want to go. I’m considering sending a letter to my state delegate to complain about this, but the state of Virginia is having so many problems funding the scheduled repairs and maintenance of all its highways, I have little hope that anybody will set aside the funds to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

It’s a real shame because the only way I can think to save gas is to stop using it. Thus I’m left with the decision. Become a hermit again (forcing Cassie to become one too) or burn up the gas to get her out where she can play with other kids? It’s not a fun decision to make.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Hookers

Have I got a rant for you today. Michael, my husband, took Cassie and I out to the Virginia Air And Space Museum to see the Liberty Bell 7 exhibit currently on view there. This is a traveling exhibit that explores the history of the Mercury space program and the life of astronaut Gus Grissom, as well as the recovery of the Liberty Bell 7 capsule 38 years after it sunk into the Atlantic Ocean. My family and I had a wonderful time learning about the early days of the US space program, and I highly recommend you see the exhibit if it comes to a venue near you. It really brings home what an astonishing feat it is to send a person into space.

As I walked through the exhibit, reading about Gus Grissom and the Liberty Bell 7 this afternoon, I was struck by how much some people accomplish within their lifetimes. Grissom came from such humble beginnings, yet he became one of the first seven astronauts in the US space program. He went up twice, one Mercury mission and one Gemini mission. He was supposed to have commanded the first Apollo space mission and would have been the first man to walk on the moon. Sadly though, he died before he got the chance. A flash fire broke out in the Apollo command module during a launch pad test, killing Grissom and his crew.

But what a hero Gus Grissom was! And he wasn’t the only one we learned about during our visit to the Air and Space Center. In addition to the Mercury Program exhibit, we also saw displays on the Tuskegee Airmen, the WWII WASP pilots, the Wright brothers, and many, many others who have contributed to the history of manned flight. All of these people risked their lives to do what they believed was important. They worked their behinds off to make something of themselves and what they did changed the world. I felt overawed as I stared at the Liberty Bell 7, the Apollo 12, and all the other air and spacecraft on display, and that feeling of wonder and amazement only grew as we made our way through the center.

Toward the end of our tour, we reached one of the interactive displays, a mock-up of an Apollo command module that visitors could sit in and run through a series of instrument checks. Michael, who got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, climbed into the module and I lifted Cassie in to sit beside him. They sat there together, tilted back in the module, pushing buttons and laughing, when I was struck by two staggering realizations. The first was just how much Cassie looked like her daddy. She is Michael’s spitting image, from the hair and eyes to the wicked little grin they both get when they’re having fun. The second realization was that someday Cassie might very well follow in her father’s footsteps and become an aerospace engineer herself, or even an astronaut (Michael applies for the astronaut candidate school every two years, and it will not surprise me to see him accepted one day). For a few moments, I grasped the astounding amount of potential that resides within the 32 lbs of tantrum-prone toddler I know as my daughter, and that brief flicker of insight was truly a heady experience. As we left the Air and Space Center, I couldn’t stop daydreaming about my daughter the future astronaut.

Of course if you read the title of this entry, you’re probably wondering just what the heck Gus Grissom, the Liberty Bell 7, the history of space exploration and my fantasies of Cassie’s future all have to do with hookers. Well, I’ll tell you.

After we left the museum, Michael, Cassie and I headed across the street to a little Italian place to get some gelato. I was talking to Michael about how much I wished I’d studied math and science in college when in walked three hookers. At least that’s what they looked like. I think they might actually have been somebody’s teenaged daughters, but they must have been orphaned at an early age because I can’t believe that any parent alive would let their girls go out in public dressed the way these three were.

The first girl wore a strappy t-shirt and short shorts, not so bad I suppose, except that she obviously wasn’t wearing anything under the t-shirt and the shorts rode so far up her crotch they looked more like a thong. The second girl wore a camisole made from cheap nylon fabric, complete with spaghetti straps and see-through lace at the top. Her breasts were bigger than mine had been was I was nursing Cass, and I feared that at any second the flimsy straps of her top would snap and her breasts would tumble out and smash the glass cabinet where the gelato was stashed. I kept thinking, why is that girl walking around in her underwear? Where is her shirt? Then I realized in horror that was her shirt.

The third girl was dressed pretty much like the first, in strappy t-shirt and short shorts/thong, but with the precocious addition of a rhinestone tiara clipped to her empty little head. It seemed we were being visited by royalty, in the form of none other than the queen of tarts and her ladies-of-the-night-in-waiting. How delightful.

You could have offered me no greater contrast to the heroic images of men and women we’d just seen in the Air and Space Center. These girls looked like cheap trash. Even worse, they sounded like cheap trash. Camisole-girl pulled out her cell phone when she walked in and began talking to someone named “Chad”. Apparently she gets really bad reception because she immediately began shouting into the phone, so loudly in fact that she startled the customer in front of her into dropping her change on the floor. While Camisole-girl screeched at Chad like a harpy in heat, Tiara-girl stood there cracking her gum and rolling her eyes, repeating “Oh my Gawd!” over and over again at everything Camisole-girl said. Thong-girl stayed pretty quiet, but I’m guessing that was because she was too busy picking her dental-floss drawers out of the crack of her behind to contribute to the intellectual discourse of her fellow tramps.

Stunned as I had been by the accomplishments of Gus Grissom and the other heroes of the Virginia Air and Space Center, these girls stunned me even more. I kept Cassie turned away from them, desperate to shield her from the image of three young girls masquerading as whores. The way they were dressed just made me want to scream. I mean these girls were someone’s children, for Pete’s sake! In a time when every parent lives in fear of their child falling victim to sexual predators, what mother or father would be so stupid as to let their child parade around like that? Michael must have been reading my thoughts because as soon as those three girls left, he turned to me and said, “Cassandra will NEVER leave the house dressed in nothing but her underwear.” Amen to that.

At this point, some will accuse me of judging and condemning these poor girls based solely on their appearances. Well guess what? I am. Appearances matter, people, and a coarse demeanor leaves a stigma that’s near impossible to erase. Girls who look and act like trash will never grow up to be astronauts, or doctors, or much of anything at all except, well… trash. And before anyone jumps all over me for calling these teenage girls such horrible names as whores, hookers, etc., keep in mind that these girls branded themselves as trash by dressing and acting the way they did. Or maybe their parents branded them, by buying the clothes and letting their daughters wear them.

Sadly, this phenomenon of dressing like a 1990’s Madonna video reject isn’t limited to teens. At the neighborhood pool this summer, I’ve seen countless little girls, ages ten and under, wearing bathing suits that make them look like pole dancers. Don’t their parents understand what they’re doing when they let their kids dress that way? I’m sorry. I write erotica, but I cannot condone turning teenage girls and small children into oversexed vamps.

The way I see it, my daughter can grow up to be the next Sally Ride or the next Anna Nicole Smith. She can become a lady, showing respect for her self and others. Or she can prance around like the three strumpets in the gelato parlor this afternoon and one day wind up on Jerry Springer, punching the lights out of some other piece of trash as they fight over who stole whose boyfriend in the trailer park. The difference between one fate and the other, I believe, lies in my (and Michael’s) decision to teach Cassie how to dress and act like a responsible, civilized individual.

Clothes make the man, and the future generation of women in this world too. Gus Grissom worked hard all his life to become a great pilot, engineer, and astronaut, and he looked and acted the part. He wore an Air Force uniform. He wore a space suit and helmet. He never, ever wore his underwear in public, ladies and gentlemen. And neither will my daughter.

If You Can’t Take The Heat, Don’t Have Kids

It’s so dang hot around here these days. I live in southeastern Virginia, right on the Chesapeake Bay, and the heat and humidity are stifling. Every time I step outside, I feel like I’ve walked into a combination sauna/lava pit. I don’t go for a morning jog anymore. Instead I swim, pushing the jog stroller ahead of me as I struggle to doggie paddle my way through the neighborhood. The heat waves only add to the illusion that I’m underwater as they shimmer up from the sidewalk like streamers of seaweed. It’s been like this since June, 106 degrees in the shade and so humid I could drown. Therefore it should come as no surprise to me that all the moms in my mommies group have decided to stay indoors this summer.

And yet it does.

I’m so damned annoyed about this too. Every one of these moms seems determined to hibernate in their air-conditioned houses until October. This mommies group posts play dates on a Yahoo group and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen outdoor play dates posted and then cancelled this summer. I’ve also shown up to a couple of play dates at parks and playgrounds only to discover Cassie and I were the only ones who decided to brave the heat. How fun is that, I ask you?

Keep in mind these are the same moms who complained all winter long that they couldn’t take little Johnny and darling Susie out to the park because of the winter weather – rain, sleet, snow, chilly temperatures, etc. From October to May, this group met at the local mall to let the kids run amok at an indoor play area, then sat and complained about how they had no place else to take the kids. With all the grousing going on about bad weather and how folks were going stir crazy, I had this delusion that come summer we’d all be outside running around with our kids. No such luck.

We had about a month, May to be exact, where the moms group made the rounds of all the playgrounds in the area. Then June arrived with its usual heat wave and that was the end of that. Suddenly, the mommies retreated to the great indoors – Chuck E. Cheese, the mall, any place with AC. To be honest, Cassie and I don’t spend a lot of time with the moms group, so I can only complain but so much. My work and karate schedule allow us to make it to one play date every other week. Still, I had looked forward to getting Cassie outside this summer with other kids we knew. Instead, we’ve ended up playing by ourselves or with the kids of parents we’ve never met before and will probably never see again (even though I do exchange e-mail addresses with the other moms I meet, I can’t seem to hook up with them again). It’s left me feeling isolated and frustrated to no end, wondering frantically if the only way Cassie will ever have any friends is if we hole up inside with all the other moms and turn into a couple of thermophobic shut-ins who bitch about how it’s too hot to go out and play. I swear, the only other women I’ve heard of who spent that much time locked inside lived in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule.

There have been two exceptions to our lack of playmates this summer. The first was Maison, whom Cassie met in her weekly Toddler Tales group. Maison’s mom, Crystal, and I hit if off really well and the girls spent a lot of time together this summer, right up until Crystal and her family transferred to Alaska in July (and if you’re reading this Crystal, I hope you know how much we miss you guys!). While Maison and Crystal were here, we made it to the beach, the zoo, the local botanical gardens, and more than a few playgrounds. Plenty of sun and fun all around!

The other exception is a six-year-old girl named Maddy whose grandmother lives in our neighborhood. Every time we’ve hit the neighborhood pool this summer, Maddy and her grandmother have been there. Due to a lack of other six-year-olds at the pool, Maddy and Cassie hung out together, giving Cassie at least a semi-regular playmate the last two months. Cassie’s enjoyed playing with a ‘big girl’ and Maddy’s been so nice to her. Unfortunately, come September Maddy heads off to school and the girls won’t be seeing each other anymore.

Thus leaving Cassie stuck with only me for a playmate again. I’ve tried setting up play dates with other moms, really I have. My best friend Mary has a son the same age as Cassie, but Mary works and her son goes to daycare so we only get to see them once every blue moon. There’s another mom down the street from us whose daughter is a year younger than Cassie. We’ve gone out with them once and had a great time, but the daughter has severe dairy and peanut allergies so that makes it a challenge to get the girls together. We can’t go any place that serves food without risking a trip to the emergency room.

So I keep going back to the mommies group, hoping beyond hope that someone will want to come outside and play. I set up a picnic and play date last week at a local playground. I made sure to pick a shady place to meet and set the time for early in the day to beat the worst of the heat. Wouldn’t you know it, Cassie and I were the only ones who came to play? Later that day I got an e-mail from one of the other moms, telling me what I trooper I was for going outside at all that day. She and her son went out in their backyard to play but only lasted fifteen minutes before they started to melt. I just wanted to scream. Don’t these people understand that their kids need to get outside? There was a study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics that concluded that school age kids needed to get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. To me, moderate to vigorous activity means outdoors, ‘cause I certainly don’t want my darling little yard ape screaming and racing around inside.

Granted, Cassie isn’t school age, and neither is any other kid in her playgroup, but when are these kids going to learn to play outside if they don’t start doing it now? My cousin Dave married a woman from Siberia. Their son isn’t even a year old yet but every day regardless of the weather, Dave’s wife completely undresses the kid and takes him outside. It’s a Siberian custom, apparently, the purpose of which is to condition the child to the extremes of the harsh Siberian weather. I can tell you already, this child is going to be physically fit all his life. If he can handle being outside naked in the height of summer or the depths of winter while he’s still an infant, he’ll have no problems being active as he gets older. And I really do believe this, because to me spending time outside goes hand in hand with being physically fit. Ask yourself, how many obese mommies do you see at playgrounds during the summer? Not many. Too bad I can only count on one hand the number of moms I’ve seen outside at all this summer.

In a few weeks, the heat wave in this area will break, and I’m sure that the mommies group will once again make the rounds of all the playgrounds in the area. Then October will come, bringing with it the rain, followed by the dank chill of November and the brittle cold that lasts from December until March. April will slowly ease us into spring, but from October until May I can almost guarantee you the mommies group will stay inside, complaining again about how they can’t get out. I don’t plan to hang around and listen to them though. Instead, Cassie and I will throw on our parkas, grab our umbrellas, and head outside, braving the cold and the rain in search of other moms and their kids who are just as crazy as we are. Wish us luck. I fear Admiral Peary had better odds of finding the North Pole.

All My Accomplishments Equal…

I’m sure by now you’ve already figured out I find parenthood to be an extremely frustrating job. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. In fact, I’ve had other jobs, working outside the home and I swear I would rather slit my throat than go work for someone else ever again. At the age of two, I find my daughter to be a far more intelligent boss than any other person I ever worked for (and if you don’t think a toddler is the boss in a home, you obviously don’t have kids!).

Still, there are moments when I look around in despair and wonder if I will die and be remembered only as the woman who stayed home to raise her kids. Okay, I can hear the screaming from other stay-at-home parents already. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that staying home to raise your children is the most worthwhile pursuit a person can ever take on. But let’s be honest here. We live in a culture that measures success in tangible form, like say a paycheck, and I don’t know anyone who gets paid to raise his or her own kids. Can you imagine what mommies’ groups would be like if we did?

“Hey Judy, I got a raise last week after little Sally’s second birthday. Now that she’s two, I’m making 75 grand a year.”

“That’s great news, Lisa! I got a $500 bonus for completing little Bobby’s potty training six months early. It would have been $650, but we had a little bedwetting accident last week and that kind of counted against me.”

Yeah, right.

Speaking of potty training, in addition to the dearth of pay, parenting also lacks a defined set of deadlines for accomplishing its goals. The first word, the first step, the first tooth, the first time your child pees in the potty… In spite of all the published lists of developmental milestones, no one can really say when a child will reach them. And when your kids hit those milestones, can you as the parent really take credit for it? Heck, I didn’t teach Cassie to walk. She’s the one who did all the hard work. All I did was make sure her butt was diapered so she’d have something cushy to land on every time she fell.

So I can’t take credit for my child’s accomplishments and I don’t get paid for staying home to raise her. How, then, do I measure my success? In hugs and kisses? Yep, although that’s a currency best traded within the family. A child’s hugs and kisses are so valuable they’re priceless, but you can’t use them to buy a new car unless the salesman is the really unscrupulous type, in which case you’d get the car but probably wind up divorced. Best not to go that route.

There are moms and dads who do not need the new car though. These folks are so secure in their status as stay-at-home parents that they are content to live without the tangible signs of success. I’m not one of those people. I have to have something in addition to being a mom, work that I can definitely say is my own and that I might somehow get paid for in cash. There’s a whole bunch of us parents who need to work, not because we need the money (although many parents do and I salute you for busting your asses to earn a paycheck while you raise your kids) but because we need the accomplishment. We need the physical proof that we’ve done something with our lives. We need something more on our tombstone beyond “Loving parent and spouse.”

Which is why this past week has been so damn frustrating for me. At the moment I am currently working on two writing projects, one 3D graphics project and one animation project. Writing, animation and artwork are how I stay sane as a stay-at-home mom. I put in between 30-40 hours a week on my projects, mostly during nap times and the wee hours of the morning. It’s slow going. I’ve spent the past nine months on the same graphics project, experimenting with various ways to create skin textures for 3D characters. The last month, I’ve labored over a short story for an upcoming erotica anthology. I’ve been working very, very hard for a long time now.

Last week, all of those projects just sort of fell apart. I won’t go into too much detail about what went wrong. Let’s just say I developed a nasty case of writer’s block at the same time I discovered that my graphics experiments could not produce the results I desired. That’s a lot of work to go down the drain all at once. I spent every day last week fighting my failures, beating my head against the keyboard, crying, “I’ve got to make this work!” But it was all to no avail. Slowly, I realized that I’d been wasting a lot time, and time is something that I feel is in short supply. The deadline for the short story is not far off. I either write the story and hand it in or I kiss my chance of publication goodbye. As for the graphics… nine months, people. For nine frikkin’ months I have tackled the same problem over and over and over again. The last time I took nine months to create something, I ended up with a baby. This time, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

So I was feeling pretty down in the dumps last week when I was confronted with the hardest parenting job I have right now – potty training. Cassie has been potty training for the last seven months. She’s two and a half, and will sit on the potty and pee, but she will not sit and poop. That kid deliberately hides from me when she has to poop. If I find her in time and get her on the potty, she withholds it, shouting “No! Don’t want to!” Or worse, she’ll sit on the potty. And sit. And sit. Friday afternoon I took her to the potty three times. Each time she spent half an hour or more there. I about went nuts trying to coax her to poop. I read her stories, performed a puppet show with her dolls, and bribed the little darling with candy. Heck, I even took her temperature with a rectal thermometer just to get things moving. Nothing was working.

Finally, forty-five minutes into our third trip to the potty, I heard a tiny little splat hit the plastic bowl. Cassie jumped up and crowed. “I did it, Mommy! I poop in the potty!” And when I looked into the pot, there it was, a little dab of poop no bigger than my thumbnail. This was not the payload I was expecting, needless to say and the sly look in Cassie’s eyes told me she knew it. I wanted to bang my head on the bathroom floor and cry.

At six p.m., my husband came home and I handed Cassie off to him, with admonishments to keep putting her on the pot every half hour. Meanwhile, I laid down on my bed to brood over my recent failures. Everything I did had become such a trial, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that the only thing I had to show for all my hard work was that tiny piece of poop. Then Michael walked in, grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what Cassie just did,” he said, and he showed me the potty filled to the brim with toddler poop. “Hallelujah!” I shouted. Success at last

Of course, as I’ve already said, I can’t take credit for Cassie’s accomplishment. I can only lead her to the potty. She’s the one who has to learn how to use it. And if I can’t buy a car with hugs and kisses, you better believe I’ll never be able to buy one with the results of Cassie’s potty training. But at least I can say that something in my life is progressing. I can see my tombstone now – “Loving mother and spouse – she didn’t do much else, but she did eventually potty train her children.”

Addendum to blog entry: During the time it took me to write today’s entry, Cassie pooped three times… in her pull up panties. Oh well, at least I’ve broken through the writer’s block on my short story and have decided on a new direction for my foundering graphic project. C’est la vie!

Parenthood – It’s not a job, it’s a life sentence

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up at three, four, and then five a.m. to the sound of someone screaming? A morning where that making that first bottle of milk more important than your first cup of coffee? A morning where you bolt out of bed as your CD alarm clock blares out the Wiggles because once again you forgot to put Sheryl Crow back in before you collapsed the night before? Have you ever had one of those mornings where you have to ask a very short person over and over again, “Have you gone poopies yet?” because you know you’re not getting out of the house until the answer is “Yes”?

If so, congratulations, you’re a mom. Or a dad. Or a nut, as the case may be.

My name is Helen Madden and for the last two and a half years I’ve worked as a stay-at-home mom. For two years before that I worked as a stay-at-home bum, leeching off my darling husband as I tried to figure out what to do with my life. My husband will swear to you that I was not leeching; rather I was taking some much needed time to discover myself. I will swear that during those two years the only things I discovered where the joys of Cartoon Network and an appalling lack of self-discipline. I couldn’t get my (insert expletive here) together to save my life.

Somehow, that all changed when my daughter came along.

I don’t know why, but the day the doctor cut that screaming, squalling little red-faced miracle out of my uterus, everything changed. Before, I had all the time in the world but nothing to show for it. Suddenly, I had no time at all but a desperate need to make something of myself. I have talent – I’m a writer and an artist – but talent is nothing without discipline and hard work. After Cassie came along, I found myself working harder than I ever had in my entire life, and it wasn’t just from taking care of an infant, although that’s hard enough. I needed to write, to draw, to create. To be a mom my daughter could be proud of, not someone who sat around the house all day saying, “I coulda been a contender…”

So these days I get up at the butt-crack of dawn to write for two hours. That’s my free time, and once it’s over, I slip into my real job as mommy. I spend the rest of the day chasing after my toddler. I don’t know why children around the age of two are called toddlers. Mine’s more like the Road Runner, and I feel like Wile E. Coyote waiting for an anvil to drop on my head as we tear around the house and yard. By two p.m. I’m exhausted but Cassie is still rolling, so I exercise that tried and true technique for saving a mommy’s sanity – naptime. Sometimes Cassie takes one too.

Just kidding. Cassie goes down without a peep once she’s had her fill of milk and stories, and I’m left fighting to keep my eyes open. Naptime means work time again for me, a time when I get to sit and work on my art or cartoons. Yes, I cartoon. In fact, there’s a sister site to this blog called Cynical Woman that’s host to various cartoons I’ve done on the trials of motherhood, angry babies, and the facts of life (sort of…). I think there’s a lot of humor to be found in parenthood. Perverse creature that I am, I view it all through a lens tinted with cynicism and a touch of snarkiness. So if you don’t mind laughing while you’re crying, let’s share a few painfully funny stories about being parents. Remember, it’s not just a job. It’s a life sentence.