Thursday, December 30, 2010

Family Plot

Yesterday while I was grocery shopping, my sons successfully managed to talk their father into letting them combine their $50 in Christmas gift cards and purchase a Chinese dwarf hamster. They met me in the frozen foods aisle with huge smiles on their faces, a bag full of rodent paraphernalia, a small box with airholes punched into the side, and $5 in change. There was no need for a cage, since they knew we already had one in the attic. WHY did we have a hamster cage in the attic? Well, that leads to the point of this entry.

"Nugget" is now residing in the former home of "Hammie." Hammie was a Black Bear hamster Evan got for his birthday about four years ago. Very sweet, and a bit of an escape artist. One day about six months after we got him, I came down stairs in the morning and started yelling at the kids for leaving a wet sock on the living room floor. Only, it wasn't a wet sock. It was Hammie. He'd pulled a noctural Houdini act, only to be found and "played with" by Daisy the Dalmatian.

Hammie rests in peace ( and just one piece, fortunately) in "Poopy Park," a small dog-walking park around the corner from our house. But Hammie is not the only occupant of the "Stanley Family Plot" at Poopy Park, for Hammie was preceded in death by Sponge Bob and Patrick. Sponge Bob and Patric were parakeets who met their doom one afternoon when someone accidentally bumped a knob on the stove and heated a Teflon frying pan on low for an hour. (Apparently, Teflon fumes are lethal to parakeets.) Sponge Bob, Patrick and Hammie were later joined by Bubbles the goldfish.

Yes, we buried a goldfish. Bubbles was no ordinary fish. We won him at the local church carnival, and he proceeded to grow as big as a tennis ball. This was the kind of fish who would swim to the edge of the tank to greet you in the morning and who, when he knew you were about to clean his tank, would swim INTO your hand as if to make your job easier and say "Thanks!" Bubbles lived a long life, and when he finally floated to the top, he was just too noble of a creature to get the customary "burial at sea." So Bubbles rests his fins alongside his furry and feathered counterparts in Poopy Park.

Daisy the Dalmatian and Pudding the cat have also passed on since we moved into the house of pet death, although they both lived long and happy lives (Daisy, 11; Pudding, 18) and neither was flushed or buried in the park. All we have now are two freakishly large goldfish (we apparently rock at raising fish); "Hopscotch," a dwarf rabbit who thinks he's a dog (we had two, but one was a psychotic, biting rapist and had to go); and now "Nugget."

Goldfish have been known to live up to 20 years. This is not acceptable. I do not want to be scraping algae off the sides of a tank well into my 60s. I'm giving "Oprah" and "Dr. Phil" until Ben hits high school, and then they're going into our friend's koi pond where they can grow to the size of shoe boxes and eat their weight in flakes. I'm not necessarily telling my friend they've gone in either. Let them think it's spontaneous generation.

The lifespan of an indoor rabbit could be 10-12 years, which means I'll be finding rabbit droppings on the sofa until Ben is a freshman in college, or Evan marries a woman who likes rabbits (unless he's living in his "basement apartment" when he's 24...which he won't be...)

Nugget isn't going to be a problem. Hamsters live 2-3 years. The Guinness Book of World Records says the world's oldest hamster made it to 7. Either way, Nugget will live a happy life running his wheel at 3 a.m. until his time comes, and then there's plenty of space at the family plot down the road. And the cage'll go back into the attic when it's vacated, just as before. Until it's time to give the unborn grandkids a hamster.

Or two.

*Ben by Michael Jackson.
About a kid and his pet rat named Ben.
I have a kid named Ben.
He has a pet hamster.
Close as I could get.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Mind#$%@

Merry Christmas!

Hopefully, you have all found your lost gift cards after digging through the gravy soaked garbage bags, have dug yourselves out of your driveways (east coasters), figured out what that wet stuff coming down from the sky is (west coasters) or managed to shoot/stuff/mount somethin' (the middle bits).

I myself am hiding up in my bedroom office playing on the computer because I can't take one more minute listening to the background music that comes with the Wii. I hope that "composer" made a fortune, because I'm pretty sure there's a bounty on his head by now.

Christmas used to be a lot easier when my kids (two boys, 8 and 14) were younger. It wasn't so much about the content of the boxes under the tree as it was about bulk. Giant box? Good! Didn't matter to them that it was filled with $10 fake Legos. As long as the box took up half the living room, they were happy. Then something clicked in their little consumer brains, and they figured out that the "good stuff" came in smaller packages. They figured out the difference between name-brand and knock-off. And yet, they still expected bulk under the tree. I've heard I'm not alone in this. And I expect that Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Wachovia are pretty much expecting everyone's January mortgage payments to include a late fee.

Despite the "gotta wait for the next paycheck" shopping on Dec. 24, and the "cross your fingers and hope it goes through" credit card transactions, most of our kids probably had an awesome Christmas morning and are already plotting their wish lists for next year. The thought of that got me thinking about some of the best Christmas presents I've given, and gotten. (It's a real conjugation...I looked it up!)

Gotten: Hands down easy answer.

My parents were divorced for several years, then remarried each other and soon after moved my younger brother and I clear across the country from Pennsylvania to Nevada. Sparks, Nevada to be exact. Never heard of Sparks, Nevada? Yeah, well, why the hell should you have? It's in the middle of nowhere and it was butt ugly (at least in the mid-to-late 70s). Tumbleweed was their local flora. Their local fauna were truckers, commuting hookers and religious least in our neighborhood.

I was 11. I knew no one. I missed everyone back east. And I'd been told, against my will the year before, that Santa was "a lie, and did not exist."
Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much that dusty Christmas. A cyanide pill would have been a welcomed stocking stuffer. But I got this little box under the tree that 6th Grade Christmas. In it was 20 business cards. No, I hadn't been franchised. They were all cards for a nearby ranch that sold horses and offered trail rides with Arabians. Each card was signed on the back by the ranch owner and was good for a one-hour trail ride.

To an average girl, a box of business cards instead of makeup or Donny Osmond posters would have seemed like crap. But these cards became, to this day, one of my most memorable gifts.
These twenty hours on horseback were twenty hours I wasn't at home living with strangers. They were twenty hours spent on "Blackjack." Blackjack was my horse of choice. Not too tall, not too short, not too fast, not too slow, Blackjack knew the trail like he'd blazed it himself and was my Saturday companion for the rest of 6th grade. I dreamed of buying him for my own one day. When I got to know the ranch owner, she let me use my hour-long cards for two half-hour sessions instead, which enabled me to invite neighborhood girls to join me. Yeah, it was an 11-year-old transcontinental transplant's attempt at bribing kids into liking her. I knew it, and they knew it. I don't remember any of their names anymore, but for at last 30 minutes on each Saturday, I had a friend on my new coast. And I had Blackjack.

My last six hours or so, I didn't want to share with pseudo-friends. I just wanted Blackjack and the trail to myself. I knew I'd never own him, but I just wanted to savor the bladder-bursting gallops with him by myself. Blackjack's long since dead, but I'll always remember that winter/spring riding the barren trails of Sparks, Nevada with him as one of my favorite childhood Christmas gifts.

Given: Hands down easy answer.

I have two sons, Evan (now 14) and Ben (now 8). Evan is me. Ben is his father.

"Me" at Christmas is hooked on "A Christmas Story." The movie completely resonates with me, having grown up in my grandparents same-era house in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia. I've replicated some of the sets in our own house. The push-bottom radio with the chrome bowling ball liquor dispenser on top? Got that. Bing playing on Christmas morning as the kids descend the stairs? Done that. Pink, footed bunny jammies with hoodie and ears?....Well, I'm not psychotic, I've never done that to my kids. BUT the movie is ingrained into my brain, and into my son Evan's.

When Evan was 9 he still firmly (as far as we could tell) believed in Santa. Without consulting my other/better/wiser half, during a shopping trip in the Amish country I purchased at a dry goods store a "Red Ryder Official BB Gun." It didn't have "a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time," but it was as close to the real deal as they made. I wrapped it in plain paper. And Christmas Eve, after the kids had finally fallen asleep and when my husband wasn't looking, I hid it in the living room. Behind the desk.

Once all the presents were opened, somehow Evan was subtly (OK, maybe not so subtly) directed to look toward the desk. When he opened it, he was stunned. Something that he didn't even know he wanted and had never even asked Santa for instantly became his most treasured gift that year. He shot cans from our recycling bin, still dressed in his jammies. He schlepped his oiled steel beauty to New Jersey that afternoon and turned my in-laws backyard into a rifle range, much to the chagrin of their Home Owners Association I'm sure.

You don't get to many chances to blow a kids Christmas mind (in the good way) as a parent. I don't think my parents knew they were blowing mine when they stopped by that ranch and asked its owner to sign a bunch of 2x3" cards. But they accidentally did. And I don't know if that unexpected pediatric weaponry blew my son's mind, but that memorable look of amazement and surprise makes me hope it did.

I don't really relish growing older, but I do look forward to one day blowing my grandkids' minds, and maybe ruffling my daughter-in-laws' feathers, with one or two memorable Christmas gifts somewhere in the far future. To me, nothing would be cooler to Grandma Suze than knowing my sons' kids were drifting off to sleep, pringing ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.

"Christmas Everyday" by Latch Key Kid on playlist (Yup, always pimpin')

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hell....The Wonder Years My Ass!

Despite my parents best efforts and years of religious schooling, I turned out completely non-religious. With one exception. I'm a firm believer in hell. I know for a fact it exists. Hell is the place you go to be tormented by Satan's minions. A place where you live in fear and agony. A place where those around you thrive on finding ways to pick you apart and feast on your emotional carcass like ravenous vultures.

Middle school.

Something happens to kids (girls especially, I hate to admit it) that turns many of them pure evil between the ages of 11 and 14 or so. Maybe it's hormones, maybe it's actually their own insecurities, maybe it's an inbred instinct to attack the weakest members of the herd. Or maybe they're just little bitches. But middle school is the definition of "hell on earth" for many of those who don't fit into the popular, "jockular," beautiful cliques. We all survived it, some with more scars than others (literal, and figurative). And now a lot of us are going through it again, as observers.

This morning I had a flashback to those horrible years thanks to my nearly 14-year-old son. An eczema sufferer, the dry winter air has done a real number on his arms and has spread its damage to his face. Yesterday he started a new treatment, but until it kicks in, he's an itchy, patchy, flaky mess, slathered in prescription ointment. This morning, when I went to wake him up for school, he down at me from his top bunk and simply said "Please don't make me go."

Ever seen one of those television moments where the background blurs and zooms by, and suddenly the main character is standing there in their own past? In an instant, I was lying in my own 1978 bed, covered in chicken pox scabs, begging my mother not to send me back to school: "Tomorrow's Friday. Just let me stay home until Monday. Please!"

Sure, I'd managed to get by so far in middle school, buy only by the skin of my teeth. I went to middle school in three states on two coasts. I was perpetually the "new girl." The chubby new girl. The chubby new girl with the huge rack. Becoming the class clown with C-cups got me by, but not even a self-deprecating sense of humor and mastery of a filthy vocabulary could spare this funny, "Rubenesque" chick from ridicule once they saw me covered in Calamine and pox. So I begged. "If your temperature is normal in the morning, you're going." Thanks be to God I still had a fever the next morning. Well, actually, thanks be to the Thermos full of boiling water I kept under my bed that night. The minute she left the room with the thermometer under my tongue, I went into action. Thermos open, thermometer in, swearing that it instantly got up to 112 degrees, and shaking it as hard as I could until she came back. "That's odd. You don't feel like you've got a 101. I guess you lucked out. Stay in bed."

So when I heard "Please don't make me go" this morning, he didn't have to ask twice. I could see the pain in his face, anticipating being tormented for his splotchy cheeks and swollen eyelids. I'm a good mom. I'm not evil. And since federal law prevents me from going to school with him and shoving the tormentors into their lockers or giving them swirlies, he was allowed to stay home for the day.

And made to clean the living room.

Maybe I am just a
little evil.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Putting the "URGE" in "Urgent"

I do it.

I confess.

Yes, I'd rather someone else do it to me.

But sometimes, the urge is just there. So strong.

And either there's no one available to help me vanquish it, or I simply need the job done as quickly and easily as possible.

So I admit, I frequently quell the desire all by myself.

With my own hand.

Or any number of purposely designed or make-shift devices I have laying about for just such an occasion.

I have them throughout the house, for whenever the need arises.

There's one next to my bed.

There's one in the bathroom.

There's the cheap thing I bought in Chinatown.

There's the thing in the utensil drawer.

Hell, I've even been known to use furniture or wall corners in a pinch, the urge is sometimes that strong.

I have the world's itchiest back.

(And you're all a bunch of perverts, BTW.)

If Heaven is a place filled with nothing but things designed to bring us pleasure, than Suze Heaven consists of walls made of coarse sandpaper to rub against, people with long fingernails willing to do my back's bidding, and Eucerin waterfalls.

I don't know if it's dry skin, excessively sensitive nerves or what-have-you, but I derive such pleasure from a good back scratching that I've been accused of having secondary and tertiary clitorises (clitori?) in my shoulder blades.

If I were to be captured by the enemy, I'd be able to stick to "name, rank serial number" if subjected to water-boarding, "the box" or sleep deprivation. But so help me, I'd give up every thing I had on each and every one of you if they teased me with a light scratching across my back.

So out of all the bloggable things going on in the world today...TSA screenings, Tom Brady's hair, Kardashian kredit kards, Leslie Nielsen's passing...what made made me write a stupid blog entry about my neurotic/erotic/psychotic love of a good back scratching?

I'm home alone.

Everyone's at Lansdale's Christmas tree lighting.

I got itchy.

I saw the bread knife...

and now I desperately need a Band-Aid.