Friday, December 30, 2005

whirling down

The time of reckoning is nearly here. I'm not sure if everyone does this, but at the end of each year I feel obligated to take inventory (ie. self-flagellate). Otherwise, how would I come up with my New Year's resolutions? What pressure!!!! No wonder I actually felt relief after declining my New Year's Eve party invitation just now- the likes of me doesn't deserve any down time!!!

I think back to years past when everything LOOKED OK, even impressive. I had a decent job, I owned a nice house in a happening neighborhood, I owned a reliable car, dressed fairly well and looked reasonably presentable. The only thing which could have been construed as slightly unusual was that I never seemed to have a stable relationship with a MAN. There'd be the occasional boyfriend; that's it. I used to say that I chose to be single. Was it really a conscious choice?

These days, the appearance is not so good. The house in the hip hood was sold and replaced with one more family-oriented, even though we are not a family; we are a diad, my child and I. The house personifies chaos- even the landscaping is quite wild. That same car now looks old, really old. I look disheveled.

The difference is that now the world can witness my struggle. I wear it. I drive it. I show it. What you see is what you get. And if you don't see it, the child will undoubtedly tell you about it, much to my embassassment.

No more secrets.

Happy new year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

my kind of Christmas

No plans had been made. Whirling freely requires a strict lack of scheduling. Think about it, how many people do you know who had NO PLANS for this granddaddy of all holidays?

The Child sleeps in until 8:30 am, having stayed up until 3 am with me while I attempted to fix a computer problem. He runs into the living room to find his Corkscrew Canyon, yo-yo, 3 books, lollipops and Boggle game. He seems satisfied and refrains from his annual questioning regarding the existence of Santa Clause.

The day is mild for December and somewhat rainy. The Child wants to go outside to shoot off rockets (last year's Christmas gift) and explore the park outside of our house. The rain morphs into a foggy mist. We walk for a long time, ending up at a lake with some melting ice to temp our fates with. We prevail.

Back at home I feast on key lime cookies and exquisite chocolates, a gift from friend Joe, and spicy cashews, a gift from friend Steve. The Child, who doesn't eat, builds Corkscrew Canyon free-form (directions be damned). I think about whether or not there is anything I HAVE to do this day in order to be at peace, and I decide that that would be calling my Father in NY. We are not close, never have been, but something compells me.

I call, we make small talk, he puts his wife on the phone, she rambles about her childhood, she rambles about her remarkable adult children, I listen without judgment as I have learned to do, I talk to him again, he says he is having surgery on his eyelid January 18, I say have a nice Christmas, we hang up.

I am off the hook.

I remember that friends Doug and Cathy have sent gifts. I haul them out of their hiding place and alert the Child. He is ecstatic at the prospect of continued gift opening. He rips open his box to find a racing computer game, hoots with glee, and starts playing it.

I open mine. It is Divine Chuckles Life from a Higher Perspective by Lin Martin, forward by Kevin Ryerson. Suffice it to say that this is the PERFECT gift for me in that it is a book, and I have had personal contact with both Lin Martin and Kevin Ryerson. I am ecstatic.

The Child wants to go outside for another walk. This is remarkable. I never knew my Child could be so wholesome.

The Child finally decides, following our second long walk, that he is hungry. I offer to take him to a Chinese buffet, a trick I learned years ago from friend Doug. The Chinese have no reason to shut down on Christmas. I had not planned for the Holiday, as you may recall, so I had no food in the house beyond key lime cookies, chocolates and cashews.

We try a new Chinese buffet restaurant near out house. It looks impressive, but the food sucks. Even whirlingbetty can't eat it. This quality of food, however, often mysteriously appeals to kids. The Child fills his plate several times until I put the kibash on it. Embarrassed to waste food, I end up stuffing my pockets with chicken pillows for the Chihuahua. As we exit the restaurant, fellow diners stare at the noticeable grease stains bulging out of the sides of my hot pink down jacket.

Friend David had invited us to stop by. We do. Friends Robert and Joe are there. They cook. I sit. Robert and the Child play Boggle. We eat a meal which includes two desserts: kugel and apple pie. Robert entertains the Child, mercifully, while David , Joe and I go out for a walk. We watch a DVD: The Triplets of Bellville. We leave.

Back home, the Child goes to bed without complaint. I stay up to watch a taped episode of my favorite soap opera.

This was the IDEAL whirlingbetty Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

growing up high tech

There was no way around it- today was the day I had set aside to Christmas shop for my Child. I had to produce, so I set out early for Toys R Us.

The Child wants things which are way beyond what's appropriate for his age. He wants a laptop, an iPod, a digital camera and camcorder, violent computer games.

He's right in line with Society. Society wants the Child to hurry up and grow up. Why? Money. The high tech non-toys he's requesting this Christmas have no place in childhood, but they sure cost a lot of MONEY.

Betty stuck to her GUNS, though. I proudly marched out of that toy store with Corkscrew Canyon, on sale for $49.99. It's a colorful building set which, if used properly, creates something that looks like an elaborate Six Flags type attraction. Just so I can create a real splash on Christmas, I threw in a yo-yo, a Boggle game, and a set of lollipops with Care Bears hugging them.

What makes me think that my 8-year-old Tough Guy will go for this? Well, I really shouldn't tell you this, but last Friday the Child took his stuffed dog, Terry, to school. Terry is no ordinary stuffed dog. He is dressed in denim jeans with a tail hole, a T-shirt with a dragon on the front, and a black leather biker's jacket.

When I picked up the Child at latchkey that day, he wasn't his usual sullen self who hates school. Brazenly hugging Terry in front of Peers, he announced that he had managed to pull off an entire day of school with Terry on his lap the whole time. Later he disclosed that Teacher had tried to put the kibosh on Terry early in the day, but somehow my Child (and Terry) had prevailed.

Besides, Corkscrew Canyon is recommended for ages 9 and up. He's 8, therefore too young. He'll love it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dredged from the Depths

Yesterday was D Day. After pondering the possibilities for months, it was time to Dredge.

My computer, you see, had been banished to the basement since I moved into this house nearly 5 years ago. Why? Sometimes it's difficult to guess how my mind operates, but I see several clues. When I moved in, there was a serious lack of phone jacks on the premises. There were 3: one in my bedroom, one in the kitchen and one in the basement.

The bedroom was out of the question for computer placement. Feng Shui principles prohibit electronic devices (especially computers!) in the sleeping area. The kitchen was out because I needed that jack for my phone/answering machine. My only option was the basement.

The house also lacks a reasonable number of grounded electrical outlets. Again, the basement featured one of the 2 available.

Besides, Betty's over-active imagination is hellbent on figuring out how to avoid advertising for thieves. I firmly believed that my PowerSpec PC (Micro Center's bargain basement special) would, if viewed through the window, become a target for any burglar who happened to be peeking in.

The problem is, I hate basements. Those who know me must wonder how I came to I choose this house, because one of its main selling points was its "FULLY FINISHED BASEMENT!!!!"

I hate basements. They harbor mice, spiders, mold, dampness and darkness. Secrets we're better off not knowing are hidden in them.

Two years ago, in anticipation of D day, I had the phone company install a new phone jack in the living room. ( I later came to find out that I could've hired a handyman to do it for a fraction of the price, but then again, the phone company guy was cute.) Back then, the plan was to create the possibility of moving the computer upstairs to the living room.

I had to think about it for 2 more years. Finally yesterday I called TA and asked him to help me move the behemouth computer desk up the stairs. I had already disconnected the computer components and hauled them upstairs.

While waiting for TA to arrive, I inspected the area I had prepared for the computer. With great alarm I noticed that there was no grounded outlet in the living room. I really don't know whether I had ever been aware of this issue in the past, but if so, the information had escaped me.

At this point I gave in. I allowed myself to be overwhelmed. I placed a frantic call to TA, who likes me a lot better when I squelch it. He said I could use an adapter. I argued vehemently against that idea until he convinced me to hang up so that he could eat his lunch.

I called every computer store in the city to ask their opinion on using adapters. The consensus was negative- it would probably set off the surge protector. I ran about the house searching wildly for another option. There it was, in the kitchen where my water cooler used to be plugged in before I realized what a colossal waste of money it was. It was my forgotten first floor grounded outlet which had been concealed by the now absent water cooler.

I'd move the phone/answering machine to the new living room jack and place the computer in the kitchen where, if I ever looked up and out the windows, I'd be able to enjoy the best views in the house.

TA showed up with 3 minutes to spare before he had to leave. When he saw the desk stripped of its components he gasped. "This thing is HEAVY!!!" It's very large and made of a very dense wood and metal. It probably weighs the same as my car.

Not having had a whole lot of experience with moving furniture, I started to fear the task at hand, but it was too late to back out. We couldn't figure out who should be in front. Clearly he was stronger, but we didn't know which position was more demanding. Running out of time, he decided to take the top.

At first it seemed OK. We moved up a few stairs without mishap; then everything changed without notice. The desk stopped moving. TA told me to back up. Back up?! I was barely hanging on. The monstrous desk was trying with all its might to push me back down the stairs and crush me!

At this point my shoe fell off, which did not help matters in the slightest. TA was showing signs of strain and alarm. As the desk started to win the struggle, I had a momentary spell during which it felt as if the life had drained out of me.

When I regained consciousness, the desk was stabilized at the top of the stairs. TA reported that he had strained his back, and I tried to conceal my shaking as he bolted out the door.

The computer happily hums along here in the kitchen where I can watch the snow fall if I look up. My screen is now illuminated by natural light rather than manmade bulbs. The Child and the Chihuahua can no longer tear the house up while Mama holes up in the dungeon. D Day was a smashing success.

Now I'd better call to check on TA's condition.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Extreme Whirling

Moderation is unknown to me. As I went through my modest stock portfolio today I saw all too vividly that I'm both an idiot and a genius. My stock picks were either superstars defying the S&P, or complete abysmal failures. If I sold each of my stocks, the balance would be exactly zero, half of them being duds, half goldmines. (This is the first time I've ever been able to perceive myself as in any way "balanced"!)

My frugality is legendary- I'm the one who always knows when the Salvation Army is holding its next 50% off sale. What most people don't know is that I'm also capable of blowing $99.99 plus tax on a whim, on a robotic dinosaur at Target.

Even my Chihuahua has fallen prey to my extremities. He has no idea what "NO" or "SIT" or "STAY" mean, but he knows "BRAUWNSCHWEIGER".

My house exemplifies my proclivity. It's either immaculate, after hours and hours of deeeeep cleaning, or it's a shambles. As demonstrated by the fact that I rarely allow people inside, you can guess which state it's in most often.

I spend a fortune every time I shop at Wild Oats or Whole Foods Market, on only the very highest quality organic delicacies. Then, as a previous post describes, I'm very likely to devour a box of Oreos, often after consuming (or trashing) the organics.

Sometimes it's hard to be Whirling Betty.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Effect of Robert E.

I met him while indulging in one of my favorite pastimes- attending Sunday open houses. He was a young realtor, and his houses were the type I was most likely to seek out: restored Victorians near downtown. Usually, I dislike realtors (and all salespeople). They seem too busy selling to be authentic.

Yet I was at ease with Robert E. Ever aware of people's judgements and games, I felt free to be myself in his presence, even the time I was his only visitor. We spoke and speculated, marvelling at bygone building standards.

He sent me his newsletter which listed houses he'd sold, offered advice on home buying, and exposed who he was. He was an award-winning body builder and a model. He was crazy about his young niece and documented every milestone of her development. He also happened to be a lawyer, and offered free legal advice concerning real estate.

He took life more seriously than most. Each newsletter featured inspirational messages and tips for setting goals and reaching one's full potential. Robert E. was a motivational figure in the lives he touched. He set an amazing example for those of us wanting to live our best possible lives.

I just found out that Robert E. took his own life. His handsome, smiling face visits me persistently. I'll never know what happened, but whatever it was, it wasn't worthy of this.

Robert, thank you for gracing my life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Restaurant Parenting

A Chicago cafe owner's sign for parents made the front page in many newspapers today. It read: "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices." This sign has sparked a heated debate.

I bet if the cafe owner could do over he'd write the message to "people of all ages." Is there not a tacet expectation for adult behavior? Why should there not be a standard for child behavior as well? Most of us probably would tolerate a certain elevation of noise and activity from a child in a restaurant, but truly, some parents don't seem to know where to draw the line. When other patrons are being distracted by the child(ren), then the parent has failed.

Yes, children are people too, and our society sometimes treats them like nothing more than nuisance. And even the best parents on earth sometimes face irrational outbursts from disgruntled offspring. That's why I limit my restaurant parenting to Chuck E. Cheese and Wendy's. In the former, no temper tantrum would register even the slightest blip on the radar screen, and in the latter, the point is to ingest as much fat, sugar and salt as possible as quickly as possible, so it works for the child as well as his potential audience.

I have a sad memory of one of my only attempts to take my child to an eating establishment other than the above. It had been a long, challenging day at work and I knew I wouldn't have the patience to cook, so after picking up my then 3 year old from the sitter, I had the brilliant idea to go to a little Indian restaurant which I'd been dying to try. My son was not in the greatest state of mind either, having spent the day with his least favorite sitter. I should have ordered carry out, but was too exhausted to drive all the way home on an empty stomach.

After ordering, we sat down at one of the few tables, and that's when the endless crescendo commenced. I did everything I could to squelch it. I was desperate. I sang songs, I made up stories, I made funny faces, I ran out to the car to get books, I bounced him on my lap, I bribed. The crescendo continued, oblivious to my efforts. By the time the food arrived, I was in tears. I couldn't stop the tantrum- I had no choice but to leave. I couldn't even wait for a doggie bag, so loud was the screaming. I threw my money on the table, picked up the monster and rushed out, leaving that luscious Indian cuisine behind.

As a single parent, I am especially careful. Single mothers are judged harshly. The last thing I want to do is provide fuel for the fire, so I grab my child's hand and tread lightly through this society of ours, notwithstanding the above Indian incident. We stick to Wendy's and Chuck E. Cheese and leave fine dining for the rest of you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

My Soulmate's Soulmate

Today seems to be a little different from most. It started with a brawl with my child. He was hellbent on finding a set of tiny locks and keys before leaving for school. I should say he was hellbent on Betty finding a set of tiny locks and keys before leaving for school. A very articulate child, he rebuked me thoroughly for having the audacity to organize his possessions.

Early in the morning I'm not at my best, not unless I've stayed up all night practicing yoga, meditation and random relaxation techniques. I usually spend the pre-schoolbus moments desperately scrambling to fill the child's backpack with whatever items he needs that particular day, dressing him, fighting to force a semblance of breakfast down his throat, and racking my brain to figure where Betty has to be that day and at what time. It's not pleasant.

This day featured the additional pressure of having to tear the house apart in search of miniature locks and keys. As one might imagine, my efforts, extreme though they were, resulted in nothing but a wrecked house and an enraged child.

Yet we didn't miss the bus, miraculously, and I heaved an audible sigh of relief as my child boarded the mercifully late vehicle. Returning home, I hauled out my journal and wrote about what I could have done better this morning. Maybe tomorrow I can perform as a mature adult mastering single parenthood.

With temperatures in the 20's and winds to match, the park outside didn't exactly beckon, but I forced myself to layer up and go out jogging. It's so cold here that my Chihuahua shivers inside the house. (Needless to say, his housebreaking regime has gone to hell.) It's the kind of cold which brings tears to your eyes immediately, and makes their sockets ache for warmth. But I jogged, by golly.

Why? Well, for some reason, I started thinking of my soulmate. He'd want me to carry on, and to jog as long as the weather conditions aren't life-threatening. He'd admire my efforts to consult my conscience this morning about what I could have done better.

Every once in a while, usually when the chips are down in one way or another, I think of him. Maybe, I tell myself, if I keep on doing my best with this day, I'll meet him.