Acting My Age?

Why is that young girl trying to fire roast tomatoes in her mother’s kitchen? And why is she alone? Shouldn’t an adult be nearby supervising her activities? Why can’t she just play with an Easy Bake Oven like a normal girl? Why is that boy so concerned with upcoming Black Friday flat screen TV sales? Isn’t he too young to get credit anyway? Shouldn’t he be playing video games or pushing around a Tonka truck or something?

These are just a few of the questions I find myself asking on a regular basis during the daily barrage of television commercials. For some reason, I see children everywhere… acting as adults. They’re buying furniture, cars and carpeting. They’re calling for an exterminator or trying to figure out what to do about their leaky roof or their 401k. And I can’t help but want to scream: “YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO WORRY ABOUT THIS $#*@!”

Or am I just too old?

Within the last five years or so I have discovered that the characters on TV, whether on the news, starring in the commercials or playing that of a leading role have all gotten dramatically younger. REALLY. They are younger. Start paying attention if you don’t believe me. They used to be older than me. The people playing moms and dads LOOKED like moms and dads — they most certainly didn’t look like ME. The people playing doctors and cops and attorneys LOOKED like mature doctors, cops and attorneys.

And I always looked up to them. Literally and figuratively. They were taller, wiser, grayer, more experienced and well versed in the ways of the world. They had to make the big decisions like where to invest their money, when to sell the house, from whom to purchase car insurance. All I had to do was be young and not worry about such things.

Which is why I find it so shocking that these roles are being played by people who not only resemble me… but who are YOUNGER than me! Near as I can tell, this problem is only going to get worse. TV people stay the same age forever. But I will keep on pulling away and pulling away. One day I suppose the women in the osteoporosis / arthritis / adult diaper commercials will look younger than me. Perhaps by then I won’t be quite as shocked. That or I’ll be too tired to care.

I guess it’s true what they say about staying 18 forever… in our own minds. And that’s probably a really good thing. Because no matter the number of candles on the cake or lines in the mirror we should always be too young to see ourselves and our contemporaries actually acting our age.

Advertisements

Ted and The Willful Suspension of Disbelief

Willful Suspension of Disbelief: The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.

Let’s face it. Books and movies would be complete and utter snoozefests were it not for this handy little creative device. We’ve grown so accustomed to it in fact, that much of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It begins when we’re children and books ripe with fire-breathing Dragons, wicked queens, sleeping princesses and frogs that turn into princes fill our bookshelves and imaginations. We come to accept early on that it is completely possible and even probable that a hungry monster actually lives beneath the bed or inhabits the closet.

As we grow and develop the ability to reason, we learn that these characters were simply the tenants of fairytales, recounted to us for the sole purposes of entertainment and moral direction. For the most part, we accept that our parents and teachers lied to us for years about talking animals and humans with supernatural powers. However, armed with this new and heartbreaking wisdom, we also realize that life just isn’t quite as fun without the world of imagination.

Therefore, we begin to exercise a willful acceptance of many things that are unlikely, unrealistic or downright impossible. Vampires creeping through our windows at night, space aliens attempting to invade earth or the notion that Tom Cruise really CAN act all become quite plausible if we want badly enough for them to be so. But as stated at the beginning of this post, oftentimes we exercise the willful suspension of disbelief with such regularity, we have a tendency to forget when we’re actually doing it.

Take the movie Ted for example. For those unfamiliar, Ted is a 2012 American comedy about a young boy, John Bennett, who wanted nothing more than for his beloved teddy bear, Ted, to come to life. Incredibly, his wish is granted. But once John is all grown up, his boyhood dream becomes a nightmarish nuisance.

OK… so cute premise, right? I thought so. And I bugged Lee about going to see it forever. He eventually agreed and off we went to the theater to settle in for a couple of hours of (hopefully) laughter at the ridiculously implausible story of an all-grown-up talking teddy bear. Except that about 30 minutes in I realized that something was really bothering me about this movie and thus interfering with my enjoyment of it.

It is revealed that John—who lives in Boston—is employed at a rental car facility and barely scraping by on his meager $38,000 a year salary and yet, has an amazing apartment right downtown. I found myself agonizing over the “realism” of Ted’s owner affording such a beautiful brownstone (did I mention that it was in Boston?) decorated with the latest trends from Ethan Allen and Pier One.

It bugged me so much, in fact, that I decided when the movie was over, to complain to Lee about how unrealistic I felt that particular part of the story was. To which he slowly and calmly replied: “Yes, Joanna, I agree. That is an unsettling and unrealistic aspect of the movie… <LONG PAUSE FOR EFFECT> … because the idea of a real, live talking teddy bear is totally realistic.”

Responsible Non-Parenting?

Biologically speaking I’ve not been dealt the winningest hand when it comes to reproduction. I’ve known for many years that children are most likely not in the cards for me. And even though it has, at times, been a bitter pill to swallow… I’m coming to terms with it as time goes by.

I’ve begun to think of myself as a non-parent, both now and for always. So it caught me by surprise to be recently asked by my physician whether or not I plan to have children anytime soon. Looking ahead to a wedding and a marriage, I suppose it was a perfectly reasonable question to answer.

But before I answered his question, I asked one of my own. “Look. I am staring straight down the barrel of 38.” I said very matter-of-factly as though he wasn’t already aware of my “advanced age” as he sat there staring at my crow’s feet with my chart and entire medical history in his lap. “At what age does it become irresponsible for me to have a child, Doc? How old is too old?”

He looked at me, slightly taken aback by my inquiry. After a brief, awkward pause he launched into a mini-sermon about how many “less than ideal” mothers are out there raising children. Some of which are very young, very immature or who lack the proper resources to care for a child. And if I am even questioning my age as a potential concern — then I am exactly the type of “responsible” person who should be having children if I wished to do so.

But you see that’s just it. I’m not sure whether or not I “wish to do so.” Biology aside, I’ve considered myself a non-parent for so long that I’ve become rather attached to the lifestyle. You know the one. It includes (but is not limited to) sleeping in, watching what I want on TV, eating meals that are not square, taking trips whenever and wherever I want to and having exorbitant amounts of “ME” time during which to ponder potential world domination.

I have watched as my friends disappear—one after the next—into the matrix of motherhood. I stand at the edge watching them dissolve into the mystical world of two a.m. feedings, car seats, play dates, Sippy cups, Cheerio containers, sleep deprivation and constant sitter hunting. And it scares the crap out of me.

My mother (along with just about everyone else) tells me that it is different when it’s your own and I’m sure that it is. But perhaps it is not only more “responsible” of me, but truly best for all concerned parties if I were to stay right where I am—on the outside of the Mommy Matrix—wrapped up in my down comforter with the remote, some travel guides and a really, really good bottle of wine.

Getting Dirty. Coming Clean.

With spring officially in the air, it simply cannot be avoided and as middle-class home owners there is no one around to do it but you. If it doesn’t get done, the neighbors will inevitably complain and start to hate you. The arduous, unavoidable task to which I am referring is springtime yard work. Pulling weeds, raking flower beds, planting, mowing and mulching. And no, I didn’t actually DO all of those things. I just helped out. A little. But somehow I find merely thinking and writing about it to be exhausting.

It is back-breaking, blister-inducing manual labor and if you don’t count housework like washing, scrubbing, sweeping, straightening and polishing — then I don’t do manual labor. It’s not that I think I’m above it. I’m just naturally lazy. Lazy and particularly fond of staying clean, pressed and relatively well-dressed. Yet even as I type this, a red, watery blister is pushing it’s way up through my irritated, over-worked thumb. Undisputable, irrefutable evidence of actual, physical work.

My dad has run his own landscaping business since I was young. Naturally, when my sister and I were big enough to operate push or riding mowers and other types of lawn equipment, Dad tried to put us able-bodied youths to work for him. My sister took to it right away and did this sort of work willingly… mowing, trimming, planting, weeding and the like. But to me, all of it seemed like a lot of hard work. Hard. Dirty. Work. I watched them come home day after hot, steamy, summer day drenched in sweat and coated with bits of grass, mulch, mud and the occasional outbreak of poison ivy. And I decided—rather quickly—Ummm… No. I don’t think so. Not for me.

I could usually be found at one of two places during the months of June, July and August. They were the Dairy Queen and the community pool. Therefore, upon turning 15, it made total and complete sense that I should—by any and all means necessary—work to secure summertime employment at these two fine establishments. So… while attending lifeguard training at the Y, I was getting paid to perfect the signature DQ curl atop cones, sundaes and banana splits. And I couldn’t have been happier.

Apparently, my ambition to perpetuate pleasure and never really break a sweat actually paid off! I was earning real money while working on my tan, sneeking bites from occasional Oreo Blizzard “mistakes” and talking to my friends. Everything worked out wonderfully as long as no one drowned and everyone received the correct amount of change with their Peanut Buster Parfait. Near as I could tell it was a win-win situation.

Sadly, I couldn’t stay a teenager forever. I managed to dodge the “dirty bullet” for awhile with my creative and fun-in-the-sun-vacational vocations but eventually the real world beckoned and I had to answer the call. I may have chosen a career that keeps me clean and seated behind a desk all day but that no longer negates the fact that NOW the yard is THERE. Waiting. And growing. Silently. Planning my Sunday afternoons for me for the rest of my foreseeable, capable existence. And my sister—with the green thumb she apparently inherited—certainly is not going to come and mow it, rake it, spray it, seed it or weed it for me.

Elf on the Shelf

For as long as I can remember I have been afraid of clowns, puppets, marionettes, ventriloquist dummies and even claymation. I’m not sure why. Nothing traumatic happened when I was a child that caused this unusual phobia (that I know of). But nevertheless it is there. If I see any of those things on TV or out in the world… I freak out, avert my eyes or flee the scene as soon as possible. I am also unreasonably fearful of nutcrackers. I think they are the creepiest things on the planet next to spiders and Donald Trump. So as one might imagine, Christmas can be a little unsettling for me what with all those larger-than-life wooden figurines standing around the stores, people’s homes and showing up unannounced in Target commercials, etc, etc. just waiting to spring to life when everyone is asleep.

Enter “Elf on the Shelf”… created for parents to use as a “fun” tool to curb the naughty behavior of their offspring this time of year when the kiddos are running rampant all hopped up on candy canes and such.

To see the official “Elf on the Shelf” commercial, click here. 

The idea is that Santa has sent his very special, magical elf to the child’s house to watch their every move and report back each night when the children are asleep (you know, with the visions of the sugar plums and all that crap) to the North Pole whether the child has been naughty or nice. And every night the parents “move” the Elf to another location in the house so that the notion of him being real persists in the child’s imagination.

Is it just me (and my unnatural fear of inanimate-objects-come-to-life projected onto this “toy elf” sitting on a shelf in the house… watching your every move) or does this totally creep the hell out of anyone else? I mean, I shudder even as I type these words.

My friend Jan is using the “Elf” and has been kind enough to send me some pictures of him in her house. I will let you judge the creepiness-factor for yourself…

The "Elf" warming his little frostbitten buns on the toaster.

And while I happen to think that any toy of this nature could be considered cruel and unusual punishment for a child, apparently the kids don’t seem to mind it too much. Some of them actually enjoy it… like Brady, Jan’s son.

There is another breed of the “Elf on the Shelf” idea in a cuter, cuddlier character named Christopher Pop-in-kins. I learned of him when our marketing director, Gina, talked about her and her husband’s nightly adventures placing Christopher around the house. And yet, for every story she shared about the creative places Christopher had “popped up”… there was a hilarious story to match of her children, Dominick and Giavonna, being more than a little freaked about him and his magic, come-to-life abilities.

Christopher Pop-in-kins

To each his own, I suppose. I just know that had the “Elf on the Shelf” existed during my childhood years… I’d probably be on a therapy couch somewhere, muttering about magical elves… and obsessing over whether or not I’d been naughty or nice.

C'mon... this IS creepy, right?

Fun with Words: Cafegymatorium

It seems that a new cost and space-saving trend has developed in school buildings, and it is called the “Multi-Purpose Room.” This space is usually part auditorium, part cafeteria. It is used for gatherings such as concerts and plays, as well as serving as the lunch room for the kids during the day. The “proper” name for such a room is “Auditeria” or “Cafetorium.” And my former middle school and high school now have one of these rooms in each building.

So popular is this trend in modern scholastic-architecture that it was recently mentioned on an episode of The Simpsons. Lisa Simpson was differentiating a “good” school and a “bad” school, by whether or not the facility had separate auditoriums and cafeterias. She excitedly exclaimed of her new (better) school: “… And the cafeteria and auditorium are actually in separate rooms!!!”

With a mother and father both employed by the schools and six nieces and nephews in the system, I love to tease them about this current Cafegymatorium-Craze. (Technically cafegymatorium is not the correct terminology, but I like to call it “cafegymatorium” because it sounds funnier to me and it annoys them).

In an exchange with my mom this past summer, I had some fun with word-play that prompted a few more potential names for such Multi-Purpose Rooms. How about: Cafegymatoriumeria? Or Cafegymetoriasium? Or Audigymaterianasium?

When my mother finally got fed up with my non-stop harrassment she said: “STOP the madness! I agree that this has gotten totally out of hand! We do have a cafetorium. OR an auditeria, depending on which you think is more important: eating or performing. I know some kids who definitely perform while they are eating. It is amazing to behold.”

My mom’s plea for me to stop led me to wonder (aloud of course): What do you call a kid who performs while he or she is eating? Would they be considered an Eator? Or maybe a Thesbavore? Or perhaps, my personal favorite: a Fooctor?

As of this writing, I have received no official answer on the matter.

Laminating Sarah

Like a lioness waiting in the tall grass for her prey, I swear they could smell the fear. I walked through the door and 10 pairs of eyes stared up at me from their seats. How bad can this be? I thought to myself. They look harmless enough.

Sitting there quietly around a circular table playing with Play-Doh, the 10, two and three year olds seemed content and well behaved. I’m not sure what I expected… I think something resembling pure pandemonium, but much to my surprise, they were sitting still. I spoke with one of the other teachers. She gave me some instructions on what worked and what didn’t. She told me some ways in which to prevent all hell from breaking loose—which I really appreciated. And then, she closed the door behind her and headed toward the sanctuary.

OK. I’m alone with 10 kiddlets. TEN. That’s… A LOT. I take a deep breath. And I am alone with them for over an hour. An even deeper breath. Exhale. “Hi kids! My name is Joanna and we are going to have some fun! We’re gonna play, listen to some music, then hear a bible story, and play some more! Doesn’t that sound like fun!?!” They’re just blinking at me. WHY are they just BLINKING at me? Isn’t anyone excited?

Frantically, I rummage through the papers I’ve been given. I am supposed to tell these little ones the story of Abraham and Sarah. “Who wants to hear a bible story?” I say with as much excitement as I can muster while thrusting my hand up into the air, hoping desperately that they’ll catch my enthusiasm and do the same. More blinking. Not a single hand goes in the air. OK, now I’m positive they can sense my terror.

Let me just take a moment here to interject that I am not very good with kids. I don’t have kids. I don’t watch other people’s kids. I’m never around kids, save for nieces and nephews. And they don’t count because they have to love you no matter what… that or you can usually just buy their affection with candy & video games and stuff. So when I was asked to teach the 2s and 3s class during the church service every 3rd Sunday of the month and actually agreed to it… I really had no idea what I was in for. OK… back to the story…

“So NO ONE wants to hear a bible story!?” I try for a second time to get them excited about this. However, one by one I watch the children get up from the table and just… wander off. Where are they going? I ask myself. What are they doing? I am dumbfounded at the fact that they are TOTALLY IGNORING me. Initially I try gathering them back to the table but soon realize that this, like herding cats, is a totally useless endeavor.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear one girl whine from a far corner of the room. She is pulling blocks off of the shelves. Another child starts putting plastic grapes on a toy plate and waddles over to a… MICROWAVE? Surely it isn’t plugged in. Surely it is there for preparing snacks or food during the regular school week. Surely he can’t reach… Oh @#$%! It IS real, it IS plugged in and he CAN reach it because he is now microwaving plastic grapes!

“OK, Jeffrey, we aren’t going to PLAY with the microwave. That isn’t safe.” I hear myself say as I take him by the shoulders, remove the plastic grapes from the appliance (thank God they aren’t on fire) and redirect his attention elsewhere.

Mercifully, my sister enters the room then. She is in charge of the church nursery, plus is raising 7 children of her own, so any advice I can get from her at this point would be welcome and appreciated.
“How’s it going?” she asks. “Ummm… good… ummm… (my eyes are darting around the room peeled for inevitable disaster) they… uh… don’t seem to want to listen to me…” My voice trails off as I take MORE things away from Jeffrey who seems to only be interested in contraband.

My sister recommends that I try counting down from 10 minutes to Bible Story Time. Let them know that in 10 minutes we are going to put the toys away, come back to the table and listen to a story, and then go to 5 minutes, 3 minutes, etc. until it is time. This, she says, prepares them for what is to come and therefore it doesn’t become a big “issue” when it’s time for the story. I don’t see how that is going to work any better, but I’ve got nothing to lose. Meanwhile, she offers to bring down some snacks for the kids to have later. And she leaves.

I do the countdown thing, announcing every few minutes how much time we have left just as she suggested. I have no idea if it is working, but we’ll find out. I also turn on some music hoping it will calm me down and lighten the mood.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear the same girl cry out from a different corner of the room. What do these kids have rockets on their butts? How are they moving around so quickly without my noticing?

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! Another girl yells out. What a sweet little angel. 



“6 minutes! In 6 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. By now, my teenage nephew has joined me… much to my relief. My sister, sensing my panic, has sent in reinforcements! God Bless her!! It is another set of eyes, ears and hands to help me corral these little ones for story time.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out again from the toy kitchen.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My precious little angel answers back.


“4 minutes! In 4 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. My nephew informs me that it has been much longer than 2 minutes since the last time I reminded them of the countdown. “What does it matter Cameron… they don’t know the difference! Just so long as the number keeps getting smaller!” I hissed at him through a plastic smile. And Cameron just shrugs while helping 2 little guys make baseballs out of Play-Doh.

“Nuh-uh!” A boy says to me… “I know it’s been longer than that!” And I think to myself: Since when does a 3 year old know how to SUBTRACT!?!

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out from inside of a bookshelf.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My darling, adorable, peaceful angel answers back.

Since the one little boy is onto my “fudging the numbers” with the countdown thing, I point to my watch and say: “When the BIG hand is on the 12, we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” And he comes over and grabs my wrist, examining my watch to see just how long it is going to be.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY. She says a little quieter now while standing right beside me.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My giving-me-hope-and-keeping-me-sane angel answers back.

“OK! It’s time! Cleanup, cleanup everybody do your share…” I sing the song as I gather up Play-Doh and blocks and plastic food. Cameron makes quick work of the cleanup too and surprisingly the children are joining in! It’s working!!! “Time to come sit down at the table now everybody! We’re going to hear a story about Abraham and his wife Sarah!” I practically sing as the children are miraculously doing what I’ve asked! The countdown worked!! It actually worked! And even my little Bible-Story-Protestor is magically seated at the table. I turn off the music.

I’ve been given a packet of materials for story time which includes the story (of course), some worksheets and several large, paper cut-outs of the biblical characters and their props in order to “act out” the story for them with visual aids. I begin telling the story by showing Abraham first. I talk about Abraham and then give him to one of the children to hold. I figure this will keep them interested if they get to interact with the teaching tools rather than just sitting there empty-handed. 



They seem to like holding the paper characters and they even raise their hands to be the next child to receive one to hold. However, they won’t simply HOLD the paper cut-outs like I’ve shown them. Instead, as I work my way through the telling of the story, I see that Abraham is standing on his head, the shepherds and their sheep have gone missing and Sarah is crumpled into a ball. So much for that idea.

Something I want to mention here that I have observed over the years is that young children who have been exposed to church and Sunday school have 2 standard answers that they will give NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS. They are (in this order): “God” and “Jesus.” Every time. No matter the question. So if I ask them: “Kids, what does it mean to make a promise?” The answer will always be: God! And when I hesitate and say: “Noooo… try again…” Then the answer will be: “Jesus!” And they seem NOT to answer with anything else until they get a bit older.

Of course this case is no exception. Every question I asked them during the story, the answers they gave were always: God and Jesus. And that, folks, concludes the question and answer portion of our time together. After what has seemed like an hour (though I know by my watch it has only been 10 minutes) I reach the end of the story. I think we are all relieved. I pass out the worksheets and TRY to help them fill them out. I figure I have GOT to send these kids home with something to show for their time spent in here. We haul out the crayons and no sooner do I attempt to tackle the first illustrated question… I notice that they have ALL scribbled ALL OVER THEIR PAPERS.

It’s time for potty-breaks and snacks.

Potty-breaks and snack time go over rather smoothly save for the boy who is “helping” pass out the animal crackers by giving everyone else 3 a piece while stuffing 6 more into his mouth each time. That and there was the little girl who wanted so badly to be helpful by giving everyone a paper towel for their crackers… that she eventually pulled ALL of the paper towels out of the dispenser and onto the floor one at a time.

So with one crumpled Sarah… a paper-towel, crayon, worksheet and Play-Doh scrap strewn floor… A boy running around with a death-grip on the animal cracker box… A table covered in crayon marks and cookie crumbs… And three kids arguing over a plate of microwaved plastic grapes… The first parents arrive to retrieve their children. I have no idea what the expression on my face must have been, but it could not have been one of a confident, competent and comfortable child-care provider.

And as each parent left with their child in hand, one by one they asked me: “So how did it go? How was <insert name of child here> today?” their anxious faces desperately searching mine for the truth. And straightening my sweater, I answered each parent by replying: “Oh. It went just great. <said child> was such a good little helper and a good little listener. They played nicely with the others and they picked up their toys when I asked.” In other words… I totally lied. Yeah. I broke one of the commandments. BUT, the relieved parents then smiled and happily walked out the door with their children.

And it was then that I thought to myself: You know… actually… it went just great. The kids were pretty good little helpers and good little listeners (for a few minutes anyway). They played nicely with each other and they picked up their toys when I asked. And a month from now, when I do this again… I probably won’t change a single thing… except for maybe laminating Sarah.