Saturday, September 27, 2008

mothers without borders

My previous post, about my declining health, while rich in detail and ripe with candor, barely elicited a nickel's worth of sympathy (read: comments) from you unfeeling bastards, so I hesitate to post again. However, having just survived an apocalypse of sorts, I couldn't suppress my primal need to scrawl my story along the cave walls for everyone to see.

Last week my mom forwarded an email from Borders advertising a kid party this Saturday (today), apparently to celebrate the new children's area. Immediately my stomach began churning, for joining inane revelry in large groups of strangers is pretty much a little slice of hell as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately I have unwittingly passed this discomfort along to my kids, whom you will never find sitting Indian-style on a carpet with thirty other kids singing "If You're Happy and You Know It." Thus, I was quite surprised when Reilly asked if we could go. My initial response was to try and appeal to her judgmental side and tell her that it was going to be totally lame. She would have believed me. Alas, I have recently embarked upon a mission to reclaim some of the innocence my kids have lost due to my loud, cynical, and incessant views on life in general. Compounding the pressure in this particular case was the fact that I knew my mom would ask later if we had gone. While she is a truly amazing mother, grandmother, human being, and Democrat, she harbors a bit of doubt about my kids' education. Like many of us, she constantly applies a public school standard to what we're doing, and always calculates that my kids are coming up just a tad short, which she puts as nicely as possible. All in all, I knew I was destined for the "exciting games and prizes" today.

The celebration only ran from 2-4pm, so of course I was reminded of this at 2:13 while checking my email, dripping wet from a shower. All I wanted in the world today was to stretch out in comfy pants and finish my book, but my internal moral compass (mine's a miniature, which I'm sure surprises no one) led me to ask Reilly if she still wanted to go. I clung to the hope that just the magnanimous act of asking would be rewarded karmically, and that she would say no. So, I flinched a little when she said she did. Quinn was with Todd, and opted out, so I was left to slap on a little makeup and the aforementioned comfy pants, and make my daughter's day.

(By the way, one of the ways in which Murphy's Law applies to my particular life is that if I go to Borders in yoga pants, flip flops, unpainted toenails, and my hair half wet, the laws of nature guarantee that I will see one, if not all, of my mortal enemies. And I have more than you may think. So today's outfit redemption was my custom-made Obama shirt. My enemies are all Republicans, and they are all a great deal less intelligent than I, so I decided to flaunt my Democratic pride, and hope no one saw my toenails.)

Okay okay so Reilly and I made our way through Borders, anticipating a gleeful swarm of kids, moving from one age-appropriate activity to another (as promised in the email). What we saw, however, were twenty very young children seated on the floor singing a song about a lima bean. There was some sort of pun, like, "Where oh where has that lima been." I literally had to use my hand to wipe the scowl off my face, and then I looked down at Rei, hoping I'd succeeded in conjuring up an excited look. But, I could see instantly that Reilly was doing the exact same thing. So we stood, like wallflowers at a school dance (which my kids will never attend, take THAT Mom!), trying to figure out what to do. She would sooner have stripped naked than squeeze in amongst the gaggle of five year olds on the floor, to sing a song she doesn't know. (What can I say? Raffi didn't do the lima bean song.) Telepathically I knew that the whole scene was embarrassing for Reilly, and that we were both noting the disparity between the vibrant email, and what we saw before us. Just when we were beginning to slink away, the adult leading the singing announced that it was time for the scavenger hunt. Okay now this was promising. We took one of the sheets, gave it a quick glance, and scurried towards our first challenge. The paper asked who the Democratic Presidential candidate is, and instructed us to find a book about him, and to write the title and author's name. Easy enough. Reilly said, rather audibly, "That's easy, Barack Obama!" Oh the pride. The second question was about the Republican candidate, which Reilly also knows, so we were really cooking. It was a little troubling that the space in between each instruction was a little over a millimeter, so we started getting frustrated. My way of expressing frustration is to criticize my daughter's handwriting, and to shrink in pain, certain that everyone in Borders can see that she still begins a few of her letters from the bottom. The bottom! (Gasp! Maybe Mom is RIGHT!) Shortly thereafter we realized that our problems had only just begun, for squeezing letters into a space like this = for a child who is accustomed to regular lined paper, is nothing compared to the mind-numbing obscurity of the rest of the questions. Now, we love love love Borders, and we go there all the time. When we entered the other day, to pick out Todd's birthday presents, Quinn and Reilly knew exactly where to go. But today, after our initial rush of confidence, Rei and I were struck by the subsequent challenges. I mean, perhaps we haven't acquainted ourselves thoroughly enough with Borders' vast sea of titles, but how the hell am I supposed to find the sixth book written by the half brother of Lithuania's most popular author, let alone Reilly? When asked to find a "HISTORY" book "ALL ABOUT" your favorite state, Rei and I were nearly driven into comas scouring shelf after sodding shelf looking for anything about California. (Little traitor, ain't she?) Finally I blurted out, "What about the fucking gold rush?" Just when I was about to enlist in Al Qaida out of desperation, we saw a book about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Reilly's hands literally shook as she wrote, some from the top, some from the bottom. The best I could not to harass her was to sigh a lot and bite my lip until it bled. Next up we had to find a book about our favorite sport. Conveniently, the 3'x10' sign that said "Sports & Leisure" actually leads you to the health and wellness aisle. My sweet determined girl and I sifted through approximately 615 books on everything from cancer to diabetes to macrobiotic diets, before we realized their error. Then, once we found the sports aisle, we were dismayed that there was nothing about track. So Rei said how about cheerleading? Nada. Swimming? Zilch. In fact the only sports recognized by Borders at all are football, baseball, basketball, and golf. Luckily, we found a stowaway about bowling, which Rei has done. Must have been some errant Waldenbooks return...

We were sweating profusely, and swearing like sailors (well, one of us was). These questions were so confounding as to almost make my pituitary gland explode. Were all the other kids using this same list? Where were their parents? Did we accidentally get the MENSA scavenger hunt sheet? Find a book "ALL ABOUT" the ninth deepest fault line in Japan. So immersed were we in our quest for an excerpt from page 455 of the book written by the scientist who split the quark the second to the last time, that we actually began hyperventilating when we read the next question: Find a CD featuring three brothers. OMG. Could it be? We looked at each other. "The Jonas Brothers, right?" We said it aloud. We reread the sheet to make sure they weren't asking for their producer's blood type. Nope, just the Jonas Brothers. Reilly nearly collapsed from the lack of complexity of this question. Finally, we hunted down a Disney DVD about some sort of camp, and we were done. Ragged, limping, husks of ourselves, we returned to the children's area, which had become a ghost town. We found one of the employees who had sung the lima bean song, and we flung ourselves at her feet, as though we had just crossed the desert and she had the canteen. Her face lit up, she grabbed our sheet with gusto, and as marched over to what was, presumably, the prize shelf. She readily stuffed something into Reilly's hand, and as we walked away, blinking our eyes back into focus, we saw that in this demented, mind-altering game, Borders had bested us. For all our hard work, for all our valor and determination, we received a leaflet with a cupcake recipe on it. Seeing that Reilly was also dialing the recruiting officer for Al Qaida, I remembered the "free beverage and free cookie," and steered my shell-shocked daughter to the cafe. After watching a stream of about nine kids walk away with drinks, I asked confidently, "Hi, is this where they're handing out the refreshments for the kids' party?" Not even looking up, the employee said, "Oh, um, actually, the deal was that if you bought a large drink, you got a small one free." It was as though we had survived a war and then missed our ride home. I clutched her tiny, cramped-from-all-the-writing hand, and we left in silence. Everything we had been through (like kneeling in spilled chai to write down an answer), more tedium than a year at Harvard Law School, my baby's blistered fingers. For what? A recipe? I am so pissed. Never again will I stifle my lack of enthusiasm for these lima-bean-sing-a-long festivities, attended by children who look like they're auditioning to appear on an episode of Barney. I will wear my scorn proudly, along with my Obama shirt, and I will forevermore drill it into my kids that it is imperative to see the prize before you accept the challenge. And we'll try not to bake any dynamite into those motherfucking cupcakes.

8 comments:

B Kinch said...

It was a piece of cupcake junk mail. I love this post!

Jacob Blankenship said...

One semester at CAL I needed an extra unit and decided to take a sure to be ridiculously easy course entitled "Library Research" which sounded like a breeze. Oh Jacob, silly, silly, silly Jacob. As it turned out, it was six hours a week of twenty paged worksheet hunts just like that one, only much, much harder, all in the third largest library in the country (behind Harvard and the Library of Congress). It was hell. HELL I tell you.

And, on another random note, in elementary school, our principals last name was Lima. And for like six months one year, on the playground, spray painted across the hand ball wall in bright blue paint, were the words "Lima Been." Proof positive that public schools rob their students of even a basic understanding of rudimentary vandalism.

THE PHONES said...

Great post :)

My dog lima ran away...
He came back the very next day...
I asked lima where he'd been...
where, oh where, had lima been?
lima been...lima been...where, oh where, had lima been?
lima been...lima been...where, oh where, had lima been?

gabrielle said...

hahahah! yeah, humor brings 'em out in hoards! i love that you too have a moral compass that came out of a cracker jacks box. ours must be identical! ;)

mental chatter said...

That sucks! I bet it is one of those things that you will both laugh about for years to come, however.

Hennifer said...

Hey now! I had mucho sympathy for your WMD post. I was shocked and horrified to find out you have been so ill and I had not heard a peep, AND you have dealt with the hospital AND you are still sick and now THIS!!!

Damn Borders all to hell!

Love the post!

Cheyenne said...

Karen--Laugh? Um, not quite. First Reilly asked if we could burn Borders down, but she settled for a boycott.

gail said...

thanks for giving us reading enjoyment at the expense of your suffering! i love all the obscure research examples...good job for enduring it all.