Monday, May 18, 2009

"Kids are the best kind of birth control."

Well my dears, as in accordance with the academic calendar it is officially summertime. Hallelujah-praise-Jesus. I had my last final on Thursday, turned in a hellofa of a lit review on Monday, and spent the rest of last week fretting over three yet-to-be-written freelance articles. BUT. Now It Is Finished, all is complete, and I am well pleased.

However, my relief is stifled somewhat by a new looming Stress Monster: le summer job. For those of you gainfully/professionally employed, the race for summer break employment is a mere memory…one you don’t altogether miss, though part of you does thinks “dammit, where the hell is MY summer vacation? Effing bastard college folk and their summertime gallivanting!” But don’t be jel, my comrades. This ain’t the year to find steady-non-icky-and/or-demeaning temporary employment, and I should know. I’d been searching for what seemed like eons, only to decide that yes, the entire Earth is gone to pot and I’ll be a homeless vagabond come fall. (And I wasn’t kidding about the icky/demeaning job openings…icky=cleaning stalls at some mini-zoo in Moore, and demeaning=sales clerk at Christie’s Toybox. Both are real jobs I discovered, then promptly said hellllllllstotheno and moved onward with my Craigslist perusing. I’ll live on the street before I’ll shovel elephant poop or sell vibrators. My humbleness goes only so far.)

But after reconsidering selling my Life Fluid (aka blood plasma) so as to pay rent/eat this summer, my countless hours of obsessive Craigslisting finally paid off; I now have a cozy little position at a local area church. I’ll be assisting with their summer camp program, and I’ll specifically care for the 2 and 3-year-olds. Mission accomplished, crisis evaded.


I am now fighting a plague of apprehension bubbling in the pit of my stomach…as the day of reckoning looms nigh and I’m faced with actually going to this church and manning a Universe of Toddlers, the sense of sweet preciousness associated with childcare is fastly waning. I can no longer cling to the mental image of rocking quiet, adoring baby-chillens while singing “Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird” and feeling triumphantly maternal…now I must comprehend the actual reality of my self-imposed summer sentence, and I’m not quite as keen on it as I was on my fictitious Baby Land.

Now don’t get me wrong here...I like kids. I do. And I’m told I’m good with them, though I can’t imagine anyone would ever say otherwise. I’ve successfully cared for children through art camps and swimming pools and games of Red Rover, and not a single one has expired on my watch. So that’s good, and 10 points for me.

But yesterday I spent the afternoon with two arguably adorable toddler-relatives, and instead of bolstering my love of youngens it very nearly shattered my belief in the point of human reproduction altogether. If you think I’m joking, you would be wrong. And as I pondered my existential crisis brought on by mere mini-people, the magnitude of my commitment to this church congregation and its offspring hit me like a brick wall…or maybe a great big wall of dirty diapers. I think that’d be worse.

(I’ll preface this story by saying these children are delightful, because indeed they are. They have awesomely good genetics; plus, when you’re 2 or 4 years old and have the blonde/blue eye combo, all you have to do is smile and the world melts at your tiny feet. It’s science. And these kids are good, too…not angels by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not like that kid on The Omen or anything.)

So. I knew this day of kid-caring was coming, as Sister was homeward bound and thus the entire family need convene and say “yep…Rachel’s still skinny and un-pregnant.” (My relatives don’t understand life without husbands and babies. You can therefore imagine how pleased they are with me.) But despite eminent criticism of my utter failure in snagging a manfriend with viable swimmers, I was looking forward to the day. I do enjoy family togetherness (call me a masochist), plus I viewed it as practice for my upcoming role as Mother Goose/Best Childcare Provider in All the Land.

And practice it was.

First, child 1 (we’ll call her “Ella”) wanted me to put on her tennis shoes for her. “So I can run around,” she says. So I put on her tennis shoes…they’re rainbow, and we have a good chat about colors and how green is better than yellow and what have you. All is well.

Then, not 5 minutes later, Ella tells me she’d like to take off her tennis shoes. “Why?” I ask patiently. “I thought you wanted to run around.” She ponders this, decides it doesn’t necessitate an answer, and continues to insist I help her take off the tennis shoes. Now Ella is four, and therefore capable of some logical reasoning. I reiterate that she can’t run around if I take off her tennis shoes…her other pair are flip-flops, and I explain that flip-flops aren’t good for playtime. Ella tilts her head. She’s irritated, and her fascination with our dialogue is clearly subsiding. I can see a hissy fit festering behind her eyes, and just as I prepare to be yelled at the “lunch is ready!” announcement is made. Ella immediately forgets the shoe debacle, grabs my hand and says “help me get food!” I agree with little hesitation; sure she’s a bit tiring, but at least the kid can be distracted.

The rest of the afternoon was a haze of confrontation; Ella would do something and I’d say “no,” then she’d try it another way and I’d say, “still NO, Ella.” Then she’d want to do something on her own (I received several Stuart-esque LEMME DO IT’s yesterday), and I’d then wrestle mentally with whether or not to let her. Namely, she very much wanted to tote about her own plate of food. Not a difficult task for someone her age, but we were dealing with paper cutlery and Ella is pretty ADHD. But after several moments of mental debate, I decided to let her. And then there were baked beans all over the floor.

Now as I said, there were two tiny tots at this particular gathering. The other, Ella’s younger but equally formidable brother, is 2 years old and about as cute as a lil bug. Like a lil rolly polly or something…or whatever other bug is widely thought of as cute. “Braden” spent most of the day with Sister, being hauled around from swing-set to jungle gym to picnic table to wiffle ball game. He was very good for the most part- a little mopey perhaps, but he’s two and thus allowed to be in a constant state of moodiness. There is such truth to the term “terrible two’s.” But my point is he wasn’t terrible…he latched onto Sister and stayed peaceful most of the day, save for a few dramatic “ELLA MADE ME FALL DOWN” incidents that were quickly appeased with brightly colored Bocci balls. But despite Braden’s generally good behavior for her, I watched as Sister withered from exhaustion in a matter of 4 hours. She was a trooper, for sure…she enjoyed Braden’s affection, and the fact that he kept coming back to her reassured her innate need to be maternally capable. But she was visibly worn by the attention, and at day’s end she collapsed facedown on my parent's couch and started begging all who had ears to hear for neck rubs and pain pills.

The day was trying for both of us; we still enjoyed the family camaraderie (and I only got berated for being unwed on three occasions, which absolutely is a record), but by the time we’d handed Ella and Braden back to their parents we wanted nothing more than to have our tubes tied in double- make that triple- knots.

But actually and tragically, I don’t think that’s entirely true. Yes, Sister was almost mentally and physically defeated by a two-year-old yesterday, but I think if I asked her now she’d say she really liked her Day as Mommy (and I would ask her now, but she’s off having dinner at The Bistro in Tulsa. See, Sister? I listen). In fact, I bet she’d say it made her want to pop out some babies ASAP…a revelation that would have both her husband and my grandma in tears, but for very different reasons. So the saddest thing in all this is that I, the Professional Childcare/Diaper-Changer To Be, am now legitimately concerned for my psychological stability following 3 months in Little People Land.

I’ll do it, of course…and I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it, once the FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THE ANSWER IS STILL NO mental screaming subsides. I’ll probably even enjoy it after a bit, though I know I’ll quickly tire of 3-year-old miscreant boys who STILL can’t find their ways to a toilet. Seriously, what is wrong with mini-menfolk that they can’t figure that out? What are Freud’s thoughts on that one?

But no matter how this new venture in employment unfolds, I can almost guarantee it won’t have the same affect on me as one afternoon with Braden had on Sister. I’m just not the kind of girl who holds a baby and begins to spontaneously ovulate. If anything, I’m the girl who holds a baby and thinks WHY GOD WHY DO PEOPLE EVER HAVE SEX? Yesterday my aunt said to Sister and me “kids are the best kind of birth control, ehh?” I may have been the only one nodding, but I did so vigorously enough for the both of us.

Ahh well, this’ll be good for me and my patience (or lack thereof). I need a break from academic nonsense, and I do like watching young minds tick and think and grow. Plus, there is naptime…and before you sass me YES I KNOW it’s not a naptime for me. But it does mean they’ll be still for at least one hour each day, and as long as I have a moment or two of quiet I think I’ll be able to endure the 7 subsequent hours of chaos. Here’s hoping, at least.

So if you see me in August with my hair gray and my eyes bloodshot and my expression crazed, you’ll know without question that I’ve successfully completed one summer in the Universe of Toddlers. And if that’s the case, serious congratulations will be in order. So gimme a smile and buy me a drink (because God knows I’ll need it), and ask me what’s next on my list of things to do. Chances are I’ll say "join a nunnery" or some nonsense, just to assure you I didn’t cave and catch Baby Fever from the nursery. (There's a decent chance I'll have caught lice, however; a possibility I’ve been warned about and am none too excited to see fulfilled.)

Then I’ll probably head off for the gym, no doubt to do some crunches and planks and such. Because after 3 months of childcare, I’ll want to celebrate the awesomeness that is my un-pregnant, un-saggy, un-withered-by-chillens body. And the best part of an untainted-by-babies frame are one's abs, so I’ll work extra hard to keep those toned and trim.

After all, one of the greatest things about not being a mother is the ability to have a flat tummy…and after this summer, I’ve got a feeling my tummy will remain very flat for a very long time.

Much love.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Empty Promises of Patrick Swayze's Hips

NOTE: The following is a piece I wrote for class, but in the spirit of posting something to the ol' blog during this frenzied finals week I thought I'd share it now. My professor told me to address love and relationships from my position as a woman scorned. (Where he got the "scorned woman" thing I HAVE NO IDEA, as I'm very much a hopeless romantic and am not the least bit cynical. ...oh bugger off, what do you know?) Kristina should be especially happy to see this, as she's been wanting to read it for quite some time. I hope the rest of you enjoy it too, and much love.

When I was 11 years old and Sister 13, we were finally, finally allowed to watch Dirty Dancing (which in retrospect is still dreadfully young. Abortion? Teen sex? The side of Patrick Swayze’s naked ass? It’s a miracle Sister and I turned out as morally sound as we did). We were overjoyed to the point of giddiness for two reasons:

1. Everyone else our age had already seen it and, as we were both socially…challenged, we felt being up on Baby and Johnny’s torrid love affair would help our cool-factor (it did not).
2. We were young and naïve, and therefore still completely enamored with the ideals of movie love.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this second point would prove to create an earth-shattering crossroad in my life.

I remember sitting Indian-style in front of the TV (in the‘90s “sitting Indian style” wasn’t so un-PC), totally engrossed in Johnny’s chin-dimple and the way his hips moved when he danced. Sister sat beside me, no closer than 3 feet to the screen as that was the rule, and together we settled in for 100 minutes of mild raunchiness never before experienced by our virginal eyes.

Without realizing it, we were building our expectations of our existences to come; we were on the verge of transitioning into teenagers (a conversion that would result in our hating each other for 3 to 5 years), and we were thus on the cusp of boys and relationships and first romances. And as the opening credits rolled and sweaty miscreants grinded in slow-mo to “Be My, Be My Baby,” a societal fairy-tale began seeping into our impressionable minds.

Then, somewhere between “I carried a watermelon” and “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” my all-business, proud-feminist mother marched into the room. Standing defiantly in front of the screen, she put her hands on her hips and in her sternest, do-not-question-what-I’m-about-to-tell-you voice said, “This is not how it happens in real life.” Then she turned on her heels and was gone.

This is not how it happens in real life.

Sister and I were frozen in place, not knowing what to do but being entirely aware that, on some fundamental level, our views of the world had been forever changed. After several moments of stunned silence, we turned back to the TV and pretended not to be scarred for life. We still enjoyed the movie; we booed when Johnny got fired and we cheered when Baby did the lift, but underneath our exaggerated reactions, we knew a part of our souls had died.

At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

For many years following that memorable incident I held a tiny grudge against my mother. I thought her words were completely unwarranted, and I attributed them to some sinister desire to hurt my feelings/be a mean-spirited-dream-crusher (keep in mind that at this point I was the epitome of a foul-tempered teenager, and I was pretty much in a mood 24 hours a day). More than anything in the world I wanted to believe my mother was wrong, and I’d therefore be damned before I’d heed her warning.

Then real life happened to me.

At 17 years old my first love was what you might expect; I fell fast and hard, named both of our future children (Robert and Amber), let him sloppy-French-kiss me even though I hated it, and began preparations for our long, happy life together. And then, just as I was becoming convinced that there was no truth to the saying “love hurts” or to my mother’s words, he dropped by my house one night and lowered the boom: he didn’t love me anymore. Suddenly I knew what it was to have a broken heart.

At that point in my naïveté I still wanted to believe the fairy-tale, so when he called two months (and 12 pounds of woe-is-me-weight-loss) later, I joyously accepted his proposal to get back together. Maybe this was my dream come true! In every life some rain must fall, right? But now things would work out and be perfect…the break-up would become a distant memory, and now I’d have my Prince Charming.

I don’t have to tell you what happened next.

So after heartbreak #2 and 8 more pounds lost, I finally decided to branch out to new specimens. I started dating other guys…some secret pot-heads who used me for free meals, others manipulative womanizers who pitted me against their exes. There were those who called me a “princess” and then hit on my friends, and some who told me they loved me (but could I just dress differently and be less opinionated?).

With every new date seemed to come a new disappointment, and I quickly lost faith in relationships altogether. If true love existed, then where was my perfect romance? Where was my slow dance ‘neath the moon? Where the hell was my Johnny?!

And then my mother’s words played quietly through my head.

This is not how it happens in real life.

Our society sets us up to believe in love at first sight and happy endings and Johnny Castles. We’re raised in a culture where reality is considered over-rated; people would rather seek movie-perfection and fail trying than settle for the world as it actually is. I don’t claim this as an original thought; we all know romances like that between Johnny and Baby are oversimplified and idealistic. We’ve all heard “only in the movies,” and few of us would admit to believing a Cinderella story could happen for us.

And yet, we do believe it….or at least, we’re keen enough on the idea to feel slightly cheated when our relationships don’t turn out that way. That’s not to say my past beaus were actually upstanding gentlemen, because they weren’t. I had remarkably poor taste in the past, and I’m hoping to God that I’ve since learned from my mistakes. But there is merit in expecting something human from your relationships- and by “human” I mean complicated, often frustrating, awkward at times, and most of all…real.

Johnny wasn’t real, and Baby wasn’t either. He wouldn’t have abandoned his playboy ways for the cute-ish girl named Frances, and she would never have been able to learn to dance like that (I mean, come on). But if you think about it, who would want that kind of relationship anyway? Real love can’t survive between wayward bad-boys and innocent do-gooder girls (and I should know, as that’s what caused heartbreak # 3).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: for anyone younger and thus less baggage-riddled than I, please heed the lesson my (come to find out, well-intentioned) mother once tried to teach me. Do not expect perfection. Do not expect swells of music when you kiss, or heartfelt I love yous on the second date, or hand-holding strolls on the beach that fade to black and end with the assumption of happily ever-after. Because as a wise woman once warned me, This is not how it happens in real life.

In real life there is heartache. There is arguing, and tension, and differing opinions and constant compromising. Sometimes your relationships won’t work out; you may be mistreated, and karma may never avenge you. You might be lonely for a little while. You might be lonely for a long while. And you may never have a blockbuster “love realized” moment to rival Johnny and Baby’s legendary last dance.

But if you’re very patient and just a bit lucky, you might find somebody who is pretty great - who cares about you and understands how you feel and wants to support you from day-to-day. You may meet someone who makes you laugh and holds you while you sleep, and you may just find someone who will love you for exactly who you are.

And if you do find that, don’t be deterred if there are bumps in the road or if his hips don’t move quite like Johnny’s. Trust me on this one, or at least trust my mother; your romance won’t be like Johnny and Baby’s, and that’s okay. Because real life love isn’t like movie love. It’s something a little bit different. It’s something a little more complicated. It’s something a little more real.

And real is always better in the long run…even if you never go dirty dancing.

This is dedicated to the eternally dreamy Patrick Swayze
, who put my middle name on the map and made me proud to be a Frances.