Humor

The Facts of Life, Part Deux: Torture the Mother

So, a month or so ago, you read my lovely initial birds and bees conversation with my six-year-old. (Yes, SIX.)

Apparently Elizabeth has babies on the brain, as yesterday when we were stuck on Mopac, she suddenly asked, “How do you make a baby?”

Thankfully, traffic was at a dead stop, or I might have swerved off the road. This would be multi-tasking at its finest.

In a brilliant extension of my previous tactic, I answered with another question. “What do you mean?”

She would not be thwarted. “I mean, what makes a baby?”

Deep breath. “Well, inside a daddy is a part that makes the baby. And in the mother is the other part. When they come together, they make a baby start to grow in the mother’s tummy.”

“But how does he get it in there?”

Arrrghhh! My nine-year-old was mercifully silent, hunched in the back seat as though she could disappear into the cushion.

I decided to evade, not wanting to get into technical aspects. “He puts it inside the mom. And then it grows for over nine months, and then it comes out.” Genius use of ambiguous pronouns, thank you very much.

She still wanted details. “But how does he get it IN there?”

Traffic inched forward another three feet, then stopped. My mind raced. No McDonald’s nearby. No ice cream shops. What I wouldn’t give for a Chuck E. Cheese at the moment! Here, kids, tokens! Anything but The Talk!

But I was trapped.

“How does it, Mama, how does it?”

“Well, the mom and dad just decide it is time, and so they…” Oh, someone get me out of this. “They decide to make the baby.”

The cars nudged past the on ramp that was slowing us down, and we cruised a little faster.

“Almost there!” I said, lying like a toddler with a fistful of stolen cookie. We had another twenty minutes easy. “Who wants gelato when we get to Mandola’s?”

They girls chorused “Me, me!”

“Which flavor is best?” I asked.

“Chocolate!” Elizabeth shouted.

“No lemon!” Emily said.

“Nuh uh!”

“Is too!”

My work here was done.

The Facts of Life Are All About…Marriage, Apparently

My six-year-old flopped on the bed with no indication whatsoever she was about to drop a bombshell.

“So, Mama, can I have a baby before I’m married?”

I had to think for a minute. These questions are never what they seem, like the time the big horrid bad word she heard at school, that started with “s,” turned out to be “stupid.” My big anti-censorship lecture, wasted.

I decided the best tactic was to answer the question with another question.

“Do you think it’s happened already?”

“NO!” She laughed at me.

“Then clarify, please.”

“What if you have a baby in your tummy, but you aren’t married?”

I’m about to wax poetic on how one does not need to marry someone just because he fathered a child, when she went on. “I mean, does it get stuck in there until you’re married? Can it not come out?”

I feigned a coughing fit so I could compose myself. AND figure out how to answer.

“Well,” I began, with no idea where I was going to take it. “No. The baby will come out whether you get married or not.”

She looked puzzled at this. “But how?”

“Well there are two ways a baby can come out–”

“No!” Exasperation. “Does it have to stay in there longer? How does it stay in there?” 

“Are you asking me how a baby gets INTO the mother?” Please, please say no. I can’t manage this in first grade terminology. I suddenly remembered the infamous line from Kindergarten Cop, “Boys have a penis, and a girls have a vagina!”

“NO!” She gripped the blankets on my bed, frustrated.

“I know this is a real mystery,” I said. “It’s hard to understand.”

“So I can have a baby before I’m married?” Back to square one.

“Yes,” I said. “It might be harder, being a single mom, but people do it all the time.” I gave examples of friends whose moms were raising them, dads gone or moved away.

“But the dad was there when the baby came out.” This is still a sticking point.

“The dad really only has to be there when it goes in,” I said. Although actually, with sperm banks, even that might be optional.

“The dad puts the baby in?” She seems shocked, and I can see her mental image of the dad somehow inserting an infant.

Enough. Bring on the mom cop out. “Time for bed,” I said. “We can talk about this some more tomorrow.”

I herded her to the bedroom. Hopefully tomorrow she’d have easier questions. Like the cost effectiveness of the bank bailout and the economic flow of the stimulus package. Or tips on a successful exit strategy in Iraq.

Quite possibly, it won’t come up again until her wedding day. Or when she tells me I’m going to be a grandma. Whichever comes first.

Ding dong, the sub is dead

pic-eatsub1.jpgThe second grader held his picture high enough for the whole class to see. “Look, Ms. Roy, here’s your heart falling out of your body!”

He seemed shocked that my response was simply, “It should be a little more red. And dripping.”

The lesson the teacher had left for me involved the question, “What if dinosaurs had never become extinct?” Part of the assignment involved drawing a picture of dinos taking over the school.

dino-ate.jpgIn both the pictures and essays, I was mutilated, maimed, crushed, and bitten in half. The students seemed to delight in any new variation on the theme of Death by Dino.

I’ll admit, I felt strange serving as antagonist. I’d substitute taught a time or two, serving at my daughters’ school when there’s a shortage. But generally I avoided becoming a stereotype — or a victim.

pic-atesub2.jpgThe boy elbowed his friend, who was also depicting my untimely demise by T-rex. “She doesn’t get mad no matter what we do to her!”

I’m happy to support creative energy, whatever form it takes. And if mangling their substitute is what gets them fired up about writing, then I’ll take it. I fed them fresh ideas. “What about my brains? Did they gush out?” One boy rapidly added a crunched skull to his art. “My hair’s longer than that,” I corrected.

As the students filed out for lunch, some felt chagrin. One girl grasped my waist as she passed by. “I’m sorry I killed you,” she said.

Even the boys begrudgingly admitted, “Ms. Roy, it’s probably a waste for you to get eaten.” As I sent them down to the cafeteria, I felt good about how the lesson had gone. I didn’t censor them, and they recognized the responsibility that came with freedom to write about what they chose. 

Besides, as the line snaked down the hallway, they merrily began planning the death of the principal.

A writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do

I just listened to Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do, I Do It for You sixteen times in a row.

No, I’m not having A Relationship Moment. Nor am I hoping for Death by Cornball.

I needed a totally schmaltzy song to match the horridly touching moment at the opening of the novel I am writing.

Wait, to properly set the mood, you must torture yourself too.

Come on, hit play, you know you don’t want to.

Waiting.

Waiting.

It’s playing? All right then.

So there’s this wedding photographer (now you know it’s not me, as I don’t photograph weddings.)

And she’s locked in a room with a Bridezilla. (Now I’m really glad I don’t do weddings, or all my clients would worry I’m about to expose them in my novel. Word to the wise: Never befriend a novelist.)

Bridezilla is planning to bail on the nuptials because her light o’ love did a switcheroo on the groom’s cake, which now has the Aggie logo.

I find this grounds for divorce, personally, but of course, my main character needs the two grand and has to figure out how to save the wedding, despite any anti-Aggie-isms.

So she plays the Bryan Adams song, hoping to soften up the bride.

You know, Everything I Do, etc. etc. It should be playing.

What? It’s not playing? You are a bad bad blog reader. (I’ll be cross checking the IP addresses of my web hits against the play count of the video—yeah, turn it on now, now that you’re busted. You KNOW nobody’s playing this video but us.)

Soak it in, Bryan Adams, this marvel of sap. And imagine a photographer convincing a bride that her groom changed the cake because everything he does, he does it for her…

The book is a romantic comedy, and I can only hope that if I’m laughing as I write it, so will someone else.

If not, well, I’m listening to Bryan Adams in vain. And that is so very very wrong.

Ping me for an excerpt, if you’re curious. Unless you are waiting for a photo order from me, and then of course I’m not writing a novel, but madly…filling your order. Really. Because Everything I do…I do it for…you.

What’s in a name? Ask Deanna. Or Deanna. Or Deanna.

A few days ago I found out Deanna Roy was pregnant.

No, no, no, not me. The Deanna Roy in Nova Scotia.

Now, I’ll admit, when the status update “Deanna Roy is expecting again!” came across my Facebook feed, I did glance down at my own belly. I thought maybe the advancement of web beacons and cookies had invaded my privacy to the point that the Internet had cross-referenced and info-cached things about me that even I didn’t know.

But then I remembered, a few months ago I had managed to friend all the Deanna Roys on Facebook, just to see what we were up to. One of us is a doctor. A second runs an art gallery. Another is a financial adviser.

Growing up, my mom told me she’d come up with my name as a combination of Dee, which my dad goes by, and Anna, from a great-grandmother. I thought she was so clever to have invented an entirely new name.

Imagine my consternation in 5th grade when I met my middle school librarian, Deanna Smallwood, petite, sharp-nosed, and in her fifties. How could this be? I felt like Sidda in Divine Secrets of a Ya-Ya Sisterhood when she discovers the word vivacious wasn’t strictly about her mother Vivi. Suddenly I wasn’t original, unique, a one and only. I was part of a crowd.

Google has forged a tenuous bond among us Deanna Roys. I worried the others might be annoyed that I stole the domain that could have gone to any of us. When I first began friending my namesakes, I expected at least one to say, “So YOU’RE the version clogging up the search engines. Ranking hog.” But no one has complained, at least not to my virtual face.

I’m a big fan of Google Alerts, which sends you notifications when a new instance of a search term enters the web. In this way, I get to watch the progress of the other Deannas. Sometimes I feel like a voyeur, interested in these other lives solely by virtue of what their parents chose to call them. I also want to be the first to know if one of us gets arrested. The commingling of our names gets a little awkward when the publicity turns negative. Among the Deannas, I’m probably the greatest risk, tossing out first-person essays and questionable fiction into the world. At least when a mother phones her Deanna and shouts, “What IS this smut I just read?” I’ll know that I deserve it.

Now I get to follow along as another Deanna brings a baby into the world. Maybe I’ll send her a quick note, suggesting a doctor and even a financial guru to help manage the addition to the family. In fact, the gallery owner could probably help with art for the nursery. And why not? We definitely have a name we can trust.

Using the s-bomb

Over on Verla Kay’s Children’s Literature boards, we had an intriguing discussion about the use of swear words in young adult books. Published writers and author hopefuls all weighed in on when, if, and how much it was appropriate to curse in books targeted for teens.

As a former teacher of both middle and high school, I know fervent language is a rite of passage among even the most well behaved kids. While I didn’t allow it in my classroom, we had a rule in the darkroom. While in the pitch black, holding sensitive but squirrelly rolls of film in our hands, trying to load the tight coils on a wheel for development, we agreed that “if the film hits the floor, any words you say cannot and will not be held against you.”

Teacher included.

I’ve been wondering myself when and how to let the kids get exposed to language. It crops up unexpectedly, even in movies targeted for small children. I remember well the shocking moment in Stuart Little when an alley cat uttered a four-letter word. Kids pick up on new sounds and often roll them around their mouths, or tuck an interesting sounding word away to repeat at a bad moment.

So we sat at Jason’s Deli, and I asked them if they knew any bad words. Emily insisted she didn’t, although in 4th grade, I felt certain she had been exposed.

“Really?” I pressed her. “Nothing? It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve heard everything and you won’t be in trouble.”

Still, she shook her head.

“I have!” piped up Elizabeth, newly minted in 1st grade. This did not surprise me at all.

“Well, out with it!” I said. “I want to hear which one!”

She dropped her eyes to her mac and cheese. “No.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “I’d really like to hear it.”

She still said no.

“Well, what does it start with?”

Elizabeth thought for a moment, straining to recall her spelling, which was still new. “S,” she said finally.

“Well, is it ‘s’ like snake or ‘sh’ like share?”

She seemed confused by this.

“Is the next letter ‘u’?” I asked.

She didn’t want to answer anything. So I pondered s-bombs for a bit, then suddenly realized the word. “Elizabeth, is the word stupid?”

She snapped her head up. “Don’t say that!” she hissed.

I honestly tried not to laugh. “Stupid is not a bad word!”

When she continued to scowl, I persisted. “You shouldn’t call someone stupid, and that is not nice. But stupid is just a word to describe something you find to be less than smart. Like a stupid rule.” (As in a rule about not using stupid, I thought, but didn’t say. It’s one thing to keep children playing nice, another to remove language to accomplish that. Makes me think of Newspeak.)

She still flinched every time I used the word. We finished dinner, me trying not to laugh and wondering how to get across the difference between actual swearing and mean words. I guess I have a bit of time left before the true four-letter words start to fly.

Maybe I should get them some good books.

Skydiving for the rip-cord challenged

Deanna Skydiving 1I owe my life to a man named Matt Bessonette. Well, sort of.

Matt is a tandem instructor at Skydive Spaceland, a flight school outside of Houston where both ordinary people and extreme-sport junkies hang out to jump from airplanes.

Matt is very good at what he does — strapping newbie after newbie into harnesses, cracking jokes to keep us calm, and getting uncoordinated, clueless people safely back to earth.

I am quite sure he pegs people like me right off — a hapless soul unable to follow directions even if her life depends on it.

And when you are hopping off a plane at 14,000 feet, it does.

I really wasn’t that nervous. I’d already done the scary part — informed my parents (and my kids) that I was going. I felt some flutters when we arrived at the hangar and people were dropping out of the sky, but I quelled them and strode up the walkway like something out of Top Gun.

Then I saw the instructional video.

Deanna Skydive 2I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to show an ambulance leaving the landing area, lights flashing with some crushed body most certainly inside, but it definitely made the point: You Can Die. Or at best, break your leg landing badly.

But then, as we first-timers were told how to arch our back, read our altimeters, and interpret hand signals, came the kicker:

I was expected to pull my own rip cord.

I nearly fainted. I thought this was a joy ride. Strap me to some experienced jumper, smile for the camera, and sail down on their very competent skill set.

The video ended and my legs took me out the door, but my mind was adrenaline buzzed, trying to focus my errant memory on the important points. Did they say 5,500 feet to pull? Or was it 6,000? Which hand? Was the wave part important?

Matt introduced himself and handed me a suit. I smiled and acted brave but, still, I was shocked — I had to pull my own rip cord! I looked up at the friendly bearded face, and thought — please, Matt, say it ain’t so! But no, he was cheerily going over all the points on the video again. Check the altimeter, when it reads 6,000, look up, wave, reach behind him and pull the golf-ball shaped release.

As I tugged on my suit and Matt started buckling a harness on me, Ori Kuper, the video man, peppered me with questions — how high are you going? When do you open the chute? How fast will you be falling? When I kept shrugging, he just gave me all the answers and laughed, tilting the camera at crazy angles for effect.

Suddenly I’m past what I thought would be a thorough and repetitive set of instructions, hardly having understood anything more than “arch your back,” and we were loading in the plane.

Deanna Skydive 3I watched my altimeter creep upward, Matt and the others still cracking jokes. Ahead of us, solo jumpers disappeared from the front of the plane like synchronized swimmers diving into a pool. We slid forward on the narrow bench for our turn. The worst was to come, I knew, standing on the precipice of disaster, staring down at the ground, and maybe, maybe refusing to jump.

We moved forward again and Matt told me to stand up. Before I could even remember if it was ready set GO, or ready set go … and then GO, we turned sideways, and then — as simple as falling out of a chair — we were belly down in the air, arms outstretched, hurtling in a way that felt more like a wind storm than a freefall.

In the rush of the air, I could scarcely think. I was misinterpreting hand signals like a newborn chimp. Matt kept having to push my hand one way or the other, trying to get me to angle with him. I waved at Ori, the videographer, who plummeted alongside us. We reached out and shook hands.

Matt forced me to bring my altimeter to my face. It already read 6,000! I was supposed to reach behind him and pull the rip cord, but gosh, the instructional video was eons ago and by the time I remembered — oh yeah, I tug a golf ball and a parachute is supposed to come out — Matt, having a vested interest in the chute opening — pulled it himself.

Everything slowed down for a while. I was flying — literally flying — and it was impossible to do anything but look and look and look. The air slipped from chilly to cool as we passed through a cloud, then suddenly grew warm again. Matt showed me how to control the handles of the chute and do 360s and by God, I could DO them! Never had anything so deadly and beautiful — especially that bright flutter of fabric that kept me aloft — been so easy to control.

web04fall8076.jpgAbout that time I realized that despite my utter incompetence, I was not going to die after all. The ground came closer and Matt patiently reminded me how to land. We went through the sequence again and again so that when the grass did arrive, I easily lifted my legs, pulled the cords to slow the descent, then set my feet down.

I hugged Matt, grateful that even though I have the memory of a fruit fly and the attention span of a gnat, I could do something as fun and crazy as skydiving without disaster. I was relieved also to learn that even if in a fit of torrential clutziness I had whacked my tandem instructor on the head as we left the plane and knocked him unconscious, an altimeter-controlled device would set off the reserve parachute.

I highly recommend Skydive Spaceland. And get the video. Ori did a killer job — a really fun little edited film — and if you don’t think you can handle skydiving, just come watch mine. After witnessing poor Matt tap me, signal me, repeatedly grab my hands and arms to MAKE me do what I supposed to do, you’ll quickly see that if Deanna can do it, anybody can. Even if you forget the rip cord.

Photos by Ori Kuper

Slow and steady

web-frogs.jpgFor those who know me well, “slow and steady” are not two words you’d pick to describe my personality. I’m more hare than tortoise, more leap than look, more speak than wait until spoken to.

So while, the third grade musical by Emily’s school was wonderful and funny and the kids did a remarkable job, I’ll admit to feeling a little sullen as the words to “Bebop to Aesop” hammered in lessons that I never did much buy into:

  • Slow and steady wins the race
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
  • Look before you leap
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today

The costumes, the pageantry, and the reminder that these tales had transcended their era were all well and good, but still, grumpy old me kept thinking–these expressions are for people who do not have normal lives! My version of Aesop would go something like this:

  • Slow and steady means you get interrupted by telemarketers and laundry. Hurry up!
  • If you don’t count your chickens, the crib will be on back order and won’t come in until your baby is in college.
  • Really, people, if you look before you leap, you’ll never have the guts to sky dive or bid on that 2-2 bungalow in Travis Heights. Life is freaking scary.
  • As far as getting everthing done today–prioritize. Some of it is better off not done at all. (Does anybody wash their windows anymore? I didn’t think so. Mini blinds.)

web-emily.jpgAfter the play, I hugged Emily in her farmer outfit (she was involved in not counting chickens), and hustled home to get some work in. On the counter sat a fortune cookie I’d ignored for a couple days, as I am a little superstitious about fortune cookies–reading one is like a court order to me–a hard-core imperative.

But as I roamed the house, the unread fortune stuck in my mind, so finally I snatched it up. As I pulled away the plastic wrap, the cookie fell to the floor and smashed. Another symbol, I knew, the shattering of illusions? Breaking rules? I don’t like the taste of fortune cookies, so I did not mourn its loss and tugged the slip of paper from the crumbs.

What lay inside validated all my feelings for the day. Gotta love the people who write these fortunes.

Good things come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.

I’m off to hustle, unsteadily, without looking, and counting embryonic chickens all the while.

Overheard at the Kids’ Christmas Pageant

web04eliza-play.jpgThe line of angels bunched and buckled as the row of wing-bedecked elementary-aged choristers snaked around the nativity set and into the foyer. Someone stopped abruptly, and a secondary angel crashed into the head honcho, the holy host with full gold regalia and the critical lines of the play. Be not afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy.

The angel turned. “Do not be pushing The Angel of the Lord!”

The littler angels tittered.

“Hush children.” The woman in charge of the play painstakingly arranged the children in the order they would process into the church, hastily reassigning some speaking roles for kids who were out sick.

“Does anyone have any questions regarding their lines?” she asked.

A sheep raised her hand, the wool paw waving a sheet of paper near her white fuzzy head. “I do! These words from the Bible don’t make any sense!”

Giggles.

The woman hesitated a moment. “Well, sometimes the Bible can seem that way.” She hesitated a moment more, then thought better of adding anything to the statement. “Anyone else?”

The procession squirmed as they waited for their cue to enter the hushed sanctuary, where the last young instrumentalist tapped out a melody-only version of Jingle Bells on the baby grand. A crash broke the quiet. The gold box of myrrh had hit the floor. “Shhh!” several angels said.

A boy in a crown and a purple robe stooped to pick it up, but dropped the lid again.web04-emily-play.jpg

“You’re pretty stupid for a wise man,” said another one of the wise guys.

Shepherds quaked as they held in silent laughter.

“Children!”

Finally the music began, and the cast paraded down the aisle to the smiles of parents and the clicks of video cameras set to record.

Despite their cracks at each other, the pushing, the impatience, only a few lines into “Silent Night,” the tone of the evening changed, the room dimmed so that the lights haloed their faces, and Christmas Eve truly began.

For born unto us this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is Christ our Lord.

Elizabeth was an angel in this year’s play. Emily was the banner carrier (she and the other banner bearer are seated at the front of the group picture.)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Have a wonderful holiday full of family and love.

Why Buying a Car Is Like Dating

1. A car walks into a bar. You stare, snapping to attention at the curves, the angles, the glint of its exterior sheen. You want to get closer, see if this attraction might lead to something, but you hesitate. You probably can’t afford it. It’s probably high maintenance. It might not even be available. You turn back to the bartender and order another Cosmopolitan.

2. The computer screen glows lightly on your face. Sure enough, bar walker, who one of your friends actually knows, is First in Its Class and the price is just too high. So you start to surf. It must be safer to search online, going through profiles, prequalifying the options. Then you know you’re in your league. You go through item after item, reading, comparing, you narrow it down to The One. (Or Two.)

3. Test drive. You walk up at the pre-arranged meeting place. You’re holding Car and Driver in your left hand, just as you’d been told to do. You sidle up, peer in close, and still think–hmm, not like the picture but it’s okay. You settle in, start things up, and instantly you know–it’s not going to happen. All that research, the checkmarks matching you two up, mean nothing when you sit there and wish you were simply somewhere else.

4. Next try. Your second choice seems to be working. You drive around town, and all goes smoothly. You part and you feel pretty good. You meet up with your friends and tell them you’re thinking of hooking up.

5. “No way!” they say. “Not that one!” They all punch each other, laughing, unbelieving. They tell unflattering stories. The negative peer pressure is oppressive. Your optimism plummets. Suddenly you think, no, maybe it’s the wrong time. Then you rally–no! I don’t care what they think! But later, alone, you wonder. If they feel so strongly, maybe they are right.

6. Christmas approaches. You had boasted to your family that you’d be bringing something new home for them to see! You feel pressure. You remember the first option–maybe it wasn’t so bad? Should you go see it again? Maybe it will have improved somehow? You tentatively call a couple of friends–what about this one? They, understanding now how they crushed your enthusiasm before, are all support. Even the other one, they now say, would be okay.

7. Somehow you wish it could all be different. That the perfect compliment to your need would just arrive, all the right options, an easy fit. But no, you start all over, watching the world around you for new models, more educated now, spotting the ones out of your range right away, and hope that maybe, with a little self improvement, you can trade up.

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