Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bait and Switch

We recently learned that my eight-year-old son has a gift for music. About three months ago I signed him up for guitar lessons. At least that's what I thought I was doing. I told his instructor I was also interested in voice, since he has a sweet little singing voice. He assured me I'd come to the right place. It turns out the teacher is a retired professional musician with big vision. Brandon has quickly become one of his top students. He plays in a band, and in just those three months has a repretoire of about 20 songs, and is playing the lead in some of them. Plus he sang a solo at his baptism last month that made strangers cry.

So when I saw that our city's arts council was holding auditions for The Music Man, I thought of Ronny Howard as Winthrup, and immediately asked Brandon if he'd like to try out, even though the auditions were that very night. He was thrilled with the idea. We had been practicing Elvis's Hounddog, which he can perform in either a normal voice or his Elvis voice (guaranteed to put you in hysterics) so off we went to auditions.

When we walked in the room, the lady in charge said, "if he's going to be in, you'll have to do it with him." She was a very friendly lady, in a jovial mood, and I thought she was just trying to drum up adults for the cast, so I laughed and said something to the effect of 'yeah, right.' Brandon proceeded to sing. She loved it, or at least was humored by it (he used his Elvis voice). Told him he was in, wrote on his application, then told me to go fill one out. And she was serious. When I hesitated she explained that last year they had children jumping off the stage and causing all kinds of problems because their parents weren't around, so that's their new policy.

I have been in musicals before, but not since high school. And if you know me, or have read my blog, you know it's been a few years since high school. I can't say I've gotten out of the habit of embarrassing myself since then. But I usually do it on accident.

I looked at my son, who was so excited he could bust, and only had one choice. I filled out the form and slipped it in the door, hoping it would get lost in the shuffle.

Later that night my 15-year-old daughter struggled with the question of whether she should try out. She has played in musicals, and loved the experience, but hates singing solos. The lady had encouraged me to bring her, since they were short on teens, and said she'd just have to sing 'Happy Birthday', so she could make sure she could carry a tune. Finally convinced, we returned and she literally sang half of Happy Birthday, and was told she was in.

Then the lady turned to me and asked if she had told me before that I made call-backs. I told her I hadn't even sung for her, and she said it didn't matter, all the women made callbacks. I was so honored.

And a couple of days later little Brandon and I went to call-backs. He read an absolutely amazing scene as Winthrup. I did a lame reading as a pick-a-little lady, with weak and wobbly singing. (If you don't remember, they are the women that sing the cute gossip song, then later do an absolutely 1) Hilarious or 2) Humuliating -- depending on if you're the performer or the audience -- dance involving Grecian Urns.)

She decided Brandon was too young to play a lead. She doesn't know what she's missing. But apparently I'm not too young to play a pick-a-little lady. (Hold your applause, I think all the women made it.) I was given the schedule last night, and it looks like I'll be spending almost my entire August and half my September learning how to embarrass myself - I have about ten times more practices than my son, who I'm supposed to be chaperoning.

If you're familiar with The Music Man, you'll know that this is all kind of appropriate. I feel like one of the townspeople, especially the barbershop quartet, who allow themselves to be distracted with music every time they try to bring up reality. Too bad the director is a woman. She'd make a perfect Harold Hill.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How to torture a mother

I have just learned that there is a way to torture mothers even beyond the usual Mother's Day traditions of reminding them of all the amazing things that other mothers do.

I have a nineteen-year-old son who is currently serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Mexico. Missionaries are allowed to write home every week, although his letters always manage to ignore questions like "Are you getting enough to eat?" "Are you taking your medicine?" "Are you using bug spray?" Once he missed a couple of weeks of letters, and when we did finally get one, we learned that he had contracted dengue fever from mosquitoes. Yes, he really is on the other side of the world. They are only allowed to have phone calls a handful of times, namely Christmas and Mother's Day.

Last Christmas morning we got up early and called the number he had sent by email. We were given 45 minutes, and since other missionaries are waiting for calls, we had to get off when the time was up. But he'd only been gone a couple of weeks, so I didn't fully appreciate that call. This call though, Mother's Day, I'd been looking forward to for a long time.

I thought the instructions would come by email again, so was shocked to hear the words "Daniel called," when I got home from the gym last week. "Daniel called?" My stomach took a dive. "And I wasn't here?" My daughter told me not to worry, "We only talked for about ten minutes." I was sick. Ten whole minutes!

I spent the remainder of the week stewing over the missed call and anxious for the next one. Saturday night I put the calling card instructions, the paper with the number on it, and the phone, on the kitchen table. I checked to make sure all the numbers made sense (authorization code, country code, city code, etc.) He had told us to call at 7:30 Mexico time, 6:30 our time. So I was up at six (on Mother's Day, thank you very much.) By 6:20 I was at the table yelling to the rest of the family. At 6:29 we started dialing.

At first it went like this: punch in numbers--recorded voice tells us something--punch in more numbers--recorded voice tells us something--punch in more numbers--silence for about an entire minute--recorded voice tells us the number is invalid. Start over again.

Then, after about ten minutes, a voice said, 'Hola'. This call went like this:

Is Elder Reese there?
Elder Reese?

Eventually the poor guy hung up.

We spent ten more minutes punching in another series of unsuccessful numbers until we finally reached the same guy, and had the same sorry conversation. Meanwhile, my precious 45 minutes were ticking away. We called the 800 number on the calling card, and the lady assured us we were doing it right.

Before calling our Mexican friend again, we decided to ask our Spanish-speaking neighbor to come over. His dad answered the phone, and when I opened my mouth to speak I bawled instead. My husband took the phone and explained the situation. They came running over in their pajamas.

At 7:00, half an hour late, tears flowing freely, we reached the man for the third time. Our neighbor asked for Elder Reese in Spanish, then held the phone out and said, "He's coming."

Like he couldn't tell we wanted him in our last two conversations? But never mind...

My son's voice finally came on, "Hello?"
"Daniel, is that you?"
"What happened? Where were you?"
"You're supposed to call tonight."
"Yeah, 7:30 PM."
"Oh. Tonight. Really?"
"So you can't talk now?"
"No, gotta go."
"Oh......OK.....Bye.....I love you..."
"Love you Mom."

Here, just rip a fingernail off. It'll be less painful.

Then finally, a full twelve hours later, we learned that we had been calling the church house, and it was the branch president who had been trying to explain that Elder Reese wasn't there. He just happened to arrive at 8:00 for his church meetings, in time to answer our third call.

But the real call was worth the wait. The most fascinating part was that he was giving his typical mono-syllabic answers to all our questions, until we asked him to tell us something in Spanish. He talked for ten minutes! We finally stopped him, we got the idea. Then we asked him to summarize what he had just said, and he couldn't. He said he didn't know the English words.

I'm still trying to figure that one out, but I'm thinking I may need to take a crash Spanish-speaking course so that I can talk to my son when he gets back.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to all mothers and families with loved ones that are far away, be it on missions or the military. May your loved one be safe and your phone calls go through.

Friday, May 11, 2007

You have to remember, Mom...

Mother's Day is a great time for remembering mom. If all goes well. But t can also be a great time for mom to get a reality check. Like the time I went to a church meeting on Mother's Day and the speaker said in a glowing report that in his ten years of marriage he'd never once seen his house messy. I don't know what else he said, I was just stuck on that sentence. In the same decade that my husband and I had been together, I think he saw it clean maybe once or twice.

So another decade has passed since the perfect-wife assault and I've given up on the whole feel-guilty-about-my-housekeeping-skills thing. Boring people keep clean houses. My friend recently said that and I love it. As a matter of fact, I've been going along thinking I might just be pretty successful at this whole mothering job, until last week. I was driving my usually-sweet fifteen-year-old home from school, and she asked me what I want for mother's day. That is sweet, isn't it?

But before I go on with the story, I have to backtrack a bit. For my first twenty years of mothering, I used the standard, "I don't need anything" line for mother's day. But since I have mothers too, I am sympathetic to how utterly unhelpful that is. My mother and mother-in-law are both getting flowers, by the way, which I think is totally fine. But I have raised very practical children who hate to spend their hard-earned and meager supply of money on anything frivolous. So last year, when posed the question, I pointed out that many supplies in my kitchen could stand to be replaced - my measuring cups have the amounts worn off, the spatulas are ragged, wooden spoons are stained with red jello, etc. So on mother's day I got a nice collection of measuring devices and tools that I have enjoyed all year. This year I was out in my yard doing some work and realized that I could use some tools out there. In fact, as I worked, I could think of a whole list of things that would come in handy.

Which brings me to my daughter's question of what I wanted for mother's day. My answer was, "All kinds of things." I should point out that I was smiling and using a teasing voice. Please tell me you can hear the teasing in my voice? Because my daughter's reply was, "You always want tons of stuff." Shall I say that again? "You always want tons of stuff." That's right. That's what she said. When I pressed her for what she was talking about, she referred to the measuring cups, spoons, and spatulas from last year. We're not exactly talking diamonds! I wanted to say that. But I didn't. I was just stunned.

Then she said my favorite quote of the week. "You have to remember Mom, you only have five kids." Yes. That is really, truly, what she said. I only have five kids. I'm thinking that about a week after she's given birth to her second child will be the perfect moment to give her a copy of this blog. Only five kids.

My vindication came last weekend when all the children were gathered, and they asked me what I wanted for mother's day. They were properly mortified when I repeated the conversation with their sister. They sent her out of the room in order to extract the gardening hint out of me.

I don't know what I'll end up getting, although I have a pretty good idea about the little package my second-grader brought home from school today. And that's all I really want - a little reminder that I matter. After all, I only have five kids.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Freedom of the Fourties (reader's favorite)

There are a lot of the things that are the absolute pits about getting old. Bunions. Wrinkles. Achy muscles. Bunions. Flab. Did I mention bunions? I could go on. And I often do. But while working out recently, I started thinking about one of the benefits. Namely, being smart enough to know when it's ok to choose function over form.

Teenagers are clueless on this concept. They'll do things like scoff at the suggestion of an umbrella as they head to school in a rainstorm. I want to ask if they really think looking like a drowned rat at school all day will be cool. But I don't push it. I did the same thing.

But not anymore. Now I do whatever is best for me. Sometimes that means trying to look my best. But sometimes, well, other things are more important.

Like my latest workout routine. About three months ago I had bunion surgery. (I don't think there's a sentence in the world that could make someone sound older than that.) After two months the doctor gave me permission to put on a tennis shoe and exercise. That was great news, since the pounds have been piling on since the surgery. Problem is, every time I tried to do it, my foot swelled up like a marshmellow in a microwave. I tried ellipticals, stationary bikes, rowing machines; they all had the same result. Even water aerobics did it. Swimming would have worked, except I hate getting my face in the water (irritates my sinuses). Besides, I don't want to have to wash my hair every single day.

Then I touched on the perfect solution. Water running! An online calorie calendar (which couldn't be wrong), says that it burns 600 calories an hour. As much as an eliptical machine!

So, here's how it goes: If I get there first thing in the morning, the pool is filled with a bunch of
people training for a triatholon. These are lean, lythe youngsters wearing speedos. I'm wearing a suit with little skirt that is intended to hide my (ahum) generous curves. As these swimmers are slipping on caps, I put the equivalent of an inner-tube around my waist (to keep me bouyant so my hair doesn't get wet.)

They snap on goggles, and I get to the best part--my wings. These are hard plastic devices that fit with velcro onto the wrists and ankles, to add resistance (My mother has shrunk about a foot in her lifetime, and I'm only starting at 5'4", so my bones really need the resistance.) These wings have two large triangles that stick out about six inches on either side, and here's the most exciting part, they are bright red and yellow. When I get them strapped on, I suddenly become WONDER GRANNY! With an innertube! And a skirt! Oh yes, it is a beautiful sight.

Once properly attired, I get myself into the pool (not nearly as gracefully as my triatholon counterparts), and I break into a run. Sort of. If you've ever seen the Six Million Dollar Man, that is just what it looks like. If you haven't seen the show, the premise is that this guy can run really, really fast. But I suspect when they speeded the tape up to demonstrate this it had an undesired comic effect. So instead, they slowed it down...really...slow...whenever......he.........r.u...n....s. To compensate, they play this boinging music that is supposed to trick the viewer into thinking he's actually going really fast. So in my mind I play that music while I'm Right alongside the others who are streaming sleekly through the water.

There are trainers at the pool, who walk along the side giving tips to the swimmers, checking their watches, and jotting notes in notebooks. They steal glances at me, politely looking away when I notice. The swimmers themselves are very polite as well. When they get to the end of a lane and stop to rest, they watch me like they would an elephant seal that has joined their ranks.

When I was in my twenties, I would have skipped exercise all together (I didn't really need it anyway). When I was in my thirties, I would have put up with swollen feet. I admit that I haven't yet reached the point that I don't feel a tab bit embarrassed when I do things like this, but I suspect I'll even lose that by the time I hit my fifties. For now, I just hold my head high when I climb out of that pool and waddle with my wings between my ankles on to the restroom. Because it's what's best for me.

I suspect there's a swimmer's blog out there about a strange lady who runs in slow motion in the pool while dressed in a superhero costume. If you come across it, will you send me the link?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Why Chocolate Daydreams?

That's a good question. Maybe I ought to go think about it before posting. But I guess since I'm in charge, (ah, power is getting to me already) I'll just go ahead and ramble. I started out wanting to use the term 'musings', a great, general term for anything and everything I'm thinking or doing. Since that term was probably spoken for back in the depression, I searched for a light-hearted term that meant the same thing - and there you go: my chocolate daydreams.

Chocolate because, well, if you're female I don't think I need to explain. But also because I'm in the time in my life when I thought I'd be working, rather than sitting around 'eating bon bons'. And here I am, doing neither one. I guess I am working - I build houses on speculation - but it hardly feels like a job since I do it on my own time and I don't get a regular paycheck. My occupation is journalist. My life is mother. Both have paid about equally well. I did plan to go back to work, as I said, when all the children were in school, which they are. But I'm fortunate to be able to stay home and do random things like type in this blog.

Which leads me to the other part of the name: Daydream. That's pretty much what I'm always doing. I tell stories. There are these little people running around in my brain all the time, and I have to let them out or they'll give me a labotomy. Really. So I write. I actually like to write more than read. Which I know is wierd. I almost like it more than eating chocolate. Only almost though. So I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to stay home and let my creative juices flow. The other option would be ugly.

I have a lot more to say on the topic of staying home, when I have time. But that is my main point. There isn't the time I always daydreamed there would be. Somehow, despite sending all my kids off in the morning, I am still constantly on the run! Every night I look around my messy home and wonder what I did with my day.

The truth is I do plenty, it's just that the returns aren't immediate. I do sometimes see them in my married, brilliant, and self-sufficient daughter, and my equally brilliant and self-sufficient college-age son. Often I don't see them at all, like this morning when I asked my 2nd grader what day I am supposed to go to his school for his Principal Pride Award, and he broke into tears and said 'yesterday'. He missed the bus. I spouted about a hundred apologies on the drive to school. Hopefully some day he'll forgive me, or at least get past it enough to not need therapy.

Anyway, that's my life, some triumphs, several failures, a little chocolate, and always lots to do.