Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sucker Punch

Apparently I have the word "sucker" tattooed on my forehead.  Who put it there?  Oh, yeah, it was probably me.

Over the years I have fallen victim to numerous scams, including many infomercial deals that simply looked too good to pass up.  My "doh!" moments have ranged from the obviously regrettable—$400 spent to get a bulk discount on a door-to-door salesman's concentrated organic cleaner—to the marginally worthwhile.

First, there was the home electrolysis machine I purchased when I was a mere teenager.  After receiving my battery-operated hair removal system in the mail, I spent hours hunched over my bikini zone with a crick in my neck, painstakingly inserting a little needle into the root of each errant hair follicle and zapping it with radio waves or whatever the heck those things emit.

Unfortunately this process only served to provide me with numerous tiny scabs; the stubborn hairs remained exactly where they were and eventually had to be removed in the normal fashion anyway.  I suppose I shouldn't have expected much in the way of permanent hair removal from a device that cost $29.95 and came with a free book light.

I also purchased some gadget that promised to "massage" away cellulite.  Ironically, I bought this contraption in my early twenties—way before having children—when I thought a little dimple here and there was actually something to worry about (oh, how naive I was).  Said machine succeeded only in greedily sucking and munching my flesh with its rollers, abusing my skin to the point of bruising.  Even so, I suppose it's true that the cellulite was a tad less noticeable afterwards; it was hard to spot the dimples amidst the blue and purple splotches that decorated my thighs.

I also bought the ThighMaster and the Ab Roller. I bought Coral Calcium and those bra clip thingies that pull the straps together in the back and are supposed to make your boobs look perkier.  I purchased a speed-reading program that guaranteed I'd be able to read forward, backward, and vertically (all at the same time), which would significantly enhance my comprehension rate.

After having my second child, I purchased the Ab Circle Pro in an attempt to get rid of my flabby belly.  Despite the fact that this workout required me to be on all fours while lewdly swinging my ass back and forth for all to see—I caught my husband gaping at me several times as my rump waved about in the air—I actually felt like I was getting a good workout from the contraption... until it broke a month after I had purchased it. I bought a replacement, which also wore out within four weeks.

At least, to date, I have avoided purchasing the Shake Weight on principle, but let's be honest -- if the price of the thing dropped below ten dollars, I'd probably give it a shot.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker.

And so, when Guthy Renker contacted me and proposed I try a revolutionary hair care system they were selling called Wen, I thought I'd give it a go.  I've never been thrilled with my hair; it gets frizzy and puffy and requires copious amounts of smoothing agents and polishers to be good for anything besides a pony tail.  I lack the ambition to clear-coat my hair with sealants, polishes, waxes and sprays on a daily basis, so I was excited when Wen promised to give me the same results as all that goop just by using their conditioning shampoo!

My kit arrived two days ago, and I tore it open with enthusiasm!

The first thing I noticed was the photo of Chaz Dean -- the developer of Wen (or at least the guy Guthy-Renker thought looked like someone chicks would trust with their hair).  He struck me as a cross between Fabio and Jesus, and I found myself gazing at his photo and being taken in by his piercing gaze.  If this guy were a therapist, I would definitely be reserving a spot on his couch.

The picture had an odd effect on me—on one hand, I felt compelled to confess a lifetime of hair sins (drying it on my way to work with the car vents—the shame!), but I also had a strange sort of fantasy brewing—one that involved him whisking me away to an exotic desert oasis and sensually shampooing my hair while muscled Arabians fed me grapes.

I turned the page in the pamphlet and was confronted by this next picture of Chaz:

Wait... is that eyeliner he's wearing?  Ugh... there goes the Jesus resemblance and the desert fantasy.  Now he just reminds me of an airbrushed, Botoxed Hollywood creep.

But regardless, that first evening I excitedly washed my hair with Chaz's conditioning shampoo and awaited the inevitable glorious results.  Two hours later, my roots were greasy and plastered to my head, and the bottom half of my hair was frizzy, dry and poufy.  I wondered if I may have done something wrong.  According to the brochure, my hair was supposed to look like this:

So last night I tried again, paying attention to slather more product on the ends and less on the roots.  This morning when I woke, my hair looked like it hadn't been washed for a week and a half.  My roots were actually glistening with oil.  Is this what they meant when they guaranteed shiny hair?  Ugh!!

I placed a call to customer service, and a kind, soothing representative promised I would have much better results with the other type of shampoo Wen offered—something based on cucumbers or eggplant or some other member of the vegetable kingdom.  The company is actually sending me a bottle of it for free. So now I wait.

Meanwhile, I can't help but ponder this Chaz guy.  There's part of me that feels just a tad naughty buying hair products from a guy who looks like he's undressing me with his eyes through the pamphlet.

But whether this hair system ends up being a success or a bust, I must nevertheless keep my eyes out for the one product that I really need:

Something to get this damn tattoo off my forehead!!!

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Hot Mess

Why does July seem interminable?  Perhaps it's due to the fact that ever since having children my internal thermostat seems permanently set to "hot as hell."  The slightest rise in temperature causes my upper lip to perspire (God only knows why we need sweat glands under our noses--seriously, does that really do any good?), and I usually spend the entire month of August with sweat pooled under my breasts and half-moons of perspiration under my butt cheeks.  My inner thighs are permanently slick, and sometimes rogue sweat rolls down my legs to christen the backs of my knees.  Believe me--if I could strap an air conditioner to my ass, I would.

The fact that this is my natural summertime state is bad enough, but lately things have taken a turn for the worse.  Despite fervent opposition on my part, my husband signed us up for an energy-savings program where the power company uses a little box to turn off our air conditioning at random times during peak usage periods.  Theoretically, one is not supposed to even notice the difference this might make.  Um, try telling that to someone whose bra could qualify as a slow-cooker.

Lately, this nasty little box has been malfunctioning and shutting off our air conditioning for hours at a time, causing me to become even more of a cranky, swampy mess. 

One such incident happened yesterday morning when I awoke to an eighty-degree bedroom and rising temperatures throughout the rest of the house.  I tried not to be cranky, but it was hard to start the day in a cheerful mood when I woke up to find I'd already sweated through my underwear.

As the morning progressed and the air conditioning still did not turn on, I grew increasingly miserable and desperate.  So when my son asked in a whiny voice if we could go to Chuck-E-Cheese for lunch, I piled us all into the minivan without hesitation.  Blasting the air conditioning in my face and soaking in the blessed coolness like water from a desert oasis, I wondered if it was feasible to spend the rest of the afternoon idling in the driveway, just sitting in the coolness of the minivan's interior.

I believe I was imagining myself standing under an ice-cold waterfall when my son yelled "Let's GO!!"  and shattered my reverie.

Off we went.

Amidst the relief of the air conditioning lurked a nugget of dread in my belly--trips to Chuck-E-Cheese are generally a nightmare. Maybe I'll appreciate this "kiddie casino" when my children are older and don't need as much supervision, but as of right now, taking both children to Chuck-E-Cheese by myself is only slightly more enjoyable than gouging my eyeballs out with a spork. On the rare occasions we go there I spend the whole time in a state of mild panic, worried that one of my children will run off and disappear amongst the masses of humanity.

I was therefore relieved when we arrived to find that Chuck-E-Cheese was fairly uncrowded.  We installed our stuff at a table and the kids immediately began running about, wild-eyed amidst the multitude of flashing lights.

Evan quickly gravitated to the shooting games (what is it with boys and guns?), while Clara became overwhelmed by the flashing lights and proceeded to hang on me like a terrified koala bear.  I had hoped to get a cute picture of her on the mini-carousel, but she was so terrified by anything moving that she clung to me and shrieked "Nooooo!!!" whenever I got close to the thing.

Her only moment of real joy came when someone dressed up as Chuck-E(?) came out of the back room and led the kids around the place like the pied piper.  Her face lit up in a huge grin when she saw the giant mouse, and we happily marched along behind him.

My joy quickly turned to horror, however, when I saw how the children in general were treating the poor employee--the child in the front of the line was taller than the rest, and he repeatedly jumped up and punched Chuck-E in his chubby rodent cheek.  When Chuck-E turned around to see who was attacking him, another child grabbed his bucky rat teeth and yanked his head around violently, causing Chuck-E to flail about and look like he was having some strange sort of seizure.

I glanced about to see where the parents of these hooligans were, but no adults came forward to rein in their violent offspring.  Other kids followed suit, and soon Chuck-E was being punched, kicked, and slapped from all angles.  It was like some bizarre kiddie flash mob. My son observed all of this with profound confusion, and I puzzled over how to explain to him why Chuck-E was being assaulted by his fans.

The abuse continued, and I steeled myself for what was to come--I was pretty sure I was about to hear Chuck-E suddenly bellow, "Get the hell off me, you little sh%&heads!!!"

To my amazement, Chuck-E stayed mute through all of this, and he even danced with the children when we got to a special corner of the room.  A female employee helped him lead us in the "Cupid Shuffle," (it's sort of like the Electric Slide, except you kick your feet instead of doing a little dip), and the kids stopped their abuse and clumsily stumbled about to the music.

I danced with the mob, and Clara giggled and squealed as she bounced around on my hip.  Evan just stood there, gaping at the group with his brow furrowed and his mouth hanging open.  Despite my coaxing, he wouldn't come dance.  I suspect that by that point he had lost all respect for the shuffling rodent and was just waiting for us to finish up so we could go back to playing games.  He wouldn't even participate when Chuck-E's helper instructed the kids to sit in a circle to get free tickets. 

I wondered how the whole episode would affect his four-year-old psyche.

Fortunately Chuck-E soon retreated to the employee area, and I began the impossible task of convincing a four-year-old to leave a wonderland full of fun and delight so that he could go home and nap.

It took some arguing and bargaining, but Evan finally counted his tickets and selected his prize--a cheap plastic Slinky that broke on the drive home. 

We arrived home, exhausted, to find that the air conditioning was still off.  After consoling my son, who was crying over his kinky Slinky, and bribing my daughter with a couple of Hershey kisses, I was finally able to miraculously convince both children to nap.  I stretched out my aching back and changed my bra and shirt, which had both become soaked with sweat in the few minutes I had spent wrestling my kids into their beds, and then I placed a rather hysterical call to the power company, demanding that they come and take the cursed box off our house.

And... just this morning, they did.  Our air conditioning is back on and fully operational, and my husband is happy to have a wife who's no longer foaming at the mouth.  I've promised to buy Evan a replacement Slinky from the Dollar Tree, and life has otherwise resumed as normal.

But still, as I sit here enjoying my cool and comfortable home, I can't help but realize that somewhere there is a sad employee sweating in a hot Chuck-E-Cheese costume, getting punched in the face and kicked by a mob of rabid children.

Maybe being a stay-at-home mom isn't so bad.  I may be sweating and getting kicked, but at least I don't have to do it in a rodent costume!!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Destructive Little Devils

On most days, I feel like I'm handling this motherhood thing okay.  Sure, my hair hasn't been trimmed in about three months and my bangs now resemble what my mother used to refer to as "a fright wig."  And yeah... maybe my pedicure-deprived toenails resemble torture implements, but at least I clean up well.  It might take a bra with a built-in cantilever system, jeans with a tummy control panel and a bathing suit made by NASA, but if need be, I can hide the evidence of motherhood's damage to my body. 

My house, however, is not so lucky.

When we moved into our home eight years ago, it was pristine.  The fashionable contemporary house had been decorated sparsely and painted a sterile white on the interior.  The inhabitants had installed white wall-to-wall carpeting to match their white dog, and they insisted that visitors remove their shoes to keep the carpet spotless.

When they invited us over for a tour, the owners had shown off their shiny wooden cabinets -- lovingly polished with Tung Oil -- their fancy shrubberies that liked being watered just so, and the place in the basement where they kept their stash of extra supplies for the house, in case we needed additional tiles for our kitchen, a replacement window, or extra paint to touch-up a blemish. We watched in surprise as the wife stopped mid-sentence during our visit to pick an invisible piece of fuzz off the pristine carpet.

We couldn't believe our good fortune.  We marveled at the full basement, which was completely empty save for a small dog pen with three boxes sitting inside.  My husband and I playfully joked about how the owners were so obsessively neat that they even put their boxes in a cage!  We were thrilled to be buying a beautiful, well-kept home... one that we could build a family in.

For the blissful two years that followed, we enjoyed our stylish domicile, decorating it to our taste.  Glass vases sat on the tables, proudly displaying their hand-picked bouquets, and fragile decorative items lounged on various surfaces.  Expensive handmade Amish tables and hutches furnished our common rooms, and we spent evenings languishing on our overstuffed chairs and plush sofas, mixed drinks in hand.

This delicate balance was bound to be upset by the addition of youngsters, although at the time we really had no concept of the degree to which children could destroy a home.

Actually, the first damage was not done by our children, but by our cats.  We had three at the time, and they habitually vomited steaming piles of orange-and-brown slime onto our white carpets.  When professional carpet cleaners failed to remove the stains, we purchased decorative area rugs to hide the blemishes and told ourselves things weren't that bad.

Then, one day, one of our kitties knocked over a scented oil diffuser, spilling sweet vanilla oil all over our Amish dresser and stripping the finish off in uneven swirls.  I cried.  Our other furniture soon fell victim to the house's younger inhabitants too.  When my son was eighteen months old, he picked up a square ceramic coaster that I had mistakenly left out and repeatedly smashed it into our expensive coffee table, using the corner to gouge chunks of wood out of the table's polished surface.

That same table was later stained hot pink by a construction-paper flamingo that my son spilled juice on and then abandoned.  Today, the table bears childrens' stickers, the stains of multicolored snacks, and scribbles frantically made with a stolen Sharpie.

Our kitchen floor sports a giant piece of clear tape, permanently lodged there as a reminder of my son's "tape phase," during which he abandoned all toys in favor of unrolling package after package of Scotch tape.  He would wrap it around furniture, stretch it from room to room, stick it to walls, and, only occasionally, use it to affix two pieces of paper.  We have tried in vain to remove the tape from our linoleum, but all we've succeeded in doing is mangling it and making the edges that much more obvious.

Our rustic wood-burning stove, once the majestic focal point of our family room, now shrinks into anonymity behind the child-gate that we installed to keep the kids away from it.  Our walls bear the scars of other gates that were installed with the best of intentions, only to be brutally ripped down later by a child in the throes of a sugar rush.

Our once-handsome wooden cabinets are now faded, chipped, and banged; the cabinet doors under the sink hang slightly askew.  There are scribbles on the walls and unknown objects hiding in the dark depths of the heating vents.  Our carpets are no longer white, but instead resemble the splotchy, damaged skin of someone who has spent a lifetime getting too much sun.  Just this morning I caught my daughter holding her juice box upside-down with the straw removed, shaking the berry-flavored contents all over the carpet and further contributing to its mottled look.

We used to really enjoy having people over; we would have dinner parties and gatherings because we loved entertaining in our comfortable space.  Now we feel compelled to apologize to everyone who comes through the door, excusing the mess and the clutter and making sure they watch their step lest they get impaled by a Power Ranger action figure or slip on a Matchbox car.

The destruction continues, as it undoubtedly will for many, many more years.  We probably haven't even seen the worst of it yet.  We used to be so proud of our home.

It's when I'm feeling really down about this that I remind myself that we have something much more important to be proud of -- our children.  After all, no matter how many times we polish our cabinets or shampoo our carpets, our furnishings will never draw pictures of our family (festooned with hearts and rainbows) and proudly present their artwork to us.  We won't get warm snuggles from our sofas, kisses from our carpets, or love from our lounge chairs.

Sure, I often get discouraged, and at the lowest times I can be heard wailing, "Why do I even bother trying?  We'll never have anything nice again!"  But deep down, I know that the trade has been more than fair.  Our house bears the marks of destructive little children... but they are happy, spirited, loving destructive children.

For all the exasperation we endure as we watch our house get marked up by little hands and stained by muddy little feet, I have a nagging feeling that someday I'll miss the marks on the walls, the toys on the floor, and the juice boxes threatening to spill.

Someday I know we'll have our immaculate house back.  But honestly, I'm not in that much of a hurry for that day to come.  My house may be filled with disaster, but all the destruction is living proof that we have love and joy in abundance.

How blessed we truly are!
Artwork by Evan, 4 years old

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