Aliens among us

Captain_Underpants_Talking_ToiletsOnce upon a time I imagined raising my child in an exquisitely gender-neutral environment. None of this pink for girls, blue for boys stuff. I was sure I would raise a boy exactly the same way I would have raised a girl.

Then I actually had a child.

As the epidural wore off, reality kicked in. I had joined the MOB. I was the Mother Of a Boy. Nature, nurture, schmurture. I quickly discovered how little it mattered what I did.

Koss took about five minutes to decide he liked his stuffed football better than his teddy bear and another three to decide that peeing in my face was hysterically funny.

The fart jokes started about ten minutes after that, and seven years later, I’m still holding my breath.

He had his own little alien personality from the very beginning.

I had pictured us cuddled under a bright yellow comforter, sharing my favorite books from childhood. Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?…yeah, right. Our bedtime reading was filled with Dinosaur stats and Pokemon facts. His boy-brain was so hungry for straight information, I felt lucky if our story time involved any story narratives at all.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I joined the MOB, it’s that boys are actually alien beings. Their brains work differently than ours do. Apparently anything that moves fast is cool; anything that moves fast and is somehow gross is super cool; and anything that moves fast, is gross, and remotely resembles a snort, a burp, or a fart is super duper cool.

Oh, and there is nothing funnier than laughing until milk spurts out of your nose–and if it’s chocolate milk, it’s even funnier. And if you can somehow turn spurting chocolate milk out of your nose into a competitive sport with Olympic or Guinness Book potential, then half the world’s population would forever be in your debt.

This is not just a MOB observation, it’s scientific fact.

It is actually embedded in our DNA that when we go on vacation, I’m the only one who remembers to pack our suitcases with extra sweatshirts, toilet paper, snacks, books, light bulbs, sunscreen, magazines and the directions to our hotel, while my husband, Zak, is the only one who can figure out how to fit all that stuff in the trunk of our car.

And if for some reason Zak can’t get everything to fit, Koss is right there telling him how to do it.

Just like his father, Koss loves information. And just like his father, if he doesn’t know the right information, he’ll make something up.

We call it “Male Answer Syndrome” in our house.

My mom used to call it “Diarrhea of the Mouth,” which Koss finds hysterically funny.

Now that I’ve had seven years experience in the MOB, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised to find that Koss would rather read the Encyclopedia of Spiders than Charlotte’s Web. If somebody wrote Captain Underpants and Attack of the Farting, Spitting and Barfing Spiders, Koss would really be in heaven.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the potty humor genre has become so popular. Books with titles like The Day My Butt Went Psycho, Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, and Zombie Butts From Uranus! are somehow more attractive to boys than The Trumpet of the Swan, The Wind and the Willows, and From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

“Well duh, mom, those don’t sound very funny,” MANswers my seven-year-old son.

“Captain Underpants is totally funny,” MANswers my 41-year-old husband. “Want to smell something gross?” asks Zak, targeting a gigantic fart in our direction and immediately sending our son into peals of laughter.

Like I said, they’re alien beings.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Pimp my ride

Mercury Grand Marquis, courtesy Wikipedia.

Mercury Grand Marquis, courtesy Wikipedia.

In my quest not to become the typical minivan mom, I’ve become my grandfather instead. Somewhere between the two-door, bottom-of-the-line, “I can’t give it up because it still runs” college car and slapping a “my kid’s smarter than your kid” sticker on a station wagon, I skipped a generation and started driving a big, safe, six-passenger, slab of American steel.

Just like my grandpa did.

Just like most grandpas still do.

It wasn’t exactly a planned thing. It’s not like I woke up one day, got tired of zipping into tiny parking spaces and zipping out of the gas station for less than 30 bucks, and decided I wanted to captain a boat. Even in the wildest of my “Thelma and Louise” driving down the highway and not looking back fantasies, I have never really pictured myself driving off into the sunset behind the wheel of a Mercury Grand Marquis.

A green Jag or a red Mustang convertible, maybe, but a Mercury?

It all started when Teena, my 1990 Toyota Tercel, failed her smog check. It was finally time to go shopping for a new car.

Now, I know men complain about women and shopping all the time, but let me make something clear here: I don’t like to shop, I like to BUY. My husband, Zak, he’s the shopper in the family. He’ll think about replacing his golf hat for about year, look around for six months, research hats on the Internet for another month, discuss hats with his friends for another month, low bid for a few hats on EBay and Craig’s List, and then twiddle his thumbs for another couple of months before he finally gets around to buying something.

I, on the other hand, think the best kind of shopping is serendipitous, where you just stumble on something you can’t believe you ever lived without. Those QVC and Amazon reminder emails were made for people like me. And if I happened to spot a golf hat on sale, while cruising to lunch in the mall, I’d buy it in five different colors and two different sizes because I’d vaguely remember some boring conversations about Zak wanting a new hat.

So, given our two different purchasing styles, it’s no big surprise that when we went looking for a new car at a big tent sale at Earl Warren a couple of weeks ago, Zak was going to browse, but I was coming to buy.

My first priority in choosing a car was, of course, color, followed by the important practical considerations such a placement of cup holders, and a light up makeup mirror on the passenger side.

“But what kind of a vehicle are you looking for?” asked the already-exasperated salesman.

“Green,” answered my seven-year-old.

“Affordable,” said my husband.

“Ignore them both,” I instructed the poor man. “I want a convertible.”

We test drove the one convertible that was in our price range and quickly realized that it wasn’t really in our height range–Zak’s tall, skinny neck would be breaking through the canvas once we put the top up, and Koss’s four foot, four inch frame would be bursting out of the back seat in another couple of inches.

Then we drove a few other fun, fast cars that my inner teenager loved and my outer mom reluctantly agreed were completely impractical.

Koss pushed to try out the minivan with the built in DVD player. “But I hate minivans, ” I said. Not that I’d ever driven one.

I decided to give it a try. After all, it couldn’t hurt me too much to dip my toe into the carpool lane, could it?

Stepford Wives nightmares ran through my head as I turned the key in the minivan’s ignition. I tried to imagine myself pulling in and out of school in a minivan twice a day, just like millions of other moms in millions of other minivans. Maybe I could put a big skull tattoo on the side, or paint flames on it. That way at least I’d be able to find it in the parking lot next to all of the other minivans.

I started to feel nauseous. It’s just not right. It’s just not me. And that’s when I spotted the gleam of gold in the corner of the lot. Okay, it was the length of a football field, so it was kind of hard to miss. The leather seats called out to me, along with the six-CD-changer, the lumbar support, the little beep when you’re 50 miles away from needing gas, and the digital compass in the rearview mirror that automatically adjusts to darkness at night.

When I test-drove that baby, not only did she feel solid and smell pretty, but the other drivers got out of my way. Other drivers are the only things that have prevented me from enjoying driving for the past 20-odd years. I was sold.

“It’s not like we have to buy something today,” said my husband, naively. As if I was going to spend another weekend car shopping. I was done and the Mercury won.

We decided to name her Sunny.

Now if they could just make those parking spaces at school as wide as the ones at Bingo, I’d really be cruising.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Purse-u-ing the perfect purse

Photo by Linnaea Mallette,

Photo by Linnaea Mallette,

I’ve been searching for the perfect purse for about 30 years and I’ve finally come to a conclusion: there is no such thing. If you’ve ever tried to dance, as I did recently, with your everyday purse hanging from your shoulder because you can’t fit your digital camera and reporter’s notebook into your party purse, you know what I mean.

The perfect purse has got to be able to hold everything you need, yet still look stylish and feel light.

I think I’ve almost mastered the hold everything part.

My friend Ramey used to joke that anything you ever needed could be found in my purse. Can opener? Check. Band-Aid? Check. Sweatshirt? Check. Tire iron? Check. … Just kidding, I got rid of that years ago!

But I do think I’m a shoo-in to dominate on Survivor, the Purse Frontier, where contestants have to live off the contents of their handbags. After all, I am the reigning champion of “The Purse Game,” a baby shower thriller where you score points for matching a list of items with things in your handbag. I’ve got a whole closet full of jelly-bean-filled-baby-bottle-prizes, but I know my big score is coming soon, which is why I keep finding innovative new items to store in my purse, like that glittery pink Swiss army knife keychain that once said “princess” and now says “prin,” or those handy-dandy dissolvable Listerine mouthwash strips.

Since my son was little, he’s thought my purse was like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, filled with toys and treats and things to keep him relatively clean and quiet. Now that Koss is 7, my purse has become the receptacle of choice for his treasures, not just mine. I’m dumbfounded when I hear other moms talking about emptying their son’s pockets before doing laundry. My kid doesn’t want to look “bulky” and besides, I am Koss’s pockets — or at least my purse is — which is one of the reasons why we had to institute the “you can only take one small rock/shell/glass treasure home from the beach” rule.

When my husband tries to hand me his sunglasses, his wallet, or a frog he just found, that’s where I draw the line. My purse is heavy enough already.

I feel a little bit guilty when they make special requests, (“Mom, do you have a purple glitter crayon and some string cheese?” “Honey, do you have our 1992 tax returns and that New Yorker I’ve been wanting to read?”) then are utterly shocked when I’m not packing their little hearts’ desires.

I wish I could carry around the refrigerator and the filing cabinet with me but my purse is getting a little heavy. Besides, where would the shoe rack go?

In fact it’s so heavy that it’s leaving a permanent mark on my right shoulder. I wonder if there’s a way to make that look stylish, like the next hot thing after piercing and tattooing.

Unfortunately, as you can see from a recent inventory — wallet, keys sunglasses, cell phone, Band-aids, Kleenex, lip balm, lipstick, dental floss, floss sticks, paperback book, magic 8-ball, post-its, Tylenol, pens, notebook, camera, water, hair pick, mints and two changes of clothing — there’s absolutely nothing I could do without.

Believe me, I’ve tried. I have a closet full of nearly new (and now woefully out of style) handbags that aren’t big enough to fit all of life’s essentials. I once got stuck overnight in the Newark Airport with nothing to read and a terrible gift shop selection. There are 5,873 squares on the roof of the United Airlines terminal and I will never again leave home without extra reading material. As for the bottle of water, well, I was once stuck in the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.

With the exception of last weekend, I do try to lighten things up a bit when I go out at night. That’s when the party purses come out. But these can be tricky too. Some of those adorable little Judith Leiber rhinestone numbers won’t even hold a credit card and a lipstick, let alone car keys. If you need to bring sunglasses, you’re really up a creek. I think what I really need is a purse-onal assistant to schlep my bag, like all the movie stars have when they walk the red carpet.

Yes, that’s what’s missing in my life.

But I wouldn’t want an assistant digging through my bag. Who knows what embarrassing things she might find there. There are only so many places to hide a body. As the Illinois State Supreme Court found, “a woman’s purse occupies a peculiar status and is a possession in which a woman expects supreme privacy.”

And in the interest of full disclosure, the handbag inventory I provided here isn’t quite complete.

Now, for the three straight men and my father who made it all the way through this column — you win! I have your prize right here. … Just a sec … I know it’s in here somewhere…

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Mag on the Rag

fourweekslogoPunny magazine debuts for the hormonally challenged

There’s nothing like an unexpected visit from “Aunt Flo” to make a woman roar, snarl, growl, and howl. And howl I did–with laughter–when I heard about the new online women’s lifestyle publication, Four Weeks Magazine, which bills itself as “the first magazine tailored to each week of a woman’s monthly cycle.”

Yes, that’s right. I’m not talking bicycle or motorcycle or rinse cycle–I mean “that” cycle. Reading through the press release, my cramps and chocolate cravings began almost immediately. I had to find out more about this new rag (

Is it just another bloody online magazine? I thought Divorce Magazine ( and Modern Drunkard ( were gimmicky, but Four Weeks takes the old “if it bleeds, it leads” adage to a new level. It’s actually four mini magazines for each of the four weeks of a woman’s monthly hormone cycle and “the distinct moods that her hormones have her feeling during those weeks.” Week 1 is “fun and familiar;” week 2, “exciting and exotic;” week 3, “cautious and caring;” and week 4, “indulgent and introspective.”

But what about “pimply-faced and pissed off?” And what happens if you happen to have a 5-week cycle? Would you be stuck without anything to read? Maybe that’s where “bloated and bitchy” kicks in.

Four Week’s founder and editor Gabrielle Lichterman is the former managing editor of Playgirl magazine, the author of “28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential” and a member of The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. Who knew? All of the grief that woman get from men for traipsing into public restaurants like we were boarding Noah’s Ark, and we could have just told our guys we were going to a “society meeting.”

Talk about giving Martha and Oprah a run for their money. This chick is also the founder of her own science, Hormonology, “the science of predicting your day and planning your life according to one’s own hormone cycle.” Not to be catty, but does this mean we can blame Condi Rice’s hormones for the situation in the Middle East?


According to Lichterman, “Women can gain an advantage by planning their life around their hormonal influences. For example, it makes sense to plan high-energy activities during the week a woman’s hormones make her energy and endurance peak and to plan mellow activities during the week a woman’s hormones make her feel sedate and tired.”

So all of that hard work that women have done the past century to prove that we’re rational creatures not ruled by hormones goes up in smoke? I asked my husband what he thought about all this, and he said, “Yes, dear. You’re smart and pretty.” Okay, maybe not everything’s gone up in smoke.

Now nobody wants a Rorschach Inkblot on their white organza bridal gown, but Lichterman has taken wedding planning to a whole new level and produced “a hormonal guide to picking the perfect wedding date,” with week 4 flagged as a “Bridezilla warning!” week because “descending hormones produce a rise in noradrenaline, a chemical that triggers anger and irritation. At the same time, decreasing estrogen is making it hard to put a positive spin on anything.”

As if one’s mood swings could be so easily predictable, I snarled.

I’d like to go with the flow, but do you think it’s possible that your hormones could get so out of whack that you begin to feel like you live your whole life in week four? It sure would excuse…I mean, explain, a lot.

And if I, or my evil twin sister, were to be living in a perpetual week 4 hormonal hell, what should I be reading? Certainly not news headlines. Instead, the shopping section of Four Weeks offers a story on “Killer Candy Bowls.” No, not my mom’s childhood tales of Halloween razor blades in the Milky Ways (perhaps she was in week 4 and just really needed the chocolate caramely nougat)–these are actually really cool looking bowls made out of recycled plastic candy wrappers by Nepalese artisans and sold fair trade by a non-profit organization that provides health care services in rural Nepal and Vietnam. Where’s the comedy in that?

This magazine might actually be kind of useful. There’s an article on “How your guy’s hormone cycle can bring you closer,” which features nifty tidbits like: “When a man watches a romantic movie, it raises the level of his progesterone by more than 10 percent, making him mellow and more nurturing.” So it’s not just because he thinks he might get lucky.

The food section has an article on “The surprising ways candy can be good for your health.” Is it just my hormones, or am I actually starting to like this woman? Unlike the typical women’s magazines, which recommend either healthy diets and exercise or plastic surgery and expensive baubles, this article prescribes eating caramels for stress, licorice for bloating, peppermints for coughing and congestion, and my personal favorite, chocolate for cancer.

It’s hard to growl too much about that. Meow.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound