Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why I Have More Than One Child, part 1 of 2

I'm hopping on the theme bandwagon...this ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about onlies and siblings.

Last night, as I complained about the stinking Unwelcome Aunt currently visiting me (and yes, I used a euphemism for "menstrual cycle." I often do. My favorite is "surfing the crimson wave." Seriously, you have to have a sense of humor if your Aunt is anything like my Aunt or you'll go crazy. I'll elaborate below.), anyway, last night, as I complained about the Aunt, my husband said, "Well you could always get pregnant again."

And I replied with...

(crickets chirping)

Seriously.

I said absolutely nothing. He waited, half joking smile on his face, eyebrows elevated...leaning across the bed towards me.

And I said absolutely nothing. I think even my face---usually even more talkative than my mouth---was silent.

He said, leaning back, "Uhhh, errrr, oookaaaayy, that fell flat. Nothing to say?"

And I shrugged, still pulling an ironic yet creditable Silent Sam.

I still have nothing to say, and yet, I'm going to use a lot of words in this blog entry to say pretty much nothing, at least on that topic.

First, I'm going to tell you why I have one child.

And interestingly, that's pretty much why I have a second child, too. But I'll save that for a second post.

It's not until now, with the "are we done yet?" looming that I hit the "Umm gee, what do I do?" Until now, the answer has been easy, obvious, clear.

But a third?

Now you've hit my pain point of pondering.

So here we go...why I have one child, and a whole lot of how...

Initially---that is to say when I got married as a mere child, my not-quite-mid-20s, wet behind the ears, spinach still fresh, the salad days were so recent---I was pretty tired of raising people. Or so I thought.

HA! I had no idea. Really.

But I had felt too much responsibility for too many people for too long and the idea---at that time in my life---of parenting made me freeze up like a tongue stuck to a pole in Boston in January.

Plus, late in college a friend's older sister, who I admired, got married. She and her groom promised five years of marriage to one another. No kids until after that. She had an incredibly well-thought through and eloquent reasoning why (build relationship, mature, get finances in order, buy a house, be a little selfish, travel, etc.), all of which appalled every single person at the bridal shower...except me, her newest convert. I determined then and there...if I married young, five years, at a minimum. I know nothing in life like that is a guarantee, but you sure can do your best.

Up to that point, I had treated birth control like a religion and I was a born-again zealot: Cover your ass and double up (that is to say, both parties need to use protection), use good judgment, one time is too much, if the condom bugs you "no sex" is always even less sensation, use it properly according to directions exactly, know your drug interactions, maximize efficacy, etc.

I'd supported friends through the "holy crap...ummm uh oh no when can I test?" panic...and a few who got the news that she was going to have a baby...or not. I’d gone with friends for testing. That would not be me, I said.

And it wasn't.

My husband liked the five year rule. Plus, when we married we were both pretty ambivalent about parenting. Smartly. We took some time to mature.

We understood people who chose to have children, but equally understood people who did not. Neither of us considered ourselves "kid people" and neither of us ever cooed over babies or got real involved. Kid stories from coworkers were amusing for about two minutes, once a week. We never had advice for parents, never thought we were any kind of expert about parenting, and frankly, did our level best to think Very Little At All about it.

Then one day 30 was staring us both in the face. Age had never mattered. We were still getting the message that we had all the time in the world. So it wasn’t age that motivated us.

I don't know what did, honestly.

Just...one Thanksgiving in the late 1990s, we decided, hey, throw caution---and all the birth control---to the wind. Let's get us a rug rat. We were smug with our secret knowledge that soon we'd add a grandchild for doting, and we'd have a gorgeous baby to adore.

But...it didn't happen.

At my annual exam my gynecologist said, relax, don't worry, you're young and fine. Three months isn't long to try to conceive. Try using charting for ovulation prediction, maximize your potential.

Then, she reassured me that six months isn't long to try to conceive. My charts looked good. All was well. Relax, don't worry, you're young and fine.

Then, she paused, at a year. She said, a year of trying with charts, we like to do a little checking. We had another exam, and she scheduled me at the hospital for an allegedly simple no big deal procedure called an HSG. This is where they inject you with dye and watch it track through your reproductive organs, to ensure All Really Is Where It Should Be and Working Fine.

I began researching on the Internet. It was a different world, almost ten years ago. I found a place called iVillage that was full of information, and wonderful, supportive women. I joined a board called Trying to Conceive and got loads of help and advice, especially about my upcoming HSG.

I prepared as any perfectionist would: following all the advice and instructions to the letter.

I lay on the table. When she injected the dye, I felt agony beyond any pain I had ever experienced. It was on par with the time I broke my back in an automobile accident. I tried to tell the doctor how much it hurt, and she told me it couldn’t possibly hurt, she told me to relax. I said something must be wrong, it hurts so much, and she said on the contrary everything was fine, and asked me what my pain threshold was to be so floored by a little cramping. It wasn’t a little cramping, and my pain threshold was pretty high.

The doctor completed the procedure and told me I could return to the adjacent dressing room and go home. I was light-headed and dizzy from the pain, and stumbled to the dressing room, where I crashed on to the toilet, voided my bowels and passed out.

I hate being so graphic, but there you have it. It was. Just that. The first milestone on the journey of massive indignity of body and spirit.

The doctor gave “good” results from the HSG and said there was no reason I shouldn’t get pregnant right away. In fact, she told us, often the HSG clears up some “slight” blockage and many people get pregnant right after it.

Although at this point we grasped on to any hope, her reassurances fell flat. My husband and I were worried. We watched friends try and succeed, right away. We handled pregnancy announcements from siblings with grace and excitement, while our own hearts broke, wondering when our turn would come. We watched friends carry home babies, all while we tried. We watched siblings have second children, all while we tried. We fielded painful, wrenching questions about when we would add in kids, too.

When we finally confessed, very slightly, that we were experiencing some trouble but would like children, we experienced frequently well-intentioned but always soul-squeezing comments:

(A) The armchair expert advice (“just quit trying, that always works” and “getting drunk always worked for us” and “have you tried the pillow trick?” and “my friend’s mother’s sister’s daughter’s friend’s sister used Herb Gravida and that is a real charm, works for everyone”)
(B) The Urban Legend (“heh, you should adopt, that always gets everyone pregnant” and “if you spin three time counterclockwise and make love in the lotus position under a full moon you’ll get pregnant for sure”)
(C) The Thoughtless Zingers (“well, you always said you didn’t think you wanted kids” and “some people just aren’t meant to be parents” and “gee I wish I had infertility instead of these three little monsters” among others)

The expectation seemed to be that I would rise above my own personal situation and pain, and make sure to not inflict it on anyone else. In other words, it wasn’t cool for me to have mixed emotions about friends’ and relatives’ fecundity.

I isolated myself more and more, pouring myself deeper into my online world of infertility friends and support networks. They understood it was perfectly possible to be happy for a fertile friend and devastated for yourself. They understood how getting a birth announcement on results day (negative) was harder than getting one during the manic depressive two week wait. They accepted all the weird superstitions because we all engaged in them together. We met online and in real life, and some of us formed a monthly dinner club. We traveled together, met for special events. We were a subculture.

I even wrote a humorous Divine Secrets of the Bitter Infertile Woman manifesto, full of terms for the fertile and infertile, and fun friends added in pieces such as “PIO darts to Fertile Myrtles who Pound us with a Thoughtless Zinger.”

PIO, for those not in the know, is Progesterone in Oil. It’s injected. And it’s all part of the infertility subculture nomenclature.

And the years passed. Treatments got more complicated and expensive. My team of specialists grew. Procedures and tests got more invasive. As did the treatments.

Sex wasn’t sex any longer. Sex was regulated by the doctor’s schedule.

Sex was for procreation. Every sperm was sacred, and the best had to be saved for the lab.

Procreation wasn’t two people making love in a rose petal strewn bed, surrounded by candlelight. It was feet up, stirrups out, speculum in, two nurses, a doctor and a lab tech.

It wasn’t Us. It wasn’t private.

But…we couldn’t give up. With each transition to Bigger Gun treatment, we reflected. We wondered when it would be time to move on. It ate us up inside, were we doing the right thing. Our doctor mandated counseling. We had to have a mental health all clear before going forward. We also had monthly disease, STD, AIDS, and other physiological checks. And my body was poked, prodded, drained of blood, injected with more intense drugs. I had internal sonograms every day, watching follicles grow. I had blood tested every day, checking hormone levels. I started each and every day in the doctor’s lab the first couple of weeks of my cycle. I spent each day waiting for The Call.

And then my husband and I had to juggle in the complicated timing of trigger, extraction and insertion.

Then we tried to settle in to---or distract ourselves as completely as possible---during the interminable two week wait. Waiting to find out whether this time, this time was The Time.

More time passed. And we’d never even achieved a pregnancy.

We signed up for an adoption seminar, and to our surprise, found ourselves primarily interested in semi-open domestic. We began choosing an agency. I started a portable file, and we started making up our Sell Ourselves book to try to attract and appeal to the women who decided adoption was the least worst/best solution for them. We met birth parents, adult adoptees, adoptive parents. We learned a lot about what adoption was, and wasn’t. We gained respect for everyone involved, and learned about attachment, attachment disorders, and grief, as well as patience, reward, and joy.

We’d spent years, literally, working to prove ourselves worthy of parenthood.

We had to show ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually worthy of parenthood.

A state it seemed most other people achieved simply by deciding to.

But not us.

We had to wait to hit the lottery, to be chosen. We had to hope that the doctor didn’t find anything wrong, because he could yank the plug at any time, and twice he threatened to. When that happened, I knew how drug addicts felt. I learned what begging was. With each “sorry, it’s negative” call, I learned how disease patients felt. I learned what it meant to have your body betray you and not work. I learned how it felt to walk through the world “not right.”

We measured life in two-part cycles: the two week build-up (which went fairly quickly, and was very busy) and the two week wait (which was neverending).

Testing day was a day you simply got through, somehow, and hoped people didn’t notice your voice was too high all day, and your smile too tight. You assured the doctor’s office they could call you at work, and each time, you thanked God for your office door.

The entire time you marveled at what you were willing to go through to become parents, and suddenly, you realized how very much you wanted to parent.

Our epiphany was simply that we wanted to be parents, and weren’t picky about how that happened. That is why, unlike some of our infertile friends, we felt very comfortable with pursuing treatment. And that is why, unlike some of our infertile friends, we felt very comfortable with adoption.

We took some time---valuable time, time it hurt to take, time we had to take but worried, oh my God what if this was our only window? What if we blow it? Lose it? Will we always wonder?---to decide whether it was time to give up on infertility treatment and move on to adoption. We believed for us it had to be a choice.

Our doctor convinced us to sign up for the in vitro fertilization class because there had been advancement in the years we’d spent in treatment.

I did the usual blood draw qualifier, and we sat through the class. For us it was a formality because I’d been vicariously through it with so many friends. We listened, and we still wondered whether we could do it.

Later that day, the nurse called me. I heard her voice and name on my voicemail at work, and wondered what paperwork we’d forgotten to fill out. I called her back. She asked me where I was, and if it was private. I said yes. She said she needed to tell me something, and I needed to be strong.

This is always the part where your stomach turns to a rock and drops like a lead zeppelin to your feet, while your esophagus rolls up and clogs your throat.

She said, “You have a positive beta. It’s only 20. That’s not actually pregnant. You’d need a 100 at least for that. So, it’s either some residual trigger, which would be odd, because you should have metabolized that by now, you have an ectopic pregnancy, or you are miscarrying.”

She asked about blood, and I said I had thought I’d started my period that day.

She told me to come in for a blood draw in two days, to make sure “it” was complete.

We cried together on the phone. A baby found, finally, and lost, all in the same moment.

I thought about the medical term---aborter---and how it would be added to my chart. I thought of my friend, who had been through this ten times, and how the medical term “habitual aborter” was on her chart. And I cried some more, for both of us.

I called my husband and tried to tell him. He didn’t understand, and he got hopeful. Which made me hope, even though the nurse had said this wasn’t a pregnancy. Even though she’d said at this point anything less than 100 wasn’t real, and cited the medical certainty, the odds.

When I got the next results, it had gone up. To 40. I was still “not really pregnant.” That’s less than “sort of pregnant” but not quite “not pregnant at all.”

It was a hellish purgatory.

And my heart ached every minute. I wanted that baby. I willed my body to hold on to that baby, even while the doctor started talking ectopic, and drugs to abort, and so forth. I hoped I was right, I hoped I wasn’t doing something wrong by hoping and hanging on. I was so used to questioning and second-guessing myself, and what was meant to be by this point, though.

I kept thinking there couldn’t possibly be a rug left under me to yank out. But there was.

My next result was 60. Then 80. Then 100.

At that point, I asked whether I was “sort of pregnant” yet. The nurse said yes, but begged me to not get attached.

Too late. I was attached. I was involved. My lips moved all day, praying and praying. My friends made chains. My infertile friends. The only ones---beyond my doctor, his nurse, and my husband---who knew. The only ones I trusted to understand.

I crossed my legs obsessively, hoping in some twisted way of thinking that this would hold the baby in.

My numbers kept going up. The sonogram showed a little seed in the right spot. And the numbers kept climbing.

My doctor wanted permission to note this, if I had a live birth. It would be a record low beta that lasted.

Suddenly, I felt pregnant, with a real possibility of a real baby. I felt a little hopeful. And a lot fearful. I waited for my body to fail again. I waited for something to not work right. I wondered how my reproductive organs would fail me, and I hated myself a little, a lot because already I worried whether I could protect my growing baby.

Life. Healthy and live. Please. Please God. Healthy and live. My brain kept this prayer on continuous cycle for nine months.

In my second trimester, my doctor released me to a regular OB. This was a new OB, one used to the fragile mental state of the long-term infertility patient. This OB understood, as did his nursing staff, the complexity of a post-IF pregnancy for many women, me being a prime case. Heartbeat checks any time I needed reassurance. Patience for the tons for questions I had, “Was this okay/normal/etc.”

I quit reading any of the pregnancy books, because my pregnancy wasn’t like any of those, and they all scared me because of that.

My pregnancy was symptom-less.

Utterly.

I hardly even had a bump at six months.

Sometimes I wondered if this was a hysterical manifestation of my mind.

I was super high-maintenance. You’d think this was the first pregnancy in the history of the world, annoyed relatives would say. It was. It was MY first pregnancy in MY history of MY world. It wasn’t like anything else.

I felt 100% attuned to and connected with my growing baby. It felt 100% right. When my heart was at work, I felt utter peace and confidence that this baby girl was okay.

A girl. When we found out, my husband and I whooped and shouted and laughed and cried and hugged in joy. The technician said, “Wow, you must have REALLY wanted a girl! What, do you have three boys at home?”

And we said, “This is our first. We’re just so excited to find out. We don’t care the sex. But now we know she’s a SHE.” It was our first big step to knowing her, to being a family of three. We knew which pronoun to use, and what names to consider.

She.

She was coming.

Sometimes my head took control, and I overanalyzed every twinge, or non-twinge, symptom or non-symptom.

I tried to act like I thought I should, and feel like I thought I should. I tried to tell myself it was over, I was pregnant, it was over, but instead my infertility weighed on me like an albatross.

For the record, pregnancy does not cure infertility. People just think it does. They think it is simply a physical issue. It’s not.

Still, past, albatross or not…we were having a baby. A baby. A baby girl! She was coming. We created a nursery and devoted ourselves to coming parenthood with the same intensity we had devoted to trying to get pregnant. And that, my friends, is a lot of intensity.

The pregnancy went so swimmingly well, that I had almost begun to believe it would all be okay. In labor, though, my defects resumed their position in the limelight. I couldn’t progress. My cervix wouldn’t dilate. My canal was awkward. The baby was stuck. I hard-labored for over 40 hours, and both the baby and I were in distress. I was so tired, I didn’t care about anything any more. I told the doctor to do whatever he had to do, I didn’t care. He asked me to dig deep, and try one last time, and, with a lot of people pulling and tugging, a vacuum, and the very last bit of me (or so it felt) she was OUT!

There came my second wind.

Never was a baby so welcomed or loved, we thought.

So, as my husband would say, we donned our parenthood mantle willingly, eagerly, and joyfully. Our baby, our little family, it was too wonderful. We were in love. We loved. It was clear…more. More would be better. We couldn’t add on to our family soon enough.

But, as before, life had other plans…

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Chapped Hide Olympics: The worst business and customer service stories of 2006

Some days I am the carpenter, but today? I am the oyster. (If you need a reference, it's Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and The Carpenter.)

I have been led a not-so-merry dance down the tulip path, my friends.

There are some American businesses that have pissed me off recently. I am doubly pissed off because I strongly suspect they are following what I consider standard US business operating procedure, which, in my opinion is chockfull of morally bankrupt and malicious deliberately misleading tactics.

Where do US business CEOs learn this stuff? Is there a class at universities called, "US Business 101: Tactics in Caginess---Hedge, Stall, Redirect Blame, Prevaricate, and Lie?"

My hide is royally chapped purple.

So welcome to The Ravin’ Picture Maven’s Olympic Games for Worst Customer Service Thus Far This Year Award Ceremony.

1. GOLD AWARD to…AT&T

What they did: Had a major breakdown of service for my entire town for a full seven days---for me this affected my phone and Internet service. This isn’t the first case of long service failure. It’s happened at least every other week. It’s been terribly unreliable. This last week was the longest service drop, though.

How they handled it:
Badly. Poor customer service, lack of information, hedging, stalling and redirecting blame. No apologies. No offers. No explanations. No attempts to mollify me for the major inconvenience (what an understatement).

They use a two-part tactic

Tactic part 1: Ask customer to run the gerbil wheel----get customer to state the same information over. Keep asking them red herring questions, preferably about their equipment and setup, in an attempt to frustrate them into hanging up or to try to redirect blame to them and their equipment rather than tell the truth that the technical problem is on the company’s end.

Tactic part 2: Kill them softly with the hold button. The plan here is to make the customer service call last so long that you are unable or unwilling stay on the line, and are even less motivated to call back because you know you will be wasting your valuable time and will get nowhere.

Specifically, it went like this:

Hedge x 4---ah yes, there has a been a technical difficulty but crews are working on it and we expect service up and running within a couple of hours (day 1, day 2, twice)

Hedge---oh, well, this wasn’t a technical difficulty, it was scheduled maintenance. When did we notify customers about this scheduled maintenance that would keep customers down for over a week? Err, I don’t have access to that information. You were told it was a technical difficulty with our router? Err, no, I see it is scheduled maintenance. (In other words…now we are making shit up so we don’t have to refund your money for our screw-up.) (day 3)

Stall---I’m not aware of any problems in your area…can you hold while I research? (day 4)

Redirect blame---our maintenance is concluded, it must a problem on your end. What sort of modem do you have? How many lights are flashing? Do you have filters on your phone line? Oh…you do. (Massive disappointment evident in tone.) Nevertheless, I need to open a trouble ticket. There is probably something wrong with your equipment. You might be charged. (day 5)

Prevaricate and lie---a representative told you this was technical difficulty? Oh no, it was scheduled maintenance. When did we schedule this and notify you? Oh I don’t have access to that. I need to contact to technical support. Please hold. (long pause) Hello, I’m back, are you there? Oh yes, they say it was scheduled maintenance? What are we doing that requires downtime this long? I don’t know. You want to speak to Tech Support directly?

And 45 minutes later…tech support says, “Ah yes, there has been a technical difficulty and our router is down. Crews are working on it and we expect service to be restored with in a couple of hours.” (days 5, 6, and 7)

Outcome: Service has been restored. A machine called my machine to let us know. I called billing and had to request an adjustment to my bill to cover the lost days of service. Otherwise, I’d get billed as usual. I might anyway. Who can trust, you know?

My humble opinion: The idea here is to keep me running on a wild goose chase. Keep putting me on hold. All with the hope that eventually I will do what all American business hope consumers do once they have my money: get tired and bail.

Why can’t they just say, “Wow, our brick is broken. The router for your entire town is down, and nobody has service. We screwed up accidentally, and we are really sorry. We’ll offer you a refund of the past month, and free service for three months to make up for the inconvenience this causes, or you can opt in to one of our current incentive plans for a lower rate for the next year.”

Why can’t they just do that? Or something similar?

Treat me with respect, with honor…as a valued customer?

This leads me to the silver award.

2. SILVER AWARD to…Bank of America


What they did: Screwed up my new account and keep charging me a monthly service fee when they shouldn’t, and haven’t paid me the $50 promised to me as a promotion if I set up a new account.

How they handled it:
Badly. We’ve exchanged numerous e-mails for the last seven months and still the matter is unresolved. In fact, worse, they now claim that the account they themselves set up for me was set up incorrectly, therefore they don’t need to pay me the $50 and the fee charged has been accurate. In other words, they are trying to make it my fault.

Specifically, it has been:

Here’s what happens every month. I have it in saved messages. It’s hilarious. Not really. But sort of funny odd I guess.

Step 1: They yank $12 from my account.

Step 2: I contact them to inform them about their mistake and to request a refund.

Step 3: They thank me for contacting them, and tell me they have researched the situation. Unfortunately, I am the mistaken one, they inform me. They require a $5000 minimum balance for no fees. But thank you and have a nice day.

Step 4: I inform them they are the mistaken ones and if they actually researched, they’d see that it is attached to an account system which (a) exempts it from fees and (b) was opened from a mortgage account which exempts it from fees.

Step 5: They tell me oh, ah ha, ah yes, I am in fact correct and they’ll refund it. In their own sweet time. Which is usually oh say about thirty days from this point. Which, interestingly, is usually about the day before they yank out the next mistaken $12 fee.

This last month I simply copied and pasted both their and my messages into one message and sent it along when they withdrew the $12.

Now, in each message I add a P.S. It states, “I want my promotional $50 you promised.”

Initially they told me to be patient; it took a while to process all the promotional distribution money.

Eventually, when they passed the, “Give us at least 90 business days to deposit it” time period, they began accusing me of not having used the promotion code. When I copied them on the code and the receipt, they went silent. And I still don’t have my $50.

And now they tell me I won’t. In my humble opinion, what the hell ever happened to "the customer is always right" and "keep the custmer happy?"

Speaking of promised money not received leads me to my third Chapped Hide Business Award.

3. BRONZE AWARD to…Home Depot.

What they did: Offered a rebate to promote paint sales, and then never fulfilled the promise by actually rebating the money to me, although I followed their instructions to the letter.

How they handled it:
Badly. Pretended I don’t exist and the rebate never happened. Despite my copies of all paperwork.

I’m the person who always sends in rebates.

Clark Howard did a little personal study once. He found that he received about a 25% return on rebates he sent it. That’s…stunning. That means 75% of the time business BLEW OFF their in writing offer to rebate you money if you bought their product and correctly returned the rebate, which I promise you, he did.

A rebate process, BTW, that usually requires a degree in consumer advocacy it’s so complicated.

Nevertheless, like Clark Howard, if I buy something on rebate (and I hate hate hate doing that…I prefer straightforward honest---and I emphasize that word, a legitimate marking down, not simply a mark up then slight markdown---sales and coupons) I send it in. I follow the instructions carefully, make copies of everything and send it in, noting the date I did so.

I’m very careful---usually---about this.

This is why, six months later, I noted with surprise that Home Depot has NOT honored the rebate they promised me on some expensive paint I bought.

I spent time gathering all the materials necessary for the rebate, filling out the form, copying it, and sending it in.

They probably spent about 22 seconds dropping my unopened envelope in the trash.

Now I decide whether it is worth the approximately $50 they owe me to either (a) call and pursue the matter or (b) walk into the store and make a loud stink to gain leverage in pursuing (a)…because we all know the store will say it’s over their heads.

My humble opinion about it all:


I don’t enjoy this. I don’t like calling companies, already annoyed, already feeling cheated. I don’t like engaging in conflict resolution discourse with hapless workers. In fact, I don’t like talking to customer service reps---who are usually overseas in a country where English isn’t the first language so we already have that barrier to overcome---who have been trained to hedge, hedge, stall, redirect blame, prevaricate and lie. And who, by the way, hold no real authority other than being able to implement tactics their livelihood depends upon.

See?

It’s all a game designed to make you give them your business (Rebate! Promotion!). Then, the system is designed to make you bail.

Only I’m stubborn, persistent and resistant.

It’s a game of hedging, and stalling. A game of Stare…see who blinks first.

I’ll say about 15% of the time I win.

That’s because their resources are bigger. And the people employed there have all the time in the world to keep repeating the Hedge-Stall-Redirect game. They get paid all day every day to do it. Me? I’m just a regular schmo trying to squeeze this in between all the rest of my life demands. And I don’t get paid to play the game.

Who wins the Bad Service Olympics for you? This time of year, it seems like there are a lot of contenders for the Gold…

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Letter from the Past...a day in the life of a woman in 1927

My family is a tremendous group of preservers. I don’t mean packrats---although I’m sure there are plenty---I mean preservers. Of information. History.

We have family records, letters, journals, papers, wills, and so forth going back ages and ages. I know who my people were to a degree that extends beyond simply seeing a name on a page with years of birth and death.

Maybe I just mean I come from a long line of wordy and writing-oriented folks. Errr, that is to say, gifted with gab.

My people were frequently rabble rousers, such as the Scots who fought against the King and were offered the choice between "death" or "transport to the American colonies." The English, I suppose, figured death was preferable to ever stepping foot off one's native soil---even if one was a Scottish barbarian---and must have been surprised by the number who opted for transport.

They were often tremendously brave (or stupid, depending) and each time and opportunity for adventure came along, my ancestors tended to seize it with both hands. There are the stories and letters we still have as they pioneered across the largely unknown territory that is now the United States.

Knowing my people---who they were, what they did, how they thought---makes me understand that some traits I have I come by very honestly.

And I love the anthropology of it all.

So I guess it wasn't much surprise that I was one person in my generation that the genealogy and family records were passed down to.

I thought it might be interesting to share snippets of the life these people lived.

Following is a letter from my great-grandmother to her sister. She wrote it in 1927. It's a thank you note for Christmas gifts, which is one reason why it appealed to me. It makes me think about what Christmas was, and what it has become. She is also dispensing kind but unsolicited advice as an elder sister often does to a younger sibling, even after both are grown.

Jan 3, 1927

My dear Sydda,

My, you just can't imagine how proud we all are of our Christmas. The children were so tickled over their shoes. And oh my, the handkerchief is so pretty! I don't know when I can ever use it unless it would be to your wedding. But there you are---I haven't even had an invite yet. You know two just getting married in the family is enough and I think you and David should wait 'til Spring and have a sure enough wedding with all the frills. How about it? I'm just crazy to help fix for it but if you go ahead now we can't. We haven't had near enough time since the warning. Maybe we could persuade Oscar to come. I believe he would and could all be to-gether again. He surely wouldn't miss such an important affair. And you know you are not planning to marry but once and I believe David would want you to have the best wedding you could have, and that's not so long.

Well Chism started back to school to-day. He's trying to comb his hair like Walter Morgan (one of the singers). We sure had some fine singing yesterday evening. You know Brother Killian was here. I looked for you all Saturday as Papa got a holiday. Was real disappointed.

I want to write some more letters. I don't get started writing very often so have to make some time when I'm in the notion.

Sure would love to have a letter from you telling me to start for the Spring. How about it?

Lots of love and greatest wishes for your happiness, Katie.


She wrote in cursive. Not the careful, neat, precise and measured handwriting so common the past when penmanship was a cornerstone of education. Instead she used a unique and clearly rushed hand, such as a mother of several small children might.

I never met this woman. She died two years later in 1929, after nursing people who had tuberculosis. Other than her letters, and stories from her friends and relatives, even her own children don’t really recall her.

I think it’s cool, though, that these pieces of her do survive, and bring her into the future, and give me a glimpse into the past.

What do you know of your history? How does it matter to you?

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Knocked down and out

How low the mighty have fallen.

I've stolen my husband's laptop and a friend's wireless connection to post my sad tale of woe.

On November 21, 2006 AT&T killed our Internet connection. This means our main phone and Internet are KIA.

They've sent us 'round the mulberry bush with stalls, lies, excuses and displaced blame but in the end, it all comes down to this one crucial fact:

We.

Have.

No.

Online.

Connection.

And sadly, it is devastating.

Allegedly something called a "brick" went "down" killing the main router for our entire town. Allegedly all AT&T customers in my tom have no online access, and haven't since the 21st. They haven't a clue when it will be back up.

Meanwhile, it's costing me in so many unpleasant ways.

I've no less than six blog posts I've been composing in word---and now one long six page rant about sucky businesses (aka AT&T)---all of which are stuck locally, solely for my perusal, when really, I wrote them for yours.

On the upside, I haven't jumped ship.

On the downside, I feel I've been shoved off the plank.

On the upside, when I get a connection back I'll have loads of new posts.

So don't give up on me.

I'll be back.

Now excuse me while I go off to kick some AT&T ass. Again. It should take about 45 minutes: 30 minutes hold time off and on, 10 minutes of BS with them asking me for the 25th billionth time what sort of modem I have and have my phone lines got filters on them (all of which they know very well), and 5 minutes of actual conversation in which I learn what I already know: they are effing eejits who haven't managed in a week to get my town's access back up.

Down and out for now...but back as soon as signing-up-new-ISP-and-running-cable possible.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What's in a name? It's just a word, right? A rose would still be a rose...

My last post asserted there is no magic word, and I received comments with excellent points to ponder. So, I decided to think further about the power of words.

Each word we use or write is imbued with meaning. There's power in that. Not magic per se, but power.

No word, in my opinion, has half as much power as your name. In fact, what to call people, when to use which name, and so forth is one of the bigger debates I've ever seen.

Should children call you, "Miss Missy?" Or just "Missy?" Or "Mrs./Ms./Miss Missus?"

What if you strongly prefer children to simply call you Missy, but your friend prefers that her children call you Miss Missy, and that your children call her Miss Othermissy? Or what if you prefer Mrs. Missus but your friend prefers the more casual Missy and introduces you that way?

Whose preference takes precedence?

What is your preference, and why? Is it personal, or cultural?

I was raised to call adults, primarily, sir or ma'am, no matter their relation to me. If I needed to use a name, it was often Mrs. Missus or Mr. Mister, with some exceptions for close family friends who varied from Miss Missy to Missy.

How that "okay to be familiar" situation was determined was beyond me, literally and figuratively. Additionally, sometimes my parents would introduce me to Mrs. Missus, who then quickly said, "Oh you can call me Missy!" Which simply flummoxed both me and my parents. Oh what to do, what to do! Follow general complicated manner guidelines or the person's preference?!?

As a child, it was bewilderingly baffling.

I didn't want to mess up and have an adult mad at me. Not to mention---as a young rebel---simply because "ma'am" and "sir" were demanded I opposed using them, on principle, you know. I understood it was a part of a code that demanded I give adults---even those who I felt sure weren't worthy---respect, although they didn't have to give it to me. And I objected.

(Little aside: I've never asked my own children to use Ma'am or Sir, a fact that I am sure makes my father weep into his old military hankie.)

But, I didn't feel so cheeky as to circumvent the expectation by using the first name, and generally, outside of Ma'am or Sir I wasn't really sure which form of address to use, so I decided the safest route was to not use a name at all. Which got tricky at times. And even more confusing.

That's why New England made sense to me, finally, instead of the perplexing Southern name rituals that would boggle even the Japanese.

In Massachusetts, it seemed more straightforward. Initially, the children I knew were either relatives (called me “Julie”) or school-aged (called me "Mrs. Pippert" by their parents' instruction). When I had my own little one, we typically called each other by first names. And outside friends and family, it was either formal, or silent.

But I'm back in the South, now. We don't live free or die, here. We live by codicils of behavior and codes of manners.

Therefore, most people almost always automatically add "Miss" or "Mr." in front of first names if their children may use an adult's first name. There might be conscientious objectors, but they remain silent and suffer through the title in front of their names. I imagine they are like river rocks, worn smooth from years of the great powerful river Southern Custom running over them.

From different people, I've alternately heard pro and con arguments about how children ought to address adults. Adding the "Miss" and "Mr.," say some, is a necessary form of respect, while others say it is a silly affectation. In general, most people seem to have an opinion about how they want to be addressed, and sometimes an even stronger opinion about how their children need to address other adults.

In all honesty, it doesn't much matter to me. If a friend has a preference--and now that I parent I will often ask about preference---I'm good with that. I'm the person behind the name, and the name is just one way to get my attention. You, and your children, are my friends...I just want you to call me.

That said, there are other arenas.

I know! Other arenas! Outside the mommyworld!

There's the work arena. In the workplace, I've always simply used first names. I think this is fairly SOP in American business, even with someone you just met.

There's the public arena. And here it gets dicier. And here I have an opinion, a strong one.

Mr. Bank Teller, I've never met you, we aren't buds. I'm either, "Thank you," with no name, or "Thank you, Ms./Mrs. Pippert."

I don't understand this new trend at my bank of having the bank tellers use my first name in conversation at least three times, as if we were Best Friends Forever. We aren't. You still haven't paid me that $50 promo bonus you promised me back in July, and you force me to contact you, irritated, because you continue to mistakenly charge me a $12 monthly service fee, which we've had to go 'round the mulberry bush about five times now in the last five months.

You? You have no right to my first name, which is suddenly, in this situation, a very personal thing.

I think it's because I want to erect a wall or distance and formality. I want them to respect me. And give me my money.

Then there's the checker who assumes a false familiarity, getting to know me by peering at my credit card, and chirping, "Julie, is that credit or debit?" That's Ms. Pippert or ma'am to you.

Which brings us to ma'am. It doesn't bother me when someone calls me that. It really doesn't. I don't understand how it makes someone feel old, but I accept that it does. I try to steer clear of it myself but I'm okay with it when whippersnappers who don't know my name use it.

It's funny; as I was thinking about this while running errands, on the radio an NPR broadcaster had an interview with General Eikenberry about the war in Iraq.

She continually addressed him as General or General Eikenberry if she used his name at all, which typically she didn't.

He called her Michelle, and by my quick and unofficial ticking, typically at least two times in her response to her. It sounded very forced, and awkward. No, I think I mean it sounded deliberate, which for some reason struck me as negative.

I've heard that using a name in conversation is a technique to set up positions in the conversation, and to capture attention. It seems like there is one other element, but I can't recall and Google fails me. I've taken speech classes, and they talked about when and how to powerfully use first names.

It struck me strongly in that conversation that his ongoing and frequent use of her first name really set them up as disparate in position and authority. He was a powerful, high authority person, who automatically, no question, immediately rated a title in address. It gave him a superior position, which he reinforced by using her first name, frequently.

I don't know that the gender part was a card in play for me so much as the children-to-adult address card was in play.

If you glance back up to when I discussed how children address adults, you'll see that in my experience, they typically add a title. Friends call me Miss Julie, and my nieces and nephews call me Aunt Julie (although more distant relatives call me Julie).

When I considered this against the NPR interview, I thought titles in front of names, even in personal situations, do establish a hierarchy...and it all depends upon whether you agree there is or ought to be a hierarchy, whether it is naturally in place because all things aren't equal, or whether it is a gold-plated artificial pecking order that doesn't reflect true respect.

So what do you think? What's in a name? How should people address one another? What about that hierarchy? And would you give me one of those killing looks or eye rolls if I called you ma'am or sir?

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The magic word

I'm not going to say abracadara or even supercalifragawhatever.

I'm not going to say anything because...

I really hate to be the buzzkill...

I really hate to break it to you...

There.

Is.

No.

Magic.

Word.

Not really.

Not even PLEASE.

I know that it is practically rote in our culture these days, to prompt children to use "the magic word." I know every parent wishes he or she had a dollar for every time he or she says, "Say the magic word!" I know most would be able to accumulate enough for a major, major Venti Starbucks frappachino habit.

But not me. I carefully---from the beginning---never, ever called 'please' the magic word.

I do ask my children to speak and ask kindly, using kind words in a kind voice. I offer examples, and model it for them and to them. I say please is a good way to really make one's words kind.

But I never say it is the magic word.

This is because it isn't magic!

Please doesn't make words or tone nice.

Please doesn't automatically get you what you want.

Despite me not saying it and pleading as if my life depended on it for nobody in my immediate family to say it, my husband does anyway. Oh well. It wouldn't matter. My daughters both hear it absolutely everywhere, so Patience is positive please is a magic word.

I am apparently the only crazy woman in the world who doens't know that it is.

Therefore she demands, "Mom, get me lemonade now, not in a minute, NOW!! Please."

And expects results.

She whines, "I don' wanna get ready for bed, I wanna watch a show Moooommmm. Turn me on a show, Moooommm, now. Please."

And expects results.

All because she used what she is convinced is the magic word. Anyway, her daddy says it is the magic word. So do all the other adults she knows.

I am the only one she knows who is so deluded as to Not. Get. It.

She speaks like this to me, and I say, "Patience, sweetie, I need you to ask kindly, using your kind words and kind voice."

She demands what she knows is a no, and I say, "Patience, my precious, no. And remember, please ask kindly."

Her eyes flare in fury, her chin juts forward, her chest puffs out and she exclaims, "Buuuuutttt I saaaiiiddddd PLEASE!!!!"

And I tell her, "Please is a nice word, but it's not magic. It doesn't promise that you get what you want. I know it's disappointing, but...no."

She stares at me, horrified to be the daughter of the crazy woman who does not get it. "Why me?" I can hear her wondering, disappointed and infuriated.

Nevertheless...I'm sticking to my guns. Please isn't a magic word. It's not a word you can wish on, like a genie in a lamp. It's not a satisfaction guaranteed, Disneyworld magic word.

It's simply a word.

And we can all have a grand laugh at my expense...you know the Pre-Planned Theoreical Parenting Technique that is, as is often the case, completely and utterly down the toilet.

Well you know...the best laid plans and all that.

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tales of a B-List Bloglebrity...strictly second from top drawer


So following a few random links to different blogs---what can I say...I'm home painting today...and when the upper arm gets tired of edging the endless edges, I problogicrate (yes I just this instant made up that word...I do it a lot.)---I found Kyle's Cove. His current post is about David Sifry's State of the Blogosphere (which yes, I did read, even, especially the charts, and yes, I found it all endlessly fascinating. I like numbers. What can I say.)

But even cooler than that...he provides a link to Kineda, where Terry Ng introduces his widget to help you find out where you fall on the Blogosphere Authority Group (in other words...how cool and popular you are...you know...to a degree. We're all valuable, right? Just some are more read. I care. I have Sitemeter and GoodBlogs. What can I say.)

Anyway I entered my URL into the little "enter your URL here" spot, clicked Submit and VOILA!

Instant results that...well, would it seem falsely self-effacing to say SHOCKED MY BOOTS OFF and TICKLED ME ELMO, if so too bad...the results shocked my boots off and tickled me elmo.

I'm in line for the throne my friends! If 987.2 bloggers suddenly stop posting and all link to me...I could be one of the popular kids!

As it is, I'm happy to sit one table down from the Soc Table.

B-List Blogger

That's me! Strictly second to top drawer! Almost the cat's meow! The bee's ankles! Room temperature beans!

The High Authority Group!

Anyway, here's how the land lies according to Sifry:

Groupings Explained:

The Low Authority Group (3-9 blogs linking in the last 6 months)
The average blog age (the number of days that the blog has been in existence) is about 228 days, which shows a real commitment to blogging. However, bloggers of this type average only 12 posts per month, meaning that their posting habits are generally dedicated but infrequent.

The Middle Authority Group (10-99 blogs linking in the last 6 months)
This contrasts somewhat with the second group, which enjoys an average age not much older than the first at 260 days and which posts 50% more frequently than the first. There is a clear correlation between posting volume and Technorati authority ranking.

The High Authority Group (100-499 blogs linking in the last 6 months)
The third group represents a decided shift in blog age while not blogging much more frequently than the last. In keeping with the theme of the maturation of the blogosphere, it seems evident that many of these bloggers were previously in category two and have grown in authority organically over time. In other words, sheer dedication pays off over time.

The Very High Authority Group (500 or more blogs linking in the last 6 months)
In the final group we see what might be considered the blogging elite. This group, which represents more than 4,000 blogs, exhibits a radical shift in post frequency as well as blog age. Bloggers of this type have been at it longer – a year and a half on average – and post nearly twice a day, an increase in posting volume of over 100% from the previous group. Many of the blogs in this category, in fact, are about as old as Technorati and we’ve grown up together. Some of these are full-fledge professional enterprises that post many, many times per day and behave increasingly like our friends in the mainstream media. As has been widely reported, the impact of these bloggers on our cultures and democracies is increasingly dramatic.

Go give it a whirl! You want to know if you're a Bloglebrity, don't you. :)

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

HA! Yeah like *that* is something *I'd* do! Snort!


I am reading a fairly implausible book right now. It's a romantic thriller. I like to read these sorts of things now and again; you know, stuff you might read on a vacation when you prefer your mind at about the consistency of bean dip.

Right now I like bean dip. A lot. In fact, yesterday I was reading this book while eating corn and black bean salsa with Tostitos restaurant style chips.

I know! Time to read!

And yet, here I am complaining that what I read was implausible. It is, no matter how often the characters say, "Oh shit!" and "What a clusterfuck." Although I myself say these things frequently about my own life and times, it's not at all the same thing. And when I try to imagine myself in the plot in the book---which, with my Guiness Book World Record Level Imagination I can usually do with great ease to the astonishment of my husband and to the concern of the mental health community worldwide---I think, "Pffffft, tsk, yeah, right, whatever, like that is something I'd do!"

Okay check this:

The heroine is the daughter of a SuperSpy. SuperSpy Dad sent her a mysterious and dangerous package. When she received it, she opened it and VOILA! mysterious and dangerous contents. She immediately thought, "Oh shit."

My comment: My dad is not a SuperSpy. However, he regularly sends me mysterious and dangerous things. I often think, "Oh shit!" upon opening them. Usually they are messages, typically about my failings. You know like, "Hey, Ju Ju, I know you are busy but you missed your stepmother's birthday for like the 25th year in a row. Could you drop her a little card, something?" Or, "We haven't seen you in a while...any chance you are taking a trip near us soon? We think your baby is about ready for college now, yes? And last we saw she was just pulling up...it'd be nice to see you or hear from you..." You see? Oh shit. There, though, the similarity ends.

Shortly thereafter, her father arrived, hoping he got there before the package. When he discovered he didn't, he said, "Oh shit, what a clusterfuck." The heroine, his daughter, agreed. There followed a scene in which their entire history and relationship is played out in five minutes during which he manipulates her into handing over the package and saying, "Bye Dad, love you," as if that will end the matter, even though it is only page ten.

My comment: Who among us hasn't been emotionally guilted and manipulated by a parent, even as we realize consciously this is happening? However, MAJOR mysterious and dangerous packages that Very Scary People are after aren't usually the stakes. Also, and this is important, my parents do not ask me to break the law and traffic in stolen goods. If they did, I'd go commie on them and report them. I think. I'm pretty sure. It'd be their fault, you know, hammering into me this Sturdy Code of Ethics and Law-Abiding morality. So right away, the heroine and I have a major breach of trust.

The heroine then proceeds to call a variety of people over the next hour to inquire about the contents of the package. She's seeking information and in the process, putting large bugs in a large number of ears about the stolen goods. The purpose, apparently, is to display her honesty and naivete; the author repeatedly informs us that the heroine is a horrible liar, as do the people the heroine talks to, "You're a horrible liar, what's really going on?" they ask. The heroine herself is even honest enough to say she's a terrible liar, horrible at this SuperSpy game, always having eschewed it, due to her conflicted feelings about her dad and disgust for the effect of what he does.

My comment: We get it. She's lily white. Her only flaw is...being just too darn good. Again, here the heroine and I seriously part ways even more. I have many flaws, including being a really great dramatist, which some might call a flair for fiction or other crueler sorts might call lying. I have always aspired to be a SuperSpy in my fantasies, so I assure myself I'd be very, very good at the game. I say this, despite being told by a real SuperSpy once that I'd make a HORRID SuperSpy because I like to talk too much and enjoy telling stories way, way too much. I found this richly ironic considering this SuperSpy just told me (a) he was a SuperSpy, (b) it was a lot of fun to be a SuperSpy, and (c) where he had just gotten back from and what he had done there. At least I'd dramatize it straight out of any recognizability. How do I know he hadn't done the same? I don't. But he seemed like he was telling the truth. What? This proves his point? Me believing this? Oh you! Whatever!

Sigh sigh says our intrepid little heroine. She finishes her phone calls, tidies up her OCD level clean house---a nice little A-frame on the beach in California---and goes to bed.

Enter the hero.

A former SuperSpy, now a Private Contract SuperSpy, he breaks into our heroine's house, seeking the package. However, our up-to-that-point unscrupulous and hard-as-rocks hero immediately melts at the sight, smell and feel of the oh-so-innocent and seemingly-honest litle house. He completely believes the heroine must be completely innocent and there has been a terrible mistake.

Until...

DADUM!

He hears the cock of a pistol's safety being taken off. And turns to see the heroine, in thin, short silk nightshirt, standing with a 9mm pistol pointed right at him.

The two engage in witty repartee---otherwise known as Stalling Dialogue aka Setting the Scene for the Attraction---until...

DADUM!

Two assasins working for another SuperSpy, who is double-crossing SuperSpy Dad, burst in to kill both the hero and heroine.

The hero takes two bullets---in the Kevlar he had luckily been wearing---meant for the heroine, and their lasting happiness is immediately ensured. I mean, ensured as soon as they finish killing off or otherwise making impotent the other SuperSpies and Assasins, recover and return the mysterious and dangerous package, get over the "We're sorta kinda on opposite teams and can't trust one another plus we each represent what the other hates/fears," little humps.

There's some running, hiding, flying in private jets, wearing the same clothes for at least 200 pages, shooting at, dangerous hikes through deserts, exciting break-ins, and lots of subplots and other characters all twisting and attempting to make others twist in the wind, a completely creepy pair of Antagonists, one of whom is a la Grace Jones in a View to a Kill, complete with frequently prominent nipples that rise to attention on command, making all men in her path putty---or bean dip-brained...in other words, more than a few hundred pages that would make Albert Zuckerman proud.

My comment: Except...unlike other thrillers...it's pretty implausible...

I know, I know. Pretty much all thrillers are completely implausible to the average joes. Yet, somehow, usually, I can willingly suspend my disbelief. For example, I was absolutely on a treasure hunt through Rome with Dan Brown in Da Vinci Code. Suzanne Brockmann keeps me on the edge of my seat.

The difference is I respect the thriller-level complexity of the characters and how they'll back down from their stereotypes when it makes sense to do so. Like, before they nearly get everyone killed. They display a sort of wisdom.

This lady...

If I heard someone break-in to my house, I'd be on the horn to 911 faster than you could say 911. In fact, I keep a phone right beside me for just this purpose. I don't have a gun in the house. If I had to defend myself, I keep an old can of Aquanet and I'd aim for the eyes, while shrieking to high heaven, and kneeing for any balls I could find. If proximity became an issue (as in, the intruder got closer rather than running for the hills crying repentance) I'd use my peace-symbol fingers to gouge eyes and elbow to crush a windpipe. But generally, I'd do my best to escape notice and wait for the big, tough police to come rescue me. Like they are paid to.

In fact...I've had this happen. And allow me to assure you, I did not dialogue with the gentleman in question who broke into my home. Nor did I cuddle with him, and allow him to kiss my temple reassuringly, his little Grinchy heart full of pity---all for ME!---for the first time in his amoral life. Unfortunately I inadvertantly revealed my presence, or otherwise I would have hid. He attempted to dialogue with me. He tried to excuse his presence in my home (As IF!). He even said, and this was wicked creepy, "What a large bed you have."

This clicked on my Holy Shit Act. I began shrieking in an attempt to wound him via his eardrums. I screamed, "I called 911, they'll be here any minute, LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE." I waved the clothes hanger I clutched at him menacingly and attempted to appear as deranged as possible.

I must have accomplished my purpose because he did, in fact, leave. I know. Wow. Sometimes that self-defense lesson stuff works!

If I think back, I guess one could say he was attractive enough, with a smooth voice---that part I recall clearly. However, I felt not one iota of anything other than terror. I did notice his build, you know, for the police sketch artist, and what he was wearing, for the same reason. I certainly did not notice it in any way admiringly. I looked for any details to share with the police who I hoped would find him, lock him up and throw away the key, and remembered to not let him move me from my position.

I certainly, unlike the heroine in the story, would not have handed him my gun (or clothes hanger in my case), spent some time chatting and GASP! flirting, and then left with him. Good grief...everything you are not supposed to do!

I tried really hard to give this poor chick a break. After all, she was raised by a mainly absentee SuerSpy father and broken-hearted mother who pined for her absentee SuperSpy Spouse. She got sucked into this whole Whirlpool (the book's title, by the way). And, after all, she's supposed to be so sweet, and she's so hurt by the men around her.

And there you go...my major point of departure.

BAH! No victimhood! Kick 'em where it counts, girlfriend! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and quit living for and in total reaction to the men around you! Don't let them tell you that you can't play the SuperSpy game well! Be smart, figure it out!


I think of Kay Scarpetta, Robyn Hudson (poison ivy on the windowsill has to be the best security system ever), Sam Jones, Eve Dallas*...they wouldn't take this crap!

Or even...Jane Doe, as lame as that TV show is. Hey who doesn't like a housewife by day and secret SuperSpy who saves everyone's ass by night (although, actually, it's not as cut and dry as day versus night. She's more housewife before and after school and SuperSpy until soccer practice time. See? Anyone can squeeze in SuperSpy, even busy moms! Who bake! And run minivan carpools! There is hope for our lot yet! And this isn't a new concept. Anyone remember Scarecrow and Mrs. King? Anyone?

So yeah, the book, too implausible to really enjoy but eh...a moment to read. What's to complain about! And hey, it's just fiction, at least it's not some dangrous and mysterious message that makes me say, "Oh shit! What a clusterfuck!"

*The good reads I alluded to: Sparkle Hayter's Robyn, Lauren Henderson's Sam, JD Robb's Eve, and Patricia Cornwell's Kay.

So really...what makes or breaks your suspension of disbelief? Any good novel recs? And anyone know the name and title of that new mystery that got great reviews but I can't recall..something with a crazy long title, maybe math, physics or some complicated science in the title?

ETA: Some amazing oversights on my part! Okay a few more mystery/thriller writers I really enjoy and this sort of transcends the bean dip level but here goes: Dana Stabenow, Anne Perry, Kathy Reich, and Walter Mosely (the Easy Rawlins series). I also have to add in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, and Elmore Leonard.

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The ROFL Awards

I nominated someone for a ROFL Award.

For those who know me and most especially those who know her, it will come as no surprise whatsoever that I nominated Josette of Halushki fame. Specifically I nominated her A Series of Unfortunate Conversations post.

I was not quite aware of the entire process so I blogged about it a month early in my Ten Things I Hate About You post. Go ahead...click back...read...I'll wait right here...won't move...no worries.

There are strict criteria for this award. Let's walk through these and how Josette's post about the bats in her belfry meet them:

a) laughed out loud?

Oh YES!

b) spit out your coffee?

Time for a new keyboard level spit out damage. But it was tea, maybe water with lime...most likely. Although, it could possibly have been a french vanilla frappuchino. I like my girly coffee.

c) chocked on your twizzlers?

It was a waste of a lovely candy but ‘tis true, I did.

d) fell off your chair?

Indeed, and have the bruise to prove it. Upper left thigh, wanna see?

To see the other nominees and awardees, go check out Mommy Off the Record and Izzymom, who are well-worth the read any day of the week anyway.

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

MINE! Duuuuddde...a wealth of meaning in a little word

Persistence does a lot of talking these days. It's a lot of "what was that...sounded like a word...was that a whole sentence?" mixed with some honest-to-goodness babble, but even that sounds like in her head she's got real discourses going on that I ought to be able to understand.

In fact, I'm positive she understands me a lot more than I understand her. She can do the cutest little nod for yes---which I am sure she realizes and capitalizes on---when Comprehension Addled Mom finally catches her drift.

So, I'm pretty sure she's saying what she means to most of the time, and understands me most of the time too.

Actually, she's been adding many words from a huge developmental spurt recently---at least that better freaking be what's going on since she gave up sleeping at night.

I started a list a while back. I have a few words jotted down, clearly some while idling at a red light since they are sort of scribbled as I peered one eye on the light, one eye on the paper.

It's not complete and now, it is already out of date.

I started it back at the beginning of August.

Why?

Two reasons:

1. Mommy guilt. Patience has detailed journals, a Web site, countless photo albums and baby books of her first couple years of life. Persistence has a folder of "photos-1st year" sitting in the "to be printed" folder on my computer desktop. Yes, not only have I not meticulously tracked her entire life via camera, video recorder, and journals, but I don't even have a photo album for her, oh my GOSH! WORSE! I don't even have photos sitting in a pile waiting to be put into an album for her! I have photos...STILL ON THE CAMERA DISK! I'm that commercial for a photo printer.

The second reason is even more mortifying.

2. Because my pediatrician called me and said, ummm hey...we haven't seen you in a while. Your kids need their checkups, Persistence is overdue for her 18 month.

I said, "Oh...wow...really? She's already 18 months old?"

And my doctor and husband in unison said, "LOL...yeah, she was...a while back."

Holy cow, time flies when you're having fun. Hello, she's practically two. Yeah, overdue I'd say. Not that I realized this.

I also sorta forgot kids get an 18-month checkup.

How did I slide from the Queen of Mommyhood and All It Entails with the first one to, "Oh, wow, is that how old my baby is?"

I could tell you days, weeks and months with #1 aka Patience. As I said, I kept daily journals. I have albums, one is even a bound and published one. All for Patience. Up until Persistence arrived, that is. Then it all came to a screeching halt.

Persistence gets lots of love and attention. I hope that's enough later, like say, at her wedding when her bridesmaids want childhood photos for a collage. Or she's doing some report for school and needs to know what her first word was and when it happened.

So I dedicate this entry to Persistence.

Dear my precious girl, my little Monkey May:

Sweetie, I'll tell you your first word...and also explain to you why your entire memory of mommy is her grabbing her hair and ripping it from her scalp.

You're a monkey. If there is something to climb, you will. Better yet, over and over and over. No wonder I have no time to make albums. You're climbing everything. You'll even bring a stool to the counter, pull a stepping stool next to it, and build stairs. To get up.

Sometimes up is your goal.

But usually your goal is to "get into (insert whatever verboten thing she is after)" while Mommy has turned for a split second. You takes some spills but you're a tough little kid, and usually, with no drama, simply pick yourself up and dust your hands, then you carry on. Oh yes, your inquisitive mind knows no bounds, and if any are erected? You'll push through them with your screaming wail, which shatters ears, glass and any boundaries...for miles.

I thought Patience was a busy child but oh my, Persistence, you are even more so. Of course, you have your sister---no wilting violet averse to exotic adventure and adventuresome risk---to learn from and keep up with.

But Persistence? You just can't stop. Which might explain your super lean form and constant, incessant, neverending desire to eat. You need fuel, constantly, because you just won't stop.

Except...

Every so often---not now of course---you sleep. You used to sleep through the night.

For that I call glory hallelujah and thank my sister, the baby sleep trainer. Once upon a time recently, you slept for twelve hours at night. Lovely. Oh how we loved you so dearly then. Every morning we would wake and say thank you. We were so very pitifully grateful you slept. Because, of course, your sister? Not so much.

You graciously transitioned from two naps to one in order to accomodate nursery school a few mornings. You are a pretty good napper. You know when you are tired, and you'll pretty much lay down with little fanfare. It was easier before you climbed out of your pack-n-play. You go back and forth from wanting your bed to wanting your pack-n-play. It's funny.

But the night sleeping? And the being weaned? You rejected that in the last month. Nope, you want to go back to nursing and waking every two hours. I say no, you protest, and we spend all day with you saying, "Nursie?" and me saying, "No nursie. Cuddle? Huggies?" and you bawling, "No! Nursies! No huggies! Nursies!" You were all set. I was all set. We had a routine and we were happy. I don't know what renewed your desire. I don't know. It's hurting us both.

The rest of the time, though, you are doing something with water, baby dolls, singing, or puzzles, or all of the above at the same time. One day I walked in to find you using your tooth brush to clean the pieces of your favorite puzzle, with your favorite shape sorter sitting to the side, waiting. You had already cleaned your favorite (at that moment) baby doll. You were, of course, singing your version of the ABC song, like we always do when we brush teeth and wash hands. You have been known to take two showers and three baths in a day. You are happiest in the water.

Happiest in the water and/or with a baby doll.

Nobody mommies as well as you do. You cuddle your dollies, feed them bottles, wipe their bums and freshen their pants frequently. You ensure they get rest in their dollie pack-n-play, and take them for strolls.

And you talk to them. And about them.

Which brings me to...your first word.

For the record? Your first word was...

MINE!

Yes, that's true. It was MINE!

In fact, it remains your most often used word to this day, close to a year later.

You have other words now of course.

Your other first words, in order I think, were: Dada, Dissy (sister), Ice (water), Tat (cat), no, and Mama.

You've added far more: dog, the pet's names, up, down, milk, juice, dinkie (water), chair, teeze (cheese), get that, want that, now, cookie, (that's sort of a freudian order of words there, eh LOL), yes, no, tome (come), get up, and so forth, in addition to a few that are specific to your---our---life, such as "shhhhh" whenever I sing and "dogdogdgdogdogdog," whenever I say, "SHEEE SHAWW" to keep from saying anything else.

[More thanks to the Aunt for that one.]

But you still rely on that first word...your standard...:

MINE!

You use this word powerfully and liberally.

In fact, recently, I came to realize that you use this one word for many meanings. Much like Dude.

(Do you all recall that funny e-mail that went around a while back about all the meanings of Dude? Here's our version using the word MINE!)

MINE!---obvious meaning. She's claiming ownership to an item. This could be staking a claim, like calling shotgun, as she and Patience race to a single toy. It could also be asserting the right to a toy she currently is holding.

MIIIINNNNE!!!!---said to emphatically assert claim when Patience, or other child, is attempting to garnish said toy.

MMIINNNNNNE!---said to ensure her claim to a toy she has is known to all. She will repeat this with each new child or pass of a child near her.

Mine!---said to assert claim to a toy of hers that another child currently has. The first time said it is stated calmly, but firmly. The toy "thief" gets three mines and then it is full out physical and verbal warfare, using the MIIIIIIINNNNNNE!!!!from above.

Mine?---two possible meaning depending upon tone. If it is miNE? then it is a question, such as,"Okay if I get that, Mom?" If it is MIne? then it is a request, usually to share. Either way, it is an indicator of interest in a toy, and all better stand clear shortly.

Ah miiinnnne!---said with a smile as she receives a lovey, usually in preparation for sleep.

Miiinnnnne---this is a pacifier

Minemineminemineminemine---imagine the seagulls from Nemo. You get the gist. This is typically for something of high value, such as food. Most commonly seen in front of the refrigerator, and includes hopping and pointing. This might also be used if she loses the footrace with Patience and her sister gets the toy.

Minnnnne!!---with a foot stamp, this is a demand that something out of her reach be given to her.

You're something else, our girl.

Coming up to two. And finally slightly over 20 lbs. I don't worry about your ability to make it in life. You have spirit. I do have some conern for myself, and your dad, and our ability to remain sane. But you? No, you'll do just fine.

Love, Mama

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Have you forgotten yet?



Before 1954, Veteran's Day was known as Armistice Day, "November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice which was signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I, after four years of conflict."

In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued his Armistice Day proclamation. The last paragraph set the tone for future observances:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation.


In 1938, officially, it became a nationally recognized day.

In 1954, President Eisenhower renamed it Veteran's Day in honor and rembrance of all servicemen.

(Source: Veteran's Day)

I think it's important to remember. I think it is important to honor people who serve us, even if it is in a conflict we don't support. I don't support.

And so, today, I'll do that, in my own way.

In 1920 Siegfried Sassoon wrote Aftermath, a poem to keep fresh the horror and honor he experienced during the first world war.

It's moving, disturbing. Chastising. Entreating.

Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same-and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.

Siegfried Sassoon, 1920


Each time a new war, a new conflict begins and continues, I think, "We have forgotten."

We've forgotten:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same-and War's a bloody game...


We have forgotten the past. We have forgotten just how bloody---and costly---war is. We have forgotten what we ask of our fellow citizens when we ask them to go to war.

We have forgotten what we ask of those left behind, waiting, and then, standing bravely by what is left, what comes home...or in shame and horror, finding not enough within ourselves to live feeling a daily grief for what has been lost:

Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?


Instead, we stick in anger, stuck in the fury and feeling of deserved retribution after the attack.

How easy it is for us, able live as we usually do. Able to buy the groceries we always have, worry about soccer games and school spelling tests, whether the apples are good this year, what sort of latte to buy at the coffee shop. Able to walk to our cars with our children, simply worrying about the rain falling and getting wet versus anxiety about falling shrapnel or raining bullets.

I think about it. Do you?

We reared up in rage when we got a pain point: high gas prices.

But what about people fighting in the war zone? What about people living in it? Dying in it? Is there outrage over that?

Is it simply easier to worry about gas prices than about the cost of humanity to keep those prices lower, and other things, other ways of life, ways of our lives, that people fight to protect? Fighting to protect the life we expect, or more, the life so many believe they deserve?

After Vietnam, after the Gulf War, I stopped and wondered, "Is it all going to happen again?"

And yes, yes it will because so many say it is the only way...and the cost is necessary collateral. People, they say, will pay it willingly, to keep our way of life safe.

I am humbled to think that my ability to sit at my computer, in my climate controlled house, on a sunny day, with my children happily playing nearby is worth a human life, or a human soul.

I remember one time, as a young child, asking my mother why my paternal grandfather had no teeth. I didn't know what I had asked wrong, but I could tell by the adult reactions around me it was more than a social gaffe of observing an imperfection in appearance.

Later, alone, she told me he had lost them in The War.

Almost anything to do with The War was whispered, hushed, never mentioned. At the time, the war usually discussed was Vietnam, but I knew she meant a different war, the big one, before I was born.

For my grandfather, he lived every day of the rest of the life with the effects of his war. He had been a prisoner of war on some island in the South Pacific. "They were....very mean to him," my mother said, hesitatingly, choosing her words carefully, "They hurt him, and he came back missing...a lot. He doesn't like to talk about it so you are never to mention it again."

I promised, and never did. I never heard more details than that. But I remembered.

My maternal grandfather held a slightly different point of view. He didn't mind talking about his war time experiences, and once even agreed to be the subject of a school project. He'd had An Adventure, or that was the side of it he told.

He was in the Navy, in the Pacific. One sunny day, as he walked to his post, he realized he'd forgotten something and ducked back to get it. His buddy walked on ahead. As my grandfather started on to deck, he heard the noise, and before his mind could process it, there was a flash, and the bow of the ship was gone, as were his buddy, and the other men over there, where he should have been. It was somewhere near Australia, and on that day, a kamikaze Japanese pilot plowed straight through his ship, slicing it in half.

Amazingly, they were able to reach a port on Australia and the rest of the crew were saved, including my grandfather, who was barely 18 at the time.

Imagine that.

Imagine seeing that, going through that, dealing with that...at 18.

At 18, I was worried about my Spring finals my freshman year of college. I was thinking maybe not medical school. And I was worried what classes to take the next year. That was my stress. My drama.

They both came home. I watched them both through the years, and I remembered. I decided that for my paternal grandfather, losing his teeth was the lesser of his losses, and for my maternal grandfather...well, I sometimes wondered if interrupting a developing psyche---such as in a traumatic war---can fracture it in some way...make it...do bad things.

Then came Vietnam. I remember my father had friends who didn't come home, but mostly I remember the ones who did. I remember one friend who passed out simply because my sister had cut her lip. The blood, the situation, the people running to help her...it brought back his recent time as a medivac.

As Tim Robbins said, while discussing his new movie Catch A Fire, these sorts of situations ask a man to compromise himself.

I agree.

War asks a man or woman to compromise himself or herself, as well as family, and life...it's a ripple effect through all who know and rely on this person, all who care.

And so, today, I don't want to remember what these people have done for me. Today I want to remember them. What they have done, gone through, given up, come home with, or the loss.

I'll remember. It hangs heavily on me, what soldiers do and go through.

It hangs even more heavily on me what happens to civilians in war.

I can only hope it hangs heavily on those who made the decision to put us all in this position.

By Julie Pippert
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