Friday, January 30, 2015

To Dye For

Baby prep has me reading mommy blogs the way I used to read restaurant wine lists: frequently and with great anticipation. I can’t get enough of real women telling me what I’m in for. I tend to avoid the Pinterest Mommies - women whose lives are just as perfect as the likenesses of Queen Elsa they frosted onto three dozen individual cupcakes that morning. I relate more to the “my kid pooped in the cereal aisle of Target...again” kind of blogs, as I fear assume my own experience will be much more in line with these.

A common theme on these sites is “you will NEVER believe what my child did this time,” often supported by a tale of whatever shenanigans their little one was up to that week: painting the kitchen walls with marinara sauce, giving the dog a “bath” with a bowl of instant pudding, usual kid stuff.

I read these parents’ gripes and wonder what outlandish scenarios my own little mischief maker will find herself in. It all got me thinking about my own childhood. What did I ever do to get into trouble? The answer, I will tell you, is: Not much. I wasn’t exactly a hellraiser. Up until I was older and acted like every teen in every sitcom by throwing a house party when my parents were out of town, I kept things pretty tame. 

I can truly only really remember one time when my mom looked at me the way I imagine the mommy bloggers look at their own misbehaving children. You know the face - that mix of rage and incredulity when you think your mother is going to simply walk away from you, board a bus to Wichita and assume a new identity as an apple butter maker with a roadside stand. And I swear, I didn’t even know what I had done was that bad.

OK, maybe I had a hunch.

As an adolescent of the ‘90s, I was, of course, enamored with all things grunge. I longed to be angst-ridden. I listened mostly to Nirvana and Hole on the Walkman I took on the school bus every morning. Angela Chase was my hero. There were kids in my school who had embraced this lifestyle full-out, donning Doc Martens and devastatingly thick smears of eyeliner to school everyday. I was so jealous of them. Lacking both the guts and the fashion sense to pull that look off, I envied from afar, wishing I could put my own pain out there like that. You know, all that pain I had from growing up middle class in suburban America with no real problems and a generally happy outlook. Oh, youth.

Anyway. I really wanted a way to express myself but I knew a piercing or a tattoo were out of the question. Even a swipe of that eyeliner would look wildly out of place on me, Miss Plain Jane USA. I knew my mom would never let me dye my hair so that was out. Or so I thought. 

One day, I was standing in the cafeteria lunch line and overheard one of the grunge girls talking about how she’d gotten this awesome shock of blue hair she’d been rocking for the last week.

“It was easy,” she said to her friend. “ I used Ice Blue Raspberry Kool-Aid.”


Later at home, I looked over the contents of our pantry. I spied a long-forgotten package of Cherry Kool-Aid tucked back in one corner that had probably been there since I’d finished fifth grade. Jackpot. I grabbed it, a spoon and a plastic cup half full of lukewarm water and hightailed it up to my bedroom before anyone could catch me. I felt a rush of adrenaline rip through me as I slammed my door shut. (I realize now that had anyone spotted me, they probably would have thought, “Huh. Rachel must want some Kool-Aid,” and immediately moved on with their lives, but in my head, I was a freaking ninja.)

I stirred the fiery red powder into the glass and watched it dissolve. I pulled a tiny section of hair out of my ponytail and slowly submerged it in the liquid. I hovered there, neck straining and palms up jazz-hands style to keep my balance, for about a minute. Figuring that was surely good enough, I lifted my hair out of the glass and sprinted to the bathroom, where I locked the door and blew the wet section dry, practically holding my breath with anticipation. I put down the blow dryer and took in my edgy new look.

I couldn’t tell I’d done a thing. The section I “dyed” was barely even noticeable, nothing more than an ever-so-slightly pink tinge that was a far cry from the violent red slash of color I’d been aiming for.

I was disappointed, but the idea of doing it all over again just seemed like a whole lot of work, so I dumped the rest of the drink down the drain and went back to my rule-abiding existence.

The next day, Mum and I headed out for some errand-running. We were in a health food store, waiting for the clerk to check on something we’d ordered, when Mum looked at me like I’d just slapped her silly.

“What!?” I said, recoiling.

She stepped toward me, reached out and took a section of my hair between two fingers.

“Did you….” she started, head slowly swiveling from one side to the other. “Did you dye your hair?!”

Crap. The awful fluorescent lighting must have accentuated the evidence of my clandestine makeover. 

“Well,” I said, stepping back out of her reach. “Kind of.”

“Kind of?!” she screamed, grabbing me by the arm and lurching me out of the store as the gobsmacked clerk watched.

“It’s not dye!” I screamed, sure I’d be able to absolve myself once she knew the truth. “It’s Kool-Aid!”

She stopped and again cocked her head to the side.

“Kool-Aid? What the…!”

“It’s not permanent! I’m sorry! I just wanted to try it! This girl at my school has really cool hair and…”

“Enough,” Mum said. “You’re grounded. And you’re washing that out.”

“Fine,” I said, bidding my wannabe rebel days adieu.

Sadly, my punishment didn’t end with a week stuck at home. For weeks, Mum would sing the theme song from “Pinky and the Brain” to remind me of my ridiculous endeavor. The rest of the family caught on and to this day will still hum a bit of it to me if they’re somehow reminded of the story.

I never really understood why Mum got so heated that day. I asked her recently why one measly streak of hair dyed pink with a kids’ drink enraged her so much.

“I think because you did it without asking me first,” she said.

Fair enough. I’m sure I’ll understand even better when my own daughter pulls something similar. Though I can’t imagine that I’d care that much if she wanted to dye her hair.

But just in case, consider Kool-Aid banned at my house.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sock It To Me

All of my mommy-to-be reading material has cautioned that in the few weeks before the baby is born, I’ll start to nest. According to numerous books and blogs, this means I’ll want to clean my house, get organized and generally prepare the premises for the onslaught of chaos.

Turns out, I nest hard. In the last few weeks, I’ve:

  • Washed every drape, blanket, pillow, non-nailed down item I could find. Also washed every baby-related outfit and piece of bedding in super expensive baby-safe detergent. Folded and hung everything. Realized my unborn child owns more clothes than I do.
  • Organized all the drawers of my desk and re-filed all important paperwork in an easy-to-access system, just in case I should ever need to retrieve, say, my 2004 tax documents, in a pinch. 
  • Designed and constructed a family photo wall in my upstairs hallway. Hung up the photo collages and message boards that have sat waiting on my office floor since we moved in almost two years ago.  
  • Procured a new rug for the dining room, new drapes for the bedroom and countless items for the nursery (Pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to enter the baby section of any store without a Shopaholics Anonymous sponsor).
  • Scrubbed the grout in my kitchen and bathroom to a white that rivals any toothpaste commercial smile. 
For one brief shining second, all this work created the illusion that the LaBar household was as prepared as possible for its new resident.

It took all of two minutes before my mind started to wander, and when it stopped, it was smack dab in the middle of the basement bedroom.

This particular room, set off from the Man Cave by its own door, has become our home’s own Bermuda Triangle. When we moved, any box that wasn’t labeled with an exact destination ended up there. Half the room was inhabited by containers stuffed with old newspaper clippings from my early reporting days, memorabilia from both my and JT’s high school and college years, assorted sundry from the places we’d both lived prior and just general random whatnot. The other half was used as a makeshift studio for JT, who hung a green screen in front of the mess and would film short segments for his web broadcasts. He had quickly found better spots to do this after a few weeks, so now all that remained was a ton of lighting equipment, all those boxes, a web of extension cords and a bunch of dust. The place also had become a mausoleum for spiders, and their tiny corpses rested in every nook and cranny.

So basically, my hell on earth.

For the longest time, I pretended like it wasn’t there. It was as if closing the door to that room made it stop existing. It was like Monica’s closet in “Friends.” No one but JT and I knew truth.


Somehow, this justified leaving it untouched, growing more neglected and horrible by the day, until the moment my pregnancy hormones decided this madness must stop.

On the day after Christmas, which we had both taken off to relax and veg at home, I informed JT that we’d be tackling the beast.

“Now?” he asked, from our cozy spot stretched out on the couch, where we’d intended to spend the rest of the day.

“Yes. Now. Today. This minute,” I said before I lost my nerve. “It should only take about two hours. I know we can do this. Let’s go!”

Six hours, four garbage bags, one enormous pile of future garage sale merch, and countless moments of “What the hell is this?” later, we were done.

It was brutal. My Type A “OMFG Get Rid Of It All” personality made me want to just throw everything into one big pile and light it on fire, while JT’s “What If We Need It One Day?!” approach made him agonize over every old bill from utility services we don’t even have any more, each press pass from long-over events, and every scrap of paper bearing some long-forgotten reminder from six years ago.

Yet somehow, we made it through without adding to the room’s body count. I showed him how to separate things into three piles - toss, sell or save - then how to organize all the things he planned to keep as either keepsakes or actual usable items. We made a decent team, and things went pretty smoothly, until I came across one particular box.

This box, which bore no label, had been tucked away in a corner of a closet. When I lifted it, I found it to be weightier than I’d expected. I plopped it down in the middle of the room, and without consulting JT, tore it open.

Much like one of those toy cans that shoot out fake snakes on unsuspecting victims, the overstuffed box spewed forth its contents the instant its lid was removed. A sea of black splayed out onto the floor, while my perplexed eyes tried to identify the source.

Socks. So many socks.

An entire box of socks.

Not even folded or paired up in any way. And by the smell of them, not all clean either. It was just so….so….so very like JT to have something so random.

I lost it.

Here was this box, just chilling in our basement all this time, when I’d bought JT socks at least twice in the time since we’d moved, as had many relatives for various holidays and birthdays. Something about this struck me as so oddly hilarious, I started laughing one of those silent, it’s-so-funny-I-can’t-breathe laughs, then exploded into giggles for a solid five minutes.

When I finally got it together, JT eyed me like the batty loon I am.

“Finished?” he asked.

“Yes, I believe so,” I said, wiping a tear from my eye. “What would you like to do with this?” I pointed to the pile.

“Throw them away,” he said.

This made me laugh even harder.

Just so we’re clear, the decision whether or not to keep a Comcast bill from 2011 is worthy of great debate, but a box of socks? Pitch that shit.

God, I love him.

So, the socks ended up in the garbage, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, other than the suspicion that JT feared I would lose my mind every time I saw them from that point forward.

He would have been right.