Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cookies, Conversation, and a Little Celebrity

Trying to get back into more regular date nights, Larry took me out for Chinese last Friday night. I love Chinese food. And I have to say, it's not just the food, it's the whole experience. Our little Chinese restaurant up here is no exception, although in a quirky sort of way.

There are several celebrity photographs gracing the wall, taken at the restaurant (I assume) with the owner. The one that stands out, for various reasons, is of Dolly Parton. Over the PA system croons a recording of a female vocalist who sounds a bit like Vikki Carr doing Beatles covers which seems like it would make more sense playing in a bakery in Little Italy. The waitress/maitre'd tends to seat folks just a little too close together for the number of parties in the place. There is an art to spacing. I tend to require as much of a buffer as possible.

Dishes are plastic versions of Asian-inspired china one might find elsewhere. This bothers me, I have to admit. Good plates are a one-time investment, unless you have a careless dish-washer. Perhaps that's their problem. The glasses are also plastic. Water, even with ice, seems warmer if you drink it out of plastic. Larry ordered a 7up and was served a can along with a plastic glass of ice. I noticed the trio seated next to us ordered beers and received glass glasses. They couldn't put a name with Dolly's face, and got a couple of photos of themselves seated around the table.

We ordered a family dinner with sweet and sour shrimp and beef with black mushrooms, then chatted over some great fried won tons, egg rolls and duck sauce served with our soups. We talked about important things, and things with almost no significance at all. We had to chat quietly to compensate for a small buffer space. Our food came a little slowly, but we weren't in any big rush. This restaurant is odd to me in that they seem to skimp a little on the rice. Most Chinese places serve enough rice with your meal for a small army. That said, we still always have left-overs to bring home.

And, of course, who doesn't like fortune cookies? My brother used to recite a funny SNL bit about the people who make up the lucky numbers for the fortunes. "4? What the hell kind of lucky number is 4?" That's all I can ever remember of it. When I was a teenager the cool thing for me and my geeky friends to do was to add "in bed" to the end of our fortunes. It can get pretty darn funny. But being grown up now and married . . . it's even funnier. It may even pan out. But not this time. I got, "You love playing to a crowd."

Larry opened my truck door as we left. I was thankful that chivalry is not entirely dead, and Larry was thankful that I appreciate such a gesture. Maybe the greatness of the night wasn't the restaurant at all. Maybe it was being with my sweetheart with no one needing a drink filled or more ketchup squirted on their plate, or beans picked out or chicken cut up. Yeah, I think that was it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A rose by any other name . . .

My mother just cringed every time my WWII era grandmother talked about the "Japs." She did it frequently, one of her biggest fears being that the Japs still intended to take over America, at least financially. Similarly, I cringed when not long ago my mother used the term "Oriental" to refer to people from the far east. Larry having taught at UCR, which has a rather large Asian population, I am aware that Oriental seemingly refers to rugs, and is degrading to people.

African-Americans have gone through similar evolutions over the years, deciding that prior labels of choice have now taken on negative connotations. I don't point this out to criticize. I fully understand. My people have been through the same transitions and it is often emotional and even dividing within the group. Yes, I am not a housewife, I am not a homemaker, I am a stay-at-home-mom.

The housewives dominated the 50s and 60s, and even the 70s and were immortalized by TV characters from June Cleaver to Laura Petrie to Carol Brady. Somewhere in the late 70s and early 80s women remaining at home and outside of the compensated workforce decided that the term "housewife" was at the very least inaccurate, if not slightly offensive. "I am not married to my house," they cried. Homemakers emerged--women who chose to create a comfortable and loving home for their families and took pride in their role.

In the 80s Roseanne Barr coined the phrase "domestic goddess" in her stand-up routine and made it popular on her TV show. Funny, yes, but much like IHOPs "rooty-tooty-fresh-and fruity platter," I think it was a little embarrassing to verbally identify with. And with no menu to just point out the choice, the term never caught on as a serious label.

It's my generation of mothers who have decided that while we are choosing to stay home, that choice is inspired not by homemaking but child-rearing. Hence the new term: "Stay-at-home-mom." While I know some who shorten this to its acronym "SAHM," I'm personally not big on acronyms. Those who listen to Dr Laura's radio program will often use her verbiage of being "my kids' mom," meaning that one doesn't farm out the job of mothering one's own kids to someone (or some institution) else. I'm sure some working moms take offense to that as it is rather harshly blunt. We all have to make our own choices.

I frequently think to myself, that though I am not unhappy or offended by the S-A-H-M label, it is not true. I seem to be rarely home at all. I am at the school, or in the car, or at a practice or game. I am at the store, or at church, or at a meeting. I am at the doctor, dentist, or orthodontist. I am just not sure how to describe that job of mine accurately and succinctly. There are those in my acquaintance who seem to think that because I am not "gainfully employed" that I must be available to help out whenever. Sometimes I can, but often not. And even when I can, there is generally something for my family that is being put off again.

Why do we find the need to keep re-naming ourselves? Are we too sensitive and self-absorbed? Or was William wrong? If you called a rose a stink-plant would anyone bother to sniff it? If a flower gives off odor in the garden and no one is there to inhale, does it really smell?

Thursday, May 03, 2007


I think we've all encountered little girls who reply, "I know" to a compliment regarding her beauty. The perceived cuteness of this situation is, I believe, negatively correlated to the size of the girl.

Today, while picking up #4 from preschool, I had such an experience with an older, kindergarten age, sister of one of his classmates. I complimented her on her pretty shirt. "It's not a shirt, it's a dress." I could see she was right. It was a short, peasant-style dress which she wore with a pair of jeans. So I remarked what a pretty top the dress made when paired with pants. No big deal--still cute.

Her mother, however, was clearly mortified and began all of the little social corrections that we mothers make in public. We make them in private, too, but with less energy of heart. I will generally in this situation try to reassure a mother that I do not think she is raising her child to be an ungrateful slob by pointing out that I have 4 kids of my own, all of whom have certainly so embarrassed me in the past and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. This time, without any consideration, I let her know that I'd made quite literally the same comment myself in decades past.

I wasn't in kindergarten, however. I was a 6th grader who felt she had a lot to prove to her peers. I was wearing a long, tiered skirt and a sweater with, I believe, nylons and boat shoes. (Not quite as un-hip in 1985 as it sounds in 2007.) A boy named Alex came up to me in class and said, "That's a pretty dress you're wearing." And I replied, "It's not a dress, it's a skirt."

I came home and told my mother about Alex's silly blunder. My mother had a similar reaction to the mother I comforted today. First I was surprised. I hadn't thought of his comment as just a nice gesture. Then I felt horrible and stupid. Alex was a boy I liked. In fact, I like-liked him. He had paid me a compliment and I corrected him. That was clearly not a smart move. Of course, being in elementary school, I cannot now imagine that that move changed any course of events much. But I was beginning to learn then that this sort of thing only helped me to look like a know-it-all. My classmates didn't have the insight to see that I desperately wanted friends and thought "meticulously intelligent" was a good trait to show off to that end.

Twenty-two years later, some things are much the same. I am still insecure not only in making friends but about how those friends view me. I tend now, though, to say too little rather than too much, afraid to get it wrong.

Other things have evolved. I've gone from correcting a compliment to dismissing one, pointing out anything negative that I can find in myself to help disprove their point. I get home and I am mortified. I scold myself: "A simple 'thank-you' would do just fine!" Maybe one of these years I'll get it right.