(Warning: This post could be construed as tangential and prone to metaphorical meanderings, or as TGIM would put it, "TOO. DAMN. LONG." That is all. Carry on! Or not. It's up to you, really. Um, okay... proceed at your own risk.)
While sitting in the bar area/holding pen at the Outback Steakhouse last Saturday night waiting with my squirmy six-year-old daughter for a table, I found myself silently cursing the elementary school for recognizing my daughter's compassionate nature and rewarding her with a freaking Friendly Falcon gift certificate, good for one Joey Kid's Meal. Oh, and for giving in to my daughter's pleas of "Momma, I don't care if the wait is over an hour! Let's stay! Please? PLEEEEEEEEEEEZ?! I get to hold the light pager thingy!" Seriously, she snatched the pager right out of the hostess's hand and shot out the door before I could stop her.
Now don't think I didn't try to talk her out of it. Oh, indeed I did. I admit, I was not happy about this. The fact that it was twenty degrees outside did not help. I pleaded, I cajoled, I whined. I even bribed, then whined some more, but she wasn't having it. She had plopped herself down on one of the wooden benches outside and there she sat, swinging her legs idly as she clasped that pager to her chest like Master Frodo Baggins with the One Ring. I tried to take it from her, to make her see reason, to convince her that we could come back another time, but she was all "NOOOOO! It's MINE! We must have the preeeecious!" Okay, not really, but I wouldn't have been surprised, that's all I'm saying.
Finally I gave in. I dragged her inside where we squeezed ourselves onto one of the packed benches in the bar. It was a busy night, so we were packed tightly, Old Man High-Pants and his Wife Unit on one side, family of five rowdy, smelly boys (I'm just sayin') on the other. Full of excitement and youthful energy, she bounced up and down on the foam-cushioned bench with absolutely no regard for her fellow patrons' personal space (or mine), scrunching me closer and closer to Old Man High Pants (who seemed decidedly too happy with the arrangement)-- one finger twirling in her hair, her other hand clasping my Pink Razr to her ear (yes, I'm a genius)-- wiling away the time talking to her Grandma Claire while at the same time dramatically advertising to anyone who cared to look that she was ON the PHONE. This is what is called "multitasking."
I watched her, and watched everyone else watching her, and said helpful things like, "Alli! Sit down! Stop bouncing! Oooh, sorry, I'll pay for that... Stop, you're kicking that boy in the shins! Get off my jacket! Good LORD, Alli! SIT. STILL." She ignored me, of course, but did stop long enough to cover the phone and say with an impatient sigh, "Momma, I am TALKING." I closed my eyes and resigned myself to the looooong wait. I may have pouted a bit. too. I'm not sure. It's all a little fuzzy now. For reals. It's a blur.
When the pager finally went off, Alli began jumping and squealing and running back and forth between the hostess and me. I tried to shush her exuberance-- "It just went off! I was just standing here and it started blinking! Do you see it blinking? Momma, come ON! IT'S BUH! LINK! ING!"-- but how does one calm the torrential downpour of a sudden rainstorm? It just can't be done.
I tried my best to keep her in check, as it seemed as if every eye in the restaurant was fixed directly upon me and my wild-child daughter. And totally judging. And condemning. "Bad Momma!" their eyes screamed. But it was useless: she played with the utensils and sugar packets, and talked, and laughed, and danced in her chair to the 80's music playing, and talked, and ordered for herself (saying "please" and "thank you"), and ate, and talked, and talked some more. Then, about midway through our meal something struck me. I put down my fork (which is amazing in itself because have you TASTED the Cyclone Pasta? Mmm!) and I just sat there, watching her, really seeing her, letting her words wash over me.
And I thought of books. Used books, specifically.
You see, I always hated buying textbooks when I was in college. I'd stand there gazing pitifully-- longingly!-- toward the shiny new William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, wishing for nothing more than to pick it up and run my fingers up and down its smooth, nick-free cover, or thumb through the crisp, totally NOT dog-eared pages inhaling it's booky newness, before wrapping it in bubble wrap and placing it gently into my backpack. Aaah, the sweet torture.
Then, of course, I'd stick a pin in my bubble-wrapped fantasy and reach out to grab one of the stupid old ratty copies on the shelf next to the brand-spankin' new books, you know, one with a bright red sticker on it shouting to the world, "I'm a third of the new book price! Because I am torn! And smelly! And full of icky food and sticky beer stains! And the occasional spot of drool! Seriously, I'm on my last leg here. Buy me now!" Because I am cheap, okay? And hey... those strings of star- and heart-shaped mini-lights and that super comfy featherbed mattress for my dorm room certainly weren't going to buy themselves, now were they?
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against tattered, dog-eared, food-stained books. Books is books, you know? As a matter of fact, some of my favorite books are in a similar condition. And dude, I am Queen of Shop The Sale, so forget about me being embarrassed to have to buy used. I'd be much more likely to stand behind you in line going, "You just paid $600 for three new textbooks?! Are you insane?! I'm getting all twelve of my books for $235.86! Woo! That's right, SUCKAH! That lava lamp I've been eyeing? Practically mine! HA!"
No, what I took exception to when buying used textbooks was the inevitable array of incompetent highlighting perpetrated by the previous owner(s). Good LORD! The pre-existing sea of yellow! Or pink! Or blue! Or all of the highlight colors at war with one another on the page! You can bet money that I would spend tens of minutes of my valuable college socializing time digging through stacks of used books, searching desperately for the books with the least amount of highlighting. Honestly. I didn't care if the books had vomit stains or were falling apart at the seams; I found the ones with the most highlight-free pages. Because, dude. If there is one thing I learned in college, it is that students? Have no freaking clue how to highlight competently.
You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. There have been studies! So many college (and high school) students truly have no clue what to do with a highlighting marker. They see other people with them and think, "Pretty!" Then they rush out, buy their own, and begin marking up their books all willy-nilly, an unimportant word here, an inconsequential paragraph there. But the worst of the offenders wield that highlighter with the belief that they will somehow magically retain everything they just read if they simply highlight, well, every single stinking thing they just read. Then a new owner comes along and uses a different highlight color, and so on and so forth until the book is just one big rainbow of irresponsible highlighting.
And what do you suppose happens when your reading material has been incompetently highlighted with a yellow (or pink or blue) marker? It dramatically reduces comprehension, that's what! What is most important becomes lost in a sea of color, a virtual hodgepodge of frustration and misinformation. Because just as sure as proper highlighting skills will focus your attention on the most important information a book has to offer, excessive highlighting will ruin the book.
Ruin it good.
Much like in life.
Okay, granted, this was quite the thought to be thinking during dinner at Outback Steakhouse with my daughter, but never underestimate the crazy yet lightening quick workings of my mind. Or the verbosity of my daughter (I know! Where does she get that?! For reals!).
I realized that I had wasted more than half of what could have been-- check that, should have been an evening full of love and laughter-- one that I could gratefully pull out of the vault when my youngest daughter no longer thinks spending alone-time with Momma is a special treat-- wielding that stupid yellow marker and vigorously highlighting only the trivial things, focusing my attention on the inconsequential. I was so busy highlighting what I thought was important, what I thought other people thought was important, that I completely missed the point. I ruined the book.
Ruined it good.
Chastened, I tried my best to salvage the rest of the evening. I found Fun Momma underneath all that color and I picked up my knife and began singing the 80's music into it as she danced in her seat, I oohed and aahed over her Spotted Dog Sundae, and laughed with her over some silly joke Boomer From School-- "my ushy-gushy boyfriend!"-- told her. By the time we hit those heavy double doors and burst into the frigid night air, we were laughing and joking, and the happy mood lasted until we walked through our front door.
"How was it?" TGIM asked us.
Before I could say a word, Alli shrugged and said, "Oh, Momma was wearing her cranky pants, but I think she's better now."
Oh no! I thought. That's it? That's all she remembers?
She kissed me and squeezed me and ran upstairs to put on her pajamas. And guys? Guys?! I was devastated.
That night I decided to put the highlighter away for a while, because at that moment I realized that in life premature underlining often leads to highlighting inconsequential information. Cranky pants, indeed. Instead I vowed to try my damnedest to kick back and carefully peruse what life is offering-- to understand, it, to enjoy it-- right here, right now. No judging. Not yet. Only enjoying. Loving. I'm hoping that by doing this, when the time comes that I am looking back over the time I spent with my children, family, and loved ones, I can more competently perceive and appreciate what was truly meaningful in my life. Highlight it, if you will.
And that, my friends, is what I will focus on.
- not-so-normal mom commented:
Awesome post. I was sitting here, reading your post, nodding and mmm-hmming and feeling like that's advice that all mommas can take and run with! I know I find myself getting caught up in the day to day activities and forget to just enjoy them. Becuase really, they are quite enjoyable. You are a great mommy, Cat! Enjoy.
- » 3/21/2006 11:19 AM
- Random And Odd commented:
I love you Cat.
- » 3/21/2006 11:42 AM
- Circus Kelli commented:
Hm. Well. After reading your post, two things are now abundantly clear to me.
#1, I think I've been wearing my cranky pants far too much lately
#2, I need to burn those suckers and find "fun Mom" again
Thank you, Cat.
- » 3/21/2006 12:00 PM
- Well-heeled mom commented:
I loved this post. We adopted our son internationally, and for many reasons (read $), this is likely my one shot at motherhood. So I want to do it right. Every time I react to or interact with my son, I think, "What do I want him to remember from his childhood?" Hey, he's only three - but who really knows how much they remember from how early in their lives.
- » 3/21/2006 12:05 PM
- Vajana commented:
I'm going to vote this my Favorite Cat Post Ever. I was thinking, "my goodness, she really is going off on a tangent about used books isn't she?" Way to bring it all together, brilliant!!
"Wearing her crankypants". Classic.
Honey, just take a look at your mom's videos and you shall see the Fun Mom in full color!!!!
- » 3/21/2006 12:12 PM
- WILLIAM commented:
Holy Crap. What an excellent post and an excellent perspective. This has got to be one of the top five blog posts. By anyone. Ever. For reals.
- » 3/21/2006 12:17 PM
- hemlock commented:
WOW. Great post Cat.
I think we all wear our Cranki Pants far too often. Sometimes they just become the soft and comfortable jeans you always wear, and you forget about those sweet ass pants you just bought.
Glad to see the highlighter is on hold for a bit. I think we all need that.
- » 3/21/2006 12:49 PM
- Charlotte in Pa commented:
If you commented on this, I missed it somehow.... Us Weekly reported that Constantine is dating Kellie Pickler. What's up with THAT?
- » 3/21/2006 6:35 PM
- Charlotte in Pa commented:
And WHY do I insist on mucking up your lovely posts with my inane comments? I apologize. Again.
- » 3/21/2006 8:10 PM
- Cat commented:
Oh HELL, no! Charlotte, my secret greek idol luvah beter NOT be doing me wrong with that vapid ho! I will SO have to get all up in her grill, I tell you what. Humph.
But did you see him tonight? With the funky glasses? And the pretty, pretty hair? RAWR! But what was up with Ryan Caberera? The hell?
(Hey! We'll be at the Cherry Blossom Festival, too! Thatnks so much for the tip on the kite thingy. I'll totally wave if I see y'all...)
- » 3/21/2006 9:13 PM
- Bente commented:
This was such a good post, Cat. It made me, like CK, realize that maybe I've been wearing the cranky pants a bit too much lately.
- » 3/21/2006 10:32 PM
- Annejelynn commented:
excellent, excellent post with a most excellent, most important point - each and everyone should take note! I will never forget your highlighter metaphor! thank you!
- » 3/21/2006 10:53 PM
- NatGo commented:
I am RUNNING right now to take the Cranky-Pants off and put the highlighter away. Thank you for the reminder of what matters most and what lasts the longest. Gonna take the monkeys to the park tomorrow.
- » 3/21/2006 11:28 PM
- LadyBug commented:
That was beautiful, Cat. And beautifully written.
I find that the times I'm happiest with my children are the times I get lost in them and forget everyone else (and their harsh, judgemental looks) around me.
Love and hugs to you, dear.
- » 3/21/2006 11:52 PM
- Odd Mix commented:
Thank you, Cat, for an awesome post. You are absolutely right! It is just too easy to loose sight of the important things in all the clutter of pink and blue and yellow marks in life.
Thanks for reminding me where the highlights need to be!
- » 3/22/2006 6:38 AM
- kristine commented:
OMG...I am going to puke...like for real...I am sitting here REFRESHING for my Idol update.
I think I might have a problem.
I do huh? I have a horrible problem.
- » 3/22/2006 11:01 AM
- Annejelynn commented:
I just sent an email out to my friends last night, telling them they should read this post of yours - I just read the whole thing again, myself. I just love it!
Thank you again! yer awesome!
- » 3/22/2006 12:36 PM
- mrtl commented:
I love you, Cat.
You know what my favorite thing is about having kids? Free license to be goofy. I can get away with doing my stupid thumb dance to elevator music with Bug. At least till she gets old enough to be embarrassed by it.
Shoot. That's going to happen, isn't it?
- » 3/25/2006 4:51 PM