Monday, September 25, 2006

Sock it to me.

It is my friend Veronica’s considered opinion that right now every mother in the United States is cranky and emotional. She bases this theory on the observation that every mother she knows personally (most of whom are usually models of restraint and good cheer) is cranky and emotional. These women form a broad sample of the socio-economic political spectrum to credibly stand in for the general population of the United States, so her hypothesis is alarming; we can’t all be on the same cycle.

I’d agree with her, but that isn’t any fun when you’re cranky and emotional.

I myself wasn’t off-kilter until this past week. Merely getting Daughter to school creates, on average, three opportunities for exasperating debate. If it isn’t “You can’t wear your dress-up shoes to school, I don’t care what Carly’s mother lets her wear”, it’s “A fruit roll-up isn’t a fruit so you’re not having that for breakfast”, or “That wasn’t brushing your teeth. That was fifteen seconds. That was brushing your tooth.”

Daughter seems to be energized by these skirmishes. It’s entirely possible I gave birth to a seven-pound labor lawyer. Of course, if she’s representing the oppressed masses this would make me Management, so every morning we renegotiate. There is no point so small, no argument so irrational that Daughter won’t bring every morning routine to a screeching halt. Her attitude is “You can smilingly agree to my wearing my outgrown Christmas-themed t-shirt in September, or we can stand around and discuss it so that you, Mommy, will be forced to drive on sidewalks and across medians in order to get me to school just as the final bell stops ringing. Really, Mommy, it’s up to you.”

Usually, I brush these off by the time I have poured tea into my lap. This week, slowly, the crankiness built up.

A few days ago, I picked up Daughter at school, flung her into the car and handed her a snack. It was soccer-practice day -- a phrase not only can I not say without wincing, I cannot type without wincing. I am so grievously miscast in the role of Soccer Mom: sun makes me itch; grass makes me itch; being called a soccer mom makes me itch.

I don’t know why this part of modern parenting bothers me so thoroughly. I bought a dreary mom-car without a moment’s hesitation. I can, and have, talked pre-school minutiae with strangers at cocktail parties, knowing full well how dull this is. I have even worn a Scrunchie in public without shame. But something about standing on a soccer field brings back my inner rebellious fourteen-year old; all I want to do is wear black and sneer.

Instead, I wear my IPod and sneer inwardly at another mother, a woman whose name I don’t know but whom I call “Jamie, GO!” because that is nearly the only thing she says. Her daughter Jamie seems talented enough, which at six means she sometimes stops picking her nose when the ball rolls by, but her mother is clearly thinking she’s got the next Mia Hamm out there. And you know what the horrible part of all this is? Someone walking past might see us and think, “There are two soccer moms. One is screaming ‘Jamie, GO’ until blood vessels burst in her eyes, and the other mom with the iPod will probably start screaming at any moment, because that’s what soccer moms do”

I’m thinking of carrying a large sign which reads “My daughter nagged me for seven months to join a soccer team. I loathe group sports. In my head right now I am in Lake Como, Italy with George Clooney. I am also toying with the idea of hitting the screaming woman next to me very hard”.

Unmonitored, the crankiness festered.

Back in the car, Daughter was eating raisins while I pawed through her gym bag at each stop light. Her gym bag takes up half the available room in my trunk, and finding something in it reminds me of an anthropological dig. I went through the Ballet layer, through the Gymnastics stratum, through the abandoned-but-I-can’t-think-of-where-else-to-put-the-gear Karate level, down to bedrock -- the Soccer level. I found her soccer shoes and her shin guards. The light turned green and it took me another two blocks before I had enough time to plumb the bottom of the bag and determine her soccer socks were AWOL.

I glanced in the rear-view mirror; Daughter was wearing anklets, which would do nothing for keeping her shin guards in place. A quick scan of the car proved futile. Stopping and checking the trunk was equally unsuccessful. I checked the clock; she had practice in fifteen minutes. In my head, I scanned any stores between where I was and the soccer field. I thought of a store and quickly discarded it in horror. There had to be something else.

I drove to the soccer field in my mind, three different ways. Each way proved what I was frantically trying to avoid; there was only one store. There was only one hope.

There was…Ross.

For those people who live in blissful ignorance, I will attempt to explain Ross. It is a discount store, but there are other discount stores which manage to offer low prices without extracting your soul. But Ross, and more specifically, this Ross, appears to have been shaped by Satan so as to flatten your very essence into a patty of processed meat.

All women’s clothing sold by Ross will feature gold grommets and an unidentified stain.

There are slightly melted and dented scented holiday candles which feature the same grinning homunculus who wears a red cap for the Christmas candle, a green tam for St. Patrick’s Day and fuzzy ears for Easter. I can only assume a scented homunculus Veteran candle was floating around somewhere in back.

There are bulk packs of Calbin Kline underwear, the underwear slightly grimy where unknown quantities of people have stuck their finger through a hole poked in the plastic.

There are piles of children’s toys strewn across the floor, as if an extended family of bonobo monkeys does the restocking. The toy boxes have the weathered appearance of objects found floating at sea, and the dolls all appear to be from the Jerry Springer Collection.

They paint the walls with Glidden’s Despair, with a trim color of Anguish.

Why if I feel the way I do about Ross do I know the place so well? Because I kept having people I know swear to me that Ross offered up gifts beyond measure for the patient. I would hear rumors about the pristine Prada blouse, the darling little-girl Ralph Lauren dress, the fun and incredibly cheap summer sandal. So, readers, I tried. For longer than you might think, at least twice a year, I would plunge into the Stygian depths of Ross, only to hurl myself out again minutes later, sweating and disoriented. Finally, I decided I didn’t lead the sort of life which required a Prada blouse at any price; that Daughter had enough damn dresses; my summer sandal needs were met. In short, I need never go into Ross again.

Except when it was the only store for miles which might have long socks and Daughter’s practice started in minutes.

It’s comforting to be able to tell you that in this world of rapid change and evaporating traditions, Ross was just as depressing and grim as I had recalled: the only difference was having Daughter with me. After finding the socks we needed, my tiny union negotiator attempted to talk me into purchasing a doll whose name I believe was L’il Skank. It came with a faux leather vest, knee-high boots and its own Chlamydia test kit. Daughter was unwavering in her belief that life would be shadows and ashes without this eleven inch-tall token to low self-esteem.

That was it. My latent crankiness exploded. I did a solid three minute-long hissing list of all the things I do for her and how little I expect in return, except for when we are in the most depressing store in Los Angeles buying her soccer gear -- so I can stand around outside and mainline Benadryl and sunblock--I would like her to not fixate on the trashiest-looking doll I have ever seen in my life.

The lawyer sensed she had overstepped her bounds. She shifted quickly back into a small girl.

“Thanks for the socks, Mommy”, she whispered.

My cranky mood lightened considerably.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Let’s go pay for these.”

We walked down the broken escalator towards the check-out counters. There were six cash registers, of which one was open. Fifteen people were waiting in line watching with undisguised hostility the woman who was tentatively poking at the cash register, a large “TRAINEE” pin on her shirt. There was no one supervising her.

This might be the nationwide maternal bad mood talking, but the next time I set foot in Ross, they have a liquor license.


Anonymous Megan said...

I KNEW that I could not be the only horribly cranky mother in the world (despite what my husband thinks)! I am glad that I am in good company, at least. Congratulations on surviving Ross. Here's to another decade of not having to step foot inside one!

2:19 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

I kept seeing Lauren Bacall in the Tuesday Morning Stores commercials and thought it would be a great must be Ross's sister store because it was exactly as you described it!They put one in my town and it will NEVER last!

We have all been cranky here in Ohio too--hmmmm, wonder whats up?

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so floored with post, Quinn.

I'm practically in tears! =D

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

And here I thought I was the only person who wasn't willing to wade through the junk at Ross for the promise of the fabulous bargain (that never materializes, and is not worth the effort anyway).

Good tip about the L'il Skank doll, though - I was working on my Christmas gift list, and now I know what to get your Daughter.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, no, finding the pristine Prada blouse at Ross is an urban myth. The cheap summer sandal perhaps, but never the Prada blouse. That would be Loehmann's.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up until this post,which is one of your best, it has been eerie the way you have been writing about my life-why my daughter even had a pyroclastic flow removed from her scalp. But now I see that we differ in two enormous ways. My family lives for team sports (they don't call it group sports in my neck of the woods) and I love Ross. Well maybe just "like" Ross and only without children. Does yours really have an escalator?

The bit about "Lil Skank" might be the funniest thing ever written in the history of language.


6:49 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Oh my, oh my, oh my. You mustn't hold it all in for so long, Quinn! Excepting that it sure does make for good comedy!

Here in Oklahoma the Ross stores are not nearly so dreary. I must agree, however, that Prada will never, ever be found at Ross. Loehman's, maybe. Ross, no.

I have a feeling I'll be laughing about the Lil Skank doll for weeks. Thanks for the fun!

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK. I live in Oklahoma too (in fact, the way I know it is the same Oklahoma Jan lives in, is that Jan has been to my house, and I hers.) However, this Ross in Oklahoma that Jan speaks of is not known to me. The last time I was there, Oklahoma Ross was creepy and smelled like old cheese and bleach. I'd rather get my bargains on the sale rack at Kohls, that smells like a respectable, honest-to-goodness department store.

Jan is very trustworthy, though, and I'm here to declare that EVERYTHING ELSE she says is true and without delusion.


12:27 PM  
Blogger Leslee said...

Another Oklahoma girl here...

OMG! I could have written this post. Are you sure you're not writing about MY 6 year old daughter?

1:42 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

When I grow up, I want to write as funny as you do.

Meanwhile, I have to tell you that the local Ross here is horrific, one of the seven levels of hell. Even if you do find something you wish to purchase, you always have to stand in line for thirty minutes, no matter the time of day or year. How is this possible? Does the government run Ross stores?

10:57 AM  

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