Friday, July 22, 2011


As I mentioned in my last post, we went to visit friends in the Chicago area last weekend. While we were there, we went to Ikea in one of the suburbs. For those of you not familiar with this store, it is a three-floor wonderland of practical, inexpensive Swedish housewares. Because I am cheap, married to a man of Swedish descent, and interested in clean lines, I like to think this is really my kind of store.

Usually I try to make the biannual Ikea trip a childless one, because this just makes the whole thing go faster (and those who have shopped for anything with me know that including any form of the word “fast” is laughable to begin with). This year, though, my friend Melanie mentioned that they have a really fantastic play area at this particular branch, and that you can leave your child there with attendants for an hour. Combined with the cheap kids' meals in the in-store cafe, this was enough to convince us to bring Eva and Melanie's kids Aidan and Catie with us.

When we got there, we waited in line to check in at the (objectively super-cool) play area and talked about all the fun things we could see there would be for her to do. While we stood there I reminded Eva to be sure to tell the lady if she needed to go to the bathroom, since she is occasionally too shy to ask strangers in time. I'm not sure whether it was because she overheard this exchange, or because she is truly a lazy child-hater, but when we got to the front, the exchange with the childcare worker went like this:

“Yeah, she needs to be fully potty-trained to come in here.”
“Yep! No problem.”
“No Pull-ups.”
“Right. We're good.”
“She seems a little short. She needs to be 37 inches to be allowed in. I'd better measure her.”
“Oh, okay. I think she's right about 37 inches, actually.”

The worker and I lined her up next to the ruler, and she was 37 inches on the dot.

“Actually, she's pretty close. I don't think she makes it.”
Pointing at the ruler, and demonstrating her 37-inch height, “No, she clearly does.”
“Actually, that 37 inches is supposed to be without shoes. I think you need to take her shoes off so we can measure her again.”
“Okay, fine.”

Without shoes Eva is still about 37 inches if she tilts her head just right, but if not is about 36 and 7/8 inches.

“Yeah, I'm going to have to call my manager over here to look at this.... Hey, can you come here for a minute? This little girl is too short, and I just want to make sure.”
“Yes, I'm sorry. She is too short to play here.”
“Wait a second. She's right on the line. She's fully potty-trained and is mature and independent. She'd have her two older friends with her. Can't you just let her in?"
"No, Ma'am. There are regulations put forth by our insurance company for her safety. That ball pit, for instance, is really deep."

Let me just stop here to point out that she ACTUALLY used drowning in a ball pit due to a 1/8-inch height shortage as her excuse to exclude my now-teary child from the visibly awesome play area. It was everything I could do to avoid making a very rude comment as we took Eva and walked away. If I thought sarcasm would in any way improve her chances of getting in or be any kind of good example, I would have really gotten on a roll. Instead, I bit my lip and let Eva pick a pity toy from the stuffed animal bin in the kids' furniture section.

The next day we all took the train downtown, where we took our collected four kids to the Chicago Children's Museum. The first activity that we came to was a rope tunnel leading up from the first floor to the second, then across the stairwell to a bridge on the other side. There was a sign that indicated the activity was for children five and up, but that younger kids would be allowed at their caregiver's discretion. Everyone wanted to go, and I hesitated for a second, worrying that it was very high and maybe Eva was just too little. But Kyle said he thought we should let her try, and of course she booked it right up that tunnel, pushing Daniel to move it along a little faster because he was holding her up. I have to admit I cried a little as she pulled herself out the top.

Man, I love that kid.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First-World Problems

Last weekend, we visited our friends Melanie and Andrew near Chicago. We only go every other year, and they visit us here in Kirksville in the off years. Though the exact nature of our plans change somewhat each year, there are some constants to our traditional visits:
1. When in Chicago, we always go to Ikea and we always take the train to the city one day. When in Kirksville we visit (the recently defunct) Washington Street Java Co.
2. We always hire a babysitter and go out on a double date to dinner.
3. We use the visit as an excuse to make special breakfasts, like quiche or souffle or homemade waffles.
4. We usually unintentionally develop some kind of phrase for the weekend; usually some inside joke that is repeated amongst us several times over the course of the few days.

This last part of the tradition is nothing that we plan, but is something I've noticed over the years. One year, during a game of Taboo, Andrew kept insisting that the answer to Melanie's clues about a party thrown by Mexicans was a “festivo.” This is funnier when you know that Melanie is Mexican. The rest of us spent the remainder of the weekend trying to work “festivo” into the conversation as frequently as possible. One year, someone was relaying a story about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger where he had concluded a meandering list with the phrase, “...and things such as this.” Try adding that phrase (in the Arnold voice, of course) to the end of all your lists. We enjoyed that joke into the ground for a full weekend.

This year, there were a number of times where one of us (usually Melanie, actually) punctuated the end of someone's complaint with the conclusion, “Ah, first-world problems...” For instance, any complaints about smartphones freezing up, what someone doesn't like about this Wii game, or old Teva sandals not feeling “squishy enough anymore” was met with this reminder.

The interesting thing about this is that it really resonates with what I've been thinking about myself lately, only with different words. See, recently I've been noticing that the things that make me crabby about my day-to-day life are those middle-aged suburbanite kinds of things that the idealistic, high-school-aged me would be mortified to see the present me complaining about. It's embarrassing, quite frankly. Really, there are people starving, being opressed, dying, and THESE are the issues that consume my thoughts?

On the other hand, though, they seem so VERY IMPORTANT to me in the moment, and have just been adding up until I feel like I want to explode in a petty, spoiled combustion. So, for the sake of avoiding that, please read now my list of first-world problems, so that I can get them off my chest for good:

-The lid on my washer has stopped staying open alone and slams (hard, and loudly) any time I make the mistake of leaving it open without my hand on it. It hurts my ears, and sometimes my arm or fingers, and loading my laundry one-handed while holding the lid makes me seethe and curse my top-loading, non high-efficiency laundry existence.
-I'm pretty sure that the brown in our family-room curtains is a warm brown, while the brown in the rug is a cool brown. Nobody else notices or cares, but it quietly mocks me every time I walk by.
-No matter how many coupons I clip, I just don't think we have the money in the grocery budget to have a glass of wine with dinner every night. There are health benefits to doing that, you know...
-The filters in my vacuum are always clogged. There are three of them, and their constant maintenance prompts me to avoid vacuuming our house, which used to be one of my favorite chores. Also, one of the attachments is broken. Also, I have a favorite chore. I'm quite sure a Dyson would be so much better.
-The kids won't jump off the deck into the pool at swim lessons. For some reason, this is the issue I've decided to enter a power struggle over. It just irks me, because I've seen both of them do it before, when their teachers and I weren't asking them to do it. Seriously, that three-year old is not watching ANY videos until she just JUMPS IN on her OWN when I SAY to!!
-The (non-chemo) treatments for my (not-life-threatening) skin cancer are expensive. Paying those bills is infringing on the back-to-school shopping budget.
-My favorite Zumba class at the YMCA is right when we'd really like to be eating dinner.
-The shelving unit that I wanted to buy at IKEA does not fit into our car with car seats and luggage, so I could not get it. I will have to pay outrageous shipping costs, convince some childless truck-owner to road-trip to Chicago, or forget about it. And it really would have tied the room together.

So that's it for now. Some of you have already opened another window in order to quietly de-friend me on facebook. For those of you who decide to hang on, I promise that this is a regular cycle for me, with a period of adding to this list, then days later feeling grateful and content and subsequently ashamed about it. Maybe rereading Freedom of Simplicity again is in order. Let's all hold our breath and hope I move back into the grateful phase as soon as possible.

What are your first-world problems?