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Category: parenting

Let the Juicing Begin...

Come and get it!
Come and get it!

I will not quit I will not quit I will not quit…

This has become my mantra today, Day One of the Great Reboot, undertaken in solidarity with my daughter, who has had to begin a vegan juice fast for some stomach problems she’s been dealing with.

My daughter is already a vegetarian, so the idea of a straight-up veggie liquid diet ought not to be so foreign to her, though it is. She likes her veggies in a chewable state, thank you, and isn’t thrilled with this whole juicing mandate, which his why our family decided to support her cause by joining along.

Me? Well, I hate vegetables. I was weaned on Froot Loops and it was only downhill from there as far as my nutritional intake from the get-go. I grew up on a steady diet of Fluffernutter sandwiches and Twinkies and processed garbage that tasted not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Sure I ate fruit here and there. Usually in the summer when peaches and plums were in season. But veggies? No way, man.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I gradually incorporated a handful of vegetables into my annual diet repertoire. Yeah, you read that right: annual. Not like veggies are a daily part of my life anyhow. I’m exaggerating a bit — I do consume vegetables, but not often. With the ironic twist that I’m all about the Buy Local food movement, and buy local produce as much as possible. Mostly for my family.

I mean I’ll eat a salad if someone else makes it and it’s super gourmet. And contains things like nuts and dried fruit and goat cheese and artisanal croutons and homemade dressing. Now that’s my kinda salad. And I pick around all of the vegetables in it and mostly eat the add-ons. I’m fine with a veggie platter as long as it’s really fresh and it has a homemade ranch yogurt dip in which to drown said veggies. Throw in the occasional asparagus, maybe a mushroom or two (only if they’re fresh white button mushrooms), perhaps a sugar snap pea (the operative word there being sugar), and well, you’ve got the extent of vegetables I can tolerate. In fact most of the “vegetables” I find palatable are technically fruit, anyhow (tomatoes and peppers, for instance).

So you can imagine me trying to fathom undertaking a vegan juice fast. Might as well insert the true name: starvation diet. Alas, as explained by my daughter’s doctor, you have to keep your grehlin levels on an even keel, which means starvation isn’t an option, because it will defeat the whole idea of a juice fast. So avoiding vegetables as a means of this juice fast is not an option, darn it.

What, you may ask, is the idea behind a juice fast? Um, hell if I know. I’ll get back to you on that one. Okay, I lied. Basically the plan for your average Joe is to detox, get rid of all that crap and sludge that builds up in your system. Cleanse the liver and whatnot (note to self: no need to make matters worse with that liver by overconsuming delicious red wine on the eve of said juice fast. Of course my liver’s still trying to process that bad Advil I popped at 4 a.m…).

In addition, it can give your stomach a rest if you’re having trouble digesting solids. And by juicing you are piling on the nutritional value of plates full of vegetables, with every glass you drink, while enjoying the benefits of micronutrients or some such gobbledy gook I’ve been told. You’d be hard-pressed to ingest the normal way the amount of vegetables that you’ll consume in a juice fast. Check out the obscene volume of produce we had to purchase for four of us to fast — and this is just for the next several days.

our organic veggie juicing stockpile
our organic veggie juicing stockpile

I have a friend who undertook a juice fast last year and became downright evangelical about the benefits of juicing. She’s already one of those age-defying, gravity-defying women who you want to just assume has amazing genes, because most people her age look her age, yet she looks a good five years younger than me and she’s got a decade on me. She’s been a great source of encouragement and a wonderful resource for information. Shame she can’t also just drink my juices for me, since she loves them and I, well, I just don’t.

Which brings me to my first encounter with juicing today. Until now I have used one of those old-fashioned juice presses to squeeze delicious blood-orange juice, which I incorporate into my morning smoothie. That smoothie I thought was so healthy for me, what with mounds of berries and greek yogurt (all that protein!) and protein powder to boot. With fresh-squeezed blood orange juice. But evidently that’s nothing on plunking an orange, skin and all, into the juicer and consuming what comes out. Unfortunately mixed with all sorts of less-desirable greenery.

Juice!
Juice!

So breakfast today consisted of a bunch of kale (that’s about 14 leaves), a half head of romaine lettuce, a host of carrots (probably about 8), a cucumber, a lemon, and about 1/2-inch piece of ginger root. I will tell you never once in my life has kale (or any other healthy green, for that matter) passed my lips. I’ve probably eaten about 10 carrots in my whole life, and hated each bite. Cukes? I can deal with them in small quantities in salads. I mean they’re practically tasteless. I do love them in tzatsiki dip, if that counts (which is primarily simply a vehicle for the pita bread, which is what I really want). It was fun watching all those veggies transform into a bright green juice. It was not fun putting that juice to my mouth and knowing it had to go in. And down. While ensuring no return visit.

(Click here to see how that first glass went down)

I tried the first sip cold turkey. It was not delightful. I even put it in a martini glass to make it more festive. The thing is I couldn’t fool myself. It was green juice. I felt like I was on a goat diet. And I don’t mean a diet of eating goats but rather a diet of eating what goats eat. Actually goats probably have it better because they’ll eat the occasional shoe. Plugging my nose helped somewhat but there is always still that moment when you can’t run from the flavor a minute longer. And that’s the moment when you have to gulp and gulp fast, just get it down there, away from the taste buds, and have it start doing it’s thing.

As far as it’s thing? I’m not convinced of that yet.

“Your skin will look great!” Said the doctor (and others have corroborated this allegation).

“You’ll feel so energetic!” Says my friend. She is awfully energetic. I still chalk it up to genetics for her.

“You’ll lose weight!” Claims Joe What’s-His-Name, creator of the inspirational documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (more about that in a minute).

Right now I have a headache drilling through the center of my skull. My stomach is growling like an angry wildcat. I feel weak and woozy and just screamed at the dog for barking. I’m that surly that I can’t even let the poor dog do what a poor dog does. Ten days from now looks like eternity as I face the prospect of what the hell I can juice without dry heaving?

For me, food is such an integral part of daily life: the shopping, the preparation, the meal, the conversation, the communality that comes with it, the whole thing. So to have fueling one’s body being boiled down to its essence: i.e. stuffing a slew (and I do mean a slew) of veggies down the throat of a juicer and throwing back the end result as quickly as possibly just to get it over with, well, it sort of takes a bit of fun out of the day.

To make matters worse, already I find myself hand-washing dishes out the wazoo: bowls and cups and strainers and knives and cutting boards and all the receptacles that go into the production of a measly bucket of juice have to be re-used frequently all day long, especially when there are four of us juicing. My daughter who is away at college is grateful she’s off-the-hook for this one, happily ingesting dorm food (oxymoron, I know). “Well, looks like I’m not coming home till you’re done with this!” She said. You go right ahead and enjoy that dorm food. Which is going to start sound downright tasty before I know it. Grrrr.

My teeth are lonely and bored. They’re waiting for their chance to get to work. And they’re not gonna get it for a good long while. I wonder if bubble gum counts in a juice fast?

I swear to God my burps taste like meadows. My friend said, “Let’s hope you don’t leave behind meadow muffins!” I second that. I can’t fathom ingesting enough calories this way for that to be a worry.

My juicing daughter says she now has more empathy for her rabbit–though at least he gets to eat things whole!

So far I’ve done two rounds of juice — which translates into about a whopping 16 ounces and it’s nearing 2 o’clock. I tried to make the second juice more user-friendly (i.e. upped the ante, fruit-wise). You can’t get too aggressive with fruit, or you’ll end up with a sugar high and a sugar crash, and insulin levels off the charts. There’s clearly a fine line in introducing sugars (via fruits) to cut the edge off the green. I’ll be working on that. My second juice consisted of: a stick of pineapple, a blood orange, a handful of kale, a half head of romaine lettuce, 6 carrots, a cucumber, an inch of ginger (too much!), some watercress, some mint, and the kitchen sink (well, practically). The ratio is supposed to be 25% fruit to 75% veg. My daughter and I object and wish to reverse that, though clearly we don’t get a vote in the matter. That said, fruit in the juicer isn’t like fruit juice: once you throw it in there with the rind and all, well, it just doesn’t taste spectacular. Or maybe it’s the added kale juice that’s the killjoy.

The irony is my husband and my son, neither of whom needs a juice fast, are totally loving it. My daughter and I, the food lovers in the group, are muscling through, like it or not. For her, it’s not an option: she has to in order to maintain enough nutrition to not need medical intervention. For me, I have to, primarily to have her back while she’s suffering through this process. Though I admit I could definitely use the weight-loss that sure as hell better happen in great volumes from this thing. I’ve admittedly been in food hangover mode from a 3-month long food bender thanks to extensive traveling and celebrating a landmark birthday, with holidays to top it off.

For my third juice of the day (and I’m at half as much consumed as I’m supposed to be — I’ve only had 24 ounces and should be double that), I came a bit too close to puking it all back up. My daughter cackled at me.

She shouted up to my son, “Did you hear that?”

“The retching?” he asked.

Clearly sound travels. Glad we’re all getting a laugh at my expense.

“Think of barium, Mom,” my daughter said, cheering me on with glass #3.

This in reference to the hideous chalky liquid one has to ingest by the gallon when having an Upper GI done. Swallowing barium is an unpleasant experience, to say the least. And it ranks a close second to this juice fast so far.

Even the dogs are averse to this thing. When my daughter dipped her finger in and gave it to the dog to lick, she backed away with a shudder. So clearly even dog food is preferable to this stuff to some of us…

My evangelizing juicing friend had told about the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. About a very wealthy (and personable) Australian man who’d lived it up a bit much and was paying the price for it with a huge gut and autoimmune problems for which he was on permanent steroids. He decided to fly to the States and cross the country while on a 60-day juice fast, recording his experience while enlisting people along the way. When my daughters doctor also referred to it, I was more curious to watch it.

I’d contemplated joining her on her mandatory fast, though there was that niggling problem of hating veggies. It was kind of like I really want to run a marathon, but my bum knee won’t ever allow it. So I can’t control the marathon dilemma, but dammit, I could control the vegetable aversion. I think. I thought. I don’t know.

But once in on this thing (and with a vast stockpile of vegetables we have to plow through), I’m in on it for the long-haul. I just wish the long-haul could be a bit more pleasant….

In the big picture, I have to stay in it to provide moral support for my girl. That is what will force my hand, when the taste of this stuff gets me down.

A doctor on the documentary said “It’s about retraining your tastebuds.” But I’m wondering if they’ll simply become deadened to their misery. Hard to say. I’m seeking out recipes on their Reboot website, hoping I’ll hit upon something that is my jackpot juice. In the meantime, my face is really itchy. Could I be — horror of horrors — allergic to vegetables? Maybe it’s been my body’s way of avoiding them all these years, by making me hate them.

I’ll keep you posted.

 
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I’m a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F’s Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street

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 find me on my website

A Cynic's Eye View of American Idol Tryouts, Part One

*sorry I have no pictures to go along with the early part of this but stick with it and there are plenty further down. Also pardon the length of this post but everyone kept asking me for details, so details are what you get! If you enjoy reading this please forward the link onto others!)

So in January when you turn on your boob tube after the holidays are over and you’re looking to settle into your overstuffed recliner to kick back and watch the crazies auditioning for American Idol, whatever you do, don’t look for me.

Cause trust me, that disheveled, sweaty, bleary-eyed mom in the black shirt and the pink button down–the one with piles of bags swallowing up her entire one square foot of allotted real estate at Orlando’s Amway Arena–will not be me. No matter what you think.

See, when I agreed to take my daughter to audition for American Idol, despite my initial misgivings about the ludicrousness of such a venture, I took comfort in knowing that I would be but an anonymous blip on the radar screen, someone never to be seen on television. I was yielding to the next generation, happy to be invisible (not at the very least because of the gush of sweat pouring profusely from my face and armpits, something I’d rather not showcase on national television), to encourage my daughter to shine. For me, it was all about being out of sight, out of mind.

But by the time I found out I might actually be seen—by people I know, no less–it was too late. My public humiliation was cinched, and I was forced to hurl myself onto the altar of self-sacrifice for my own child’s welfare. Martyr, thy name is mother.

#

My daughter and her friends played American Idol games when they were as young as eight. They’d set up a video camera and take turns singing with the karaoke microphones, and the handy thing about playing this game with just a few kids is that your odds of winning are increased dramatically. Invariably she’d win every now and again.

Compare that to the odds facing those singers brave enough—or nuts enough—to audition for American Idol for real. Auditions were held this year in seven cities. At our venue, Orlando, some 10,000 singers tried out, making the odds slightly more challenging than our little backyard Idol shows of yore.

But we knew that going into it, so our plan was just to experience it. Worst case scenario, it would be the mother of all cattle calls. And if nothing else, it would provide days of amusing people-watching.

Now might be a good time to mention that A) I hate crowds; B) I can’t abide heat; C) I actually moved away from a major metropolitan city because traffic, excessive amounts of people, parking hassles, and the like were beyond unpalatable to me; and D) did I say I don’t fare well with large crowds and claustrophobia sets in?

I think it’s fair to say that I had viewed this experience in the same vein that one might anticipate a colonoscopy: an inevitability one puts off as long as humanly possible.

At least with a colonoscopy you’re knocked out for the event.

#

We arrived in Orlando late Monday evening, still unsure of whether we planned to camp out overnight or take our chances to get in line pre-dawn. This line was simply to be able to get in the next line: if days one and two (registration days) were the fraternity pledging of American Idol, day three would be initiation week, with commensurate hazing to ensure that we really remember the experience in all its, er, glory.

Before settling in for the night as guests of a dear high school buddy of mine whose Orlando door is always open to friends, we decided to cruise by the Amway Arena to case the joint. The AI website warned participants that camping out overnight was not allowed. But as we drove slowly past the hulking arena, it was obvious that the rule only applied to on-site camping out, as by 10 p.m. lines were already forming directly across the street. Never mind that it was in a sketchy part of town; a chance at the brass ring clearly superseded concerns for safety.

We decided we didn’t want to be too overzealous about things, plus I needed my sleep. In reality I’d gotten a fabulous heads-up on what to expect from another high school friend whose daughter has tried out repeatedly for AI–he’d given me crucial tips on circumventing the crowds. I was fully prepared to take advantage of his sage advice; alas, my daughter feared this would somehow nix the opportunity and wasn’t willing to take her chances. So our compromise was waking early enough to be in line by 5 a.m.

Did I mention that this was going to be a relatively sleepless week?

#

I’ve come to the conclusion that about the only time one should aspire to be awake in Orlando and beyond the confines of air conditioning in July is during the hours before the sun is allowed to punish those in its presence with oppressive, strangulating heat. Thus I told myself we were actually fortunate to be up and out the door by 4:15. A.M. And I kept reminding myself of that for the several hours before the sun began to wreak havoc on us, as I longed to rest my head on a pillow and relish being swallowed up by the especially cozy feathered duvet on my friend’s guest bed. That duvet and I had barely made one another’s acquaintance before having to part company when my alarm erupted at 3:45.

Parking near the arena was surprisingly easy, in a garage just a few short minutes’ walk to the parking lot of the Amway. As we strolled to the venue, there was a sense of anticipation in the air, as if a large party—minus the liquor, but very possibly including the dancing girls—was about to unfold, and who knew what could happen. Arrivees were being directed into “chutes” in a very orderly fashion. These chutes were two roped-off rows of parking spaces segmented into parceled off sections of parking lot, extending from the main steps of the south entrance of the arena to the far end of the lot. Between each roped-off section were two open lanes of parking spaces, then two more pens, and so on. It was hard to estimate the number of people per chute but it likely approached 1,000. Moooooo. My friend called it an organized clusterfuck, which was a fair assessment. This system, thank God, did at least eliminate the mayhem that would have ensued had we all been left to our own defenses amidst a sea of asphalt. Mob mentality is rarely a good thing, and I’m sure the producers of American Idol were keen to prevent a repeat of the infamous Who concert trampling. I was grateful for that little nugget of litigation-averse kindness.

note bedhead in guy in front right. He's our Virginia buddy.

note bedhead on guy in front right. He’s our Virginia buddy

By the time we arrived, still well before dawn, three entire chutes were filled with wannabes. We herded our way toward the front of chute four; by the time all was said and done, six chutes were teeming with people hopeful that they would be the next American Idol. In the meantime, we were all to be victims of American Idol, in that we had to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Waiting interspersed with odd moments of that cattle mentality when a camera would happen by and previously sullen wannabees would spring to life feigning enthusiasm for the cause.

Volunteers (Fox Network interns, I gathered) in telltale maroon (dubbed crimson by them, but that adjective implied something a bit more regal than this occasion called for) shirts milled about throughout the waiting period, always causing people to be mindful that they were being watched. Though being watched reading books and doing crossword puzzles and twiddling one’s thumbs, all sans make-up and brisk showers and beneath the gentle glow of 10,000-watt portable halogen floodlights wasn’t particularly eventful. American Idol workers cruised by periodically on golf carts, reassuring us we would be hot, we would be there a long time, but we would all be in this together. There was something not terribly reassuring about that, just us and twenty thousand (in addition to the auditioners, there were another 10,000 companions along for the festivities) other good friends suffering through this little slice of hell.

Lots of American Idol Interns/staffers in "crimson"

Lots of American Idol Interns/staffers in “crimson” (this is a day 3 picture though)

And we did make friends. Or at least acquaintances. In a trench-warfare sort of way. Next to us, coincidentally, was a young man from Virginia. En masse like that, anyone who hails from within four hundred miles of your home is virtually a neighbor. He and his brother shared my snarky sense of humor that was perfect for the mood so we could keep a running commentary on the strange people who sauntered by.

Although there weren’t too many weirdos lined up that we could see. A few attention-hungry mongrels, rummaging through the Hey! Look at me! trashpile, rabid for a camera to focus on them. One such guy sported a mullet and a cowboy hat and plinked loudly on a guitar, all the while sounding like the mournful dying cat whose guts must have been used for those very guitar strings he was tormenting. I’m guessing he wasn’t meant to be the next American Idol. But he wouldn’t shut up, and coaxed the camera in his direction much like a prostitute enlisting a willing john. Talk about a perfect match: a soundbite-needy videographer and an attention-craving wannabe. Make that nevergonnabe. We saw a lot of that during our ’stay’: cameras actually creating a frenzy where one never existed. All we’d read about AI auditions was that: it’s not about the singing so much as it’s about a reality program being made. And it’s true. More on that later.

Polka dot head ranked amongst the attention-cravers (Day 3 pic)

Polka dot head ranked amongst the attention-cravers (Day 3 pic)

Really for the first couple of hours that morning all was fine and good. But like some reverse spell that releases vampires and ghouls after dark, it seemed that dawn ushered in the likes of the wailing cowboy with the achy breaky voice, and the man with the bongo drums whose hit of peyote clearly hadn’t yet worn off. But worse than them was the Botox Stage Mom. Because while the singing dude was merely a loud nuisance, and drummer boy a little too high to be really entertaining, BSM was downright obnoxious. When we all lined up like good little dogies in our pen, we were told by the various AI producer and interns milling about that we should give ourselves plenty of room, because it would get hot and crowded and we’d be there awhile so we might as well try to make it as tolerable as possible. And folks followed this advice. Everyone stayed within a respectable boundary with virtually no space-violating. Which was fine by me (see crowd aversion and tendency toward claustrophobia, above).

But once the cameras started meandering in full-force, we began to see who amongst us we wanted to slug. And first came Botox Stage Mom.

In the distance, like the rumblings of a volcano deep beneath the earth’s surface, we could hear crowd reaction happening. Somewhere, several cattle pens away from us, we knew a camera was fixating on crowd shots, eliciting reaction from otherwise subdued, sleepy people. As the cameras worked their way through the parking lot, the rumble became more pronounced, an aural wave of sorts, and it became apparent that once that camera was within spitting distance, it might well be every man for himself. All propriety would be out the window as people supplicated on the altar of desperation in the hopes it would set them apart from the rest of the riffraff and get a notice by a key producer.

Cue Botox Stage Mom. Chute Three, right across from us, was being encouraged to belt out repeated versions of “Welcome to O-Town!” (who knew Orlando was actually O-Town? Obviously not me.) My daughter and I were perfectly content to salvage our comfortable spot in the front middle of Chute Four and leaf through our stockpile of gossip rags, consumed as we were with the demise of John and Kate (is that guy in meltdown mode or what?). But as soon as the bright lights of the camera shone in our direction, we—and several other patient people in our midst—were barroomed out of the way by this diminutive faux blonde broad with sharp elbows and sharper still features.

Botox Stage Mom was your classic middle-aged woman desperately—and unsuccessfully–clinging to her youth via regrettable means. Means such as bad Botox, which left her face bloated and seeping. And failed plastic surgery, which rendered her visage in a state of perpetual surprise (!) and so taut that hovering gnats could use it as a trampoline. And collagen. Oh, the collagen! Her swollen lips were so puffy and paralyzed she couldn’t successfully clasp the straw from which she attempted to drink, and instead dribbled Pepsi down her chin. That Pepsi was no doubt the diet version, as her lollipop head betrayed that her desire to be thin was clearly desperate enough to starve herself down to a disproportionate size. Were she not so pathetic to observe, she would have been laughable. I do fall solidly into the can’t we all just grow old gracefully? camp, so when I see 50-year olds attempting to remain 20 it just doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies.

But BSM did not endear herself to us—nor those around us—when she forced her posse of five past our personal bubbles in order to launch herself in front of those American Idol cameras, prioritizing herself ahead of her own daughter, whom I presumed was the one planning to audition, given the age limitations. To further seal our venom toward her, she then proceeded to park her sorry ass in front of those of us who waited politely in line for lo those many hours, undeterred by our grumbling and the many stink-eyes being darted her way.

But we couldn’t waste good people-watching time focusing purely on her, despite her lengthy catalogue of shortcomings-worth-gawking-at. Instead there were fleshy tattoos to read, plenty of exposed cleavages at which to gape in amazement, and men with bulky gold chains, periwinkle blue patent leather sneakers and low-slung waistbands defying gravity about whom we could take bets on when the pants would finally drop to their knees.

waiting, and waiting, and waiting (note bubble blower)
waiting, and waiting, and waiting (note bubble blower)

Finally after nearing four hours of this fun and frivolity, a producer shouted out on a megaphone the instructions for Chute Four. We were warned that the camera was watching us, so we were to move forward in an orderly fashion toward the Arena, and once inside we’d be issued the ever-so-valuable wristbands that were like mattress tags: do not remove, punishable by death (in this case the death of the dream of singing fame).

Despite being warned to move slowly and respectfully, BSM and her pack of jackals naturally tugged and pushed and clawed their way ahead of the pack as if they were at a Vera Wang bridal gown fire sale. I will be pleased if I get to see a cutaway of their shameless behavior during the Orlando auditions shots when the show airs (but please, dear lord, be sure I’m not in the background; I’d be the woman with bad roots glaring daggers at them).

Once we worked our way to the registration desk, we found we didn’t even need the myriad of identifying information they said we’d need (passports, birth certificates and the like). Mere driver’s licenses were enough to merit matching wristbands for my daughter and me. These wristbands would be the bane of our existence though, because if the number printed on them became unreadable, all of our efforts would have been for naught.

Thus our plans of cooling our day away in a Disney water park during Day Two was off the list: we couldn’t risk wristband deterioration. Note to American Idol Organizers: Uh, WTF??? You are expecting AI wannabes to not bathe for two days because of some cheap-ass manner in which you dot-matrix print numbers onto a wristband? Surely there is a better way.

Our solution to this tricky dilemma was to stick scotch tape over the number. I’m fairly certain it would have lasted fine at a water park, but quite understandably all of those who risked it all, as it were, to get one of those coveted wrist bands didn’t want to chance blowing it at that point. I kid you not, there were people we met in line on Day Three who didn’t wash their arms for two days for fear of wristband demolition. Between the tape over the number and the Saran Wrap we secured as added precaution around my daughter’s bracelet, I figured we were good to go. But so much for being cool and comfortable floating on one of those water park lazy rivers I’d been dreaming of.

Lucky for us, my friend kindly wangled a couple of passes to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Which we did visit for a few hours. But the heat—the heat!—put a major damper on that. I know this sounds uncharitable, but honestly, the peak season for travel to Disney is July, and so I do think that anyone planning a vacation with children to the seemingly subterranean hell that is Florida mid-summer to schvitz your ass off for a week outdoors needs to truly have his or her head examined.

Repeat after me: Summer, Maine. Winter, Florida. Summer, Maine. Winter, Florida. There is a reason God created air conditioning, you know.

So yes, we schvitzed with the rest of the poor slobs vacationing in Orlando until we realized we might commit physical acts of violence if we did not soon cool off. Our first escape was to the Disney American Idol Experience at Hollywood Studios. Now, one could argue we had enough American Idol going on in our lives without having to bother with that too. But it was blessedly cool inside that studio and cool won the day. The AI Experience had an actual prize at stake—something we realized much later was a veritable ace-in-the hole. Three pre-selected contestants (we never did figure out how/when these folks got the nod) were competing to move on to the day’s end competition, the winner of which won a ticket to the front of the line for Thursday’s auditions. The Golden Ticket to end all Golden Tickets.

At the time we dismissed this as a minimal advantage. From what we’d read online, it didn’t seem that being first to audition mattered. That, we would learn, was not at all the case. So in the best of all possible worlds (well best of all possible worlds would’ve had this audition in, say, Nantucket, or maybe Paris, where we could at least do some serious tourism damage while waiting), next time (there’s not gonna be a next time, dammit!) we would definitely do what we could to be at the front of the line.

So after exiting the studio into the scorching noon-time sun, my daughter and I made an executive decision to spend the rest of the day in a movie theater, soaking in the frigid air. By the time we were done with movies, it was bedtime. Yeah, that would be at 7:30 p.m. I don’t think I’ve gone to bed that early since I was in first grade. Unfortunately the early bedtime mission failed and I never did fall asleep till about 1 a.m. Which meant the shrill alarm at 3 a.m. was that much shriller. This time we had to be up way early, showered, cleaned, packed, etc, because my daughter had to look good enough for an audition and because we were headed straight to the airport after the audition ended. It was shower in the middle of the night, or not at all.

When we’d arrived Monday night we’d put our faith in our trusty British-accented GPS lady, who failed us miserably, ordering that we take exit 82 B off of I-4, which, it turns out, didn’t exist (she was also incapable of saying the word “orange,” which is about as common a word as “street” when it comes to Central Florida signage, thus finding directions was indeed most tricky). Hence that first night we bypassed our exit and had to backtrack through the mean city streets to find the arena.

And while we may have cursed our little Brit that night, we learned early the morning of auditions that she’d done us a huge favor, when we discovered bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway and realized the fabulous traffic control of Tuesday morning was shot to hell. Asix-mile back-up was greeting us to get to the Arena via exit 82-A. But ah, we knew how to get lost and then found in the city. So we cruised on by the jammed three lanes of highway, took the next exit and finagled our way back through the city.

All fine and good, only to find out that Tuesday’s parking riches had become a dearth of parking options with 20,000 people vying for them all at the same time (all contestants were told to arrive at 5 a.m. This plan was perfect for the AI folks, who wanted crowd shots, but downright insane for those people who chose to avoid the earlier lines and register on Day Two, because they wouldn’t have a chance to audition till after dinnertime that night). Block after block of traffic directors-cum-ramp operators (just motioning cars forward with that two-handed runway directional signal). Only problem is after so many blocks of no available parking, the traffic folks just evaporated and we were left to fend for ourselves. I took a chance on a really dark street after asking a couple where they’d parked and they motioned to their lone car in front of some government building. The man assured me he was a local and parked there all the time. I hoped like hell parking enforcement wasn’t going to capitalize on us ignorant out-of-towners and tow the bejesus out of that end of Orlando. But our space two blocks away sure beat the garages a good mile away to which many latecomers were relegated.

I failed to mention that upon registration we were handed a sheet with all the information we could ever want to know about American Idol tryouts. Pretty much it was limited to what not to bring into the arena. A small sampling of what we were urged to leave at home: air mattresses, fireworks, hibachi grills, illegal drugs, weapons, including swords, forged or carved, from any of the middle ages. Which left me to wonder if someone once actually tried to bring in a medieval sword, and if so, why? I struggle to imagine lugging an air mattress into an arena. And generally speaking I’d say common sense dictates that one can’t grill over a hibachi in your average indoor sports venue. Are people really that stupid?

The directions were vague on chair-toting. It said no lawn chairs. It said no chairs that didn’t fold. Hence we extrapolated (wrongly) that those teeny little folding chairs that everyone lugs to soccer matches would be acceptable for waiting outside. We presumed wrong, so I had to ditch our borrowed chairs in the bushes while setting my daughter down for the long wait, only to have to lug those damned chairs back to the creepy dark barrio parking space all alone. Without my medieval sword to protect me. Damn.

day breaks over the Amway Center

day breaks over the Amway Center

That several block trek back again was all it took to trigger the sweatfest to begin. Would that I could literally sweat my ass off, because from that day alone I’d have been bulimic-thin by now. How can it be oppressively hot at five in the morning? Doesn’t everywhere get acceptably comfortable, temperature-wise, come nightfall? Yeah, I sweated. Wait–is that the past tense of sweat? Or would it be swat? No, but swat is something else you could do with an ass. You could also kick an ass, and round about that time I was thinking I should’ve been kicking my own for having gotten myself into that situation when I could have been happily asleep in air-conditioned comfort. The heat and humidity were not only causing an internal thermal meltdown but also rendering my hair into something akin to an Irish Setter’s limp and floppy coat. Why I even bothered to try to style it I’ll never know. Because with 90% humidity it instantly collapsed into a damp curtain around my eyes, obstructing my view on top of everything else gone awry.

I arrived back to find my daughter must have had an internal honing device for whack jobs, because sure enough the nearby idiot who’d been philosophizing about life and bonding and music and why can’t we be friends when we’d first arrived had taken an immediately liking to my girl. Lucky for me a nearby mom’s creeper alert had gone off, and she and her teen son had swooped in to save my daughter from weirdo-on-the-make. Luckily odd dude, who had some strange compulsion to lead people in song in those pre-dawn hours, had found other followers apparently more willing to guzzle his sort of Kool-Aid.

Our information sheet warned us that we all had to learn the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s (I like to call her Lady GagMe) Poker Face. One of my least-favorite songs and singers, I had no plans to learn that. And luckily my daughter hadn’t gotten around to bothering to try. Cause apparently half the auditioners were told the song was actually Pat Benetar’s Heartbreaker, a song I never, ever, ever, ever, ever want to hear again.

As dawn emerged, random people in various cattle car chutes (we were all the way in chute five this time) erupted into joyful song. There’s something inherently weird about people who sing at that hour. Perhaps partly because the sense I got with all of those who felt compelled to belt out a tune was because they were under the impression they were somehow more talented than everyone else.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Note bubble-blower...

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Note bubble-blower…

Memo to all AI auditioners: just about every freaking person trying out is good. You know when you watch those edited down shows, and you think everyone sucks? And that a bunch of crackpots converge upon these audition sites like zombies in Night of the Living Dead? Not true. Sure, there was your average collection of young women dressed like hookers/cliché male sex fantasies, one even in her sequin boy-shorted bare-tummied high school baton-twirler costume (I wanted to ask her WTF but thought that’d be rude)–I think she got lost en route to the Dallas Cowboy cheerleader tryouts. And along the way a small handful of freaks doing their freak things. Or those with important messages they had to get out to the world: One fellow insisted on thrusting forth his sign for the cameras with the good news that There Are No Lines for Jesus. All fine and good but he wrote this on poster board in very faint, practically illegible pencil. One would assume enough fervor behind the message would have propelled the man right down to the office supply store to find a fat Sharpie pen so that everyone on national television could be in on his big secret.

Our line buddies on Day 3

Our line buddies on Day 3

Audition morning brought with it a dense aura of things-to-come. We knew not what, but it seemed as if something had to be in store for everyone so willing to put themselves through such inconvenience. But as the morning played out, about the biggest thrill occurred when a light rain began to descend—a cruel fate for the many women who’d gotten all dolled up for their audition. Luckily heavy rains remained at bay, so most everyone was spared an unwanted soaking. Time and again excitement was aroused with a camera drive-by—golf carts laden with videographers, zooming in to capture the essence of our suffering. It was all faux-fabricated for the television audience, cause trust me, the vast majority of us were busy conserving our energy, much like a lion sleeps out the heat of the day bracing for the upcoming night’s kill. Anyone you see on TV squealing and jumping up and down, giddy with glee? Mark my words, thirty seconds earlier they were blowing bubbles with chewing gum and painting their nails. Or catching some zzzz’s, on the comfortable pavement.

In the meantime we had little to do but sweat. And sweat and sweat and sweat. In hindsight it would have been smart to pack a box of maxi-pads to mop up the drench from my face. Cause the mini-packs of Kleenex stored in my purse just didn’t do it, and instead left tissue lint behind on my face—not exactly leaving me camera-ready. Much like having a piece of parsley on your teeth while smiling for a photograph. There was a desperate need for blotting out there, and I could’ve made good money offering up discounted clean, dry Kotex with which to soak up extra face moisture. Oh well, next time (d’oh! There won’t be a next time!).

***To be continued on separate entry, because WordPress doesn’t like entries with so many pictures or something and keeps deleting my entire entry.

Babysat


 I’m recycling a piece I wrote a few years ago. The sentiment still holds ;-)

 My 12-year old daughter has become the object of lust. Grown women are clamoring for her; I’m starting to get a little edgy about it. You see, my daughter is now officially of babysitting age, and moms in my neighborhood are trying to sink their claws into her early and often and it’s making me feel quite proprietary.

I can still taste the babysitter lust I developed when my children were little. Finding a good sitter was akin to finding the secret to longevity. Once I got hold of one, there was no way to wrench the secret from my lips. To find an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible girl to help tend to your brood so that you could get needed respite from the demands of mommydom was crucial. But tell me, how many kids out there actually fulfill the terms of those qualifications? Believe me, not many.

At one point we were so desperate for sitters we went to the local Catholic Church to cherry pick from their teen youth group. We figured good Catholic girls (as opposed to priests) would make ideal sitters. One of the girls we landed from that attempt was Patti. Tall, sweet, kind, very involved with her church. Even traveled all the way to the big Pope-a-thon when Pope John Paul held a youth powwow in Colorado. We were impressed, even though she did say, “Wow, cool, dude” a bit much.

She was nice to our kids, she rinsed the dishes after they ate. Had the kids to bed on time. No disasters, no broken bones on her watch, nothing. And then she showed up one night for a babysitting job reeking of pot. And I don’t mean the kind you plant seeds in. Rather, the kind that comes with seeds.

Boy was I bummed. We’d had fun plans to meet friends for dinner; I hadn’t been out, kid-free, in ages. I assured myself that I was imagining things. After all, how could our goody-two-shoes Pope-visiting youth-group-attending babysitter be anything but on the up and up? But then my husband came downstairs from getting dressed and walked over to me asking, “What’s with the reefer smell in here?” This from same person whose sense of smell is so bad he’d probably not notice a rotting cadaver at his feet if he had to rely solely upon his olfactory system. Well, that was the end of Patti the Pothead. We showed her the door and stayed home that night.

Our next great sitter was Amanda. Cute as a button, senior in high school. Older, responsible. She’d be a great keeper of my kids on occasion, I reasoned.

She came one day to watch the kids so that I could run errands in peace. When I returned home I chatted a bit with her as she helped me unload my groceries. Turned out her dad was a Fed. FBI. Hated by the right wing militia movement for his perceived involvement in the Ruby Ridge showdown. Amanda and her siblings were actually under an FBI watch, I learned, as they’d had death threats made against them. That would the same Amanda with whom my childrens’ lives were entrusted. In my house with all the big windows so that psychopaths who wanted to kill her could take good aim. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough that afternoon. And later that night at dinner, our kids told us that she’d had a few male friends visit that afternoon and made the kids sit alone in their bedrooms. Yikes. And she seemed so nice!

One sitter my kids adored was Eliza. She was so young she played with the kids as if their peer. At nine years of age, I guess one would expect that. But she was an ideal little mother’s helper who played with the kids while I cleaned the house and such. And then I found out one day that Eliza’s drug-addicted 18-year old stepbrother had a court order against him and was forbidden from going with 100 feet of Eliza or her family. Well, I was none too comforted with that bit of bad news, and couldn’t see risking my kids’ welfare with her after that.

Another sitter we hired only once was the sister of my son’s friend. We figured she was a sure-thing. Till we came home and found out she’d hit my son, just as she would have hit her brother if he’d made her mad.

Then there was Maura. A fourth-string referral I found when desperately dialing for sitters one day in the hopes of going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. I’d called someone who gave me the name of the most wanted sitter in the neighborhood. When I called her number, her mom, tired of fielding sitter calls, gave me the number of another sitter. Her mom gave me the number of another sitter, whose mom gave me the number of Maura. You’d think I would have wondered why she was still available when every other sitter had been scooped up.

Nevertheless, Maura seemed pretty nice. We came home after dinner to a clean house. The kids were safely tucked in bed. But as my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights in the house I noticed something. My house wasn’t just clean. It was immaculate. Eerily so. Even the dog bowl had been scrubbed clean of that slimy dog-saliva build-up that most dog bowls get. Wow, I thought. She sure is a clean thing. Lucky me: sitter and maid all wrapped into one.

As my husband drove her home, I came across the note. Now, taken at face value, it was just a sweet note. But something about it was a bit stalker-ish to me. It read something to the affect of “Dear Jenny, I hope you had the best birthday dinner ever. You are the nicest person in the world, and I love your kids and your dog, and your family, and your house. I would love to babysit for you all of the time. Please call me ANYTIME and I’ll be sure to come whenever you need me. EVER.”

Well, that was right around the time that movie “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was playing in theaters, and psycho-babysitters were a scary concept to me. Suffice it to say, we said “sayonara” to Maura.

I won’t bore you with the details of the lovely sitter who we subsequently found out was on several anti-psychotic drugs.

We eventually settled on a few sitters who were golden.  Dream teens who played with our kids, read them stories, fixed them snacks and cleaned up after their meals. Picked up the toys when the kids had gone to bed. Essentially done more than I would have had I been home with the kids myself.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have disclosed their names to anyone unless my life depended on it. They were my hard-fought find, and I was damned if I would allow another mom access to my perfect sitter.

So now I sit, with an energetic, clever, creative, helpful, intelligent, and responsible (if I may be so humble) daughter. And I understand the desperation in the voices of these moms calling at all hours to track her down. Willing to fudge the truth about their little darlings, claiming they’re sweet and cooperative when in truth they’re wild banshees willing to put my daughter in a pot of boiling oil if the spirit moves them.

Claiming they’ll be available all night while they’re out if there’s a problem, all the while leaving their cell phones securely nestled in the glove compartment of their cars, turned off. Promising they only need my child for a short while, yet not arriving home till hours after the 10:30 p.m. stipulation I’d placed on the babysitting deal. Or promising a “mother’s helper” job watching six kids for two hours, which actually was watching 14 kids for three hours. With no extra pay.

So now that I’m on the other side of the fence, my babysitter lust has turned to babysitter police. I’m out to protect my daughter from the vagaries of desperate moms, because now I realize that there are a lot of moms who will do practically anything to get hold of a good sitter. ©2004 Jenny Gardiner