The Princess Diaries

Contrary to what folks may have gathered from some of my previous posts, I do not spend all my time contemplating death and disaster. In fact, I spend almost as much time imagining the wonderful things that are unlikely to happen as I do the terrible ones.

Like when I was a teenager and would imagine myself the parent of five or six children, each lovelier and brighter than the last. Or after my kids were born, when I would picture myself running into an old flame or an ex-friend and realize that of the two of us, I had aged better. And like when, more recently, I envision myself being discovered by some hot editor who wants to offer me a hefty advance to reissue Unmatched, or being approached by Goldie Hawn with an offer to buy the movie rights.

Thanks either to nature or nurture, Princess Primrose, has also been blessed (or cursed, depending on the day) with a vivid imagination. Generally, she devotes hers to creating characters and drafting dialog, or sketching and inking artwork. Sometimes, however, she likes to speculate as to how awesome she would be were it not for the three to five minutes she went without oxygen thanks to the complications that occurred at the time of her birth.

Despite the oxygen deprivation, and the seizures and treatment that followed, the Princess appears to have suffered no permanent injury or disability and seems to have grown into an articulate, responsible, funny and artistic young woman. And while there are few among us for whom there is no room for improvement, whenever she speaks of the qualities she might have had or the abilities she might possess were it not for the brain damage she suffered, I literally shake my head because I can’t imagine any area of her life that would be different had she taken her first breath on her own rather than with the assistance of modern medicine.

Let’s start with academics, since it comes first alphabetically. Although the Princess has, without a doubt, a brilliant mind, she is a solid B student. And the fact that she is a B student rather than an A student has nothing to do with the condition of her gray matter. The simple fact is that she would rather read a graphic novel or the Sunday comics than a text book, journal article, or other required reading. Likewise she would rather write a 30 page piece of fan fiction than a 3 page essay on any topic—with the possible exception of video games and graphic novels. So she does the bare minimum it takes to keep me off her back and leaves herself free to pursue her primary passions. Thus, her academic performance is not the result of a lack of oxygen but to a dearth of interest and self-discipline.

The same goes for athletics. Although all her limbs and bodily systems are in working order, the Princess eschews sports and most all forms of physical activity—to include driving and walking. If she had her way, she would use a jet pack or teleporter not only to get to work and school, but to get from one part of the house to the other. She would also shower, shampoo, style her hair, and get dressed with the assistance of a robotic device. And this isn’t because the cells in the part of her brain that houses gross motor skills shriveled up and died twenty years ago. Rather, it’s because the part of her brain that houses imagination, emotion, and creativity has ballooned out of control and, in the words of Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory, is giving the rest of her brain a wedgie.

Let the record show that we did our best to raise a well-rounded, active individual. We set a good example by taking her and her brother walking, swimming, to the park, the pool, and the tennis courts; encouraged them to take part in school sports and community recreation whenever possible; and signed them up for any activity in which they expressed even the slightest interest—which, in her case included t-ball, soccer, ballet, tumbling, and karate.


But when the rubber hit the proverbial road, the Princess had her own ideas about what she needed to practice and how long she would do it. And she did not want to run drills, catch, kick, throw, or try to score. Nor did she want to stand around doing the same thing over and over again. She just wanted to skip about in tights and a tutu and do somersaults and cartwheels until she got dizzy; kick a soccer ball down an empty field unhindered by anyone from either her team or the opposing forces; and, in the case of t-ball, sit in the outfield collecting and comparing dandelions, daisies and dung beetles.

And so, apart from P.E. class, Princess Primrose has never played an entire game of soccer, t-ball, tennis, or volleyball, or performed a complete tumbling or dance routine. Although she did learn enough karate to earn her fourth belt, she gave that up when practice started cutting into her PSII and drawing time. And while she is capable of riding a bike, were it not for my willingness to tolerate a variety of insults and personal attacks aimed at getting me to give up and leave her to her own devices, she would still be doing so with the assistance of training wheels.

So it’s not a damaged brain that’s keeping Princess Primrose from making the honor roll or the dean’s list, or winning a scholarship to Harvard or Yale. Nor is it brain damage that has kept her from breaking speed or distance records, training for the Olympics, or being drafted into the WNBA.

Rather, it is her creative, dynamic, and obstinate personality that prefers drawing, reading, and writing over any other activity, and which—brain damage or not—I wouldn’t change for anything.


Cat Fancy

Readers who have scanned my bio have already heard of my love for cats, while those who know me personally would describe it more like idol worship. At this point I’ll spare everyone the debate and just admit that my fondness for felines verges on addiction or obsession, while shrugging off suggestions that I should make some attempt at reform or recovery.

Like others with my affliction, I’ve had a lot of cats over the years. Some of them were not literally MY cats since I would hold, pet, and play with them without the benefit of a license, ownership papers, or even a common-law understanding that I was responsible for their support, but as they say: Why buy the cat when you can get the meow for free? Besides, more than one of my cats—and by that I do mean my very own cats—were borrowed or stolen from me over the years—one of them by the wife of my high school principal who cunningly lured Gato to her lair with heavy cream and then convinced him he’d be happier living in their two-story ranch home on the hill than he would be under the steps of our mobile home.

Since losing Gato to Mrs. H. in 1983, I’ve had roughly twenty other cats as pets. Mostly they were garden variety felines—gray tabbies, orange tabbies, gray torties, brown torties, gray tuxedoes, black tuxedoes, solid black, solid gray or solid white—with standard equipment (four legs, two eyes, ears, nose, and tail) although now and again I’d acquire one with missing, extra, or defective parts.

For example, there was Festus, a gray tabby who was bow-legged, blind in one eye, and—like the Gunsmoke character by the same name—spoke in meandering sentences with a heavy southwestern accent and would generously douse with his signature fragrance the shoes and clothing of any human in possession of a Y chromosome. (Okay, only part of that was true, but you’ll have to figure out for yourself which elements are bogus.)

It was always interesting taking Festus to the vet. I say this not because I suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy or have no other useful purpose for the Jarhead’s hard earned salary, but because invariably the person who would call us into the exam room would misread the name on his chart as Fetus, which would cause everyone else in the waiting room look each other with disdain or concern. This would become only that much funnier when the dumbass saying it would shake her head or make a face as if WE were the weirdoes.

Not long after adopting Festus we acquired Electra. She was a fluffy brown tortie who had normal legs, eyes, and toilet habits, but lacked a tail and had an affinity for sleeping in trash bins. Fortunately she would tip them over before climbing inside, or who knows how long it would have been before she found her way home from the landfill to voice her displeasure at our lack of attention to detail.

And then there was Louis XVI, who had long beautiful blonde fur with fine white tips, and a tail so voluminous we suspected he was born to a lion who had shagged a snow fox. Within days of adopting him it became apparent why Nature made him so gorgeous: She needed to ensure that someone would want to provide for him because if he’d had to survive by his wits alone, he would have died moments after weaning.

Of all the cats we’ve had over the years, our all-time favorite is an old female I’ll call the Duchess. I would never admit aloud she’s our favorite for fear of causing her housemates irreparable emotional harm. But since none of them know how to access the Internet, or can read well enough to learn of my bias, I think I’m safe in writing about it.

Despite her nickname, the Duchess actually comes from humble beginnings. Born in a box behind a discarded mattress in a garage in Licola, Italy in 1996, hers is the classic immigrant success story. A black domestic short hair, she was to be named Uhura after the beautiful and elegant communications officer of the Starship Enterprise. But only moments after bringing her home it became obvious that she would never be as graceful as her namesake, so we chose something more befitting her self-assured personality and enormous head and ears.

Since joining our family, the Duchess has put us through a lot—starting with the 12 hour trip from Europe to the US when the Jarhead and I finished our assignment in Naples in 1999, during which she yowled nonstop about, presumably, the food, the water, and substandard accommodations. To be fair, I don’t really know what she was yowling about, but to this day if you put her in a carrier, she will yowl herself hoarse unless you place it directly in front of an air vent and set the fan to hyper drive.

I could go on for hours talking about my cats—or your cats, your neighbors’ cats, or lolcats—but, alas, the Duchess is calling for her dinner, and it’s not polite to keep a lady waiting.

Debunking Astrology

(Originally posted Friday, January 4, 2013)

My kids exist for several reasons, not the least of which is because I wanted children and my husband (hereinafter referred to as the Jarhead) couldn’t make a convincing argument as to why we shouldn’t have them. And although the impact their existence will have on the U.S., North America, and the universe are as yet to be seen, they have already made significant contributions to the world and my understanding of it.

For example, together they have helped to disprove the validity of astrology. Being both born Virgos and yet having NOTHING—and I mean NOTHING—in common in terms of personality, taste, interests, or temperament, they are living proof that the positions of the stars and planets at the time of one’s birth has not thing one to do with who you are or what you can or cannot accomplish. Although they are both sharp and funny (I am their mother, so you can take my word for this, of course) and a touch moody, these similarities probably have more to do with genetics and the home they grew up in than with which of the twelve houses Saturn was in when they came down the chute, as it were.

On the other hand, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the circumstances surrounding one’s conception may play a role where the heavenly bodies do not.

Case in point: Our eldest (hereinafter referred to as El Noble) who was conceived after nearly a year of careful planning, temperature tracking, and hand wringing, is deliberate, disciplined, and methodical to the point of obsessive. He keeps lists, tracks every dollar he makes and spends, schedules when he will clean his shoes, and has a white board in his room laying out his goals for the day, week, month, and beyond. To say this kid is organized is like calling Stephen Hawking a smart guy or Stephen Colbert a funny fellow. When he says he’s going to do something, you know he’s going to do it, as well as when, where, why, and how. And whereas one might assume from this that he is also uptight, unfriendly or inflexible, in truth the guy is easy going, warm and gregarious.

Meanwhile our youngest (hereinafter referred to as Princess Primrose) who was conceived about five years later when I was obviously paying more attention to my college coursework than I was contraception or hormone cycles, is dynamic, dramatic, and disorganized. She has nine thousand pens and drawing pencils in her room in case she loses or gets bored with the one in her hand or the thirty in her kit; keeps piles of sketch pads, legal pads, and note pads for ostensibly more than sentimental or ornamental reasons; and goes on writing, drawing and gaming benders that can last for days. Her room is a disaster; the car she drives is a fire hazard; and if one were to gather and hang up all of her clothing, you would swear on a stack of Vogue magazines that it was stolen from the closets of four different people from four different planets. She has held a job for over a year with the same company and is doing well there, but that’s about all the structure the girl can handle at once.

Okay so maybe the circumstances of their conception had little to do with how these creatures turned out. Maybe if I could’ve talked the Jarhead into having a couple more we’d have wound up with a disorganized kid who was painstakingly planned or a structured kid who came as a total surprise. Or maybe we would have gotten more of the same.

Either way, I would not have been disappointed—or any less amused.