Tooth Fairy money and other useless artifacts of choice…

Apparently, The Tooth Fairy is going through tough economic times too.  10% of children did not receive any money this year, and 7% received less than a dollar.  Are you kidding me?  First of all, I don’t understand the whole “Tooth Fairy” thing as it is.  In what messed up world do you get rewarded with nothing less than MONEY for losing your baby teeth?  This has got to be the dumbest idea a non-parent has ever come up with!

When I was a kid, not only was there no such thing as a Tooth Fairy, but we didn’t have “Fairies” of any kind.  Forget getting rewarded for losing a tooth.  You know what our “big reward” was?  Pulling the damn tooth out yourself, so Grandma didn’t tie a thread to it and the other end to a doorknob, and then yank the door to pull that tooth out.  You were given a simple choice, do it yourself or Grandma will do it for you!  Forget money, forget going for ice cream afterward, forget parents saving the disgusting thing and giving it to your spouse on your wedding day.

You think I’m kidding?  There are people I know that got a bag full of goodies on their wedding day.  Their future spouse’s baby teeth, hair, even molds of their crooked teeth before they got braces on!  I was surprised to hear that it didn’t contain their baby finger nails, and penis foreskin from the guy’s circumcision…  Somehow I have a feeling that those parents might have that somewhere as well, stashed far far away…

As much as I love many American traditions, I think this particular obsession with saving every tiny, mundane and useless piece of childhood is completely foreign to me and maybe even other non-Americans.  I could be wrong.  I mean, take a look at my parents.  Not only did they NOT save my baby teeth or hair, but have thrown a lot away.  Not just MY artifacts, but their own as well.  My parents don’t keep anything, their house is the most immaculate piece of art I’ve ever seen.  There isn’t a single piece of paper out of place, much less an occasional baby tooth laying around.

I am pretty sure that as soon as I moved out of their house, in my very old age of 21, the very same day they packed up all my crap and threw it away.  They don’t even wait for neighborhood garage or yard sales, they just throw everything out.  Their garage looks like someone’s living room, you literally could live in it, it is that clean.  The other day I was rummaging through their garage looking for my old journals and books.  I didn’t find either of those things, however I did find a nice collection of classic books…  all in Russian.  They literally filled a giant boat FULL of Russian books when we immigrated here.  Nothing else, just books.  I am not sure if some genius told them that in America, people will pay millions for those books or what…

So, as you can tell my views on saving baby’s foreskin, locks of hair and other artifacts is a bit skewed, although per my husband’s request I have been saving my kids’ first teeth and hair since they were babies.  Only for him to throw it all away ten years later when he found strange hair, teeth and what looked like the remains of an animal that died from suffocation, at the bottom of a plastic container titled “KIDS CRAP”

Oh Carnival Cruise Line, how I wish you’d step up to the rest of them…

Maybe some of you noticed that I haven’t written in the last week.  Alright, none of you noticed but that’s not the point.  My husband and I took the boys on a long awaited vacation on board the “brand new” Carnival cruise ship called ‘Splendor’, or as I am calling it ‘Ineptness’.

We looked forward to this vacation for months now, my kids even checking off each day on the calendar since this was to be their very first cruise!  Frankly, I had always known that Carnival was at the bottom of the barrel as far as customer service and food goes.  However, living in Southern California we didn’t have many choices since Royal Caribbean pulled its ships out of this area and we didn’t want to fly to Florida for their Caribbean cruise.  What a mistake!  We should have spent more and flown there.

Where do I start?  Here is the chain of events, pretty much as they happened.

– Feeling extremely proud about the incredible “deal” I got for the two ocean-view rooms, we piled incredible amounts of luggage into my Father’s car and impatiently drove to the Long Beach pier.  At the same time, my husband impatiently waited for the moment where I would be forced to turn off my Blackberry and surrender it to him.  (Those were the terms of our agreement, and the reality of me not wanting to pay the $10 per kilobyte per text, e-mail or $15 per phone call)

– As we neared the boarding zone, I scrambled to send out the very last e-mail and text…  I know.  Pathetic.

– Once checked in, we proceeded to take our first corny picture of the cruise, under a make-shift Mexican looking doorway with a huge sign that read: CARNIVAL.  Because every doorway in Mexico has an advertisement for a cruise ship over it.

– The first sign of panic hit me as I glanced at our key cards and noticed the name: RIVIERA under deck name.  I quickly looked it up on the ship’s map only to confirm my concern that indeed it was the lowest deck on-board…  Having called Carnival numerous times to add and change things to our reservations I thought it was a bit odd that none of the eight (8) different representatives that I talked to bothered to mention that: “Oh, by the way just to make sure you know that you are on the very bottom of the ship, just above the crew cabins!”

– As we continued to walk towards the ship I quickly recalled one representative mentioning that our cabins are at the very END of the ship.  One more look at the map confirmed that yes in fact that’s where the ship’s engine room and propellers are located.  Again, having called Carnival numerous times to add and change things to our reservations I thought it was a bit odd, AGAIN that none of the eight (8) different representatives that I talked to bothered to mention that: “Oh, by the way just to make sure you know that you are on the very bottom of the ship, and also right above the engine, which does make a lot of noise and rattles the cabins making it seem like you are in the middle of an earthquake!”  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

– At this point as I run back to the counter to find out if we can be placed on a higher floor, I am informed that in fact they are completely full!  All 3,600 people have shown up for their cruise and they can’t do anything for us…  Not knowing just how bad the noise or rattling would be I put it out of my mind and decided not to worry about it.  The last time I was on a cruise was over five years ago, and couldn’t remember the layout well anyway.

– Finally on board the Splendor, my kids couldn’t wait to see everything including our cabins.  So when we were allowed to go in them, we were all pleasantly surprised by their size and cleanliness!  Well, that was until my six-year-old decided to use the restroom and sat in a pool of urine instead.  Strange, considering they had just cleaned the cabins before we got there…

Lesson #1: Don’t assume all toilets are cleaned before you get to your cabin on a Carnival Cruise Ship!

– Not wanting to make a big deal, we moved on to explore the ship.

– We decided to check out the food on Lido deck first, since that’s usually the best part of being on a cruise ship!  We assumed that would be pretty easy to find since all you have to do is press a button that says: LIDO.

Lesson #2: Do not assume Carnival ships are built by normal/smart engineers.  Assume they are built by MORONS.

– Just because the button says LIDO, it doesn’t mean that its where you are going to end up.  To go to Deck 9 (which is LIDO deck), from Deck 1 you need to take the elevator to Deck 5, then walk towards the middle of the ship which is very easy to do when you are on a Staples-center-sized ship and always know which direction you are facing.  From there you need to walk across a bridge, down one flight of stairs, into the elevators which will ONLY then take you to Deck 9.  However, if you were on the wrong side of the ship, you would have to go up two flights of stairs, walk across another bridge, take those elevators up two flights, and then you would be at Lido deck.

Building a ship that you could just walk across from one end to the other would have been way harder!

– The rest of that day went very smoothly, especially after my kids have engulfed three ice cream cones.  The next day was spent at sea with kids playing miniature golf, and swimming in the pool.  Now, notice back there I didn’t say swimming in the POOLS, I said POOL as in singular one.  For the size of this Brand New ship and the amount of people on board (3,600 full capacity), they made sure to build enough for each person to dip their toes in.  Once.

– Splendor has three (3) pools, one about 15×15 feet, the other 50×25 feet and the third is ADULTS ONLY pool.  Not only are the two so-called kid-friendly pools small and salt water pools but on a typical day at sea full of snotty, bratty, water-splashing children that no one wants to sit next too.  And yes I am talking about mine of course, mainly the little one.  After the second time he got scolded by the adults, I gave him permission to go into the ADULTS ONLY pool since there was one old lady in there.  Of course wherever my six-year-old goes, trouble and more children follow.  Within minutes, the ADULT pool was filled with screaming, splashing children.  That’s when I gave permission to all the passengers on board to discipline my children, or as my husband says: I gave up.

LESSON #3: Signs do not matter when you are stuck on a boat with a bored child who has done everything else there is to do on a ship!

– Not only were Splendor’s pools a joke, but apparently so are the constant reminders that “reserving of beach chairs is not allowed”.  Smart people, a.k.a. people that got up early instead of lazy asses like us who like to sleep in on our vacation (whoever heard of that?), and put their crap on beach chairs next to the tiny pools had seats for the rest of the day next to the pool!  What about us, you ask?  Well, we found one beach chair and all four of us squeezed into it pretty much every day.

– After a couple days under the sun we decided to take a break and visit their “LIBRARY”.  They had a small but great selection of popular books and even board games.  Too bad you can only check them out from 3 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon!  One day we got there at 4:05 in the afternoon, because that’s how we roll, only to be turned away.  So my boys proceeded to do what they do best and play their DSI’s and Ipod’s, in the “LIBRARY”.

LESSON #4: Never forget electronic gadgets for your kids, even when they need a break from them.

– Splendor also has a camp on board the ship, called Camp Carnival. More appropriate name should be Camp Big Joke.  The counselors have as much energy and enthusiasm as a sick elephant in the middle of a heat wave.  They were so un-interested in entertaining kids that on the first day of sailing, counselors sent the 9 to 11-year-olds on a scavenger hunt throughout the entire ship, by themselves!  Now I could be entirely wrong when I say this, but when absolutely nothing makes sense on a ship, when elevators don’t line up to their correct numbers and names, when even an adult can’t figure out how to get from one deck to another, is it really such a good idea to send a bunch of kids on a scavenger hunt?  When we came to pick up our 11-year-old after his first try at Camp Big Joke, we were told that he wasn’t back from his scavenger hunt yet…   Those that know me well, will know what happened next.  Those that don’t…  Let’s just say that when I leaned over the table to grab the neck of that particular counselor, my husband’s reflexes kicked in and pulled me back in the fear of being placed in one of those emergency rafts, and sent floating to shore…

A couple days later, we signed our 11-year-old into Camp Big Joke again, looking for some adult time.  Ten minutes later he signed himself out.  We found him an hour later in his room watching TV.

Lesson #5: A kid only has to be traumatized once before he takes matters into his own hands…

– Let’s talk about food.  They definitely do not have 24-hour readily available meals, more like 20-hour readily available meals.  As long as you can find them in the maze of this ship!  It took us three days to find out that when the buffet is closed, there is a tiny sandwich shop in the corner of Deck 9, all the way in the back of the ship that’s open.  We went for three days without an eighth meal! 

– When the ship was pulling into Cabo San Lucas on the third day at 5:40 in the morning, we finally learned what those propellers under our cabins were used for.  Let’s just say that if you’ve ever been in an earthquake of at least 5.0 magnitude that also made huge pounding and rattling noise at the same time, you will know what I am talking about.  We proceeded to get woken up in that same manner for the duration of our cruise!  And it gets better.  Not only did we get woken up that way every morning, but we also had the joy of having it continue every 5 to 10 minutes throughout the day.

Lesson #6: Don’t get a cabin at the end of the ship, and right above the engine room!

– I am not even going to mention the wonderful customer service and warm welcome that we received.  Pretty sure the employees go through a long and tedious process called “Make the guests feel like crap for throwing money away on a cruise, while we have to work like slaves for nine months a year!”  We pretty much got menus thrown at us during dinner, and told to go to town with them.  No explanation or welcome necessary.

– I also made a mistake of not bringing my own hair-dryer, assuming they provide one like every civilized place in this country.  It only took me a couple days to find where they keep it, in the drawer next to the Bible.  See picture.  But wait, it gets even better.  Do you see the chord of the hair dryer?  Yes, it is attached to the wall behind the dresser meaning you can only pull it out about a foot!  Oh but wait, that’s not all.  Do you see that tiny blue button on the handle?  Well, the hair dryer will work ONLY if you hold that button down, the whole entire time you are blow drying your hair…– So, I decided to get my hair done for one of the Fancy-Shmancy Nights, only to hear these words from the hair-dresser, every ten minutes: “Boy, do you have a lot of hair!  This will definitely take longer than the usual time required!”  If my memory serves me correctly, I believe she took her revenge out on my hair by trying to scold my scalp with boiling hot water, and then by burning it with the hair-dryer.  Either that or she was taught to keep the hair-dryer on each strand of hair until there is smoke coming out of it, then hold it for a few more seconds and then let go!

LESSON #7: Always, always pack your own hair dryer.  And Bible.  Don’t know why, just had to throw that in there.

– Besides my half-burnt hair, everything else was going great.  Oh, wait no.  My kids also got some wind and splashes of ocean water during the night while they slept since their window was missing part of a seal, as in a weathering strip…  Yes, that was fun.

And on the last day, as we sat playing UNO and waiting to be disembarked off this wonderful ship, we saw this smart guy, right next to us.  See picture: LESSON #8: Don’t cruise with Carnival…

Supermarket Memories…

Every time I’m at the Supermarket, I start to remember my very first trip to one just like it.  When you come to America from the former Soviet Union and enter ANY grocery store, you are bound to go into shock.  As I’ve written before, the shelves of U.S.S.R.’s grocery stores were usually empty so when you see rows and rows of food completely untouched, you wonder how its even possible!  I kept thinking why do Americans need five different brands of Raisin Bran?  Isn’t one enough?  Aren’t they all the same Raisins and Bran?  I didn’t know that they made different kinds of stool helper?  What my Mother wanted to know was why in the world anyone would want to mix milk and bran together?  According to our Jewish stomachs, that would put you in a “diarrhea coma” for at least 3 days!  Why would Americans want to do that to themselves?

My then 10-year-old brother wanted to know why Americans can’t share and ship some of that food over to Russia…  It only makes sense, I mean when shelves are never empty, doesn’t that mean there is plenty of it?  If you don’t need it, share it.  That’s the Communist way.

These days when I stand in front of a cereal isle, I still find myself pondering which cereal to get.  Too many choices, too many varieties…  I am not good with too many choices, but give me two items and I can pick one with no problem.  Other people seem to know what they want, I watch them go down the isle, grab a box and leave.  Me?  Well, you can usually find me still standing there fifteen minutes later.  I guess when you grow up without any options, when you are given whatever it is that the government thinks you need… its tough to make a decision.  And it doesn’t ONLY apply to cereal, everything in life that requires a choice between many options, I have a hard time with.  America is overflowing with tangible things, I don’t know how anyone can ever make a decision.  That’s why I usually send my husband to do grocery shopping because if I go there, I won’t be seen for many hours.  But, I am learning and getting faster at it.  Last week it only took me ten minutes to pick out bread!

Ghosts, Spirits and My Kids’ Wild Imagination…

Ever since my Grandmother passed away twelve years ago, I have been feeling like I am never alone.  Even if the house is completely silent and free from all and any rambunctious/annoying children, I always feel like there is someone else in there with me.  Being pretty superstitious, and paranoid of everything under the Sun I’ve never fully allowed myself to think of whatever “spirits” may be out there, but after my Grandmother died it had gotten out of hand…

Not only do I have an addiction to pleasing everyone around me, (except for myself) but my constant OCD has now spilled over onto dead people too!  What if the ghost sees how dirty the house is?  Better go vacuum before bed.  What if IT goes to the bathroom and sees my kids’ pee all over the floor?  Better go clean it up.  Is it looking at me while I’m in the shower?  Note to self: buy a new non-see-through shower door…

Days and months after my Grandmother’s passing, the home phone would ring non-stop at all hours of the day and night, and it was always silence on the other end.  This was before Caller I.D.-era so there was no way of knowing where the call was coming from.  The lights would come on at random times, as well as the ceiling fans. It wasn’t until my first child was born that I felt like whatever “IT” was, was actually living in my house.  My son was probably a few months old, when one night he was crying uncontrollably.  There was nothing we could do to calm him down, and as I stood there holding him I turned my back to one of the corners in his bedroom.  His face was facing that corner.  All of a sudden he stopped crying.  It was SO sudden that I thought for sure he was looking at something, but there was absolutely nothing there.  He went from sobbing to laughing within a matter of seconds,which made my skin crawl.  I had goose bumps all over my body as I watched him giggle in delight and stare at the corner of that wall.  Obviously, there was something he was seeing that I couldn’t…  Having a terrible Postpartum depression, I just blamed it on that and tried to move on.

As time went on, the phone calls stopped but the lights and fans in the house continued to come alive on their own, very sporadically.  The same events continued in our second home, but a lot less.  It wasn’t until my son was about three-years-old that I started to get those eerie feelings again.  One day out of the blue he declared that he sees a “man” in the corner just standing there.  It was always a man for some reason…  Then when I had my second son, he too started to see “things”.  While having dinner one night, he yelled out that there is a “Man” walking back and forth in the backyard past our window.  When I asked him what he is doing there, he told me that he is just walking around.  So then I asked if he was a “White” figure or a “Dark” figure, having heard a lot about the “dark and bad kind” of spirits, to which he replied, “White, and I can see right through him”.  Now this child has an extremely wild imagination, to the extent of his teacher keeping a journal of all the things he says during the day, so I didn’t quite believe him at first.  He has been known to weave a good tale on many occasions, with a straight face too…  However, this time it was different.  He yelled it out at the exact same moment as I was having a strange feeling that there was something starring at me from behind the glass door.  As I turned around, my son was pointing to this “Man” walking around in the back yard…

I don’t know, maybe my kids are getting to ‘Mom’s stash of weed’, or just having a wild imagination but something doesn’t feel right.  Its hard to know when my youngest is telling the truth, especially when the day before he exclaimed that on his recent trip to China World he saw all kinds of things,  “And oh my I saw so many different dragons and monsters, and everyone was talking to me in Chinese, and guess what Mom?  I totally knew what they were saying!”  When asked when this “trip” occurred, without hesitation he answered: “When you and Dad weren’t looking!”  Or the time when he had us all fooled by hiding the dog in the closet, telling me she got out and was chasing bunnies down the hill, making me run half-dressed up and down our street looking for the damn thing only to come back to his grinning face as he pulls the poor dog out of the closet…  At that moment, when you realize that a five-year-old just pulled the best April Fools joke on his own Mother, do you threaten to physically harm the child, or feel stupid for not having checked the house first, then run out the door like a maniac???  I am sure my neighbors are used to seeing someone from my household running half-naked up and down the street, that’s not even an issue anymore.  The same kid on many occasions enjoys taking all his clothes off, while chasing the neighborhood kids around.  We don’t condone it, but we also don’t frown upon such behavior either.  Why?  Because I’m just too damn tired to care about what my neighbors think. They know we are freaks, and his nudist ways helps keep people away.  So, go for it kid.

I do however worry a little bit about that wild imagination, and hope that both of my kids are telling the truth about “seeing” various spirits and ghosts around the house.  It is really starting to mess with my head.  I’m not proud of having to tell these “spirits” not to look at the mess upstairs…