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Classroom Pet

By Debbie Farmer

If you're a parent of a school-aged child chances are you'll have to spend at least one weekend hosting a stuffed bear or duck or frog.

Let me explain.    It seems that nowadays, along with computers and VCR's and math manipulative kits, most classrooms are equipped with cute animals named Fluffy or Smoochy or Snowball that children get to bring home with them for the weekend.   On top of that, each animal comes with a journal so your child can record exactly what kind of time it had with your family.  

Now, while this may sound harmless, perhaps even fun; let just me warn you now that, on the following Monday, your child will read their journal entry out loud to the class.   Which means that on top of public humiliation, there is now written documentation of just what kind of shoddy household you run.    

But, face it, kids love this kind of stuff.   Which is why we keep on doing it. And it's really not that bad, I mean once the animal arrives home, you have almost 15 good minutes before panic sets in.   And, believe me, it will.

Take, for instance, the time my seven-year-old son brought home his classroom's stuffed dog, Scruffy.   Now, the first thing you do is to go on and on about how lucky your child is to have been picked for such a special honor and all that.

The next thing you do is to read the journal to see just how the other families spend their weekends.    Now some of you out there may be thinking that this is sneaky and a tad voyeuristic.     And it is.   But I'm OK with that.

According to the journal, Scruffy had been to the library and circus; to car shows, several birthday parties and grandparent's houses; to museums and zoos and even Disneyland.    In short, Scruffy was the kind of dog used to being shown a good time.

Suddenly I flashed forward to Monday morning when my son read a journal entry that went like, “This Saturday Scruffy slept in until noon, ate potato chips and apple sauce for breakfast, and then went with my family to Wal-Mart to buy violent video games.”

OK, maybe I'm slightly exaggerating.   We would never buy violent video games.   Nevertheless, you can imagine just what kind of pressure I was under.

And, sure enough, after just a few hours at our house, I swear Scruffy had a bored look on his furry face. I think I even heard him sigh.

So I did the only think I could think of: I called my friend Julie for advice.  

“I have to entertain a stuffed dog,” I said. “What should I do?”

“Why don't you call Shirley,” she said dryly. “I think she has a monkey sock puppet over this weekend.”

“Very funny,” I said. “I need to plan a special outing so we have something interesting to write in the journal.”

“Does it like karaoke?”

I could tell she wasn't going to be much help.   So I next tried my friend Karen, and then my friend Paula.   I heard all sorts of stories about classroom bunnies, teddy bears and koala bears.   And one particularly traumatic tale about a lost Beanie Baby duck that, out of sheer desperation, was replaced by stuffed turkey which, of course, didn't fool anyone come Monday morning.

But I digress.

Sure, I could just encourage my son to make something up and be done with it.    Perhaps just a missive or two about Scruffy meeting the President or seeing Paris in the spring or schmoozing with Brad Pitt.   But that's probably not a lesson I should be teaching my son, and besides, people would instantly see through my flimsy charade.

So in the true Farmer spirit of things I decided to do what I usually do best: take the path of least resistance.   We took Scruffy with us to go shoe shopping at the mall and afterwards, the grocery store.   Later, he played outside until my daughter captured him and dressed him in pink chenille sweater and a Kleenex veil and married him to a lonely stuffed octopus named Earl.   We topped off his stay with a tour of the inside of the washing machine and dryer.

And, yes, it would be stretching it to say it was the most thrilling weekend Scruffy ever had, but he did arrive back to the classroom much cleaner and better smelling.

Sometimes, that's the most you can ask for.

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Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mother holding down the fort in California.   Readers can reach Debbie at [email protected] , or at Debbie Farmer, c/o Oasis Newsfeatures, P.O. Box 2144, Middletown, Ohio, 45042.


The Annual Fishing Derby

By Debbie Farmer

I don't know about you, but I've never been much for spending a lot of time with nature. It's not that I don't like it.    I mean, almost everyone loves to experience a little fresh air and leafy foliage once in a while.   It's just that I prefer to experience mine while walking from my car, through the parking lot, and into a mall.  

That said, there's really no logical explanation why we went to the annual fishing derby last weekend. A day not only chockfull of nature—but fish.   

Now keep in mind that when I say “fishing,” I use the term loosely.    It wasn't the kind of fishing where you wake up at dawn, row out into the middle of a peaceful lake and wait quietly for hours on end. Noooo.    This is the kind where you show up at around nine, sit in a cushy beach chair, and leisurely cast your line into a pre-stocked pond while eating chips and swilling diet soda.   In other words, my kind of fishing

But wait.    Not so fast.    Before you break out the tackle box and lures and go running off to sign up for your own local fishing derby, let me warn you of a few important details.

The first thing you need be aware of is that you have to choose the bait.   Everybody knows that you need some if you want to do some serious fishing.   However, there are several different kinds of bait, all of which are, well, icky.   And chances are there will come a point in your day where you will actually have to choose between anchovies or live worms.

After much debate with my kids, which involved words like “gross” and “chicken” and “ewwie,” we finally settled on using something called   Power Bait,   which smelled awful, but somehow didn't seem so bad because it looked like Play-Doh and came in hot pink.

The second thing you should know is that there will be hundreds of other people sitting in cushy chairs on the dock with you.    This is kind of nice, really, except for the fact that there will also be that number of lines in the very same pond where you are fishing, and after about five nanoseconds your line will be tangled up with everybody else's, looking like one gigantic macramé afghan.

However, strangely enough, there is a mysterious void that comes between casting into the pond and getting tangled up, which is   known as theWindow of Opportunity.   This is where, as they say in some circles, the action happens.

Which brings us to the biggest problem of all: catching a fish.

Never mind that you've been sitting in the sun all day, holding your pole waiting for this very moment.    Once you catch one you will have live fish on your hands. A LIVE FISH.   And not just any fish, mind you, but chances are, it's a really mad 31-pound trout that is probably contemplating some form of horrible retaliation once on dry land.  

However, tricky me, I had a plan.    If I saw my children actually reeling one in, I'd do what any nature-conscious, outdoorsy type would do: I'd flail my arms wildly and shout, “Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!”   Then I'd toss the fish back in the water and run away.

OK, so it may not sound like something out of Marty Stouffer's “Wild America,” but at least nobody gets hurt.  

Luckily, as it turned out, I didn't have to worry.   In the end, our haul consisted of mostly seaweed and bottle caps. And, oh yeah, we came away with lots of fish stories about dexterous five-foot trout that, amazingly enough, always manage to get away.  

And, hey, that's perfectly fine with me.    I say the best thing about fishing is that you don't have to catch a fish to have fun. All you need is a nice pond, a cushy chair, and enough bait to last the day.  

And, oh yeah, don't forget the chips.

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Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mother holding down the fort in California. Readers can reach Debbie at [email protected] , or at Debbie Farmer, c/o Oasis Newsfeatures, P.O. Box 2144, Middletown, Ohio, 45042.


Back to School Clothes Shopping

By Debbie Farmer

It's time I faced facts: We're knee deep in September. I know this because the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer and my kids have gone back to school. I also know this because I'm saying things out loud like:   "Drop that leopard skin belt and don't even think about buying that cut-off belly shirt with ‘Hottie' on the front."

You see, I'm still recovering from recently spending three hours in a 4x6 dressing room with my preteen daughter, trying to find acceptable new clothes for her debut in middle school. I think the main problem is the word "acceptable" which, apparently, has two definitions. The first being, "something in subtle hues, practical, and machine washable." And the second being, "clothing that is cut, torn, or acid washed, sheer, tight, and three sizes too small." Bet you can't guess which definition is mine.

Oh sure, you hear horror stories about this sort of thing all of the time, but nothing can prepare you for the truth.

Let me tell you, it's a far cry from shopping for my eight-year-old son. To think that just last week I went to the nearest discount store, grabbed an armful of jeans and Scooby Doo T-shirts and called it a success.

But now that my daughter is starting middle school, clothes are not merely something to keep her warm and protect her from the elements, they are a "personal statement" right up there with bloomers and the power suit.

I think part of the problem about clothes shopping with a preteen girl is that there are two agendas going on. Her agenda is to scour the racks in search of the most hideous, least age-appropriate outfit in the entire store. While yours is to find something knee-length in, say, a nice gingham plaid.

The other problem is vocabulary. For instance, at any other time in your life, if you say the words "hey, nice shirt," people hear, "hey, nice shirt." However, this is not true of a preteen girl. She will automatically hear, "Alert! Alert! This is something only nine-year-olds and major losers wear! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, be caught dead wearing this!"

So you can see where communication can be a big problem.

The other issue is that any clothing they buy must fall under the realm of "current fashion," whatever that may be. Don't feel bad if you don't know what it is, because no one else, including your daughter, knows either. Besides, chances are it'll change by the time you make it to the register anyway.

My daughter's way of judging what's in fashion is by assuming anything I like is, of course, not in fashion. But don't think for a minute that reverse psychology will work. Trust me, such a flimsy charade will not fool anybody. I know because I tried. Once, after a particularly heated discussion over a pair of beaded spandex bell bottoms, I held up a classic cotton blouse with ruffled sleeves, and said in my best take-charge kind of voice, "This is the most hideous looking top I've ever seen. You definitely can't have this. No-sir-ee."

And she said, "OK."

Of course any fool can recognize this for what it is, her first step in acquiring independence. But I didn't let this bit of knowledge stop me. Instead, I did what any mother in a losing situation would do: start talking about food.

And, let me just say, over lunch we discussed all sorts of things. Like about how lime green is the new pink. And how Mary Kate and Ashley are in, and Britney is out. And the differences between low-cut flair legs and bell-bottoms.

Afterwards, we went to a different store and found an outfit we both agreed on: jeans and a white T-shirt.

And, oh, okay, a pair of studded midcalf boots.

As my friend Julie says, the key to successful back-to-school shopping is compromise.

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Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mom in California. You can find Debbie at, or by writing her at Oasis Newsfeatures, P.O. Box 2144, Middletown, Ohio, 45042.


The Joy of, uh, Tape

By Debbie Farmer

One of the charming things about preschool aged children is not their cute sayings or innocent interpretations of the world, it's their ability to find the joie de vive in the little things in life. Like tape, for instance.   Yes, it's true. If you don't believe me, just try giving a preschooler a roll of Scotch tape.

Oh sure, at first your child won't seem interested. They'll yawn and roll their eyes and even pretend they don't know how to work the dispenser. But all I can say about this is:   Ha!   Just when you start thinking they aren't in the least bit interested, you'll naively bend over to put a cup in the dishwasher only to stand back up three seconds later and find everything in the house taped together.    The recliner, your good shoes, the VCR, the leaves on the potted plants. The cat. EVERYTHING.   It's amazing how fast a preschooler can turn a house into a giant ball of tape.

No one knows what, exactly, causes this automatic attraction. It might be part of a developmental phase. Or perhaps it's some sort of a bizarre power thing. Or it could be that kids just like to play with sticky stuff.

Whatever the reason, no kid is immune to it. When my son was three, he had a fetish for taping Barbie heads together. Each day he'd wait for his sister to go off to kindergarten and then sneak into her room and wind the tape around and around their heads like a scene out of a B-rated late night crime thriller. I'm not sure if this had any significant, deeper meaning to it. And, frankly, I really don't want to know. I'm just thankful he eventually got tired of the Barbies and moved on to taping Hot Wheels cars to the patio window.  

But it's nice to know that it's not just my child.   During a particularly helpful phase, my friend Linda's son, Bobby, taped their portable phone to the washing machine so she'd "always know where to find it."   Unfortunately for her, he also insisted on taping the toilet plunger to the fountain in the front yard. It's amazing how things like this can happen.

The depressing thing is, just when you're starting to relax because you think your child is finally losing interest, someone will introduce him to, say, masking tape and (Wham!), it starts all over again. First, you'll see a tiny piece hanging from the philodendron. After that, a few strips along the border in the upstairs hall. And then one day you'll naively wander off to the bathroom to take a shower, and come out to find your whole house wrapped up like a giant mummy.

Now you could always say in your best I'm-the-parent-so-I'm-in-charge voice, "I forbid you to use any kind of tape. EVER."   But it just seems, well, impractical to banish an entire adhesive system from your house. Besides, no one will listen to you anyway.

Face it, the best you can do is wait for them to grow out of it. That and commiserate with other parents.


In fact, just the other day I was standing in line at the grocery store behind a tired looking woman with a piece of tape sticking out from underneath her shoe.   It took her a while to pay because the ten-dollar bill she handed the clerk was taped together into a big ball. I just smiled weakly.

Sometimes it's nice to know you're not out there all alone.

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Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mom in California. You can find Debbie at , or by writing her at Oasis Newsfeatures, P.O. Box 2144, Middletown, Ohio, 45042.