Tales of a stealth mom

I heard a story on Morning Edition on NPR today that made me think, for the first time, that being an FBI agent might be an awful lot like being a mother.

The story was on “Tac Ops,” or tactical operations, which involves bugging, searching, or otherwise legally creeping around people’s homes and offices to gather information. The interview, which you can find here, featured an author who had interviewed these operatives and found out how they go about their covert business.

The mom/FBI Agent connection came near the end of the story, where the poorly timed death of an agent in the middle of an operation was detailed. What happened was the poor man died from heart failure in the middle of an oriental rug in a foreign embassy, with the resultant unfortunate mess that often occurs to the human body when it expires.

The creative operatives rolled up the rug and whisked it to an all-night D.C. cleaners, who promptly returned it to a more pristine state. It was, however, still wet. The agents solved that immediately — they simply painted a faux water stain on the ceiling directly above the wet carpet.

This is the kind of ingenuity we mothers with damp, smelly children have been employing since our water broke.

What mother of diapered dozens doesn’t have a cache of wipies in her bag, or even purse? These things could conquer the world. I remember another woman telling me once they’re even perfect for cleaning ceiling fans. Spit-up, leaking diaper contents, actual bottom clean up: there’s not much these things can’t do. Hail the Huggie wipe.

Another amusing tidbit about the tac-op agents was their bag of goodies they bring along. Say they have to move something on a desk, disturbing the dust pattern that had accumulated since the criminals departed. No problem-o. They bring their own dust. Think about that a minute: they travel with dirt so that they can put a room back to rights after they’ve gone over it with a fine-tooth comb for evidence. I once heard dust referred to by a particularly harried mother as the “protective coating” on her furniture. I’d love to know if there’s any way you can test for the authenticity of a room’s dust. We know (via This is Spinal Tap) that you can’t dust for vomit. I wonder if you can dust for dust.

The bag of tricks also apparently includes small, high-powered vacuum cleaners, to suck up the evidence that walls were penetrated to hide bugs, and some sort of high-tech paint-matching chemicals, for smoothing over the destruction of hiding things in people’s walls.

At home, the Stealth Mom merely moves a recliner or love seat and bam! all evidence of a toddler’s creativity after finding a deep-blue Sharpie is erased. Or say an actual bug or spider met his demise halfway up the dining-room wall. Well, that painting would look better on that wall anyway, now wouldn’t it?

I’m reminded of the old Flintstones cartoon, which featured Wilma in a failed attempt to hang a picture on the stone wall of her Bedrock hut. Predictably, the wall cracked in all directions the instant she hammered in the nail. No problem; Wilma the FBI Agent/Mother immediately painted leaves and flowers along the cracks, creating a unique mural that enhanced her lovely home.

Perhaps the Stealth Mom/FBI agent tie isn’t so surprising, come to think of it. After all, moms are women, aren’t we? Hear us roar! Even if we’re slumping around the house, picking up after children in our jammies or sweat pants, inside all of us are June Cleaver in pearls, daintily following the vacuum cleaner in high heels. I seem to recall rumors that J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed the same sort of attire.

Isn’t that darling? The FBI is one of us.

An utter twit

I’ve had a Twitter account for a year or so, and I can unequivocally say it’s never once crossed my mind to use it for anything but writing headline-length bites of marginally interesting information about my life.

Sadly this appears to the apex of Tweeting.

For today, thanks to the disgraceful tweeting habits of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner — the worst of them, apparently were photographic rather than verbal in nature — we now can say that completely useless information is spectacularly transmitted in this way. And it has set me to ruminating on the appropriateness of the name itself: Twitter. I therefore propose that those who habitually misuse Twitter be universally referred to as Twits.

I'm a bird. I tweet.

Now, I’m a  blogger. I use some of the latest technology to communicate. Hey, I’m doing it right now, and it’s no great revelation.

But the Twitter love, I admit, does escape me — even though I was initially happy it had a bird theme. Usually if something has a bird theme, I’m  all over it. Sports teams like the Cardinals? I’m a fan.

The actual mechanics of tweeting remind me of writing headlines. When I was a newspaper reporter I had an irrational love of headline-writing. Most reporters hated it. Me, I liked the economy of words it forced upon a writer. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a poet, though believe me, very few of the headlines I ever wrote were particularly poetic.

All right, none of them were.

I also enjoy writing titles for the blog posts I write; unlike headlines, which are written after an article’s done, I write my blog titles first, in hopes that it’ll give the post a tone. Generally I’m going for a low tone — possibly a B-flat. (Insert rimshot.) Not much of an aspiration I’ll admit. But juvenile humor has got to be someone’s specialty, right?

Today I discovered, via Wikipedia, that San Antonio-based market-research firm Pear Analytics analyzed 2,000 tweets (originating from the US and in English) over a two-week period in August 2009 and separated them into six categories. What was the top tweet category?

Pointless babble. A full 40 percent. Pointless.

New York Times photo

Yes, Twitter today seems the proper medium for millennial communicators, who want instant delivery of pointless information. Damn the reflection, full speed ahead.

It’s undoubtedly the medium of choice for celebrities, who can instantly communicate their inanities to their followers. It’s also useful for bloggers, she said, calling up the Twitter website, who wish to alert their readers to new posts. (Like how I can so effortlessly lump myself into celebrity category?)

I do have  testify to its effectiveness in promotion and marketing work. If you want to get the word out about something your followers are presumably interested in, it’s a quick to say, “hey, look at this.” The information can be seen, digested and squirreled away for later use. Or ignored.

As a writer, I’m dismayed by the prevalence of tweeting; as a reader, I’m grateful that my array of reading choices are longer than twit-length. Out there in the blogosphere, there are insightful, thoughtful posts on a stunning array of absorbing topics. Like shoes. Or punctuation. (Someone needs to tackle these important topics, you know.)

But if current events are any indication, twit-length is the dominant force out here in Internetland.

Sigh. I think I’ll go outside and do some bird-watching until the whole phenomenon passes by.

Be sure and watch for my tweets about it.

Prayers for Alabama

After yesterday’s post dealing with my completely non-dangerous non-encounters with tornadoes, I’m feeling a little ashamed of myself.

While I was thinking up the most humorous way to describe the tornado warnings here in Kentucky, the people of northern Alabama were dealing with a real, actual tornado that has killed upwards of 200 people and destroyed, from what I can tell, pretty much the entire city of Tuscaloosa.

I know my tens of readers will join me in offering prayers for the people there. Donate to the American Red Cross, which provides relief to those hit by natural disasters. Offer help personally, if you are able.

It’s not much of a sweet home in Alabama this morning. Here’s hoping for better days ahead.

A plethora of tornadic activity

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog today for an update from the National Weather Service. There is a tornado WARNING in effect for the area directly above your head.

Well, maybe not directly, but that’s just what it feels like when you’re in the middle of a storm and suddenly herded into the basement. In my case, the basement in question was beneath the Cathedral and I was surrounded by about a thousand middle school students.

OK, so it only sounds like a thousand in a basement hallway after we’ve been sitting on the hard linoleum floor for 45 minutes.

But yes — this morning Tras and I were innocently attending Mass, which incidentally was the day that the middle schoolers at the parish school also had Mass. Blissfully singing along, we were — when abruptly the piano trailed off and Father announced, “There’s a tornado warning — let’s all head to the basement!”

When a Man of God speaks, you listen.

So we all trailed downstairs, speaking only in hushed, are-we-gonna-die tones. The children were instructed to sit in the hallway along the wall and, being a good Catholic school veteran myself (although my experience was directly with Catholic School Nuns) I did obediently sit along the wall with them. I yanked Tras down to the floor with me; he, being a newly minted Catholic, wasn’t quite as responsive to instructions from Catholic-school teachers.

It wasn’t our first foray into the basement this tornado season. Last Friday, the first Tornado Warning was issued for our county — a situation about which we were blissfully unaware until I received a telephone call from my mother.

An Aside

This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten a Tornado Warning from Mom. About 15 years ago, the phone rang around 11 o’clock at night. I was already in bed, exhausted from spending the day at the Oaks, which is (for the non-Kentuckians among us) the race for fillies the day before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Oaks has become a tradition in Louisville as a more sedate day at the races than the Derby, which brings out millionaires and mouthbreathers alike for a day of partying at the Downs. Still, I’d spent a day dressed up and drinking mint julips; I was whipped.

Then, the phone. It was my mother’s voice, and when you hear  your mother’s voice when you’ve been awakened from a deep sleep, it sounds something like the Voice of God. In this case, the Voice said, “Get in the bathtub, Ellen. There’s a tornado headed right for your house!”

The bathtub instruction was added because, at the time, I was living in a house without a basement. But no matter, The Voice had instructed me to get to the bathroom, and get I did. Springing from bed and grabbing baby Claire (now 16) from her crib, I launched myself toward the bathroom. I don’t think I became fully conscious until I was almost in the tub itself.

Back to Last Friday

So anyway, Friday evening Mom again calls, this time with less panic-inducing instructions, which were to turn on the TV and listen to what they were saying. We were again under a tornado warning. Still the dutiful daughter, I complied, and we all sat around listening to the weatherman tell us about the incomprehensible radar information appearing on the screen, which was indicative of tornadic activity.

Now, I’ve heard the word “tornado” and experienced “tornado” first-hand since I was a small fry; I did, after all, live through the Super Outbreak that occurred throughout the midwest and southeast in April 1974. But in all that time, I’ve never heard it referred to as “tornadic activity,” and the term strikes me as frighteningly hilarious and ridiculously verbose.

Indeed, why have a tornado when you can have “tornadic activity”? Tornadic, tornadic, tornadic. My son Christopher remarked with a completely straight face, “I can honestly say I have never heard that word until today.” Me neither, son.

So when Tornadic Activity Weatherman announced Friday evening that the hot-zone for the aforementioned tornadics was between the two very roads which bound my subdivision, I herded my offspring, plus one visiting friend, down to the basement for some quality time with the basketball hoop, toy cars and swing.

No such luck this morning, when all I had to entertain me was Tras, the iPhone and some random middle-schoolers. As Tras and I updated the moving weather map on our Weather Bug apps, the girls sitting next to me wanted to know if I liked to shop. (What is it, tattooed on my forehead or something? Sheesh.)

They also asked if I had any cool apps — a rather non-so-subtle hint that they’d just love to get their textie little fingers on my phone, I’m sure — so I showed them the face melter.

They are cute girls, as you can see, even before I melted their faces. They quickly became bored with making polite chit-chat with somebody’s mom they didn’t really know, and went back to drawing on the paper the teachers provided. After a bit, they trooped reluctantly upstairs for school; we rejoined Father in the church after an hour-long gap in morning Mass. Soon we were back outdoors, which still seemed to contain most of Lexington.

Looking at the weather systems brewing west of here, I have a feeling this isn’t the end of the week’s tornadic activity. But maybe if I just say it repeatedly, I’ll scare all tornadic everything away. It’s scared me enough already.