Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Apology

I am neglecting my blog this week as I am at my residency for my MFA in Creative Writing. If you were to read my texts this week they just say, "This is awesome! This is amazing!" and I really don't have a lot of thoughts to put online at this moment. 

I will return to my blog soon and hope you won't have forgotten me after my absence, and hopefully my writing will have benefit from this experience as much as my soul has. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Batter Up!

I decided that the perfect "big gift" for Big Pants this year would be a batting practice thing; sort of like a ball on a string connected to a stick so that I wouldn't have to pitch to him and he would stop hitting balls onto the neighbor's porch.  

My ex was against it. He was sure that Tiny Pants would take a bat to the head sooner or later, but I knew he was a worry wart. I read a bunch of reviews and everyone loved this contraption. Everyone and their brother, even. No one said anything about siblings getting hit in the head. (Although, I do have to admit that my first ex husband once hit his little brother in the head with a baseball bat while using something called a "Johnny Bench Batter Up" but he was a little crazy. I'm sure it was completely avoidable with adequate parental supervision.)

Christmas morning, Big Pants was not all that impressed with the hitting thing, which not only cost a bunch of money, but also weighs as much and both kids and the dog put together.  I wanted him to like it, so even though it was really freaking cold I dragged it outside and tried to figure it out. 

I took the first hit across my stomach.  Although he swung the bat hard, I was surprised it hurt so little.  Perhaps my coat was better padded than I thought?

Or perhaps my cell phone, which was in my coat pocket, absorbed the impact. Yup, that was it.  It was shattered beyond repair. 

I still didn't give up.  I really wanted the gift to be a success, so I stood next to Big Pants and tried to figure out how to pitch the ball.  His next swing landed at the top of my thigh, and this one hurt quite a lot more.  

That did it; I dragged the contraption inside while explaining that it is only okay to laugh when someone gets hurt if you first make sure they are really unhurt and if they are not your Mama. 

I'll con someone else into figuring the thing out come spring. Until then, I will leave it in the corner so I can glower at it menacingly and make it properly intimidated.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tag Team Christmas

Yaay Presents!

The best kept secret of single parenting is Tag Team Christmas.

My ex and I have an agreement where we each see the kids on Christmas Day, alternating which house they wake up at every other year, and switching at noon. The first year after we separated I prepared myself for the worst Christmas of my life, and my parents agreed to come to to support me in what we all thought would be a horrendous outpouring of grief interrupted by a few hours of holiday cheer.  We all assumed the crash position and waited for impending negative emotions…but they never came.  

Here's why:

If you ask my kids, Double Christmas is the best part of having two houses. It is the one time of the year when other kids are jealous of them.  They get two trees, two stockings, two stops from Santa's sleigh. the kids strike the motherlode twice in the same day, year after year.  They are in all their glory, so you get a day off from parental guilt.

But the kids aren't the only ones who benefit.  Here's the truth about kids on Christmas - they stay up too late fighting sleep, making it impossible for Santa to come until midnight, and if Santa didn't finish wrapping, Santa might be up until two in the morning.  Then the little angels wake up at the crack of dawn, decimate the toy pile in under an hour, and spend the rest of the day whining and being over-sugared and under-slept. 

Enter tag team Christmas.  Children wake up at Parent A's house  descend on presents like a pack of hungry hyenas, play with toys for an hour, and just when they start to get to that whiney stage around noon, they get dropped off at Parent B's house.  Parent B got to sleep in and finish Santa duty in the morning instead of the middle of the night, so Parent B is not overtired and cranky.  Parent A gets to go home and take a nap, and Parent B gets to do Christmas after coffee and breakfast, like a civilized adult.  

It is truly a win-win for the parents, and the kids are wallowing around knee deep in presents, so they happy, too.  Of course, the day after Christmas let down is still unavoidable (heck, I still get it at age forty) but Christmas day itself is far better when you have someone to tag in with.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Christmas Peppermint Tray

I don't do pintrest,for the very simple reason that I know it will eat every spare moment showing me fabulous things that will just make me fee inadequate. I can feel perfectly inadequate on my own, thank you very much.

However, I accidentally got sucked into a pintrest-type thing this week.  I was reading a blog and wound up here.  I left the window on my computer open for an entire week. 


I tried to close it, but I couldn't. I was captivated. The peppermint tray held an evil hypnotic hold over me. I needed my own "perfect presentation for Santa's cookies." What kind of mother would I be otherwise?

I could not unsee it; while I had never before  heard of such a thing, now that I knew it was in existence I was sure all the way to my bones that my holiday would not be complete unless I made a peppermint tray. Heck, my life would not be complete without a peppermint tray.  it was my Christmas Destiny. 

The directions were pretty simple:

1. unwrap a lot of candies
2. place in a round baking pan lined with tinfoil
3. back for 8 minutes at 350  and "do not walk away…make sure the candies do not over melt."

I unwrapped the candy. 

Unwrapping is a skill I have.

I placed in lined pan. 

I can put candy in a pan like a boss

I put in oven, and checked every 8 seconds for the first minute, then completely forgot about them until the timer went off.  Thank God for timers.

the blurriness is the heat of the oven,
not my photography skills 

I took it out of the oven, and it was like a light from Heaven shined down on me.  I Made A Freaking Peppermint Tray! 

Checking frequently is for sissies.

I photographed it, I held it up to the light, I stared at it in wonder. 

My Very Own Peppermint Tray!

 I Made A Freaking Peppermint Tray!

Or a frisbee

For the rest of the week, I will only answer to Our Lady, Queen of Christmas. So what if I got crappy presents for people? So what if I haven't gotten around to vacuuming yet and the house guests will be here any minute? I made a freaking peppermint tray. My work here is done. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

You Better Not Cry

Image: DeviantArt

Do you know that classic Christmas Carol that begins:
"You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout I'm telling you why?"

I can't sing it, because it makes my children cry.

I don't mean they complain about my singing, say they don't like it, or whine. I mean real tears roll down their sweet little faces and their wide open mouths have drool strings connecting top lip to bottom.  There is yowling. Louts and lots of loud yowling.

The idea that Santa is watching their every move and keeping tabs on them, writing their behavior down on some list is too much too bear.  They know they have been naughty.  They know they provoke their brother and whine at bedtime and sneak extra candy.  They know their only hope is that Santa isn't really watching every minute.

We have spoken and I do reassure them that they are perfectly well behaved most of the time and they are loved and will get presents.  And, conversely, I have  threatened to call Santa, generally at bedtime. (Hey, Daddy started threatening before Halloween, I use Santa only as a last resort in December.)  

This is why we have no Elf on the Shelf - if Santa sent a live-in spy every year, my boys would need therapy, and lots of it.

And yes, they love Santa. They look forward to visiting Santa, and I occasionally promise to keep somethings between us and not tell Santa on them, much like mothers promised to keep secrets from daddies in the days of old.  

While part of me wants to be a good person and tell them that Santa will bring them toys no matter what, that love is unconditional, I also appreciate the solid threat that it is. Sometimes the Santa threat is the only thing that gets them to stop fighting and go to bed, and I need them to go to bed, sometimes very desperately.  Santa is my coconspirator and behavior enforcer.

Still, I feel bad when they cry when they hear, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  I feel like I have somehow gone astray in my parenting.  Yet, I also love to torture those little critters and sing it to them.  (But only when they are being really bratty.)  Does that make me an evil parent?  Maybe, but in just a year or two I won't be able to play the Santa card anymore, and the song will no longer upset them.  I might as well enjoy the Santa Mystique while it lasts.

Monday, December 9, 2013

7 Perspectives Common to Cats and Toddlers

Both cats and toddlers are small and rather feral. To say that either children or cats are fully domesticated is completely false advertising. They are wild beasts that are only controllable because they are small.  Their perspective on life is very similar.  

For example:

1. Large people scoop you up and kiss you against your will.  Any retaliation against this results in swift punishment. 

2. Sometimes the large people hold you down and wipe your butt, whether you think you need it needs to be wiped or not. 

3.  Sometimes the large people force you into a bath for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 

4. Your keepers do not understand that  the only place you can really sleep comfortably at two in the morning is on top of their head.  They just don't want you to be well rested. 

5. You are always starving and have absolutely no control over when you are fed.  If you use your initiative and get your own snacks, your initiative is punished.

6.  The people in power do not understand that it is your destiny to climb the Christmas tree.  Why do they torment you with putting up such a fabulous thing and then tell you "no" every time you go near it?

7. The large people think it is funny to post pictures of you with embarrassing captions on the internet which is obviously beneath your dignity. They have no respect whatsoever.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

So I Broke My Kid...

I broke my first kid. At least I think I did.  What I did was entertain him constantly form the moment he woke up until the moment he went to sleep.  It's not my fault really; it was more of a form of self-defense. If I stopped entertaining him he'd cry, and I wasn't good at listening to him cry.  

I don't want to be a bee!

I think a lot of parenting theories really just come down to whether or not you can stand to listen to your kid cry.  We dress it up with fancy names and read books all about it, but what it comes down to is really just can you listen to your kid cry or can't you.  If you can't, you are going to pick them up and play with them and do whatever it takes to calm them no matter what the books say, and you will read books that support whichever side you fall on the crying thing, and you will think people who do the opposite are bad parents.  But really, it's just about your own crying tolerance that matters. 

At any rate, I had no tolerance whatsoever. I started my day at 5 am, reading books to the baby.  Shaking toys at the baby. Bouncing the baby.  Counting down the minutes to the next nap, which only happened when all the planets were in alignment AND I danced him for 20 minutes.  I don't know how I could have done it any differently, it was all I could do to survive.

Now that baby is eight.  And he says, "Mama, I don't know what to do," and he says, "Mama, I need someone to play with," and he says, "Mama I'm bored."

I tell him, "You have been bored since the day you were born, kid."  That is true but not helpful, it turns out. 

He has an external locus of control; he looks to the world to meet his needs. I'm pretty sure I taught him that, and I know that won't serve him well in life. But I broke him, and it's hard to undo. 

The second baby, of course, was more laid back. He'd fall asleep when he was tired - anywhere, anytime. No miracle was required.  He smiled a lot.  He amused himself by watching his brother and chasing his brother and trying to eat everything his brother owned.  Now that he's five, he prefers to play with someone, but he is capable of doing his own thing.

Big Pants, just chillaxe!

You could say that I neglected the second because the first was still demanding all my attention - and you would be right. But it is also true that he was born a mellower kid. He was lower maintenance from the get-go. (But louder. A lot louder.)

So maybe I didn't break the first one.  Maybe he would have been a bored kid needing someone to entertain him no matter what I did. Maybe they just come as they come, and all our mistakes and all our guilt is for naught. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Arty Coolness That You Have to See and Also Buy For Me

There are some people out there who have skills above and beyond the realm of moderately-arty-mom.  People who think of things that are so out of the box yet so perfect that you can't believe no one else thought of it except no one else did.

I'm a moderately arty mom.  I  make all kinds of Barely Recognizable animals for my children on demand, mostly without patterns, and mostly with moderately successful results. Yes, I can proudly say that I am moderately successful at making barely recognizable animals.

Shut up, it's a boy version of Lilo's doll
 with a smaller head. And clothes. 

I have made both a helicopter and motorcycle out of cardboard, both with shoulder straps so you can wear them like weirdly large waders and crash into things in the house.  (OK, the motorcycles took a fair amount of help from a dear friend, H.)

I have carried large rocks up two flights of stairs to allow my children to create a castle with a moat. (that was a bad idea, for the record, resulting in many stubbed toes and a lot of bargaining to get the rocks back outside.)

But that's all sort of moderately- arty stuff.  These peeps take it to an entirely new level:

This man colors his kids art into like, real grown up art.  Which might piss off my kids on occasion, because they are really bossy about their art, but they are also lazy, so if I had the skill to do this they would totally make me do it all the time. 

Image from WhereCoolThingsHappen

Or there's this mom, who collaborates with her daughter with super amazing results that I would totally buy and hang on the wall, or drink coffee out of, because she awesomely made mugs as well as framed prints.

You can read it here  or you can buy me one here
by BusyMockingBird

Because I'd totally love that for Christmas, or just because you love me and want to give me a present.

Artist people are cool.  But, really, I want to do this with MY kids' art.  Tiny Pants has fallen in love with art and is constantly bringing me Art in Bed, Art at Breakfast, and Art at Snack time. (Tiny Pants observes two meals: breakfast, and Snack. Snack occurs approximately 15 minutes after breakfast concludes and lasts until he is asleep. If he could, He'd sleep with a graham cracker in his hand.)

I have a friend, G., who traces her daughter's art onto cloth and embroiders it.  I so am going to do that someday.  Or pay her to do it for me…wonder if she is game? I'd love a quilt made of squares of my kids' art, but I know I will never finish it; it will join the latch hook kit, baby quilt kit, and all their half-finished cousins hiding under my bed. 

Then I discovered this artist, Mia Van Beek, who takes your children's art and makes it into jewelry.  Hello.  There are few things I love more than shiny sparkly things.  I fell in love with jewelry when I was given a box of old half-broken things when I was four, and I have yet to overcome my love of it.  

I've always both loved and scorned the generic "mother" jewelry.  I totally understand the need to proclaim your love for your family through gold, silver, and gemstones.  Really, the only other way to express your love for your family would be through life sized replicas of them in chocolate, but then the dog would chew on their feet and that would be awkward.

The only reason I don't wear mom jewelry is that I haven't found anything quirky and arty and interesting enough to justify spending the money on it.

Until now.  I totally wish I could have your speakers blast the Alleluia Chorus right now.  Look at this and tell me this is not the coolest. thing. ever. You can't.  You want it too. 

You Want To Buy Me These Here

One thing I love about not having any sponsors is that I don't have to be all professional about promoting things.  I can just rave and squeak in excitement and not have to sound like a grown up at all. 

Buy Me

 And I can totally send subliminal messages for you to buy me presents without getting sued for mind control. (I think) 

Really, Really Buy This

 But in all seriousness, there is something important about seeing the creative thoughts people dream up, that helps us to see the world a little bit differently.  Art is magic, and witnessing it does something to your soul, deep down, in that place where you are still seven years old, and the world is still full of possibility.  These artists have captured that feeling in a way that makes my heart bigger inside. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm Grateful that I Stopped Being Publicly Grateful

Going around Facebook in November was a challenge to post something you were grateful for for 30 days. I was resistant. I don't like people telling me I should be grateful.  I don't like to be a follower.  I like to choose my own challenges, not be guilted into them.  
It took me a week, before I succumbed, then I had to start out with seven things I was grateful for instead of just one. I am normally a whiney, half-empty kind of person, so I liked looking for less-obvious things to be grateful for.  I thought everyone should do it. I wondered about my friends who chose not to be grateful. (Hey, I never said I was a great person.)  I even started a gratitude list for my blog that I would post at the end of the month in addition to my daily gratitude on my personal Facebook page. I worried if it wasn't my first post of the day. I wanted to do it properly and reverently.
Then suddenly it started to feel a little self-righteous. There's a certain lack of humility in telling everyone you know how grateful you are, over and over, day after day for a month. But I kept doing it.  I didn't want to look suddenly ungrateful, and there really were things I was grateful about and I was glad to be noticing them. I just wasn't so sure that I wanted to report back to the world on them.  I committed to being publicly grateful for 30 days and dammit, I was going to finish it, and see how many people liked my gratitude statuses.
Thanksgiving Day arrived.  I was driving to my mother's house and stopped to get gas and pee at a rest stop.  I sat on the toilet in that metal stall and contemplated all the people who worked there on Thanksgiving; the restaurant people, the gas station people, the people who cleaned the restrooms.  I was going to write a gratitude post about the little people and about how we disparage the stores that are open on Thanksgiving but feel it is our God given right to have every Mc Donald's on the thruway open 24/7.   I was going to both show my gratitude and self-righteously alert people to all the unseen people who are ignored during the Boycott Thanksgiving Shopping posts. A two-fer.
And then I didn't.  I threw Facebook gratitude out the window. I went to Thanksgiving, where I was surprisingly not asked about anything I was grateful for.  I waited to feel guilty about not posting about gratitude on the National Day of Gratitude, and eventually realized I didn't give a crap. I told myself that I could catch-up the next day if I was struck by a guilt attack, but I wasn't, so I didn't.  I wondered if people would think I was lame and could only come up with 27 things to be grateful for, but I realized I didn't give a crap about that, either.  The month ended and I was never publicly grateful again.
 It's the same reason that I don't blog every day.  Quantity is not quality, and doing something over and over can strip meaning and joy from it.  I don't want gratitude to become a chore or a tool of self-righteousness.  I admire everyone who finished their months of gratitude, and I am not saying that they didn't benefit from it and approach it with more humilty.  I'm glad I started the challenge, but I am fine that I fell off the wagon.  
Image: deviantart
Actually, it's not that I am ungrateful.  It's just realization that a public proclaimation isn't the be-all and end-all of gratitude for me.   I'm extremely grateful for all the people and blessings and love I have in my life, and I am truly grateful for the people who wash the restrooms on Thanksgiving. I just don't need to post about it.
(And grumpy cat. I am always grateful for grumpy cat.)  

Previously published on BlogHer

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I confronted my bullies...

I used to pray as I walked to school that I would get hit by a car.  I wasn't pretty, my clothes were wrong, my glasses were too big, and I had braces.  Couple that with being in a few smart classes and having a lesbian mom and I was a natural for the role of social misfit.  

It wasn't that I didn't have friends; there was a whole table of us in the lunchroom that hung out together. I wasn't lonely, but I was scared and scarred. I spent years daydreaming about revenge.  I would look out the window on long car trips and fantasize about smashing a particular girl's face in, over and over. 
By the time I saw her again, we were both parents and almost forty.  Face-smashing was no longer on my agenda.
I was in a group of casual friends enjoying a glass of wine at our high school reunion when I realized she was in the circle of people I was talking to.  The first thing I noticed was how much shorter than me she was; I remembered her as looming over me, tall, ugly, and angular. now she was just a short fat middle-aged woman. I brought up the time period when I hid from her in the halls of school, and she didn't remember it at all.  She admitted that she had been a bully to other kids though, and she believed me when i said she made my life hell, and apologized for it.
 "I know I made life hell for a lot of people back then," she said. "And it stops with my generation. I do not tolerate bullying with my kids…it's one thing I learned. I refuse to let them bully other people."
I told her that I always assumed that she must have had a hard life if she was filled with such venom.  That was what my other always told me when I came home crying - that happy kids with happy home lives don't bully other kids.  If she was so mean, she must have been in a lot of pain.  The bully admitted that this was true. Her childhood was miserable, but she didn't use it as justification. She told me she had sought out the one boy who she tormented the most and tried to apologize to him as well.
That's the part that is missing from so many discussions on bullying.  Yes, we can come down hard on kids that bully, but often - if not all  of the time- bullies are kids that are in a bad situation and don't know how else to function. The bully because it is one way they can win.  In my school, at least, bullies were lauded and rewarded. If this girl didn't bully, she would have been fodder for someone else, because dysfunctional kids generally fall into one camp or the other; predator or prey.
I'm not saying that a zero tolerance policy is wrong.  Bullying is something I will not tolerate, and if my kids are bullied, I am willing to go to extreme measures -including home schooling - to protect them. 
(Note: homeschooling is not an extreme measure for many people. I have good friends who love to homeschool. For me, though, it would be an extreme measure.)  
One day I got a Facebook friend request from another one of my tormenters. This girl had thrown used boys underwear onto my face during a church sleep over, among other things. When she sent me a friend request on Facebook I was happy to take the opportunity to ask, "Why in the world would I want to be friends with you after you tormented me to the point that I hated going to church?" I asked her.  She didn't remember any of it.   I offered her the excuse of being unhappy herself as a teenager, but she denied it.  She was happy, she thought.  She honestly had no idea what I was talking about, but apologized anyway. Saying "sorry" didn't mean anything to her, and her apology didn't mean anything to me. I denied her friend request.
I did accept a different bully's friend request, though.  I have not spoken to him about the past, because I don't have to; I can see in his posts his sensitivity to hate and his abhorrence of intolerant people.  He has grown into a good man.
In my discussions I have learned that the peace I seek does not come from the bully; they no longer have power over me to make me feel anything, even closure.  My healing was personal and private, it had nothing to do with them.  Perhaps the pain they caused me had less to do with them than I thought originally as well. Maybe my mother was right; maybe I didn't have to internalize everything.  As a child, though, you don't have control over who you sit next to in class, or who follows you home.  You don't have the ability to walk away. Growing up gives you power.  Loving who you are gives you wings.  

previously published on blogHer 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My dog is an asshole.

Meet Dog. In our family diagram, he fills the role of Family Asshole. 

He will not only take a piece of pizza out of a child's hand, but he will refuse to relinquish it.  Although if he did give it back I should probably not feed the dog-slobbed-on pizza to the children, or at least not admit to that on the internet, ever, but that is beside the point. He should relinquish it on demand, not run away and clamp down his teeth in doggie death grip mode.

He routinely drags his anus across the carpet, and if he's not in the mood for that, he just yaks on the rug instead. 

Although he is only 18" tall (measured from the floor to the tips of his ears) he routinely gets on the table to eat bacon, and when he does, the farts that come out of the dog are disproportionate to his size.  How can such a tremendously evil insidiously pervasive stench be contained in such a small animal?

According to the cat, someone needs to firmly explain the nuances of informed consent to him.

No, fuckypuppy! Bad fuckypuppy!  Don't worry kids, they are just wrestling. He's not hurting the cat. I think. I make sure to stop him before any penetration can actually occur. 

Dryhumping is not  isolated to this cat, either. We used to have a yellow lab. My asshole dog used to hump his face while he was sleeping. I believe that shows a pattern of abuse or at least Chronic Assholery. No means no, Dog.  Just because your buddy passed out on the floor does not mean he is fair game. 

He smells bad. He sheds. He occasionally grows gross moles on his eyes and chin that make him hard to look at until my stepmother mysteriously "deals with them" when we go to her house.

And yet, he is family. He is our smelly, asshole dog. And we love him. Sort of. OK, a lot, mostly, except for when he does that anus-carpet thing.  He sleeps with Big Pants at night - right in his bed, under the covers.  He cleans up any crumbs or toast-shards dropped on the floor. He will sit  and lie down for Tiny Pants, if and only if he has a treat to give him.  But that's about it. 

He doesn't fetch, or play with toys, or do anything particularly endearing. The best thing I can say about him is that he is tolerant. He has infinite patience with the children dressing him up (OK, with me dressing him up) and instead of a justified snarl his chosen means of retaliation is  simpering Bambi eyes. 

And yet, if he were gone, we'd miss him.  I bitch about the shedding, then smell, the pizza thievery, but in the end, he's our dog. And if we didn't have him, I'd want another asshole dog.  To me, a family is not complete without critters, even asshole ones. 

He is ten years old; I know he probably won't make it to see either of the boys graduate high school. (Not that he would care about the ceremony, he'd just be all about the cake and Doritos afterward.)  I know in spite of all his yakking and farting and shedding and inappropriate humping that I love that little fucker and I will miss him when he's gone. I don't know how our family would function without him. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tiny Pants had to make a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Like many kindergarteners, the school is pushing their Gratitude Agenda and forcing children to pause before the gimme gimme gimme presents rush of December to contemplate things they are grateful for that they already have.  

I'm sure they encourage them to consider being grateful for some non-materialistic things, because of the Gratitude Turkeys on display, most did not list toys, video games, or TVs, but that could also be because, to my children at least, these things are their God Given right and not something extra special. Most kids today, mine included, would never even think that a TV wasn't an absolute necessity, and they can't even imagine a life without toys. 

Tiny Pants has a history of interesting answers to class projects. Last month, he wrote down that his Halloween ghost likes to eat thigh.  When questioned, he huffed back at me, "I meant chicken!"  Because obviously ghosts prefer chicken to thighs. Or maybe they like chicken thighs. 

This is his turkey:

He is grateful for:
His Brother (ironically, the only legible word on there)
His Teacher

Yes, when having to choose the top 6 things he is happy about having in life, elbows made the list. 

I questioned him about it, and yes, he meant elbows, and he adamantly defended his choice.

Without elbows you can't eat.
Without elbows you can't drink.
Without elbows your hands would not stay attached to your body.

The kid has a point, and I guess elbows are better than knees because of that whole eating thing. I'd add that he couldn't snuggle his sleep bunny or hug Mama as easily without elbows. 

There you have it; gratitude, Tiny Pants style. The kid is a gem.