Saturday, April 23, 2016

Catholic Guilt Begins in the Cradle

The other day, my boys and I were driving through our little town on the way to soccer practice when we passed the Methodist church.

"Remember when we went to that church a few times a couple of years ago, Mom?" my older son said from the backseat.  "It was so fun."  Then he stopped abruptly, as if he'd just realized he'd said something wrong.  His voice turned serious. "But I know church isn't supposed to be fun, Mom," he said in all of his 7-year-old wisdom.

Ah, that sweet Catholic guilt sure does start early, doesn't it?  

Here's a story I wrote a couple of years ago about that Methodist church and the Catholic guilt that my husband and I experienced when we walked through the doors.  I'm happy to report that even now, all these years later and despite our ingrained-from-a-young-age misgivings about attending another church (and the fact that I wrote about it), they still love us. The feeling is mutual.

But we still regularly attend the Catholic church.  (I'm Type A, people. Habits are hard to break for me.)

"Catholic Guilt"

Before I even begin this story, I must specify:  Yes, I go to church every single Sunday.  It makes me feel better about the trash that I write throughout the week. 

And yes, I do understand that singing a few hymns won’t erase the drunken skankiness of my past (yesterday), but hey, it’s a start.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become friends with a Methodist woman (I like to call her "My Meth"--she loves that) who has made it her mission to get me to abandon my Catholic faith and come to her church.

Okay, she so hasn't done that. But I like to say that because it gets her all riled up—and because then I’ll have someone else to blame for the times when I do go to her Sunday services and my Catholic friends find out.

The first time the hubs and I decided to cheat on the Catholics by attending a Methodist service, we spent the entire Saturday night prior to the service shaking, tangled up in our sheets, drenched in nervous sweat and unable to sleep.  No, it wasn’t the lack of alcohol making our poor bodies behave that way, and I know this because we’d had a few drinks before hitting the sack that Saturday night. 

It was actually our Catholic guilt making our bodies lurch feverishly as we tried—to no avail—to get some sleep.

I remember the hubs rolling over in the dark to face me.  “Do you think they sacrifice Catholics?” he whispered, tremors in his deep voice.

We learned that Sunday that no, they most certainly do NOT do Catholic sacrifices, and that also, it may not have been the best question for the hubs to pose to the greeter as we nervously walked through the doors of the church.  Oh, well.  Better luck next time.

Here are a few other things we learned NOT to do—things that might make visiting another church one weekend go a bit more smoothly for you.  Hey, I’m here to help, my peeps:

1.) Do not shake with fear as you enter the new church, as if it would be the act of walking into another church—and not one of the many nights of standing half naked in a random bathroom, quivering with regret after a collegiate one-night stand—that would cause you to spontaneously burst into a thousand flaming pieces and fly into the fiery pits of hell.

          Wow, that “bathroom quivering” line was way more depressing than it was funny, huh?
          Ah, memories.

2.)   Definitely don’t slap the ass of the woman handing out programs for the day’s service, causing her to squeal with delight and say, “Betcha don’t get to do that in the Catholic church, huh?”

Okay, maybe you can do that one. But to be fair, I should specify that we knew each other through mutual friends, so my behavior wasn't all that shocking to her.  In fact, I'm pretty sure she enjoyed it.  Pervert.

3.)   When offered a cup of coffee (Seriously, you guys, they have coffee during the service), don’t say, “And I won’t go to hell?” prompting the congregation member who kindly offered it to respond, “Um, well, I don’t—I don’t think so…” and look down at her own cup questioningly.

4.)   Do not yell at your husband for handing you one of the children when you weren’t ready and almost making you drop your “steaming cup of the Lord’s Coffee.”

5.)    When standing in the middle of a group of people you hardly know before the service begins, do  not engage in an argument with said husband over said Jesus Coffee, especially when he begins with something like this:

“I hope you enjoy that coffee in hell.”

“They don’t even have coffee in hell,” is an example of what not to snap back. 

“Exactly.  Remember that,” is what he should not respond with a smartass smirk.

Obviously this is a totally hypothetical situation, but if it truly had happened, I would venture to guess that I was a little too happy for the hubs’s liking, and he had to do something to squash my coffee-loving spirit.

6.)   When the preacher takes his place at the front of the congregation to begin the service, do not lean over to ask your friend, who was nice enough to sit with you during your first visit to her church, if you should address him as “Head Witch.”

7.)    Do not ignore the hubs when he begins sneaking sips of your coffee while you’re wrangling with the children.  Instead, raise your eyebrows at him, move two chairs down and explain that it’s because you “don’t want any sparks to fall on me” when he bursts into flames.

8.)    After the beautiful service ends, do not ask your friend if she thinks God will be mad at you for attending her church. She might get a bit upset and yell, “And don’t come back, ASSHOLES!” as you are walking out with your family.

9.)    DO buy a hair shirt for the next time you decide to attend a service there.  Like the hubs said, “Isn’t church supposed to be a little bit more miserable in order to count?”

You’re welc for the tips, my peeps.  Although I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this blog, the first thought you have on Sunday morning is probably more, “Who moved the damned whisk-ay?!  I need some for my coffee!” and not so much, “Hm, which church service shall we attend today, darling?”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...Redirect?

Several weeks ago, my older son’s school hosted a guest speaker.  I happened to be off of work that day, so I was able to say yes when I was called in to sub for one of the teachers at his school.  It worked out well for me; it’s an easy subbing day when an hour and a half of it is spent at an assembly, listening to a guest speaker.

Without even hearing the background that the speaker gave about himself at the beginning of his show, anyone could quickly tell that this guy’s entire life’s work was devoted to saving the world and teaching others to do the same.

Our first clue was that his microphone stand was made from some old hollow tubing, which he proudly pointed out to us.

“Look, kids!” he said, using a Price Is Right model flourish as he swooped his hands up and down the length of the mike stand.  “Recycling is so much fun that even this trusty microphone stand that I got for free on the side of the road works like a drea—"

And then, with timing that could only have come from the sweet Lord above, the repurposed microphone stand fell to the ground with a loud, fantastic clatter, but not too quickly that the microphone didn’t pick up the guest speaker’s frustrated mutter:  “—oh, shit.  Goddammit, not again…”

Okay, that totally didn’t happen.  But because I’m an awful person, I kept fervently hoping throughout the entire presentation that it would.  I even sent up a quick prayer of petition (I’m a cradle Catholic; that’s got to count for something, right?) that it would, because OMG, how funny would that have been?

But alas, it never happened.  Ah, well.

Although I wasn’t able to dream my microphone scenario into existence like all of those liar self-help books say that you can (thus making the person who can’t seem to get it right feel even worse about herself because dammit, she’s just not good enough to make shit happen), I will say that one very wonderful thing (besides a fully functional microphone stand) came out of the man’s “hollow tubing” description and my daydreaming:  a flashback.

Suddenly, I was back in my best friend’s 1-bedroom apartment in Texas during the summer of 2001, sitting on the couch with her as we watched an episode of Southpark.  It was the one where Cartman had gotten an aquarium so that he could raise “sea men” to worship him. When the other kids, impressed, asked where he’d acquired these sea men, Catman’s reply went something like this: “A guy that I met in an alley gave them to me for free!  All I had to do is close my eyes and suck them through a tube!”

My best friend and I had cracked up so hard that we’d spit out our beers and slid helplessly to the floor, were we’d laughed until our sides hurt and tears rolled down our faces.  I still can’t think of that line without laughing out loud.

What was the question again?

So anyway, this guest speaker spends his time on and off the clock doing research about saving the world; teaching collegiate courses on saving the world; writing, recording, and performing songs about saving the world; and traveling all over the country so that he can give save-the-world assemblies much like the one we heard that day to schoolkids of all ages.

His main message was this:  We must reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose.

That’s right.  He was so into it that he’d even created his own “re-" to tack onto the end of the well-known slogan, complete with a slideshow and a contest with free entry to all participants who wished to enter their repurposed arts and crafts made from all of the treasures found during their Dumpster diving excursions.

“But what if our parents won’t let us dig in other people’s trash?” one of the students asked, to the enthusiastic agreement of the 180 other kids who were vehemently nodding their heads at the injustice of those asshole parents who wouldn’t let them sift through random garbage.  [“Go ahead, sweetie!  Just try to avoid the crusty used needles!”]

“Ohhhhh,” said the man, matching the child’s wide-eyed expression, “but you must tell your parents how important this is!”

My son twisted his head all the way to the back of the gym, where I was sitting with the teachers, and met my eye.  I returned the silent question written all over his face with a stern look of my own and what I hoped was a slightly imperceptible—but still loud and clear to the boy—shake of my head.

No way.

The speaker began to merrily strum his guitar as a slideshow of previous contestants’ artwork played on the big white screen behind him.  I tried to act enthusiastic, I did.  But honestly? I couldn’t bring myself to clap along.

I leaned over to the teacher sitting next to me.  “My kids better not bring a damned 6-foot sculpture made out of rusty-ass hubcaps back to my house,” I whispered out of the side of my mouth.

She smiled politely but looked pointedly at the guest speaker, a silent message letting me know that we shouldn’t be rude and talk during his presentation. I took it as permission to go on.

“You know what I’d do,” I muttered, leaning closer because she kept trying to scoot away.  “I’d put that thing in the garage for a couple of weeks until they forgot about it, then right back to the goddamned landfill it’d go.”

My worries were unfounded, though, because although my son likes arts and crafts, he’s much more of an inventor.  And that little inventor’s brain had seized onto a very real, very tangible statistic that the speaker had reported:  If we continue in the same careless direction we’ve been going with our trash, our state’s landfills will be, well, full in 10 years.

Then what??  The speaker posed the dramatic question to the audience full of kids, who collectively sucked in their breaths.

I saw my son’s hand shoot straight into the air, and I knew he had an answer for the guest speaker.  But the man wasn’t actually looking for one—the question had been one of those food-for-thought rhetorical ones that had been posed only to prove his point—and he was already moving on to his next song, a catchy little ditty of doom and gloom that he performed with what looked like some fancy Irish jigging footwork.

At the end of the assembly, after we’d all applauded and an encore had been sung, I watched as my son, with his teacher’s permission, rushed the stage.  I couldn’t help it; I moved a bit closer so that I could listen to the exchange.  I might be kinda biased, but it’s always something awesome with my son. He’s funny and he’s smart, and most times he’s both at the same time without even meaning to be.

I could feel the pride and anticipation emanating from my little guy—by gosh, he’d just solved that pesky pollution problem that has plagued our world for countless numbers of years!  He was bound to be revered by all for his ingenuity in saving the world—maybe he’d even win the Nobel Peace Prize—after he shared his idea with this man in charge of saving the world. And it was so simple—the answer had been right in front of our very eyes for years.  How could no on have come up with it before?

My son’s eyes were huge.  His arms were flailing all about as he illustrated his vision.  “…so all you’d have to do,” I heard him say, his voice loud with excitement, “is build a really long steel chute that reaches out of this atmosphere.  And then you could just shoot all of that trash STRAIGHT INTO SPACE!”

I swear, you could see the poor guest speaker visibly deflate.  The entire point of his 90-minute assembly had been lost on my child.  It was almost as if all of the wisdom he’d attempted to impart had been flushed down the toilet.

Or shot into space through a steel chute.  (Dammit, I couldn’t help it.)

“But the whole point was—" the man started.  “—well, didn’t you hear all of that stuff about reducing, reusing…?  What about that monkey sock made out of…old socks?”

My son blinked.  He was still waiting to hear if his chute was a possibility. So had he saved the world or what?

The man sighed.  He tried a different tactic, and I could tell he’d given up—on this particular child, at least.  “Well, a chute like that would be really expensive,” he simply said.

My son’s eyes grew even wider. “No, I’ve thought that through, too!” he insisted.  “We would make it from repurposed materials!”

Honestly—and I’m totally not just saying this because he’s my son—a repurposed steel chute that shoots garbage into space sounds a hell of a lot more useful than a hubcap statue or a monkey sock made from stinky old graying socks.

See?  All was not lost on my boy.

I’m expecting him to save the world any old day now.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Daylight Saving Can Suck My Balls

The Monday after daylight saving, my 4-year-old son fell asleep on the couch at 4:30 PM, missing dinner, which was a family-sized frozen lasagna that was set to go off at about 5:10.  (My friends call me Martha Stewart, but really, I’m no better than any other mother who wants to give her children the best.)

“Uh-oh,” my husband murmured, his hands on his hips as he studied my sleeping boy.

I agreed.  We knew this could only mean trouble. After all, we’ve learned through experience not to try to wake either of our boys from a deep, much-needed sleep. 

One memory in particular stands out in my mind.  It was when, as a novice mother, I woke my older son (who was probably 3 at the time) from a nap because we had a midday birthday party to attend.  I remember he looked at me for about 2 seconds before his face crumpled and he began sobbing uncontrollably.

Mommy,” he said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying, but I can’t stop!”

It was pitiful, the poor guy.  And my younger son kind of reacts the same way.

The problem with my younger son falling asleep on the couch the other day was a little more intricate.  It had a few more layers.  Because, you see, long since the days of novice motherhood, I’ve gone back to full-time work. So when one of my kids falls asleep at 4:30 PM and refuses to get back up, my husband and I know that there’s going to be trouble anywhere between, oh, 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM, which are prime sleeping hours when one gets up at 5.

My husband, still looking at my son, shook his head and sighed.  “Hm.  We’d better not get too comfortable tonight.  Wonder when that volcano’s going to erupt.”

He was right.  Because on top of the really early bedtime was the missed dinner, which is a problem because my younger son is just like his mother; he doesn’t miss a meal.

There were times in high school when I would honestly forget to eat.  I was a studious kid, graduating number 8 in my class of 182—which pissed me off because I knew I could have been number one. Maybe if I had just skipped a few more meals to study.

In any case, I was often too busy studying to remember to eat, and many times I’d just grab what I called a “beef packet,” which was a Buddig brand—you guessed it—packet of beef.  I’d rip that sucker open, pour some milk into a coffee cup, and eat my breakfast on the way to school after having woken up at 5:00 AM to study.

(Incidentally, the moment I graduated high school and headed off to college, I found my freedom and a new best friend who taught me that taking vodka shots before tests about which we were nervous would make the tests not only seem easier—but also much more fun.  I earned my first-ever C that semester, prompting my dad to call me and say, “Shay?  Are you on drugs?” to which I responded, “I’ve tried pot a few times, but I didn’t like it.  I’ve just been drinking a lot, usually before Physics tests.”  “And your still getting a C…in Physics?” my dad asked. “Fair enough. Keep doing what you’re doing. Sounds like you’ve got it handled.”)

For years, it baffled me that no one could understand how one gets so busy that she forgets to eat. 

And then suddenly, the shift came, and I was one of those people who couldn’t understand it anymore, either.

“What do you mean, you forget to eat?” I asked, rolling my eyes at one of the mom friends I’d made just after I’d moved to a new town with my husband and new son.  “I’m constantly looking forward to my next meal.  In fact, usually as I’m taking bites of my lunch, I’m already dreaming about what I’m going to have for dinner.”

As soon as I said it, I gasped, causing a piece of chicken nugget to fall out of my mouth. I’d become one of those deplorable people who actually had time to eat.

And not only that, but goddammit, I looked forward to it.  Still do.

I have a habit of eating a few (okay, six) pieces of chocolate before I go to bed.  Once, I fell asleep on the couch before I’d had a chance to eat my nighttime chocolate.

Did I count all of those missed calories a win for my waistline?

Fuck, no.

I swear my biological chocolate clock woke me back up at 11:30 PM, and I stumbled to the kitchen, eyes half shut, and poured a glass of milk because that’s the best part of gnawing one’s way through a chocolate bar—the milk at the end.  And then I proceeded to do just that:  Snarf my way through half a bar of chocolate and wash it down with a cold glass of 2%.

I woke the next morning fat, happy—and a teensy bit ashamed. Ah, well.

My younger son, I’ve learned, will most likely not be a kid who forgets to eat, no matter how hard he studies.  He’s skipped that part of being just like me and gone straight to taking after the me of adulthood:  He loves to eat. (Fingers crossed that he skips the pot and shots part of being just like me, too.)

My husband and I had a rough start at having kids, and we take our jobs as parents very seriously.  Let me preface this next segment by saying that we make sure that our kids have healthy, balanced meals.  But while my older son craves fruits and vegetables and views meals as annoying but necessary interruptions to fuel his body between his intense digging and exploration time outside, my younger son is more like his mom.  He has an affinity for all things noodle and carb, and he looks forward to his meal breaks, sitting down with a huge, anticipatory grin at the food laid out in front of him.

Being the writer and helicopter mom that I am, I chronicle anything cute that my kids say.  Here, then, are a few things that my younger son has said regarding eating and food:
  • A couple of years ago, we were in the car on our way to preschool.  I was eating a microwaveable breakfast sandwich (on wheat bread, thankyouverymuch), and of course my younger son asked me for a bite.  I handed the sandwich back to him.

“OUCH!” I heard him yelp.

“What happened?” I asked, glancing in the rearview mirror.

“I bit my finger when I took a bite, Mommy…but I didn’t bite it off.”

“Well, thank the Lord for small blessings, son,” I sighed as I reached back for the remainder of my sandwich.  “Imagine trying to explain to any potential girlfriends that you lost it trying to get at your mom’s breakfast sandwich in preschool.”

“What, Mommy?”


·         Once, when he was about 3, he was sitting at the table eating lunch.  He stopped chewing for a moment and looked up at me.  “Mommy?” he said.  “My teeth are tired.”

And I remember thinking, Holy shit.  Did he just exhaust himself from eating?  Apparently not, though, because after a quick break during which he flexed those little jaws, he dove right back into that mac and cheese like a BOSS.

·         Last summer he looked at me and said, quite simply, “Mommy, my belly is hungry.  It wants to eat all the food.”

And I thought to myself, Just another way that another one of my boys is exactly like me.  Because I always want to eat all the food.

·         For about 3 months last fall, both of my boys had a habit of climbing into bed with my husband and me sometime in the middle of the night.  It was something that happened almost nightly, which I totally didn’t mind because I knew it wouldn’t last forever (they’ve already stopped doing it—insert sad emoji), and I swear I savor every minute of them being young. 

I woke in the morning to my younger son’s wide, adorable face grinning on the pillow next to mine.

It was the most bizarre thing: this huge, laughing grin complete with happy sighs and chuckles—yet he was still sound asleep.  I thought to myself, as parents often do, “I wonder what he’s dreaming about.  It must be a damn good dream; what’s making him so happy?”

And then he answered my question when he talked in his sleep: “Did you get one in your lunch, too?”

My son had been dreaming about lunchtime with his friends at preschool.  If I had to take a guess, I’d bet my life savings that he’d been dreaming about Little Debbie snack cakes.  Once or twice a week, I’ll pack one of those in his lunch as a treat.

  •  Then there was the time that he’d had pancakes for breakfast, veggies and dip and a cookie for snack, and cheese, carrots, and an orange for lunch. I know all of this because I wrote it down.  I was thinking we could get him into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Before I had a chance to fill out the application form, however, my son reached across the table to my lunch, took a few bites, and then ask me for a powdered donut, which I hadn’t even been aware that we’d had.

“Why, sure, son,” I responded.  “We wouldn't want you to be deprived.”
  • And lastly, one night I put my boys to bed, only to hear the pitter-patter of little feet about an hour and a half later.  Of course I was in the kitchen rifling through drawers for my nighttime chocolate when I looked up and saw my younger son coming around the corner.

He looked at me, cocked his head, and said, “Hey, Mommy.  Let’s eat some food.”

I shrugged.  Nodded.  “Okay,” I said, because really, it sounded like a good plan to me.

So the other night when he fell asleep at 4:30 PM due to that goddamned daylight saving time shifting our internal clocks, I slept with one eye open because my husband and I knew that there would be repercussions at some point in the night or very early morning.

And we were right.  At about 2:00 AM, I heard it. That metaphorical volcano erupting in the form of a rumbling stomach.

It was soft at first—so soft that I thought I might be dreaming.  But then I heard it again—a bit more insistent this time—and slowly opened my eyes.

My son was in my bed, sort of kneeling over me so he could look down at my face as I woke.  When I finally opened my eyes, I saw that his were wide in kind of a curious, excited way.  He knew something was off; why was he so wide awake when it was still so dark outside?

My husband grunted and then heaved himself off of the bed to move to the couch, leaving me to deal with the situation.  Smart man.

“MOMMY?” my 4-year-old said in his adorable—LOUD—squeaky voice.

Before I had a chance to answer, he continued.

“I’m really hungry for a cheeseburger.  And a hot dog.  Will you fix them for me?”

I started laughing. My son smiled, although he wasn’t sure exactly what was so funny.  I heard his stomach growl again.

“Mommy?” he said again.  “I’m really hungry for a cheeseburger and a hot dog.  Is it wake-up time?  Will you fix them for me?”

Somehow I managed to hold him off until 4:30 AM, at which point I was able to talk him into going into the living room and asking his dad to make him breakfast.  His dad did.

I missed my early-morning workout that day, and it threw me all off, making me wish I’d have been the one to have missed my dinner the night before.

Do you know how a Type A scheduler reacts to her schedule being all jacked up?

Not well, peeps. Not well.  I was tired that day.  And grumpy.

And I’m not totally sure that I’m back to normal yet, so let me say it again:

Daylight saving can suck my balls.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Boogers and Hand Jobs

I had a few hours to myself today and decided that I needed to clean off my home desk, which is filled with scrawled-upon post-its, napkins, magazine pages, receipts, and anything else I have on me when an idea hits that simply can’t wait.  I decided that I’d find an old idea that I hadn’t yet had a chance to type up and get to work on doing so. 

The result, I thought, came at precisely the right time in my little family’s life, as I just received a note from my younger son’s pre-K teacher that said, “That kid just can’t keep those fingers out of his nose. Always picking! We talked to him about this and would appreciate it if you could work on it at home, too.”

Believe me, sister, I do work on it.  I do. But keeping that kid’s hands out of his nostrils is about as easy as it would have been keeping drunk 22-year-old me from giving hand jobs to random dudes behind the Dumpsters of bars after closing time.  (Read:  Impossible.) But I never got paid, so that “whore” nickname that I earned from all the regulars was totally inaccurate.

Incidentally, the day I got the note, I was driving my boys home from school when I heard my younger son’s squeaky voice pipe up from his booster seat in the back.  “Mommy?” he said in that adorable everything’s-a-question way of speaking that little kids have.  I glanced in the rearview and saw that he was holding up his index finger, studying it intently.  “This booger looks like a tiny pancake…with syrup on it.”

Holy shit. 

And when I say “holy shit,” I don’t mean that I thought his comment was weird. I mean that you’ve never seen a more pancake-looking booger with syrup on it in all your life.

Anyhoo, judging from the notes I kept from at least a year ago, my boy’s nose-picking business has been going on for a long time, so I’m thinking it’s going to be a hard habit to break.  Here’s the story that I ended up writing about it:

Last year, my younger son and I were walking into his preschool hand-in-hand.  Suddenly, he stopped, pulled his hand away from mine, and proceeded to pick his nose.  When he was finished, he looked up at me, index finger—upon which rested a juicy green booger—upheld.

“Mommy,” he said, “where should I put my booger?”

It’s a question I heard at least 300 times a day last year because he was 3 and his absolute favorite thing to do was pick his nose.  In fact, if he’d been filling out a resume and asked for my help, I would have advised him to list it in the “Other Interests and Activities” section.

I always tried to get creative with my answers because I had learned long before that day that “Wipe it on this Kleenex” was not an acceptable answer to him. Anytime I would use that as my reply, he would continue to hold up his index finger, staring off into the distance for a few moments as if he’d forgotten what he was doing.  Then he would snap back into focus, look at the booger, and then look back at me once more, asking again, “Mommy, where should I put my booger?”

If you hadn’t noticed this about me, I kind of like saying stupid shit.  So some of the answers I had fun coming up with in the past were:

Wipe it on the couch
Wipe it on your brother’s sleeve
Wipe it on your dad’s pillow
Wipe it on the cat
Wipe it on my jeans…but down by the ankle, where my co-workers won’t notice

Of course, I never actually intended for him to do these things; I just had fun coming up with answers. He always ended our goofy stalemate in defeat, wiping his boogers on the Kleenex that I retrieved from my pocket.

That morning, the response I decided to go with was “Wipe it on your coat.”

And then can you believe, after all the times he’d ignored me when I’d told him to do the right thing and wipe it on a Kleenex, he had the nerve to grimace at me and say, “Ugh.  That’s gross, Mommy”?

“Wipe it wherever you want, then,” I replied.

He paused for a moment, thinking.  “Can I wipe it on your car?” he asked, glancing back at our parking spot, which was only a few feet away.

“Sure,” I shrugged, grabbing his hand again and getting ready to lead him safely to my front bumper, where I could pretend I was going to let him wipe his booger until he caved and wiped it on the Kleenex.  (I’m a stubborn motherfucker, peeps, and I was going to win. I’m not exactly sure how being stubborn suited me in this situation or what the hell the prize was for winning the booger war, but there it was.)

Instead, though, my son kept going, walking into preschool and taking a look around. He surveyed the atmosphere before deciding on the wall.

He extended that finger, his eyes on me the whole time, and I swear it was as if it happened in slow motion. That little bastard called my bluff.

He actually wiped his booger on the wall.

And the thing about it was that I couldn’t even get mad at him because he had this raised-eyebrow kind of look on him, like, “You didn’t think I would, did you?” and I just couldn’t stop laughing.  You can rest assured that I did, however, get a Kleenex from the stash in my pocket and wipe his booger off of the wall.

Ah, motherhood:  The time of life where you do shit that you couldn’t ever have possibly fathomed you’d do. 


On second thought, maybe my closing line would be more on-point if it went like this:

Ah, motherhood:  The time of life where you thank God every day that you’ve grown up and are now wiping boogers off of walls instead of giving random hand jobs behind the Dumpsters of your favorite bars.

Friday, February 12, 2016

And When I Say "Early," I Mean "On Time"

I’m one of those people who considers herself early if she’s simply at work on time.

I get that it’s annoying.  I get it.  But it doesn’t matter what time I wake up (between 4:30 and 5:30 each weekday morning), I’ll still be rushing out the door, my two boys in tow as I turn my arm in an exaggerated windmill motion to get them out of the house on time.  Some days I throw a little hip into it in hopes that they’ll get a greater sense of the urgency and hurry the hell up.

“Come on, boys, we’ve gotta hurry,” I say morning after morning, grabbing lunch boxes and backpacks and coats off the hooks by the door.  “I know I say it every single morning, but today I really mean it.  We are LATE.  We’ve got to get movin’, spoovins!”

They don’t even ask what spoovins are because they know they’re nothing.  I just like to talk in rhymes, even when I’m running so late that I don’t have time to think of good ones.

The problem is, I know how late I can be without getting into trouble.  And that’s exactly how late I am every day. 

I accept full responsibility for my tardiness.  My boys are usually completely ready for school, sitting on the couch watching a DVR’d episode of Wild Kratts, waiting for me while I finish up my makeup and blow dry my hair.

One morning I came rushing into work, having missed our morning meeting.  I caught up to my boss and matched my stride with his as we headed to the break room to fill up our coffee cups.  I gave him a sidelong glance as we walked.

“I could offer you a hundred excuses as to why I was late and missed the meeting,” I started. He raised an eyebrow. 

“But I’ll spare you,” I said.

“Thank you for that, at least, Shay,” he replied with a little smirk. I liked to think of it as a friendly little smirk.

And then there was the time—just recently, actually—that I told him I had to take my son to the optometrist, which might make me a tad late for the afternoon meeting. (Honestly, I feel like the real problem here is that we have too many meetings.)

“Imagine that,” he responded dryly.  “You, a ‘tad late’ for a meeting.”

But was he upset?  No. It’s like I always say, peeps:  Keep people’s expectations of you low so that nobody is ever angry or disappointed.

Some days I’ll come rushing into our morning briefing, my long, straw-like mane flying behind me (It’s funny because I kind of look like a horse), lunch bag dangling from my wrist, a huge smile lighting up my red, frazzled face.  I’ll make a humongous deal out of myself and say, “You know, you guuuuuuuuys, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but…

“TOOT TOOT, motherfuckers!!!!” I’ll yell, joyfully making that arm motion that kids who are trying to get truckers to honk make in the backseats of their cars while their parents are driving.

My co-workers will usually sigh and roll their eyes until one of them reluctantly gives in and says, “What?”

And I’ll gasp in shock and disappointment that they don’t know what I’ve done so right today, and I’ll point to the clock.  “Um, HELLO?!”

And one of them will shake his or her head slowly and look down to pretend to inspect his/her nails, bored.  “Yeah.  You’re right on time.  Barely.”

And I’ll puff out my chest in pride and smile again, nod, and say, “Yeah.  That’s what I was referring to.”

The other morning, I was ready to leave the house five minutes early, which actually meant I would have been at work just in time for the morning meeting—without having to rely on the presence of all green lights and only NASCAR drivers in front of me.  I was all excited and started practicing my horn tooting motion. 

I stepped out of my bedroom and called out, “Boys!  It’s time to go!  And I don’t even have to shove you roughly out of the front door today.  We can walk in a totally orderly, leisurely fashion because—"

And that’s when I saw it:  My younger son, shoes slipped off and resting next to him on the floor as he played with Legos in his bedroom.

The shoe part—that’s the part of the story where you can tell the parents from the non-parents. Because as I’m telling the story, the parents will literally gasp.  He’d TAKEN HIS SHOES OFF when you were in a hurry??

I squatted down to my son’s level.  “What the—what the hell are you doing?” I whispered.  I felt my chin begin to quiver.  “We have to go to school!”

My son looked up at me, eyes wide in feigned innocence. “I’m playing Legos.”

“But—"  I looked around wildly for a clock in his room, knowing it was futile because there wasn’t one.  A single tear slipped out of the corner of my right eye and slid down my face, taking my dream of being at work on time for one day of my life with it as it splashed to the floor. 

I rocked back on my heels and sat down, defeated.  “But you took your shoes off…and now I have to put them back on and it’s been at least 2 minutes and I’ll never be on time now…” I trailed off as my son looked at me quizzically. 

I think he understood that he was watching me go crazy—the really scary, quiet kind of crazy where the person simply learns to accept her own demise—in real time.

But he didn’t care.  “Hey,” he protested as I slipped his shoes on.  “I want to build Legos!”

“Too bad,” I sighed, heaving as I stood and threw him over my shoulder. I trudged down the hallway to get his brother. “We have to get to school and work.”

“You’re MEAN,” he said, pounding me on the back one time.

“Uh-huh,” I agreed, following his older brother down the stairs to the front door.  There was no need to hurry anymore, no need to make excuses.  I had finally accepted my fate:  I was simply always going to be late.

“I don’t—" he started, and then reconsidered his words so that they could make greater impact.  He looked over my shoulder at his brother.  “I mean, Bubba and I don’t love you anymore.  Right, Bubba?”

My older son shrugged.

“That’s okay,” I said, locking the front door behind us.  “Daddy still loves me.”

“Then we will make Daddy not love you, too,” my younger son said without missing a beat.

And somehow, that last comment made it all worthwhile. I caught my older son’s eye as he buckled himself into his booster seat, and we cracked up so hard that we got tears in our eyes.  My younger son, having been flipped back over my shoulder and buckled into his car seat, started laughing, too, proud of himself.

Spiteful little bastard.  Hilarious, though.

We repeated the line all the way to school, laughing the whole time.

And guess what—I got to my meeting on time, anyway.

To the dismay of my co-workers, I got to use my TOOT TOOT! motion after all.  That day, it sounded more like, “TOOT TOOOOOOOOOOOOOT, motherfuckers!!!”

I was so enthusiastic about the whole thing, in fact, that I’m surprised I didn’t rip my shoulder out of its socket.

I’m glad I practiced.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Home on Leave

So apparently exclaiming to your little sister’s date, “Holy SHIT you’re hot!  If she doesn’t have sex with you tonight, I definitely will!” the moment you meet him is in poor taste.

It’s funny how you no matter how old you get, you just keep on learning things, no?  Here I am, 38 years old, and I just learned a new lesson in couth.

My husband was sitting at the crowded table right next to me when the exchange occurred.  Witnesses later said that he started laughing, shook his head, and said, “Do you guys see what I have to put up with?”

“Please,” I responded, taking another sip of my rum and coke as I gave him a sidelong glance.  “You have nothing to worry about. Everybody knows that hottie won’t make out with me.”

“Oh, but if he would…” my husband challenged.

If he would…you’d better watch out,” I responded, turning in my chair so that I could fully and defiantly meet my husband’s eye.  “Broken family, here we come,” I managed to sputter just before we both burst into giggles.

The hottie in question stood off to the side of the table, watching us curiously. “I’m right here,” he said.

“And you’re going home,” my little sister said, ushering him out of the bar.  (I think she might have been afraid of what I would say next?)  Later, my sister-in-law asked my younger sister how long the new date had lasted at the bar.

“Um, I don’t know…like an hour?” my little sister said.

“Enough time to have been exposed,” my sister-in-law replied with certainty.

“Been exposed to what?”

“Drunk Shay.  If he can handle her, he can handle any crazy shit your family throws at him. She was the straw that almost broke the camel’s back with me…but then your brother broke up with me first.”

Too bad, too. Because regardless of how much she teases me, she actually handled drunk me really well—and not only that, but she rivaled me in my drunken stupidity, and I loved her for it.  Still do.

My sister’s date did, in fact, call her the next morning, so I guess that means he passed the test or she passed the test or whatever (I personally think it means he wants to take me up on my offer, but admittedly that could be wishful thinking), because they’re seeing each other again soon.  I told my little sister that there was no need for her to thank me or praise me for my services; she’s welc.

The next morning, the true culprit of my behavior was revealed (because it’s never my own fault, right?) when my husband took our bar tab out of his wallet.  “Forty-five dollars,” he reported with a sad little shake of his head.  He looked at me.  “You had 5 rum and cokes.”

“Is that all?” I asked, trying to rub the headache out of the back of my head before it spread down my neck.  “My head feels like it was a lot more than that.”

I wanted to point out that they served them in really small cups—like goddamned Dixie bathroom rinser cups that, full of ice, could be sucked down in two sips with one of those teensy mixing straws, which you can be sure I had complained to the server about the night before (“Light ice.  I said LIGHT ICE!”)—but I didn’t want to talk anymore in case the action made my headache, which had begun to recede with the help of 4 Advil, come back.

As with most things, I also blame my younger brother.

He was home on leave for two weeks from Germany, where he’s been stationed with the Army for the past several years.  And really, I love my brother and all, but he’s a total douchebag and some days I think I love him just because my dad makes me.  I always make the trip home to see him, but mostly it’s for the excuse to kick back with my siblings for an evening while Grandma and Grandpa watch all of our kids.

My brother and I always agree that it’s best to keep our visits with one another to no more than one full day.  “We get into huge fights if we’re together for more than 24 consecutive hours,” he said this past weekend.

He’s right.  We’ve even gotten into fights on other continents.  It’s hard to limit your visit to one day if you’ve traveled all that way, you see, so there wasn’t a whole lot we could’ve done about that knockdown-drag out in Australia that one year.  Oops.

“Because you’re an asshole,” I reasoned.

“You’re probably right,” he replied, nodding his head.  “In any case, let’s keep it to Saturday night.  Are you planning to head home Sunday?”

“Sure,” I agreed amicably. 

So that’s what we did.

We had a blast, and afterwards and everyone came back to my dad’s house, stumbled out of cabs, and fell onto various air mattresses that had been aired up before we left.  The kids were all safe, snuggled into bedrooms with Grandma and Grandpa.

The only person who didn’t have a place to sleep was my little brother’s best friend, who lives a couple of hours away and whom we hadn’t counted on coming. Last we heard, he had to put in a few extra hours for work Saturday afternoon and wouldn’t be able to make it out to meet us.  When he arrived at the bar, it was a completely unexpected but happy surprise.

I heard him rambling around Dad’s house Sunday morning before the rest of us were roused from our fitful, hungover sleep.  My dad was already up brewing coffee, frying bacon, and catching up on his reading before hitting Sunday Mass.  My brother’s best friend, Jack, surprised him when he came up the stairs from the basement.

“Oh, hey, Jack,” Dad said pleasantly.  “Have a seat at the table. I didn’t realize you’d stayed here last night.  Do you want some bacon?  Coffee?  Where’d you sleep, by the way?”

I heard Dad rustling around the kitchen, grabbing a plate and other items so that Jack could make a plate.  When Jack replied, “Oh, on that old futon downstairs,” I heard an almost indiscernible pause in the gathering of silverware by my dad.

Holy shit, I thought.

“Oh, yeah?” my dad asked, doing a really great job of disguising the horror in his voice.  If I hadn’t known the story, I wouldn’t have detected it myself.  “Was it comfortable?  Did you get a good night’s sleep?”

“As good as any after the amount of beers we had last night, I guess!” Jack chuckled.

Dad joined him in his chuckling, but I could tell it was dry, forced.  “Ha. Ha. Ha.  Well, good then.  Good.  Here you go, son, eat up.”

I opened one eye from the couch and caught my Dad’s uneasy glance at me.  I grimaced to show that I understood, then I closed my eye again. 

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

My dad was holding the futon for my niece, a 23-year-old nomad who was currently on her way to L.A. to make a go at the music industry.

“I don’t have room for this futon in my car, Grandpa,” she’d told him a few weeks prior, “but I can’t stand to throw it out.  My ex-boyfriend—you know the one who committed suicide?  He used to love this futon.  He would fall asleep and drool on it all the time, and some of his dried spittle is still on it.  See?” she’d said, pointing earnestly at a white spot on the couch.

My dad was horrified, but what, he asked me later, could he do? 

“Sure, sweetie,” he said hesitantly, not sure how the hell a person was supposed to react to such a request. With enthusiasm, to show he was excited to help his sweet grandchild no matter what she needed?  With his eyes cast down to the side to show that he was sorry for her loss? He tried a mixture of both when he responded. “Of course I’ll keep it for you.”

“Thanks,” she’d responded gratefully.  “And don’t worry about the fleas.  I had several infestations in my apartment due to my love of taking in strays…but this baby was there every single one of the 17 times I had my apartment flea-bombed.” She plopped herself right into the middle of it.  “So I’m sure it’s totally clean!”  Here, she smacked at her thigh.  “Well, maybe not totally…”

When my dad told me the story later, I swore I was not going to come and visit his house until that thing was gone.  He told me he felt too guilty to get rid of it, so I suggested setting the entire house on fire and just starting over. He refused, so I compromised and told him that until it’s gone, my kids and the other grandkids were not allowed to play in the basement—formerly the playroom—at his house.

It sometimes makes for boring visits to Grandpa’s, but until he grows a pair and tells my niece to get the futon the fuck out of there, it’s just the way it’s going to have to be.

I left an anonymous note in Jack’s coat pocket before he left:  Flea drops are sold at Wal-Mart for less than $5. Get yourself some and apply generously to the back of your neck. And then burn this note…and the outfit you had on when you slept on that futon.

And then, per my agreement with my brother, I got the fuck out of dodge.

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty successful visit.

Not for Jack, though. Because I’m not actually sure if flea drops work on humans.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Precious Time with Family

I spent a ton of time at my in-laws’ house over the holidays, and while sometimes this can be taxing, I do always love going there during time off from my own little family’s very busy schedule. 

First off, I finally took my husband’s older brother’s advice to heart several years ago.  He had told me, “You have to have really thick skin to hang out with our family.  I remember this one girlfriend that I had who actually started crying and ran out of the house screaming, ‘You’re all so mean! I’m NEVER coming back here!’  We thought she was kidding until we heard her start up her car, and when we looked out the window, she was peeling out, kicking up dust behind her.”  He chuckled a bit as he allowed himself a moment to relive the fond memory, then he shook his head, shrugged, and focused his eyes on me.  “She just couldn’t hack it.  Can you?”

I took it as a personal challenge, and I think we’ve all figured out by now that although I’m much more of a lover by nature, I can be as big of an asshole as I need to be in order to avoid being torn to shreds while hanging out with my husband's family.  I actually have a pretty good time bantering with them, and if I ever do get sick of it, I just get in my car and leave because guess what?  I’m an adult and I can.

I also enjoy going because my boys love it there (Kids are off-limits from the torment of the thick-skinned adults; in fact, you’ve hardly met a family of people who loves kids more) and are constantly entertained by their equally rambunctious cousins who live in an adjacent house on the farm.  That leaves a ton of time for me to, after I help with whatever needs to be done around the house, enjoy a nice run on the gorgeous, flat land of the farm (another reason I like going) and then shower and sit back with a cup of coffee and a string of good books. I always pack extra, since we usually end up staying longer than we had originally planned.

The problem is, my in-laws think that things like reading and running—and generally anything that improves a person in some way, shape, or form—are a waste of time.  And so I get sneered at when I indulge in these things on my leisurely visits there when I should be doing something more productive like smoking a cigarette and eating potato salad while watching a soap opera on TV. 

I used to pack my laptop and little Harriet the Spy writing notebook so that I could crank out some short stories or put a little time in on one of my various novels when we visited, but that all stopped about 5 years ago when my husband walked in on me in the back bedroom.  The lights were off and the entire room was dark except for the glow from the computer, reflected off of my face as I hunched over on the bed, feverishly pounding out words before I got caught. 

When he walked in, I physically jumped.

“Holy shit,” he muttered.  “What the hell are you doing, watching porn?”

“YES!” I said a little too quickly, trying to angle my computer screen away from him so that he couldn’t see that I was actually—GASP—writing in his parents’ house. “Some really dirty bestiality shit.  Horses and pigs and turkeys and…oh, honey, I’m so ashamed.”

Somehow I managed to squeeze a couple of fake tears out of the corner of my eye, but my husband had already figured out that I was lying to him.  Or maybe he was just curious about the bestiality, because he came over and peered at my computer screen.

“You are not looking at bestiality,” he laughed.  “You’re just writing a story!”

My eyes got wide as I placed a trembling finger to my lips.  “SHHHHHH!  They’ll HEAR YOU!” I whisper-screamed.

After that incident (which we’ve since deemed Bestialitygate) my husband and I decided that it wasn’t healthy for me to bring the laptop along anymore since I was shit-my-pants scared that my ridiculous writing hobby would be found out. 

I’m really not sure what will happen when I actually get a book published.  I’ll probably be disowned.

“Tsk, tsk,” my mother-in-law will say to one of the other farmers’ wives.  “You know she went and made her dreams come true by writing a book—“ here, a disgusted grimace as she spits sideways onto the gravel driveway—“that they said was actually good enough to publish.”  She’ll shake her head sadly and look to the ground before raising her eyes to meet the other woman’s defiantly.  “You know she’s only related by marriage, right?”

My husband fully supports my writing, but still, we decided that in order to avoid ridicule and conflict with his family when we visit, maybe I should stick to the lesser of the evils.  So, running and reading it is.

Oh—and I do a lot of eating, too.  Because damn, food’s really good there.

A couple of weeks ago, I was coming in from an awesome 6-miler in the brisk winter air.  I walked past my sister-in-law, who was smoking a cigarette on the front porch.  “Going kind of slow, weren’t you fatty?” she asked.

It looked like she was going to flick her ciggie right at me, so I involuntarily flinched, causing her to throw her head back and roar with laughter. 

It was the first smile I’d seen grace her face all week.

I ignored her (I’ve found that sometimes it’s the best way) and pulled open the door to enter the house, where the next person I encountered was my mother-in-law.  I’m pretty sure she’d been standing at the front door, all coiled up with pride at the dagger she was about to deliver, so she could catch me on my way in. 

She looked at me through narrowed eyes. “Do you just run so that you can come back here and eat twice as much?” she asked.  “I haven’t seen you take your face out of that pan of chicken for 2 days.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Well, make something different and maybe I’ll come up for air. In the meantime,” I said, dropping my sweatband and gloves onto the bench in the entryway and crossing the room to the fridge, “I’ll be facedown in said vat of fried chicken if you need me.”

Which is exactly where I was, until somebody made a huge pot of chicken and dumplings, which everybody knows are my absolute favorite.

See? They do love me.

Unless they just did it to shut me up, because if that was their strategy, it totally worked.  I ran another 6 the next day and then spent the rest of the evening at the kitchen table snarfing dumplings straight out of the pot.

I did take a break from chewing once, when, in a moment of soft-hearted weakness, my mother-in-law pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge.  “You want to have a glass with me, Shay?” she asked.

I eyed her suspiciously.  Where the hell was all of this…this kindness coming from?  

I didn’t have to wonder long.  Because as she started to unscrew the cap (Corkscrew?  Ha!  Not necessary.  We’re pretty fancy ‘round these parts, peeps.  Our bottles of wine come from Aldi and normally cost around $1.97), I noticed that the bottle was half empty. And my mother-in-law isn’t much of a drinker, so half-empty bottles of wine aren’t just found around the house.  (When I come over, I bring my own shit with me and I drink the whole bottle.)

“Wait,” I said, pausing with my arm frozen halfway to the cupboard where the wine glasses are kept.  “Is that the bottle you bought, like, 3 years ago?”

I remembered the visit.  My younger son had been a year old at the time, and my husband had been out of town for work for several weeks. My mother-in-law had felt like I needed a break (sometimes she can be simply awesome) and had invited me to stay for the weekend.  She’d bought me wine, but I’d been too tired to drink more than a glass or two.

“Yeah,” she said, snapping me back to reality.  “I’m sick of it taking up room in my fridge, so drink it or I’m throwing it away.”

I shrugged and retrieved a wine glass from the cupboard.  “Okay,” I said, unsure.  “But it’s so damned old and it’s been open for so long that I’m afraid…well, I might die if I drink it.”

“Then drink it quickly,” piped up my brother-in-law (the one who’s married to my husband’s younger sister) from the living room.

I felt my jaw drop into a wide grin of mad respect. That asshole mutters about ten words per year, and he’d just used four of them up on me.

I drank the wine.  And I didn’t even die.

So they can all #suckit.

I’d say all in all, it was a pretty good visit.