I’ve talked before about my many years as a middle school English teacher, and although I’m no longer a regular classroom teacher, it’s not because I didn’t love it. I did. I loved it so much. I only moved on because, well, life. And other opportunities that were too awesome to pass up.
But I could see myself going back to it someday. People used to always compliment me on how great I was with the kids, and I would say, “Um, it’s because I have the personality of a 12-year-old boy. We have a blast in the classroom together. It’s hard for me to teach Mad Libs because I laugh when they use ‘balls,’ too. And don’t even get me started on ‘nuts.’ But don’t worry; they’re still learning a shit-ton because I’m a huge grammatical asshole.”
I was usually talking to the parents of the kids I was teaching when I gave explanations like the one above. And yet, somehow they still loved me. I’ve never figured it out, but dammit, I’ll take it.
One of my absolute favorite stories from my time in the field happened on my very first day of teaching when I was just out of college, a fresh-faced, 22-year-old bottle blonde who acted as if she had balls of steel because she was scared shitless. Middle schoolers can be a tough crowd, you know, and I hadn’t yet learned that I had an easy knack with them and things would go really, really smoothly for the next several years. (Now I’m just bragging. Insert imaginary hair flip... “Who, me? The best teacher in the world? You shouldn’t have…”)
It was 6th hour, and if you haven’t experienced a school day in many years, believe me when I say that 6th hour is the dreaded hour. A healthy lunch of breaded chicken patties and curly fries has just settled all the way in the body, and kids are trying desperately not to fart it off while they’re also trying to just stay awake. Everybody’s tired and nobody wants to be there. (Here’s where I have to insert a strong opinion. Teachers: TAKE THEM OUT TO RECESS for 10 minutes when you and/or they start to feel this way. I don’t care how old they are. They still need it.)
All of the shine and sparkle of the first day of school had, by this hour of the day, totally worn off. It was hot, hair was wilting, pits were sweating and many of them hadn’t yet realized that it was TIME to start wearing deodorant (Don’t worry, I fixed that later in the year when I walked into the room and said, “Holy MOLY you guys need to start wearing deodorant. ALL of you,” and they did), it stank, and nobody had time—or patience—for fucking adjectives.
But still, we had to suck it up and plow through the rest of the day.
I began calling roll, not just to make sure everyone was there, but also to begin getting familiar with names and faces. Toward the end of my list, I saw this name:
“SHAT-ika?” I said, looking around the room. I expected a quick raise of the hand, a “Here!”…something. But I got nothing.
“SHAT-ika?” I said again, now with a little eyebrow raise that I really hoped conveyed a “Don’t fuck with me" vibe but was probably totally off.
Still, nobody said anything.
I sighed. “SHAT-ika?” I repeated once more, thinking, what the hell am I going to do if they do start fucking with me? Can I give a detention for not raising your hand when I call your name? Because all of the seats were full and I knew nobody was absent.
I started noticing little twitters around the room, kids giving each other tentative glances, but I could also feel that they weren’t being disrespectful. They weren’t making fun of me. So what gave?
In the back of the room, I saw two boys glancing at each other with knowing looks and a girl shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “Do you guys know where SHAT-ika is?” I asked gently.
The girl’s head was kind of down; I could see that she didn’t want any extra attention drawn to her, so I decided to drop it and figure it out later. I placed an “A” for absent by Shatika’s name, and just as I was getting ready to call the next one, I heard a voice from the back of the room. It was one of the boys I had noticed earlier.
“Um, did you maybe mean Sha-TEE-ka?”
ShaTEEka. Of course. Even now, so many years later, I cannot believe how badly I fucked that one up. It’s so obvious when a person looks at it—I blame it on the nerves of the first day.
All of the kids started laughing, even Shatika, and she gave me an understanding smile. She forgave my gaff and ended up being one of my all-time favorite students. (Yes, we have them, and don’t let any teacher tell you otherwise or she’s a lying whore.)
Shatika and I still keep in touch.
She sent me this video a couple of weeks ago with the message, “All in fun, Miss T!” She still calls me by my maiden name, and it makes me feel young.
Love that girl.
I can’t stop laughing at this video. I swear I cry every time I watch it. I love when my former students have grown up and totally get my sense of humor. Enjoy, and happy back-to-school!
Thursday, July 28, 2016
When I was growing up, we had an open-door policy at our house, meaning that during the day, our front door was always open, and we never expected our neighborhood buddies to knock.
We had a house full of neighborhood hoodlums at all times, and, mixed with the five of us, it was enough to drive any parent crazy.
Which, actually, we kind of did. My mom succumbed to a few rough years on the bottle and stepping out with gentlemen callers who most certainly weren’t my dad—but don’t worry, she’s all better now. And all’s well that ends well, right?
Anyhoo, the open-door policy was awesome and really worked out for everyone. Well, except for that one time when my childhood best friend, the boy that I grew up with who lived next door, walked in on my mom, who was walking down the hall naked because she had forgotten her towel after her shower and for some strange reason, our towel/linen closet was in the hallway.
None of us kids were even home, so not only was it an otherwise fruitless visit for the kid, but there was also no one there to share in his misery, the poor thing. He didn’t come over again for several days after that, and really, I’m not sure he was ever the same.
But I digress.
I realized once, in high school, that I had never even seen the inside of my childhood best friend’s house until we were 16 years old and he’d figured out that his downstairs rec room had one of those suspended ceilings that was the perfect hiding place for liquor bottles. I wasn’t even a big drinker back then—in fact, I wasn’t a drinker at all—but there was something exciting about standing on a stool, moving aside a piece of the ceiling, and shoving a liquor bottle inside. I almost felt…dirty.
To this day, I still have no idea how I had such cool friends when I would sit on the couch, watching them take shots with a prim look on my face, making sure they saw me as I did the Sign of the Cross over their liquor-filled faces.
But even then, I was still the one with the fun house. After they’d had fun taking their shots, we’d head back to my house and sit on the porch or back deck to hang out, our parents none the wiser.
What I’m trying to say in this roundabout way is that, as a mother now, I want my house to be the neighborhood fun house (minus the nakedness and the underage drinking, of course). I have so many good memories from living in the house that everyone wanted to come to growing up that I want to give that to my own kids.
I’m going to be the cool, fully-clothed neighborhood mom.
My husband usually enjoys having the ‘hood kids over, too, but there are times when I can tell he just wants a quiet evening at home. I always remind him on those days that if the neighborhood kids are over entertaining our own kids, that’s less work for us. They usually only leave the playroom or the backyard to come and ask us for a few chicken nuggets and some Capri Suns—and you know what? I’ve gotten so efficient at this whole thing that I now have them at the ready.
“Of course, sweetie!” I’ll call to whomever it is—my own kids or a neighborhood stray—in my best June Cleaver from behind my computer. “It’s all on the table!”
The kids thank me, the neighborhood moms thank me (and feel like they owe me big time, even though it seriously makes my life easier), and I get some work done while feeling like pretty much the best mom in the world.
The point of all of this (I mean, there is one…kind of) is that it’s summertime now, and in a house with an open-door policy, that means lots of sleepovers with friends.
My older son had a little friend for a sleepover the other night, and the next morning, I spent about 10 minutes picking blueberries out of his blueberry pancake so that the gagging would stop. (He prefers plain pancakes, you see, but I didn't have any because I bought them frozen like this.)
I had to stop myself from curtsying and asking, "Is everything to your liking now, sire?" before adding a dollop of syrup and shuffling out of the room backwards.
But at least I had my clothes on, dammit. And the kids had fun.
Neighborhood domination, one blueberry at a time? CHECK
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Before my husband and I learned that family vacations suck a bunch of balls because I come from a family that likes to drink a lot and then fight, we used to go on them annually. This is what happened a couple of years ago:
The first day of our extended family vacation included a 7-hour drive to get to our beach destination, followed by a 1-2 hour wait with all of our various 6 small, rambunctious children in the lobby of the hotel as the staff, who were “a little behind,” hurried to finish readying our rooms for check-in. I think they were rushing more for themselves than they were for us; our crazy kids, working as a sort of welcome wagon on crack as soon as unassuming potential customers walked into the sliding glass doors of the hotel, were surely driving away business.
My older sister was seething; she loves the beach and didn’t want to waste a moment of our trip anywhere but there. I, on the other hand, enjoy any moment that my kids are occupied by someone else, and during the long wait for our rooms, they were having fun fighting with their cousins over who got to ride and who got to push the luggage rack around the chairs in the room.
So my own wait for my room was spent sitting on my fat ass (even though I had just sat on it for 7 hours in the car), enjoying a complimentary bag of popcorn and cup of coffee, scrolling through Facebook on my phone after getting the hotel’s wifi password. I did have to look up once when there was a fight between the small cousins at the luggage rack, but I nodded with satisfaction when I saw that one of my sons had won. No need to get involved, then. Back to status updates.
When the rooms were finally ready and we had unloaded our luggage, changing into our swimsuits and keeping only the things we would need for the beach, we hopped into our cars and caravanned toward the sand, which was about 25 minutes away.
We arrived at about 5:45 PM, my husband and I first in line. We were stopped by a 16-year-old in a small brick building. I rolled down the driver’s side window.
“Are you residents of the state?” he asked.
“Why? Is it cheaper for those who are?” I replied.
“Do you check ID’s if we say we are?”
“Well, then, no,” I admitted reluctantly.
“Ten dollars,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Ten dollars! That’s double what state residents pay—I just saw it on a sign!”
“Yep,” he replied.
“Little shit,” I muttered under my breath, accepting a $20 bill from my husband and handing it to the kid.
But all was rectified when he handed me my change…$40! I stayed cool and accepted it, only widening my eyes when I turned to hand it to my husband, who was in charge of keeping our cash safe for this trip.
My husband, amazed, held the $40 in his hand for a few seconds while I sat there, jaw dropped, staring at it and enjoying the moment. Then we both snapped to at the same time. “Holy shit,” my husband whispered without moving his mouth. “Drive.”
Judge me if you must, peeps, but here’s how I look at it: I choose to visit public places that charge a fee to get in, and I choose to shop at big companies that are convenient for me, and I choose to pay the prices that they ask. But when the mistake is on them? I don’t mind benefitting. I’ll bet you, in fact, that I need the money more than they do. (Is that how common-law criminals justify their actions, too? Hmmm…)
If it makes you guys feel any better, I did say, “I hope he doesn’t lose his job,” as my husband stuffed the 20’s back into his wallet and I pressed down on the gas pedal.
See? I have a good heart.
We all parked our cars and began the long, arduous task of unloading beach chairs, towels, sand buckets and toys, snacks, bags of sunscreen and bug spray, iPhones for music and posting braggy beach pictures on Facebook, children, and, most importantly, coolers full of illegal beer. We’d heard that it wasn’t allowed but that if you weren’t flamboyant about it, swinging bottles in the air, they didn’t really care, so we were going to take our chances.
As we tripped down the boardwalk, adjusting coolers and chairs and bags that we were banging us in the knees, sweating with the exertion of it all, my husband and I made sure to brag loudly to everyone.
“Guess how much change we got back from the $20 we gave the guy at the entrance?” I asked my little sister.
“Oh, I don’t know, $10?” she answered, and I knew she was proud that she got the answer right since she’s kind of stupid.
“Nope!” I laughed. “Try FORTY BUCKS, dude!”
My little sister furrowed her brow in concentration. I could see that her little brain wheels were spinning, and she was mad at herself for not remembering that 20-10=40.
“He gave us too much back,” I said to her.
Her eyes lit up with understanding. Then she frowned. “And you didn’t give it back?” she asked, all self-righteous.
“Hell, no,” I responded. “We stepped on the gas and reveled in our good fortune!”
With all of the things weighing us down and the children staggering next to us picking at shells and rocks, it took us a good 15 minutes to walk the length of the boardwalk and find a good spot to plant ourselves on the shore.
The entire way down, my husband and I bragged about our $40.
“LOSERS!” I kept shouting breathlessly as I juggled the chairs and sand toys in my left hand and our beach bag and younger child in my right. “You pay to go to the beach? HA. We’re so awesome that we get paid to go to the beach.”
Everyone was always either too annoyed or too out of breath to respond, which I understood, because with the amount of energy I was using to carry shit, I hardly had any left to speak. But I kept at it, because it was fun.
“We should teach classes on being awesome to you fools,” my husband said at one point. We both burst into juvenile giggles, nudging our kids so they’d join us, too.
When we finally reached a spot that my older sister deemed acceptable, we threw down our stuff. After the very long day of travel we’d just had and the long, sweaty, cumbersome walk to the shore, all we wanted to do was get into the cool, refreshing ocean.
We were pulling cover-ups and t-shirts over our heads at the edge of the water when we heard a booming voice over the loudspeaker: “ATTENTION, VISITORS. THE WATER IS NOW CLOSED. THE WATER IS CLOSED. MAKE YOUR WAY BACK TO SHORE, BECAUSE THE WATER IS NOW CLOSED.”
My younger brother-in-law looked at me. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked, his shirt halfway over his head.
“I guess I shouldn’t have made that joke about Wally World,” I said, feeling guilty. If only I’d known how prophetic it would turn out to be when I’d said, “Watch us get all the way there and the beach’ll be closed. I wonder if there’s a moose Dad will be able to punch.”
We came to find out from a few locals, however, that the lifeguards had to make that announcement because they were going off-duty and heading home. Once they were gone, nobody cared if people swam or not—you simply did it at your own risk.
Which we did. We had a blast that first evening, swimming, having a few drinks, listening to music, and just generally enjoying each other’s company for a couple of hours until it began to get dark.
That’s when the first signs of my conscience crept in, and as we were packing up to go, I said to my husband, “Seriously, what if that kid loses his job because he gave us back too much change? Maybe we should tape the extra money with a note on the window explaining things so that he doesn’t get into trouble.” My husband agreed, and that’s what we did. We both felt a whole lot better about the entire situation.
Okay, that last paragraph was a total lie. It didn’t happen. I just made it up to make myself look better on this blog.
What really happened was this: I said to my husband, “Seriously, you don’t think that kid will lose his job for giving us way too much change, do you? Because I used to work in retail, and if the drawer was off, meaning the money left didn’t match what the transaction report said, the checker would get into trouble.”
Then I pondered the issue for a second. “Then again, the drawer had to be off, like, 5 times before they’d fire someone. In which case, either the person really was stealing or he was totally incompetent—and in either case, he should get fired. And if that happens here because of our extra change, then the state should actually thank us. We’re saving them a lot of money on that kid’s future mistakes.”
Now I was on a roll. “You know, I think it’s our civic duty to keep this money. It would be irresponsible to let it continue happening. The taxpayers would probably have to make up for it, and that goes against everything we believe in as fiscal conservatives.”
My eyes were shining; I had the most distinct feeling that I should go into politics, maybe someday running for President on the "Extra Change" platform. But then, my husband burst my bubble with just 5 small words:
“I handed him a fifty.”
I stopped short and looked at him. “Wait—what?”
“I didn’t realize that I’d handed him a fifty, but when I looked in my wallet, the one I had was gone, so obviously that’s what happened.”
“SHIT!” I said. “DAMMIT!” All of my dreams of the Oval Office went straight down the toilet, along with our “extra” $40. And then I had another thought. I leaned toward my husband and whispered harshly. “You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”
As soon as the words had left my mouth, one of my brothers-in-law sauntered by, his half-empty cooler sloshing with ice as he lugged it back toward his car. “Hey you guys,” he called snidely. “What time do the awesome classes start? And when I pay you, will I get the exact amount of correct change, just like you guys did today?”
All of my family members started laughing, and there were a couple of calls of “dumbasses” from somewhere ahead of us.
“So you told them, then,” I said to my husband. It came in the form of a defeated statement as opposed to a question.
He shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
“So the signup sheet for awesome classes that we were going to have the boys draw up and hang on everyone’s doors tonight while they were sleeping won’t be necessary?” I asked, grasping at straws.
My husband shook his head firmly. “No signup sheet.”
I sighed, accepting defeat, and trudged the rest of the way to the car.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
...and thank God, because Lord knows I didn't need another morning like this...although in our family, we laugh about these kinds of days. Because really, what else can you do? The kids are still teasing me about the laundry basket...
A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those mornings.
You know the kind.
The kids and I were supposed to be out of the house by 7:34:35 AM to avoid being seriously late, and it was getting precariously close. I looked up at the digital clock on the stove just as it clicked over to 7:33.
I was putting another of my customary breakfast sandwiches that I eat on the way to work—a Special K frozen sausage, egg, and cheese on flatbread—into the microwave because my younger son had asked for the first one I’d made. Although I’d already made him a bowl of cereal, I’m a sucker for mommy guilt, especially being a full-time working mom.
“Are you sure you’ll eat it?” I’d asked him, hesitating before I unwrapped the crinkly paper that it comes in to pop it into the microwave.
“Yes,” my son answered. “I’m really hungry.”
“Okay, because I don’t want to waste it…” I’d explained. There are only 4 in a package and those little bastard sandwiches cost like 5 bucks a box.
“I want it, Mommy,” my son replied.
“You’re sure?” I said again.
“I want it, Mommy,” he repeated, and this time he gave his belly a rub for emphasis. “I’m really hungry.”
So I was putting the second one in so that I’d have something to eat on the way to work (I’d rather be late than hungry, and I’m a sucker for a routine—wouldn’t my day be totally off if I didn’t eat my breakfast sandwich? Damn OCD), and these were the things I still had to do, due to the aforementioned OCD that everyone (my husband) has told me for the last 18 years that I should get on pills for, but I refuse because I’ve heard that you can’t drink while taking them and dammit a life without booze is not a life I want to live:
· Fill up my coffee cup, add cream and sugar, unplug the pot, move it to the opposite counter (just to be SURE that it’s unplugged!), and check 23 times that it’s actually unplugged, even though it’s all the way across the room from where it started
· Throw the kids’ lunches in their backpacks, grab my own lunch, fill up my water bottle (at least 12 cubes of ice)
· Check about 4 times (each room) to make sure all lights and ceiling fans are off
· Check about 4 times that the little night light above the stove is off (I mean, you hear all the time about hood lights bursting into flames and burning down houses…or not)
· Get the kids out the door while balancing everything precariously in my arms as I lock the door and jiggle it 17 times to make sure it’s locked
· Set a mental reminder to have my husband do the annual tightening-of-the-doorknobs because the one on the front door is getting loose (but HOW?)
Perhaps I should re-think the pill thing. I’m sure they make a brand that allows for a few drinks every now and then.
In any case, there was simply no way I was going to be on time that morning.
I didn’t need a mirror; I could feel the frenzied look on my face, the one that always causes my older son—a very mature 7—to step up and help his mama. It’s the same look, coincidentally, that causes my younger son to ponder and try out new ways to fuck with me.
I popped my breakfast sandwich into the microwave, hit 1-1-5, and turned to see my younger son, still at the table, give me a smile as he spooned another bite of Lucky Charms into his mouth.
“Hurry up, son,” I said. “You’ve got exactly one minute and 15 seconds to finish that cereal and at least some of that sandwich, and then we’re out the door.”
He shot his breakfast sandwich a disdainful glance and I could feel my blood pressure rise.
I had forgotten something in my bedroom, so I rushed to get it, feeling my straw-like golden mane (it’s funny because I kind of look like a horse) flying behind me. I knew my hair was going to be a little frizzy that day because beads of sweat were forming on my forehead and at my temple and that perspiration never fails to moisten the wisps of hair that fall around my face, causing it all to go to shit.
As I entered my bedroom, I caught a look at myself in the mirror over my dresser and realized that the shirt that I was wearing—the brand new flowy one that I had gotten at Wal-Mart for only 7.97—was see-through.
“Goddammit,” I muttered to myself, throwing open a drawer to find a tank top that I could slip on under it. “It’s simply impossible to find quality shit at Wal-Mart for $7.97 anymore.”
I changed quickly, grabbed what I’d forgotten, and then walked into the kitchen, where my son was still giving the evil eye to his breakfast sandwich.
“Oh, no,” I said, “we’re not starting that. You begged for the breakfast sandwich. You had to have the breakfast sandwich. Mommy asked three times if you were sure that you wanted the breakfast sandwich. You’re eating that breakfast sandwich!” I heard my voice go shrill at the end, and I wondered if the more I said “breakfast sandwich,” the less of an effect that it had. Because my son wasn’t even lifting a finger to touch the breakfast sandwich. And it was pissing me off.
Speaking of breakfast sandwiches—
I smelled something burning.
I hurried to the microwave to check on the second breakfast sandwich, the one that I had popped in for myself. The microwave display showed that my sandwich still had 9 minutes and 3 seconds to cook.
9 minutes and 3 seconds…what the hell?
I hurriedly jabbed at buttons on the microwave to shut the thing off. “What did I push?” I asked myself. “What did I push?”
I could’ve sworn that I had only hit 1-1-5, but there were the crispy edges of my sausage staring up at me from the plate, telling me differently.
“I can save it,” I said with all the confidence of an Emergency Medical Tech performing CPR. “I can save this sandwich.” I pulled the paper towel—brown because it was burnt, too—off of the sandwich, watching as bits of it remained stuck to the bottom as I pulled. I reassured myself with a shrug. It had happened before; I could eat a little bit of paper towel. It almost had the same consistency of the flatbread, anyway.
“Sorry, Mommy,” I heard my younger son say, and I could tell from the way he said it, the way his voice rose and fell in the middle of the word “sorry,” that it was one of those preemptive sorries. I looked over my shoulder at the table, where I watched him give a nonchalant shrug as he rose from the table and walked out of the kitchen. “But I don’t want this breakfast sandwich.”
I wasn’t sure if the room actually turned red or if it was the angry blood that was pooling in my eyes as I glanced down at my poor burned breakfast sandwich that never would have even been an issue—a crispy issue that, on top of it all, was making me at least 1 minute and 15 seconds later for work—had my son not begged, pleaded, and insisted that he needed my first breakfast sandwich.
I took a deep breath. “Get back in here and eat a few bites of that breakfast sandwich,” I said. My voice was calm—so eerily calm, in fact, that my older son, who has had an extra 3 years to learn to recognize the signs pointing to his mom on the brink of crazy, stepped slowly around the corner and into the kitchen.
“Do you need anything, Mom?” he asked me sweetly.
“Just your younger brother’s head on a silver platter,” I replied, opening the utensil drawer and retrieving a butter knife. I held it out to him. “Can you do that for me?”
Okay, that last part with the butter knife and the head-on-the-silver-platter request didn’t actually happen. I made it up. Holy shit, you guys, I didn’t literally go crazy.
What I really did was smile at my older son, thank him for being so helpful, and then call out to his brother just as the clock clicked over to 7:36.
“Get in here, son, and eat a few bites of that breakfast sandwich,” I said again.
“NO!” my younger son yelled from the living room, where he had turned on an episode of Peppa Pig.
My older son sighed heavily and raised his eyebrows as he looked at me, shaking his head in a gesture that lamented kids these days.
“ONE,” I started. I had barely gotten the full number out of my mouth when I started the second one. "TWO!”
It came out in that guttural voice—the one of whose origins I’m not even sure, but it sounds like some otherworldly Hades shit bubbling out of my face and it clearly says I’m not fucking around. I'm not sure what would have happened had I gotten to three*, but I do know that with the tone I used, I even scared the shit out of myself, which is good because a flighty, "Come and eat your sandwich or I'll...okay, I'm not sure what I'll do but it'll be BAD!" probably wouldn't have been so effective.
Had my son not come running to the kitchen table and hurriedly taken a bite of the sandwich, I might have done it myself just to avoid my own sandwich wrath.
But my bluff worked. My boy sat and ate a bite.
“I normally wouldn’t be such a jerk about it, buddy,” I explained, softening. “But you insisted on that sandwich. I asked you three times if you were sure. And Mom’s in a hurry, and I’m not a short-order cook, and dammit, you’re eating at least some of that sandwich.”
My son nodded his head and took another small bite. I felt myself start to calm down until I looked up at the clock once again. 7:37.
I sighed and decided to call my boss and tell him I’d be a few minutes late. I picked up my phone but just as I began dialing, I heard my younger son let out a small yelp.
I turned in time to watch him spill the rest of the milk from his cereal bowl onto his pants.
And it wasn’t the kind of spill that could be swiped up with a damp paper towel.
Nope. This one would require a new pair of pants.
I set the phone down, trying to remain calm by reminding myself that one late day of work was no big deal in the grand scheme of things. I mean, I was just one small person in this world, living on this huge planet out in the middle of an infinite solar system surrounded by only-God-knows what else.
Then I started getting anxious about all of the mysteries of the universe and beyond, and I focused instead on finding a pair of uniform pants for my son in the basket of clean, unfolded laundry that had been sitting on the living room floor for the past three nights.
I think, if I’m recalling things clearly, that this was the point where I actually did lose it. Because as I sifted through the laundry basket, getting deeper and deeper, I came to the sinking realization that there were no other clean uniform pants. The ones he was currently wearing—the milk-stained pants— had been the last pair.
“DAMMIT!!!!” I yelled.
I swear I could feel my skin turn green and my leg muscles bulge out of my khaki capris, ripping them into a pair of shredded cutoff shorts as I morphed into the Hulk and began grabbing items of clothing one by one and throwing them into the playroom just off of the living room. When I’d gotten to the bottom and there were no clothes left to throw, I lifted the empty basket over my head and hurled it across the playroom, where it hit the wall with a tiny plastic thud and fell unsatisfyingly to the floor.
I didn’t cry. No, I didn’t cry, and as I looked at both of my boys, now standing next to one another, frozen with their mouths hanging open as they drank in the sight of their mother, I realized that it was because we all recognized something at the same time. We recognized—they from my look of wide-eyed hysteria, I from how it felt wearing the look of wide-eyed hysteria—that I was too busy teetering on the edge of insanity to cry. If I cried, I might just slip in.
And so, instead of crying, I sighed, looked at my boys, and delivered my defeated monologue on society.
“It’s not our fault, boys. It's not our fault. It’s society’s fault.”
I paused for a moment, letting the words sink in. I wanted them to gain as much as they could of the vast knowledge and wisdom I was planning to impart to them as I stood knee-deep in strewn-about clothes. “Society expects too much from people nowadays. We schedule every moment of our lives, packing in as much as we can from dawn to dusk, and still it’s never enough. And it starts at such a young age.”
I looked at my older son. “I mean, look at your brother—he’s only four years old, and he already knows how to write!” I said accusingly, extending an arm toward my four-year-old.
My older son and I turned to look at my younger son, standing pantsless in the middle of the living room, staring back at us with a look of confusion on his face. Was he supposed to be proud of himself for knowing how to write at such a young age, or should he go ahead and begin a lifelong journey of self-loathing that he would forever be able to trace back to this very moment—the moment when his mom pointed out that he could—GASP—write at the tender age of 4. THE NERVE!!
I stopped. “I’m sorry, pet,” I said to my younger son, walking to him so I could pat him on the head. “Good on your for knowing how to write. Good on you.” (I love British authors; I want to be one someday. Every once in a while I’ll slip into their dialect and act like I did it on accident.)
I was getting tired, and I hadn’t even begun my work day yet. Hell, I hadn’t even called my boss to let him know I was going to be late for my work day. I sighed again, once more turning to my boys in a final, desperate attempt to get them to understand.
“Look at me,” I said, emphasizing by pointing to myself. “I grew up in the days where moms got to sit at a card table in the kitchen with their sisters and watch soap operas, drink coffee, and smoke ciggies while playing pea knuckle all day. The only preschool I attended was Mother’s Morning Out one morning a week. I was basically illiterate until the 2nd grade—we all were back then—and look how well I turned out!”
The statement hung in the air for just a beat too long as we all took in my red, frazzled face, my wild hair and eyes…and the upturned laundry basket in the next room, surrounded by clothes all over the floor.
My older son moved a few steps toward me and patted me soothingly. “Sure you did, Mom,” he lied, reassuring me. “Sure you did.”
And then my younger son said this: “Mommy? I have to poop.”
Nine minutes later, I sat at the table chewing on my younger son’s breakfast sandwich while he took a shit in the bathroom and my older son watched a little bit of Wild Kratts. I texted my boss:
Going to miss the meeting this morning. Younger son is taking a dump; it’s been nine minutes and there’s no end in sight. Bright side? It’s Thursday, and there’s only one day left in the week for me to be late. See you in a bit.
When my son was finished pooping and I’d checked his butt to make sure he’d wiped well, we finally got loaded into the car, where he said this as soon as we took off:
“Mommy? Where’s my breakfast sandwich? You didn’t eat it, did you? I’m hungry.”
*I employ a lot of hyperbolic humor in my writing. Any consequence I give my kids is always even-keeled, healthy, and well thought out because I am a good mom who raises her boys in a house full of humor and love no matter what kind of frenzied morning we have. Basically: Suck it, internet trolls.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
1.) Study Hard.
Or don’t. I managed to slip by with C’s and have a fucking blast while doing it.
After 4 years of intensive academics at an expensive private high school where I had earned straight A’s and graduated in the top 10% of my class, I’d gotten into the college that I wanted to and then I realized—hey, now that the hard part is over, I’m pretty sure I can still get a job that I want with a degree from here, whether I get straight A’s or not.
So I shot for C’s…and I got them. It was easy to do, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
So do that. Definitely do that. And have fun.
And when your parents call you during the first semester of college like my dad did me and ask, “Son/Daughter, are you on drugs?” maybe don’t reply, “Oh, I tried pot like 3 times, but I didn’t like it, so no worries there,” like I did. That might just give them heart attacks.
Luckily my dad handled it like a champ.
Perhaps you could go with a different answer, the one I gave when my dad pressed me for the reason I wasn’t getting straight A’s anymore: “Oh, that? I just figured out that I don’t give as much of a shit anymore.”
2.) Don’t Be a Dirty Whore.
Side note for my own boys: You’re my children, so genetics aren’t necessarily on your side for this one.
But if you’re going to be like I was, at least make him/her buy you dinner first. And Chex Mix on the 18th hole of the local golf course before doing the deed doesn’t count.
3.) Embrace the Latest Technology.
I’m not big on technology. I’m 38 but I act like a 92-year-old when you put me in front of a computer or i-whatever. But still, learn how to use all of the latest shit simply so that you don’t look like such a huge goddamned nerd.
One of my favorite gifts of my entire life was a typewriter that my dad gave me for Christmas when I was 12.
You know what’s coming, and you’re right: You bet your sweet asses I took that thing to college with me.
My best friend Leigh used to make so much fun of me when she’d find me in my bedroom of the apartment that we shared, smoking a cigarette while flipping the “carriage release lever” (I had to Google that term) on a particularly feverish writing night.
“Holy shit, Shay, it’s like I’ve slipped back in time. You do realize that we were BORN in the 70’s, and that it’s not 1973 right now?”
“But it even has a white-out button,” I would reply, pointing to it in awe. “Have you ever seen one of those?”
“No,” she would say. “Because I haven’t used a damned typewriter since I used to go visit my grandma’s house…before she died 10 years ago.”
Don’t even get me started on how stupid I looked hauling that motherfucker around. Imagine this: A big-nosed, gangly, pasty girl (my boys—aren’t you proud?), rushing to the campus library, typewriter tucked safely under her arm, to pound out a term paper until they had to scooch her out because the keys were too loud and they were getting complaints from other patrons.
And then…the mortification that came when a sweet, well-meaning professor—one of my favorites—sent me an e-mail: “Shay, you know that school will lend you a laptop free of charge? Maybe you haven’t received the e-mail about it since you tend to enjoy your typewriter…it’s just that typewriters haven’t been used since the 70’s, and the papers that you hand in look a bit unprofessional.”
Had he been talking to my best friend?
Anyway, peeps, learn from my mistakes. That way, at least I can feel like there was a reason I made them.
4.) Learn to Take a Proper Shot.
(And while we’re at it, sprout a British accent in writing by throwing “proper” in front of all nouns. People love that.)
Let me tell you about a frat party I attended during the first few weeks of college:
It was called a "progressive," meaning that in each room, there was a different type of drink to take.
The first room had drinks called flaming Dr. Peppers, and I was so excited because I loved Dr. Pepper. So I got my shot and started walking around with my best friend Leigh, whom I had only just met when moving into the dorms, but I could already tell would be my best friend for life (and she is).
About 30 minutes later, I was still sipping my drink but now complaining because “this shot totally doesn’t taste like Dr. Pepper. Those assholes are either liars or they don’t know how to make a damned drink.”
Leigh looked at me, then down at my drink, then back up at my innocent, braces-wearing face. And then Leigh burst into hysterical laughter.
“You fucking idiot!” she exclaimed. “You were supposed to take it all at once—quickly! That’s why they call it a shot. It probably tastes like SHIT now!”
Again, learn from my mistakes. I know I did. I became known campus-wide as a college drunk in a school that was known for its college drunks, and I think that’s saying something.
One day, my class was meeting in the computer lab. I walked in to hear my beloved professor (from #3 above) bellow, “SHAY! What is in that cup?”
I looked up at him, offended. “It’s SODA, Dr. Smith. Do you really think I’d be dragging a huge cup of vodka to class? JEEZ!”
“Um, no, Shay,” he laughed. “I was simply pointing out the fact that we’re meeting in the computer lab today, and we’re not supposed to have food or drink—whether or not it’s alcohol—in case of spills on the expensive equipment.”
Oh. I guess my reputation made me a little defensive.
5.) Don’t Smoke Pot.
One of the 3 ill-fated attempts that I had at doing it happened on Spring Break.
Suddenly, I found my heart racing and tears streaming down my face.
“Oh my gosh, Shay, are you okay?” my equally high best friend asked.
“No!” I shouted. “My heart is racing and I’m pretty sure I’m having a heart attack!”
“Oh—okay,” one of our high guy friends said, slowly turning his head to gaze at me through squinted eyes in the sun. “Well, let us know if it gets worse.”
I stopped crying for a moment and looked back at him. “What the fuck are you doing to do if it does?”
He laughed softly and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know…take you to the hospital?”
I began crying again. “I’m screwed. I’m totally screwed.” Then I had another thought. “You guys,” I wailed. “What if I die and I have to talk to God high?”
The next morning, my best friend made a new rule. “Watching you was like watching a goddamned after-school special starring Helen Hunt,” she muttered. “I was just waiting for you to jump off of the balcony. Listen, Shay, no more pot for you.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. And that was the end of my college pot experimentation.
Is it bad that I want to go back after writing up this list? Oh my gosh, it was so much fun and I'm totally jealous that you're just getting ready to do it all and my time has passed...
Saturday, April 30, 2016
You know those moments when you realize you’re scarring your child for life as you’re in the middle of scarring your child for life?
But you do it anyway because this is a battle you HAVE to win?
Well, I can only imagine the horror stories that my son is going to repeat for the rest of his life to anyone who will listen:
“I do NOT eat sweet potatoes. This one time, when I was 4 years old, my mom made me eat 5 bites of this godawful sweet potato and basil soup that my dad had made. Did that bitch eat any? NO. But she sure as hell made my brother and me eat a bowl of it.”
It’s true, you guys. I didn’t touch that shit. It was a concoction that my husband had read about during one of his health-food kicks, resulting in a trip to the store to buy all the ingredients for 12 healthy freezer bag meals. We spent the following Saturday night as a family date night, having drinks while chopping vegetables and mixing ingredients with our boys while a 90’s station played in our brightly lit kitchen.
Sounds charming, doesn’t it?
And it would’ve been. It was for a little while—until the kids and I started dancing around the kitchen, unable to contain our joy at the fun we were all having.
It was too much happiness for my very loving but grumpy-by-nature husband, who stayed unfailingly and annoyingly on-task all evening. “What…? What the hell is this?” he asked from the counter, beckoning with his knife. “What is all of this…?” He trailed off as if the term for one of the most joyful activities in the history of time—I mean, they even made a movie about it (ever heard of Footloose, hubs?)—had failed him.
I threw a glance over my shoulder as I held hands with my boys, dancing ring-around-the-rosey style. “Um…dancing? And hurry up and get a picture of it, will you. Look at this sweet scene: I am an adorable, fun-loving mother dancing barefoot in the kitchen with her boys!”
When my husband just looked at me, chopping knife suspended in the air in one hand and an onion in the other as if he couldn’t believe the nerve of the request I’d just made in light of all we had to do that night, I said it again. “Hurry up before the moment is over!” I repeated, my voice bordering on a shriek. “I am an adorable, fun-loving mother dancing with her boys and I WANT A PICTURE!”
My husband obliged, but not before a heavy sigh as he set down the knife, wiped off his hands, and grabbed his phone to capture the scene. After that, the spell of the picturesque date night as a family was broken, at least for my husband. He began muttering Office Space stapler style about this being “a family project but I’m the only one doing anything,” and I told him—in a way that completely illustrated that I was, in fact, not—that I was sorry that the boys and I had smiled a little too vigorously and that he’d had to slice one extra baby carrot by himself.
We haven’t done the freezer meal date night again since that picture of domestic bliss.
I blame the sweet potato soup.
The night we were chopping up ingredients (I’m not sure if this was just before or just after Dancegate 2015), my eyes rested on the sweet potatoes, and I remember thinking that my husband must have grabbed them at the store without my noticing.
“What the hell are those?” I asked.
“Um, sweet potatoes?” he answered in the same voice I had used to point out the word for dancing.
“Yeah,” I said, “but what the hell are they doing in my kitchen?”
I fucking hate sweet potatoes.
My husband had rolled his eyes and snatched them from the table. “I’ll do these,” he’d said.
“That’s cool,” I’d acquiesced, “but don’t get upset with me when I don’t eat any of whatever that shit is when the time comes.”
“Whatevs,” my husband replied, already hard at work on the sweet potatoes.
That time came last week. And it coincided with a week in which the stubbornness that my husband insists my younger son got from his mother had been rearing its ugly head. My boy had eaten what was for dinner each night, but not without a fight. And I was sick of fighting. I had to let him know that I’m the mom, I’m going to win, and we’re going to stop having fights every evening over how many pieces of cauliflower he’s going to have to eat before he earns a Little Debbie snack cake.
Just eat what’s for dinner, boy!
So I sat with him and spoon-fed him, and I made sure that none of the sweet potatoes “accidentally” fell out of his mouth and hit the floor because if they did, I told him, I would go get another, bigger scoop of the soup and add it to his bowl.
Dammit, I was going to win.
My son ate the soup. But goddammit, I felt awful for him. It tasted so bad that the poor boy held a napkin in his left hand so that as soon as he put a bite into his mouth with his right, he could swiftly throw that napkin over his mouth so that the pieces that involuntarily spewed out would be caught and he wouldn’t have to risk getting a whole other spoonful added to his bowl.
It was so awkward that in the middle of his third bite, he started laughing at the absurdity of it all. I joined him—but not before reminding him not to laugh too hard lest a sweet potato bit come flying out and he had to get another scoop.
To make it even worse, his older brother, who loves healthy food and was honest-to-goodness born with a craving for all things fruit and vegetable (obviously he’s adopted; I’ve heard kids crave what they get from their mother in utero and I’m convinced that’s why my younger son absolutely lights up from within when he sees vats of spaghetti noodles covered with butter and salt), was sitting right next to him, slurping down the soup with a vigor that made even me want to puke.
“Mmmm,” he would groan in satisfaction between bites. “This sweet potato and basil soup is delicious!”
My younger son and I paused for a moment, my younger son with his napkin still held over his mouth, and stared at my older boy in disbelief.
By the end of dinner, 5 bites of the soup had been consumed by my younger son so, as I boasted to my co-workers the next day, I had won.
One of them—the one who brags that she never once had to raise her voice to either of her grown children when they were younger—shot me a look. “Oh, you consider that winning?”
Another co-worker, a more realistic mom who also happens to be a less of a bald-faced liar than the first, jumped in. “Hell yes, she won!”
I’m not sure. It was important to me that my son learned that he might as well stop grumbling and complaining and putting up a fight every night about it because he’s going to have to eat what’s for dinner, but I usually try to at least make it something palatable. And this shit wasn’t.
“Did you at least lead by example?” the first co-worker asked. “Did you eat some?”
“Heeeell no, I didn’t eat that shit!” I responded, recoiling.
“Wait,” the second co-worker interjected, “you didn’t?”
I shook my head vigorously. Because it was like I told that mom’s group I used to be a part of when the leader tried to make us play a stupid game to help remember all of the other moms’ names.
“Just go around the table and assign a food to each lady’s name!” she’d said brightly. “Like, when you get over here to Caroline, say, ‘Caroline Cookies’!”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
She stopped abruptly, and I could see her deflate just a little bit. “No? You’re not going to play?”
I shook my head again. “No. Because I’m an adult and I don’t have to.”
Surprisingly nobody in the group rendered me an asshole, and in fact, many of the other moms nodded their heads in agreement. “Yeah,” I could almost hear them thinking. “We’re not going to play this game, either. Because we’re adults and we don’t have to.”
Revolutionary concept, no?
But this time, both of my co-workers rolled their eyes. I made a mental note to change that part of the story to a lie insisting that I snarfed a few bites of the soup in solidarity with my son the next time I told it.
In the meantime, I’ll just hope and pray that I didn’t actually scar him for life.
“I don’t get pissed off easily,” I can imagine him saying upon meeting his future girlfriend, “but the one way to make me mad is to offer me a sweet potato. Don’t ever offer me a goddamned sweet potato…”
A couple of days after our dinner of sweet potato and basil soup, my husband chuckled, shaking his head. “That shit really was pretty bad,” he said.
I thought about adding the recipe to my Trashy Recipe Recommendation tab, but I wouldn’t do that to you guys because it’s no way to thank you for reading. I think instead I’ll send it to the Army so they can add it to their prisoner of war torture files. It’ll be much more effective than waterboarding. In fact, they could call it sweet potato soup boarding and make the prisoners who won’t talk take licks of this shit off of a board.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
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.)
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.
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?
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?”