7/24/15

Fear, Loathing and Class Reunions




It's that time again.

Every five or ten years, it happens. Some industrious types from your high school class get to work and begin organizing a reunion. It's like Leap Year, if Leap Year fills your heart with a tarry, black ball of anxious loathing.

My class, the esteemed Class of '85, is having our 30 year reunion this weekend. I'm still on the fence about going. As I told a friend a couple of days ago, it's a matter of the desire to see a few old classmates outweighing the dread of seeing the rest of them.

I blame some of my indifference, and hesitation to commit, on social media. Although I'm not on it 24/7, Facebook has become the water-cooler of my generation. We gather there, share weepy videos about dogs, commiserate with friends who are struggling and learn, courtesy of countless Buzzfeed quizzes, which Disney Princess or member of Entourage our classmates really are (I'm Mulan and Turtle, if you're wondering).

"Seeing" these people day in and day out, liking their statuses and wishing them Happy Birthday has lulled us into a false sense of familiarity. We have some idea of what they look like, who they partnered up with, how many kids they've had (if any), who lives and breathes Fox News and who has serious wood for Jon Stewart. We virtually celebrate with them during graduations and milestones and comment "yum!" and "recipe please!" on pictures of their meals.

We know who has married well, and who has married often. Who is living the single life and who is solo parenting. We see everyone's dogs and cats, and every single one of us knows which friend to mute during elections. Everybody knows who likes to celebrate Fridays with a martini (ahem) and who bikes 50 miles before the sun comes up. Everyone knows who's selling essential oils and LeVel and OMG yes we get it, you're a blogger. We know who found God, who found Bill W. and who found Lululemon.

We all know a little bit about a whole lot of people.

This internet-friendship makes sense for classmates who have ended up in far-flung corners of the country. Facebook, and other forms of social media, are a godsend in these cases.

But what about the rest of us, some of whom live blocks away from each other? A short drive down a highway or two? For a lot of us, we still depend on this odd invention to keep connected. It has convinced some of us into truly believing that despite the busyness of our lives, we're still in touch with one another.

Are we, though? Does seeing someone's cherry-picked existence through a screen on a computer or phone equal keeping in touch?

I've kept in real contact with a handful of former classmates. Some I see once or twice a year, a few more often than that. At my birthday last year, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by women I've called friends for almost 4 decades.


Looking good, Billy Ray! Feeling good, Louis! (name that movie)

And earlier this year a whole gaggle of us had an honest to goodness slumber party, complete with Shrinky Dinks, pizza from our hometown favorite and retro candy (I still have some chunks of Now and Laters in my teeth).

I love these ladies!


But sometimes, I think of people I walked down the same high school hallways with and think, "Ugh." Sorry. I'm being real here, folks. And yes, I'm fully aware that for every person who makes me cringe, there's someone else who is saying, "Yeah well I'd go but there's bound to be people like, Jenny there. Ugh." I get it. I understand it.

Growing up isn't all it's cracked up to be, but one of the best things is we now have the freedom to not be around people we don't like. I mean, yeah, some of us have coworkers who incite the Ugh Reaction but I'm talking about the days when our educational system forced us to be in confined spaces with assholes. And bullies, and bitchy mean girls. (again, in somebody's mind I am all three of those things so I'm not claiming sainthood here)

That's what I'm wrestling with. I've had several messages from old friends, asking if I'm going. One of them bought my freaking ticket (Chuck you are going to get a check from me in your mailbox, I'd cash it real quick if I were you). A few of my closest high school friends are getting a hotel room and are planning on bailing if the reunion is awful.

And I should mention, all of this- the reunion, the hotel rooms- is happening within 2 miles of my house. That, along with the paid-for ticket, should make my decision painless and easy: GO.

Then why am I feeling such animosity towards the whole thing?

Sure, part of it is insecurity. Thirty years is a long time and while nobody is going to look exactly the same, some of us look a whole lot different. You can tell who's been playing with the Botox, which ones have hair plugs and who spends their life in the gym. Flip side of that, you can also guess who has spent a good part of the past several decades giving birth, getting divorced and eating their feelings.

"My upper arms? Yes, I finally said 'screw it' and got Easter Ham implants. Want to touch them? They feel so real!"

But that's me thinking with my withered self-esteem. I had it both ways in high school: being completely ignored, and also, being on the receiving end of particularly cruel behavior. Neither one was fun. It's hard to decide which left the bigger mark.

I talked to my best friend from those days for almost 2 hours on the phone recently. It had been five years since we'd last talked. And within minutes of hearing her say "Hi Polly!" (our old nickname for each other...it involves Joe Piscopo so please don't ask) I was transformed back into that unfortunate teenage girl, curled up under the dining room table, the phone cord twisted and knotted and pulled taut from its perch on the wall.

Talking to her was like a balm on a wound I didn't know I had. 

For both of us, high school wasn't a great time. Don't get me wrong, we had some fun. But we were always oddballs. Our humor was something so different from the norm, people kind of got it but more often than not, we were either made fun of, or dismissed altogether. Boys didn't like us, not "like" like us, you know? We were the ones they hung out with until one of the cute girls came along. And there we'd be, waiting, when that cute girl moved on, with our schtick and a pack of Virginia Slims.

We both agreed that had we done things right, we'd have ended up like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. My favorite quote from the conversation: "What we should have done, is gotten on a bus for New York the day we graduated." I love you so much, my old friend. Dammit, why didn't we?

But one thing she said made me really think about high school, friendships and what it was like to be a teenager. We were talking about the cool kids, the it girls and where we fit into the puzzle that was the Class of 85. "One of my clearest memories is of Homecoming Coronation. Do you remember that?" she asked me. Coronation? Hell yes, I remembered it. I remembered not hearing my name called when they announced the members and I remembered rolling my eyes in the way only an angsty teen can roll them. And then she said:

"I just remember you and me sitting way up high in the bleachers of the gym, watching it, watching our classmates all dressed up and smiling and thinking 'Why the fuck are we even here?'"

And I guess that pretty much sums up my fears about this weekend and all that it entails. Will I be the one sitting in the rafters, looking around at everyone all dressed up and smiling, and thinking:  

Why am I even here?

We shall see. I have at least 30 hours to mull it over some more. I'd love to hear some reunion stories, good and bad. Regale me, people!













7/7/15

Is Late Really Better Than Never?

I'm just going to stand over here and look at the water, okay?


My ex-husband always did things at his own pace. Getting his MBA, starting/finishing projects around the house, turning new leaves...all were done in Big Daddy's signature style: sporadically. There were bursts of activity, fires lit beneath him by something he'd seen or been told. But for the most part, he was a very low-key person.

I remember once, before everything went to hell, he took a couple of the kids away to his college roommate's cabin for a weekend. Which was wonderful, by the way. It meant I was left home with just one child, the littlest at the time, and I have no doubt that if I hadn't been breastfeeding he'd have attempted to take that kid as well.

He wasn't all bad, you guys. For a nice long time, he was a decent guy.

When he returned from that weekend getaway, he was bursting with a renewed enthusiasm about marriage and parenting and it seemed, life in general. I recall being a little freaked out, because normally he had the get-up-and-go of a sedated giraffe. Was his old friend in a cult? Did he give him some essential oils?

This was new, to see him excited about being a husband and father. Looking back, it was kind of ominous, I guess. I mean, who doesn't have at least a little zeal for life, right?

The conversation we had that is stuck in my mind happened over, of all things, a litter box. Back in those days I was a cat person, and therefore, we were a cat family. We'd started out with a freebie, an ornery prick of a feline named Reggie whose previous owner had been a manager of the Gap Kids store I worked at. I loved that cat. We added two more to the menagerie, a 20-pounder named Eddie and a snaggletoothed Maine Coon cat who came to us with the name Milo.

So we had multiple litter boxes. Cleaning them out was usually my job, since I was the stay at home parent. The cats stayed home as well, therefore their toilets were my responsibility.

But one night, shortly after the cabin getaway, I was down in our Silence of the Lambs basement, preparing to do the scoop duty. Big Daddy approached and took the tools of the trade (scooper and plastic bag) out of my hands, squatted down and proceeded to sift out the clumps.

While he sifted, he spoke. "Man, I learned so much from Steve this weekend." (Steve is not the college friend's real name, obviously) Intrigued, I asked what exactly he'd learned.

"Well, he was talking about how much he helps out at home. Like, with the kids and stuff." He shifted his weight, the plastic bag in his hand filling up rapidly.

"It made me realize how much you do. And that I don't appreciate you enough."

Now, had you asked me back then, I would have claimed it was the cat pee fumes that were making my eyes water. Truthfully, it felt good to be acknowledged. You know you're living the luxe life when someone else cleaning up kitty droppings is akin to being honored.

He went on, then, about turning a new leaf. Like, literally said, "I'm turning a new leaf." He promised to step up his parenting game, to be a more involved father. To be a more attentive husband.

We enjoyed his new leaf for a nice stretch of time. And then, as leaves are wont to do, it dried out and eventually, crumbled into bits.

*****

My kids haven't had a true relationship with their father for several years. When he first left, even before either of us consulted an attorney, he was adamant about the kids living with me full-time. Back then, I was sure his insistence was due to the overwhelming responsibility that is taking care of four children. As things became clearer, and secrets were revealed, I realized it was more likely fear of overwhelming his new roommate, the woman he'd left our family to be with. Because it's one thing to take on a man with kids, it's something completely different to take on the kids themselves. Hindsight, y'all. It will become one of your most constant companions after divorce. 

At first he was the model divorced dad: dutifully picking the kids up for his every-other weekend shift, and the two weeknights as well. We were each allotted two solid weeks of vacation time over the summer, and that first summer, he did indeed take them up north for a week. 

We adhered religiously to the holiday schedule. Those were the days when I'd sit down on January 1st, take a Sharpie and my new calendar and methodically go through every month, marking weekends with either K or NK, indicating kids or no kids. It's still weird to me, how bizarre acts such as this so quickly begin to feel normal. 

He went to two parent-teacher conferences after the divorce. Two. He did attend concerts and games, oftentimes sitting in the back or standing near an exit. But he was there, and that mattered to the kids. 

They notice, the kids. They can tell when someone is making an effort to be involved. To be part of their lives.

And they definitely notice when that effort is not being made. Some kids will express this in words. They'll ask you, outright: "Where is dad? Why didn't he go to the game? Why didn't he pick us up tonight?". Other children don't say anything at all. But don't let their silence fool you. They internalize it but it always comes out. Kind of like putting on Spanx. You can smoosh and flatten the flab all the live long day, but eventually it's going to ooze out one end or the other.

Sometimes, in the kids, it will become a tantrum. It might be tears. Others find themselves grappling with feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, inadequacies. They might lose themselves in video games or books. Become withdrawn or become the life of the party. Alternate between crying don't look at me! and why aren't you watching me?

I have found that to be the most distasteful of all the fallout from my divorce. Not the hit my self esteem took, not the damage done to my finances. Not the loss of a wonderful bunch of in-laws.

Watching my kids deal with a father who drifted, slowly but surely, out of their lives has been excruciating. I can only imagine how it's felt for them.

I worry. Even though we are open with one another and talk about these things, the casual manner in which their father drops in and out of their lives, I worry. I am terrified that my boys will grow to be men who believe women and families are disposable like diapers or razors. I am scared that my daughter will have daddy issues and/or think it's perfectly okay for a man to so brazenly forsake his wife, their vows and their children without a second thought.

One of my oddball crushes, Andy Samberg, sings a funny little song called "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions". It cracks me up because I'm basically an 8th grade boy trapped in a middle aged lady body, but it also makes the divorced me giggle. It's an homage to how all the cool dudes in movies do the whole "tough guy blows shit up and then walks away, usually in slow motion" routine and the video is perfection (including Will Ferrell as Neil Diamond). But it always reminds me of how my ex, and so many others out there, have done exactly that.

They lit a fire and then walked away. They created these families, these people, and then took off right in the freaking middle. Mine left in the thick of things. At the most chaotic, the most harried time in a young family's timeline. Even when he willingly participated in his parenting time, the brunt of it was left for me to deal with. All those Monday mornings. The summers! PUBERTY, TIMES FOUR. The shaving lessons, the attempts at driving, the outbursts, finding bongs on the porch, the sex talks and the mother effing sibling rivalry. The job interviews and the last-minute rush to find black pants for every single freaking concert ever. The forgotten permission slips and science projects, the eleventh-hour run to OfficeMax for the poster board or that very specific plastic folder (7 pockets! MOM IT HAS TO BE 7 POCKETS NOT 10!!!!). Consoling the heartbroken boy after a breakup, dealing with Mean Girls and bullies and non-communicative teachers.

It's been hard, but I did it. The finish line isn't exactly close, but it's in sight.

This would be a perfect time to jump back into the parenting ring, right? After the shrieks of childhood have died down to become monotone mumbles of young adulthood, it would be kind of easy, wouldn't it? Like adopting a dog who's already been trained.

*****

And that's kind of what I see happening. Not with all of the kids, oh no. We don't want to get crazy or anything. But with one of them, there is a relationship forming. Regrowing. 

I'm okay with it. In fact, it brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. I even said, out loud...

Better late than never.

I will keep saying that, to my kids, to people who want to listen. It's better to be part of someone's life no matter what chapter they're in. 

Is it fair? Nope. Not by a long shot. I can't tell you how many nights I'd fall into bed, completely spent after a day of fixing and counseling and cooking and loving four growing human beings without a partner. It's like the Little Freaking Red Hen, busting her ass to make a damn loaf of bread from scratch and then all of those lazy assholes in the barnyard bum-rushing the kitchen to eat it. 

But it's better.

It's better than nothing. 

It's better than never.

(pause for dramatic effect)(LOL)




I don't know about you, but I could use a laugh right now. Here's the video I referenced above. If you're not a teenage boy at heart, you might not enjoy it. Me? I'm LOVING IT.












6/13/15

Things I Need To Avoid Whilst PMSing

There were a few months, last year, when I was convinced THE CHANGE was happening. I went three blissful months without a period and began embracing life without that monthly reminder that my body was still armed and ready for Invasion of the Uterus Snatchers (aka, babymaking).

I dreamed of white sheets and underwear any color other than black. I smiled as I thought of not having to look at the stability ball I sit on at work after getting up just to make sure I hadn't left a horrifying smear. I whistled Dixie as I walked past the tampon aisle at Target.

And then, of course, my period came back. Just popped in, like nothing had happened. "What's up, Jenny?" I could almost hear it say. "Long time, no leak!" 

This time, however...something's different. I've always had a bit of pre-period whackadoo, some months more intense than others, but lately? It's bad. 

It starts about a week out. That's when I find myself thinking many swears in my head during normal non-aggravating daily events. Like, driving behind someone who is obviously unaware that the speed limit is not 14 mph. 

On non psychotic days, I'm very much meh about slowpokes. That's why you leave the house with plenty of time to spare before you have to be somewhere. 

On the psycho days? I hate these people. I want to drive my ugly little car literally up over their trunk and onto the roof of their slowpoke vehicle and then down the hood so I can get past them. And scream insults at them while I do it. 

Of course, being Minnesotan, all I do is look at them with sad-eyed disappointment when I finally do pass them. Oooh but if looks could kill!!

Or when the kids do something at home that on any other stretch of days wouldn't even register on my freak-out meter. The boys share a bathroom down in the mancave. I don't dare enter that scary little room unless there's an emergency, like a spontaneous case of Urge Incontinence while standing in front of the washing machine. But there's a fan in there, you know, the kind you turn on while showering or after pooping. The kind I wish we had in the staff bathrooms at work because OMG all the gluten-free and paleo diets.

My sons never turn the fan off. Therefore, that fan is constantly on. Until I go down and turn it off myself. Usually? Not a major thing. I might mutter a little bit while flipping the switch, but I mutter a lot anyway.

Ohhhhh...but when I'm in my Crazy Week? The hum of that fan will make itself heard throughout the entire house. My ears are already tingling during PMS, every little sound seemingly dredged in annoying and then fried in frenetic and when I hear that fan? I go nuts. I start yelling as I stomp my way down to the mancave bathroom, hurling accusations and packing little overnight bags for a quick guilt trip. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH OUR ELECTRICITY BILL IS EVERY MONTH?" I scream/ask. "WELL, DO YOU??" Nobody ever responds except to peek from behind whatever piece of furniture they've hidden under. As I thunder down the stairs and through the laundry room and in a lunatic, grandiose gesture turn off the offending fan, I scream as loud as my now-raspy throat will allow, "AND HOW ABOUT HANGING UP THESE MOTHER EFFING TOWELS...FOR ONCE!?!?"

It's awful and embarrassing and I'm sure it's going to come up in several, if not all, of my children's future therapy sessions. My childhood? Oh it was okay. Fine. You know, the divorce sucked and all. But we were good. Oh...except can you please turn down that fan, doctor? Why? I don't know...fans scare me. I'm just going to crawl here under this couch until you can TURN OFF THE GODDAMN FAN!!

I'm sorry, kids.




According to my period app, I'm going to burst like the dam in that Little Dutch Boy story any day now. Like I needed an app to tell me that. The past few days have been a bloated, bitchy blur. I had three glorious bonus days off from work and I spent them just trying to not eat everything in the house or inflict even more mental harm unto my innocent children. Which means for the most part, I've been holed up on my porch with the laptop, a water bottle and my patient dog who is really starting to piss me off with those weird looks he's giving me.

Um, oops. Sorry. So I've decided to write down everything I need to avoid during these dark days. For future reference, yes, but also as a guide for any of you who might have the misfortune of running into me and not quite understanding why I look like the angry Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. 




I might just print this list and put it on the fridge, along with a calendar marked with a few sweet little daisies. So my kids know when to hide.


THINGS TO AVOID DURING PMS
the jenny edition


Booze and scissors Separately, these things are fine. Together, not so much. A few days ago I made two yummy homemade margaritas. And then I went on Google and typed in "how to cut your own bangs". The next thing I typed in on Google was "how to fix really awful home-cut bangs". There is no fix, by the way. Also, yay for bobby pins. I didn't know they were still a thing.

Brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts 23 days out of the month, I find these abhorrent. I've never tried smearing a saltine with Crisco and then sprinkling it with cinnamon, but I bet it would taste exactly like a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart. Except, of course, when I am tearing apart the kitchen in order to quell the hungry hormonal beast within. NOTHING SATISFIES. So I console myself by devouring two packs of cinnamon Pop Tarts (yes, that's four of them) and then wrapping the mylar packaging material around me like a shroud of remorse.



The entire Internet If you know me even just a little bit, you are aware of my comment section problem. This past week was a doozy, I was commenting and deleting my comments like a madwoman. People, I was keyboard-fighting about breastfeeding! I haven't had a suckling in over 12 years and yet there I was, clickety-clacking away about boobs. (I'm pro-breastfeeding of course, but in the interest of being web-friendly I will say that I've never judged another mom for how she feeds her kids. Except the people who send their kids to school with an entire box of Girl Scout cookies in their lunches. Those children do not share with me.

There was another one, in which an article written BY a single mom, PRAISING single moms was swarmed with stay at home moms saying "Oh em gee! This sounds like it was written for me on those two days my husband is out of town. LOL." Nope. Not even close, sisters. But again to be web-friendly I will say I've done the SAHM gig, and the single mom gig and both are tiring. Only one of them, however, leads to you not being able to sleep because you're so worried about how you're going to support your kids and also how you're going to have to work until you're 95 because you don't have a cushy 401k or a spouse's retirement fund. Or is that just me? 

See? Here I go again. Relax, Jenny. Breathe.

Noises Any of them. Repetitive ones in particular, and most particularly, my neighbor Anal Retentive Lawn Guy and his godforsaken leaf blower. Someday he will wake up with the blowy part of his leaf blower decapitated and in a pool of oil next to him in bed. And I'll be all Don Corleone on my porch, saying in a Hannibal Lecter voice, "Can you hear the leaf blower, Clarice? ME NEITHER."



recording someone from my porch. NOT CREEPY AT ALL. 

Being Hot It's not terribly difficult to avoid this one in the fall and winter. In the summer? Trickier. The air conditioning comes on once I am no longer able to sit without perspiring, or after my first semi-uncomfortable night. Or when the house starts to smell like cat urine (we don't have cats so this is always upsetting). We've kept it off so far this summer, but it's inevitable.

I don't like being hot under even the most ideal circumstances. Throw PMS into the mix and I become this guy:



I don't like to use the oven when it's hot out. It's like throwing a lasso around the sun and bringing it into the kitchen just for giggles. 

The kids have a hard time grasping this "oven off in the summer" concept. Yeah, I know, there are chicken tenders in the freezer. And french fries. They'll keep until fall or at least until I crack and turn the thermostat to 62. Repeat after me: the oven stays OFF.

I don't care if Papa Freaking Murphy himself walks into the kitchen and motorboats me with a complimentary family sized pepperoni take and bake pizza. NO OVEN! I might retract this statement if someone tells me Papa Murphy is even remotely good looking. But probably not.

For the sake of brevity I will quickly list a few other things I need to avoid while basking in the warm pretty glow of premenstrual syndrome:

Videos about dogs
The Maps App on my iPhone
Any show on MTV, especially "Finding Carter"
Plastic bags
Any object which might get stuck to my foot
Matt Walsh, his blog or anyone who enjoys either one of them
Cords (the electronic kind, not the pants)
Mirrors
Clothing with buttons or zippers
Polyester
Self-checkout lanes
Hipster dads
emails from Bath and Bodyworks

and last, but not least:

Sexy stuff. Because the PMS makes me HULK SMASH with lusty feelings. But also, so irritable. I don't know if I want to hump it or kick it. Conflict makes this Libra uneasy. Best to avoid anything that makes me tingle.

I hope this list is helpful to someone. It was frightening to type it out because nobody likes to see actual proof of their insanity. But, I'm consoling myself with Season 3 of Orange Is The New Black and two Strawberry Pop Tarts. Netflix is awesome, and Costco only sells the brown sugar cinnamon Pot Tarts in a bulk pack with the gross Strawberry ones. The frosting part feels the same in my mouth, and the silver wrappers are identical so there's that.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant, PMS-free tomorrow.










6/4/15

7 Ways College Kids Home For The Summer Are Exactly Like Mice



I have two college kids. One lived in a dorm room a couple hundred miles away during the school year, the other lived in a big house with friends just a short drive from here. Both have come home for the summer, joining their two younger brothers, the dog, and me. Yay!


Our house is almost 80 years old. It’s been updated, of course, but one of the less-charming aspects of living in a older home is there are lots of nooks and crannies which are the perfect size for mice to squeeze in. Every fall we get a few. It’s nauseating at first, but they are dealt with and life goes on.


Those two facts don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, do they? Except, oh my God. They have so much in common, college kids and house mice. Have you had either of them? Then you know exactly what I’m talking about.


For those of you who are new to this experience, let me give you some insight. Here are ways that having your kids home from college for the summer is a lot like having a mouse infestation.


1. They leave tell-tale signs. With mice, you find droppings. With college kids, you find wet towels everywhere, dirty dishes in bedrooms and Bob Marley posters.


2. They will eat anything and everything. With mice, you will find holes chewed in cereal boxes, chip bags, sacks of dog food and pretty much anything else you haven’t shoved in the freezer. I once found a half-eaten stick of butter with tiny mouse bites all over it during one particularly grueling mouse season. College kids are the same, only sometimes they’ll open boxes with their hands instead of their teeth. And they tend to avoid dog food.


3. Sightings of either one are rare. If you go into the kitchen late at night, and quickly flick on the lights, you may spot mice scurrying along the baseboards. You may also spot a large man/child, motionless in front of the open refrigerator. Both are startled easily and will flee back to their nests.


4. Speaking of nests...mice like quiet, dark, undisturbed spots for their lairs. They will shred paper and cloth to make it soft and warm. College kids home for the summer oftentimes build nests in their old bedrooms using several Rubbermaid storage tubs, every single blanket in the house and various articles of your clothing. They will sometimes overtake sectional sofas as well.


5. You can hear them at night. With mice, you will hear scuttling, gnawing and scratching noises. With college kids, you will hear scuttling, gnawing and scratching noises along with the THUP THUP THUP bass drops of Skrillex and Diplo.


6. They kind of stink. Mice emit a musky odor. Depending upon the sex of your college kid, the odors emitted may be musky in an Old Spice/dirty laundry way, or it may smell like a Bath and Body Works store has exploded in what used to be your daughter’s bedroom.


7. The excrement of mice can be dangerous. The excrement of college kids isn’t so much dangerous as it is annoying. Did all of your roommates get pee on the bathroom walls, son? Or is that just your way of marking your territory here at home? And oh, my darling daughter: toilet paper might have been “free” in the dorm, but it’s not here. Ease up, Miss Wipes-A-Lot.


Those are just a few ways a mouse infestation and kids home for the summer are alike. Of course, we deal with the two issues in entirely different ways. With mice, we set traps and call the Orkin guys. With the kids, we sneak hugs and have intelligent conversations and marvel over how fast the years have gone by.  


The hardest part of this experience is knowing that the mice will always be back. The kids? There will come a time, very soon, when they will nest elsewhere and your house will be quiet, mess-free and the fridge will always remain full. It’s going to be pretty cool, I’m sure...but I have a feeling it will always seem like something, someone, is missing.

Enjoy them, and the summer, while it lasts.

5/31/15

A Rush Of Disappointment

There are two songs I want played at my funeral. One is "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac. The other is "Jump Around" by House of Pain. Oops, I guess there are three of them.

The third is "Time Stand Still" by Rush.

It's funny how songs change over the years, right? I mean, let's take "Everlong" by The Foo Fighters as an example. I used to hear the song (the acoustic version is my favorite) and imagine me and Dave Grohl singing it together after making love in my bed, in those sweet moments before he realizes he's covered in dog hair. Now, I will forever think of David Letterman's last show. Because they decided to use the song, reportedly David L.'s favorite tune ever, as the sendoff for the show, complete with a video montage of vintage Dave and guests. So much for the furry fantasy.

Back to my funeral: so I love the Rush song "Time Stand Still". When I was a beer-chugging fangirl back in the 80's and early 90's, the song was sweet because OMG Aimee Mann was in it! Now that I am older, and have reproduced, the song has a different meaning. It's an ode to wistfulness we experience as time passes by us, and how awesome it would be if we could slow things down for just a little bit. I have the song in my iTunes and dammit if I don't get a little choked up every time shuffle spits it out at me.

"Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger"

See? Right in the gut, I tell you.

So it stands to reason that when Rush announced they were coming to Minneapolis, my homie Danielle and I were bound and determined to go.

Neither one of us has a lot of spare cash, or time. So dropping the $$ required to see three old dudes jamming on a stage inside of a giant entertainment center was no small sacrifice. In hindsight, probably not the brightest financial move, but sometimes you just have to shake your fists at the heavens and scream out, "LET ME BE ENTERTAINED!".

Danielle found us some sweet main floor seats on Craigslist, and we counted down the days with mirthful glee. I listened to all of my favorite Rush tunes while out on my walks, we debated the intelligence of buying souvenir t-shirts and we annoyed all of our family and friends with constant blathering about the Rush concert. We posted several variations of this video all the live long day, and quoted it, out loud and often:



Finally, the day arrived. We drove downtown a little early, to meet a couple of friends before the show for a cocktail and some food. It was a gorgeous Minneapolis spring day, we had the windows down and chattered excitedly on the drive.

Just two middle-aged ladies, with 8 kids between us, ready to be rocked. The air in my little Ford Focus was charged with electricity and also the smell of vodka and olives. I might have had a martini to calm my pre-concert nerves. (don't worry, Danielle drove. She always does.)

The concert was in St. Paul, at the Xcel Energy Center...home of the mighty Minnesota Wild hockey team. Driving is a mofo in downtown St. Paul, and parking isn't much better. But we did find a spot, and made our way to the show.

The first sign that we were no longer in our typical suburban mom world? ALL THE MEN. It was a veritable sausage fest in St. Paul. And most of the sausages were wearing Rush t-shirts. We stood out in the crowd not only because we had breasts, but also because we were wearing cute lady clothes. And jewelry.

Our seats were wonderful, on the floor and with a great view of the stage. Here we are moments before the Holy Trinity of Rock began playing:

Moments after we took this, the smell of marijuana started wafting through the air. Was it 1986 again??
Then, it happened. The lights dimmed and amid laser beams and pyrotechnics, the three members of Rush took the stage: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. Our hearts thumped along with the beat, and we looked at each other with animated glee. We were here! In the same room as Rush! And the smell of pot!

We waited patiently for one of our favorite songs to happen. And we waited some more. They had some funny videos playing, including this one:


Which was funny, of course, because I refer to all of my friends as hens. So we were LOLing about that, when BOOM it was Tom Sawyer time. YES! Finally, a song we knew and could do some serious slappin' da bass to. We were happy, and ready for more.

Only, there wasn't much more. It seems as though Rush decided this tour was going to be more of an in-depth journey into their song catalog. Meaning, most of the songs fans like Danielle and I know and love, the more "mainstream" hits, were left off the set list.

Now, we will be the first ones to admit we're not hardcore fans. We don't own albums from back in the day and haven't spent hours in our bedrooms, with doors locked and headphones on, absorbing the wisdom from Rush.

No. We are basically fair-weather fans. We like the songs they play on the radio. We love Tom Sawyer and Limelight and Fly By Night and Freewill. AND TIME STAND STILL.

As the concert wore on and the songs that floated above us were completely unknown to us, we looked like this:

WTF, Rush? WHY YOU GOTTA BE HATIN' ON US?

Apparently, we were the only ones feeling cheated. As I looked around us, I saw thousands of men (and three women), standing in place and furiously air-drumming along to these songs I didn't know. I made eye contact with one of the women, and she smiled at me. Her smile said "Hey, fellow vagina-owner! I see you don't recognize these songs, either. The good news is, if you have to pee, there's no line!"

She was right. Intermission came, and we went out in search of a bathroom. Here is a picture of what the Ladies Room looks like at a Rush concert. During intermission.

It was so quiet in there.
Turns out, they only played three songs that we really liked: Tom Sawyer, The Spirit of Radio and Closer To The Heart.

No Fly By Night.
No Limelight.
No Freewill.

AND NO MOTHER EFFING TIME STAND STILL.

A friend of ours, who was also there, kind of mocked us in our indignation. Apparently we aren't "real fans". Not hardcore enough, I guess.

I get that. It's kind of how I feel when I hear people say how much they love Joss Whedon and then when you mention Dr. Horrible or some other random Whedon creation they have a blank stare for a sec and then talk about whether or not Captain America is going to be killed off in the next Avengers movie.

Or, someone who says they are big fans of Stephen King and yet they've never read some of his lesser-known works. Or his book "On Writing". Or any of the Dark Tower series. But they love The Shining! And The Stand!

But that doesn't mean they aren't true fans. And I'm betting Joss and Stephen would be just as happy to discuss their massively popular works as they would their non-mainstream ones.

Rumor has it that one of the reasons Rush doesn't play some of their bigger hits is because Geddy Lee can no longer hit those notes. Fair enough. We're all aging right along with you, Geddy, that's why I wasn't the one sneaking puffs off my one-hitter during your show. You can't hit the high ones, and I can't get baked at concerts like I did in the 80's. I understand! But I know that it wouldn't have mattered to me if he kind of fudged the high notes. My friend and I paid a substantial amount of money to see Rush play, and to only hear three songs we loved kind of sucked.

Maybe it's the whole "Freebird" thing, where they're just sick of playing certain songs. But couldn't they just play them, and then whine about it on their private jets? These guys are gazillionaires, yes, mostly because of the throngs of dudes who worship them and all of their music, but some of that money came from people like me and my friend. Maybe our love for them doesn't go as deep as all those guys air drumming and singing along to songs we'd never heard, but it's love, man.

Our friend sent a text to Danielle during the concert, it contained the set list. And as we looked it over, we realized that was it. The concert was only half over and we'd heard the music we paid to hear. She looked at me, I looked at her and then she sent me a text (seriously, we couldn't hear each other speak):

"We're leaving after this set. That okay with you?" I looked over at her, laughed, and texted back:

"Yep. C-ya!"

Dammit, Rush. We were so excited to hear you play some of our favorite jams. We cursed them on the way home, and a little bit the next day. And then, because time doesn't stand still, life went on.

But you can bet the next sausage fest I attend will most likely be at a German restaurant, and not a Rush concert.




5/25/15

Divorced And STILL Not Dating



A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about being divorced and not dating. It ran on HuffPost Divorce and has always been one of my favorites.

Just prior to writing it, I'd been on the last, gimpy leg of my on again, off again relationship with the beau I called John McCain. We had taken a trip to Amsterdam and things just kind of fell apart afterwards. After a few dateless months, I declared myself SINGLE AS HELL and wrote about it.

Well, well, well. Here we are, almost exactly two years later. And not much has changed.

Oh, yes, those of you who have read my looney tunes updates know there's been some late night activity here and there. My as-for-now nameless booty call lovah scratched an itch or two or seventy for a nice long length of time. But that ended as 2015 began, so I am once again officially not dating. Climbing the walls? Yes, very much so. But totally not dating.

In the original post, I was quite confident my lack of love was due to prioritizing. Kids first. It was true then, as it is now. I do put my kids first...only now, their needs aren't as time consuming as they were just a couple short years ago. Yeah, I still do 100% of the parenting. They only go to their dad's house for a few hours on certain holidays, and sometimes he provides transportation if I absolutely can't. The parenting ball is always, always in my court. I've been doing it like this for so long it's the only way I know how to function.

The thing about your kids getting older is this: they leave. Charlie and Molly were both gone for the entirety of the school year. The other two, Henry and William, are still here, but more often than not they're busy with jobs, sports, activities and friends. We still have a packed basement on many weekend nights, but again...they don't need me like they used to. They can drive to get their own Taco Bell. Excuse me as I weep softly and also think about how good a 7-layer burrito sounds right now.

So, with the parenting gig winding down, I'm finding myself alone. A lot. The hermit in me is LOVING it. Those of you who fall under the introvert umbrella know exactly what I'm talking about. Before, socializing served two purposes: it was fun, and it got me the hell away from home for a few hours at a time. Now, I don't want to get away from my home. My home is quiet. My home is comfortable. My home has Netflix and my weekend uniform of leggings and sports bra and big sweatshirt.

I've found myself falling into a Loverboy routine of "workin' for the weekend", only everyone's not wondering if I'll come out tonight. They know I'm probably not. (Those of you who are younger than 40 will have to go to YouTube and look that shit up. I can't explain it.)

I still get invited out, thank God, and usually I accept those invitations. It's a tricky timeline, though...if I get an offer too far in advance, it gives me too much time to come up with a reason to not go. Not enough prior warning and I go into what experts call "hermit shock". It's what happens when a recluse imagines not sitting on their couch for two solid days.

I've become a really good napper, too. Were naps always so wonderful? My nap ritual is a thing of beauty: crawl on top of my made bed, pull a fuzzy blanket over me, turn on the fan (the remote control fan I bought for myself at Costco last year was THE BEST purchase ever), slip the eye mask over my baby blue/grays and drift away for an hour or two. Let me know if you hear of any paying sleep studies, okay?

But here's the catch: now that I have all this free time, it kind of feels like I'm supposed to be getting back out there. Sticking my toe back in the big ol' dating pond. I mean, it has been over 8 years. Most women have remarried by this time, if not well before.

Those of us who are still single this late in the game run the risk of becoming that eccentric, unmarried auntie who wears chunky necklaces and drapey Eileen Fisher tunics. "Yay! Aunt Jenny is here! I hope she brought that yummy spinach dip again!"

This is where I pause, and recite all of the self-soothing lines that have consoled me for so long: "It's okay to be alone." "Gurlll...dating takes so much time and effort. You're overbooked!" "If it's meant to be, you will meet Mr. Right." and the one that pops up with ever-increasing frequency: "You know, Jenny...you don't need a man to be happy."

I do believe that last one. Men don't equal happiness. However, lately I'm wondering if I'm not dating because I don't want to, or if I'm really afraid to. I worry that I don't know how to flirt anymore. Did I ever? And I'm scared that I am so rusty, I've forgotten how to tell if a guy really is that into you. What are the signs? For all I know, men are throwin' down the love gauntlet in front of me everywhere I go and I'm blind to it. Not very likely, I know. But still. You never know.

If my dating skills were a cluster of grapes before, they are most certainly a box a raisins by now.

I'm so out of the love loop, I don't remember the rules. How do you tell the difference between someone flirting with you vs. someone just being nice? Are all men without wedding rings fair game? Who is it okay to talk to? Is it alright to be chummy with my friend's husbands, or is that taboo simply because I'm single? Do I really need to join eHarmony again or should I hold out for two more years and check out the one for people over 50? Is it impolite to gently decline when someone says "There's this guy I know, I think you'd like him."?

Of course, since I'm me and I'm the person who compares herself to Hagrid, there's a tiny bit of insecurity involved. After a long stretch of being alone, it's hard to imagine letting someone in. Physically and emotionally. I'm so used to sleeping with a dog. It's one thing when the snoring and Dutch ovens come from a 75 pound Yellow Lab. It's going to be so weird having a guy next to me, doing those same things. The way I feel about putting myself out there again is a lot like the bit Amy Schumer did on her show, about actresses over a certain age. In case you haven't seen it (WARNING!! So, so many swears. Completely not safe to watch at work, on a bus w/ out earbuds or around children of pretty much any age):


Oh, I know! I know that was all about Hollywood's gross attitudes towards women and aging, but it sort of captures how I feel about having to go through the rituals of dating again. Am I still f**kable? Do I care?? (and P.S. what does it mean that as I watched this, I said out loud oooh look at that! Mismatched wine glasses! How cute!)

One other aspect of being divorced and not dating is how to deal with being a singleton in a sea of couples. Up until recently, this part of the single life hasn't really bothered me. There have been a few times here and there when my singleness has been like a big scarlet S on my chest...the most significant ones being "classy" evening events, such as the silent auctions held by the elementary school my kids once attended and where I now work. If ever a girl notices the absence of an arm to hang onto, it's at a party where she's surrounded by well-dressed duos.

Luckily, I don't attend silent auctions or really, any other fancy soirees on the regular. The other gatherings, like plain old parties or holiday things...they're not set up in such a way that being there by myself is a big deal. If I have to be, I can be charming and outgoing and even make small talk. My lady friends are fine sitting next to me around a bonfire while their men chat elsewhere. But...I was recently invited to a friend's birthday bash, which is taking place at another friend's cabin. As my friend explained the weekend to me, I was all "oooh yes! Girl's weekend at the cabin!" in my head. Until my friend said:

"So it's going to be us gals, the husbands, and whichever kids decide to come up as well."

Wait. Back it up, sister. Husbands? A testosterone filled monkey wrench was thrown into my plans.

I pictured all of us up at the cabin. Me, my girlfriends and their men. Everyone laughing and drinking, gathering around the fire, two by two, arms wrapped around shoulders, legs touching. And then me, sitting in a camp chair, probably brushing a kid's hair and checking facebook on my phone.

When did that happen? When did I become afraid to be somewhere sans date? This new development is kind of annoying.

I thought about all the single men I know (haha, all three of them) and wondered how strange/creepy/pushy it would be to ask one of them to come up with me. Not exactly as a date, of course, but with the understanding that we'd probably have to sleep in the same room, or on adjoining couches. I decided it would probably not be a wise thing to do. And so now, I'm considering not going. Who have I become??

All of this is my very long-winded way of saying yes, I'm divorced and still not dating.

Only this time, I can't say for certain why. For a good long while, I could give you a few very strong reasons. My kids. My work. My fear of being hurt again. Now, I seem to have even more reasons. And unlike my kids, these don't appear to be the kind of reasons that will grow up and move on.

Now, about that 7-layer burrito....

















5/12/15

Close Encounters Of The Ex-Husband Kind

First of all, I must offer an apology. To all of you who have come here seeking advice and reassurance from me, to all of you who have emailed and messaged, pouring your hearts out and thanking me for showing you that it is possible to get through a really hard divorce and be okay:

I'm sorry.

Because I am always the one waving the flags, cheering loudly and preaching about how you will survive, how you will be able to forgive and how you will get over it. I'm the one answering your heartbreaking pleas for help with paragraphs full of empowerment and hope.

"You've got this, sister!" and
"Yes, it hurts like hell when your hopes and dreams are blown to bits but you WILL rise again and be fabulous!" and
"There will come a day when seeing him won't be like a sharp knife being thrust right between your shoulder blades."

I crow about how well parallel parenting has worked for me. How basically pretending my ex-husband doesn't exist has made everything okey-dokie. Peachy keen. The bee's freaking knees!

I'm sorry to inform you that I'm full of shit. Kind of.

Why do I say I'm full of shit? Because a couple of weeks ago, I came face-to-face with my ex, and I didn't handle it the way someone who is fully recovered would have.

I handled it like an immature tween. Or worse, like a temperamental preschooler.

Let me set it up for you, okay?

Three nights a week I work late. Our elementary school has a before/after school childcare program, and there needs to be someone in the front office until they are closed, for security purposes.

Our gymnasium is used by our local Park and Rec department after school hours. There are a variety of programs offered, everything from adult volleyball leagues to martial arts to toddler gymnastics.

When I'm in the office those three evenings, sometimes I encounter the people coming into our school to participate in the Park and Rec programs.

See where I'm going with this?

So there I was, in the office that is essentially my home-away-from-home, doing what I do. Making copies, filing stuff, entering super important facts onto super important spreadsheets. Minding my own sweet business.

There's a Park and Rec employee who has a desk outside of our office. He is the one who usually buzzes people in for those non-school activities.

That day, his buzzer was broken. So, every so often I'd hear a little bumpy noise at my door, and I'd buzz the people in.

I was walking back to my desk from the copy room, and I saw a person standing outside the door. I rushed over to hit the button, to let them in. And that's when I saw who it was.

It was my ex. I froze, people. Like a mother effing popsicle. Did I mention that he wasn't alone?

He was there with his child, his little toddler/person he made with Secretary.

It was like a scene from the Matrix, only instead of Keanu Reeves in a long black coat dodging slow motion bullets, it was ME in a flowy black burka top and leggings, begging the universe to rip open so I could escape.

Our eyes met, and his face showed some shock. And some disbelief. Here's what my face looked like, at first:

image: Salon.com
Yes, the Rachel Dratch/Debbie Downer look is hot, y'all. I was trying really hard to process the moment. In those few seconds, every single thing that has gone down over the past decade tumbled over and under and through me. The good. The bad. And oh my God...the ugly.

Seeing him knocked the air out of me. Seeing him being all fatherly and sweet with a little kid who looks SO MUCH like our sons? I'll be honest with you. It made me sick. It dug up the bones of all my supposedly dead issues and they did a macabre little jig, right there in that little school office. Neither of us said anything.

What was there to say? I suppose I could have played it cool. Played it like most mature people would have done. I could have said:

"Oh, hey. How's it going?" or
"Hello." or maybe
"Well, fancy meeting you here!"

I could have gone the really snarky route and said something bitchy.

"Wow! So you're actually parenting this one?" or
"Oh my gosh what a cutie. How long until you walk out of his life?" or perhaps
"Hi, Satan."

Of course I didn't say any of that. The mature things I didn't say because obviously, I'm not mature. The snarky things I didn't say because I do have a heart, and I respect my place of employment too much to drag that crap in there. Also, it's not cool to be a dick in front of kids.

But, what I did do is something I'm not proud of. It wasn't even something I did with any intention, it was a physical response. I swear on all things holy and pure, it was a knee-jerk reaction.

I made a face.
I made a freaking face at my ex-husband.

Now, like I said, it was something organic. It happened naturally, without any thought behind it whatsoever. I have scoured the internet looking for the perfect picture, but couldn't find one. So, I tried to replicate it in selfie form. Here's what I looked like:


Yes. It was the look of someone who had just stepped in dog poop. Barefoot.

He looked at me, and then looked down at his boy. I suppose to make sure none of the scathing lasers from my crazy Marty Feldman eye had burned the lad. He looked back at me, one more time, and I was still in face mode.

Only by that time, the shock was beginning to wear off and I'm sure the sadness showed.

After he left my office, I began shaking. Not like, withdrawal shakes or anything, but a trembling-hand sort of thing. I felt sick to my stomach, just a little bit. And there was something else.

I felt ashamed.

Ashamed that I didn't just say hello. Ashamed that there he was, enjoying a fun night with his child and there I was, working in an elementary school office, buzzing people in like a nightwatchman.

Ashamed that after all these years, after all these words, after all of my HEAR ME ROAR proclamations and after all of the so-called bravery and forgiveness and recovery I'm always spewing...

I made a face. That's all I had.

On the brief drive home I ranted to myself. Beat myself up a bit, and also, calling him out. Telling the imaginary him in my car what a shitty person I think he is, what a cruel man he is, what a heartless meanie he is. I gripped the steering wheel hard, like I was on the Autobahn instead of a little Minneapolis suburb street.

When I got home, the boys were gone. Out with friends, playing basketball at the park. I was alone with my shame and my anger. I texted my best friend and poured out the contents of my heart. She listened. She comforted.

I made a martini, and then I sat out on my porch and I cried.

How's that for "moving on"?
How's that for "getting over it"?

After I recovered from FaceGate '15, I decided a few things. Number One: maybe this parallel parenting thing isn't all it's cracked up to be. Perhaps if I was forced to interact with him on a more regular basis, seeing him wouldn't be such a shock. But there's the rub...we don't have many opportunities to be face to face. And as much as I'd like to nudge my maturity along, I sure as hell am not going to call him up and invite him to coffee just to desensitize myself.

Number Two, is that I need to admit to myself, and to those of you who are here seeking advice and support, that I'm not that strong. I'm not as far along in the healing process as I claim to be.

Number Three...this shit is hard. And some days are harder than others. We need to be forgiving, not only to those around us, but to ourselves. It's like I tell so many women just beginning this trek: You're going to screw up. And that's okay.

We are all going to be okay. Right?




5/10/15

Just Another Mother's Day



There are about 8 year's worth of good memories of my mother. In the soft, warm glow of the lamp on my nightstand, she'd sit on the edge of my bed and brush my hair.

"One, two, three" she'd count, all the way to one hundred. "One hundred brushes a night, Jennifer." She told me it would make my hair soft and shiny.

She'd curl up in bed with me, sometimes. She'd read books using funny voices and there were nights she'd read a dozen of them. Sometimes I'd fall asleep to the sound of her reciting the words of Maurice Sendak or Shel Silverstein or Beverly Cleary.

She would give me her leftover teaching supplies so I could play school. I'd create small, uniform rows of dolls and stuffed animals and I'd stand in front of my "class", going over the alphabet and counting by fives.

All of that changed, though, when she left us. Left me, my brother and my dad. She left us to be with a man, and sometimes when I play the game "What If" I wonder what life might have been like if she'd just disappeared with him, driven off into the sunset with her new beau. My dad did his best with two young kids, making dinners and getting us ready for school in the morning. We were sad, but we were okay. We were safe.

And then she came back for us. According to relatives, my dad fought, and fought hard, for custody. But this was the 70's, and unless mom was a derelict or in a mental institution, dads rarely got the kids. I wonder why she wanted us? Was it a final fuck you to my dad? Some sort of maternal urge she couldn't stifle?

Whatever it was, she won. My brother and I were packed up and moved into the tiny two bedroom apartment with my mom, and the man I soon discovered was a monster.

It wasn't long after that when the same woman who used to brush my hair and read to me stood by, silent, while her new husband beat me up. While he screamed at me, spit flying, fists clenched, she was there. Watching. Smoking a cigarette. Sometimes she'd shame him into apologizing afterwards. Other times, she'd tell me how I'd asked for it. She'd scold: "You shouldn't roll your eyes at him, Jennifer."

Mother's Day meant nothing back then, and it didn't until I got married and became a mom myself. Back then, we'd buy hanging baskets of geraniums and shuttle the kids to all of the grandmother's houses. We'd drop off flowers and cards and have the kids tell their grandmas, "Happy Mother's Day!" My own mother's house was part of the circuit, I'd done a fabulous job of blocking out the shit storm that had been my childhood. I'd watch as my own little babies would lean into her for a hug, watch her put her omnipresent cigarette down and, in her stained housecoat, receive the little arms that reached out towards her. The monster was always there. Always, always there. Standing off to the side, making small talk with my then husband. The absurdity of the situation went wholly unnoticed by everyone. Except me.

I had let my husband and children know, from the start, that I had no expectations for Mother's Day. A hug, a kiss, maybe a card they'd made. The fact that someone had picked a day in May and deemed it to be the one day we all celebrated our mothers didn't seem like a big deal to me. It was a way for restaurants and flower shops and the good folks at Hallmark to make a buck out of obligation and guilt. No thanks, I decided. Count me out.

After the divorce, there was exactly one Mother's Day when my now-ex-husband took the kids shopping. The kids later told me that he'd taken them to Target, pointed them in the direction of a clearance end-cap and instructed them to "pick something out for your mom. Make sure it's less than $20.00." They came home with two framed prints of cherry blossom trees. Done in black and pink. They were hideous, but I hung on to them for many years because they were, in essence, from my children.

From then on, the good teachers my children were lucky to have took care of Mother's Day presents. Little hand painted terra cotta pots with sprigs of Swedish Ivy, poems about mommies decorated with tiny handprints, tissue paper flowers. I loved all of these things, and saved a few of them.

Once they were out of elementary school, however, the teacher-guided, handmade presents ended. My kids always made sure to mention the day, always wished me a happy one. There were breakfasts in bed, attempts at best behaviors and all-around sweetness, adolescent-style.

We'd still visit my mom, although as both of us aged, it became harder to force the affection. I'd clench up as we pulled into the driveway, and my smiles were small and perfunctory as we walked through the threshold and into the cluttered, stinky house. Memories smothered me, and seeing my kids all tall and gangly and awkward just like I had been, within arm's reach of The Monster...it filled me with an unnamed dread.

The recovery time from these visits became longer and tougher. A few years ago, the nightmares started coming back, and the very sound of his voice would trigger black moods in me. I began letting her calls go to voicemail, and sometimes it would take me a day or two to finally listen to the message.

Always the same. The television droning on in the background. Her heavy breathing, then asking me in that Harvey Fierstein voice "Can you get me a few packs of cigarettes, Jennifer?" And ever so faintly, under the combined din of the voices on the t.v. and her wheezing, there'd be his voice. I could hear it, and it scared me even though I was sitting in my own living room and it was simply a recording.

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING NOW??" The voice would get closer and I'd hear my mom fumbling with the phone. "GODDAMMIT, WHO NOW?!" And then nothing.

Mother's Day fills me with many feelings, none of which they make cards for: overwhelming guilt. Sadness. Regret. And always, the wondering about how it could have been. How it should have been.

For a long time, I felt shame about my reaction to this day. I'd hide my real feelings, gloss over the pain and put on a happy face when that Sunday in May rolled around. My kids, who are all old enough to make their own gestures, treat me well. They tell me they love me, they call. They buy me lunch and small gifts.

And they always put up with my annual plea to do nothing. They listen, quietly, to my diatribe about how I am lucky to have so many Mother's Days throughout the year.

I am, you know that? I am so lucky. I had no idea how to be a mother to children past the age of eight, and somehow I have kids who like me, who aren't afraid of me. Kids who write moving, beautiful tributes to me in classes, kids who tell me their friends love coming over because "you're nice to them", kids who will go to The Avengers movies with me. Even a 21 year old kid who wants to move back home "for a couple of months" because he knows this is a soft place to land.

Despite all of that, I still can't stand this day. I look at my phone and I count down the hours until it's almost too late to call her. I can picture her, cigarette in hand, looking at her own phone, waiting for it to ring. I can see him, poking his head in the door of her room, making a comment about me and my ungratefulness.

I breathe in. Breathe out. I'll call her, and over the sound of the local newsmen yammering in the background I will wish her a Happy Mother's Day. I'll hear her breathing. I'll shut my eyes, tight against the threatening tears, as I fight to not see her sitting on the edge of my bed, brushing my hair.

"One, two, three..." 

4/27/15

Imitation Is Not Flattery. It's Stealing.

Image: stephanyfolsum.com Used with permission.


The infinite monkey theorem doesn't have anything to do with what I'm going to blather on about here, but it makes me giggle and, if twisted a bit, I can make it fit.

I can't be bothered to look up the exact quote, but it is something along these lines:

"A monkey hitting keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare."

In this instance, I'd change it to read:

"A million bloggers hitting keys on a laptop for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type something similar." 

I'm not naive. Nor am I full of myself. In the blogging world, there are many people who write about the exact same topics. You have your parenting bloggers, homeschooling bloggers, fashion bloggers, DIY bloggers. And each of those niches has smaller, more defined categories: single parenting bloggers, parents of multiples bloggers, special-need parent bloggers, plus-size fashion bloggers, budget-conscious fashion bloggers.You get the gist, right?

My little niche is divorce blogging. Divorce isn't the only topic I write about, but it is one I revisit frequently. Because I'm divorced and it has affected not only my life, but the lives of my kids. Five years ago, when I first started writing here, there weren't a ton of us. My favorite divorce/single parent blogger was Single Mom Survives. I loved reading her stuff because our stories were ickily (it's a word now, spellcheck) similar: husbands who left us for, and married, coworkers. Hers even got remarried on their old wedding anniversary date, which I was pretty sure had only happened to me. She's no longer writing (or Tweeting, I just discovered) which is a shame. I miss her.

Over the years, more blogs about divorce and what happens after divorce started popping up. When the editors at HuffPost Divorce reached out and asked me to write for them, I squealed with joy. Once immersed in that world, I was officially a Divorce Blogger. And I wasn't the only one. To quote Chandler Bing: "Doy".

We all write about the same things. Divorce, dating after divorce, parenting during and after a divorce, the financial aspect of it, etc. Being divorced can touch just about every facet of one's life, and boy do we like to write about it.

The thing is, while we may all write about the same topics, we all do so in our own voices. We have our own opinions, our own quirks. Our own style of writing. Our words are like fingerprints: uniquely ours. We are indeed special snowflakes. Special divorced snowflakes.

I recently stumbled upon an essay written by a fellow divorce blogger. It was divorce-related, and as it so happens, it was subject I've written about. One of the essays I wrote about this particular subject went on to become one of my more popular posts, both here and on HuffPost. Coincidence? Maybe. Then, as I read her post, I couldn't help but see the striking resemblance to the piece I'd written over a year ago. The cadence was almost identical. The flow was the same. There was even an exact turn of phrase used. It was like reading something I'd written, only not about my life. About somebody else and their life.

That brings us back to the monkey/bloggers. Sure, the other writer's post was very similar to mine. Including the title, yo. But, let's put ego and feels aside and remember: there are millions of people writing billions of words every single day. It was bound to happen. I wept upon the shoulders of a couple friends, friends who write and one who doesn't. They comforted me, they assured me I wasn't too off-base to think my words had been borrowed. I retreated into the bushes to lick my writery wounds and all the ragey water flowed under the blogging bridge.

Until I saw another article a few weeks later. Written by the same person. Covering the exact same topic I'd recently written about. She'd reworked it quite a bit, added a lot more flowery words and a few "mamas" here and there. But the bones of it were too close for comfort. Not only was the skeleton identical to the one I'd typed out a few weeks ago, but the message was a twin, too. Again, it was as if she'd read my words and then set out to rewrite them, rearrange them to her liking.

What was it George W. once misquoted? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...we won't get fooled again? Now I have to dig up that soundbite. God I miss that man's way with words. Anyway. What I was trying to say is this: one strikingly similar piece...yeah. Okay, it happens. And even if it was deliberate, what are you going to do about it? Go on the Blogger's Small Claims Court show and plead your case?

But twice? Two pieces, so very similar, by the same person? I call foul. And I also call plagiarism.

Look. I get it. You read something, it hits you, you're inspired to write about your own experiences. I do that ALL THE TIME. But the good thing, the right thing, the ETHICAL thing to do, is give the other person credit. Mention what you read and how it made you feel. Provide a link back to the person's site. Send a note or email to the author of the original piece, telling them how much you liked it and OMG you moved me to write about my life!

What you shouldn't do is read it, rework it just enough so it's not blatant stealing, and not only post it on your blog but submit it to a bigger site. Putting your name on it, presenting it to the world as something you created? I don't know how people can do that and look at themselves in the mirror. It's like cheating when you play Words With Friends. Yeah, you might win, but did you really?

It's a gray area, this blogging biz. We can make sure we put a blurb on our blogs, telling the world that these are OUR words and YOU can't steal them. But there is no way an idea can be copyrighted, is there? Imagine the red tape we'd have to swim through if one single person owned all the rights to the concept of blogging about any particular subject. It's like a jungle sometimes: it makes me wonder how...oops, sorry. Off on a Grandmaster Flash tangent. We're insane if we think anything we write about is truly original. But...how we write it is original.

When my kids were little and still in diapers, I confessed to a friend that in a crowd I was able to tell, by smell alone, if the source of a stinky odor was one of my little darlings. That's how intimate the relationship between a mother and child can be. The same goes for a writer, and their words. Gross analogy, I know. But it works.

Don't try to pass my shit off as yours. It's not cool, and I can smell it a mile away. A mama knows.

And now, for some comic relief, I will close with George and his quote.




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