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Solitude, Invading Molecules, and The Scarlet Pimpernel

9 Nov

There is someone in the house. I don’t have to see or hear them. I know by the way my skin prickles and my brain reels. There is someone in the house besides me. I feel his molecules, because I know it’s a man, invading my space making it impossible for me to work. I feel seen, observed. I feel this way every time my husband takes vacation days.

The problem isn’t that he’s in my hair, though it feels like he’s in my hair. The problem is that he’s here at all. He’s actually leaving me alone. Most of the time you wouldn’t even know he’s here. Except that he’s here. When I leave my office to warm my tea or let the dog out or have a snack, there he is. And he’s doing nothing while I’m trying to do something. I go to my office and he doesn’t follow me but I still can’t work. It’s like the molecules he breathes seek me out and watch my every move.

You’d think that feeling observed like this would make me more productive, but it doesn’t. My husband likes my writing, he supports my writing, but I can’t do it in front of him or his molecules. So I check Facebook, then email, then read other bloggers’ posts. I comment and check Facebook again. I go back to email to see if the blogger has responded to my witty comment and the cycle begins again.

This morning, while I was cleaning the kitchen, he woke and came downstairs. I had spent the morning listening to my daughter wail about how she’d ruined her model of the atomic structure of the iron atom. She wailed about it for fifteen minutes then mysteriously stopped wailing. “I didn’t ruin it after all,” she said gaily. I sighed. She went to school.

I had about a half hour in silence. I like silence. Even the dog knows I like silence and only barks when absolutely necessary. Normally, I have hours and hours of silence. But not this week.

I’ve been tolerant of having another human in my silent house. And, really, my husband has been considerate, only engaging me when I’m within a ten-foot radius. He even listens to his music with noise-canceling headphones.

This morning, though, he interrupted my kitchen cleaning ritual with dialogue from 1934’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I like the movie; we like the movie. We quote the dialogue to each other, particularly the idiotic poem Leslie Howard pens as the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, who is actually the infamous Pimpernel, fearless rescuer of French nobility following the Revolution. The poem begins like this:

They seek him here,

They seek him there.

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

It goes on, ending with “That damned elusive Pimpernel.”

Today, I rose at 7 a. m. with The Empress of the Fine Chinese Whine. My vacationing husband rose at 10 a.m. and came down for his morning coffee. He was cheerful. He was quoting the Scarlet Pimpernel poem, he thought.

“They seek him high,” he said. “They seek him low. Those Frenchies know not. . .”

“Stop yourself!” I said. “You’re doing it wrong! I think I’ve been pretty good about you being here all week, putting up with your molecules all up in my face, but you have no idea how the poem goes!”

To his credit, he stopped. To my credit, I poured a cup of tea, went to my office, closed the door, and wrote about how my husband’s molecules, supportive and understanding as they are, drive me crazy when they aren’t supposed to be here in my solitude.

Next week, he’ll be back at work and so will I. Alone. In silence. Now, though, my teacup is empty and I’m hoping the Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t waiting for me in the kitchen.

Wedded Blitz

17 Oct

She was a big woman, with tightly permed hair perched on top of her head like a nest, a ‘do that made her face look all the more round. She was driving a big pink Cadillac, with the top down, and she started whooping and waving as she turned down the street to my house. Well, I assume it was my house, since I was sitting on the top step of the big front porch like I owned the place. And since it was my dream, I figured I did own the place.

Unlike my real abode, my dream home sat on the top of a rise, oozing old-fashioned charm. I had a good view of Charlaine as she motored up to the house, calling out to me. “What the hell is Charlaine Harris doing at my house?” I thought, both in my dream and in that part of the brain that realizes that we’re dreaming.

Those of you who know me well know I love TrueBlood, the HBO series. Many of you also know that Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books that inspired the series. So, Ms. Harris is something of a pop fiction writing goddess in my orbit of the universe. What, indeed, was Ms. Harris doing riding her pink Cadillac convertible down my not-street to my not-house?

“You should be writing about your mother!” she called, leaning back in her Caddy, one arm resting on top of the steering wheel, one extended so that she could point directly at me while admonishing me. There was a Dr. Pepper in the cup holder.

“But I’m not ready!” I called back. I think I heard her mutter a “P-shaw” under her breath before she gunned the Caddy and pulled away shouting, “Yes, you are!” and waving as she pulled down the street.

She missed my reply. “Hell, no, I’m not ready to write about my mother!” I yelled at the retreating car. When I told my sister about the dream, she said something like, “Oooooooh!” which I took to mean that she thought just because I had dreamed I was ready to write about my mother that I actually was ready to do so. I figured, it being my dream, I was completely at liberty to ignore it.

Last Monday, October 10, was my mother’s birthday. You may recall, I wrote nothing. It was a holiday, for crying out loud. A lame-ass holiday to be sure, but a holiday nonetheless. I’ve gotten into the habit of giving myself a blog break whenever my children get a break from their grueling schooling and was glad to take it if it gave me an out on the Mom post.

Writing about my mother is problematic in so many ways. She died three years ago, so there’s the grief stuff to wade through. She wasn’t a particularly simple woman, either. So, my thoughts about all things Mom are pretty complicated. Add to that the fact that many of my readers knew my mother and some of my readers are my Dad and siblings and, well, blogging about Mom just doesn’t have whole lot of appeal.

I know that it doesn’t have to be Mom’s birthday for me to write about Mom. I could, for instance, write about Mom this week. But I have another excuse! Today, you see, is my wedding anniversary. I am, indeed, so averse to writing about my mother that I will gladly write about my marriage. How’s that for avoidance?

I am pretty sure I have been married for 19 years. I say “pretty sure” because I am really bad with ages and dates. I have no idea how old my father is, for instance. He’s somewhere around 75. My kids I have to keep track of for school and other official business. My dad? Nah. Actually, my kids are what I call time anchors. In the temporal muddle of my mind, I can always grab on to one of their ages and get a rough guess about the age of something else. Our house, for instance, is as old as our son. So around the time he is going off to college, we will need a new roof.

My husband is the keeper of things like anniversaries. He has a Ph.D. in history; he knows when everything happened in our lives. It probably used to bother him that I can never really remember that our anniversary is October 17 and not October 16. I say the right thing when I’m asked lately, but I still have to pause and remind myself that we got married on the 17th.

I’m sure there are people who consider 19 years a long time to be married and I suppose it is. Marriage is, in some ways, like a really long nap. You know the kind where you lay down thinking you’re just going to snooze for a little while and then get up and be really productive but you wake up two hours later and wonder how the hell that happened? You could swear you were only asleep for twenty minutes, but the clock doesn’t lie.

So I don’t really feel like I’ve been married 19 years. But I have two kids, one old enough to drive. My husband has lost a lot of the hair that he had when we wed. I’ve gained a crepe-y, looseness around my neck. We’re both heavier than we were. He’s in worse shape; I’m in better shape. And I gloat about it. We used to go to the symphony and opera. Now our big thrill is watching Modern Family a season behind on DVD.

I was pondering marriage as I folded laundry yesterday afternoon in our bedroom while my husband watched TV. He flipped around and finally settled on a historical film. I recognized the male lead, Richard Burton, but not the woman. I meant to ask, “Is that The Taming of the Shrew?” but it came out, “Is that The Tamming of the . . .” which my husband immediately picked up on and said, “Yes, it’s Tammy and the Shrew, starring Connie Stevens and Richard Burton!” We both lost it, giggling “Tammy and the Shrew” at each other for quite a while. Recovering, I grabbed another t-shirt to fold, and thought, “This is how you stay married. Find someone who giggles at the same things you do, doesn’t mind (much) when you gloat, and understands that even a fat lady with a bad perm in a pink Cadillac can’t make you write about your mom if you’re not ready.



The Other “F” Word

2 May

I collect refrigerator magnets. I’ve never stopped to count how many there are but I’ve got quite a few. My favorites are the ones you get in trendy gift shops that have a vintage picture of a woman with a witty saying. For instance, I have one very large one with a picture of a woman leaning on a pillow. The saying? “I dreamed my whole house was clean.” I also have one with a pensive woman. Her caption reads, “She thought she might enjoy being mature.”

My favorites, though, go hand in hand. One, of a woman embracing a man states, “Darling, let’s get deeply into debt!” Its mate shows a picture of a beautiful woman with bleached blonde hair and deep red lips. She’s saying, “Frugal is such an ugly word.”

I firmly believe that frugal is an ugly word, but as we are deeply in debt, I’ve resolved that I shall attempt to become frugal.

My grandmother was very good at being cheap—I mean, frugal. I remember she had a wire basket with a long handle in her kitchen. You know those little hunks of soap that are too little to effectively wash your hands with but too big to throw away guilt-free? My grandmother collected them, put them in the wire basket then, when she needed soap for doing dishes, she would swish the basket around in the hot water.

I’m pretty sure they don’t make the soap my grandmother used anymore. Until my own family entered the frugal zone, I bought really nice soap. One particular favorite is French-milled and smells like gardenias. I’m not really sure what French-milled means, but it makes the soap nice and hard, but not too hard. Unfortunately, my favorite gardenia soap costs $5 for a bar. Now, it’s a big bar, but one can purchase a crate of Ivory soap for $3.99 at Target so I switched to Ivory. My husband liked that it’s cheap—I mean inexpensive. My daughter liked that it floats. I remember liking that when I was her age. I don’t remember the soap costing more than $100 to use, though. Here’s the problem with Ivory: it’s soft. It’s soft and gushy and all that soft, soapy gushiness combined with my daughter’s long, long hair creates a drain clog that requires a plumber to remove. Our foray into cheap soap cost us $65 per hour to remove. That gardenia-scented soap is smelling better and better these days.

I’ve tried to save money on clothes and shoes. Back when I was young and trendy, I had more than twenty pairs of black shoes. “How can one person need twenty pairs of black shoes,” my husband asked? I was astounded that he could question owning so few black shoes. I tried to explain to my husband the difference between sandals, pumps, sling backs, oxfords, loafers and ballet flats. All he retained is that the ones he thinks are hot are called “pumps.”

I used to spend a LOT of money on shoes. One pair was made entirely of leather, from the buttery smooth uppers to the little stacked heels. They were sleek, almost austere and I wore them with everything from pants to skirts. They were $200. I wear them still. Last year, I bought a pair of tan Mary Jane pumps at Target. They cost $19. Within half an hour of putting them on, my feet are screaming in agony. I remind myself of this every time I am drawn into the shoe section at Target. For me at least, there is no cheap and chic when it comes to shoes.

I can’t save money on my daughter’s shoes, either. She has long, narrow feet that can only be shod by the local outrageously expensive children’s shop or Nordstrom. My son, however, wears the same pair of shoes every day. While I admire his cheapness—I mean, frugality—I am sure we will have a doctor visit for some disgusting fungal growth in the near future.

Since our grocery expense is rather large, I thought I’d cut costs there. I bought the huge store-brand of frosted flakes. It came in a floppy bag with “Cheap Frosted Flakes” plastered all over it in big, bold letters. I needed a proper disguise. I bought a really cool plastic, reusable cereal container. My mother would have called it “Tupperware,” but a genuine Tupperware cereal container costs $20. I think I paid $5 for mine and felt guilty about it. I put the $1.99 worth of cereal in the $5 cereal-serving container. The next day, my son poured a huge bowl of flakes, added three pints of milk and took a bite. He immediately ran to the sink, spitting the flakes out as if they were coated with arsenic. “These aren’t Kellogg’s!  These suck!!” His sister heard his pronouncement; hence she wouldn’t eat the offending flakes either. So, I tasted the flakes. They suck.

I moved on to makeup, another considerable expense. Foundation, in particular, is something I am very particular about. I routinely bought $45 foundation, made specifically for me by Prescriptives. Apparently, I didn’t buy enough of it. Prescriptives went out of business. There being three aisles of makeup at Target, I selected a promising shade. It cost $15. I put it on. Though a lovely shade of rose in the bottle, it turned instantly orange on my skin. I tried another brand for $12. It turned orange. Another brand. Another $15. It turned orange. Forty-two dollars later, I still need a foundation that doesn’t turn orange.

My husband would say that one of our biggest problems is the fact that our regular grocery store is Target, coupled with the fact that I like nothing better than going to Target and pushing a cart around for an hour or two. I’m better about non-grocery items landing in the cart, but the kids aren’t. Some surprise treat always makes its way onto the belt. And, while I bring a list, I always find something we need that isn’t on it. At the check out counter, the children have fun guessing if the total will go over $200. I’m pleased to say it frequently doesn’t. Still, one of my son’s favorite jokes is that Dad goes to Target to get milk and comes out with milk. Period. Mom goes to Target for milk and comes home with milk and a flat screen TV. What? You mean you don’t? What are you, cheap—I mean, frugal?

© 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Talk The Talk

14 Feb

When I signed on to be a parent, I knew that sooner or later I would need to have “the talk” with my child. I figured it would be later—much later—say, in high school or college, maybe even grad school. Yeah, grad school would be good. No such luck.

I had the first “talk” with my son in pre-school. He was a cute little guy and was being pursued by little girls on the playground. Little boys are physical. They push, they shove, they wrestle. Little girls don’t, but they aren’t any less physical. Little girls love to steal kisses. The problem for my son was that he was being told to keep his hands to himself but no one was telling the girls to keep their lips to themselves. So we had a talk about touch, as in, “No one should touch you if you don’t want to be touched,” followed by, “No, you may not hit the girls if they try to kiss you.” I concluded with “Yes, I will tell the teacher it isn’t fair for the girls to kiss you if you can’t push them.”

Several years later, my son went with his class to a place where they would learn about “health.” I was glad. I figured it got me off the talk hook for at least another year or two. The day he went, I had some anxiety. When I was his age, we had a similar special class. They called it “sex education” then. I don’t recall a word of it. At this point, it is important for you to know that I have two siblings. My mother told me I came home from school that day and said, “Mommy! Dad had three erections!” She also told me she said, “He had more than that!” My son came home without a single comment. I sighed with relief. My son knew what he needed to know about sex—sorry—health.

Perhaps three years later, I discovered he did not know what he needed to know about sex, I mean, health. My son knew about erections and eggs and sperm and embryos and fetuses and how to make them. He knew that sex felt good and that sex was something two people who loved each other would want to do. In short, he had all the information necessary to make a baby and no information on how to not make a baby. This, to me, was a problem.

“So,” I said, “they told you how to have sex.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Did they tell you about birth control?”
“Yeah. They said it doesn’t work.”
“Really? They said it doesn’t work at all?”
“Yeah. Basically.”
“Son,” I said. “How many children do dad and I have?”
“Two,” he said.
“And how many times do you think dad and I have had sex?”
He said nothing. We were in the car so he could stare straight ahead while his mother embarrassed the crap out of him.
“All of our friends have only the exact number of children that they wanted to have. Use your brain. Do you still think birth control doesn’t work?”
“MOM!” he said.

Eager to fill the holes in his health education, I bought a package of condoms. I didn’t feel this was premature. He had a girlfriend, for crying out loud. I asked his father to show him the condoms. He declined. I asked his father if he wanted to talk to his son about condoms. He said, “No.” I asked his father if he ever wanted to talk to his son about anything related to sex. He said, “No.”

So, there I was with a package of condoms and a son with a girlfriend. I told my son that I had a package of condoms. He looked at me with horror in his eyes. I told him I would leave them in his room and he could check them out when he was comfortable. I left his room, patting myself on the back for being a great, open-minded mom. When I went to my own room later that night, the package of condoms was on my bed, unopened. The next day, I placed the package of condoms on my son’s desk chair before he came home from school. That night, the unopened package was on my bed. I took it to my son and placed it on his desk. He threw it at me. I threw it back at him. For about a week, we lobbed the package of condoms back and forth. The condoms are stashed away for now, but the next time he has a girlfriend, I’m tossing them his way.

I have realized that sex isn’t the only thing that warrants a talk. Drugs get a talk, too. I like the method reported by one of my son’s friends. This girl, we’ll call her “Anna,” was sitting in her room, reading magazines, and listening to music. Her mother came in the room, picked up a magazine and started flipping through the pages. Anna thought her mother’s behavior a little odd, but welcomed it. They exchanged a little small talk, but mostly just flipped through magazines together. Finally, Anna’s mother closed the magazine, tossed it on Anna’s bed and said, “You never do drugs!” then left the room.

Most talks are uncomfortable for my son and me, but we usually get through them. I have developed a set of rules. Keep it as impersonal as possible. Keep an open mind. Remember that “Hmph” is a legitimate teenage response.
I had a talk with my son recently that had me blowing all of my rules. I discovered clean, folded laundry in my son’s dirty laundry hamper. When I tell other mothers that I discovered clean, folded laundry, they invariably have the same response. Their eyes narrow, their lips harden, their brows furrow. “Clean and folded?” they growl.

I asked my son, “Do you know what I found in your hamper?” He said, “Hmph.” I said, “Clean . . .folded . . .laundry.” He said, “Hmph.” “You’ll be doing your own laundry after today.” He said, “Hmph.” I said, “Do you understand?!” “I get it!” he shouted back and stomped up to his room.

He’ll cool off. I’ll cool off. Eventually, we’ll be able to be in the same room together and then we’ll have another talk. It’s the one where I say, “I love you and I’m sorry I lost my cool.” And he’ll say, “Hmph.”

Green Eyed Lady

24 Jan

I wasn’t particularly well liked as a child. I was a geek. While other children were outside playing, I was inside reading the encyclopedia. I particularly liked the entries on dogs and flowers, but I read just about every page. I didn’t leave it at that though. I assumed all of the children were reading the encyclopedia when they weren’t outside. I actually told other children that I read the encyclopedia and then I told them what I had learned. I quickly discovered that the other children were not reading the encyclopedia. Every time I cried on my mother’s shoulder about the other children’s derision, my mother would say the same thing. “Oh, honey. They’re just jealous.” Jealous? Of me? The encyclopedia-reading know-it-all? “Could it possibly be true?” I thought.

Well, of course it wasn’t true. The children were unkind to me because I was an insufferable know-it-all. By the time I was a tween, I had learned how to pretend to like frosted lip gloss and Carly Simon songs, but the jealousy seed was sewn. Other girls took to bell-bottoms and blush like ducklings to water. I never managed to feel as comfortable in the teen uniform of my time as I did sitting in the family room, reading the encyclopedia, imagining all of the other girls jealous of my set of World Books.

Perhaps my parents’ insistence on treating each of their children equally fed the jealous monster within me. Every year at Christmas, my mother would carefully add up how much money she had spent on each of us, then would buy more presents for whoever had been slighted. When she was sure she had spent equal amounts of money on each of us, she would lay the booty out and make sure that the equality was evident. If it looked like one of us was getting more than the others, the present parity process would begin anew.

We became accustomed to things being equal at our house. If one of us got something, all of us got something. This extended to privileges, too. It started to breakdown as we got older though. I remember my sister being incensed when I was allowed to wear pantyhose in fifth grade. Technically, the hose in question were sheer pale-pink tights, but my sister saw “pantyhose.” Since she wasn’t allowed to wear hose in fifth grade, she was not going to put up with me wearing hose in fifth grade.

Many years later, as an adult, I recall asking for a Cuisinart for Christmas and being told that it was too expensive. Just months later, my parents bought my sister and her husband a dishwasher for their new home. I was not gracious. I believe I yelled something like, “She gets a dishwasher? I can’t have a Cuisinart and she gets a dishwasher?” in the middle of the Polk Brothers sales floor. I got a Cuisinart for Christmas the following year. I still have it and it still works and I’m still kind of ashamed of how I got it.

Though I’m older, I have retained my jealous ways. It’s a good thing, then, that my best friend claims not to envy others. She says she is truly happy for other people when good fortune smiles upon them. Of course, I hate her for it. She knows I hate her for having a lake cottage, too. When she and her husband bought the cottage, I said something like, “Wow, that’s so great!” but I was thinking, “Where’s my lake cottage? Why does she get a lake cottage?” I realize that I should have been thinking, “Cool! My best friend owns a lake cottage! That’s so great for her,” immediately followed by “Maybe I can stay there for free some day!”

I think my friend sometimes pretends she’s jealous of me so that I won’t feel so bad. When we moved to Naperville, we knew only one other family here. She would call me and, if she got the answering machine, accuse me of being out having fun with my new best friends. When I tell her that my son has called me a really nasty name and I have taken away his wireless mouse for a month, she’ll tell me that her daughter has called her a really nasty name and she has taken away her laptop for a month. She’s a good friend.

There is some evidence that I may be getting better at handling my jealous nature. I used to be so jealous of some celebrity that I couldn’t stand to look at her. I can’t remember who it was now. My sister, I recall though, can’t stand Demi Moore. I understand her animosity. You’ve had three kids, Demi, and you want me to believe you haven’t had any work done? Honey, you’ve had more work done than a Chicago tollway in the summer.

Lots of people hate Angelina Jolie because she’s beautiful, she has a beautiful lover, they adopted beautiful kids and made some beautiful ones, too. I can’t hate her, though. Look at me, people! I married an older man. I have a gorgeous daughter adopted from China. My husband and I made a beautiful boy together. Ok, so I’m not the most beautiful woman in the world and my husband isn’t Brad Pitt. Still, Angie and I have a lot in common. She hates Jennifer Aniston, too.

Throughout my life, jealousy has been my constant companion. Sometimes, she’s just hanging around the edges and I’ll get a little wistful over someone’s good fortune. Other times, she’s pulled up a rocking chair and is goading me into a great green funk. I’ve come to accept it.

Things have been pretty quiet on the Green Line of my life lately, but I see a storm on the horizon. Just the other day, a friend chatted me up on Facebook and let it drop that she was typing on her laptop poolside in Mexico. I’m shivering in Chicago and she’s lapping up the sunshine south of the border. The last emerald straw just may be the email I got from my best friend the same day, though. “Do you hate me?” it was titled. What, I thought, could she have done to make me hate her? The message was signed, “sent from my iPad.”

Take that, Tull!

17 Jan

Probably fifty percent of my driving time is spent shuttling my children to where ever it is they need to be shuttled. Some would say I’m fortunate that I have only two children to shuttle and that they have relatively few activities to which they need shuttling. It’s not luck. We’re too broke for them to do more than one activity each. I’ve also carefully chosen their activities. I never encouraged soccer or swim team, both of which require parental shuttling to exotic locales, like Schaumburg, at ungodly hours of the day.

Still, it isn’t surprising to find me in the car with my son, taking him somewhere. Frequently, I will sing along with whatever is playing on the radio. This shouldn’t be a hardship. People have paid money to hear me sing, and yet, my son repeatedly tells me to stop, saying he wants to hear the original performance. I understand this and so I stop. Recently, the reason he shut me down cut a little too close to the bone.

I was singing along, with gusto and abandon, to a David Bowie song I love. I was into it. My son wasn’t “shushing” me. Life was good. When David and I came to the chorus, however, my son exclaimed, “Ewwwww, Mom!”

“What?!,” I said, looking in the rearview mirror for the squirrel I must have run over.

“God, Mom! You are too old to sing ‘Hot tramp, I love you so’!”

“Too old? Too old for Bowie?,” I thought? Mick Jagger is prancing his wrinkly old ass all over stages everywhere and I can’t sing David Bowie? What am I going to do in the nursing home, sing along with Perry Como? When I’d calmed down a tad, I realized my son might be on to something. Mick Jagger looks really bad prancing his wrinkly old ass these days.

It’s probably fitting that my son should be the one to point out the age-appropriateness of certain activities. When I married, people had long since given up the ever annoying “When will we see you walk down the aisle?” Soon after marrying, my husband and I began baby making. This went less smoothly than anticipated but more so than many people I’ve known.

At one of my monthly doctor visits, I looked over my records while I waited for the doctor. The file folder they were in was stamped “AMA.” Each individual page had “AMA” stamped at the top. Several little pieces of paper were stapled to the folder. Each of them was stamped “AMA.” I spent the time waiting for the doctor trying to figure out what “AMA” might mean. “American Medical Association” came to mind, but why would the AMA care about my little pregnancy? Then “Against Medical Advice” popped into my head, but I would have remembered being told not to get pregnant. So, I asked the doctor what AMA meant. “Oh, ‘advanced maternal age’,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

My AMA, and my husband’s APA, weren’t so obvious when we lived in Oak Park. Lots and lots of families in Oak Park were built through adoption, which tends to be a choice made by older parents. My son’s best friend in Oak Park was adopted. My daughter attended a daycare that was run by a woman who had adopted from China. Most of her little charges, like my daughter, were also adopted from China.

My best friend, who I met in church in Oak Park, has two daughters from China. One of them is my god-daughter. We’ll call her “Gracie.” One day, my friend was in her yard raking leaves. A boy rode his bike past the house once or twice, eyeing my friend suspiciously. Eventually, he stopped and said to her, “Does Gracie live here?” “Yes, she does,” said my friend, “I’m her mother.” “You can’t be her mother,” the boy said. “Why?” my friend asked, “because I’m white?” “No,” the boy said, “because you’re old.”

My son thinks I’m too old to call the woman in that story my best friend. “You’ve outgrown having a best friend, Mom.” I asked him what it was I was supposed to call my best friend, her being my best friend and all.

“You can call her your close friend. After you reach thirty-five, you shouldn’t use ‘best friend’.”

“What’s wrong with calling her my best friend?” I insisted. “She’s my closest friend. She makes me laugh. I make her laugh. She’s going to help me hide your dead body!”

She may help me hide my husband’s dead body, too. He thinks I’m too old for glitter nail polish. My niece, who owns the glitter nail polish and is twenty-two years old, does not believe I am too old for it. The night I put it on because it just happened to be there, I also just happened to be drinking champagne. It looked great! The next day, while I was drinking my morning tea, I decided my husband was probably right. But, I reserve the right to dig into my daughter’s polish supply on New Year’s Eve.

I know I’m too old for mini-skirts and leather pants. Never really wanted leather pants, but I wore my share of mini-skirts. I’ve watched enough episodes of “What Not To Wear” to know that I should not dress like my daughter, so the mini-skirts went to the Goodwill some time ago. I’m also aware that bikinis are out of reach for me. I never wore them when I was younger, believing the maillot to be much more chic. I’m still convinced a one-piece is the fashionable woman’s choice and I am nothing if not fashionable. Ok, I’m not so fashionable most of the time, but I’m rockin’ the one-piece at the Naperville beach!

My daughter pointed out that there are things that I am too young for, like a wheel chair. I’m also too young for gray hair. Fortunately, during this phase of monetary deprivation, my hair has been tremendously cooperative. Should too many grays begin to surface, though, we’ll be giving up meat to pay for my hair coloring. I’m too young for those AARP solicitations I keep getting, too. I’m glad that my husband isn’t, though. We could really use the discounts.

I am also, most definitely, too young to die and I’ll be damned if I’m too old to rock and roll. When you come to the nursing home to visit in 30 years, it’ll be easy to find me. Just look for the little old lady singing, “Hot tramp! I love you so.”

Potty Mouth

20 Dec

I really like the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It’s a sweet movie starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell that follows the love stories of four (more?) couples. Some time ago, I suggested it as a good family movie to watch with my adult sibs, my mom and dad and my grandmother. Everyone was on board for watching the movie. It started and, within two minutes, my mother was so offended she had her arms crossed over her chest and her lips firmly set in a pinched, hard line.

I forgot that the first five minutes of dialogue consist of one word, the “F” word, repeated many times, in many variations, as Hugh Grant’s character realizes he’s overslept and is about to be very late for a friend’s wedding. I identified with the opening scene, finding it very real. My mom found it really distressing and immediately labeled the film, “Dirty.” I recall she glowered at me. I knew I was f . . .acing an angry mother.

My mother didn’t swear much. I swear a lot. Actually, I swear a lot less than I used to. Working in a preschool will do that to you. I have to admit to thinking it’s pretty funny when a four-year-old looks in her backpack and says, “Sh-t!” Her companion then says, “What’s wrong?” “I left my indoor shoes at home,” she says. But, being the roll model that I am, I have always said, “We don’t say those words in school. Can you think of a better word to use when you’re frustrated?”

My problem is that I can’t think of a better word to use when I’m frustrated. The “S” word is perfect for those times when you just want to kick yourself in the behind for doing something stupid, like forgetting your indoor shoes. It’s a short word, so you get it over and move on quickly. It has an opening sound that you can draw out as long as you want and then a completely satisfying final consonant. Indeed, a very useful word.

As much as she hated swearing, my mother wasn’t above using it herself. She had some creative constructions, but my clearest memory of her swearing was over a sewing project. She was making a dress for either my sister or me. There was a particularly difficult seam that was refusing to cooperate. She sewed it and tore it out at least three times. Finally, she got it right, only to discover she had sewn the garment to her own. What did she say? She said, “Shit!”

I would have said the “F” word. While I find the “S” word quite useful, the “F” word is my go-to word for extreme frustration and/or pain. Accidentally poking myself with a pin will get the “S” word out of me. Sewing something to my own clothing by mistake after trying to get the darn thing right for an hour? That’s going to get the “F” word out of me every time.

I’m also not likely to say “darn.” I use the “D” word, usually when referring to our cat, Oliver. Oliver is the worst cat who ever lived. Oliver wants only canned food and he wants it three times each day. If he does not get his canned food when he wants it, he breaks something. He has broken three teapots, numerous plates and bowls and all but two out of 12 coffee mugs. I call him, “the damn cat.”

I used to call him “the god-damned cat.” I stopped using “god damn” some time ago, realizing it could be offensive to some of my more religious friends who frown upon taking God’s name in vain. But, I’ve been rethinking my line of reasoning. I seem to recall learning that no one knows God’s name. If no one knows his name, then how can one take his name in vain? I’m not buying that God’s name is “God.” That’s like saying my dog’s name is “Dog.” If I found out that God’s name was “Fred,” then I could say “the Fred-damned cat” and my friends who worship Fred would be quite right in being offended.

My father believes that he knows God’s name. He told me, “It’s Harold.” “Harold?” I said. “Yes, you know, ‘Harold be thy name’.” “It’s ‘hallowed’, Dad,” I said. He was not deterred. Nothing, I have found, can keep a dad from making a Dad Joke. Having failed with Hallowed Harold, my dad said, “His middle name is ‘Andy’.” Almost afraid to ask, I said, “How’s that, Dad?” My dad began singing, “And he walks with me . . .”

Naturally, my children have used swear words and it is invariably blamed on me. My husband claims not to swear. I know he does, but I do it more, so he hides behind my foul mouth. The impact of my potty mouth was brought home to me in a stop at McDonald’s. It was summer. I was in the drive thru, unhappily waiting for a Happy Meal. My then four-year-old son had gotten wise to my “McDonald’s is closed” ploy. The food was not ready, so I was told to pull ahead and wait. First, however, I let the little old lady cross in front of my car to her own. The guy in the car behind me laid on his horn. I, ever mature as we know, shouted out my window, “What should I do, run her over?” He, even more mature than I, said, “Yeah!” to which I said, “Oh, go f— yourself.” From the back seat, my son added, “Yeah, you go f— your goat.” How he knew the man had a goat, I will never know.

Since then, I have tried to curb my evil ways, but tell my children that certain words are “adult” words and that, when they are adults, they can choose to use them. My son, almost an adult now, practices on an hourly basis, throwing in some really disgusting phrases that, while they contain no profanity, are, well, really disgusting. I have learned to ignore him.

My daughter brought me up short the other day when she asked, “Mommy, are you a pussy?” I choked back my immediate response and said, “Oh, dear, you must never use that word” and explained why. The first thing that came to my mind, though, was, “Hell, no! Mommy is hard core!”

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