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Of Bacon, Breasts and BPD

7 Mar

When I started this blogging thing, I had two goals. I needed something to occupy the time between caring for children and filling out job applications. I also thought I’d keep digital dinosaur status at bay by learning some of the new fangled social media. Apparently, I am under-ambitious. People are making money at this blogging thing.

In fact, people are making freaking boatloads of money at this blogging thing. Heather Armstrong, according to the New York Times, is the queen of the “mommy bloggers,” those women who blog about their kids, their husbands, their tract houses. Sound familiar? What doesn’t sound familiar is that Heather is on the Forbes list of the most influential women in media. Heather’s blog brings in as much as $50,000 per month. I, on the other hand, make about $80 a week tutoring.

I may be under-ambitious, but I am not stupid. Though I didn’t start blogging thinking I would make money at it, I also didn’t become a teacher thinking I wouldn’t. The blogging thing is going better than the teaching thing, so why not look into making money blogging, I thought.

I did some research. I’ve discovered that you can make money blogging if you are willing to be infamous or odd, reveal intimate details of the misfortunes in your life or endorse products. For what I hope are obvious reasons, I explored endorsing products first.

I use lots of products. I use products all over my house. Problem is, the products I use don’t really excite me. Except for bacon. I love bacon. Bacon is like a kiss on a boo-boo. It won’t fix anything, but it makes me feel better just thinking about it. Endorsing bacon is a problem, though. I don’t have a favorite bacon brand. It’s bacon, for crying out loud. All bacon is good. Bacon is the little black dress of the food world. Doesn’t matter who made it, it goes with everything.

So bacon’s out. I used to endorse the hell out of Prescriptives makeup. They folded. I loved the restaurant, L’Escargot. It went. Finding products to endorse was starting to make me feel very old and very out of touch. Then I remembered mayonnaise. I could live without dark chocolate. I cannot live without mayonnaise, specifically Hellman’s. My love of Hellman’s comes from being raised by a Southern woman. As a child, I believed that all sandwiches were made with Hellman’s, just as I believed that anyone who wasn’t Catholic or Republican would go to hell.

My mother put Hellman’s on every sandwich she ever made. Once, at our house, my dad’s mother was making him a sandwich. She buttered the bread. “Ewwww!” I thought. “Grandma, Dad likes his sandwiches with mayonnaise,” I said. “Oh, no, he likes them with butter,” she said confidently. Now, at this point in my life, my father had been eating sandwiches with mayonnaise for nearly 30 years. “Hey, Dad,” I said, “do you like your sandwiches with butter or mayonnaise?” My grandmother was generally a humble person, but I could have sworn I saw a smug little smile cross her lips as he said, “Butter.” My father’s sandwich lunacy aside, I can say without pause that I thoroughly and heartily endorse Hellman’s Mayonnaise. I also endorse therapy to resolve conflict avoidance issues, but my dad is making his own sandwiches these days so it’s a little late for that.

Unfortunately for me, endorsing Hellman’s is only going to pay off if I have more than a handful of visitors every day. Heather, the Mom Blog Queen, gets about 100,000 every day. Clearly, I’ve got some subscriber base building to do. That’s where being infamous or odd or willing to reveal intimate details of your life come in.

Heather built her base through infamy. She, famously, was fired for doing a very naughty thing: posting rotten things about the people she works with on her personal blog. The story went viral. (That’s what the kids call it when something gets very popular on the Internet and millions of people are clicking on it, sharing it, posting it. Going viral is not to be confused with going postal.) With no co-workers to malign, Heather turned to blogging the intimate details of her life. When Heather got pregnant, her subscriber base soared. I hope she didn’t blog the details of how she got pregnant. Now, Heather blogs about everything that happens to her, including getting her washer fixed.

My appliances all seem to be in working order. The motherboard on the dishwasher went wacky a few weeks ago, but so far my biggest dishwasher problem is worry that the dog is too heavy to stand on the open door while he licks the plates clean. If he climbs in and accidentally gets washed, then I’ll probably have to call the appliance repair guy. But I’ll be able to cancel the grooming appointment.

Unlike Heather, I feel my everyday life is just a little boring. I could do odd, I thought. There is a woman who calls herself “Pioneer Woman.” She got picked up by a cowboy in a bar, they got married and she traded her “high heels for cowboy boots.” Now she blogs about her life as a city slicker on the ranch with four kids and a cowboy.

I thought about being odd for a while. Oh, OK, I thought about being more odd. Yes, I could be more odd, so shut up! Problem here is that you have to be really odd to cut through the clutter. So, I decided that it would be really odd to blog about having a third breast installed. I could write about my struggles to find a doctor who would install said breast. I could blog about where on my body I would put said breast. Would it go in the middle? To the side of one of the existing girls? If so, which side? There are so many possible tangents to the third breast avenue. Of course, the problem with writing about installing a third breast is actually having to go through with it. Maybe if I learn Photoshop®, I’ll start the “and booby makes three” blog. Until then, I’ll be buying my bras off the rack.

So, I’m left with sharing intimate details of the misfortunes in my life. There are women who’ve built loyal followings writing about deaths of husbands and children, about battles with cancer, about living with mental health issues. My husband isn’t dead and I’m not planning on killing him this week. If one of my children dies, I don’t think I’ll be in a writing mood. I could write about living with bipolar disorder, which I do on a daily basis—the living with it part, not the writing about it part. The thing about writing about my chemically imbalanced life is that then I’m “the bipolar blogging mom” when really, I’m just a mommy blogger who happens to be bipolar. Did I mention that generic lamotrigine is really crappy? If you can, get Lamictal® brand. Otherwise, take the generic stuff with bacon.

Copyright© 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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Little Tract House on the Prairie

21 Feb

I had an interview with a creative talent agent recently. She was young. She was hip. She was urban; definitely a City Chick. “All of your work is really old,” she said. Ever cheerful, I said, “Ah, but I have a blog. I write and publish every week. It’s funny and lots of people like it.” She seemed impressed that I had been doing it for months.

She asked to see my blog. Her eyes shone when she pointed to the computer in the room and said, “Well, let’s take a look at it!” I pulled my blog up on the computer. “So, what is your blog about?” said City Chick. “It’s a humorous take on life in the suburbs,” I said. City Chick’s eyes glazed over like she’d taken a trip on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. Her mouth fell slack. You could hear the pigeons in the park thirty floors down.

City Chick didn’t read one word of my blog. That week’s post has one of my best lines in it but City Chick didn’t care; my blog is about suburban life, therefore it is of no interest to City Chick,

I used to be a City Chick. I lived in Chicago for years, both as a single and a married chick. My husband and I had a terrific apartment. We both worked downtown and took public transportation. Everything we wanted was within walking distance, including the beach. Like all proper City Chicks, I disdained the suburbs as a cultural wasteland. Then, my husband lost his job. Doing a little accounting, which is about how much accounting I can tolerate, revealed that we’d be better off owning a home. After a brief detour, we bought a house in Oak Park.

Oak Park is the suburbs for people who don’t want to think they live in the suburbs. There are nice parks, beautiful old homes and plenty of public transportation. Oak Park served us well for many years, though my husband might disagree. We had a beautiful old home. He would tell you that we had a mouse-infested old money pit. Oh, and the roof leaked. The roof leaked almost the entire nine years the house owned us. At one point, the roof leaked into the living room, the dining room and the family room. Many thousands of dollars later, the roof only leaked in the family room above the fireplace and only if it rained really hard. It wasn’t raining the day we sold the house.

A number of circumstances lead to our move from Oak Park. Finances played a role, as did the school needs of our son and the societal needs of our daughter. I made a list of our wants and needs. I wanted a big yard. My husband wanted a new house. Our son needed school programs for gifted children. Our daughter needed to live near other Chinese people. One location fit all our needs: Naperville.

Naperville. I was barely able to hide my derision. Surely, there must be some mistake. I, former City Chick, could not possibly move to Naperville. If any suburb were to me the epitome of suburban-ness, it was Naperville. Still, my research couldn’t be denied. The schools were good, my research said. The houses were affordable, my research said. The Chinese community is the largest outside of Chinatown, my research said. I will check it out, I thought. Surely it will be hideous.

So, I checked out Naperville. I found that a river runs through it, quite literally, giving the downtown area a quaint charm. I found houses I could afford that my husband would want to own. I found good schools. I found lots and lots of Chinese people. My research wasn’t flawed. We moved to Naperville in 2005.

I have a love/hate relationship with Naperville. Our house is relatively new but lacks in character. Still, there are no mice in the basement, the roof doesn’t leak and there are no carpenter ants, probably because there was no real wood used in the construction. Maybe some day a genetically mutated ant will emerge that grows to gargantuan proportions living on a diet of engineered wood. Until then, my windowsills will continue to act like pop-up sponges, growing larger with every heavy downpour.

The schools are terrific. There are good parks, though a shade structure or two would be nice in the newer ones. You can practically hear the children sizzle as they clamber over the play equipment. The downtown area is cute and we even have an Apple Store. Now, if they could just solve the parking problem.

Before I moved to Naperville, my image of the Naperville woman was a white lady in mom jeans, driving her silver minivan full of children to swim meets, piano lessons and soccer practice. While there are lots of minivans, the women and men behind the wheel are every color of the ethnic rainbow and speak every language imaginable. At one point, the families on our cul de sac (of course I live on a cul de sac . . .it’s Naperville!) included Taiwanese, Indian, Guatemalan and us. I worked at a preschool where I taught Spanish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Korean children. I think there were four white kids.

What I love most about Naperville, though, is the wildlife. City Chick may have it over us with nightlife, but it really gets wild out in Naperville. Chicago has its pigeons, Oak Park has its rats, Naperville has nature. One evening, early on in our life here, I overheard my daughter making coyote noises on the deck. When she got an answer, I hustled her into the house. In the city, people walk their pocket dogs because they have no yard. In Naperville, people walk their pocket dogs to keep the hawks from turning them into lunch.

When I lived in the city, I rode my bike along the lake and cursed the runners on the bike path. In Naperville, I run in the prairie preserve where I curse the cyclists and horse riders. But I can’t stay vexed for long. I fell in love with Naperville on the prairie trails. At the end of a long run last fall, I rounded a curve then struggled up a hill. Before me lay acres of burnished copper grass, swaying in the wind. The sky was clear, the sun was gentle. I was hot and sweaty and utterly alone with nothing but the land the way it was hundreds of years ago.

City Chick may look down her nose at my suburban life and maybe some day I’ll move back to Chicago. But, right now I’ll trade the Crobar (people still go to the Crobar, right?) for my little tract house on the prairie.

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.”

Bring It Up Again, Sam

7 Feb

I’ve told my children lots of stories since they were little. Some of the stories came from books. Some I made up myself. I remember telling my son a story about a blue frog that got separated from the other blue frogs and had to find his way back to blue frog land. I was planning on having the blue frog go through many adventures, with my son rapt. He would love this story so much, I thought, that it would become his favorite and every night he would ask me to tell him the story of the blue frog. He hated the story of the blue frog. He was so upset about the frog being separated from the other frogs that he began wailing, “No! No!” He didn’t stop wailing until I said, “The frog turned around, saw millions of other blue frogs and they all lived happily ever after. The end. Good night.”

I do know some stories that my children like to hear again and again. Unfortunately, they all involve puke. For some reason, my kids think puking and stories involving puking are just hilarious. I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t unique in this. My daughter’s best friend is frequently at our house, so has heard at least one or two of our family puke stories and has laughed along with the rest of us.

More of these stories feature my son because he seems to have the weakest stomach in our house. I would think that the person who the stories are about would not find these stories at all amusing. I know I don’t get a big kick out of recounting the times I’ve lost my lunch. But, my kids laugh hardest at the stories about them. My son, for instance, regularly tells friends about the time he vomited all over the Legos at aftercare. “Yeah, I was just sitting there, playing with the Legos and, all of a sudden I horked all over them. It was a mess!” My son and his friends laugh. I just roll my eyes.

My son’s favorite stories involve him being sick on or near his parents. He recalls being sick once and allowed to sleep in our bed. After sleeping for some time, he awoke. “How are you feeling?” we asked. “I feel much better,” he said sincerely. One second later, he was sick all over the bed. I remember a similar incident when he had been sleeping off an illness on the couch. He came into the bathroom where I was washing my hands or brushing my teeth or something. I asked how he felt. He said, “I really feel ok” and immediately retched on the bathroom floor.

While my kids are laughing so hard they cry when I tell these stories, I tell them completely straight-faced. See, I don’t think they are particularly funny because I am the person who has had to clean up. These puke fests never seem to happen when it’s just my husband with the children. My husband has never been puked on from head to toe so that he had to shower before he could take his clothes off. No, the puke patrol is my personal responsibility.

Though my husband hasn’t been barfed on, he has been victim of an exploding diaper. When our son was very tiny, we lived in a house with a basement family room. The kitchen was at the top of the stairs. Frequently, my husband would watch TV with our son, no more than three months old, sitting on his lap. One evening, as I prepared dinner, I heard my husband shout, “Oh, holy mother of god!” followed by “Oh, my god!” followed by “Jesus Christ!” The litany repeated as I heard my husband’s feet plod up the staircase. The baby came around the corner first, held stiff-armed away from my husband’s body, then came my husband. He handed me the baby. While my husband changed his pants, I cleaned the baby. I had the baby cleaned and changed long before my husband stopped calling on the Virgin.

After I’ve been coaxed into telling my son’s puke stories, my daughter begs to hear a story of her own gastric misadventures. Problem is, there aren’t many. My daughter is always on the alert for anything wrong with her body. Every scratch must be inspected, every sneeze investigated and every slight rumble of her interior workings must be respected so she makes it to a safe vomitorium on time. She is, however, the child who covered me from the top of my turtleneck to the bottom of my blue jeans. I was an experienced mother by that point, though. I didn’t miss a beat. It happened in the bathroom so I turned on the shower, then stepped in fully clothed. I set the baby on the shower floor. Baby, clothes and I all got clean quickly and easily. I believe I actually thought, “Thank God, she only puked on me.”

My daughter doesn’t remember the most spectacular spewing involving her. It happened just minutes after she entered the United States for the first time. When we went to China to bring her home, we were warned again and again about drinking the water, eating the food, etc. So we took great care throughout our trip. The last night in China, though, I got sick. I got really sick. And then I got sicker. The hotel doctor came to our room with a nurse and syringes. He injected me with a magic potion that stopped the vomiting and the nurse injected me with fluids to counter the dehydration.

I felt better. We got on the plane. I felt fine the whole trip. I felt fine until I stopped feeling fine while we waited to go through Customs. I got that unmistakable feeling and began frantically looking for a receptacle of some sort, any sort. Nothing. Nothing, that is, except my new daughter’s lovey, a soft piece of blankie with a bunny head sewn to it. A mother does what a mother has to do.

I didn’t tell my daughter this story until after she’d outgrown her lovey. She never begged to have the story told, preferring to hear one of her brother’s. Recently, though, she included the story in her “all about me” presentation at school. I understand it was a big hit. You can’t beat a good puke story.

Dogs, Cats and Other Demons

31 Jan

The portal to hell is right outside my front door. Just ask my dog, Pogo. Every time the doorbell rings, he begins barking, “Satan is here! Satan is here! Don’t answer the door! Satan is here.” He will bark at Satan while I answer the door, while I allow the demon to enter, while I take the demon’s coat, while I usher the demon into our home. He will even bark should I hug the demon. He will bark, in fact, until the demon nears him, then he will lie down on the ground, roll onto his back, tongue lolling, waiting to be petted.

Satan may be able to get into our home with just a quick tummy rub, but he won’t want to stay. Immediately after being tummied, Pogo will bring him a saliva-covered tennis ball and drop it at his feet. He does this to everyone who enters our home. If you are seated, Pogo will drop his saliva ball in your lap. If you are standing, Pogo will drop the saliva ball at your feet. If you are sitting or standing near the kitchen table, Pogo will drop the saliva ball on the table. Then, he will stare at you with Charles Manson eyes, eagerly and maniacally waiting. You will pick up the ball using as little finger surface area as possible and toss it to the beast.

This is your biggest mistake. You are trying to be nice. He’s a cute doggie. He’s so eager. What harm can it do to play a little fetch? And this is where he has you. There is no “little fetch” with Pogo. There is fetch until you bleed, but there is no little fetch. Once you toss the ball, you are his. Ignoring him doesn’t work. He will drop the saliva ball in your lap and if you don’t toss it, he will take it from you then drop it back in your lap. You will toss it just to get the gloppy thing away from you.

We have devised ways of having fun at Pogo’s expense. We invented a sort of indoor dog hockey that involves tossing the saliva ball into the kitchen. It is impossible for Pogo to get a good grip on the vinyl floor. He skitters and slides after the ball, legs pumping like a cartoon character. Finally, he catches up to the ball then slides sideways into the stove. I feel a little guilty laughing at him, but then I remember he’s ruined our family room carpet and feel a lot better about myself.

My son gets the worst of the saliva ball games. Pogo’s domain is the kitchen and family room, which run the entire back of the house. My son’s drum kit also happens to be in the family room. The first time he played the drums in the family room, Pogo dropped the saliva ball on a drum. My son threw it to get it out of the way and set about drumming. Pogo fetched it and brought the ball back. My son tried to ignore the ball. Pogo barked. My son ignored. Pogo barked louder. My son tossed the ball. There was a Sunday at our house when my son was playing the drums, my daughter was playing the piano and Pogo was barking to the beat.

Pogo is not our only pet and, while he may believe he keeps the devil out of our home, he is wrong. The devil is very much among us and his name is “Oliver.”

Oliver is our cat. We routinely say that he is the worst cat in the world. People laugh, thinking that we are exaggerating our cat’s misdeeds. All cats are a little rotten, aren’t they, they will say. We just nod our heads. We know. Oliver is Beelzebub’s acolyte.

When our children were little, we had safety devices installed in cabinets, on select doors, even on the stove and the toilet. Then, our children grew up and could be trusted not to flush wash cloths or eat an entire bottle of vitamins. We have had to reinstall cabinet locks, though, on cabinets that no three-year-old could ever reach. Our cat, you see, likes to open cabinets and empty them of their contents. One cabinet is a particular favorite, the one we use to store glasses. Oliver loves to sneak his evil kitty paw into the cabinet and swipe a few glasses onto the floor. We installed the cabinet lock and breathed easy for a while.

Oliver’s chaos cravings were not so easily thwarted. He discovered the pantry where many things are stored including his and Pogo’s foods as well as bottles of various substances. With a few quick swipes, the contents of the first two shelves rattle onto the floor with a cat-satisfying clatter. Now, we place the kitchen trashcan in front of the cabinet. If we forget, Oliver reminds us.

We used to leave coffee cups on the counter, back when we had twelve matching coffee cups. We no longer have twelve matching coffee cups. Oliver’s favorite pastime is pushing breakable items, like coffee cups, over the edge of the counter. I might understand this behavior if he waited around for the crash and splash. But he doesn’t. Surveying the wreckage takes too much of his valuable time. There are other items waiting to be broken, like soup bowls and antique teapots.

I believe Oliver’s issues stem from his traumatic childhood. Oliver was one of a litter of kittens that was being fostered by my best friend. My friend and I sing together. We were rehearsing at her house, in the basement. Our children, three of them supposedly at a responsible age, were upstairs amusing themselves responsibly, we thought. Also upstairs were the kittens. Upon finishing rehearsal, we adults went upstairs where we found the children in the kitchen with the kittens . . . in their pants. Each child had partially unzipped his or her pants and stuffed a kitten in them. The kittens’ adorable little faces peaked out at us as I uttered words I hope never to repeat: “Get the kittens out of your pants NOW!” Oliver was one of those kittens.

We do have a pet that is much more to my liking. It is a fish. It lives in a tank that has achieved perfect fish tank balance. There is a fish, a plant and a bunch of snails. I add water now and then. I feed the fish now and then. While Oliver and Pogo are technically my son’s pets, the fish is my daughter’s. She complains that she should have a pet with fur because it’s impossible to hug a fish. “No,” I think, “You can’t really hug a fish.” But a fish has got it all over a furry pet. You can flush a fish.

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.”

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