Tag Archives: humor

We interrupt this vacation for a laugh

28 May

I’m technically on vacation this week, so I’ll keep this quick then get back to doing nothing.

There are four members of my family. Frequently, we each go about entertaining ourselves because if three of us agree to an activity there is an unwritten rule that the fourth will not. Sometimes, however, the family-quality-time elves visit, like they did last night.

We were playing Trivial Pursuit and my son got this question: what are the two plural forms of the word “platypus”?

He turned to me with a puzzled look, hoping I’d help him out. “Well,” I said, “think of some other words that end with ‘-us’ and how their plurals are formed.”

“So…maybe ‘platypi’?” he asked.

Image“Sure,” said his dad, “and ‘platipussies’.”

 

Like this post if you’re like me

13 Aug

Every morning, my ankle hurts. Just a little, in a spot that makes it obvious I’ve got arthritis. I’ve got the same thing going on with my wrist. I get up, though, and get moving. By the time I’ve had my second cup of tea, the pain is gone.

My teeth are a mess, I have hot flashes, my kids are both in double digits and old enough to know when I’m full of shit. In other words, I’m getting old.

With such abundant evidence in my real world, I don’t need it in my virtual world. But every time I get on Facebook, I see another of those dumb ass memes of some antiquated crap I’m supposed to “like” if I remember what the hell it’s for.

I remember what they’re for. The ice cube tray made out of aluminum with the lever you pulled that broke the cubes loose, while also breaking half the cubes? I remember that. It was common before we knew that aluminum consumption contributes to Alzheimer’s. I like my ice maker ‘though I’m pretty sure we’ll discover the plastic parts it’s made of cause erectile dysfunction.

I remember flash cubes, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Ed, and cassette tapes. I know what the relationship is between the cassette tape and a pencil.

I am not going to “like” any of these things.

See, I remember them and some of them even fondly. But my brain still works  the way it’s supposed to work. I can still learn new things. I can still challenge myself. I can still be part of the world evolving around me.

My dad can’t. For brevity’s sake, let’s just say his brain is clogged with knots of protein. His cognitive function is so impaired he makes things up. He’s paranoid. He can’t remember my mother is dead, so he confuses other people with my mom and insists she’s ignoring him. I have had to tell him she’s dead three times in the last month.

So, I won’t be “liking” anything from my childhood. It’s not that I don’t smile when I remember them, but when I’m 80, I’d like to have someone post a picture of Katy Perry that I can “like.” Maybe I’ll do it when I come in from a run.

Head of the Class

9 Aug

Image: Designtechtonics.biz

Not too long ago, in my newspaper column, I wrote about my son’s friends being given cars by their parents. I had heard that kids with cars—and I don’t mean Power Wheels—was pretty common here, but didn’t really believe it until one newly minted driver after another was given a car. And we’re not talking old cars in funky colors, like the mustard yellow Pinto that was my first car. Two of my son’s friends were given new Priuses. Or is it Prii?

I wrote that no kid should be given a car, especially a kid who just learned how to drive. Let that kid buy a car and he’d appreciate it, care for it, drive it with caution, fill it with gas using his own money. Until he could do that, I wrote, my son would be asking to borrow the family car. I mentioned that we can’t afford to buy our son any car, but even if we could, there’s no way in hell that we would.

I was accused of having class envy. You need to understand where I live to fully appreciate this accusation. Money magazine has named Naperville one of the 10 best places in America to raise children—more than once! There are a lot of reasons to like Naperville: good schools, nice houses, lovely downtown near the historic district. A river even runs through it.

In Naperville, you could live here.

With all that good publicity from Money magazine, lots of people moved here in the past 20 years or so. So, you’ve got the old timers who mostly live in the old neighborhoods. Back when I was a kid, houses in those neighborhoods were very affordable for a young family; my own family almost moved there. If you moved here in the good old days, your $25,000 house is probably worth more than $500,000 now. Wealthier people have moved here and built even more expensive houses. And less wealthy people started moving here when builders started turning farmland into subdivisions; I live in one of those. Today, we even have town houses, condos and (gasp) apartments.

Or you could live here.

Or here.

What started as a pretty nice small (white) town has become a city of more than 140,000 people replete with every race, religion and socio-economic grouping. We even have a prostitution ring and a heroin problem.

In that context, I understand the anxiety that pushed an obviously wealthy long-time resident to think that when I said “ there is no way I’m giving my son 24/7 access to something that is a proven killer, particularly of boys” what I actually meant is “rich people suck.”

I don’t think rich people suck—well, not all of them. There are rich people that suck and poor people that suck. I’m equal opportunity when it comes to thinking someone sucks. So, me with class envy? Nah.

I have had several other types of envy. Like kid envy. There are children who make their beds every morning, get their own breakfast and go happily to school. There are children who join in school activities, practice their music lessons, do their homework and help around the house. There are children who respect their parents, walk the dog, get good grades and brush their teeth. These are not my children.

Frequently, I find myself wishing that my son were more involved in activities at school, such as anything. And I would love for my daughter’s room to not look like Lord Voldemort could hide in it. But, then I wouldn’t have a son who calls me on his cell phone and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m sitting on a couch on the corner of Sanctuary and Lowell.” When I drive to said corner, I do indeed find my son sitting on a discarded sofa, kicking back like a football fan on a Sunday afternoon.

I have had penis envy, too. When I worked in public relations, I made a fairly decent salary. We bought our first house on it. But, if I had a penis, I would have made $25,000 more. That would have also made us a gay couple, but we’re ok with that. Hell, we adopted our second child and lived in Oak Park for a while.

Do I even need to mention shoe envy? Massive quantities of shoe envy here. My sister and her daughter have truly gorgeous shoes and they wear the same size, doubling the number of shoes available to each of them. Not fair, right? When my husband finally got his PR business off the ground, I could buy truly gorgeous shoes, too. I paid lots of money for some pairs. I still swoon over the Italian ones made completely of leather. Does that mean I envy myself my shoes? I think it might.

I certainly envy my daughter’s shoes. She has narrow feet. With a lot of obese children in the US, they make cheap shoes really wide these days. So, the Empress—I mean, my daughter—can only shop at the pricey children’s shoe store in town, or Nordstrom.

But the envy I’m most likely to suffer is Writer’s Envy. Like most writers, I read a lot. I read all kinds of things, from crappy fantasy to classic literature. And when I find truly good writing, I want to crawl in a hole and never touch my computer keyboard again. I feel like Mike Myers and Dana Carvey meeting Aerosmith in Wayne’s World. “I am not worthy,” I think, “I am not worthy.”

Being bipolar actually has its benefits in dealing with Writer’s Envy. Reading something truly fabulous will send me into a tailspin. But all I have to do is wait for the next mania train to pull into the station and I’ve got myself convinced I can write a bestseller . . .in a month . . .while still working . . .and raising my kids. You jealous yet?

C? Si! 100 posts and beyond

21 Jun

I’m not ordinarily interested in anniversaries, commemorative dates and other forced significancies. I barely remember how long I’ve been married and don’t really think it matters much. Frankly, staying married is really just a matter of not getting divorced when things get bad. Things have always gotten better for us, so being married for 20 years is more luck than hard work.

I don’t understand why we have to celebrate birthdays, either. I get older every year; so do you. Why do I have to go out to eat somewhere really fancy on April 22? Maybe I’d like to go out to eat somewhere really fancy on June 26 or October 13. I’m considering putting tokens in a jar for all of the events we’re supposed to commemorate. Then, if we feel like doing it up one day, we can just take out a token and celebrate whatever we happen to pull out. So, if I want to, I can celebrate my October wedding anniversary in March.

Publishing 100 posts on Snide Reply, though, is apparently something to crow about. I’ve actually published 101, but I didn’t write one of them. I recently re-blogged a post from sweetmotherlover, a blogger I follow. Because I’m busier than a suburban mom driving her kids all over town to various summer activites, I decided to break my no-commemorations rule. I am celebrating writing 100 posts by re-blogging the first post I wrote, two years ago. Back then, I had about 35 followers. Last time I checked, I had about 144145147. Not the biggest following, but more than I ever thought I’d reach. I happen to think my first is also one of my funniest posts and hope you think so, too. Enjoy.

Thanks friends, family and followers! I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep following.

How Old is Old Enough For Home Alone?

18 Jun

How old were you when you first stayed home alone? My kids think it’s great. I think it’s a terrible idea, imaging every kind of disaster possible. So, of course, I wrote about it. Here’s the link:

http://naperville.patch.com/articles/how-old-is-old-enough-to-stay-home-alone

Do you remember staying home alone? How old were you? I had an old sister and younger brother so was seldom home alone. Maybe that’s why I love being alone now. Hm….yes! Let’s blame it on the siblings!

Bad Buddhist! No Nirvana for you!

17 May

I am just an angry middle-aged mom. Or is it I’m a bitter old woman. Either one has more than a grain of truth to it, but I didn’t come up with these descriptions. No, these proclamations came from my son, an angry, young man or a bitter (older) teenager. Whichever way you want to look at it, there’s a grain of truth there, too.

My son didn’t say these things in anger; if he were angry, there would have been lots of vile, disgusting words followed by a good, solid grounding. I’d also take away his wireless mouse and keyboard. Technology makes it so easy to remove technology privileges from a young man’s cave now. My son said these things quite calmly, in the middle of the snack aisle at Target, after telling me I am no kind of Buddhist.

Lest you think my son is prone to blurting unflattering statements about me in the aisles at Target . . .wait . . .he is. Ok, he blurts. This time, I probably deserved a good blurting. My daughter had just walked up to me with four packages of candy that she proposed to buy. These were not the cute little one-person servings of candy that I bought with a quarter when I was nine. These were the big honking Halloween bags of candy. I said the first thing that popped into my head: “You’re high if you think I’m going to let you buy that much candy.”

Apparently a good Buddhist wouldn’t say, “You’re high” to her nine-year old anywhere, any time, let alone in Target within earshot of all the other discriminating shoppers. I’m thinking it might be ok at Walmart, but I don’t shop there, so I can’t be sure.

My son is constantly telling me I’m the world’s worst Buddhist and I will give him that, frequently, I am a bad Buddhist. The worst? Nah, but bad a fair amount of time. When I’m feeling particularly charitable, I can convince myself that in recognizing I am a bad Buddhist, I am being a good Buddhist. But then I realize that I am congratulating myself for being a good Buddhist, which certainly makes me a bad Buddhist. Then I realize that I am self-flagellating and I might as well go back to being a Catholic.

I am an especially bad Buddhist behind the wheel. It’s not that my driving is aggressive, but that I don’t have a particularly peaceful attitude toward other drivers. If I don’t like the way you’re driving, I’ll tell you while also calling you a nasty name. Holding up traffic so you can turn left in the “no left turn” lane? I’ll be saying something like, “Oh! I get it! The rules don’t apply to you, asshole!” Of course, you won’t hear me but my son will and he’ll say, “You’re a terrible Buddhist.”

If my son were a Buddhist I could have nailed him with his badness the other day. He just got his driver’s permit so he’s been driving us around on our afternoon errands. Recently, a driver pulled into his lane unannounced. His response? “Nice turn signal, asshole.” I didn’t know if I should be proud or appalled.

I was a better Buddhist before I had kids. I had time to meditate. I was actually pretty good at it. I could drop into a meditative state just about anywhere, even on the bus to work. I read Buddhist teachings. I went to a Buddhist conference.

When children entered my life, meditation time became scarce. My practice moved from meditation to mindfulness. It’s so much easier to parent when you let go of trying to have your own way. Of course, being in the moment can mean sitting on the floor in the aisle of a certain not-Walmart retailer with a two-year old’s face cradled in your hands calmly explaining why screaming “I hate you” is not a constructive way to get one’s needs met.

Lots of mediation instructors tell beginning meditators to focus on the breath. Count one. Breathe in. Count two. Breathe out. Some have you count one for the whole breath cycle, but you get the idea. The trick is to not let your mind wander as you count to ten. Any mental misstep gets you back to one. So, when I started meditating it would go something like this: count one; breathe in; think about cute shoes I saw at Field’s. Back to one. Count one; breathe in; think about what to have for dinner. Count one; wonder if I’ll ever get to ten. Count one. Realize I forgot to breathe on the last one. Breathe. Count one. Count one again to get back in the “count one, breathe” sequence.

Lately, being a Buddhist has been more about staving off panic than finding any sort of peace. My son is failing history but no need to panic; the semester isn’t over today. My father is dying but he’s not dead today.  Money is an ongoing concern, but we’re not broke today. Ok, maybe we’re broke today but we’re not broke broke. It’s a constant struggle to not add the “yet” and slide into that place in my head where everything is crap and we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

I’ve been trying to focus on my breath again, but more often than not, it comes out in a sigh. I don’t even try to do the counting thing. If being a Buddhist means anything to me, it means cutting myself enough slack to allow one breath to be enough. It’s what a bad Buddhist—and Buddha—would do.

Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

Bras, Condoms and a Drive in the Country

22 Mar

In the past week, I went for a drive, shopped for extra-large condoms and bought a training bra, all in the name of helping others. Before you picture me doing favors for unfortunate strangers though, I should note that these were not random acts of kindness. Each of the others I helped is intimately related to me.

From the time I became a mother, helping others has been a primary focus of my life. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I’ve even resented it. Babies can’t feed themselves, change their own diapers, move themselves from place to place. And they can’t control when they need any of those things done. They don’t care if you haven’t slept more than two hours at a time since they were born. They need what they need when they need it and, if you’re any kind of decent parent, you help them get it.

Aging parents are, indeed, like children. Right now, my dad needs help moving from place to place, dealing with toileting and even feeding himself. The difference between caring for him and caring for my babies? Dad does care about who’s caring for him. He knows it’s tough and apologizes regularly. I sometimes wish he wouldn’t, but in the middle of a night where he’s gotten up three or four times convinced he needs to get ready for a meeting with an architect, it helps.

Being cute is a baby’s way of making its care less onerous. Dad has a sense of humor and even when he’s not trying, provides ample amusement. He can’t seem to remember his surgeon’s name, so calls him everything from Dr. Ballerina to Dr. Bubbalongname. The doctor’s name is Billimoria, but Dad’s names for him make me laugh, so I call him Bubbalongname, too.

Amusing Dad is far more difficult for me than caring for him. He doesn’t read, can’t really walk far, favors watching golf over cooking shows and doesn’t want to learn how to knit. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years; I have no idea what to do there anymore. Neither does Dad.

There is one thing Dad has always loved to do though: go for a drive. Since I was a child, Dad’s been driving. Vacations were spent driving from Illinois to Florida, a two-day trip that Dad relished. I realize now that the drive was probably the most enjoyable part for Dad and not just for the thrill of making good time.

Dad loves driving for the process, not the destination. He doesn’t care where he’s going, as long as he’s going. I am goal driven; I hate the process. At the end of a long drive, there better be something worth my while because I’ve just spent a good deal of precious time doing nothing. So, getting in the car and having Dad say, “Drive out Route 14,” then promptly fall asleep is my idea of hell. Still, I get on 14 and drive, passing numerous turnoffs that look to offer promising destinations. Dad needs help satisfying his wanderlust and I provide it.

Helping my son has become complicated and conflict-ridden. This brings us to the condoms. Sometime ago, I bought my son a box of condoms, intending that he would check them out in order to be familiar with them when the time—preferably far, far in the future—came. There were three. He took one to school, put it (wrapped) in a friend’s sandwich and enjoyed the hilarity that ensued.

So, there were two condoms in my son’s side table drawer for quite a while. And then there was a girl friend. And then there was one condom. That afternoon, I met my son in the driveway and said, “Get in the car. I need to talk to you.” “Why?” he asked. “Get in the car,” I said. “We’ll go get ice cream.” Maybe my Dad is onto something with the driving thing, but a car ride is my go to parenting tactic when I need to confront—I mean—talk to, my son.

In the catalog of things a mother doesn’t want to hear, I think “I didn’t use it because it didn’t fit” is way up there with “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” and “You can’t get addicted to heroin with just one use.” I still can’t figure out how a condom doesn’t fit, but my son was insistent and is gloating about it to his dad. I find this rather unseemly, but figure that’s between the boys. In addition to stern lectures and profound disappointment, I provided condoms that should be large enough for my son, ego included. If he doesn’t improve his grades, I suppose Porn Star could be his fallback career.

And now we come to the training bra. My daughter is perched precariously on the verge of puberty. She can be as smart-mouthed as her older brother one minute and talking baby talk the next. She’s convinced she’s beginning to bud, but her pediatrician and I disagree. Still she’s tremendously modest and I was reminded of this when her shirt obeyed the laws of gravity, revealing most of her upper body as she hung upside down from the neighbor’s monkey bar. We hustled off to Target and secured “bralettes,” which are actually more like cut-off camisoles than bras.

She was understandably and adorably eager to wear one when we got home. In her haste to remove her shirt, she got stuck with it half over her head. Helping her was so easy, I nearly cried; I untied the sash she’d forgotten about. She popped on the bralette, threw on her shirt and ran outside, shouting, “I’m wearing a sport bra!”

The day will come when I need help the way my loved ones do now. I hope it’s later, rather than sooner. When it does, I hope it doesn’t involve extra-large condoms and training bras.

Don’t Hold The Mayo

1 Mar

I never really liked sandwiches. I was a hot lunch kid in elementary school, although this may have had something to do with my mother’s great distaste for cooking of any kind. I still would rather eat something that requires a knife and fork than a variation on the Earl’s invention, with the exception of the exceptional BLT from Buzz Café in Oak Park.

So I am more than a little annoyed to find myself part of the Sandwich Generation, that lucky group of people taking care of aging—and often ill—parents, while still nurturing nested offspring. In the words of me, it sucks.

It wouldn’t be so bad, I think, if it just sucked for me, but it sucks for everyone involved.

Let’s take the aging, ill parent. The ham and cheese in his sandwich scenario, he’s slogging through chemo, radiation, insomnia, tremors, muscle rigidity, chemically-induced anorexia, nightly enteric feeding because of the anorexia, and boredom. He’s on a break from cancer treatment, a little physical vacation in preparation for massive reconstruction of his digestive system to remove the tumor from his esophagus.

The whole wheat and white bread holding his life together are my sister and brother, respectively. They do the heavy lifting, which often requires heavy lifting, of caring for Dad during the week. This consisted of driving him to doctors’ offices, hospitals and treatment centers, preparing his meals, coaxing him to eat his meals, and attempting to keep him awake during the day so he would sleep at night.

With the break from treatments, there is nothing much to break up the day, so now my sibs are looking for things to keep from shooting themselves in the head out of  boredom while providing a stimulating environment for Dad. My sister, an artist, has developed a homegrown art therapy program that consists of her encouraging his artistic talents through watercolor painting. My father is an engineer by training. My sister sets the stage, supplying Dad with brushes, paper and water. She encourages him, saying things like, “Dad, you really have a feel for the materials.” Dad, playing along because he’s that kind of guy, says something like, “My heart isn’t in this.” My sister then posts Dad’s artwork to Facebook, titling it “My heart isn’t in this.” Everyone’s happy-ish.

As boring as the days may be, the nights are full of activity. For the first two or three hours after hitting the hay, Dad sleeps an average of 10 minutes at a stretch, waking to do any combination of the following: readjust the sheets, walk to the center of the room then walk back to the bed, call out for confirmation that he is in the bed, or pee. These do not necessarily happen in a fortuitous sequence.

Once the initial settling in period is over, Dad will sleep for about 1 to 2 hours at a stretch. Naturally, so does the caregiver.

Obviously, no normal human could maintain this schedule for an extended period of time. My sister does a two-day shift, my brother another. Due to excellent financial planning on my dad’s part, he is able to afford a professional caregiver two nights each week.

And where do I fit? I am the lettuce and tomato in Dad’s weekly care. I’m sure everyone could get along without my assistance, but I’m really good to have around. I take the weekends. From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, Dad and I hang out together. Since I don’t paint and Dad doesn’t want to learn how to knit, we watch golf together. My dad doesn’t golf and I’d rather rub sand in my eyes, but we watch golf. My brother and sister get a break and I get to feel less guilty about them doing so much during the week.

If I’m the lettuce and tomato at Dad’s house, I’m the challah at home. And between my jobs, my kids, my pets and my husband, I’m feeling sliced pretty thin lately.

The jobs—there are three—are probably the biggest drain. See, each of them is the kind Rick Perry is so proud to have created: low pay, few hours and fewer benefits. But, hey, they don’t begin to pay the bills, so there’s that.

The kids are mostly doing ok. The son can be counted on to call Jimmy John’s or put a pizza in the oven. He can also be counted on to bring his girlfriend home from school, but that’s another blog post. The daughter is showing some signs of wear around the edges. She recently got unlimited texting thanks to her brother’s $300 worth of overage. So while I’m at Job One, I’m treated to messages every fifteen minutes. The most recent spate started with “I had a BAAAAAD day” and went through “I’m sad,” “I want to cry,” and “Why should I tell you?” until I had her dad call her to see what was wrong. “Nothing,” she replied to him.

The pets should soon be less of a drain. I think it’s only fair that with all the angst she’s added to my life, the new girlfriend appears ready to provide a home for the world’s worst cat. There is still the issue of the dog’s confounding penchant for soiling in his crate, but I can only expect so many serendipities in one lifetime, I suppose.

The husband is a wonder, which sounds sort of like something you’d say about an ugly baby, but he’s picking up what slack he feels comfortable with, trying to add skills that weren’t critical until now and, most important of all, being Mr. Good Supportive Husband. He’s even agreed that Mr. Perry can have back one of his jobs, so I’ll be saying goodbye to Stalker Boy soon.

I’m probably never going to love the life I’m living right now, but I’m reminded of one sandwich that I crave. Take two slices of white bread. Slather both with as much Hellman’s mayonnaise as they can hold without dripping on the counter. Place a slice of cold meatloaf in the middle. Enjoy. Proof of one of my life’s organizing principles: enough mayonnaise can make just about anything bearable.

Let’s Make Nice

22 Feb

I don’t really let what other people say about me bug me too much. Not that I don’t have my moments of monumental insecurity over some seemingly innocent remark, but I can usually recover and get back to a normal background level of neurosis quickly.

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing things said about me that have me questioning some fundamental self-truths I hold dear. People are saying I’m nice . . .and meaning it.

Now, I know many things about myself. I am smart. I am funny. I am a perfectionist. I like to argue. I’m demanding. I’m fair-minded. I expect the same of other people.

But I am not nice. Nice people are, well, nice. I can be generous. I’ve been known to be empathic. I can even be silly and frivolous. But nice?

The first person to accuse me of being nice also noted that I am cheerful and optimistic. I know! I know! Me! Cheerful! Optimistic! Obviously, this was someone who knew me not at all. And, indeed, she was a reader responding to my Hanukkah column on my son’s refusal to participate in our Hanukkah festivities.

The short story is this: I was able to get him to help me light the driveway menorah despite his insistence that he, as an atheist, would not be celebrating the holiday. I wrote that I hoped he would keep Hanukkah with his own children when the time came. One reader noted how difficult it is being Jewish in Naperville and how her sons love Hanukkah and celebrate it despite being marginalized by the surrounding society. Another reader jumped on the “life sucks as a Jew in Naperville” bandwagon, giving me a literary pat on the head for my cheerful, optimistic presentation of what is the drear reality of the west suburban diaspora.

Never having been accused of being either cheerful or optimistic, I laughed out loud. I called my husband; we laughed out loud together. I’m pretty sure I told my sister and she laughed out loud, too. First, though, she said, “You? Optimistic?” Or maybe that was my best friend. The whole “Janice as an optimist” thing was so disorienting it could have been the cat saying, “You? Optimistic?”

One person who doesn’t know me saying I was nice, cheerful and optimistic (I’m laughing while I type it! You’re laughing while you read it. I know you are. It’s ridiculous!), could easily be dismissed, but people who know me are saying it, too!

I’ll grant you that the sales clerk at the local music store is hardly a bosom buddy, but we’re on close enough terms for the man to make a fairly accurate assessment of my temperament. I swear I haven’t been on my best behavior when making my weekly—sometimes biweekly—appearances at the place. I have even been downright rude at times! And yet, just a few days ago, said clerk—we’ll call him “Bob”—said I was nice.

Now, he didn’t just say, “Hey! You’re nice!” He couched it in a very nice compliment about my appearance. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” said Bob. “You look younger!”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m not feeling younger. I feel pretty old and tired, actually.”

“It’s probably because you’re nice,” Bob explained.

According to Bob, another woman he hadn’t seen in a while came in looking considerably older than she ought.

“What does being nice have to do with looking young?” I asked.

“Oh, all that being mean makes you look older.”

I saw no point in arguing with Bob about genetics, cleaning living and exercise. I left him with his delusional opinion of me. He told me I looked younger!

I’m not sure why I don’t feel very nice about being called “nice.” The nicest woman I know is a good friend. I like her a lot. She’s smart and funny, like me. But I believe she’s also got an unshakable conviction that the world is a good, good place. My strongest evidence of that is her existence.

My dad even told me I was nice recently. I suppose that shouldn’t blow me away, but it does. I know my parents loved and respected me but they weren’t exactly the cheerleading type. They were as aware of my failings as my fabulousness.

We were sitting in the living room of his home at two in the morning. We’d been trying to get him to sleep for longer than ten minutes at a time since about nine the night before. He’d brushed his teeth, put on his jammies, had his warm milk and gotten tucked into bed. He had pillows and blankets and all the things he could need to get his chemo-wracked body to submit. It wouldn’t. He would drift off for a few minutes, then some demon—anything from needing to pee to feeling driven to escape—would force him from the bed.

After five hours and two Ambien, we gave up. We sat in the living room, dad and I and the feeding machine. It whirred. The clock ticked. And my father stared into the dark wondering what he’d done to deserve his lot. “Everyone is so nice,” he said. “You, Alan, the kids. You’re all so nice.” As if whatever he’d done to earn this punishment should deny him the right to human kindness as well. We sat a few minutes longer, listening to the pump push food into his body. “Dad,” I finally said, “I may be nice, but I’m also tired. Let’s try to go back to bed.”

He did go back to bed, but he didn’t sleep any better. Since then, we’ve found out he also has Parkinson’s disease. While my dad was pretty confused, I know he wasn’t demented or hallucinating that night. He thinks I’m nice. So does Bob. And so do some of my readers. There are probably whole bunches of people who think I’m nice. It wouldn’t be nice to argue, though, so I guess I’ll have to suck it up. Hell, it might be nice being nice.

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