Worrywart

I was born without a sense of humor. I am, however, very high-strung. Not a good combination. A few years ago, I decided that the key to managing stress in my life was humor. I just had to learn how to find the funny in life. It was helpful that my partner has a hair-triggered wit. Funny, clever things just fly out of her mouth. But there are different kinds of funny and hers is sometimes a little dark. So I starting reading every book by every funny writer I could get my hands on – the idea being that complete immersion might help even a hard case like me. It did. I grew a sense of humor. Not only can I laugh more often, sometimes, I can even make people laugh. Happy day.

My next t-shirt (via zazzle.com)

But I have to practice pretty regularly or it goes away. The following is part of an exercise I try sometimes as a tool for managing stress. I made a list of all the things I was worried about and then tried to write a funny version. Some of the tougher items never made the funny list but a few did. And if you’re honest, a few pretty stupid things will appear too, which is always fun. Anyway, it helped to change my mood.

Some of the things I worry about:

…that my partner sometimes talks about herself in the third person (and I can’t always tell if she’s joking).

…that #2 son seems to be experiencing a kind of school-induced narcolepsy which may someday lead to a permanent position at Burger King.

…that #3 son can play Minecraft for 6 hours straight without stopping to eat or to go to the bathroom.

…that #1 son might decide to get another enormous skull tattoo.

….that menopausal is my new normal.

…that global warming will flood my favorite vacation spot.

…that I won’t be able to stand the winters in Canada when we move there to escape the climate of intolerance in the US.

…that nobody will notice that pun.

…that Nintendo is putting out a new damn expensive game system.

…that our sons will decide not to have a Halloween party and I won’t get to decorate the house. (No fun without an audience.)

…that my computer might crash leaving me to deal with the real world without Facebook, email, Photoshop, or my blog.

…that my dogs get bored.

…that unless he learns to do his homework, #2 son will be living in our basement when he’s thirty spending all his time off from Burger King playing Dungeons & Dragons or video games with Friday-night interludes to watch movie classics like Jackass 2 with his big brother.

…that #3 son will be living in the basement with him.

…that they’ve already seen Jackass 2.

…that it made them laugh.

…that whether I’ll get skin cancer was probably determined by a sunburn I got in Ft. Lauderdale in 1977.

…that I really am a hoarder.

…that my IQ is inversely proportional to my age.

…that God is real and she’s pissed.

…that hip hop won’t die.

…that I’ll never own my own bookstore or little beach motel.

…that when I clean out my email inbox, I will find messages that I really should have responded to weeks ago (Happened this morning. My apologies to Catherine, Jennifer, my brother, Scott, and Daddy.)

…that one day, instead of washing the dishes, I will take them out in the driveway and smash them one by one against the concrete.

…that I am forgetting something important (often true).

…that if my short term memory and attention span keep deteriorating at the present rate, I’ll need a full-time keeper by the time I’m 50.

…that I’m going to think of something super-clever to put on this list after I’ve published it on my blog.

So what do you worry about? What would be on your list? How do you deal with stress?

All the Days of Summer

“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”

–  Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

When I was a kid, summer was all about freedom – from school, from homework, from having to close the book and turn out the light too early every night, from bells ringing and chalk squeaking on a black board and being expected to sit for most of the day. And from staring out the window daydreaming about being out there, outside under the fierce sun and fathomless sky watching clouds scud across the blue like clipper ships with full sails.

Sometimes, I think I remember my childhood summers like stories Ray Bradbury wrote just for me. If you picked up my copy of I Sing the Body Electric or Golden Apples of the Sun, you’d find them there, my stories, like the thirteenth floor in tall buildings, invisible until you looked for them. And when you did, there I’d be in print – running with the neighborhood kid pack, riding my bike and going barefoot and wading in ditches and scooping polliwogs into pickle jars.

The summers I remember smelled of pine sap and honeysuckle and sounded like cicadas. There were water moccasins in the garden, gators in the bayou, and graveyards in the woods. All old homes were haunted, especially if they were built before the Civil War, and people said the river sang with the voices of a vanished Indian tribe. I wore cut-offs and drank water from the hose, got bitten by mosquitoes and deer flies and horse flies and ants, climbed trees and neighbors’ fences, and rode my bike around deserted schools and vacant ballparks. Sometimes I’d stay out until the bats swooped in the evening sky and the streetlights flickered on and my mother’s voice began calling me home.

If I was inside on a summer day, I was reading a book – Bradbury or Heinlein or Asimov or Clarke, stories where anything could happen and usually did. A trip to the Pascagoula Public Library to stock up on new stories was even better than a visit to the Pixie Pet Shop where we got our dog (a 12-pound miniature dachshund named Caesar) and where they kept a real piranha in a huge murky tank. The library was seemed dark when you first stepped in from the afternoon sun until your eyes adjusted and you could see all the daylight the old building let in, dust motes drifting in rays of light from walls of paned windows. The air inside was cool and smelled of aging paper and ink and glue. Its stacks were labyrinthine and had creaky wooden floors, high shelves, and secret corners perfect for reading. The librarians were traditional and enforced the quiet so it was easier to dive out of the world and surface in another where dinosaurs still lived or spaceships were real.

“He brought out a yellow nickel tablet. He brought out a Ticonderoga pencil. He opened the tablet. He licked the pencil…”

When Ray Bradbury passed away a few weeks ago, just before what would have been his 92nd summer on the planet, all I could think was – the world will be poorer without him but thank goodness for all the stories he left us –  The Martian Chronicles,  Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes. And especially for my favorite, Dandelion Wine. In that novel, he created the most magical summer I’ve read (or experienced) making me feel nostalgic about growing up in the Midwest in the 1930s though I was raised a thousand miles away and 40 years later.

So I might have semi-mythologized the summers of my own childhood and it might have been at least partly Ray Bradbury’s fault. I might have glossed over all the mundane details, and I’ve realized lately – I really owe him for that. Because what else are we but a set of selective memories we take out to re­-live, tell it like a story, polish it like a stone, and then put it away again? I’ve got some good stories now, and like dandelion wine, they get better with age. Thank you, Ray. RIP.

Because Life is Sticky: A Countdown of My Top Five Favorite Onerous Household Chores

via bonanza.com and Erma Bombeck

Disclaimer: If you’re not a stay-at-home mom, house dad, homemaker, or someone else who spends a substantial amount of time cleaning up after your family, you may want to skip this fun little list as its grossness factor is high and its only real entertainment value is in commiseration.

Note:  I have omitted anything involving blood, pee, poo or vomit for being too evident. Everybody knows that no parent likes changing diapers or cleaning up after sick or injured children or pets. This list concerns a few of the disgusting chores that get less attention but may be even more onerous by virtue of their long-term (i.e. well past potty-training) and frequent occurrence.

5 – Scraping fruit stickers off the sink, counter, or furniture. Do your kids do this? Take the sticker off the apple or banana and carefully press it onto the edge of the kitchen sink or other handy surface? This is one of the many things that sometimes makes me wonder what my kids really think of me. Do they really believe I have nothing better to do than to scrape away the sticky left by a Granny Smith apple label? Look kids! Here I am, putting my college degree to use with the dull edge of a butter knife. Thank goodness for Goo Gone, the wonder product that removes all residual stickiness! (And the fact that I just wrote that sentence with genuine gratitude makes me want to stick a fork in my eye right now.)

4 – Cleaning in and around trash cans. Nothing more fun to me than picking up used Kleenex or dental floss off the bathroom floor because our sons just missed the trash can. (Not the only thing they miss, but I promised not to mention that.) The kitchen trash can is even worse.  Ours has a lid because otherwise our dogs would help themselves. How does a kid manage to lift the lid, deposit the item, close the lid, and then manage to spill food on top of the lid (and wall and floor)?

3 – Cleaning out the bottom of the refrigerator after discovering that somebody has spilled something liquid and sugary in the not-so-recent past (giving plenty of time for maximal microbial and fungal growth before I discover the bulk of the spill hidden by the bottom drawer). Last time I think it was a mixture the juice from a can of black olives and some kind of red soda.

2 – Reaching into the spaghetti pot soaking in the sink to remove whatever my family has thrown into the water. Do your loved ones do this? Why do they do this? I need to know. I fill the pot with hot soapy water to soak so I can scrub it clean in the near future. But if I leave it in the sink and do not get back to it quickly enough, my family, rather than rinsing their post-dinner dishes and putting them in the dishwasher or other side of the sink, will simply dump every utensil or plate or glass they use into the pot. So now I have to reach into cold, greasy, rehydrated tomato-sauce-water (which now contains a rich, varied mixture of other organic debris) to retrieve a glass that originally just held someone’s after-dinner iced tea but is now coated in a viscous residue from the dirty orange dishwater soup. Ugh.

1 – Reaching into the garbage disposal to retrieve whatever is making the horrible noise. So far I have found spoons, forks, broken glass, bottle caps, lemon or lime rinds, a marble, a handful of pennies, a Lego Guy, and just today, a white jelly-like sack of something that looked like a breast implant with a tough pulpy core that I can’t identify and sincerely wish I had never handled.

Some days, I love my job less than others.

So your turn. What’s your favorite housework to hate? What chores make you feel like an underappreciated, domestic grunt with dishpan hands?

Please Don’t Anger the Deli Gods

A shopping cart filled with bagged groceries l...

 

“Smile,” she whispered urgently.

I pulled my attention away from the two toddlers climbing their mom like a tree as she tried to choose a loaf of bread, and focused on my partner. I wouldn’t get credit for accompanying her on this outing unless I stayed present and attentive. But my stamina was flagging. So I said:

“Huh?”

My partner’s smile widened to a disturbing dimension. She whispered through clenched teeth.

“Smile at the lady or we’ll never get out of here.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I smiled anyway. Or I tried. Unfortunately, my forced smile looks very much like a rictus of pain (if years of photographic evidence is to be believed) and my partner visibly winced.

“Nevermind. Stop that.” I relaxed my face in relief. “Just try not to make eye contact.”

“With who?” She gestured in the direction of the two ladies in hair nets manning the meat slicers behind the deli counter.

“The deli gods. If we anger them, we’ll be here all day. But if we smile and say please and thank you, and never ever get caught looking impatient, we might get out of here in a few minutes.”

I eyed the hair-netted pair and knew she was right. The ladies at the deli counter had all the power. Our cart was groaning under the weight of a week’s supplies for our teenagers, this was our last stop before the checkout line, and I really wanted to go home.

One of the hair nets turned toward us. I panicked and tried smiling again. My partner elbowed me. I stopped. The hair net approached the scale, laid the offering on it, and spoke:

“It’s not quite a pound. Is that close enough?” My partner’s smile could have lit the heavens.

“That’s perfect. Thank you so much.”

“I thought you ordered a half a pound,” I whispered when the hair net turned away.

“It’s close enough,” my partner hissed and smiled again as the deli god handed the meat now wrapped, bagged and labeled across the counter. My partner glanced at it, then handed it to me to put in the basket. I did.

“You know that was smoked turkey, right?” I whispered. “Didn’t you ask for the Cajun chicken?”

“Do you want to go home sometime today or not?”

“I like turkey. Turkey’s fine,” I asserted.

I went back to watching the young mom with the two toddlers. The taller boy had just dropped a box of donuts into the cart while the little one was endeavoring to scale the opposing side. Mom turned back from the shelf she had been perusing, noticed the teetering cart, and made a frantic lunge for her youngest just as gravity began to assert itself. Righting the cart, she pulled the little one off the side and settled him on her hip where he clung like a koala bear.

I felt a little guilty for being amused. Just a few years ago, I was that woman. So I knew that shopping with little ones is not for the faint of heart. I had learned the hard way that the key to food gathering with small children was to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible, before they had a chance to ransack the shelves, slip too many things into the cart while I wasn’t looking, or to poke at each other until one of them inevitably melted down before I got halfway through my list.

I looked back at the deli to check on our progress. One of the hairnets was handing another package to my partner. That should be the last one. We were free! My partner pushed the groaning cart over to where I was standing.

“They’re adorable, aren’t they?” she said nodding at the young mom and her boys. Her voice had a wistful tone. Now that our boys were teenagers, this happens to us sometimes. It starts with this poignant, bittersweet pang when you see a young parent with little ones and graduates to a lump in your throat and teary eyes as you remember that you’ll never again rock your babies to sleep or fix their boo boos with a kiss and a Band-aid.

A few feet away, the young mother had paused at the intersection of her aisle and the bakery area. The little one was now firmly ensconced in the seat in front of the cart a kiwi in each little fist while his brother was standing next to his mom waiting, calmly and patiently. They looked like angels.

“Do you miss it?” I asked, knowing the answer. The little one chose that moment to twist in his seat, pull back his arm, and launch a kiwi at his brother’s head. His aim was remarkable. The older boy burst into tears and starting wailing like a mad foghorn. The little brother looked shocked at this reaction and then started wailing too. The mom heaved a sigh, scooped up the older boy, kissed his head and carried him to his brother who looked heartily sorry.

My partner’s wistful look was gone. She looked at me, grinned, and said:

“Not so much.”

And we headed toward the checkout line and home.

A Nontraditional Family: Introducing Us

My partner and I are not just a couple. We’re a collaborative, interdependent social unit with a shared goal and our own special brand of symbiosis – like the clownfish and the sea anemone – if the anemone was a middle-aged, wise-cracking mom and the clownfish regularly threatened to eat her children. We’re more than halfway done raising the spawn now – the oldest is out on his own and his little brothers are teenagers and not that far behind. But as much as I feel like an old hand at this now, I know things will come up that I can’t anticipate or prepare for. An there will be days when I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than to be the one responsible for dealing with what ever happens.

Which is why I know I’m lucky to have this incredible partner, this amazing anemone who is smart and loving and kind and tougher than goat’s teeth. She has the patience of a saint and a wit like a Ginsu knife. (It can slice a tomato paper-thin and dice an idiot in seconds.) And that sense of humor has been crucial because parenthood is nothing if not an endless exercise in dramatic irony. (We went in with such high expectations but everyone knew what was going to happen.)

Kids happened. And they kept happening. We’ve been peed on, vomited on and used as living Kleenex. We’ve watched our boys get measured and weighed, stitched up and fitted for casts. We survived their fevers, nightmares, bike wrecks and hospital stays without having a complete nervous breakdown. We’ve endured rap music, sagging pants and seven years of sharing a bathroom with three boys with poor aim. We’ve weathered a thousand Disney sing-alongs, the sound tracks of a hundred Nintendo games, and toys that talked, sang, whistled, wailed, or squawked incessantly until the batteries finally, mercifully, died.

We taught one son that the cat’s tail was not a handle and another that stuffing his pockets with caterpillars probably wasn’t a good idea. We taught the oldest to drive a car and kept the ranting and cussing to a minimum. (Well, I did. Number one son refused to drive with his mother again after she braced her feet on the dashboard and screamed every time he stepped on the gas.) We encouraged (begged, bribed and cajoled) them to do their homework, to be kind to each other, to aim for the water, to eat vegetables, to use an inside voice, to please just go to bed.

Our house was decorated early on in “my kids are animals” motif, with grubby handprints everywhere and graffiti scrawled in crayon on the walls. Our living room was perpetually carpeted with Legos, matchbox cars, and Star Wars action figures. We bought furniture that was plain and uncomfortable but sturdy and Scotch-guarded. For a long time, we owned nothing made of glass, ceramic or anything easily breakable (except dishes and windows – which they broke). For years, we’ve gone without enough sleep, money, time and attention. Because we are the parents, the ones who give their time and attention, who make the money and go without sleep for the children.

This year, my wife and I would be celebrating our twelfth anniversary if it weren’t for one little detail – she’s not my wife. She’s my partner in life, love and child-rearing, but she’s not my wife because I am also a woman, and we’re not allowed to marry. And because the word “family” is so jealously guarded by right-wing fundamentalists everywhere, there are people, institutions, and governments that refuse even to recognize us as a legitimate social unit.

Even the progressives among us so often feel the need to add a qualifier to families like ours – words like “nontraditional” or “alternative.” But still I prefer just the noun, bare bones, fundamental, true. This is our family – two middle-aged moms/women/not-wives/people with two sons still at home, two goofy dogs, and one mean old cat doing our best to coexist symbiotically ever after.

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