Writing hectically to get a new book out!
The limbic system has always fascinated me. It functions twenty-four hours a day from birth and never stops unless we are on the brink of death, or hanging around two-year-olds. My medulla must have told me to travel with one of my granddaughters who has such active stimuli, probably so she could keep me young and lively. Yet the release of dopamine in my brain may have been the real cause of that decision. The trip was inspired largely by my dad’s ninety-fifth birthday, and I flew my daughter and her two youngsters to his home in Florida for the celebratory event. I hadn’t forgotten what it was like traveling with a toddler. But I’m a grandmother. So I’m bound to radiate a deep and meaningful attachment to my grandchildren. I’ve had insane urges before to blast through the air inside a pressurized cylindrical transporter with a tot who wanted to roam freely. That’s one reason why I have limited brain cells left. Although the fact that some jellyfish live potentially forever without brains gave me hope.
The adventure began at the airport scanner when it viewed us as potentially harmful after seeing all our weapons of mass obstruction. Surely two oppressed women carrying a newborn, a toddler, purses, backpacks, a diaper and bottle bag, strollers, and car seats, aren’t exactly capable of starting a revolution. Although if they had given the kids a sniff test, it would have clearly indicated that they were hazardous and carrying something lethal in their diapers. They called little miss poopy pants over for a cavity search and the elderly lady next to us wondered how they could possibly sense tooth decay in a child that small. Without the slightest hope of finding something that would pose a threat to national security, we were cleared to board the plane. I was surprised though, when my purse contents included sharp crayons and ear popping Bazooka (bubble gum). The scan also detected that some of my cerebral components were missing, and that I wasn’t a natural redhead. But they let us board anyway.
While a substantial portion of my mental machinery seems to be flittering away, I wasn’t easily outwitted. Holding onto this wiggle worm was like holding onto a washer during its spin cycle. With affectionate eye contact, my soothing variety of logic, and octopus arms, I was able to keep her within my reach. The flight crew became completely obsessed with my chatty little charmer’s whimsical brew of adorableness and sparkle, and dished out praise like it was a bunch of Tootsie Pops. You would have thought a young Shirley Temple had made an appearance, because she was quite good at making a theater out of an airplane cabin. Snookums was at her best when stopping at each and every seat saying “hi” to passengers, and proceeding at the pace of an animated tortoise… causing malignant brain humor. One flight attendant exchanged names with her and turned saying, “She called me eggroll. Carol was just too difficult!”
To keep the line going, another hostess rivaled that of a cattle herder when she said, “Move it on out.” I wanted to tell her that I have a yearling on my hands who is still in the early stages of listening maturity, and that the baby-centric flying experience requires patience. Apparently the aviatrix wasn’t aware that some of us need to emphatically express ourselves. My spicy lil’ pepper did test me though once we were seated. We only had to ask her multiple times to keep her seat belt fastened, and she was still hungry after discarding the snacks she’d refused to eat the first fifty times they were offered to her. Then again, airlines should be supplying something ideally suited for any sweetheart. Like Teddy Grahams, popsicles, sensory toys for children’s amusement, assorted Godiva chocolates, and heated massage pads. I’m sure my cuddlebunny’s occipital cortex craved cupcakes, and a mini McDonald’s play yard. Her phooey parietal instantly rejected the healthy oats & honey bar they had to offer, whereas both my daughter and I would have instantly accepted wine when they offered. Except that it was ten in the morning. Every area of our cranium’s warned us about being good role models.
My wiggly seatmate accepted pretzels, and I wanted to confirm that acceptance in the presence of a licensed notary. There’s no doubt my punkin-wunkin is the slyest and most tiring person whom I can’t imagine my life without. This pride and grand source of joy did make the cerebral mistake of diving for dropped pretzels on the cabin floor where there could be parasitical life. Who knows where the millions of previous shoes have been. I would never do that, so I wondered what was connecting us molecularly, and I wanted to do a paternity test. I told her, “Your Nana needs the remaining nuclei within her temporal lobe. So work with me here, won’tcha?” Toddlers can sometimes make you feel like you are violating their sacred sanctorium and they would rejoice in seeing you terminated. I issued her affectionate invitations to stop those infantile spasms and sit still. In order to successfully pass ancestral instruction on to grandkids, they must survive long enough to reach a productive age where they can pass that same instruction on to their own feral offspring.
Lovebug did have the in-flight-film-fondness lobe that kept her silent for at least five minutes. And the Play-Doh oblongata spurred motivation to ram the rubbery stuff into every crack and crevice in our row. She was definitely a good candidate for a hyperbaric chamber. I was worried that the flight crew would see the mess and start experiencing skeletal difficulties. The children’s bladders failed a few times, and I had to turn my lap into a changing table where I was able to boast about booty squirts. Every passenger must have wondered when shitake mushrooms and horseradish became kid food, and they had the option to pull down their oxygen masks. I knew to wait until I got off the plane before yelling back, “Sorry about the smells, and the forty specks of colorful modeling compound stuck to seat 27E.” I was hoping that within the olfactory of every crew member were discreet spheres of nerve tissue and blind spots. My daughter and I were fearful that at the end of the flight, people would be giving us the stink eye or commenting on the kiddie commotion. We had our cerebellums ready to discharge any accusations aimed at us. But everyone said how great the kids were.
Yet it’s no accident that Snuggles and I both come from the same genetic landscape. Analyzing the genes in our chromosomes, I’d say both our parents had a wild night of playing around and therefore birthed a couple of crazies. Whoever said that grandbabies get 99 percent nonsense from their grandmothers was right. She too would rather jump wildly on couch cushions and eat chocolate all day than sit in a rocking chair munching on broccoli. My granddarling and I simply abide by Cyndi Lauper’s theory that “girls just wanna have fun.” We like joy riding and being silly, and both of us have grown two pajama sizes since last night. There’s only one difference between us. It wasn’t that long ago that I looked like a fairly intact mother of three, and now I resemble a battered piñata that has been disfigured and is spilling its guts. She on the other hand, is perfect in every way. As far as I am concerned, she has won the genetic lottery and I could write for days about her lovable antics that cycle uncontrollably through my head.
My mother taught me that I can go days without food, but not a minute without a girdle and make-up. She was right. However, I am not capable of removing a corset every night without a giant shoe horn, Vaseline, and the strength of six other people assisting me. Make-up is another animal altogether. Thinking I should live an ageless life may be symptomatic of pride, but I can’t help buying the newest in beauty products. I’m pretty positive that I share a skin care regimen with other women, along with the inevitable nightmare of not being able to reset my odometer. It’s unclear whether the twenty-minute Miracle Whip mask or the bee venoms have served to suppress some of my pustules and puffiness. There I was again this morning telling my mirror “Today I’m going with a green tea and guava peel,” because every day I need something that conceals the fact that I’ve been exhausted since 2002 (with a presence of forehead furrows and sunken jowls.) As a kid I wanted to be older. Now I just want muscle tone and eyelids like Elijah Wood’s. After indulging myself in the unpleasant reality of lofty pessimism, I set aside my usual duties once again to concentrate on my physique. I have this ingrained notion that if those Kardashian ladies can use skincare goods and get fabulous results, why oh why can’t I? Except I call it exfoliation. They call it body masturbation. And I’m just not feeling all that frisky.
I lined up a towering cathedral of restorative lotions and exfoliants on my bathroom countertop, and proceeded to drench myself extensively while taking a deep breath, hoping they would do their magic. Supposedly a hotel in the Czech Republic offers a vitamin-filled beer bath to rejuvenate pores, plus protects against Alzheimer’s. I might embrace the brew myself by pouring a can of Coors Light over my head and down my body to see if it has the same effect. And snail secretions are said to reduce stretch marks. If I had known that, I would have kept the little mollusks around instead of cats and dogs. They say the spiny cactus plant massages and removes toxins, which sounds more like acupuncture to me. Hari’s of London has bull-sperm hair lotions for frizziness. I have wondered who has the job of boiling a bull’s testies that would result in smoother follicles. Yet there’s nothing like a roll in the hay to feel like a new woman. I heard that some Italians lie down on sheets covered with warm, pre-soaked straw. I would do it too if I was given a stylist to cure my bedhead, hay allergy medicine, and the barn forage was replaced with something not so prickly.
I’m either going to end up ravishing, or continue to be a lathering guinea pig for beauty conglomerates. I’m always hoping on the off chance that with enough head-to-toe suffocation of this stuff, I’ll get carded at sixty-four. Trespassers are going to be victimized if they dare watch me during my glamour procedures. I learned one thing the hard way. I couldn’t do a face mask all that quickly. The doorbell rang, and my beloved beau was nowhere to be found. A bit of swearing ensued while I ran to open the door, and my face scared the crap out of the FedEx delivery man. He must have heard me cursing because he said “dammit” was the argot of sailors. Right after that, the gardener caught sight of me when he was pruning the bushes right outside my window, which evoked a fit of giggles on his part. My growing legion of admirers probably thought they had gone eye to eye with someone who had collided with an open jar of mayonnaise. People showing up at the house is usually pretty standard. Some people come to deliver packages. Some mow the lawn and trim back bush growth. I was hoping the good Lord would send a renowned cosmetician, or a magician to do some trickery. Even bending over to tie my shoes can be a pain these days. Yet I am resourceful. I can get my gardener to do it in an instant if my boyfriend isn’t around.
I mosied back to the bathroom and my loverboy passed by, stopping guardedly in his tracks. Let me describe this scene in glorious detail. He sarcastically asked, “Holy moly! Are you winterproofing your pores?” I will just say that I adore spending every mocking moment with this guy, and was unwittingly increasing the risk of alienation. He was wearing sporty flip-flops that didn’t quite give him the traction he needed to bolt away. My king, czar, emperor of trash removal, and unprecedented source of joy who is capable of leaving me alone at times like these, caught sight of his housemate lathered in the carefully hoarded collection of age-defying ointments, none of which were likely going to transform me into the new face of Covergirl. What he saw was slovenly hair held back by a magnetic strength of metal clips, and my body covered in so much cream that he didn’t know if it was me, or a hundred-and-thirty-pound frosted cupcake. Baking connoisseurs go to culinary schools to devote their attention to confections. My boyfriend just had to go to my mirror.
My appearance was generally well received, until that day. I was sure that he wanted to throw me out with the rest of the trash. All of a sudden the Shirelle’s came to mind and I sneeringly belted out one of their songs. “Tonight you’re mine, completely.” Then I went straight into, “Soldier boy. Oh my little soldier boy. I’ll be new for you.” I also wanted to sing about the skin he’s in. I’ve seen his calves, those heavily-weathered walking sticks. He’ll need some superhuman creams himself to cure his aging frame. And he’s fifty shades of gray alright. His impeccably perfect head contains at least four hundred thousand silvery strands, and the rest of him is one great big connecting age spot. He has always reassured me, “I may not be the youngest looking guy, but I’m strong like bull baby.” Yet the preponderance of aging still persists. Especially when I ask him if he would like to do something youthful and exciting like play Pickleball and he responds, “I think I have Bingo that night.” Sometimes I resist the temptation to smack the sarcasm right out of him. But his humor is worth more to me than all the emollients in the world. However, I have to wonder about my man’s maturity level when “I’m going for a burger and a beer” turns into a few intoxicating hours of lubrication, peeing in bushes, and leaving his zipper open to reveal some of his naturalness. But my sphere of influence with both men and beauty products has always told me to keep believing in them.
Let me give you the underlying dynamics of a true hostage situation.
Anyone who has ever had an emergency ward encounter knows that it could be hours upon hours of crisis negotiations with exacerbating factors being played out. I’m at that godforsaken age when strange things start to happen. I experienced a little tightness in my chest that lasted several hours, so I took the precaution of calling my doctor who advised me to go directly to the ER. My delicate aorta was compromised again once I saw all those other people waiting to be seen. A man had his best friend with him and the receptionist had to inform the dog lover that it was a hospital, not the Humane Society, and that they needed to spend quality time together somewhere else. He left and we were down to eight impatient waiting room attendees on a pain scale from cranky, to wanting to heave a chair into the television screen that was airing an onslaught of horrific news. A hospital worker reassured us, “We will be with you shortly.” Their idea of “shortly” is a little different than mine. I should have asked her to put on episodes of Glee, bring me a cot, and refresh all their magazines – or at least stock a waiting-room-survival handbook and some ice cream sandwiches. Since celebrities get much swifter service wherever they go, I thought about checking in as Julia Roberts. But they would have stared at me for another twenty minutes wondering if I was the real deal.
One health center employee finally acknowledged my existence. And since admissions hears the most outlandish complaints, I had to convince them that I was not the one who broke a nail. They did ask a hundred general questions that hospitals require. I’m not sure how what president I was going to vote for had anything to do with my problem. But I told the happy hospitalist everything she wanted to hear so I could hurry up and start my extended evaluation. And no, I didn’t want a smiley heart sticker. I wanted three of them, some of those mesh undies, and a snotsucker, that nasal aspirator that siphons out boogers better than plain old Kleenex.
Once they attached the plastic identifying arm band, I was held hostage by an exploratory committee of complete strangers. The first attending nurse had on scrubs with skulls and crossbones. He would not have been my first choice for assisting me in my electrocardiogram. Yet the synonymous-with-death figure led me into a changing room where he began explaining the whole procedure with the word speed of an auctioneer. I couldn’t make out whether the gown should be open at the back or the front, if I was supposed to be naked from the waist up or the waist down, drape the gown like a veil, and wait for him there or back in the lobby – or in the cafeteria, because I was awfully hungry by then. That’s when I knew breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, since I hadn’t eaten anything. They could have brought me sunflower seeds in a bedpan and I would have been filled with stomach-growling delight. Plus it was pretty drafty draped in that little bit of nothingness. Now that I think about it, I should have livened things up, pretending to be a Rockette by flashing my tushie and kicking my heels into the air.
After that wonderful chest-crushing EKG, they wanted to do a blood test. A vampire came in cunningly disguised as a phlebotomist, asking if I was afraid of needles. I replied, “Hardly! I’ve had my ears pierced, undergone acupuncture, been hit in the skull with a dart, gave birth to three children, and been poked many times by Barbie’s sharp hands and feet when my young girls were trying to get my attention.” The blood-drawing female could not find a vein in my right arm. My left arm had a blood vessel the size of the Mississippi, but she poked my right arm for five flabbergasting minutes until I informed her that I’m only half human, and that she should try the left arm if she wanted to be successful at her job. I figured once she got the lab results, she was going to find out that I’m really 80 percent ice cream sandwiches. If only she had acted in accordance with my other command. I wanted her to infuse my blood with some Grand Marnier and Hershey’s syrup.
Hour two of my captive situation, I was still waiting for a hospital room. I was rather hoping for a penthouse suite but got a blue room instead. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if it was generally used for code blue patients, where it is a representation of doom and gloom. They applied patches and wires, and the physician came in with a troubleshooting flowchart of inquiries. I’ve never pretended to be anything I’m not, except for maybe being sane and sober most days of the week. So what a coinkydink when he asked how much alcohol I consume. I said, “Not much Doc. But I can’t wait to get home so I can pour myself an afternoon snack.” Then came the entertainment segment of my stay. Another attendant slithered in who thought he would make my day with his undignified anecdotes. Personally, I don’t think anyone should tell knock-knock jokes to a weary woman who is in fear of heart failure. Then he asked, “Shall I pull the curtain shut? Aren’t you glad that curtain isn’t iron? Get it? Iron…curtain?” Now generally, I am plenty darn thankful when someone wants to humor me in this sordid world. But I would have liked a more talented comedian, imagining the sheer and utter joy if he had been Kevin Nealon. Plus, my insurance doesn’t cover seizures from dreadful narratives. The not-so-amusing intern was completely devoid of any sort of comical compass, and probably wanted to make me laugh just so he could see my breasts jiggle. He didn’t exactly inspire confidence when he uttered, “Old McDonald had a farm, HAD being the key word here. Old McDonald came into the ER and never went home!” The guy truly thought he was funny. Then he added, “These two blondes were driving down the road and…” I stopped him dead in his goofy man tracks. I know it is rude to throw a pillow at someone while they are talking. But somebody had to do it.
When Mister Comedy Central recovered from the blast of feathers to his face, he asked me if I was okay. He must have seen my heightened sense of irritation, the hunger pains, and the fact that I needed a classier group of individuals entertaining me…like the Chippendales. He left to prepare for my discharge, and the cardiac monitoring system began beeping so loud that I thought the entire hospital staff would come running into my room. It’s the sort of scary sound you hear when someone has flatlined. They initially asked if I needed anything, And yet the blasted buzzer wouldn’t stop, and there was no one in sight. I had to pound the call button eighteen times. Someone finally came in wanting to give me a combative-patient peace offering. But grouchy women who ask for Fentanyl, get Tylenol most of the time. Obviously the sound was a false alarm. I would have told them that I would clean up that room after I was finished and do the laundry, except that would have been a major false alarm as well.
I was diagnosed Type I for indescribable, and tests confirmed that I am most certainly an icecreamsandwichoholic. I had eaten Kobe beef with a pile of lardy mashed potatoes and a block of ice cream between chocolate biscuits the night before. The doctor said rich foods likely caused the pressure on my chest. Which was good, until he informed me that I also have severe scoliosis and extra flab in my stomach and thighs. I already knew I had a curvy figure. And doctors are never wrong.
Finding the perfect Father’s Day gift is hard for a man who synchronized many things in my daily life. I mean, how many coffee cups can a guy have with his name on them that never match the rest of the tableware and always end up being used as pencil holders, sold in garage sales, or shattered from the surprise thermonuclear strike brought on by a devilish brother who used it to blow up a snail? Few dads can compare to the hero of our house who peddled stocks by day, and balanced his sanity and bank account by night, making sure his ten children had what they needed. So I’m always looking for an appreciative gift to give him.
It was easy during my grade school years. I’d bring home potted plants from school or crafty painted pictures sparkled with glitter and dried gobs of glue, which felt like the marks of an excellent artist. I was trying so charmingly to solidify the bond between father and daughter. He received enough hand-made cards from me to wallpaper our city’s football arena. One shrill cry of recognition was all I hoped for. He did just that on certain occasions when I brought him something so unique, that he couldn’t help but shriek with placating delight. Like the snack I made him when I was little. I wanted to contribute to Mom’s impressive cooking skills. Only the snack of his choice turned out to be more the snack of my choice. Graham crackers topped off with a creative combination of grape jelly, crushed potato chips, and raisins. I was extremely satisfied in knowing that I could mix something sweet with something salty. That was the year I brought him breakfast in bed, holding a tray tilting with cold cocoa and Honeycomb cereal, the fully-flavored snack followed by a rambunctious dog.
Technically, our house wasn’t a bed & breakfast. So I shouldn’t have been held liable for destroying the entire kitchen to make said breakfast while my mother was showering. The cook room was sometimes my mother’s sanctuary for weird concoctions and commonly messy countertops. I’m sure Dad would have preferred extracting existential meaning from a martini rather than licking raisins and crunchy grape gooiness off the bed sheets, and sipping cold cocoa. Not to mention indulging in puffed combs coated with pure sugar, chocolate milk, and a few dog hairs. In his eyes, it probably looked like breakfast was bathed in some sort of ectoplasm that was delivered by a couple of extraterrestrials. He was a bit spooked by the unsavory appearance, but never really terrified. I was proud for having served such a sumptuous sweet breakfast with my beloved canine.
In the years that followed, I had to ask my Dad for a few bucks so I could buy him a gift. He could have entered about forty ugly tie contests. One year I bought him the greatest gift anyone could give a Father. A wine glass for my mother. Since Dad was the king of making pancakes, I thought the engraved “I flippin’ love you” spatula was the ideal gift. He pretended to love the Superman metal key ring, along with a scribbled IOU that said I’d help him with grilling. He really didn’t need my help doing anything. Like tinkering with matches and trying to light the briquettes from the last BBQ, or dropping humongous plates of hamburgers and hotdogs. Chances were that the fluffy dice I got him another year didn’t really match the cars décor, which brings me to the sleek but relatively unaffordable sports car I so desperately wanted to get him. I thought men who drove them looked so handsome and rugged. The only person who didn’t like that idea was my mother. Dad wasn’t James Bond, nor did he need that kind of crazy fun-to-drive dynamics. With the brood we had, we were more of a sixteen wheeler type of family. I figured a skydiving session was also out of the question. Mom always said to buy him socks, since he lost his with the same alarming frequency as his children. I’m sure all he wanted was to watch the hockey playoffs without us mercilessly pestering, allowing him that little pocket of peace by having his ten caring-but-boisterous-cherubs remove themselves from the house until the puck made its final goal. Our barn wasn’t adequately sized to retain a herd of squealing horses. He would have been equally overjoyed had we cleared our crap off the couch first, making his corner of the stable a bit more comfy.
Dad loved me despite my coloring his Wing Tips. And when the walls were wounded from a conglomeration of toys, he continued to be a delightful and doting Father. There was the potato famine of 59’, when I fed a whole bag of spuds to the squirrels. They wouldn’t eat onions or cucumbers either. And I’m almost positive that Dad never appreciated my offensive tones when I became an irrational teen. I knew exactly how far to push him toward blooming psychosis. If only I had stayed an enchanting newborn for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful that he showed restraint by not leaving me on someone’s doorstep. I don’t know how many times Mom pulled Dad aside asking if she should be worried about me. But he rose above my countless misadventures, because that’s exactly what Jesus and Gandhi and my Dad would do. No matter what, I trusted that he would accept any gift I gave him and still look at me adoringly.
My quizzical brows are always lifted. I wonder why fast food restaurants don’t serve Grey Poupon, and if television networks will bring back Father Knows Best. I’m also pondering again over the perfect present for my Dad this year. I should go visit my ninety-four-year-old knight in shining armor and make him a proper breakfast, something that doesn’t involve sickening snacks and dog fur.
I seem to have knocked down a number of sunny dispositions in my day. My dad would get mad at me when I threw gum wrappers out the car window that always found their way back in. Mom was perturbed hourly due to my frequent puerility. Then she went into mad-mother overload once she read my diary. My signature move was to bottle up all my feelings over time and reduce them to pages under lock and key. I got mad when she found that key and helped herself to my troublesome behavior.
Men get irritated when the TV station is changed during a major play in sports. They also turn into irrational hotheads if they receive a humongous and unexpected bill in the mail from a women’s retailer. And they will practically evaporate into thin air at signs of hormonal changes. But there are many more indications when a woman is displeased. They stare with a murderous look on their face. They’re yelling. You’re injured, and there’s a kitchen skillet lying next to you. I remember my mother getting mad at me for some things I did in kindergarten, grade school, high school, and long after I left home. I got pretty mad at her as well, mostly because of her various capacities as an ongoing prison guard and habitual interrogator. In fourth grade, I wrote her a note that said, “I’m not speeking to you for the rest of my life. P.S. I love you. Pattycakes.” She responded, “You’re so cute when you’re mad.” I contemplated a harsh comeback, that if it were up to me, would have sounded like, “Yeah, well I’m about to become goddamn adorable.” Except that she would have propagated irrepressible rage and likely killed me if I had spoken to her like that. Talk about your major mood swing. But she was usually smiling again within thirty minutes of being angry.
Back then, I lived on the fertile ground of misery. I wanted to be a happy-go-lucky individual with the freedom to do my own thing. Except the only thing I was entitled to as a teen was food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention. Otherwise, I was always involved in some sort of upheaval with my parents over whether or not I was deserving of anything else. I remember a specific instance as a teenager, calling our house after my curfew and telling my Dad that I would be home soon after I stopped to get something to eat.
“Where are you?”
“I thought McDonald’s closed at ten?”
“No Dad, they stay open twenty-four hours.”
Mom was in the background overhearing our conversation and said, “Not our McDonald’s. They close at eleven.”
“Well this McDonald’s is open forever.”
I could hear my infuriated mother. “Tell her to get her sweet hiney home right this minute.”
Dad paused for a moment then whispered, “Can you bring me one of those hot apple pies?”
Apparently my mother’s conduct policy was not showing positive results. I found temptation to be quite stimulative, with both the peccability and possibility of chastisement. I had to hustle to find an open McDonald’s. Dad wasn’t mad, but Mom was a bit chafed to say the least. I suspected that she got even angrier when I came home without any golden arched goodness for her as well. Humoring her got me nowhere. When I saw her dressed in a black nightie, I couldn’t help but inquire whose funeral she was attending. “Yours,” she said snidely. Nothing hurts more than being disappointed by the people you thought would never scar you. I asked, “Why are you mad at me?” I’m surprised she didn’t stand on a raised platform, hold a microphone, unfold an extensive scroll of my devious actions, and respond with, “Gee, now that you’ve asked,” proceeding to give me all the reasons she was peeved. She’s just lucky I didn’t have one of my really major mood swings.
Teachers were also continually mad at me in school, probably because I couldn’t take orders very well. Geez, I barely took suggestions let alone a succession of word and math problems. I was curiously concerned what good the standardized numerical testing did for us. I mean why would someone buy seventy-two watermelons then subtract sixty of them? And if Patty had fifty cupcakes and ate twenty of them, Patty was more than likely going to end up with elevated glucose levels and the need to run a cross country marathon. Math surely wasn’t going to help anyone find Nemo. I was told to pay attention. I was scolded for slumping in my seat. And there was that subtle discrimination when I wasn’t prepared for class. For some odd reason, using “the cat clawed my homework” excuse didn’t go over very well with my doubting educators. The biggest barrier to living my best life was being secluded in detention when I didn’t answer a bunch of inconsequential and silly questions on paper. They also got angry if I was talking, chewing, burping, lollygagging, and basically breathing. I’m pretty sure that institution is where most of my sarcasm and pent up anger began.
Then I married, and was fraught with all of the problems that couples face. I became a peace- obsessed warrior trying to understand a husband’s place in the world. Some days, I had to walk cautiously through the hallway while Arnold hubby Palmer practiced his putting. He may have had a superlative career in golf if I hadn’t come along and thrown his game off. He also got upset if I was vacuuming while he was trying to nap. Every discussion should have been recorded for framing and equality purposes. He got most annoyed when I made lousy meals. However, I did perfect one thing. I made pretty good citrus ice cubes with flavored vodka. If this man died, I swore his very last words were going to be, “I’m starving.” He could have taken the time to look inside a cookbook, gone to the grocers for ingredients to sustain his never-ending appetite, and slaved over a stove himself. If I got pregnant, I was sure he’d name the kid Chip or Lorna Doone. He was just a great big riled ravenous bear. Yet, I did think that he might be more miserable without me.
He did come through for me those times when I was mad. I remember specifically lying in a hospital birthing room spilling out my first daughter. I could finally relate to the time when he had that small sliver in his fingertip. He had a ringside seat to my screams and placental expulsions, and compassionately asked if I wanted a beer. I got a little more irritated knowing full well I couldn’t suck down some suds under those strenuous circumstances. I needed either a ten- gallon jug of Guinness or a hundred milligrams of morphine to stay relaxingly upbeat and calm. I would have been downright psychotic if my man had gone for a beer by himself. I was sober, and marveled at his ability to feed me ice chips when I was spewing snippy tones. He never got exasperated when I was clawing his arm like an ill-tempered wolverine. Though I did want to avoid being regarded as a burden. He loved me anyway during those final hours of pregnancy petulance, mostly because my boobs grew to the size of hot air balloons. But I had to tell him the baby was first priority.
Unfortunately, we found out that marriage is one of the leading causes of divorce. My betrothed wondered why everything wasn’t tidy when I was home all week, and I wondered why we weren’t living comfortably in wealth and splendor when he worked all week. I think I should get an award for not pitching a major hissy-fit when he wanted to keep everything when we separated, including the goldfish bowl with all the colorful pebbles. I needed time to recover from this tragedy. Then he turned downright indignant when I had a garbage sale and sold his golf clubs, his video games, the cobweb-covered exercise equipment, and other treasured belongings. I thought seventy-five cents was a reasonable offer for the grass seeder, and I threw in the lug nut wrench and taco stained couch. How else was I going to buy my new social calendar and all those single-girl essentials?
I considered myself a kind and loving mother for putting nice little notes in my girls’ lunchboxes when they went to school. Most of the time, I drew hearts and scribbled “I love you.” There were instances when I jotted whatever matters were weighing on my mind. “Could you not put away the peanut butter without wiping off the jar first?” or “Thanks for the stretch marks.” I had a girlfriend who also wrote notes to her five boys. “Please don’t draw chalk outlines on the front porch anymore with your sibling’s names inside of them.” She was one of those mothers in critical need of a live-in masseuse and bottle therapy. Specifically, Pinot Noir. Especially after she opened one son’s lunchbox after school and found the note with a drawing of what looked like two people engaging in sexual activity. When her boys got confined to their rooms, they were hoping she wouldn’t be so stern as to lock the doors and throw away the key. They probably would have asked her to bake them a cake with a file in it, or at least have some foxy looking chick jump out of it. I used to want a boy in the biggest way, until I hung around her house.
Parenting a girl wasn’t any easier. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I wanted to induce labor to have her more quickly. As time went on, I was obliged to spit out life lessons every other second, and when it came time to have “the talk,” I avoided it like the plague and put it off as long as possible. I didn’t think I should be talking to a preschooler about sexuality. There were things I would have liked to be doing more, like cleaning Port-a-Potties at the fairground. She did wonder why her little cave of wonder was cut off, given that the male thingy can get erect. Having seventy-thousand thoughts per day, I assumed she’d be more contemplative about toys or seesaws. In due time, it was my job to inform her about carnal cohabitation. The hardest part would be explaining whips and handcuffs, and how hard it is to get it on while playing Twister. Not that I ever did those things. I wouldn’t have known where to buy whips or handcuffs let alone use them. Nor was I about to explain porn stars to my innocent and trusting child, or get myself into some contorted position playing a game with no clothes on. And thankfully the condom discussion came much later as well.
There was always a certain amount of angst associated with parenting girls who ran around half naked, exploiting themselves. I didn’t want any males putting their bananas in my girls’ fruit salad. Once again I was under sex duress. So I did what most mothers do. I told them to see their Dad. But when they saw him lounging on the couch watching sports, they walked right by him and followed me to the bathroom banging on the door for me to explain why they couldn’t go au naturel. That’s when I went to their dad and said, “Roses are red, you’re children are blue. Somebody has to convince them to cover their privates, and I nominate you.”
My mother always put great emphasis on explaining things to her ten children. She was so loud and clear when delivering directions that she compelled even the neighbors to brush their teeth and clean up after themselves. But when it came to explaining the facts of life, I think she was a bit inhibited. I got the inside scoop from a friend about the birds and the bees. She gave a bizzaro description and one that really puzzled me. Plus she waited till the teachable moment of her birthday party and recited the sperm/embryo/benefactress story in explicit detail to a dozen or so of us six year olds during the cake cutting. She also said something about being conceived on the seat of a riding lawnmower. Naturally, I went home with plenty of questions. My mother went into a catatonic state of annoyance and never allowed me back at that house. A couple of years later, I was at my friend’s home down the street when she asked her mother about sex. Her mother replied, “I can’t talk right now. General Hospital is on.” My curious friend yelled to her older brother who walked in saying, “I got this.” Their mother jumped from the couch and frantically pulled her inquiring youngster into the bathroom to explain the minor details. And by minor, I mean she didn’t give her a major and altogether accurate summarization of sex. My gal pal walked out with a huge smile on her face and told me that it was nothing more than a special hug behind closed doors. I knew then that “Mommy and Daddy are just doing gymnastics” was a crock.
The only thing my own daughter needed to know was that bees have stingers and birds can peck and poop all over the patio furniture. Of course then she asked me what the difference was between bees and wasps. I was much more inclined to answer questions in this area. I told her that bees make honey, are compatible with horses and hogs, and are more reluctant to sting, whereas wasps are just aggressive little ass—-s. Not really. I said that wasps are surly and combative killer bees that can sting multiple times and leave severe swelling. She responded, “But I thought a wasp wasn’t a bee?” That’s when I made a beeline to the liquor cabinet for a shot of Schnapps. When the subject arose again, I suppose I was a bit inebriated because I told her that when bees marry, thirty-thousand guests arrive and they should have swarm prevention. I probably wasn’t any more accurate when I said that when bees do the ol’ lust and thrust, they can lay as many as a bajllion eggs per day. At least I didn’t tell her to “buzz off!” I ended up buying the illustrated guide to puberty called What’s Happening To Me?, which served as a great substitute for anything I had to offer. I did teach my girls how to talk and use the big girl potty, which have proven to be very valuable life skills. Some days I amazed myself. Other days I put their shirts on backwards, and the laundry in the dishwasher.
I read in Time magazine that the brain doesn’t reach full maturity until the age of twenty-five. I only hoped my daughter’s judgment gland would be fully developed before then.
Let me assure you that I am not capable of being a killer. Unless you count the dozens of spiders I’ve squashed over the years, or the squirrel that ran across the road in front of my car. I make a special effort at not becoming a Dexter imitator. But my neighbor must have thought I had murdered someone the time he heard screams coming from our house.
My firstborn daughter made the benevolent and faithful decision to keep a frog in her room. She called it IHop, a name that came to me after making pancakes. She cuddled that thing like it was her most treasured being, or as if she was expectin’ a prince and planned to elope at the ripe age of three. I figured, what was the worst thing that could happen? She’d want to keep a snake next, or a komodo dragon? Toads would follow and they’d have babies? She would dissect it and I’d find frog guts everywhere? In times of devotedness, she favored it way more than she did me. The worst that happened was when I didn’t see it and stepped on the frog, which made for a dreadful moment when Queen started playing in my head, making their lyrically inspired Bohemian Rhapsody a reality. I wondered, was this real life? Or was this just fantasy? I felt like the thin layer of soil beneath me was giving way and I was caught between a landslide and a Smirnoff supernova.
I never knew what kind of mother I was going to be on any given day. After several failed attempts to restore a healthy rhythm, the frog fell silent and basically croaked right before my daughter’s tender eyes. I went mute while she went into a full-fledged frenzy. She didn’t release just a tiny little wince. It was an impactful blast of tears, and she looked at me as if I had made some fascistic oath with Hitler. After that incident, it was hard for me to shine with flawless inimitable magnificence. I couldn’t very well give my child a binky when I was the one who took it away from her when she was two. I spent the next few moments in fervent prayer and debated what to do with my worst nightmare. I picked up the phone hysterically and began calling God, but realized my mother would be the better one to chat with if I wanted an answer I could actually hear. “Mama, I killed a frog!! My shoe found its head, I lowered my sole, and now it’s dead! Oh mama, life had just begun. But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away!” Mom assured me that this was rookie mistake number one and just the beginning of many screwups. She told me it helps numb those emotional disasters by burying my head in a bucket of vodka and keep reminding myself that I am worth more than just a momster and a cookie provider. She was a little more tactful than telling me I was up a creek. We were mothers who mutually agreed that vodka was a good drink of choice.
I must say that all men aren’t cremated equal. What followed was a weekend filled with making funeral arrangements, constructing a casket, locating formaldehyde, and coming up with an appropriate memorial speech. Along with these preparations came a flood of questions and tears and the lasting memory of me murdering a beloved family member, an image that has been ruminating inside my optic nerves ever since that fateful day. An ostrich would have made an easier pet since they like to bury their own heads in the ground. With pithy intentions, I went into a long narrative about the process of going to heaven. “Just open your eyes, look up to the skies, and see!” Not only was she scared of thunderbolts and lightening that could be very very fright’ning, she wasn’t going to trust me in the future with anything else she loved. I told her, “Look on the bright side. You won’t get warts now!” Her smoldering stare was one I shan’t forget and I was back up that poopy creek. Nor did I get a groundswell of sympathy from my observant neighbor. He also considered me a tyrannical executioner with quite the distinctive smell from embalming fluid and no regard for amphibian life whatsoever.
The problem with pets is that they always start out as living breathing creatures and end up buried in the backyard, or flushed down the crapper. I had to entomb a goldfish once and caught all kinds of hell, since the still little swimmer was really just napping. Given my expert prognosis, I didn’t want it floating aimlessly and into eternity on top of tank water. So I scooped it up and flushed it down the toitee along with turd buildup that no one remembered to flush. Someone sure expelled a lot of food that last sitting because you could hardly even see the little guy.
I figured Santa was going to find out how bad I was and throw rocks down the chimney that year. The universe was certainly looking down on me saying, “There she is, that schmuck who can’t keep animals alive.” Easy come. Easy go. Anyone could see that nothing really mattered to me other than filling the void in my distraught daughter. I painted my face like a clown to create a purposeful look, and also to cover the appearance of wear and tear. Then I tried compensating with a stuffed bear and four more goldfish. It’s pretty hard to kill a stuffed animal, but those goldfish only lasted eight days. I swore the fish tank was jinxed. I usually poured too much food, and mistakenly left my daughter’s bedroom door open whereas the cat was more than happy to have things to play with. There was an ad in the classifieds for a professional apologizer that I should have probably applied for. I was hoping that if my youngster became a parent, there would be no hesitation when she left me to babysit. But the apple doesn’t fall far. She was a child who saw nothing wrong with poking our cat’s eyes with bobby pins. Plus, I thought it was illegal to swipe candy and expose your nipples to people in the supermarket. But my daughter committed that crime regularly. The sexiest trait a female can have, according to the devil, is deviousness and flashing tendencies.
I am a true testament to the setbacks that plague a woman. By the time my daughter was grown, the toilet death toll had reached twenty-seven. Other misadventures included leaving her favorite blankie on the top of the car and losing her at the mall. And one Halloween, I took her to a haunted house and struck a match so I could see in the darkness, and her hair was subjected briefly to the flame. Again, my apology wasn’t accepted and trust was totally denied. Like Noah, I too had a long commitment to a project, and I learned a lot from this man. We are all in the same boat. Plan ahead when it’s raining. And if you’re up shit creek, travel in a pair so you’ll have a pal with a shoulder to cry on.
I moved from Michigan because of all the precipitation. I was constantly under an urban rain of terror as it cooled and condensed, and I listened to weather predictions of doom and gloom. I’ve lived through storms, tornados, black ice, with cold that cut its way to my bones. And although few states can match Michigan’s extraordinary scenery, I wasn’t fond of ferrying down streets with an outboard motor and hydroplaning like I was on the Colorado River. Dr. Seuss and I had the same idea when the sun did not shine and it was always too wet to play, and we sat in the house every cold, cold wet day. It was never going to suit me having a career outdoors or having my parents read the headline, “Tim Horton Hires A Ho.” I didn’t want to be hanging out on street corners selling doughnuts or possibly something else in frigid temperatures.
That being said, I moved to this luminous state where there’s hardly any precipitation. Pimps I’m not so sure of. Weathercasters announce every day that it will be mostly crowdy with a great big chance of swimmers and sunbathers. People here get pretty excited when water falls from the sky and wets their plants. So when this latest storm blew in, it became the main topic of conversation. The nutty and sometimes nefarious newscasters were sending panic to the population, giving instructions the same way climatologists in monsoon states mandate immediate evacuations. Everyone was freaking out over a little moisture. I had to laugh because I’d been through a lot worse weather than rain. They advised the public to take cover, bring oars and inner tubes if you absolutely positively must go anywhere, and basically be ready to board an ark. Folks were gathering two dogs, two ducks, two squirrels, leaving out skunks and snakes for obvious reasons. I myself would take two books. One on how to get along with a cluster of claws, and another helpful hinter on how to handle flatulence in a closed area while on a forty day cruise.
I urged neighbors to sit with me on the bay of my front entrance watching the tide roll in. I wanted a show of hands from anyone who liked Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, because I was fully prepared to set up a wet bar, a Slip ‘N Slide, and other rainy day activities on my lawn. I mean, who’s afraid of a little tempest? I figured on having fun as long as I was still afloat and the wind wasn’t carrying me to Atlanta. I was glad it was the weekend so I could wash clothes, mop the floors and front porch, take stormtrooper selfies, prance, dance, and drink under the continuous cloudburst. I must have sounded something like Gene Kelly in one of his dynamic singing moods, because relentless raindrops came down on my umbrella as I was puddle jumping and belting out song lyrics totally related to the drencher. Why be moody when you can jiggle your booty and cause people to question your sanity?
Yet something caused some sort of onshore water displacement and before long, showers fell on San Diego for four days and four nights in biblical proportions. The radiant sunlight, along with my pervading cheery mood, started to shrink and shrivel away. Given the intensity of this surge, we were under a severe winter watch that was expected to be upgraded to floods of saturation. I know there’s a drought. But would it kill them to assure this native Midwesterner that there won’t be an unfavorable weather disturbance? I like water, when it’s frozen into cubes and mixed with Vodka. As it turned out, I was surfing my driveway and kept company with one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish and some squid and seals, since our land essentially merged with the ocean.
My beau and I were jolted awake by walloping winds and pounding wetness, making San Diego the most popular dive destination. All we did was sit, sit, sit, sit. And we didn’t like it! Not one little bit. The pain in my back meant rain, and the pain in my neck meant the new tree we planted was uprooted and bent to a forty-five degree angle. Frost and snowflakes even made an appearance here and there. I would make plans with people then nix those plans since I didn’t want to be marred by such monsoon madness. I was telling friends, “I hate to cancel, but those plans were made a few days ago when my motivation wasn’t yet fractured by the idea of treading through glacial estuaries.” I should have added, ‘I do not like green eggs and ham, nor do I like building a dam or scraping ice off my car windshield.’ Basically, I bitched about the storm, I bitched about the cold, I bitched about the lack of sunshine, and about growing old. Not every gal is made of sugar and spice and things that are nice. Some gals are made of squall distress, Spanish rice, and boobs that may not serve as a flotation device. The storm cured the drought situation. But I’d be a lot more thrilled if it never rained or snowed in sunny California.
Complaining comes with aging. But as my boyfriend points out, aging gives us a lot more to complain about. I’m not so sure I’m ready to be thrust into a continuous position of expressing discomfort. It makes for monotonous conversation and is nothing to be proud of. Yet I myself cannot help revealing how my birthday went, a decision that gives me undying pleasure with each passing moment. I won’t bore you with this celebratory event, unless of course you’re a thrill seeker and complaining advocate who just wants to take the last written word in. Let me start by saying my man hardly ever complains. He makes me happier than a kitten with a cotton ball. Except look out if he misplaces something or is listening to politics on the radio. You’ll hear several resounding cuss words coming from the room he’s in.
We planned a Palm Springs weekend away and stopped at a department store in the city where my daughter lives. I explained to my non-complaining mate that I needed to exchange some shoes she bought me and set it up to meet her there. I was trying to enjoy my trading experience when it was obvious that it was the last place my beau wanted to be. Especially right after he was ditched the minute we entered the establishment. We went to the shoe department and I asked my daughter, “Where did he go?” She said, “He’s looking at clothes in the men’s department.” I thought to myself ‘good, he’s occupied for a fabulous fifteen minutes or so.’ But he didn’t experience the same exhilarated rush a woman experiences when she’s taking time to browse every single apparel and footwear rack in a retail outlet. His idea of an exchange is dashing in and out in a matter of minutes. Exchanging for a woman means scouring the whole store to see what else she wants with laborious effort, which makes for an unbearable interruption in a man’s life. I tried telling him that Cinderella is proof that shoes can change a woman’s life, and two things can brighten her mood. The words “I love you” and “Sale.” I know I speak for other ladies when I say that we apologize for any temporary inconvenience caused by delays in places that sells anything wearable. I mean out of nowhere, I had racks of cute clothes and shoes calling my name. Nothing can beat the delightful scent of a place permeating with silks and soft leather. Personally, I kind of like hanging out with me when I’m shopping.
I did have a moment of deep concern for my man who was trapped in shopping hell until I saw an attractive top and yelled to my daughter, “How cute is this one?” Men don’t know the importance of finding something for $19.99, because twenty dollars is an outrageous amount of money to spend on a shirt. He looked at men’s clothes for a whopping two seconds and began wandering the store wondering where we were. It’s really hard to find compatibility with a mate at that point when whining escalates into a full blown, “This is the worst day of my life.” I thought the worst day of his life was when he got diverticulitis, or the time he ordered horrible pizza. He has zero tolerance for terrible food and women who drag him into retail establishments. Never in the history of calming a man down, has a man actually calmed down, simply by being told to calm down, when his woman needs time to bargain hunt. I tried to remind him that it was MY birthday, not his. I could give up shopping, but there would have to be a fabric shortage and I sure wasn’t born a quitter. I never ever want to look back and say, “I should have bought that but my boyfriend prevented me from doing so.”
Trust me when I say it was not a romantic experience. For someone revered as a god, he became verbal and his laughs were limited. And this girl loves a good joke or two when times are tough. He had no chair to sit on or his IPad to occupy his waiting time. I wanted to ask my usual voice of reason, “Let me guess. Are you A.Ticked off? B. Extremely upset? C. Ready to cry? Or D. Done with all three?” The wrinkles he has on his face are all from laughter with the exception of that scrunched unibrow that is predominant when he’s deeply disturbed by something. I was just thankful that shopping doesn’t cause heart attacks. In his defense, the moon was full and there wasn’t a Starbucks or a bar nearby where he could have had a soothing drink. I had this million dollar idea of having a detector go off when he’s uptight so others wouldn’t witness this unexpected item in the whining area gloriously emanating how it was the worst day of his life. He looked less like the perfect man and more of a caged tiger. At that point, it wasn’t difficult to tell ferocious animals and boyfriends apart. One wants to see you, and the other one wants to see you leave. He definitely wasn’t the same person I knew thirty minutes earlier. I think he came extremely close to lifting his middle finger and showing it off. And I thought I was dramatic. I took out my camera phone and pointed it in his direction expressing, “Don’t make me shoot you!”
I gave the guy every opportunity to take off and go somewhere for awhile. He took my key and proceeded out the door and into a torrential downpour looking for my white car in a parking lot loaded with white cars. It truly was the worst day of his life since he didn’t know which car was mine. What doesn’t kill you is suppose to make you stronger, except for maybe a flash flood that could wash you away and you drown while your girlfriend is in her happy place. He should have brought a glumbrella since it was such a gloomy day. I was glad I wasn’t there to hear that conversation he was having with himself. There was a moment thinking about loved ones who weren’t with me anymore, like my loverboy who was camped out in my car probably dying of alienation or old age. I kept pondering on that saying, ‘If you love someone, let them go.’ I was also thinking, ‘If you loathe someone for a short time, let them go too.’
My daughter and I finally made it to the register. But under the burden of an insoluble problem, came another. The gift return label was stuck to the bottom of the shoe that I was exchanging, so when the cashier went to remove it, it tore the bar code which made it impossible to read or scan. It was the highlight of my boyfriend’s bad day having me text him that we were stuck in checkout. I wanted to send him a friend request to see if he still liked me. Helen Keller once quoted, “Life is either a great big adventure, or nothing.” Palm Springs ended up being a great adventure, minus the story my true love told everyone about how my birthday was the worst day of his life. Little does he know that he’s getting snapshots of his bad self for his birthday.