Crumbs Under the Mini-Van Seat

This photo–of someone elses’s trashy mini-van–is one of the few things that makes me feel better about my own.

Our mini-van is a pit, littered with popcorn, Goldfish crackers, granola bar wrappers, toys, and books. It’s a random place that, I fear, may never feel organized or tidy. The second that it does, we’ll know it’s time to move on, time to shed the catch-all vehicle and ease into a more adult vehicle (Toyota’s new XXX, perhaps?), something littered only with lip tints, incense, and throw pillows.

At any rate, my thoughts today are random, like the crap under the seat of the mini-van. My brain is a jumbled mash of odds and ends:

1) At National Night Out a few weeks ago, we had a big block party. Customarily, police officers and firefighters stop by—part of the whole community-building vibe and all. During the visits, I totally appreciated that my kids actively avoided all officers of the law, refusing to come over for high fives or badge stickers. Such avoidance tactics will serve them well in 8 years, when the keggers they’re at are being busted.

2) I’m sitting and watching Paco’s karate class as I type this. Straight ahead of me is the father of a kid in the class. Every time I look up, I think, “I’ll bet you were pretty attractive in your younger years, Pappy, but right now, you just look bloated and like you drink too much.”

3) Oh, hell. Turns out I was looking at myself in the mirrors that line the wall of the karate studio.

4) Joking. There really is a bloated dad here. If it sounds kinder, I can qualify: he’s only bloated in the face, which looks like it’s still detoxifying last night’s 12-pack.

5) Funny how all the beer went to his face.

6) But he is wearing nice flip-flops, and that’s something.

7) Plus, he is here, watching his kid’s karate class, so that’s something else.

8) I just hope he doesn’t yack. He seems to be fighting the urge.

9) Seriously, he’s gone into the please-don’t-let-me-hurl-in-public zone…you know, the one where you sit up a little bit too straight and pull your chin in towards your neck? My kids will know it well in 8 years, the day after they’ve run away from the cops at a kegger. And I’ll recognize it then, too, and make a pungent scallop stew for breakfast that I ladle out with a dried ox tongue and serve over a bed of ear wax. That should really get them pulling their chins in towards their necks.

10) As long as I’m rambling about kids’ activities, let me trip across the subject of Girl’s soccer coaches this year. I totally think the two doctors-by-day/coaches-by-night guys are to be admired for offering up their time and buying a clipboard and all; however, they both seem very nervous around a herd of 16 nine-year-old girls, to the point that they avoid interacting with the girls the same way my kids avoid interacting with officers of the law. For example, these coaches, several weeks into the season, still don’t know any of the girls’ names except their own daughters’. This REALLY bothers me. Also, they ask the girls to arrive to games half an hour early, yet they themselves arrive a fair bit after that and, without ever acknowledging the crowd of girls standing there in full gear, they have a huddle with each other that lasts until the start of the game.

I’m giving them a couple more nights before I go all Enthusiastic Parent Volunteer on their asses and jump right in, as they huddle importantly in doctors-with-clipboards fashion; while they murmur to each other, “I dunno what our goalie’s name is. You ask her. No, YOU ask her. You ask her. Oh, all right: Let’s just refer to her as Curly Hair Girl when we confab like this and, er, during a game, to pull her off the field, we’ll gesture wildly and yell, ‘Red Team Goalie: Come IN!’; in the meantime, my enthusiastic volunteer parent self will get the girls warming up together—maybe making a circle and kicking the ball around while playing The Name Game, so they at least know the names of their teammates. Of course, once I do that, it’ll be a short step from pairing them to do dribbling and stopping drills, having them practice passes, working with them on scoring goals, to becoming a doctor with a clipboard one day myself.

11) Classes start next week at the college. My lack of enthusiasm for this indicates, if any doubt remained, that I was actually born to be a Manhattan trophy wife who fills her days with Botox injections, hiring and firing the help, and “charity work.” It astounds me how easily I can fill a day with non-workish activities, and the hours fly. But in the face of teaching 175 students (my all-time high, speaking of how lower student/teacher ratios improve the quality of education), I am limp and full of dread, as though I’m about to head into the theatre to watch a buddy comedy called BRAIN TRUST starring Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey as former cabinet members (clearly from the Bush administration) who, at professional loose ends, decide to open a detective agency aimed at solving pet-related crimes; this film also features a cameo by Jessica Simpson emerging from the waves in both slow motion and a bikini. Indeed, even before the opening titles of the semester, I’m sitting all slumpy and waiting for the final credits to roll.

12) Okay, the hungover dad just left the studio and is now pacing in circles out in the parking lot, a little too near to my mini-van, if you ask me. On the flip side, the van is so filthy, I wouldn’t actually notice the addition of a puddle of spew.

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Friends Without Benefits

For a variety of reasons, I caved and joined Facebook recently. Since then, the barrage of friend requests has been interesting—bringing me up to date with people I actually have ongoing relationships with, but also, yes, causing me some bemusement. Several times now, I’ve had requests from people I don’t remember at all. I stare at their pictures, trying to subtract 30 pounds and 30 years, and faintly, I hear an internal murmur of, “Didn’t you once go to her birthday party?” or “After she made majorettes in high school, didn’t she look right through you every time you passed her in the hall?” This process becomes even more bemusing when, after accepting that we once were “friends” and, in a complete failure of logic, thereby should continue to be so now, I go back to Facebook to read such barely-remembered people’s comments about how I haven’t changed a bit…and am left thinking, “But, um, really: who ARE you?” An interesting sidenote to this situation is that it is primarily happening with people who never moved away from my hometown; perhaps because they still drive the same roads every day that I drove when I was 15 and cruising around looking for beer, they remember me more vividly than I do them. (most likely, I stick out in their memories because I gave them beer when I scored some; most likely, they don’t stick out in my memory because, after giving them a can of Bud Light, I drank the rest of the twelve-pack)

Outside of the general friending weirdness, I’m not sure I’m feeling the Facebook love, either, just in terms of what having these connections is supposed to achieve. A few people I’m genuinely interested in do post updates nearly every day; this is fun and gratifying. Dear pal Jim: I love knowing that you were a big ole Huck Finn and canoed the Mississippi the other day! Dear friend Kirsten: I am so glad the “tummy tuck” you just had after losing more than 200 pounds due to gastric bypass a few years ago resulted—gawp—in the removal of 18.5 pounds of loose skin! Dear Facebook: now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! However, most of my friends don’t seem to post or comment much–what with the people I’m attracted to having a compulsion towards real life and all–which leaves me wondering why we’re all loitering there in the same cyber corner, cocktails in hand, frozen in the grips of a stilted silence.

Also confounding me are the people whose contributions to my Facebook news stream are about what quizzes they took and how they scored on them. I have twelve levels of snark I could dip into on this one, but the words that sum up my feelings best are these: REALLY? REALLY???? Beyond wading through people’s quiz results about how well they remember the Huxtables and which Transformer they most resemble in real life, I find myself spending time in front of the computer, mumbling “What the eff?” when the news updates from my “friends” report that: “Mike Conrad was farming quietly when a lost cow wandered onto his farm. Won’t someone please adopt this poor cow and take it off Mike’s hands?” The first time I saw one of these now-ubiquitous posts, I thought Mike (who grew up in my subdivision and, um, had freckles, and, er, maybe was a wrestler?) had taken an interesting turn in his adult life and somehow gotten some land and–ooh, fingers crossed–was manning a small organic operation that could be a step towards humanity getting back to good and just food. How odd, me thought, that a random cow had come wandering across his acres, and I did hope it hadn’t trampled his leafy greens, but how even odder, me thought, that the modern farmer solves his livestock dilemmas through Facebook (I was on the verge of messaging Mike and telling him this lost-cow thing could be a terrific chance to up his fortunes: become a passive cattle rustler–a cattle receiver–and raise that poor, lost heifer on delicious grasses, thusly saving it from a life of misery on a feed lot). Just when I was starting to believe, wonder of wonders, that Facebook might provide a really specific service for today’s farmers with fencing problems, I re-read Mike’s post and realized his “farming” is completely a cyber-gameish Facebook activity, and his hands never touch soil, his heinie never leaves the chair, his pitchfork never gets unhooked from the barn wall. Tarnation, but I’m starting to think he might not even have a barn.

The net effect of my Facebooking so far has been reactionary—that is, to garner greater appreciation for Twitter (the 140-character limit actually forces users to create a very specific “voice” for a very specific writing purpose, a fact that doesn’t hurt my English teacheritude one whit; plus, there’s something steady, consistent, and immediate about tweets…they fulfill a certain social impulse) and, woot-woot, to bring me back to the beauties of blogging. In particular, I am renewed in my appreciation for this venue that allows for careful crafting (not that you’d always know it), that fosters exploration and reflection, that urges storytelling, that creates an audience of new readers/friends who don’t necessarily grow only out of previous life experiences who who are drawn to the site through choice. In the face of Facebook, blogging feels like a refreshingly creative and dynamic space. What’s more, I have to censor myself on Facebook, due to the wide range of ages and beliefs of my friends; however, in the world of blogging, while I do hold back from some therapeutic writing about certain experiences and people, I feel fairly liberated, can out-and-out make shizz up and, occasionally, even allude to the fact that I have a vagina. Some of my youngish Facebook friends have ‘em but don’t quite know it yet, and I’d hate to be the one to drop that bomb at their feet.

Or between their legs.

Because ultimately, with some things in life, isn’t it more appropriate to learn about them in the back seat of a car, with a boy whose name you vaguely recall is “Randy” but whose whispers of breath across your cheek make your knees weak with anticipation

…rather than through the computer, from your dad’s cousin’s wife, even when you definitely know her name is Jocelyn and that she needs a Tic Tac?

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A Day at the…

Hark and sunscreen!

We visit the beach. Look, I have a mother who visited from California. Look, we have sand here (“here” being Park Point, the longest freshwater sandbar in the world) and not just pebbles. Look, we pose carefully for the nice lady from Minneapolis who asked, “Do I push this button?’

We shriek at the 45 degree water. We think back to the lovely lunch we just had at the New Scenic Cafe–remembering fondly walleye encrusted with pistachios, Belgian waffle sticks, upscale BLT’s with avacado and jalapeno bacon, fried egg sandwiches with gruyere and asparagus. We shriek some more as the waves lap around us. I urge my mom out further and further, as icing her torn meniscus is recommended. We save on the cost of ice cubes.

Then we chat.

One person, he with the most clarity, gets down to business. He is six, and his name is Paco, and he absolutely. didn’t. want. to. go. to. the. Park. Point. Beach. because. he. hates. it. there.

Admirably, he overcomes his reservations.

And sets the standard.

He makes me wonder why I was so terrified to have a boy.

He likes making things.

Like shields and red envelopes for Chinese New Year gifts and lanterns and quivers and moonscapes.

He is growing his hair out because he admires skateboarders and a boy named Oscar.

His legs, called his “pudgers,” are the softest, creamiest things I know outside of a Dairy Queen ice cream cone.

Maybe he admires his grandma, too, as they share a ‘do.

Girl can’t be bothered. She understands, implicitly, one of life’s great joys: reading at the beach.

You can try to engage her attention, but she will cast you off with a look that says, “Do not even try, white lady.”

Ten feet away from the reading, construction continues.

Many more yards away from the reading and construction, life in the city continues.

But mostly, we’re just where we’re at this very moment.

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The Crying Game: Except I’m Not Hiding Anything Under My Skirt

I posted a few weeks ago about needing the physical release of a good, deep cry. The comments in response to my “make me sob, woncha?” post were amazing. So far, I’ve used some of your suggestions and shed a few quiet, gentle tears. First off, I want to thank my close personal friend “Anonymous” for her terrific tip to watch something I never would have otherwise: the Catelynn and Tyler episode of Pregnant and 16 on MTV. Since we don’t have cable, I watched it online and, yup, found myself wiping my eyes. Criminy, but both teens were unbelievably aware and realistic about their chances of being good parents at the age of 16. Quite bravely, they chose to give up their daughter for adoption, despite the active opposition of their crap-ass parents (so helpful of Tyler’s father to get a weekend out of jail so he could come home and lecture Tyler about how every kid needs a father). It was immensely good for me to feel such respect and awe at two 16-year-old kids who somehow achieved a preternatural maturity. My tears were exclusively reserved, though, for the birthing scene; I will always and forever be a sobber at the moment of witnessing a birth. In fact, if you are in labor right now, as you read this post, just know I’m crying at the wonder and beauty of what you’re doing. Except maybe don’t touch the keyboard until you’ve washed up, honey.

Several fine commenters also suggested I watch P.S., I Love You, a film based on Cecelia Ahern’s book (which I’d read but forgotten). For the most part, this effort was less successful. Partially, the film never became “transparent” for me; I kept thinking, “Wow, the costume designers sure are dressing Hilary Swank in black and white a lot. Hmm, where’d they get those boots? I like those boots. I want those boots.” At that point, I tried to work up a good cry over the fact that I’d never get those boots, but then I remembered there are other boots in the world, and some of them know my address, and then I started smiling rather too broadly. Throughout the film, I was also distracted by how Gerard Butler’s self-confidence borders on arrogance; I was immune to his very studied, near-gloating cock-eyed charm. Mostly, though, the problem was that the couple of times I managed to get to the brink of tearshed, the DVD froze up. By the end of the film, the thing had frozen more than 20 times. It took me almost three hours to watch that two hour movie. However, the next day, when I returned the film to our neighborhood movie store (and bike shop!), I mentioned the freezing issue to the owner, Tony. In return, he gave me two DVD rentals free of charge that day, at which point I got a little weepy over how cool people can be. So, ultimately, I did get about 32 tears out of P.S., I Love You. You’re a great guy, Tony. Oh, crud. Here I go again. Pass me a tissue, Tito.

In truth, the cathartic release I’d been craving came at me sideways, catching me unawares. Its lack of orchestration made it perfectly gratifying. There we were, His Groomishness and me, watching the final season of The Shield on DVD. Damn, but I love it when a good show goes out in a way that enhances all the seasons that came before it. Specifically, the finale pulled together every tendril, every thread, of all the characters’ actions all along—and, thusly, catapulted the show to a higher level of quality than I’d expected. Without spoiling anything for anyone, I’ll just say there is one particular scene in the finale that revolves around a profoundly tragic gesture of love. The whole thing cracked my heart in two. When I finished sobbing and keening and blowing my nose and eventually just wiping my whole disgusting mess of a face on the couch upholstery, I turned to mein Groom and noted, “We’re going to need a new couch now,” and he agreed, assessing the quality of my breakdown, “Yea, that was a particularly good one. You’re going to be feeling good tomorrow.”

As ever, he was right.

Next up in my Calculated Stress Relief Through Sobbing plan: watching Love, Actually–which, again, I’ve seen but forgotten, as is my wont–just to see the “I’ve Looked at Love From Both Sides Now” scene with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman.

Groom says I have to sit on the floor during it and not go near the furniture. With the kitchen remodel and all, we can’t afford the continuing cost of my tears.

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Obligatory Kitchen Remodel Update, To Satisfy My Sister, If No One Else


The notion of remodeling our kitchen first took root five years ago (namely, the day we moved in to our current house and recoiled in horror at the dark, run-downedness of that room…which, strangely, implies moving-day was the first time I ever spied the kitchen–as though I hadn’t known the previous owners, eaten dinner there, done several walk-throughs, had the place inspected, and then, finally, moved in. Watershed moment on this blog: I’m a big liar through implication), and, since then, we’ve hung in there through dying appliances and floor tiles peeling up under our feet. Finally, though, finally, about six months ago, we saw the light at the end of a financial windfall (incidentally, it occurs to me at this juncture that not only do I love to mix metaphors; I also wish I’d had twins and named them Watershed and Windfall), and started moving ahead with plans to change up that sad drag of a room, the space where, nevertheless, we spent most of our time.

Here’s another “incidentally”: that last sentence has 72 words in it, so if you need to take a break right now and go pour a shot of vodka, I totally understand.

Waiting. Humming. Tapping.

Oh, you back now? Wipe your mouth with the back of your hand, and then we’ll continue. You get a little sloppy when you drink, you know.

All right, then…

In a future post, I’ll summarize how the funding for this venture came to us, but for now, let me summarize the process of the remodel:

About a year and a half ago, we interviewed possible companies/architects. Nothing felt perfect. Good news: we had no money anyways, so hahahahahahahaha on the whole idea.

About six months ago, we saw first glimmer of a financial payout that would allow the remodel to happen. At that point, we met with an architect and project manager from a local cooperative company named Builders’ Commonwealth. When we hedged a quiet, “We were hoping for kind of an Arts & Crafts kitchen that’s also modernized,” and the project manager jumped in, gesturing to the architect, with, “But that’s Hugh’s speciality!” we were hooked. Because this company is a cooperative, there is no hierarchy, and the administrative positions rotate throughout the workers. This year, a furniture builder named Thad is president. He has an earring. The vice-president is a Lead Construction guy named Barry who, like me, is profoundly not a morning person, who appreciates quality coffee, and who laughed heartily at my quip about the laundry sink I grew up with when I reminisced, “Oh, man, I gave myself many a bad home perm in that thing.”

The thing about this company is that each guy is personally invested, and each guy is wayyyyy into craftsmanship. We know our cabinetmaker by name. He is Jason. He is revered by his co-workers, who wish and hope that he would mess up a little, so they could score some of his “unusable” work. In fact, one of our construction guys, Sam, still can’t believe he once scored some cabinet fronts made by Jason–the stain was too dark to suit the clients, so someone had to take them. And then hug them tightly for years afterwards. And maybe occasionally lick them.

Anyhow, I rather dreaded the influx of workers into our house, but they have made it easy. I would have any one of them over to dinner. At that dinner, I would insist they have dessert. It would be an espresso granita, with whipped cream. I would give them two dollops.

So we have had gracious, invested, talented people in our house since June 9th. Despite how much I love them, they could be done already. It’s our kitchen, after all and fer crissakes. I’m ready no to wash dishes in the bath tub or over and neighbors’ houses. I’m ready to bake Snickerdoodles. I’m ready to be able to find the molasses and my really big mug that can hold a well-iced latte.

Things were going along swimmingly…up until Builders’ Commonwealth got The Call.

From ABC.

About an upcoming episode of Extreme Home Makeover.

Which they had been selected to help orchestrate–you know, as the builders.

Our fellas had not put in a bid for this, actually. The network just knew what region the show would be visiting, had a list of five potential families, and then read up on contractors in the area. They, rightly, thought Builders’ was the best choice. Honored, excited, flabbergasted, Builders’ agreed to do the job.

The details that have emerged since then are:

The home build for a needy local family will start August 3rd (smack dab in the middle of our ongoing project, naturally).

The ABC home build is done completely with volunteer labor, including the manhours from the entire company of Builders’ Commonwealth

The local contractors have to hit up their vendors for materials, too; the network provides only liasion work and logistics. Oh, and Ty Pennington’s highlights.

As loyal, paying clients of Builders’, we may be getting VIP passes…to, um…the street of the home build? Or to the tent that has danishes? Or, best yet, to the moment the bus rolls away from the front of the new house?

Because this is such an intense project, lasting 120 hours from pouring the slab to rolling away the bus, all the contractors have had to pull back from their loyal, paying clients’ projects over the last few weeks, just to pre-build things for the Extreme Home Makeover show.

Despite having split focus, the fine fellows at Builders’ have done their best to leave us in relatively good shape for the next week, when our work site will fall silent.

To their credit, the place is coming together nicely:

This is what the kitchen looked like a couple of weeks ago, after the insulation went it. Turns out we had NO insulation before. You know we’re true Northerners since we never noticed the draft.

Does a part of you wish we’d decided to keep the walls sky blue?

An extraneous door into the kitchen was sealed off, and the bottom stairs that turned into that now-non-existent door were straightened. Remodel domino effect #1: we get to pull up the old runner, paint the stairs, and get a new runner.

A hint of the color we did choose…clearly not sky blue. Look how hungry Groom gets when he paints and uses all those man muscles.

Don’t you love the plywood “back door” we’ve been living with?

What with putting in new windows, all the beadboard on the back porch had to come down, and new is being put in. Remodel domino effect #2: we get to repaint the back porch. Oh, and since the carpet on the porch has been trashed, we have the opportunity to get new carpet.

This is where we usually sit and read books and eat lunch. Not this summer.

Remodel domino effect #3: this is upstairs, showing the wall that had to be cut open to reveal “The Stack”–whatever the hell that is…something to do with plumbing. Remodel domino effect #4: we also have the opportunity to repaint the hallway.

And then, this past week, it all started to come together. Cabinet installation began. We got a sink. We got a dishwasher. The oven works. It’s convection. We have no earthly idea how to use it.

The tall door there is a pantry and also holds recycling bins that pull out.

You understand why someone might want to lick that wood, don’t you?

Or just lay on it, all night long, whispering sweet nothings into its iron pyramid knobs?

Look how much lights don’t suck!

When I look at these, I feel like I’m starring in a one-hour drama that depicts an idealized version of my life.

Yum all over.

Did I forget to mention the half-bath? Sweet Johnny Willywacker, but it’s a whole new world of urination.

Yesterday…Saturday…two days before they start working full-time on the Extreme Home Makeover, a couple of the guys came over and installed our new back door. No more plywood. Even better, the door has a keypad that holds up to 19 entry codes, so we have gone Full International Spy 007. Paco had to meditate long and hard before coming up with his code of choice; the process involved his retiring to the couch with a tin of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards for 15 minutes and studying all the monsters’ various attack powers. My process involved babbling, “Um, I dunno what I’ll be able to remember. How old am I again? Could we use that? A lot? Over and over?”

As you can tell, if we do score VIP passes to be in the crowd scene when the bus pulls away and that lucky family’s new home is revealed to them, I won’t be hard to spot. Look for the really bewildered woman who seems not to know her own age or where the molasses are.

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He’s Making a List and Checking It Twice: For Only With Such Careful Reviewal Can He Be Certain No One Named ‘Pedro’ Gets a Train

“That’ll be $1.50,” announced the parking lot attendant from inside his air-conditioned box. Eyes twinkling, cheeks rosy, beard fluffy, he followed up with a jolly, “So…what’s new at the zoo?”

It was hard not to grin back at this Santa Claus look-alike, especially because I haven’t exactly been a good girl this year, but I still want a present in December (unremitting greed being one of the myriad faults keeping me off the Good Girl List)–and so it suddenly struck me that a huge, toothy grin might up my chances at getting that spendy hairbrush I’ve been pining after for a decade.

My lips pulled back to expose every last molar, I answered him. “Well, my mom is visiting from California, so we have that going on.”

Santa’s internal sleigh dipped a bit, and his jovial manner faded. “You’re not from California, are you?”

“Oh, no,” I explained. “I grew up in Montana, but a few years ago my mom moved to California–Riverside, outside of L.A..”

“And does she actually like it?” Santa wondered, still looking as though he’d dandled one too-many whiny tots on his lap that day, including an ailing lad named Patrick who’d asked for a Transformer and then released his bowels directly onto red velvet pants and coal-colored boots.

“She LOVES it! I know, for me, it would be too hot, and the sheer number of people would be frustrating, especially with the driving. But it makes her really happy at this stage in her life.”

Swiping distractedly at his leg, Santa Attendant weighed in, “Well, California’s not for me, and not just because of the Mexicans, either.”

¡Santo cielo!

As my brain absorbed his remark, a feeing started burbling up inside of me…a feeling that I wasn’t going to make the Good Girl List this year. Again. My upstart mouth was starting to form the words, “Is it ‘the Asians,’ then?” when I looked at the line of cars behind me, listened to my stomach growl, looked at his 78-year-old face–wrinkles worn into the patterns of a lifetime–and decided to pay the toll and get home to the cold sugar snap peas that awaited me in the refrigerator.

Handing over the dollar bills, I did assure him, however, “Well, it definitely seems like you’ve found your perfect place, right where you are.”

…locked inside a small, dark, dingey room–a place with no horizon, where the air doesn’t move, where the vividness of human traffic streams by, never touching you, on its way

out into the light.

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Take My Wife…Please

My dad was a mild-tempered man. He made Jimmy Carter look like a rowdy spitfire.

In fact, I only remember my father snapping or lashing out on the rarest of occasions during my childhood. I remember him getting upset one time when his three monkey children were blowing really big, loud bubbles in their glasses of milk at a Howard Johnson’s. I remember him—we all froze–slapping my brother when he had been breathtakingly disrespectful to my mom. I remember Dad trying not to clonk my brother and sister’s heads together during their constant bickering (*typed the angel child who docily observed from the corner*).

And I remember him pulling the car over to the side of the road one time when his three monkey children started a game of yelling “FART FART FART” as loudly as they could, escalating the game as only a herd of “Holy Chachi, but has anyone in the history of the world ever been as funny as we are?” pre-adolescents could.

With the car idling on the side of the highway, the message we were given was, “We. Do. Not. Use. That. Word. In. This. Family.”

Because Dad’s displays of ire were so rare, they carried force. To this day, not only do I refrain from blowing bubbles in my drinks; I don’t go to Howard Johnson’s or drink milk.

And, for sure: I don’t use that word I’m not allowed to use, even though my dad’s been dead for 6 ½ years (like, what’s he going to do if I mutter the offending word—reconstitute his ashes into bodily form so he can then pull his gravestone over to the side of the cemetery and give me a lecture by a shepherd’s hook holding a basket of plastic geraniums?).

Fortunately, my husband was raised in a home with similar standards of manner. This commonality is largely responsible for the success of our marriage. We chip away at the crossword puzzle, hug each other when Ruth Reichl releases a new memoir, sigh contentedly when we put garlic scapes and kale in our eggs, and are generally, mutually, quietly couth.

When we’re not busy licking each other’s necks.

Truly, though, we don’t use the verboten term (“der fartein”) at our house…to the point that our kids first heard it from a neighbor boy (who also regards Garfield as the epitome of fine humor). Rather, after much casting about for a suitable synonym—it’s not that we want to ignore the realities of the body; we just don’t want to get grounded or lose our telephone privileges—we landed upon the word “toot,” which, frankly, gets waaaaaaaaay too precious waaaaaaay too fast. But in the absence of a better choice, it’s what we use.

All of this is preamble to the household crisis that reared up last night, as Groom and I carried out our nightly ablutions (that’s how the couthies roll; we ablute).

I stood at the sink, scrubbing my teeth, when Groom stepped up next to me, ready to spit. As his presence neared, so did a certain–how you say it in your country?–stank.

“Hey, uh, so did you just toot? Because if you didn’t, then you need a shower,” I noted, sniffing delicately, adjusting my bustle.

Sometimes when you’re brushing your teeth and sniffing delicately and adjusting your bustle all at the same time, you get a little toothpaste up the nostril, which set me to honking and snorting so loudly that I nearly missed Groom’s response of, “I did toot. I don’t need a shower. Oh, and, by the way? It’s time for a new line. You use that one every time. It’s officially old. If you’re going to call me on my reek, you need a new line.”

Not only was I struggling to get toothpaste out of my clogged nostril, now I was struggling to get this latest piece of information into my hollow skull. Whaaa? One of my tried-and-true, patented humor lines (carefully calibrated to a point of understatedness wherein the humor reaches shore gently, almost unheeded) was old? Was this how all the classic Vaudevillians felt when the moving pictures came to town? Suddenly needing to up their game and add a little soft shoe to their seltzer bottle gags?

Reeling, I realized with great rapidity that I lack the “better line” that my audience now demands. Without that hackneyed line in my repertoire, I have no way to convey to my beloved life’s partner—with freshness and originality—that he stinks, and if it’s not a gaseous emission, then he has larger problems.

I’ve been mulling on it, but all I’ve got so far is,

“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might need to write a letter to the folks at Right Guard about the fallibility of their product.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might want to check your knee pits for skunk nuggets.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then it’s time for us to get a pitch fork and turn over the compost heap inside your pants.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then I think your torso might be caked in dried fecal matter.”

Clearly, I’m hurtin’ here.


Whoops. Sorry, Dad. What I mean is:

HELP. Please.

(if you don’t, you’re a big fart-head)

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Shove Me to Snivel

Ever since I had kids, and my head got full of other voices, I tend to figure things out when I’m running.

During the hour or so a day when I’m alone, when my body’s motion is overcoming my Fatigue of Brain, thoughts gel. As feet turn over, I think forward.

It’s actually become a household joke, this thinking while running, to the point that, when I get home from a run, I sidle up to Groom and ask, “So, do you want the download now, or should I wait ’til later to lay it all on you?” Generally, the thoughts that comprise our debriefing have to do with: 1) What we should get his mom for her birthday; 2) Why I think we should get new carpet on the stairs; 3) What I should have actually said as a rejoinder when our neighbor suggested I put a camera in the shower with me and then post it to YouTube; 4) Why I love Philip Roth so much; 5) Which weekend we should hire a babysitter so we can ride bikes to the brewpub and play Cribbage on the patio while drinking Big Boat Oatmeal Stout.

It was no joke the other day, however, when Groom and I both took advantage of a kids’ birthday party at the local nature center to go run and bike on the trails there. He biked; I ran. He hummed along and dreamed of the Thai-grilled chicken he planned to cook that night; I,

on the other hand,

contemplated why so many days, of late, have felt long and sad and down,

Why, as I whisper thanks to the universe about how beautiful, smart, and healthy my children are–as I actively savor the rich comfort of my marriage–do I feel like my heart is catching itself in a sob, like I want to curl up and cuddle my own belly, like the hours would fly if I were left to my own devices, yet they trudge in the company of others?

Even more, why am I recently suffering occasional insomnia, where I wake up at 3:15 a.m. and finally get back to sleep five hours later? Why, when I wake up, do my thoughts pace around a dread about going back to work in August, around fears about travel and breaking daily patterns (two things which have been a source of huge excitement, traditionally) if I should get a sabbatical next year? Why have I, a flowy person who hates predictability, become anxious about far-off possibilities?

Out-of-whack sleep patterns, plus the unrelenting togetherness of summertime, when no one in the family gets up and heads out anywhere, ever…well, they’ve conspired to make me feel desperate every third day or so.

Part of me thinks it’s hormonal, that I’m heading into a kind of peri-menopause that is shifting my innards just enough to cause a whole-being shake.

But since I’m only, *cough cough*, 24, it couldn’t be that.

Here’s where the running helped:

I realized the other day, as Groomeo biked at the nature center, and I ran for a long time, that I’ve always had two ways of dealing with stress:

1) Don’t let it accrue in the first place. Example: if someone at work puts out a call for a meeting, my habit has been to view that meeting as extraneous to my existence, pack up my work bag, and head home for a long run and Thai-grilled chicken. Second example: if someone is groaning about not having finished a project on time, I think to myself, “Maybe do the project when you first know about it, Weezer. So glad I did my project two months ago. Now I’m heading home for Thai-grilled chicken and a run.”

2) When it does land in my gushy lap, I process the stress promptly and throughout my entire body with a rapid and intense weep. Three minutes of sobbing every few days have continually kept me balanced and skipping. I’d actually never realized this–merely thinking of myself as a big, wussy crybaby–until my mother-in-law pointed out the beauty of this tendency, with a smidgeon of envy, a few years ago. She noted, in relation to her own long-delayed grief over having had a child who had died a few days after birth, “The way you allow emotion to blow through you is so healthy. When something is happening, you feel it then, at that moment, and then you release it.” Her wise observation heartened and awakened me to a previously-unrecognized gift.

Due to these naturally-evolved strategies, I’ve managed to trip fairly blithely through my days.

As I considered this the other day on my run, I had a flash of “Whoa, Nellie Olson (and Michael Landon in his turn as Pa), but I’ve got it: I’ve been feeling internally weighed down and low because I haven’t been crying. Everything in life is going along so swimmingly, from kitchen remodel to love of husband to amazement at children, that I’ve neglected my crying time.

I’ve neglected to register how stressful it is to have a work crew, however cool they are, in our house all day, everyday. I’ve neglected to give myself credit for being the sole wage-earner in a household of four. I’ve neglected my need to holler, “Hell, people, could I just be alone in my house now so that I could sit down during daylight and read a book?”

Because everything is so wonderful, I haven’t let all the tiny indignities register. I haven’t let them add up into a good wail, albeit for no good reason.

As I ran the other day, I finally got how much I am craving–emotionally and mentally, but also physically–a really good sob.

Naturally, right as I cottoned to this fact, I stumbled across my beloved Groomeo. There he was, suddenly, in the midst of many kilometers of trails. He biked towards me as I ran towards him (evidence of our Kismet). With me punching my stopwatch and him hitting his brakes, we merged for a chat. Within a minute, as he kept his bike from toppling down the steep and rocky hill, I’d poured it all out on him, ending on a weepy note. “And I think I just need to start the crying right now,” I laughed, as I burst into tears and hugged on his sweaty shoulders.

He kept his wheels from spinning down into a ravine, and I lightened my heart, assuring him, “Oh, this is just the start. I need a real Kleenex-depleter of a cry some night here, soon. I think I need to find a really sobby tv series or movie and have it unlock all these little stresses I’ve let build up. Too damn bad I’ve seen Slings & Arrows, eh? The last episode of the final season of that one had me tearing through four tissues, at least. Hmmmm. What will do the job?”

And that’s where I leave you now, Gentle Readers. I need a cathartic bawl. I’m not looking for something cliched or sentimental, so no Nicholas Sparks, please. What gives me the best yowl is usually a moment of tremendous beauty (such as the last few episodes of Slings & Arrows, wherein Shakespeare and modern life prove one and the same, in scenes of startlingly gorgeous theatre; or in the closing scene of the Glee pilot, when those uppity kids sing “Don’t Stop Believin'”; or when Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove and Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day slice me in two with profoundly-felt, frozen emotion)…or a moment of stilted adoration, per Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

I actually Googled “top sad movies” last night and have been tipped that Atonement and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might toss me over the desired edge. But I dunno. What I need now is help in achieving a breakdown.

What shows or films have rendered you a pathetic heap of tears, chocolate, and crumpled tissues? What has cracked you open?

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