The Best Parenting Advice You'll Ever Get: Be Really Lucky

Unless you've been stranded on Mars or trapped in a cave somewhere, you have heard and read about the tragic accident that took the life of a sweet 2 year old boy in Florida. And unless you've not been on the internet for four days, you've also read the innumerable essays and posts about it. And then, oh sweet mercy...there are the comment sections.

Comment sections have always been an insidious slice of our societal pie; the one place people seem to have zero trouble letting their true colors run like an overflowing toilet at Taco Bell. For whatever reason- maybe the political circus that's happening in our country, perhaps a nation already at maximum grief bearing weight over yet another senseless mass shooting- the boy's death in Florida brought out the comment section militia in droves. You thought the mom from the gorilla incident in Ohio caught a shit-ton of indignant, self-righteous flak? The couple in Florida got what she did, and then some.

There have now been pleas for the world to stop judging and be more kind. To show compassion instead of superiority. It's basically all been said, and done so a thousand times better than I could say. I decided to take a little break from the whole of it, to take Facebook off of my phone for a bit and to avoid reading anything below an actual article. Except then I cheated. I read one last post regarding the Disney incident and then, oh yes...and then....one last comment thread.

This thread contained the by-now familiar opening argument: "they shouldn't have" followed by either "had their kid in the water at night!" or "had a 2 year old up that late!" and of course the always soft and gentle "had kids in the first place if they weren't going to watch them." Those remarks are part and parcel of any accident involving a minor now. Parents suck, don't you know? Well, at least some parents do. Except, of course, for those who chime in and let the world know that this kind of unfortunate ugliness will never happen to them.

Which brings me to the last comment thread I shouldn't have, but did, read. A woman named Jen was spouting off, in the usual grammatically challenged manner many of these perfect parents display. She employed the good old Social Media Backhanded Compliment Comment technique, whereupon one begins their novella-length, no-paragraph breaks tirade with a general sympathy statement.

"I am so sorry for this family. I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child this way.


There's always a but, right? God forbid someone expresses sympathy and sadness and ends it there. Jen didn't. She went on to rake the parents over the proverbial coals for what they did, and didn't do that fateful night on a dusky beach in Florida. They were, she decided, the ones who placed their babe into the mouth of that alligator and then waved as he was dragged away.

Then, she dropped this little bomb:

"I have a three year old. And I guarantee that something like this will never happen to her."

Oh Jen. I'm not laughing at you, I promise. Wait: I totally am laughing at you. Because you are effing hilarious.

You've been a parent for three years? Honey. That's like, 10 minutes on the parenting timeline.

I have old kids. Like, "could get married and have babies and mortgages" old. And I'm still a freaking novice. Just as I was guffawing at Sensible Smart Jen and her 30-odd months of parenting expertise, there are women chortling at me with my 22 years of it.

Parents? We may feel as though we've rocked it. We high-five ourselves, humble-brag about our mighty accomplishments and roll around in our successes like Garfield in a pan of lasagna.

But what none of us talks about, or even readily admits?

Most of parenting is just being lucky. Dumb luck, luck-of-the-Irish, lucky ducks. Whatever you want to call it, we gots it. Luck by the truckload, my friends.

That's the difference between Jen Almighty and the Nebraskan parents who lost their child. Jen's had it, and for one awful moment, they didn't.

Sweet Jesus. Even the act of getting, and staying, pregnant? May the odds be ever in your favor because that is a feat in and of itself. A friend and I had tandem pregnancies for our first two babies. Not because we timed it like that, you guys. It just happened. And then, we found ourselves pregnant together again, with our third babies.

She lost that baby via miscarriage. I didn't know what to say, sitting there watching her weep while trying to ignore the pregnant elephant in the room. She finally spoke:

"You are so lucky." She was right, of course. I was lucky. Luckier than a leprechaun riding bareback on a pot o' gold.

Now I know some of you are sitting there, claws extended, parenting books and child development pie charts and Venn diagrams at the ready. Ready to tell me that NO! Not luck! We are aware and educated and take steps to ensure the safety and growth of our babies. LUCK HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, JENNY YOU BIG FAT LYING LIAR!

I agree with you. To a point. There are different levels of parents, that's for sure. All you have to do is watch the news for a few hours to find that out, and find it out in spades. There are abusive and neglectful and absent parents. Dumpster babies and kids chained in basements and duct-taped into Rubbermaid bins. Those parents are obviously terrible human beings and despite whatever excuses they may have (their own miserable upbringings, mental illness, addiction, etc) bad luck had nothing to do with the fates of their children.

But for the rest of us? The Average Joe and Josie you rub elbows with everyday? Our successes and failures have as much to do with luck as with anything else.

What if that doomed family in Florida had decided to pack it up just five minutes earlier? What if their four year old daughter had fallen and started crying just a few seconds before the alligator swam up? What if Mom or Dad had been holding the little guy in their arms instead of letting him walk?

What if.
What if.
What if.

It didn't happen that way and they have proved that sometimes the universe and the planets and the luck fairies line up just so and the absolute worst-case scenario is played out like some macabre production.

So to all the Parenting Gurus out there like Jen, you need to just reel it in a bit. Take a seat, and then take a look at the luck you've been blessed with. Accidents happen and they do so without warning. The neighborhood dog that snaps, the huge tree branch that falls, the space heater that shorts out, the texting/drunk driver who happens to be on the road at the same time as you.

None of us, and I mean absolutely NONE of us can know if our guardian angels are on duty or if they've fallen asleep or sneaked out for a smoke. We should continue to be watchful, and vigilant, and educated about all things parent-y, of course. Keep outlets covered, baby-proof the cupboard doors and get your kids immunized. Look both ways, wash fruits and veggies carefully and lock up the house at night.

But never, ever should we become so arrogant as to presume we are exempt from experiencing a moment of bad luck.

It could happen to anyone...even you, Jen.


So Your Kid Isn't Going To College...

This is an insane time of year if you happen to have a high school senior in your family. Senior year, from a parents' perspective, is like a giant, out-of-control, no-brakes freight train...a powerful, soot-stained steel bullet careening towards you, black plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

This is it. This is the moment we all see off in the faraway distance when we strap those wee little backpacks onto wee little preschool or kindergarten backs. This is the end goal, the level-up. The last year of school.

According to social media, this is also the time when parents proudly announce which college their progeny will be attending come fall. Your Facebook feed becomes a veritable avalanche of pictures featuring smiling kids donned in their future alma mater colors. Hearty congratulations are passed around like cigars in an old-timey maternity ward. Their futures are so bright, so shiny! Parents talk about how proud they are, and rightfully so. College is indeed an honorable next step after high school. Some might say the natural, right one.

But guess what? Not all kids go to college. And that's okay, too. In fact, sometimes it's the best, smartest and most reasonable step.

This year, I am the parent of a college-bound kid. As I was two years prior. Four years ago, however, I wasn't. My eldest child did not go to college. In fact, he didn't even apply to any. Back then, I felt something that was an awfully close cousin to embarrassment. Failure even. Not on his part- no! I felt like a loser parent who hadn't pushed hard enough, who hadn't followed the carefully laid out steps to get my kid into college. What I wish someone had told me back then, was what I'm laying down for you now.

Not all kids go to college. And that's okay.

Our world is changing at a breakneck speed. What was once an easy choice to make is now one fraught with scares and complications. Money, of course, is the biggie. There are articles and essays everywhere about the cost of college and who's supposed to pay it. Some parents have had the good fortune and the foresight to put money away for their future scholar. Others, like yours truly, couldn't have done it no matter how good our intentions were.

College is expensive. Horrifyingly so. Even if your kid goes to a local school, a state school, it isn't cheap. If you are one of those who have been socking away a bit of each paycheck, good for you! Way to go. You've given your kid a great head start. Even luckier is the child who has grandparents or other relatives who want to foot the bill. What a gift.

There are countless scholarships and grants, but most of the time those just take some of the squeeze out of that tuition bill. The unfortunate reality for many college students now is having to take out loans. I don't know about you, but the thought of sending one of my kids out into the world with a huge debt on their shoulders doesn't sound awesome. Especially when you look at what fresh college graduates are making (depending on their chosen career path).

There is also the matter of readiness. Some kids are, some aren't. Don't we all know of the boy/girl who left for school only to come home after a semester or two? When I was 18 I was nowhere near ready for college. I was immature and spacey and had so much growing up to do. I took a year off but that proved to be not quite long enough. Dropped out midway to pursue a career as a flight attendant. Again, nothing wrong with that profession but guess what? That wasn't my calling either. I kind of fell into my longest-running gig, motherhood, and put my education on one of those out-of-sight back burners. Which, once I found myself divorced and poor, was not the best choice I could have made. I am a life lesson, folks.

I wish I could go back in time and be a bigger cheerleader for my firstborn. He knew he wasn't ready for college and, armed with that knowledge, he took his time. What we used to call "taking a year off" is now called "gap year" and in my son's case, it was a gap-and-a-half. Almost two gaps.

He lived at home. He worked his ass off. He saved money and grew up a little and took time to think. And when he was good and ready, he signed himself up at the local community college. Most of it was covered with grants and scholarships, the rest he paid for. Eventually he applied to transfer to a private four year college here in Minneapolis and that's where he is today. He's not on the four-year track, or even the five-year one.

He's on HIS track. And I couldn't be prouder.

I have one more kid left, and I'm beginning to gently encourage him to look into other post-high school options. You know why? Not because I don't think he's "college material", but because I don't think he's ready. Not by a long shot. Who knows what the next two years will bring for him, though. He might wake up one day and be all rah-rah about it, and if so, I will support him 100%.

But, he might not. And that is something I will also support completely.

Look. This isn't an anti-college rant. I believe in education and it's something I've harped on about for so long my kids can recite the speech verbatim (it goes something like "look at me! Don't be me! Find something you like to do and finish your education!! USE ME AS YOUR WORST CASE SCENARIO!!").

Nobody can argue against getting educated. A degree is never worthless...this is something any of us who work for a living can tell you. I've seen people get jobs simply because of that piece of paper, beating out other candidates who are armed with many more years of experience. And if degrees talk, then advanced degrees shriek, people.

But. There are so many other options out there. Options that might not strike our college-happy society as brag-worthy, but are honorable and smart nonetheless.

Like I tell my kids: there will always be things that need fixing. Cars, plumbing, appliances, houses. People will always need haircuts and clothing and food. Our military is all volunteer. I know people who work at Costco making more money and with better retirement packages than some people with advanced degrees. A quick Google search will show you endless success stories of people who have made it big without college.

It can happen. And for some people, it does. That doesn't mean I think college is irrelevant or a waste of time and money. Quite the opposite. But it depends upon the person. It's a very case-by-case scenario and a very personal one at that.

So to those of you who aren't already thinking about dorm room purchases or how it's going to feel when you hug your college freshman goodbye, know that your kid has probably already made one of the smartest decisions of their life.

Be proud of them.


The Prince of Minnesota

When someone of note passes, it's become de rigueur for anyone with internet access to write a tribute of some sort. Not more than 40 minutes after the news broke, Huffington Post had at least two Prince-memorial pieces up. It's not surprising, given the ripples this diminutive life-force created in his lifetime. I normally don't care for the navel-gazing posts that litter cyberspace after a "celebrity" crosses over (are you ready for the "10 Prince songs that made me a better parent" articles?) but this time it's different, at least for those of us who communicate primarily via writing here in Minnesota. Even for those of us who do so lazily and as a hobby. We need to share our Prince stories, as we would have had this happened a hundred and fifty or so years ago- we'd have sat around a fire telling our kinfolk about that time we ran into Prince at the City Center food court. "...and he was so tiny I probably could have tucked him into my purse! Okay, kids, back into the covered wagon."

If you're from Minnesota, you don't ask your fellow citizens if they like Prince. It would be like asking them if they enjoyed breathing. "Well, yeah, you know, if the mood is right." Nope. Not saying every Minnesotan is a Misery-style fangirl or boy, but still. Growing up here, in PrinceLand, you know things. You learn his lyrics via osmosis. When a song of his pops out of the speakers at the grocery store or Target it isn't novel or surprising, it just is.

One of the many rites of passage here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is driving around town, preferably around one or two of those aforementioned lakes, windows down, your friend in the passenger seat next to you with her feet up on the dash and a perfectly fitting Prince jam blaring on the radio. His songs? They were all pretty much fitting. Even when it was discussing how many positions there are in a one night stand or fighting parents or horses hanging around watching a kid lose his virginity in a barn, his music just fit. Perfectly.

My peers and I came of age during the 80's. At the time there was no indication that it was a magical point in history, a beautiful chunk of years to be alive and young and free to roam the streets. Looking back now, as various icons leave us and move on to the next place, it fills me with both a grateful joy and a profound sadness. The joy is because we were able to drench ourselves in their talent for such a sweet stretch of time, the sadness is because it's over and no matter how much fun was had, it will never feel like we got enough. Just one more song, just one more movie, just one more concert...just one more, please.

When we Minnesotans get braggy about our state, we mention several cultural standouts. Betty Crocker! Paul freakin Bunyan! Post it Notes! Bob Dylan! And always, always our sweet Prince. He is as Minnesota as the Vikings, only he won a lot of things and he built his own mother effing stadium.

It's a routine in our home to have music playing while whichever kids who are around and I gather in the kitchen either preparing dinner or asking when it'll be ready. The night we lost our Prince was no exception and of course, it was him and his lyrical gift filling the room. As one son prepped the burgers for grilling and the other stood by the fridge observing, the observant one said: "Mom, one of my favorite memories is you and me in the car, singing along to Raspberry Beret really loud. Man, I'm sad."

And that sums it up. I can't properly express what a loss this is to the world. Especially our world here in Minnesota. There aren't enough words...so I'm just going to echo what my son said.

Man, I'm sad.


Basic Instincts (and coffee)

On a cold November morning in 2009, a bad thing happened.

My coffee maker died.

Since it was one of the relics from my marriage, it was top-of-the-line as far as java cookers go. That thing was yuuuge (go ahead, say it in a Donald voice) and sleek and looked like something you'd see on a counter-top in a swanky Euro kitchen. It made espresso and cappuccino and frothed milk like a mother effer. My ex loved shiny expensive things and this workhorse was no exception. How it ended up with me, and not lovingly ensconced in his starter love-nest is a mystery.

Anyway. It died. I remember going through the motions that morning: filling it up with water, grinding the beans, pushing "BREW" and then gasping in sleepy horror as a pool of water started spreading out from beneath the vessel. I did what every self-respecting addict did in those days and immediately posted on the facebook about it.

LOL@ Angie

Juliana, a friend for a long time, came to my rescue and dropped off a gently used machine that morning. It was a Krups, just like the now-expired beast in my kitchen, but a much more basic model. It did one thing: make coffee. It also told time but I never did get around to setting the clock. It was white, had seem some life and many brew cycles. I took the gold mesh filter from the dead machine (of course it had a gold mesh filter. OF COURSE IT DID.) and placed it in the "new" one, went through the motions and pressed "BREW".

And there was coffee. Not espresso, not cappuccino, not a frothed concoction. Nope. Just straight coffee. Hot and strong and gloriously basic.

Fast-forward 7 years. Different house, different kitchen, different life. Same coffee maker. Every single morning, without fail, that hand-me-down Krups coffee maker does what it was put on this Earth to do. It makes my coffee. I can't vouch for how decent of a brew it makes, since I have atrocious taste in many things, coffee included. But one of my kids has started pilfering it, so it must be okay.

I am firmly entrenched in the Ain't Broke? Don't Fix It camp. Always have been and probably always will be. When you think about it, that may be one of the reasons my marriage didn't work. Aside from the adultery and all that stuff, but still: I was married to someone who wanted more. Newer, better, prettier, fancier. Always on the lookout for the next big thing, he was. While I was the opposite. The polar opposite: why buy new when you already have one that works? Older doesn't mean obsolete, it means quality. To me, spending time and energy to replace something that works JUST FINE is silly.

I get it, though. I understand wanting to make improvements and being lured by the promise of something just a bit faster and edgier and better. That's why I don't have a flip phone, people. A now almost antiquated iPhone 5, yes, but it's still kind of smart even though the guys at the AT&T store regarded it with mild amusement/curiosity and warned me to avoid doing any more updates on it: "Lady, it will just stop working. Don't do it!".

As some of you here have reminded me, other people's money is not ours to spend. If you have the means, or even just the desire and decent credit, go for it. I'm not judging those of you who do want shinier and newer and possibly more efficient. Gadgets are fun. Buying stuff is fun. The smell of newness is always fun. I will admit to feeling something that is probably envy when I see someone with a nice car and I'm sitting behind the wheel of my well-loved, still-running vehicle that is held together with duct tape and solidified mid-life sweat thanks to the non-functioning air conditioning. But then I remind myself that as long as the car drives, it's all I really need.

Just like my beloved hand-me-down coffee maker. And really, I guess, just like a lot of us.

Basic. Gently used. Been through a few brew cycles. But we do what we're supposed to do. So don't write us off just yet.


If You Give A Broke Mom a Tax Refund...

Tax time. Those two words have been daunting to me over the past several years. With the exception of one exciting April many moons ago, I have owed money to our government every single year. I don't know how I scraped up the cash, honestly. Somehow, like everything else- they got paid, and miraculously, paid on time.

The irony of the poorest chick in the hen house having to pay Uncle Sam wasn't lost on me. It made me roll my eyes at all of the election-year hyperbole even more...people complaining about their precious tax dollars going to help the lazy freeloaders of society and all that. There I was, squatting at poverty level, contributing what little I had to all of those precious tax dollars being grabbed at by those "leeches" like game show contestants in the Wind Tunnel O'Money. please note the quotation marks around leeches...personally I believe corporate welfare is a far bigger shame than helping those who are in real need. Let's not get into that though.

This year held a glimmer of hope, however, due to the end of alimony in late 2014 and the addition of child support from then on. You see, my ex-husband is pretty smart when it comes to all things financial and long ago he and his lawyer went to great lengths to ensure that any money he sent my way was counted as spousal maintenance versus child support. Because, tax benefits. Back then I was overjoyed to be getting anything other than an ulcer from him, so of course I agreed. That is what ended up biting me in the arse over and over again at tax time. Maybe an ulcer would've been better?

It was with tentative optimism, then, that I sat down in front of the computer and loaded up the old Turbo Tax. I had all of my receipts, all of my records, all of the social security numbers organized and in order. I clickety-clacked, entered numbers and reconciled all of it. Dependents and educational expenses and rent paid, oh my. The dollar amount under the words "YOUR FEDERAL REFUND" increased as I went along. I tried to not look at it but couldn't stop, my eyes wide like they get when it's 1:30 on Friday and I see the word "martini".

When all was said and done I sat back and exhaled. Then, I ran the numbers again. And once more just to be sure.

I've heard stories of big huge fat tax refunds, but thought they were legends like Big Foot and low cost cable television. People always went on about what they were going to do with their refunds and I'd be crying in the corner, writing a check to the IRS and cursing the family court system.

This time, though. Boy howdy. It was big, by my standards.

Believe it or not, I didn't cry. I might have let out a big whoooop and I also may have texted my bestie.

And then, I got scared.

Here's the bizarre thing. Being poor effs with your head in many ways, and one of the weirdest is what it does to your relationship with money. Now, I'm saying poor as in "one mishap away from being homeless" poor and not "aughh we can't afford both a winter and a spring vacation this year" poor, okay? When you spend a bit of time worrying about feeding your kids and keeping a roof over your heads, money becomes like this big evil alien spacecraft, not unlike the one that hovered above the White House in the movie Independence Day. Fretting about it consumes every waking moment, and most of your sleeping ones, too.

So this little windfall was as terrifying as it was exciting. Maybe a little more the former than the latter.

I thought about it, during the days before it was deposited in my checking account. I considered the things that needed to be paid for, the things we really needed but could never afford, the fun stuff a broke ass mom and her kids could do for once, without the mom chewing her lower lip to bits trying to avoid thinking about the financial repercussions.

My god, I thought. I can get the stupid broken handle on my car door fixed! No more would I have to leave the window open only to haul ass out to the parking lot mid-rain to roll it up!

I could help my eldest with his car repair bill! I could get my poor dog's ear medicine! I could get new contacts and throw away the trial pair I've been wearing for way too many months! We could go out to dinner, all five of us and we could order whatever we wanted! Oh mah gah. I could maybe even afford to get a second car for the kids. A beater, of course, like my little silver tuna can Ford Focus, but just think...a second car!

Fantasies traipsed through my brain like fleet-footed nymphs: I imagined walking into a liquor store and saying in my best Gery Poupon accent "I say, good man, please point me in the direction of your finest wines within the 8-10 dollar range!" and then "Benson, I have procured several bottles. Please pull the car around so I may take leave of this fine establishment."

I even caught myself standing in front of a 40" Smart TV at Costco one night. It was marked way, way down and I stood there for a good five minutes, picturing myself in bed with a big shiny tv on my dresser and how nice it would be to watch my British shows on something besides the wee little chromebook. My days (actually nights) of falling asleep on the couch could be history! What could be better than dozing off in the comfort of my own bed, the dulcet tones of Netflix rocking me to sleep?

Luckily, I bitch-slapped myself right out of that one. I said out loud, "Who do you think you are, Beyonce??? Get real, Jenny." And then went on to get the milk and eggs and bulk pack of Hawaiian Sweet rolls I went there for in the first place.

What I did, and am doing with it, is this: I let us have some fun. Nothing crazy, of course, but there have been dinners and some new clothes and yes, a big linen-scented candle. I splurged on some gluten-free licorice from Amazon and am planning my 18 year old's graduation party without wincing and my daughter is finally going to get contacts (shh, that one's a surprise).

But that's it. The rest of it is remaining untouched. If I could find an old-timey Folgers coffee can and bury it somewhere, I would. Because being poor doesn't only make you afraid of money...it teaches you that you can't be trusted with it. That somehow, you are to blame for the financial mess you're in. You've made bad choices, dumb decisions and if only you'd somehow been just slightly smarter with your dollars, you wouldn't be in straits so dire.

I'm trying to get over that one. I think a fear of money is okay, to some extent, but I need to prove to myself that I am responsible, I am smart enough to handle this stupid chunk of change and I won't blow it. I was married, for a long time, to someone who had holes in his pockets and every bonus or gift horse was spent within days: new cars, new suits, new golf clubs, new kitchens. My first instinct then, when confronted with any excess money is HOW CAN I SPEND THIS AS QUICKLY AND FRIVOLOUSLY AS POSSIBLE? Girls? Learn how to handle money wisely. Parents? Teach all of your kids how to do it. Please. 

I guess, in hindsight, dealing with financial stress for so long afterwards has been kind of a blessing/baptism by fire. It has taught me that new doesn't necessarily mean better. It has definitely hammered in the differences between wants and needs.

But perhaps the most important lesson learned is, sometimes it's okay to splurge. Even if your definition of splurge is much different than it used to be. Where there used to be fancy clothes and granite counter-tops, there are now Old Navy sale sprees, scented candles and Saturday movie dates with a kid or two.

I think this definition better. Better, but I'm still scared.


I Am That Goose

The search history on my computer isn't too scary. It's more boring than anything else. It goes like this:

"gluten-free licorice"
"FedEx drop locations"
"costco hours"
"linen tunic 3/4 sleeve"
and then, there is this one:

"do geese mate for life"

I live in Minnesota, which for several months out of the year seems to be Goose Country. We get them in our yard, I see and hear them flying overhead and when out with the dog, encounter large groups of them by the trails and the ponds. Some people hate the geese but I have grown kind of fond of them. Except when my dog eats their poo. Then I curse them and their apparently irresistible droppings.

Some people would call me a bleeding heart animal lover. If it was within my means to buy a giant farm somewhere and populate it with injured and sickly animals, I would. So when I see a goose kind of limping, or one with a janky wing, I will worry about it.

I also worry about the lone geese. You know how, you will see a big gathering of geese (gaggle? flock?) and while the majority of them are coupled up you will see a few solo geese off to the side, staring off into the distance. Or as I like to think, rolling their geese-eyes and muttering "Jesus h Christ, Denise and Larry, quit your hysterical honking...everybody sees your precious gosling snowflakes, okay? We get it. They're adorable. Calm the eff down." 

So the next time I was at my computer I entered "do geese mate for life" into Google and found out that yes, for the most part, they do. And being the bleeding heart, I thought about all of those lone geese and wondered what their stories were. Did they have babies? Or did their mate disappear before that could happen? What if they had a nest of eggs and were all alone? What happens then? Do they feel lonely standing there with all the couples? How about when they're flying? Who watches out for them??

That's also when I wondered if perhaps it was time to go back on the Adderall.

And then it hit me: sweet Moses...am I a goose? Did I mate for life? Because I'm going to just put it out there- I almost always feel like that lone goose. The one standing there trying to look cool or at least not awkward in the flock of couples. The one thinking "yeah it's fine. I'm totally okay standing here, just me myself and I! We're good!"

I am that goose except my mate didn't meet the front end of an impatient/distracted SUV or a bullet or a hungry fox. Mine flapped off into the wings of another goose and never looked back. (and this also made me wonder, but not search, "do geese screw around"? and "what would you call a goose homewrecker?") (my answer to the second one: loosey goosey. LOL)

It was a chilling moment, sitting there in front of a computer, images of geese and goose factoids glowing before my eyes.

Did I mate for life? Holy shit. Maybe so.

Because it's starting to feel like perhaps mating for life is what I did. And I have become the human counterpart to all of those solo geese. When I have my head down, eating grass or whatever, there's no protective lover looking out for cars or foxes or middle aged ladies with dogs. When I sleep at night there's no warm bundle of feathers next to me. When I tend to my own goslings, and the one or two who can no longer be classified as goslings but are still adhered firmly to the nest, there's no backup or reinforcement. No manly goose who says "baby you look tired. go sit down and watch an episode of Happy Valley and I'll get dinner started". And no Plus One when I get invited to gatherings where one would normally go with another.

The scariest part of all, though, is this: I'm kind of okay with being the lone goose. Oh, don't worry, I still have those pondering moments, usually at about 2:00 a.m., when I think gee it would be nice to have someone here next to me. Or like yesterday, when one of my kids had a health scare and I was alone in the waiting room of the pediatrician's office trying really hard to keep positive and wondering what the hell kind of pediatrician's office waiting area doesn't have boxes of Kleenex on every table and also, when did parents get so young??

But for the most part, it seems to be fine. I seem to be fine. It's been so long that nobody bothers with the usual Single-Lady small talk anymore. You know, the "so are you seeing anyone?" conversations or even the "I know this guy..." talks. Although there is one person at work who insists that I need to mate up and is pushing me to go online and find The One. I don't have the heart or balls to tell her that I do have a couple other solo geese in my life, who make me laugh and who sometimes ruffle my feathers and that's pretty much all I have the time or desire for right now. I humor her by going onto Match.com and pretending to work on my profile but unbeknownst to her I never save it.

I still think about the life-stories of those alone geese, though, and wonder how they're doing. I wonder if geese get lonely or if there's not enough room in those tiny brains for such frilly emotions. I wonder if they look at the couples surrounding them and think "damn I miss mate" or if it's more like "almost time to fly south" or "I smell fox, must honk!".

All I know is that now when I walk by a group of them and I see Mr or Ms Single Goose, I mentally kiss my fingers and give him/her a good old Katniss solidarity salute.

I feel ya, geese.


Incredibly Worthless Superpowers

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Pffft. I believe we've all been blessed with superpowers. Some are just a little more super than others. And some, like the ones which have been bestowed upon yours truly, are absolutely worthless.

As much fun as it would be to be able to read minds or grow long indestructible Adamantium claws out of my knuckles (hello, bumbling-stumbling Costco shoppers, get the eff out of my way), there's something to be said for having extremely unremarkable abilities. We aren't constantly getting into epic battles, bad guys aren't trying to kill us and we don't have to come up with alter-egos in order to "blend in".

One of my worthless superpowers is the somewhat creepy ability I have to remember not only the names of the 700+ kids at the school I work with, but I have a 95% success rate when it comes to telling you who their teachers are, too. And about half of them, I know the parent's names. This power loses all strength once the kids graduate 6th grade and leave for junior high, though. When they come back to visit all I can see is the little baby face on top of a gangly young adult body and I'm forced to sit there and think of a polite way to say "Tell me your name again???".

My hair is another amazing thing. No, it's not beautiful but guess what? It doesn't get dirty. Scratch that. It does get dirty but it never looks like it. I could go weeks without washing my hair and I'm pretty sure it would just look better the longer I put it off. Of course the same can't be said for the rest of my body. If you've ever walked through the Beauty aisle at Walgreens and wondered who in the world buys those awful pink frilly shower caps...it's me.

Unfortunately I didn't procreate with another non-dirty hair person and only two of my four offspring "in-hair-ited" my hirsute abilities. The father of my kids had the kind of hair that looked greasy a couple hours after washing it, and actually left head-prints on our pillowcases. Prints of his head made from hair oil. One of the first things I did after he left was get all new bedding. #IkeaDivorceStory

Here's another worthless power I have: I can look at a pan or dish of leftovers and accurately gauge the exact size of plastic container we're gonna need to store it. Like, fish that little tub out of the Tupperware sea and every last bit of edible goodness will fit, right up to the brim. And I can find the corresponding lid in mere seconds. If I die tomorrow, it gives me some peace knowing I'm not leaving behind a drawer full of containers without lids that fit. We will talk about the horror that is known as "the last drawer on the left" in my bedroom at a later time.

It took a contest at work for me to fully realize another gift of mine: finding doppelgangers. We had a celebrity-lookalike thing and turns out I really do have a particular set of skills and if you give me a martini and an uninterrupted hour with the internet I will find YOUR celebrity twin. Here's mine:

This is me at work. Telling a parent it's okay. Whatever they're worried about, it's okay. Just drop their lunch/trumpet/boots/inhaler/backpack off and we'll get it to them. Promise.

Word of this talent spread, and before I knew it, throngs of teachers and staff were lined up next to my desk, begging me for assistance. Okay, maybe not throngs. But at least three people asked for my help. I found Partridge Family-era Susan Dey (there was absolutely NO indication of the timeliness of the celebs) and a couple more that I can't remember now. But believe me, they were dead on. Sometimes we play this game with the kids at school (on the down low, of course). We have a little Tori Spelling, a pint-sized Robert Pattinson (thanks Renae), Quentin Tarantino Jr., an even ittier-bittier Aziz Ansari and yes of course a miniature Shemar Moore (I actually dubbed that kid "Eyebrows" in honor of Derek Morgan/Criminal Minds). Find Your Doppelganger...it's fun. And I'll help you.

Do you need a little down time? A little chunk of the day where you are actually forced to stand still and just be? Come grocery shopping with me then, and I promise you I will find the slowest checkout lane. There, you will have generous amounts of minutes to check your Facebook, scroll through the Groupon deals and maybe just maybe perfect the art of the disapproving sigh/eye-roll/foot-shifting. It doesn't matter if the person ahead of me only has two items vs. the lady next door with the overflowing cart. Odds are, the person I chose to get behind will be using their credit card for the first time and can't understand all the buttons to push and/or the cashier will accidentally input the wrong price or maybe they will run out of register tape. Meanwhile, Full Cart lady is laughing and on her way out the door. On the bright side, I did have time to delete all of those emails from Groupon.

And the last superpower I have to share is one that I no longer claim to excel at...that honor goes to my best friend Danielle. For a long time I was reigning queen of WebMd, the diva of self-diagnosis, the high priestess of pairing symptoms with ailments. Many nights were spent in bed, laptop burning the tops of my legs while I dug through the internet armed only with the search terms "bloated stomach" and "thigh pain". I dubbed that mysterious abdominal pain "pancreatitis", my disappearing eyebrows as "hypothyroidism" and a throbbing ear as "spider laid eggs in there". In reality the real culprits were "half a tub of artichoke dip", "middle age" and "cracked tooth". Only one of those scenarios ended with medical intervention and vicodin.

Oh but did the tables turn on me when I turned to my BFF for medical advice. It was then that I learned of her magical medical prowess, and believe me when I say she put my Quincy MD abilities to shame. During a flurry of late night texts wherein I described my symptoms (cramps so bad I spent the night in the fetal position, crying), my homie sent me a malady I'd never heard of: Twisted Ovary. Oh how I wish I'd taken a sreenshot of that text...it probably glowed. Since then, she's been my go-to when I have a list of symptoms and my hypochondria is raging. Dr. Oz? Nah. More like Dr. Danielle. (of course, it wasn't really a twisted ovary, just perimenopausal menses and half a tub of artichoke dip, both treatable with time and self-loathing)

One thing I haven't added to my repertoire of worthless skills is knowing exactly when to stop writing. So I'm going to go out on a limb and end this post right here...but not before asking:


Fantasy Summer Camps

As I sit here, trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for my 15 year old’s hockey camp this summer (seriously? $500 and I still have to feed him lunch??) I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t really useful camps for our broods. I mean, yeah, my boy loves hockey and since he’s my kid I am obligated to say he’s good at it...but let’s be real. He ain’t no Wayne Gretzky. It seems kind of silly to spend my sparse funds on something that, at best, might become a fun pastime for him as an adult.

Let’s discuss things like important life skills, baby. Things these children will benefit from knowing long after the carpooling, lollygagging childhood days are over. Let’s arm them with knowledge that will assist them in making friends, luring lovers and getting invited to multiple holiday parties. Because if we’re being honest here, and I assume we are, I think we can all agree that the reason Bob and Karen have such a happy marriage isn’t because Karen learned how to ride a cranky senior horse named Caramel in the summer of 1989. They have managed to stay married because Bob knows how to fold towels and Karen knows what in the holy hell an HDMI cord is.

Instead of hockey camp, here are a few ideas I have for camps I’d actually enjoy spending money on:

1. CAMP “CLOSE THE EFFING DOOR”. There’s a trite old saying that goes something like, “When one door closes, a window opens”. I wouldn’t know about that because NOBODY CLOSES DOORS in my house. And I’m not just talking about the front/back doors. Nope. You name a door and my kids will leave it gaping open like Chris Christie’s mouth during a Trump press conference. Fridge door? Yeah. Guess what, darling? If you pull open that drawer labeled “Crisper” you have to shut it, otherwise the fridge stays open all night long. Kind of like Taco Bell but instead of a tortilla filled with mystery meat you get $20 worth of warm milk and e-coli.

Cupboard doors, bedroom doors, attic doors (I know it’s kind of Discovery Channel that we literally have bats in our belfry but leaving that door open is an invite to an Amityville nightmare I am not equipped to handle). Garage doors, entertainment center doors and medicine cabinet drawers. At Camp CLOSE THE EFFING DOOR the sanctity of leaving things as you found them (IE: CLOSED) will be lesson numero uno.

2. IKEA CAMP. At this camp, the kids would actually spend their days and nights inside their local Ikea store, learning things like how to assemble a desk using only an Allen wrench, their own tears and expletives. They’ll also learn the secret meaning of all those funny product names AND how to prepare a plate of kick-ass meatballs. Your children’s future roommates/partners will love you for choosing this camp.

3. CAMP COCKTAIL. Relax, people. No actual alcohol will be in the same proximity as your underage snowflakes. They will, however, receive a super-size serving of basic drinking knowledge that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Here is where they will learn stuff like how to salt a rim without clumping, how to open a bottle of tonic without the whole thing exploding like Mt. Vesuvius and the right way to cut a freaking lime. Won’t it be nice when Junior knows you like it shaken, not stirred? Ahhh. Family movie night just became a little more relaxing, mama.

4. HOW TO NOT BE A TOTAL DICK ON SOCIAL MEDIA CAMP. Yeah I know, Facebook is just for us old farts now but let’s be proactive in making the social media world a fun place for future citizens. At this camp there will be several offshoot groups, with topics like “Absolutely Nobody Wants To See Your Feet”, “You Shouldn’t Hit ‘Like’ on Sad Posts” and “Reading Before Sharing is Caring”. Counselors will train the kids to take viral videos in landscape vs portrait and how to organize snarky memes so they are instantly accessible during comment section fights.

5. CAMP TARGET Here, kids will learn from experts the Art of Targeting. Young Hazel will be a Cartwheel ninja after six weeks at Camp Target. Our babies will know exactly how to navigate the clearance endcaps, when the free popcorn is at its freshest and the right way to angle your cart so as not to block everyone’s path while you weigh the pros and cons of buying that chevron throw pillow.

There will also be a financial aspect to this camp: once your child masters the skill of “stacking” deals (sale price + cartwheel deal + pharmacy rewards + 5% RedCard discount) you will never yearn for “alone time” at Target again.

6. TOWEL CAMP This is the camp where kids finally discover how to live with towels. They’ll learn the right way to fold them (the tri-fold way or the highway, dearies). Experts in the field of terrycloth textiles will teach the kids that it really won’t kill them to use the same towel twice and that we know towels dry out faster when hung up vs. languishing on the floor because science.

There will also be specialized classes where the kids will find out exactly what towels should be used for (drying off their bodies, wiping up the floor after a bath/shower and covering up post-cleansing) and what they shouldn’t be used for (wiping butts/noses, rolled up under doors to hide the smell of ganja, left under a teenage boy’s bed until it’s actually a petrified masturbation fossil). Functional washers/dryers will be on-site in order to show the kids how much fun it is to launder said towels.

7. FUTURE MOMMY BLOGGER BOOT CAMP Because let’s face it, ladies...at some point we’re all going to write that “So long, suckahs!” final blog post and there has to be someone to document all of this incredibly important stuff when we’re gone. At this camp, I envision several breakout groups, kind of like the real live big time blogger conferences. Only at Future Mommy Blogger Boot Camp, instead of topics like “Monetizing Your Blog” and “Where To Find Awesome Free Stock Photos” the upcoming members of the Yoga Pants Mafia will learn stuff like this:

  • 100 Euphemisms For “Vagina”
  • How To Write A Listicle ;)
  • MEME FEVER! How to make ALL THE THINGS into a viral meme
  • The Open Letter: This Is How We Do It
  • For Boys Only: The Nuts and Bolts of Being A Daddy Blogger
  • Formula/Breast/Natural/C-Section/Vaxxer/SAHM/Working Mom Labels And How to Alienate People

Please note that these camps are purely fantasy and there is no way you can sign up for them. Not now, not last minute. There are no early bird specials and definitely no scholarships. You can add to the dreaminess if you like, while you’re perusing your calendar and your bank balance and trying, desperately, to find a place for your offspring to get all camped up this summer.

And if you do happen to see a camp like any of these, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY AND SWEET AND PURE let me know.


You Don't Have To Be Friends With Your Ex. Really.

My camrade-in-divorced-arms and fellow writer, Tracy Schorn (aka "The Chump Lady") wrote a piece for HuffPost divorce about why we shouldn't feel bad if we're not exchanging friendship necklaces with our exes. And as I read it, I kept thinking about how tired I am of defending my decision to NOT be chums with my ex-husband every time a story about "Exies Who Are Besties" makes the social media rounds.
Case in point: The Hollywood Celeb's Guide to Harmonic Uncoupling. The latest duo to break up and join the rest of us here in Divorce Club are Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. Jen (can I call her Jen? Since we both wear Danskos and are now both divorced, I think I can) recently had a very "read between the lines" interview in Vanity Fair magazine, wherein she says so much without really saying anything. She even drops the good ol' bless his heart line, which is the one reason I wish I was a southern belle. It just doesn't have the same feel when said in a nasally Midwestern accent. 
Jen's interview was touching due to her insistence that while Ben may have very well been playing Hide the Sausage with their nanny, he's still the love of her life and because of how much their kids love him, she intends to stay friendly with him. 
Most write-ups about that article include the words "classy" and "high road" but interestingly enough, only where SHE is concerned. Why are so many people insistent that those who are left to pick up the pieces be "the bigger person"? Where are the crowds encouraging the philandering spouses to take that higher road? To be the classy ones?
Is The High Road for ladies/the ones left behind only? 
Every.Single.Article written about exes who are buddies is trailed by a string of comments proclaiming that "more divorced people should do this" and "people need to put their petty differences aside" and the ever-popular "you need to do what's best for the childrennnnnnn".
These comments kill me. They kill me because not all divorced people can be friends with their ex. Sometimes, those 'petty differences' are things like pride, self respect and dignity.
Sometimes, what's best for the kids is to see their parent be strong. Be proud. And not take any more shit.
Kids are not blind baby squirrels. They know what's happening, even if the gory details are kept under wraps (as they should be). They can read between lines, they see things we think we have hidden and above all they can sense who is making a real effort to be part of their lives.
When people ask me why I am not BFFs with my ex and his wife, I say to them: "If these people had broken into my home, beat me nearly to death, stolen my identity and anything else of value from me...and then on their way out, started the house on fire, would you be standing here scratching your head, wondering why I'm not making Sunday mother effing dinner for them?" Nope? Okay then. Now, maybe you can understand why they are not the first people I turn to when I need a friend.
As the old saying goes, with friends like that...you get the gist.
I don't disparage my ex and his wife in front of my kids. I have not, nor will I ever, stand between him and the kids. I encourage my children, even after all these years, to keep their hearts open where their father is concerned. The crappy stuff? That's between him and me. Period.
You know what other headlines make me twitchy? The ones about those who have mastered the art of co-parenting. For example: 
Because apparently this is all some weird Hunger Games thing, right? Parenting after divorce isn't hard enough, now we have to worry about where the hell we place.
The term "co-parenting" implies two people working together. Co-workers, co-signers, co-stars. A team, a united front, two separate entities exerting equal amounts of effort to sustain something. Or someone.
For many of us, that "co" isn't there. If parenting was an airplane, I wouldn't have a co-pilot. I'd have a stowaway in the belly of the plane, who crawls out now and then to schmooze with the passengers and hand out stale bags of honey roasted peanuts. But the flying? Dude. I'm alone in that cockpit. It's not the way I envisioned it would be. It's not the perfect way.
But for now, it's my way. Our way.
And me talking about it here probably isn't taking the high road. It's most certainly not going to get me labeled as "Classy" and I can guarantee you not one person will comment "NOW THIS IS THE WAY ALL DIVORCED PARENTS SHOULD ACT!". I might be called bitter. I might be told to move on/get over it/be the mature one. I might not care.
For all of you who are in this same boat, who are struggling to just keep everyone and everything fine and happy, know you aren't alone. For those of you who have decided that being friends with your ex isn't your cup of tea, know you're not alone.
For those of you who have decided that the road you're on, regardless of elevation, is the high road? Rock on, my friends. There are so many of us here. And for what it's worth? I think we are classy as hell.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some roads to take.


That Time I Got Sad in the Costco Parking Lot

Ahhh. Proximity can be a good thing, right?

I live in a suburb which sits literally on the edge of Minneapolis. I see the pretty, twinkly skyline when I drive to work (well, not now but after daylight savings time I will again). The city I live in is a mere stone's throw from just about anything we could want or need. There are Targets in all directions, Trader Joe's just up the highway, miles of beautiful walking/riding trails and so many restaurants I could eat out every day for the next decade and would still miss a few.

My ex-husband is also nearby. Less than three miles away, to be precise. This would be a good thing if circumstances were different. Let's say, for example, if the kids spent time with him. If he and I were one of those former-couples I so envy who are able to be something that resembles friends.

It would be a good thing if seeing him didn't make me sad.

Last night was one of my late nights at work. Every week I have two of them, days where I could potentially sleep in, where I can take the dog for a long walk in the morning or just get putzy stuff done around the house before heading out for the day.

As quitting time drew near, my thoughts turned to that place they often do: dinner. I'd taken some beef out of the freezer that morning, visions of tacos dancing through my mind. But as 6:15 crept up, the idea of standing in front of the stove, browning meat and warming up tortillas and chopping up lettuce and olives didn't sound so fun. You know what sounded like fun? Putting on pajamas, having a glass of wine and falling asleep on the couch. That sounded like heaven to me.

So, I decided to get a pizza from Costco. Easy peasy, right? The tacos could wait until the next night and I'd be that much closer to pajama time when I got home. Luckily for me, Costco is also just across the way and within fifteen minutes of leaving work I was all checked out and making a hasty exit, pizza in hand.

As I walked towards the exit, I saw a man trying to shove several large cartons into the back of his vehicle. I'd recognize the back of that head anywhere. It was: HIM (cue the Law and Order music right here). It was the man with whom I'd created four babies, the man who now spends approximately four hours a year with them. He was struggling, mightily, to get those unwieldy boxes into the back of his Jeep.

Now. What would you do? I think most sane people would have just waltzed on by with that pizza, not giving the guy in cool dad distressed jeans a second glance. Some people would have stopped and said hello!

Have we met? I am not most people. Here's what I did: I spun around like Kristi Effing Yamaguchi doing an icy pirouette and quickly surveyed my escape options. The only clear way was to go through the liquor store, which I did, clutching my pizza and averting my eyes. I did sneak a peek at the Jeep Stuffing Saga and saw a little one, bouncing excitedly inside the vehicle and then feisty Wife Version 2.0 getting out to help her hapless spouse. Part of me hoped whatever shiny new object they'd purchased wouldn't fit and when they tried to shut the door it would snap off and there they'd be, stuck forever at Costco with a broken door and a hyper kid.

Part of me, though, felt sad.

It wasn't the kind of sad you feel when you see a lost love and get all feely. Nor was it the sad one feels when seeing the person who took a giant dump all over them and then walked away. It wasn't even that icky, jealous sad. The one where you catch a glimpse of "what could have been"- where a lady might look at the janky car she drives, and the pizza purchased with a gift card from a stranger and wished she was the one playing car-Tetris with something bulky and expensive under the parking lot lights at Costco.

Nope. As I turned the key in the ignition and backed out of my parking spot, all I could think of was my kids. I thought of my 15 year old who missed his bus earlier this week and tried, over and over, to get a hold of his dad for a ride. No response, not even a follow up text or call to see what he needed.

I thought about my four children and what awesome, kick ass humans they've turned out to be. And how much they deserve more than just me. More than a tired cranky mom who brings home pizza at the end of a long day. I thought about how cool it would be if they had someone else they could call, could rely on, could just shoot the shit with as they unwound for the evening.

This is the kind of thing that happens to me every so often. And I'm always afraid to talk about it with anyone other than my friends for fear of being labeled as one of those "bitter bio moms" or "angry ex-wives". But I know there are others like me out there, living in these bizarro-world universes where you bump into someone you once shared a home, a bed...a life. Someone you once knew better than anyone else on the planet, and now they are nothing more than a harried-looking stranger in the Costco parking lot.

It's weird.

Luckily the blues only stayed a short time. I spewed out a boo-hoo text to a couple friends, removed my sensible school secretary outfit and in no time I was in my comfy place: pajamas, kids around me, dog and couch.

And you know what? They ate that pizza. The dog rested his head on various laps with a super hopeful look in his beggar eyes. We talked about our days and we laughed like we always do and I decided that while my kids really do deserve more, I am enough. I'm not perfect. I get sad sometimes and I'm definitely not mother of the year.





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