4/20/15

My Brother In The Mirror

How in the world did we know anything before Facebook? I had no idea there was a National Drink Wine Day. Or a National Bird Day. Did you know April is National Pecan Month? I have a severe tree-nut allergy so I won't be celebrating that one.

A few weeks ago, I noticed everyone posting pictures of their siblings. Apparently, April 10th is National Siblings Day.

Who knew?

So I started thinking about my one and only sibling. I don't write about him very often, but that night I hunted down one of the few pictures I have of him and posted it on Facebook. Yes, I'd had a martini...hey, it was Friday. But I posted it, and I wrote a little bit about my brother. Quite a few of my friends liked it. I liked it. And I hope you like it too. With a teeny bit of editing, here is what I wrote on National Siblings Day:


Sibling Day.

This is my brother Jon getting his first American haircut. The local newspaper did a story on this, because back in the 70's adoption wasn't as common, or as accepted, as it is now.

This picture breaks my heart. Jon's birth mother made the incredibly difficult decision to send him to the U.S. because she loved him. And she desperately wanted him, her youngest of three children, to have a better life than the one she could have provided for him.

Almost exactly a year after Jon joined our family, my parents divorced. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't fun. My new brother and I turned inward, towards each other, to try and deal and cope. You've heard of survival mode? We were in it.

Jon lives in Las Vegas now. We don't talk very often. He called me about a month ago, and we had the best conversation we've ever had.

We cried, because that's what happens when you talk to me for more than five minutes. But...we also laughed. It was one of the best things ever, laughing on the phone with my brother on a Saturday as I emptied the dishwasher with tears streaming down my cheeks.

We were little again. My new Korean brother and I, huddled under a haphazard blanket fort in our tiny bedroom in our tiny apartment, listening to our mom and her boyfriend scream at each other. I missed our house and my bedroom with the blue rose wallpaper. Jon must have missed so much more. What did it sound like to him, to this little boy still struggling to understand and speak our language? These foul words and hateful phrases being slung through the air. I bet he missed his mom. I bet he missed his brother and sister. I bet he missed his house.

We held hands, and even though this kid with the shiny black hair and the almond-shaped eyes had totally rocked my Only Child world, I loved him. And I wanted to protect him.

I wish more than anything that I could go back in time and give that little boy in the mirror the kind of life he deserved. I wish, for both of us, that things had been better. Easier. Less dark and less painful.

I wish we were the kind of siblings who talked more frequently. Who spent more time together. Who had good memories together.

We aren't those kind of siblings. But- we are siblings. When we do talk, it's good. It's "laugh and cry" good. That works for us.

Jon isn't on Facebook, so he probably won't see what I wrote. But I wanted to put it out into the universe...that I love my little brother. And I just might give him a call tomorrow, while I empty the dishwasher.


4/12/15

Ashes to Ashes, Mom to Mom




Many moons ago, I was a bright and squeaky new kindergarten mom. I stood in the hallway with the rest of my youthful tribe: fresh faced (mostly) moms, clutching carefully filled out paperwork in our smooth young hands. Several of us were pregnant, a few were wearing Gap overalls in a totally non-ironic way. My hair was dark back then, with no thanks necessary to the fine colorists at L'Oreal. Completely natural. The innocent I was sending off into the wilds of public education that day was my firstborn, Charlie. He was clean and fed and most definitely wearing matching socks. I had taken approximately 250 pictures of him that morning, and was dying to drop off the film at Walgreens so I could get his "First Day Of School" pictures sent out to all the grandparents. Charlie's two younger siblings were there with us as well: Molly was almost 4, Henry was 2. Oh, and I was one of those pregnant ones. Just barely, though. It was September, the year was 1999. (yeah, go figure, the one New Year's Eve we really could party like it was 1999, I was knocked up.)

The school looked huge, our 5 and 6 year olds seemingly dwarfed by the gigantic kids swarming in the hallway. We watched as our babies filed into their respective classrooms, shiny virgin backpacks with nary a rip nor stain strapped onto their little shoulders.

A few of us cried. Some of us smiled, so excited at the prospect of TWO AND A HALF FREE HOURS. A few of us picked up a puddle from the floor, a puddle which resembled a cranky and petulant younger sibling. Those were the ones with TWO AND A HALF FREE HOURS in a thought bubble as well, only in a sarcastic font. Because they knew damn well that exactly six minutes before it was time to retrieve the kindergartner the puddle-sibling would have settled into deep REM stage sleep.

And then there were the other moms. There weren't as many of them, and they kept their distance from our enthusiastic pack.

They were the Older Moms.

I'm not saying these moms were chronologically older, although to be fair most of them were. They were the Older Moms because they had Older Kids. Some of them had one or two or more children in the elementary school we stood in. Others had actual teenagers who went to the terrifying junior high. And there were a couple who had high school kids. When we, the newbie moms, said high school we whispered, because to us they might as well have been on the moon. Or in an old timey jailhouse, like the one Elvis sang about. Thinking of our kindergartners, our babies, being old enough to attend high school was scary.

These women were (mostly) kind, but were not rushing up to console us or invite us out to Mom's Night Out. They regarded us with wise eyes. Knowing eyes. Tired eyes.

Later on I ended up becoming friends with one of the Older Moms. She took a liking to my crazy self and we spent many afternoon pickup minutes gabbing about our kids, our husbands and our lives. I learned so much from her: time-budgeting tips, the Gap Kids store with the best clearance rack, the best (read: easiest) volunteer gigs to sign up for.

But the best thing she ever said to me was this: "Jenny, you'll understand this one day. Probably not now. In fact, when I say this, you'll quite possibly think I'm either a terrible mom or clinically depressed." Dear God. What was she going to tell me? Should I alert the school counselor?

She smiled her sweet smile and said to me: "There will come a time when you get burned out. Believe it or not, it will come. You'll tire of all the 'firsts', you'll dread volunteering and you'll actually look forward to your kids getting older." I looked at her, thinking to myself, whatever. I was born to be a mommy. I am going to volunteer so hard at this school. Teachers will love seeing my kid's names on their class lists. The principal is going to respect me and call me by my first name. My kids will be so grateful to have such a loving, involved mother. This Older Mom is nucking futs. 

And then she said what has stuck with me. Sixteen years have passed since I first heard these words and I can still hear her saying it:

"Then you pass burnout and become a pile of ashes. That's what I am now...a pile of ashes that used to be just like you are now." I looked at my friend, and imagined her as a tall pile of gray ashes. Then, I tried to see myself the same way. Nope. No! Never.

~~~~

Last week I bought Charlie his very first legal cocktail as we celebrated his 21st birthday at the Japanese restaurant down the street. Yes, I wrote "legal" and not "first". Because I not only used to watch The Real World, I live in it (hausfrau trivia: I almost applied to be on Season 2 of that show. Seriously.) Molly wasn't able to join us because she's half a state away, finishing up her first year of college. Henry, who is now 17 and a junior in high school, was there. And so was William, who was just a bean-sized embryo when Charlie started kindergarten. He's now almost 15. They are all taller than me. One of them by a whole foot.

I was there, too. In all my ashy glory.

Yep. Yes! It happened to me, just like my wise friend had said it would. I too became a pile of ashes. Somehow, when I wasn't looking, someone pressed fast-forward on my life and the children grew up. My raven hair turned about fifty shades of gray and those once smooth, young hands that held all that paperwork are now kind of crinkly and adorned with what I call big freckles but what realistic people call age spots. Don't misunderstand: I still volunteer, to this day, when I can. But it's not with the fiery eagerness I once had. Now I do it because I know in a few years, there won't be any more opportunities. There won't be any more picture days or lost and found to be sorted. My red-hot enthusiasm has been replaced with an ashy sense of obligation, and the sober realization that this time in the lives of my children...this time in my life...is finite. And unlike that pregnant, dewy-complected youthful mama who stood in the hallway outside of the kindergarten rooms 16 years ago, this plump, legging-and-long, flowy cardigan wearing mama can see the edge.

~~~~

The smell hit me before I saw it. My dog was pulling me down a path at one of our local parks. It was the acrid remnants of a recent fire, thick in the air. We traversed a long bend in the path and came upon a little pond, the home to wood ducks in the summer and fall. Instead of the tall grasses and weeds which normally encircle the pond, there was a ring of scorched earth. Nothing was left save for a few singed stumps and several small clusters of rocks. Because I am Gladys Kravitz, nosy neighborhood nature photographer, I snapped a pic with my phone.


When I got home, I posted the picture on Facebook and asked if any of my landscaping-savvy friends could clue me in as to why someone would incinerate this little peaceful area. God forbid I do anything rational, like call the city and ask, right? That would entail speaking to another human. As I figured, I got my answer almost immediately. A friend who works in the forestry field told me:

It's most likely a controlled burn. They do that to clear out all of the old, weedy plants from the past season. It makes it easier for the new season's plants to grow. Don't worry, Gladys, it's all good!

Okay, so I added the Gladys part. But I thought about what my forester friend had written.

It makes it easier for the new season's good plants to grow.

Motherhood is a controlled burn, isn't it? That's what my Older Mom friend was telling me, all those years ago. We start out as green as a new blade of grass, flexible and full of vim and vigor and collagen. Burnout isn't a fair word, if you ask me. That implies someone tiring of something, smoldering unattended until there's nothing left.

No. I like controlled burn so much better. Because that's what happens. It's a natural progression, one you can't understand...hell, you don't want to understand until the day comes when you look down and realize that time has been preparing you for the next season.

That pile of ashes you see, the one with the grayish hair and the dog-fur sprinkled Old Navy leggings? That's me. I'm one of those Older Moms now. I am trying so hard to avoid being the creepy one who sidles up to you and glazes your eyeballs with my stories that begin with "Back when I was your age". Sometimes I slip up though, and catch myself tipping my head back like I'm a giant Pez dispenser, only instead of candy you get nuggets of Older Mom wisdom.

Please be patient with me. You see, it's scary just like that first day of kindergarten. Scary, and exciting. I don't know what to expect anymore. Time has taught me to never become complacent, to never stop anticipating the big thunderclap of change. I look back at the picture of my three kids and me, four if you count William the fetus. Knowing what the future holds for that woman and her kids almost knocks me on my ashy ass. Not knowing what the future holds for that woman now?

It's keeping me on my ashen toes. 

Love to all of those piles of ashes who went before me, and to those who will follow in our sooty-footsteps. Here's to our new seasons.


3/31/15

The Box

When we moved out of our old house, we did so in a hurry. It wasn't a lengthy, well thought-out process involving movers and special crates and lots of careful packing. Our belongings were thrown into a hodgepodge of cardboard boxes and then into the backs of various cars driven by a throng of helpful friends. Most of my furniture bears scars from the hasty exodus: chips and dents and scratches, a large spot of motor oil on my quilted box spring cover. That's what happens when a desperate woman flees a house so far underwater it may have well been a submarine.

Now, five years later, we are home. The kids say that this is our real house because "all of our good memories" are here. I think they're downplaying just how much of our old house still lives in us, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe they're keeping the good stuff from that house somewhere safe for now. Maybe five years isn't long enough to forget how difficult it is to be uprooted.

Since my physical in January, the one where I found out I'm remarkably healthy but also a little fat, I've been enjoying daily walks with the dog. Through snow and slush and now mud and sun, every day Walter and I head out. We go between 3 1/2 and 6 miles at a stretch, depending on how much time I have and how long the sun stays up. 

Lately, we've been meandering down around our old neighborhood. Not through it, no...but skirting it. Walter strains at the leash when we get close. He pulls me towards our former street, like he has urgent business ahead. But something stops me, just shy of the sidewalk that would take us straight there, right up to the yard I used to tend. I can't even look, I avert my eyes as if the neighborhood is an old lover I left on bad terms. 

"No, Walter" I say to him, as he plants his paws stubbornly into the path. "Not yet. I can't." He looks at me and I swear to God his eyes are judging. If he could talk he'd tell me what a psycho I am. He'd tell me to get over it, to grow a set for Christ's sake. But I can't. And so we turn left instead of right, and walk away. 

*****

William has claimed what was once my office as his bedroom. It's a funky little room, with 50's style wood paneling covering the walls and the ceiling. There's a built in dresser and cabinet, and a small closet. Back when we first moved in, the closet became a catch-all place for things I knew I had to keep, but didn't want to see. So there are old art projects from the kids, eBay inventory I never got around to selling, some old photography equipment of mine. And, there's a box. 

The box was one of dozens given to me by a neighbor all those years ago, a neighbor who worked in a grocery store. She supplied me with large, cardboard produce boxes, which were perfectly suited for my "stuff 'em and run" moving method. Nice and roomy, but not too big, they had handles on the sides and were sturdy. 

William is entering that magical adolescent period of time known as The Great Awakening, when teenage boys begin showering, applying product to their hair and caring about what they're wearing. He had some new clothes and since this was The Great Awakening, he decided the new clothes deserved to be hung up instead of piled haphazardly in eternally-open drawers or worse, piled on the floor. So, he was cleaning out the closet one night, and carried this particular box out into the living room. "Where should I put this?" he asked, holding it by the handles and using one knee to balance it. 

The box was red. There was a cartoonish apple on the side, along with the brand name, Superfresh Growers. I eyed the box, and noting the binders and notebooks, decided it was probably full of old tax paperwork and other miscellaneous office flotsam I'd been unsure about throwing away five years ago. Although I dreaded the idea of poring through ancient financial history, the thought of my teenager giving enough of a shit about something that he was cleaning moved me to say, "Put it down here, on the coffee table. I'll take care of it." I moved the remotes and the laptop out of the way, and the red box was placed in front of me. The apple was shiny. Superfresh.

*****

Our brains are funny things. They are basically gray, mushy blobs which enable us to see and think and breathe and move. But they are also museums. Only not the kind of museum you have to walk through slowly and quietly, being very careful to not touch anything or get caught with a look on your face which might reveal that you think some of what you're seeing could have been created by a toddler armed with a paintbrush and a sugar high.

The museum in my brain is crowded with sounds and sights and smells. There are dark hallways and trapdoors and rooms without windows. I try to avoid those places because I'm the kind of person who will get lost in them, who will sit down among the cobwebs and the dust and let the darkness swallow me whole. I wasn't even thinking about my brain or museums as I sat down in front of the box. And then, as I began sifting through the vinyl binders and the crinkled manila envelopes, it started. The door to the museum creaked open and I wandered in.

This wasn't just a box. It was a portal, my own personal TARDIS that took me back, five years and before that. There, in that envelope? The papers in there represented a home equity line of credit. Dated just a year before my husband left me, with our signatures nestled snugly next to each other, together at the bottom. Oh, the things we were going to do with that windfall! The new kitchen, the new patio! The potential for so much newness was practically jumping off the pages. I didn't know it back then, but that line of credit was going to finance my husband's new life. And also, a shopping spree at the Coach store for his girlfriend.

Oh, and in that binder there? The blue one? Our original mortgage. The OG of our debt. I thumbed through the stack inside and felt the bony hands of the past pulling at me. Claws digging into my arms, dragging me down into the cellar of my museum. 

The box had more to show me. I found our second mortgage, and underneath that, two battered notebooks. I flipped open one of the notebooks and saw my handwriting, columns of scrawled numbers and words. Ahh. It came back to me, then. After he left, this was how I kept track of money and bills. Row after row of pluses and (mostly) minuses:

Charlie- lunch money  -$40.00
Molly- lunch money     -$40.00
Target                         -$56.00
Visa                            -$135.00
Countrywide Mort.    -$1,150.00

The words were scribbled and written in all sorts of shades of blue and red and even green. Some of it was written with colored pencils. I noticed then: even my handwriting looked terrified.

This box in front of me was a collection of milestones. Not sweet milestones, the kind you look back upon and smile fondly...no, these were awful milestones, shitty ones: past due notices, bills, a foreclosure notice. It was a box of sadness. A box chock full of betrayal and intentional fuckery.

I was deep in the bowels of the museum now, the living room around me had faded away and I was back in the old house. Hunched over the notebook, trying to figure out how I was going to stretch that $500 dollars out for another week. Trying to decide what I could cancel or cut or disconnect....



Apparently five years isn't long enough to erase the memories, to scrub the walls of the museum clean. I felt it that night, sitting there in front of the box. I touched the pages of the notebook and strands of worry wound up and encircled my fingers. My breath became shorter and goddammit, tears threatened. I started to get mad again, mad at that man and what he did and sad for me and so, so sorry for what the kids went through. And then, I turned the page and saw this:



"I love my mom" it says. There, amidst the wreckage of an old life, something beautiful. A child had picked up a pencil and then drew a picture. "I love my mom".

I smiled. Faint shafts of light appeared on the museum walls, and as I studied the drawing I found myself back in our living room. The bad feelings were scurrying away, back to the murky recesses they'd crawled out from. All of the other papers were tucked away, out of sight and out of mind, sheathed in their binders and folders and envelopes.

Back into the box.


*****







3/15/15

The Landslide of Forgetting



It dawned on me in the toddler toilet-training aisle at Target, of all places. I was looking for a baby shower gift and was wandering through the baby section with a somewhat-annoyed 14 year old boy walking a safe distance behind me. He was mumbling something about "when can we go" and "you promised you wouldn't do this" and "you owe me Taco Bell now" (oh how I love when they tell me what I owe them. Someday I might type up a bill for services rendered and hand it over).

It was there in the sea of grinning cartoon characters and ohmygod so much chevron. A little section of those padded mini toilet seats you stick over the regular one. I pulled one down off of the display hook and held it for a second (really the only time it's okay to do so without rubber gloves and a surgical mask). I expected a flood of memories to wash over me, and was kind of disappointed when all I got was some fuzzy snapshots of little legs dangling from the big potty, and a muffled clip of hands clapping while a young mommy voice cheered "GOOD JOB".

The teenager was beside me then, the mumbling ceased momentarily. "Do you remember, William?" I asked him. "We had a seat just like this for all of you to use when you were little." He regarded the seat, and a small smile inchwormed across his face. "Yeah" he said, clear as a bell. "It was soft. I totally remember that." We sat there for a second, and if anyone had glanced over they would have seen an unusual sight: middle aged-mother and tall, gangly teen son, smiling at a toilet seat.

"I can't remember what ours looked like." I finally said. "All I can recall are bright colors and cartoony faces. What did ours look like?" William pursed his lips, thought about it and then replied, "I don't know." I put the miniature seat back on its hook and as we continued on down the aisle it began to bug me.

That seat had a spot, front and center, in the bathroom of our home for a good seven years. Four tiny tushies did their business on it countless times. God only knows how much time I spent cleaning it.

And here I was, well over a decade later, wracking my brain to remember. The teenager offered up a few suggestions: "Maybe it was Disney characters" he offered. "No!" I replied, because I remembered one thing for certain and that was I abhorred Disney characters on my kid's things. Don't even get me started on the cloyingly pastel baby versions of Mickey, Goofy, et al. Gah.

As we made our way to the infant-wear section, we batted ideas back and forth. Barney? Dear Lord. No. William suggested that maybe there weren't characters on it at all. Maybe just colorful shapes? Nah. There were forms, not human, but figures with heads and eyes and I think, limbs. Dammit.

Why was this bugging me so much? Gnawing at my brain, pinching my mind. "I know!" I announced, standing there in the middle of racks adorned with soft footed sleepers and eensy weensy outfits. "I'll call Molly." Molly is 19 and is a freshman in college. She possesses a keen recollection of days gone by, and also, millions more brain cells than me.

So there we stood, in Target, the again-restless boy shifting his weight from one foot to another while his mother called a girl in a dorm room 300 miles away.

Molly answered, and when I asked her what was hands down the most inane question, ever, she answered immediately:

"Sesame Street."

Boom. Yes. I saw it again, those maniacally happy heads of Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster floating on a vinyl sea of white. There had been a removable plastic shield to catch the spray from the little boys (and hello, any way we can invent a giant spray-catcher for older boys??). I could see it there in our old little bathroom in our old little house, leaning up against the vanity waiting for the next toddler-sized offering, the next round of applause from a long ago version of me.

I thanked Molly and we laughed about potty seats and olden days. William and I finished up our shopping trip (gift card for the expectant mommy, because sensory overload for me). Our brief trip down memory lane ended and life continued on as usual.

Sometime later, maybe that evening, maybe the next day, I thought about all the other bits and pieces of the past I've forgotten. How many toddler outfits I'd loved, with their matching hats and socks, that are now obliterated from my memory banks. What was the book Henry had begged me to read at beditme for months on end? What truck did Charlie absolutely lose his shit over when we left it at the park that time? Toddler Molly used to have a collection of pacifiers, but only one would lull her to sleep. What did it look like??

My children are getting older, and to quote Stevie Nicks, I'm getting older too. The minutiae of our day to day life, those old timey days when I was so busy with four little kids who were constantly challenging me and a house that always seemed just a bit too small and a bit too messy...those things I thought I'd never be able to forget are now forgotten. Like the Diaper Genie and the booster seats and adorably adorable wee backpacks they'd proudly donned for those first days of kindergarten, they served their purposes and then faded into oblivion.

For a while there I was unsure whether or not I'd be able to handle all of it, the changes that were happening at a breakneck pace. The round faces giving way to cheekbones and whiskers, the hormones and the new friends and the late nights no longer spent wishing they'd go to sleep but wishing they'd get home. Graduations, proms and FAFSA forms and shopping for dorm bedding. It hit me, hard, exactly like a landslide and I didn't know if I'd survive. I mean, the kid who once had me crying with worry because he pushed a little girl over with his chubby three-year-old hands in the sandbox is now a junior in college who can stop at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine for me before he comes home to visit. (note: the sandbox incident did not result in a future bully and/or a life of crime)

But the thing is: just as the children have grown, so have I. After the initial shock of it all, that moment when I could no longer deny the seasons of my life were changing? It became painfully, beautifully clear.

I can handle it. And I remember just enough.



3/7/15

Oddball Crushes Part 3: Chef Turns Up The Heat

I watched the movie "Chef" a few weeks ago. With my 14 year old son. And we both loved it. The story was familiar and basic, which some of my friends said was a turnoff for them. For me, though? The entire movie was a major TURN-ON. Yes, I'm shouting.

What wasn't to love? The food...oh sweet Daniel snoring with the lions, the food! I've never had a Cuban sandwich, but am now on a quest to find one (here in Minnesota, though, because there is zero chance of me going to Florida anytime soon). The soundtrack? Muy awesome. It includes a cover of the Marvin Gaye song "Sexual Healing" by a group called "Hot 8 Brass Band" that now resides on my iTunes playlist 'Sexy Time'. Yes, that's a real playlist and no, it's not used very often. I'm thinking the marching-band sound might be hysterical when paired with lovemaking, though. So watch out world, if you hear the sound of tubas and snare drums emanating from my bedroom, please don't knock. Here's the song (and my apologies to mobile readers, I can't get videos to work for you):




So yeah. The food and the music were reason alone to watch the movie. But there were three more reasons, at least for me.

Three, yes THREE of my favorite Oddball Crushes are in this movie. One is usually great! Two? Guaranteed to keep me watching til the end credits roll. But three? Three means I get excited when I know all the kids will be elsewhere for the evening so I can make a martini and watch it again, in the dark.

For those of you who are new to this blog, or who haven't had the time (or emotional strength) to go back through the archives of crazy, "Oddball Crush" is what I call it when you have impure thoughts or lustful feelings towards a person who doesn't fit the typical Hollywood mold of attractive. I first wrote about it back in 2010 in a post called "My Odd Taste In Men", and then again last year in "Oddball Crushes Part Deux".

Not that I don't appreciate your more typical Beautiful Person. I can spend hours stalking Shemar Moore online and not break a sweat. I've even gone so far as to program my phone to address me as "Baby Girl", which any die-hard Shemar stalker fan knows is what he calls his lady groupies (it's also what his character on Criminal Minds calls the uber-quirky and also oddball-crush-worthy Penelope Garcia).

Now if we could just get Shemar to join with Apple and become the new voice of Siri my life would be complete. Finally.

And in case you have no idea who I'm talking about here:


There's something to be said for those who have been hit with the pretty stick a few times.

But man...I love me some quirk. Give me a little paunch here, a snaggletooth there, a receding hairline or a prominent beak. Character, people. Character is SEXY.

And Chef had it. Chef presented me with a three-way oddball mashup, a trifecta of quirky fantasy boyfriends:

                                                                           

He is often eating in this movie. Which is exciting to me.


First off, we have Jon Favreau. Please tell me you've seen Swingers? If you haven't, let me know. I will find a way for you to watch it. I have the DVD here and will gladly sit on the couch with you and take it in. Take it allll in, you beautiful babies. Swingers introduced me to two pretend boyfriends. Vince Vaughn (so young and so skinny!) and Jon Favreau. In the almost 20 years since Swingers came out, Jon has forged a pretty decent career: writing and directing and acting in everything from Elf to Wall Street Wolf to Zathura. But most recently, he wrote, directed and acted in Chef. In this movie, he's a little chubby, he sweats a lot and he has that cliched but still awesome knife tattoo that we see several versions of every season on Top Chef. Nobody plays determined sad guy like Favreau.

Oddballs are often seen wearing jaunty hats.

Next up in the trio of OC (oddball crushes) is John Leguizamo. He's been in a million movies and done a bunch of voice work (Sid the slot in the Ice Age movies). He even played Luigi in the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, which I will admit to seeing (mother of three boys, hello).

LOL. And also, RIP Bob Hoskins.


John L. gets the oddball nod because like a lot of them, he's played villains. He was the guy who shot Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry, people! While he isn't super quirky or paunchy or anything like that, he's usually cast as a screw up or someone's flaky brother. He's also about 5'6", which does put him in Pocket Person range, too. I think it might be the voice that does it for me. Whatever, he floats my boat and did it again in Chef.

In Chef, he plays a sorta-asshole. Which only adds points, in my book.

The third jewel in this Oddball Triple Crown is Oliver Platt. I first felt stirrings over this moon-faced actor way back in 1990, while watching the movie Flatliners. While my friends were squirming in their seats over Billy Baldwin, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland, I was sitting there thinking, "I'd totally make out with the smart one. His lips look super juicy."

It takes a strong oddball to stand tall next to Billy Baldwin.
I also loved him as the husband in the Showtime series The Big C, opposite one of my favorite lady-crushes, Laura Linney. It's worth mentioning that The Big C was one of a handful of t.v. shows which absolutely gutted me with the series finale. Not unlike Six Feet Under, which coincidentally starred a classic OC, Richard Jenkins. 

Chef also features Robert Downy Jr. but he's not an OC so we won't delve into him right now. There's also Sofia Vergara but she's so opposite of oddball that inanimate objects like sticks and batteries think she's hot. She's not a lady crush of mine. Yet.

So there you have it. Sexy marching band music, food porn and three oddballs. I loved this movie and highly recommend it. Word of warning, though: if you tend to like the Oddballs, you will most likely end up horny and hungry after watching it and if you're like me, you'll satisfy both of these urges with a thick grilled cheese sandwich. Therefore I recommend a quick trip to the market beforehand to make sure you have plenty of cheese, bread and butter.

Bon appetit, my friends.







3/1/15

Happy Hair: Stream of Consciousness Sunday



The third grader regarded me, her head tilted, eyes squinted.

"You look different today, Miss Jenny" she said. I raised an eyebrow and asked her: "How so?"

Again with the tilted head and squinted eyes. She looked at me, hard. Trying to figure out what wasn't sitting right.

Finally, she spoke:

"It's your hair. That's what's wrong."

Gah. My hair. My Michelle Duggar/Hagrid love-child mop that sits on my head. It is, on the best of days, wavy and curly and soft. On the other 363 days of the year, it is a frizzy mess, several (but not fifty) shades of gray. And dark brown. And red. And Bozo the Clown orange.

My hair is almost always what's wrong.


I didn't say any of this to the child. She's young and doesn't need to know the stream of crazy that floats through my head all the live-long day. Instead, I smiled at her and asked:

"What's wrong with it?"

She was now facing her friends at the lunch table, focusing more on her sandwich than me. She turned and looked at me and said:

"Normally your hair looks happy. Today it looks kind of sad."

Happy hair! Oh how I loved hearing that. And that smart little girl. She was right. My hair has been looking sad as of late. I'm way overdue for a date with a box of dark brown hair color. Like, OMG my hair is freaking WHITE overdue. It's almost turned into a little experiment. How long can I go without coloring it, I wonder? Before people start asking me if I'm going to let it just go gray? Before the kids at school stop gasping and asking me if I'm aware that there is white hair on my head?

I have friends who eschewed the dyeing thing a long time ago. My best pal, Danielle, has a halo of pewter that is absolutely breathtaking. Sometimes I pretend there's something in her hair just so I can have an excuse to feel it. I'm always shocked that it isn't warm to the touch, like molten silver.

Another friend of mine, Maggie, has what she refers to as "tinsel" framing her face. It's perfect in placement, like someone actually took a brush dipped in sparkling silver paint and delicately dabbed the strands surrounding her beautiful mug. Her killer eyelashes and huuuuge brown eyes are highlighted by the tinsel.

There's a mom at school, who is much younger than me who has a head full of deep silver/gray hair. It's straight and absolutely perfect. I always want to compliment her on it, ask how long it took her to get it all that singular, swingy color. But I don't want to be that one creepy employee at her kid's school. You know the one...She Who Watches The Parents. And then talks to them.

I tried taking a selfie last night, so I could see what my own burgeoning crown of white looked like from a perspective that's different from my bathroom mirror. To my horror I discovered that it kind of makes me look like I'm going bald. Also, I might need bangs.

Today is Sunday. I have a million things I need to do: Go to the Home and Garden Show, pick a kid up and drop another one off, meet with two friends to plan a baby shower (yes, a baby shower, can you handle that??). Plus it's Walking Dead night. But I'm going to set aside a half hour or so, and spend some quality time with Loreal's Deep Soft Mahogany Brown. And maybe take a look at my checking account to see if there's room for a haircut in there.

Because if the hair isn't happy, nobody's happy.


Still reading? Thank you. This is my second stab at "Stream of Consciousness Sunday", hosted by blogger extraordinaire Fadra Nally. Five minutes of writing, no editing allowed! Check it out!

2/22/15

Sloppy Seconds: Stream of Consciousness Sunday

Take a gander at my new lunch box!


Isn't it cute? It even has my last name embroidered on the other side. In big letters! How it came to be my new lunch box is kind of a funny story.

The kids spent a few hours with their dad on Christmas Day. That's how it's been for the past few years. In the early days post-divorce, we adhered to the decree pretty faithfully (which goes to show it's never too late to start being faithful!). Holidays were divvied up on an odd/even year schedule. After a while, though, the holiday visits went the way of the weekends and two-dinners a week: kaput. So, overnights at Christmas became 11-5. Fine, though...they're spending time with him, with their stepmom and their half-brother. That's all that matters, right?

So a day or two after Christmas, I was standing in the doorway of Molly's bedroom. She was showing me the gifts she'd received from her dad. She got a pair of Uggs! I was secretly relieved about this one. I'd been searching the world over (okay, mostly on Amazon) and had decided that Uggs were out of my price range. So, yay for Molly, right? And might I say, good call, Big Daddy and Secretary. Actually, let's be honest here and say good call Secretary. I was married to him for 13 years, people. I know who does the shopping.

I noticed the black and white lunch box then, and picked it up. Our last name was stitched on the side, so big and proud. "This is cute!" I said to my daughter, as I examined the tote. "Yeah" she said. "Secretary gave it to me. She said she never used it and asked if I wanted it. I just said yes to be nice. You want it?"

Now, had this exchange happened a few years ago, this is how it would have panned out: I'd have picked up the bag with two fingers, like it was a stiff, smushed squirrel corpse my dog had deposited on the deck. I would have made some sort of comment, maybe along the lines of 'oh how sweet of her! She's such a generous soul' and then I'd have thrown it away.

But time heals all wounds, and it also mellows angry ex-wives. I did let myself delve into a moment of snark, and envisioned Secretary getting this lunch tote as a gift. "Oh for cute!" I imagined her saying, holding the tote up for all of the other people at this imaginary gift opening event, "Look, it has my new last name on it! To die for! Thank you so much, Kassidy!". Because I imagine her talking like an aging Valley Girl and also hanging out with women who are named Kassidy.

After that moment passed, I took my new lunch box into the kitchen and plopped it into the pantry with the other insulated bags. I mentally patted myself on the back for having grown up so much, for becoming a bigger and better person who doesn't let past hurts and insults bleed through into today.

Molly came into the kitchen then, holding a little box in her hand. "Here" she said, handing it over to me, "she gave me this candle, too. I don't want it." I inspected the box, and found a lovely little Thymes candle inside. I'm a candle junkie, and although this wasn't a Fresh Linen scented one, I took it.

Later that day I lit the candle, and let the fragrance of "Kimono Rose" fill the living room. I think, though, that there was an underlying note. Kinda smelled like "Questionable Morals". Or maybe it was "Marriage Built on Lies". Whatever it was, it was pretty and helped mask the smell of big dog and bigger teenagers. Win/win.

Baby steps, folks.



Thanks a bunch to one of my favorite blogger friends, Nicole of "Sisters From Another Mister" for the heads-up. Join another one of my blogging idols, Fadra Nally, for these Sunday Stream of Consciousness posts. Five minutes, and no editing? Gah. Good times, ladies!

2/18/15

How Dare You Call Yourself A Single Parent!

Are you a single parent?

Careful how you answer. Some people are very protective of the term "single parent" and take great offense to those who throw that particular parenting label around all willy nilly.

Little known fact about me: although I loathe reading the comments on articles I've written, I love reading them everywhere else. And if I'm in a funk, or PMSing? I will sometimes take out my passive aggressions in these comment sections. Many times I'll type out my snarky comeback and then go back and delete it. Sometimes I let it stay.

A few weeks ago I was perusing the comment section on a post that appeared on Scary Mommy. You know how much I love me some Scary Mommy, right? Well, her corner of the internet is one of my most favorite places to perch when I'm feeling bitchy. I don't know why, but aside from HuffPost Women, her site draws some of the most wonderfully whackadoo people right outta the woodwork. And when they decide to let their opinions be known, I'm right there with a spoon ready to eat it up.

The post in question was a lovely piece written by a woman who shares 50/50 custody of her kids with her ex. It was a well-written essay, straightforward and blissfully to-the-point. The comment section was pretty even-keeled, almost completely full of support and sympathy. Lots of support from women who are in this same custody situation, others who are about to be, and some from people who grew up as 50/50 kids.

And then, there was this one:




Now, I get this person's point...to a point. If there were such a thing as a Parent Label Police, they might get twitchy if someone who shares custody of their angels calls what they're doing "single parenting". But can you still call yourself a single parent? You're single, right? And you're a parent, correct? Then it seems to be perfectly legit to call yourself a Single Parent.

Not so fast, people. Not just any average Joe or Jody gets to call themselves a Single Parent. Just ask this person:




Ahhh. Okay. So those who have 100% custody are the only ones allowed to call themselves Single Parents. Got it. (at this point I removed the tiny silver hoops from my ears, handed them to my dog and said, 'Shit is about to get real, Walter. Hold these.')

Only, no.

Nope. I don't agree. And I had some company in the NOPE DON'T AGREE camp:



I might have been PMSing. And I might also love a good 16 Candles reference.

So, Jamie and I both felt the same way, along with a couple others. And then, this:



This is where I had to leave the conversation. Not only because she'd already used two of my least favorite interweb phrases, "just sayin" and "sorry not sorry", and I was concerned that her next move would be telling someone they'd "won the internet". Because I wanted to reply to Alison, and really lay it out there for her. I knew my reply would be defensive and bitchy, and I'd already used up my one Long Duck Dong quote.

I wanted to let Alison, and anyone else who gets possessive and pissy about what someone else chooses to call themselves know, that I wasn't about to suck anything up. Sorry not sorry? Please.

I understand where people who think like this are coming from. They are most likely calling in from Planet Literal and think that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it's most likely a duck. They believe that unless you are really, truly a SINGLE parent, meaning that your child has no other parent who exists on the earth, you cannot claim that title. My friends Rachael and Nancy, both widows? Yes. They are single parents.

But guess what? So am I. And I will continue to call myself a single parent until the day comes when I'm no longer single (please, nobody hold your breath). Why? You know I'm going to tell you why, right?

I'm a single parent because when I am actively participating in this thing called Parenting, I do it alone. Oh, I have a village, no doubt. There are friends and teachers and bosses and extended family involved from time to time. But the nitty gritty of it? The sometimes mind-numbing, emotionally taxing, daily-grind things? I do those all by myself. And have done so, all by myself, since the father of my children went out for coffee and signed a lease on an apartment ten years ago.

Even back in the days when the kids were with him during his allotted parenting time (every other weekend and two nights per week) , I was a single parent. Yes, he was somewhat active and involved, but I WAS A SINGLE PARENT. When his interest in parenting our kids began to wane, and their visits with him dwindled down to what they are now (six hours on Christmas, with a few random outings here and there throughout the year), there was no question about it. I was a single parent.

My situation is different from some of yours. Some of you do the 50/50 split. Some of you see your kids on the weekends. Some of you see them even less than that, for a myriad of reasons. But here's the deal: all of you, whether you're surrounded by kids on the daily or you Skype with them before bedtime a few nights a week...if you're single, and you're a parent, YOU ARE A SINGLE PARENT.

I don't understand why someone would get all territorial and nutty about something as silly as a label, to the extent that they make a public proclamation about who has the rights to it. It's not like the Single Parent Commission is going door to door, checking out the hours you've logged solo parenting and getting verification that the person you procreated with is either dead and buried or off the grid. What's next? The Single Parent Olympics, wherein we all try to prove that we are the singlest parent of all? I can see it now:

And here we have Jenny from the United States. She's been down with the flu for the past three days when BOOM young William announces that his backpack broke and he needs a new one by tomorrow. She's been training her whole life for this moment, folks, and we get to witness her in all of her single parenting glory. There she goes, bathed in fever-sweat and the funk of sickness, stumbling into Dick's Sporting Goods at 8:00 p.m. on a school night. OOOOH did you see that? That indifferent employee sent Jenny and her son to the wrong area of the store to find the elusive drawstring backpack. Folks, we apologize for the salty language you may have heard. This is a live event.

You know why I dragged my sweaty, feverish, aching body into a sporting goods store that night? Because I do this parenting thing on my own. Because my kid's backpack finally broke (we'd made do by tying one broken strap for a while because that's just how we do here) and he needed a new one. Because I couldn't stay wrapped up in my smelly cocoon of blankets, taking shots of Delsym and having weird, acid-trippy dreams. There was no other parent at home to pick up the slack, no husband or partner to pat my moist forehead and coo to me, "You stay here and sleep. I'll take him to the store for a new backpack." (well, actually there was, and it was Mayhem from the Allstate commercials. But that might have been one of those aforementioned trippy dreams.)

I did it because I'm William's mom. I'm his parent. Does he have another parent? Yes, he does. In fact, his other parent lives about 2 miles away. I actually asked William to call this other parent and ask if he'd pick up the slack this time, but William protested and since it was getting late I just did as I have done for all these years...I parented. He took advantage of my fever-fog and managed to wrangle a $30.00 pair of Nike shorts out of the deal too. Young William has learned a thing or two, it appears. I hope they're edible, boy.

I'm going to put a cap on my rant now. I don't care what you call yourself. JazzHands McGee Mom? Perfect. PeterPickledPepper Parent? Yay! Solo parent, co-parent, parallel parent, partnered parent, Netflix parent, yada yada yada. It's not like we're going to have this crap engraved on our tombstones. Feeling threatened and trying to out-single other parents who are in this same boat does nothing for our so-called cause.

No matter what your status as a parent is: whether you're happily married, kinda-happily married, partnered up without the paperwork, or like me, doing it on your own, there is really just one simple objective. To do the best you can. I think that's something we can all agree on, right?

"A parent by any other name would smell as tired." William Shakespeare (sort of)

2/9/15

My Prayers For The Single Parent

I'm not a religious person. I was born into the Methodist church, married into the Lutheran one and spent over a decade teaching Sunday school and leading Confirmation groups. At the moment, we are in between churches. In between religions, maybe. The older I get, the more I wonder about higher powers and God and heaven. I question things of a spiritual ilk, but always keep an open mind. Because one thing I've learned in my 48 years on this planet? A closed mind gets stale and stuffy like a windowless room on a baking hot day.

It's my open mind that tells me it's okay to pray. Who am I praying to? God? Maybe. Maybe I'm praying to the ocean or the stars or the spirit of Nora Ephron. Who knows. But I do pray, and quite often. I pray for my children, for my family and for my friends. I pray for the people who live in parts of the world that are being torn apart by war and hate. I pray for animals and ignorant people and the environment. I pray that I get the green lights on the way home and I pray that cancer gets cured and I pray for the strength to avoid eating all of the leftover cheesy bread on pizza night.

Today, I'm praying for single parents. I've been on my own with my kids for over 8 years and I know just how hard it is. I also know that there are moments of intense beauty and happiness and that finding these moments can be difficult at first. I know that at times it seems like you're the only one feeling these emotions, the only one strapped into this insane roller-coaster of a life. And I want to let other single parents know...they aren't alone.

I pray that you, my fellow single parents, find the reserves in your wells of patience and humor. These two resources will be key in your life from now on. When you find yourself at the end of the day, exhausted and frustrated and overwhelmed with nobody to discuss Bobby's acne or Janie's speech delay or the fact that the damn washing machine is making that weird noise again...you will need to draw upon these two things.

I pray that you learn to like, maybe even love, the many hats you're going to be wearing on this journey. You are the breadwinner, the head-of-household, the rule enforcer and the privilege-taker. You're the appointment maker and prescription-filler, the laundress and the chef, the mechanic and the handyman. It's going to suck at first, honestly. Not gonna lie. Your list of to-do's is going to outnumber the hours in your day. But guess what? Somehow, you figure it out. I don't know how it happens, but you just do. You find the extra thirty minutes you need, you scrape up an additional $100 at the end of the month and you create a whole new realm of time management and you get stuff done.

I pray that you come to know the love of good friends. Supportive friends. Friends who may or may not know what you're going through, but are there when you need them. Friends who circle the wagons around you, friends who have your back. Friends who are there with a shoulder to cry on or a pitcher of margaritas when you get one of those rare free nights.

I pray, too, that when you find yourself being judged or stereotyped or shunned (all of which might happen, unfortunately), you remember exactly how strong and how brave and how flexible you've become. Whether you're facing a teacher who thinks kids of single parents are inherently troubled or a fellow baseball mom who looks at you with a weird mixture of fear and loathing, I pray you are able to let it roll off your back.

I pray that if you find yourself in a bind, and need to ask for help, that you are able to do so without shame or embarrassment. I pray that you are able to get the assistance you need, and I also pray that someday, when you're able? You get to know how good it feels to be able to give back.

I pray that if your kids have another parent who is still around, they are involved in their lives. And if the other parent isn't around, or doesn't want to be involved and there is animosity or anger or grief in your heart? I pray that you're able to find peace and forgiveness and acceptance. Parenting is hard when you're doing it solo, even more difficult when you're dragging a grudge behind you as well. (please note that this one can take a while...be patient)

I pray that you figure out whether or not you want or need another partner in life. I pray that if you do decide to join forces with another, that it's good and kind and loving, not only for you but for your children as well. I pray that if you've chosen to stay single for the time being, you learn the difference between being alone and being lonely. Sometimes it's hard to differentiate between the two, but they are as opposite as night and day. I also pray that if you discover all you need is someone to scratch that itch every once in a while, you find someone who is on the same page and that it's a mutually beneficial thing. Hey, we're single. Not dead.

And most of all, I pray that you get some good sleep, stay in good health and experience good things. I pray that you remember to take care of yourself while taking care of your kids. You make sure to change the oil in your car, right? Do the same for your body and mind. I pray, too, that you show yourself the same grace you show others, that you are able to forgive yourself for screwing up once in a while. That you love yourself as hard and as tenderly as your kids love you.

I pray the same thing for you as I do for myself: that our kids end up as happy, productive people. People who had a parent who loved them, a parent who did the best they could.













2/4/15

Fat Shame Update

When I wrote "Fat Shame On Me", I was in a foul mood. I was pissed at myself. I was mad at my body and even more so at my mind. Only someone who has fought the battle of the bulge knows how it feels to be so tied up in that sticky web of feelings: so much anger at yourself, sadness about what a deep hole you've dug, embarrassment about the fact that unlike a smoker or drinker, your bad habits are on display for the world to see:

Step right up, folks, and take a gander at my Fat Suit! Yep, my once fit body is now encased in five year's worth of financial stress, relationship angst and parenting insanity. All those days I decided getting to the gym or out for a walk sounded like too much work? Behold my belly fat. The two or five tubs of artichoke dip from Costco that just happened to fall in the cart, along with the 500 oz. bag of pita chips? Let the wonder of my behemoth butt sink in.

Okay, I know. Harsh, right? But that's how I was feeling after stepping on the scale that night. I did a lot of moaning, even more weeping, and had some intense conversations with friends who have been down this path.

And then, I did something about it.

I made an appointment for a physical. I needed someone else to see what I was seeing, both on the scale and in the flesh. I needed numbers and advice and reassurance that it's not too late to do something to change. I needed a follow-up appointment so there's a date in the future that I can look forward to. I needed someone to hold me accountable.

I got all of that. Plus some.

Since I wrote that post, exactly three weeks ago, I've made efforts big and small. I've decided to become kinder to myself, to show my body the same consideration I show my children and my friends. I LOVE YOU, NO MATTER WHAT. I saw this quote making the rounds on facebook and instagram:


I decided that the fight I was having with my body was a lot like the ages-long fight I've been in with my ex-husband. My body, like my ex, could do no right. It was oafish and lame and despicable. It wasn't worthy of my time nor was it worthy of my love.

I'm not saying I love my ex-husband. What I'm saying is that I no longer hate him. And once that hate lifted, I noticed his existence was no longer like a rock in my shoe. I wasn't reminded of him every time I took a step. Even though he truly done me wrong, I decided to mentally forgive him so I could mentally move on.

My body deserves that, too. In fact, since I am stuck with this body, I think it deserves even more forgiveness, more grace and way more love than my ex-husband does. Bodies don't leave, you know. They tend to stick around.

For the past three weeks, I've been working hard. Walter (my dog) and I have been out every single day, for our beloved long walks. Between 3 and 5 miles at a time, these walks have done wonders for both of us. He no longer has the "I give up" look about him, and I am feeling the mental and physical benefits. I consider these walks the warm-up I need to get me ready to face the gym again. Yes, I am one of those people who are worried that I'm too fat to go to the gym (they've never seen overweight people at the YMCA, ya know).

(On this note: can we break away from the fat talk to discuss music? I need some song suggestions! Let me know your favorite workout music. It doesn't have to be fast paced or anything, believe it or not I get just as much out of a Natalie Merchant song as I do some of my favorite Public Enemy tunes. Hit me up, people. I have something like 400 songs in iTunes and I still find myself hitting "NEXT" all the time.)

The exercising part, while requiring boat-loads of motivation, is nowhere near the mental struggle that is THE EATING PART. I did decide to cut way, way back on the carby, starchy comfort foods that are my kryptonite. This is really hard, people, because not only am I a descendant of hearty, potato and beer loving Irish people, I live in a land that is cold and gray for six months out of the year. This is Minnesota, and it's February. We crave things like hash browns and Beef Stroganoff with wide noodles and bowls of pasta dripping with pesto. It's the time of year when I want to fill a bathtub with my famous mashed potatoes (secret ingredients: cream cheese and love), put on a scuba mask and eat my way through it.

So it's more protein, less carbs. I still need my vanilla granola on my yogurt, but when I make baked potatoes with dinner I make one less and instead roast up a ton of cauliflower or Brussels sprouts or butternut squash (yeah I'm sure one of those is a starch but BABY STEPS okay?). I am trying to keep grilled chicken on hand to chop up into salads, and have discovered that a bowl full of scrambled eggs with chicken sausage, spinach and extra sharp Vermont cheddar is just as good for dinner as it is for breakfast.

One of my awesome readers passed on some incredible Paleo information and has a blog of her own, Our Paleo Playbook, which I have been perusing in my spare time.

I've tried to stay off the scale because I know that those numbers can be a-holes. My weight can fluctuate 5 pounds from morning to night so those daily weigh-ins aren't the best motivators. What I have been doing is a weekly weight check, not unlike the days of Weight Watchers. I've even been taking pictures of the numbers, not for any sort of public flogging, but to let myself see some tangible proof that what I'm doing is having at least some effect. To give myself a timeline of sorts, to look at when I'm really struggling.

As of this morning, three weeks after that fateful wake-up moment in my bathroom and a little over a week after sitting in my doctor's office and facing my BMI...

There are 9 pounds less of me. It's not a Biggest Loser moment, there were no gasps from the audience and no trainer behind me pumping their fists in the air, but I did smile a little. And then, I looked in the big bathroom mirror and told that woman who was looking back at me two things.

"I'm proud of you" and

"I'm glad we're friends."



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