Mullet; exit stage left.

Where was I? Ben needed childcare...right. So if you know me in real life, you know that I am physically incapable of saying no when it comes to watching other people's kids. 99% of the time, it's not a big deal, in fact, it's a case of the more the merrier. The other 1% of the time? It turns into an uncomfortable situation.

This one started out all fine and dandy. By this time I had already met his kids, but he had yet to meet mine. So we decided to take the whole bunch out to dinner for a little getting to know you meet and greet. Ben and his kids were fond of this schlocky alien-themed restaurant here in Minneapolis, kind of like one of those Chuck E. Cheese places for grown ups? I forget the name, I always call it Ben and Jerry's but that's not right. Whatever. Not an integral part of the story..

So we got the whole gang together. Molly was immediately pissed that there was a new man in my life. She was (and still is) funny about "sharing" me with anyone else. I could tell that this new drain on my attention was not getting a favorable review from my girl. Henry and William seemed to be getting along with Ben's boy, but then again, we were surrounded by video games, big screen t.v.'s and french fries. I think they would have had a good time with Osama Bin Laden.

Then I did something that surprised even me. I suggested we do a big sleep over. Yeah, I know, pretty sharp change in direction for someone who balked at even letting her kids know she was dating. But what can I say...for a brief moment it felt so completely freeing to not have part of my life livable only during certain days on the calendar.

So the kids were thrilled, Ben and I were tingly at the prospect of spooning and canoodling on this, one of my forbidden weekends...the slumber party was on, baby.

At some point during that night I realized that Ben's son and my Henry did not get along. Ben just chalked it up to both of them being tired, but a mom knows when two socks don't match, if you catch my drift. I could see that they were going to be at each others throats more often than not, and I began to second-guess my decision to watch these kids.

Taking care of other people's children can be tricky. It's one thing if it's a playdate, a little get-together that you know can be quickly shortened if need be. It's also one thing when it's your friend's child/children and she needs some short-term or occasional help. It's something completely different when it's the child of someone you're sleeping with. There's always the thought of "what if", like, "What if we end up married and they have to live together??" or "What if my kids and his kids killing each other gets in the way of our relationship?". Stuff like that.

But I toughed this one out. It was ok, at first, Ben's kids joined us on our everyday activities. We went to the park, watched Charlie and Henry play park baseball, went to the beach, relaxed at home. Ben's daughter fell in love with Walter, and so she quickly became my walking buddy. She and I would take short walks with Walter, her holding the leash and me praying that Walter didn't catch sight of a squirrel or quivering blade of grass and drag this small child across any streets. I genuinely liked this little girl, and just writing about it now makes me a little sad. I hope she's doing well.

The boys, though, that was like a special kind of testosterone hell that appeared suddenly in my family room. Henry and Ben's son were like oil and water. And for every 10 minutes that they did get along harmoniously, there were at least 5 where I seriously worried about them injuring each other. And this wasn't a classic case of my sweet kid vs. his evil kid, oh no. I didn't sit there and think to myself that the guy who kept his inhaler on my nightstand was the father of savages and that my little blonde angel farted rainbows and kittens. No, I saw that this was a case of two kids who could be total dicks to each other, and usually were.

One week of Jenny's daycare stretched into two. Ben would come "home" after work, he'd make martinis or Manhattans or whatever and we'd sit back, drink up and chat about our days. It was eerily cozy, comfortable. I would ask if there was any word about the daycare situation, and Ben would just sort of brush it off, or say that he was waiting for a call, or that he was working with his ex-wife to see if they could arrange something. Then the novelty of this new domestic situation began wearing off...our everyday ebb and flow was staunched now, things like regular playdates and spontaneous outings weren't as easy as they had been when it was just my crew.

But anyway. So maybe it was the burgeoning resentment about the kids, or maybe it was the self-destruct timer that is installed on every one of my relationships, but my feelings towards Ben started to wane. Little things started to bug me, like the fact that he had to have a t.v. on while he slept. And the show that he liked to fall asleep to was Spongebob Squarepants.

Then there was the dinner with his boss.

Ben was invited out to dinner with his boss and his wife, and he asked me if I'd go with him. This was a big step in a fledgling relationship, and a big step for Ben, who was trying to work his way up in his small company. We met them at a decent restaurant and proceeded to have a long, fun evening filled with good food and of course lots of drinkies.

The waitress finally came up to our table and asked if we were ready for the bill. The boss man said, "You bet!" and then Ben said, with a straight face, "Can we get three separate checks?". At first I couldn't figure out what he meant by that, and then it hit me: the fucker wanted me to pay my share.

I just looked at him, I'm sure my expression was that of someone on Punk'd, before they knew crazy Ashton was lurking behind a table. There was a long, awkward silence and then the boss spoke up. "Ben, don't be ridiculous. It's on us!". I could see that even boss man and his wife were mortified over this total act of anti-chivalry, but Ben didn't seem to notice. He thanked them, I thanked them, and then we headed back to my house.

Ben didn't need his inhaler that night. I believe that was also the night that I expressed to him my true feelings about being lulled to sleep by Spongebob and Patrick. I hate falling asleep with the t.v. on, that's why God put sleep timers on our remotes. If you're going to fall asleep with the tube on, anyway, it had better be with something good playing. Like a "Dirty Jobs" marathon. If I'm going to have any t.v. personality jumping into my subconscious and playing in my dreams, I'd like it to be someone along the lines of Mike Rowe.

The final blow to this hausfrau/rocker romance happened a couple of weeks later. Ben had finally gotten the daycare thing figured out, and just in the nick of time. School was starting the next week and I was seriously worried that I was going to have to find out about enrolling his kids in with mine. Seems as though his ex-wife had been having some "troubles" and that's why he was hesitant to send them back to her. "And as long as we're talking about her," he started....

"There's something I should probably tell you."

This ought to be good, I remember thinking.

"She and I, well, we're not exactly divorced" he said. I remember I said, "What does not exactly mean?". I mean, really. Was it like "the papers have yet to be signed" or "things are held up on her end", what? What the hell does 'not exactly' mean? Turns out it's kind of like someone saying that they're a "little pregnant".

Ben and his wife were still married. Obviously not living together, but they weren't even legally separated. He said that neither one of them could afford a lawyer. "But we're totally not getting back together" he assured me.

And as if this little afterthought wasn't enough of a nudge, he then started explaining their relationship to me in a little more detail. Turns out that she had been a stripper with a drug problem when they'd met. She kicked the drugs, had the kids, and then started going downhill again. They fought. One time, the fighting was severe enough to warrant a police visit, a visit which resulted in Ben's arrest. An arrest which resulted in some sort of really bad domestic assault charge, which then led to Ben serving a year in PRISON.

Here's my disclaimer: I have nothing against strippers, drugged out or sober, or the men who get married to and breed with them; nor do I hold any judgments towards someone who has served time. But these things are kind of like a herpes disclaimer: something that should be dragged out into the light pretty early in a relationship. Let the person you're becoming involved with decide if it's something that they're willing to work with. The drugged stripper thing? I get it, kind of. The jail thing? I had trouble with the domestic part of it. Ben claims that he didn't hurt her, that he couldn't afford an attorney and that the "one provided for him" screwed things up. I know that things happen in the justice system and innocent people are penalized for things they didn't do, but I wasn't in a place in my life to deal with this.

The not divorced thing? That clinched it. I don't care what your excuse is, be single before you start trolling for love. You can bet that eHarmony got an earful from me about this one. I found it unbelievable that we were asked to fill out endless pages of a questionnaire, literally hundreds of mind-numbing inquiries about what makes us giggle, what makes us sad, etc., and then asked to pay hundreds of dollars, without the assurance that we wouldn't get matched up with married felons. They sent me a form-email and thanked me for my business. And wished me the best of luck on my quest for love.

Ben acted surprised about my choosing to end things. But in true bad boy, rocker fashion, Ben played it cool. He ended up getting tickets to the Van Halen reunion concert that fall, and sent me a text asking if I wanted to go. I chose not to, but told him to have fun.

That was my last experience with eHarmony.

And wouldn't you know it, just a few weeks later I met someone else.

Dear Kids:

Dear Charlie, Molly, Henry and William:

Thank you. Thank you all for being the best kids that a mom could wish for.

We have been through a lot in the past few years, and I'm not going to lie and say that it's been fun. You have all seen me at my very worst as I have tried to fix things for us, and for that I'm sorry. But I hope that you've also noticed me at my best...I hope that I have been teaching you how to put things back together again after a great fall. I have been showing you all that you should never give up, never back down and never stop reaching for better things in life.

I find myself in a sad little spot right now. I'm sad because it's back to school season and once again we are stretching every penny we have just to make sure that we have the essentials. Thank you all for not complaining about the lack of new clothes. And thank you all for not uttering a peep of indignation when I declared that we would be re-using many of last year's leftover school supplies. Molly and Henry, thank you both for not giving me grief when I decided that we'd buy the pre-made binders at the junior high instead of stumbling around OfficeMax and piecing them together ourselves. We saved valuable time and even more valuable money this way, and I think you both knew that.

Molly, I remember my junior high days and how I'd pout and bitch and moan if my mom couldn't buy me the piles of new clothes and shoes and accessories that I wanted every September, and that shames me now. Because now I know how she must have felt: the frustration, the embarrassment, the grief over not being able to wave a magic wand and produce everything my kids want at any particular moment. I hated myself for cringing over a measly $70.00 spent at Old Navy so you, my dear Molly, could have a few new things for 9th grade. But it's our truth, our reality. And I can't thank you, my dear girl, enough for not giving me crap about it. You are stronger now, at the age of 14, than I will probably ever be.

Charlie, you are 16 now and starting your junior year of high school. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being "ok" with the fact that driver's ed isn't on our list of things we can do right now. I also want you to know that I am so proud of you for manning up and helping so much at home. I never wanted to make you the "man of the house", that isn't fair to you, but you have taken on a little bit of that role on your own and done a damn fine job. Your help has made things easier for me, and for that I thank you.

Henry, you and I had a talk last night, and I apologized to you for your lack of new clothes. You said, "That's ok, I have a bunch of t-shirts that Sue just gave us (Sue is our neighbor, she is the maker of the fattening Special K bars and the giver of hand-me-downs), I'll just wear those!". Thank you for your optimism, your "half full" attitude and for recognizing the goodness of others. You are going to rock those t-shirts, my good little man.

And William, my baby. Thank you for understanding that not everything on your list of 5th grade supplies has to be shiny and new. A recycled pencil box, recycled colored pencils, scissors with one kid's name crossed off and your initials written over them, they will all work just as well as new ones would. You blow me away with your pure acceptance of just about everything. When we were at Old Navy with Molly, you entertained yourself by picking out jeans in the Boy's section, but when I said that we had plenty of jeans in your size at home, you just shrugged and put them back.

My children, back in the day when things were different, when you had a set of parents at home instead of just one, we had it good. We'd go to Target and Gap Kids and the malls and buy bags and bags of new "stuff". New backpacks, shoes, clothes...it was fun. But I think the past couple of years, these lean years, will teach us more than those bygone days ever could. We are all learning to accept what we have. We are learning to make do. We are learning what Dick Enrico has been preaching for years: Why buy new when slightly used will do?

I have always made it a point to remind you guys that we have so much, even when it seems like we have nothing. My point seems to have been taken.

Thank you for listening, my sweet babies. I know you won't see this little open letter, but I wanted to put it out there how proud I am of you. All of you.




Wrong Turn.

My William plays hockey. He's 10 now, and started playing a couple of years ago. Big Daddy signed him up, and offered to be the one to drive him to and fro to practices and games, and I think he was an assistant coach a time or two.

William loves sports. He is the kid who begs me to go out in the backyard to play catch "just til it's dark out", he's the one who can spend two hours out on the driveway with a hockey stick and a pile of rocks. This past spring and summer, during baseball season, his first words to me every single morning were "Do I have a game tonight???". He slept in his baseball uniform the night of his first playoff game (jock strap and all) and damn if they didn't end up city champions.

So when Big Daddy talked about getting him into hockey, I was all for it. Our other three were never the ones who begged to play a sport, if I signed them up, they'd do it. But there was never that fire, that passion to play. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I'll add. God knows not everyone in this world is cut out to be a jock. I'm from the school of parenting that believes no child should be forced into doing something (homework and bathing aside). I know, I know, there are pro athletes who wouldn't be the mega-billionaires they are today if ma and pa hadn't "made" them practice every day. But I want my kids to do what they love. I want them to find what they're good at, without a red-faced stage mom breathing down their necks.

And out of my four sweet angels, William happens to be the one who loves sports.

So...the whole hockey thing has been Big Daddy's deal with William. I asked him, the first few seasons, to be put on the parent call list, the email tree, etc., but never really got a response. So I stepped back and let him have this one. I went to a few games here and there, but felt like an outsider. I didn't know any of the parents. The last game I went to, one of the moms looked at me and said, "I didn't know he had a mom!". Ouch.

This time around, I want to be involved. I told William that going forward, if his practices and games fall on "mom nights", I will be the one taking him. I was a hockey cheerleader, for Christ's sake. I can lace skates. I haven't made this assertion to Big Daddy yet (should I bother with the email now, sir, or can I assume you see this?) but I am putting my Dansko-clad foot down.

I'm going to be a hockey mom.

Which brings us to this post. William is currently enrolled in some sort of summer/fall league, which gets kids together to sharpen their skates and skills before the official hockey season begins. He's missed the first several games because, according to him, Big Daddy couldn't afford new skates for my boy. But thankfully, the cash was scraped up this past weekend and William came home with a slightly used, "new to him" pair of skates. (and I will say this: I am not mocking the slightly used angle one bit. I am the thrift store QUEEN.). William was worried that these skates were too big, but he said he'd make them work. I love this kid, have I mentioned that??

Anyhoo. Yesterday was the day that William was finally able to play in a game. Big Daddy and I haven't said boo to each other in weeks, but given the fact that William came home the night before with the hockey gear bag and his stick, I figured that it was finally my turn to be the hockey parent.

Yesterday was a busy day. The two junior high kids, Molly and Henry, had conferences and (gasp) school pictures. So we spent a good chunk of the day at the junior high, meeting new homeroom teachers, smiling pretty for the camera, finding lockers, buying gym shirts, etc. All that fun stuff. I may not have been an involved hockey mom over the past few years, but I can say, with some pride, that I have been the "conference mom", the "back to school mom", the "hey we need a check for directories/yearbooks/field trips mom" for what feels like a millenium. And yesterday was just another day of being the checkbook wielding, hand-shaking, locker-finding mom I am.

William's game was at 5:45, at a private school's ice arena just a city and a half away. I knew that it would be rush hour, and that we would be semi-pressed for time. So I inquired to a few knowledgeable friends about shortcuts. Cheats. Anything that would spare me from agonizing traffic jams that would keep me from getting my little Wayne Gretzky out onto the ice.

One friend emailed me his surefire shortcut. He went to this private school, and this was the route that he took more mornings than he could remember. So I looked at the email, took a Sharpie, and copied down his very precise directions.

Only...have I mentioned that I have a touch of dyslexia? Just a touch. I transpose a few things hither and yon. Here and there. A left and right sometimes. A north and a south.


You see where I'm going? I got my little hockey dude ready, got his bag in the truck, got his water bottle, got my dyslexic directions. And headed out.

We were watching the clock on my dashboard. It kept moving forward, even though we seemed to be stuck on sticky fly paper amidst a sea of vehicles. William started to worry out loud: "Jeeze. We only have 12 minutes, Mom. Can you tie my skates in 12 minutes?" He was worried about his new skates. He'd never given them a test drive, and he was giving himself an ulcer wondering if they'd disappoint him (that's my boy). We crept along, exiting one molasses-slow highway for an even slower city street. Familiar landmarks showed up, then appeared in the rear-view. My inner GPS told me that we were so not headed in the right direction, but my damned-if-I'm-wrong directions told me to keep heading east.

Finally, the clock in my truck said 6:15. We were stuck in yet another traffic jam, waiting at one of those God-forsaken lights that need a left-turn lane more than Lindsay Lohan needs a mom. William and I had been taking turns wearing the blame hat. I was cursing myself, loudly and often, for once again falling into the dizzy-I-can't-follow-directions role, and William was busy reassuring himself and his mom that it was ok if we didn't make this game. He kept bringing up the fact that Big Daddy had skipped the first three games, that his skates were really big and who knew if he could skate in them anyway, and by the way...Big Daddy had told him "I don't give a crap" if he missed this particular Wednesday night game.

So there we sat in rush hour deadlock. I was imagining Big Daddy calling me retarded (one of his charming nicknames for me), hissing about my ineptitude and my utter stupidity when it comes to getting from A to B. I was failing. This was my chance to show that YES. Yes, I could be the hockey mom. I could get my kid to the rink, and I could lace up his freaking skates and I could sit there in the stands and yell out "YEAH" and "GO BLUE". And I was blowing this chance.

And William, bless his 10 year old heart, William was letting me know that it was ok. "These skates are too big, mom. There's no way they'll work." And "It's no big deal. We saw the coach at the skate store and he said lots of people don't show up." At one point he asked me, "Are you mad at me?". I felt horrible. I reassured him that none of this insane kooky anger was directed at him. Quite the opposite. "I'm mad at myself, dudie." I told him. "I wanted to be the perfect mom today and I failed."

William looked at me for a second. Put one of his long, lanky legs up on the dashboard and folded his arms behind his head.

"You are my perfect mom." he said.

I looked at the clock, looked at where we were. Looked at this beautiful, accepting, loving kid in the seat next to me.

And I headed home.


Ben, continued

When we last saw Ben he was waving to me from the next lane over, Halen cranked, fists a'pumpin (well, one was held high in the rocker's devil horn salute out his driver's side window). I had my first glimmer of shame.

Yes, I said shame. Do I think I'm better than someone just because they rock out while driving? No. But I am a Minnesota girl, and we like things such as a strong penchant for 80's rock kept close to the vest. Ben was going to give me a valuable lesson that summer. A lesson in how to say "Suck it" to the world. "Suck it, because this is who I am." If nothing else, I learned that from Ben. I also learned how to make a Manhattan, but I think the whole "suck it" thing will stick with me longer.

So, our first official date was on the Fourth of July. It was on a Wednesday that year, and both of us happened to be kid free for the last half of that week. Ben's parents lived on the river (for you non-Minnesotans, any river reference I make refers to the mighty Mississippi) and Ben invited me over there for a lazy pontoon cruise down said river. He added, "My parents are out of town, so it's chill." And here was where I got goosebumps, because I felt as though I had just made plans with the Bad Boy at school. And his parents were out of town. Goosebumps, I tell you.

Ben picked me up Wednesday morning, and we headed off to our cruise. But first, we had to stop at a liquor store. Ben had brought along a cooler and as we walked into the store to get enough beer to fill it, he said to me, "How about we go halfsies on the beer?". I wondered to myself why two people needed an entire case of beer for an afternoon river cruise, but figured what the hell. And so we headed off to his parent's empty house with a cooler full of Coors Light and a wee bit of sexual tension.

The trip down the river, and then back up again, was nice. The weather was absolutely perfect, perfect enough for Ben to give me my first "suck it" lesson when he took off his shirt and proceeded to commandeer the pontoon topless. Ben was a big guy. Not fat big, but big in general. No multiple chins or man boobs, but he did have a good size Miller Lite tumor (many, many thanks to my friend Jen for providing me with that vocabulary nugget). Which was most likely the result of many, many beers. Several of which he had downed before noon.

There was one freaky sunshower about halfway through our little river date, and for a minute I thought how romantic and awesome it would be if we were to just start making out like Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in "The Notebook". But that didn't happen. Instead, I clutched my warm can of Coors Light and cursed my decision to wear a white t-shirt which was now transparent. I was sure that my nipples were on display and decided that this was the ideal time to face away from Ben and soak up the scenery.

We stopped at a little sandbar beach thing, and disembarked. As I was stepping off the boat, all Mrs. Howell-like, Ben grabbed me and we had our first big smooch. And then kept on smooching, actually ending up laying down on the sandy beach embraced in a beer-fueled neckin' session. Ben was still topless.

We hung out at the beach for a while, talked and drank. Actually, I talked, Ben drank. I'm not a huge beer person, especially not a warm Coors Light beer person. We talked about being single parents, about our own parents, about cats, about our exes. All of the usual first date fodder. We discussed dinner for that night, and Ben suggested a little steak place not far from his parent's house. So we gathered up the empties, found Ben's shirt and headed back onto the water.

After dinner, we decided to drive back to my house. I had left Walter with my neighbors, and wanted to get back before it was too late. Ben asked me if I wanted to go see some fireworks or if I "wanted to make some of our own" back at my place. At this point it had been a while since I'd had relations with something that didn't require two double-A batteries, so I jumped all over that invitation.

I think this must have been the first boot-knocking I'd done since my sphincter and I parted ways with Curiously Cheap George because I remember trying to casually find out if Ben was a backdoor man. He actually said, "Ewwww", if I recall correctly, and with a sigh of relief I laid back and enjoyed the Mullet Experience. And it was good! Ben did have some asthma-like breathing issues, and at one point during the festivities I stopped and asked him if he was ok. He explained that he just need to go grab his inhaler, but "don't you move. I'll be back in a minute."

And so Ben and I began dating. I had never before even considered introducing my kids to anyone I was seeing. I felt like it was too much, too soon for them. They were dealing with the whole concept of their dad sleeping in a bed with someone new, and watching their dad snap her thong in the kitchen and listening to them moan and yelp at night when everyone was supposed to be asleep. I didn't want to have them watching another parent act like a horny 14 year old.

But all that changed, when one day Ben called me, frantic. He and his ex had the kids on a very unscheduled visitation loop. She'd have them for 3 or so weeks, or 2, and then he'd have them for a week or a weekend. Ben had someone near his house to watch the kids when they were staying with him during a work week, but this someone had apparently stopped offering her babysitting service. Hence the frantic call.

"I know this is really, really soon and I know how you feel about getting the kids involved, but I'm desperate" he said. This was summer, late July now. Ben's two younger kids were staying with him, his older daughter was back home with the mom. The two of them, a boy and a girl, were the same ages as my Henry and my William. I hemmed, and hawed, and tried to work this out in my head. My mama bear instincts were all tangled up in a confused knot....do I open the door to my dating life and let my kids in? Or do I leave the guy I'm dating in a lurch, and say no?

Of course, you know what I decided. Come on in, kids.

To be continued.....


Back to life, Stuart Smalley style.

I'm having a party tonight. Not a big bash, just a little dinner/gathering with some of my eBay friends. We've known each other for...jeeze, almost 8 years now. We met, of all places, on an eBay chat board. A couple of us live within 5 miles of each other, and it took the worldwide web to introduce us.

We've gone through a lot, as a group. There have been babies born, businesses bought, houses lost, marriages dissolved, personal rebirths...you know, life. But through it all, we've managed to keep in touch. We haven't gotten together, as a group, in a long time though, so tonight should be awesome.

As I get the house ready for my little group of hens, it's dawning on me. I love having parties. I forgot how much.

When you go through traumatic stuff in your life, you tend to put yourself in a box, on a high, dark shelf in the back of some tucked away closet. You put on your game face and plow through the shit that needs to be plowed through. Some of us never remember exactly where we left our old selves, and that's a shame. I'm glad I remembered. Because the old me, for all of my flaws and inconsistencies, was pretty fun.

For a long time, I let what has happened in my life dictate how I live. I was dumped by my husband, therefore I felt unlovable. Ugly. Unworthy. My best friend and I broke up, suddenly and without warning. One day we were inseparable, the next day she wasn't talking to me. Therefore I was a lousy friend. Unworthy. I lost control of my finances, lost my house, lost my credit. Therefore I was a lowly member of society. Unworthy.

I started to feel like a leper, untouchable..waiting for the next important person in my life to leave. I missed out on a lot of good times, simply because I didn't feel like exposing myself any more than I had to. Skipped parties, passed on more invitations to more events than you can imagine. Missed class reunions, Silpada parties, concerts. All because of my imagined unworthiness.

And I felt that way, for a long, long time. I walked through my days like a zombie, making sure that the kids were alright, making sure that we had food and clean clothes and a roof over our heads. But over the past few months, I have been waking up. Shaking off the cobwebs and that horrible black cloud of insecurity and self loathing.

I have been having my very own Stuart Smalley revolution inside my head, dammit.

Because I like me. And if those other people don't like me, and choose not to be part of my life, you know what? Their loss. I miss them, more than they will ever know, but it's truly their loss. Yes, Big Daddy, for all of your fuckheadedness, sometimes I miss the old "us". And Big Red, my former BFF? I miss you more than I miss him. Every day. But it is what it is.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go get some ice.

Because I'm having a party for my friends.


Time for another victim!

No, not literally time for another one. I'm still in a holding pattern there.

In fact, if my celibacy was a baby, right now it would be pulling up on furniture and starting to drink from a sippy cup. God help me.

Anyway. Let's go back to the times when I had actual interaction with the male gender. It was the Summer of 2007, I believe. Or 2008. I can't remember anymore, it all seems like a million years ago. Let's just say it was while Bush still ruled the world. No, wait. It was 2007 because I was still financially ok. I know this because this guy was another one who disliked picking up the checks. And it didn't bother me too much.

So, I was on the last few months of my eHarmony subscription. I was just about done with it, and good riddance. I hadn't been thrilled with the whole experience, although to be fair I have to say that it wasn't a total disaster. I did meet some decent guys, but suffice it to say I wasn't going to be in one of their commercials anytime soon. Unless they wanted to film me taking slow walks with my dog, and drinking wine while watching Sex and The City reruns.

I'd get the emails from eHarmony encouraging me to check out my matches! You never know! You paid $300.00 for this service so why let it go to waste! So every once in a while (read this as: every few weeks, when I'd get a nice surge of testosterone and the kids were with Big Daddy and I'd splurged on the pre-made Jose Cuervo margarita mix) I'd go there. And this particular time, one of the fellas who wanted to start communication with me was intriguing. For blog purposes I'll call this one Ben.

I checked out his stats. Ben was 6'2", which was an immediate "ding!". Ben had a job. Ding! Ben's job was, ironically enough, in the same city I live in. I was already thinking how convenient it would be for Ben to hop over to work after a night of magic at my house. Ding! Ben had three kids. I like when they have kids. It means that they aren't scared of them. Or at least they know how to deal with the fear. Ding! And looking at Ben's pictures, I noticed a slight resemblance to one of my odd-ball crushes, Brian Dennehy. Except a younger, brunette version. Ding!

Of course, since this was being seen through my cynical, sabotaging eyes, there were also a couple of red flags. One was the mention of several metal bands under his "likes". I'm a "variety is the spice of life" kind of gal, especially when it comes to music. I think life is best lived with a soundtrack, and you need many genres to fully encompass all the ups and downs and level times. Metal? I guess I could try to fit it in. I let that one go.

Although Ben worked in my fair city, he resided in one almost 45 minutes away. I don't like to drive long distances, especially not at 6:00 in the morning. This one worried me. But I weighed the fact that I lived where he worked, so the drives-of-shame would most likely be done by him (think I get ahead of things a little bit?) so I let it go.

Ben had hockey hair. AKA, a modified mullet. Again, I have an open mind. But this scared me. Minnesota readers, I should let you know that Ben was from Anoka, so the mullet was pretty standard, and thank God there wasn't a pic of him with the mullet, wearing a Polaris turtleneck. But still.....again, I let it go. Mama needed some lovin'.

And so we made contact. He answered my insipid questions, I answered his. He was witty, knew how to use capital letters and punctuation. He had a very laid-back attitude, which I found appealing. I pretend to have a laid-back attitude. A sort of "roll with it" stance. I guess I kind of do, but right behind that roll-with-it chick is a high strung, round eyed freak wringing her hands and worrying incessantly about everything. I have found it beneficial to be paired with laid back men. They soothe that weirdo with the sweaty upper lip. And laid-back Jenny likes it when we don't have to get dressed up.

Our first meeting was at the same restaurant where Curiously Cheap George and I had our infamous first dinner. That had been a winter date, though, this one was summer and we were seated out on the deck. Ben was cute in real life, tall like he had promised and the mullet wasn't too bad. We said our awkward HELLO's and did the requisite quick up and down scan of each other. Both of us were pleased, I could tell. This was when I was rocking the size 10's and 12's, I was on my way to Chunkyville but still had a waist. So I had worn a cute long skirt, a fitted white t-shirt and a pair of teal blue Keen Mary Janes. What's that? Bold move, pulling out the Keens on a first date? I know...I'm gutsy like that.

Ben complimented my shoes right away. See? Sometimes I do know what to do. Not often, but when I do, I'm the first one to point it out.

Anyhoo. I ordered a margarita, Ben had been there a few minutes earlier than I had and was already finishing up his first Long Island Ice Tea, so he ordered a second one. Ummm...ok, red flag. I know. But I ignored it. We ordered our dinners, and started the conversation.

And it went well. He made me laugh, I made him laugh. We got along, surprisingly really well. It was during this conversation, though, that I noticed Ben kept his phone on the table. And would stop, mid-conversation, when his phone started vibrating to announce an incoming text. And then he'd answer the text.

This was before I was phone-savvy. I was the last person in Minnesota to get a cell phone, and the only reason I had one was because Big Daddy bought it for me as my last Mother's Day gift that wasn't purchased at a gas station or from a clearance end-cap at Target. I still didn't know how to text at this point, and to see someone do it back then was kind of an oddity, like your mom trying to figure out exactly how you "open a window" on the computer. It was foreign to me, and I took it as bit of rudeness. But, I let it go. Ben was fun to talk to, what's a little texting?

The night progressed, I decided to break my "first date=one drink" rule and had a second margarita. Ben had downed four Long Islands by this time, and as our dinner plates were cleared I could tell that he was thinking about ordering a fifth. He declined, and got a Coke instead. Phew. Because four Long Island Iced Teas during a two-hour dinner date is normal, right? I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree, folks. I chalked it up to the fact that Ben was a big guy, big guys metabolize booze faster than other people. And maybe these Long Islands were weak. Whatever. Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. And sometimes we can't see the alcoholics for the mullets.

We ended the date with a hug, no kiss. Ben asked me if I would mind him calling me later, and I blushingly said, "I hope you do!". Nothing as enticing as a 41 year old woman with a tiny sheen of desperation on her forehead, right? Oh well. We got into our vehicles and headed home.

At the stoplight before the exit to my highway home, I heard some really loud music. Super loud, like teenage loud. And it was Van Halen. Sammy Hagar Van Halen. I looked over at the car next to me, the one responsible for this old-fart rock and roll, and who do you think it was?

Ben. Ben was waving frantically at me, and fist-pumping to Hagar/Van Halen at the same time.

I waved back.

To be continued......



I "like" Lilly Pulitzer on facebook. I "like" Lilly in real life, too, but my wide hips and thin bank account prevent us from being friends. I get daily updates from Lilly, living vicariously through the pretty, shiny, well-groomed girls who post pictures of themselves clad in the crisp cotton Easter egg hued garments. They go to the races, they go to country clubs, they attend tea parties. There are pictures of their offspring, dressed in shrinky-dink versions of mommy's dresses. Adorable, one and all. I really mean it.

The other day the Lilly facebook page ran a secret sale, available only online, only for friends of Lilly. Apparently their server couldn't handle the onslaught of charge card wielding Lilly-istas. There were hundreds of comments, angry exclamations of despair and woe..."I can't get to the check out page!" "Grrr Lilly, get with it!" "I had the cutest tote in my cart and when I checked out it was gone!!!!!". You know, fire and brimstone kind of stuff.

Yeah, I sat there and read it. Why? I don't know. Well, yes, I guess I do know. I am amused by seeing what pisses other people off. Yes, I'm immature. But it's fascinating to me, to see what qualifies as stress in someone's life. There were women who were beside themselves with rage over their inability to purchase Lilly stuff.

Yes, I know, it's all relative. To the chick in Atlanta, who has the means and the body and the social life required to don Lilly, it most likely was a traumatic day. I get it.

But then, as I clicked over to Comcast to check my email, I read something different.

A 29 year old woman in South Carolina had confessed to smothering her two babies, putting their bodies in the backseat of her car and then letting her car submerge into a river.

I thought about it. Thought about it all day long, in fact. Still thinking about it today, 24 hours later. I can't get it out of my head, all of it. I have images in my head, short reels of film showing a mom bent over a baby, hand clasped over the little nose and mouth as the child fights to breathe. Did she make eye contact with her son? Did she cry? What did she do with the other one while she did it? I pray to whatever entity is listening that she did it in another room, away from the one who still slept or sat up on a bed wondering where Mommy took his brother. I cried, thinking of what it must feel like when a mother snaps. Was it a sudden thing, like one day you're fine...stressed out, sure, but ok...and then *boom* you kill your kid? Or was it like a tiny star-shaped crack in a windshield, hardly noticeable at first but it slowly stretches and threads out, dividing what was once whole into a jagged, crooked maze of splintered glass?

I thought about how it must have felt to this woman, once her head cleared and she found herself in a room with two motionless toddlers. Did she have a sudden moment of clarity, where it dawned on her, "Oh my God, I killed my kids?" or had the veil of insanity already blinded her?

We'll most likely never know. She'll have her trial, go to jail or some institution. People will leave stuffed animals and toys and flowers at the spot where she watched her car roll into the river, a big metal coffin holding two innocents.

It's already on page 2 of today's news clips.

And on the Lilly facebook page, friends of Lilly are gushing about their orders, and backpedaling fast from yesterday's preppy protest.

Life goes on, pain and anger fade.

The dichotomy of life is always present, always there. Sometimes I wish I couldn't see it. Even more? I wish I didn't feel it so much.

Buck up my angels...I'm going to get back to my victim parade next. The doom-and-gloom is over for now. But do me a favor, will you? Say a little prayer or give a little extra thought to the souls of those babies, and to the untold other kids and moms out there who may find themselves in a similar situation. And if you want to say a prayer about Lilly getting bigger, faster servers, go for it. I won't judge.


Such bullshit.

So, my mom is an avid reader of the gossip magazines: People, Star, Us, you name it. She has a few subscriptions and when she's done reading them, she passes them on to me. And I put them in the bathroom, of course, for some serious reading material. I feel a sick mixture of joy and shame that my kids can carry on a conversation about whether or not Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes may indeed be pregnant with their second baby or if Brangelina is still together.

Anyhoo. So today I was reading an article in People magazine, an article about Leann Rimes. She had an affair with that Eddie guy from Lifetime movies and CSI Miami. He was married, with two little kids, she was married with no kids. They "fell in love" on the set of some show, and ended up divorcing their respective spouses. Happens every day, right?

Leann was all "I'm tired of being called a homewrecker, Eddie and I are soulmates, we didn't want to hurt either one of our spouses" and "Both of our marriages had issues."


That's the same crap that I heard from Big Daddy. "Our marriage was awful" "I love you, but I'm not in love with you". Is there a script for unfaithful spouses out there, some dog-eared, battered paperback or pamphlet that gets passed around like a worn out copy of Forever by Judy Blume? Because this sounds like a tired old song and dance. You'd think people who are clever enough to figure out how to bang someone on the sly could dream up some new excuses.

The bad marriage one is my least favorite. It's like finding out that you have cancer and then deciding to not treat it because "I might die anyway." Will you die? Maybe, but don't you want to try everything you can to avoid doing so? Most marriages get sick at some point (sometimes cancer, sometimes just the sniffles). Those that survive are the ones where the illness is acknowledged and treated before it spreads beyond control. (My apologies to anyone who has dealt with actual cancer, I don't mean to belittle your experiences.)

Conversely, one could also say, "You know why your marriage is bad? BECAUSE YOU'RE HUMPING SOMEONE ELSE, EINSTEIN."

Was my marriage awful? We had issues, you bet. More issues than Reader's Digest. But I can tell you this...they weren't beyond repair until the whole "oops my penis fell into a secretary" debacle. Because once you drag someone else into your own private tar pit, things get complicated. And complicated turns ugly, fast.

A marriage dies when one person decides it's dead. The other person can try everything humanly possible to make things all better, but this is one scenario where it truly takes two to tango. The one who leaves, who strays...if they would just be honest and admit that they gave up, that they ditched, it would be nice. Don't blame issues, real or imagined, in a marriage for making you sneak around. No one is ever forced to cheat.

If you have big enough balls to start a relationship with someone new while you're still married, and worse yet, while the person you're still married to has no idea that you've checked out, then you should own up to it. Cut one of them loose, before you do any more damage. It's the decent thing to do. Probably the only decent thing that you'll have done in a long time.

I don't really have a point to this rant. I blame it on raging PMS, remorse over potato chips and a-holes who lie to make what they did look less shitty.


You Might Be PMSing if:

...hearing one of your kids call you "Mom" gets you all weepy and thankful, when normally hearing the word "Mom" in mid-August is reason to drink.

...you can actually hear the salt and vinegar chips shimmying for your attention inside their sealed up bags in the grocery store.

...you have massive knockers.

...unfortunately you also have a massive bloated mid-section that the massive knockers can rest upon.

...Arby's sounds good.

...your forehead rivals the Gulf in oiliness.

...driving in traffic, even if "traffic" means "you stuck behind one other person driving like there is MOLASSES in their gas tank" causes you to think very bad thoughts about your fellow humans.

...if you could go to a feed store and buy a salt lick and set it in front of the couch, like a big white ottoman, you would. And you'd lick that sucker while watching and crying as a sweet guy with a trembling chin is getting kicked off Project Runway.

...you lose your Bejeweled Blitz mojo (probably because your hands are puffy and your fingers resemble shiny pink sausages and that makes it hard to use the mouse) and just for a minute you start to think that the whole game is rigged.

...you pull an Alec Baldwin on one of your kids and for the millionth time in your parenting career you thank GOD that no one is recording you. Poor Alec.

...you cannot string more than two words together to form a lucid, comprehensible sentence.

If all of the above have happened to you, yes, you may be PMSing. Or you may just be a weepy salt craving bitchy forgetful middle aged woman.

I know, right? Like there's a difference.

Off to the feed store.


I ♥ teenagers

The manchild, Charlie, tried really hard to find a job this summer.

Ok, maybe not really hard, but he did try. I found myself shaking my head like an old fuddy duddy over the fact that 95% of all places of employment have you fill out applications online now. I wanted to put on my best Dana Carvey/Grumpy Old Man impression and say, "Back in my day we didn't have any fancy-schmancy online applications that you did on your little computers. We had to cut our wrists and fill out the paper applications in BLOOD. And we liked it!". But I didn't, because manchild has reached that stage in teen-hood where I am quite possibly the stupidest, most embarrassing person on the face of the earth. The funny would have been lost on him.

Anyhoo. So he did try, I'll give him that. He applied at Noodles (carby here was really rootin' for that one), Menards, Brueggers, a nursing home, etc. To no avail.

He worked out a deal with my angel/landlord, Dan, and is now getting some moolah for mowing our HUGE lawn (Dan does all the lawn stuff, plus all the shoveling in the winter...have I mentioned before how I'm sure he's an earthbound angel? He is.). He mowed a few other lawns for some cash (thank you Whitney), and then he called my dad.

Yes, the dad I haven't talked to in a few years. If you're new to my freakshow life, you can catch up on my dad drama here.

So, bless my son's heart, he and my dad have been reaching out to each other. Charlie was actually scared to tell me about it at first. He brought it up late one night, during that twilight time when I'm propped up in bed, trying really hard to stay awake and finish one of my t.v. shows or else trying to beat my friend Leslie in Bejeweled Blitz on facebook. One of those times.

"Mom, Papa and I are talking." I was surprised, nothing more, nothing less at first. "Really? That's awesome!" I said. "How is he?". Charlie seemed relieved that I didn't flip out, and for that, I'm ashamed. I have put my kids through some serious mental crap.

Charlie then went on to tell me that Papa had called him one night, and that they had been chatting and emailing each other on a regular basis. My dad has purchased a lake home since the last time he and I talked, and Charlie was invited up there for a weekend. I was sad, sad because it just isn't right or normal for a 16 year old to be fessin' up to his mom that he and grandpa were talking. It's wrong. I felt guilt, shame, remorse, anger, all of it. But I held it in. I couldn't hold my tears in, though, as I told my son how happy this made me.

It's a good thing. There aren't any words to describe the lightness I feel in my heart about this. I am so proud of my son for being so much more mature than his mom. I'm proud of my dad for reaching out to a grandchild, the grandchild who looks exactly like him, the grandchild who once built a bridge between the two of us just by being born.

Anyways. So Charlie related his work woes to Papa. And Papa, bless his heart, "hired" Charlie to be his right-hand-man this summer.

My dad comes here and picks Charlie up a few days a week. He and I have had a few awkward front door conversations. It's uncomfortable, I'll admit that readily. I want to hug him, cry to him, tell him how freaking sorry I am for being such a shitty daughter. But I stand there, all Minnesota-cold, and say, "Hi Dad!" like everything is hunky-dory between us. It's weird, but it's progress, I guess.

My dad owns a bazillion rental properties in and around our great metropolis. When did he become the Trump of Minneapolis? I have no idea. He's the classic Millionaire Next Door, the guy with the duct tape on his ancient topsiders and the bank account that is staggering. But that's neither here nor there. He hired my boy to help him do repairs and routine maintenance on his rental properties, and if I know anything about my dad, it's that he works his ass off. So I know that Charlie is earning every red cent my dad pays him. And beyond what Charlie is earning financially, the bond that he and my dad are forging is beyond any earthly measure of worth.

My dad is old school. He grew up on a farm. Shared a full size bed with his two brothers. Took baths in a big old galvanized steel tub. Worked his way from the farm to the Pentagon and then onto other things, all on his own. He has earned every dollar he's made, and the fact that he's sharing some of this incredible work ethic with my slightly lazy, money-hungry teenager is gold. Pure, sweet gold. This is the kind of stuff that Charlie won't learn in any class he takes, at any job he gets in the future. He's learning how to be a self-made man at the foot of the master.

So, you ask, oh-rambling-one, why do you heart teenagers?

Yesterday I took Charlie to my bank, Wells Fargo. We sat there for an hour or so with a smiley, earnest "personal banker", Joshua (props to Josh for not only dealing with me and Charlie going back and forth at each other but also for putting up with my horrifying hobo-stench I'm sure was emanating off of my body...it was 95 degrees yesterday and I was still sweating from a walk when Charlie strong-armed me into the bank visit). Josh helped Charlie open up his very first bank account.

Charlie had two checks from my dad, all folded up, and placed them on the desk in front of Josh. We had done all of the checking of the boxes, all of the dotting of the i's and the crossing of the t's , all of the signing on the dotted lines, and now it was time for my son to make his very first deposit into his very first bank account.

When all was said and done, we left, and Charlie had a balance of around $100.00 in his account. He was so happy, and that made me happy. Happy even though I was dying, imagining the smell in Josh's office, more specifically, the odor of the chair I had been occupying. I was glad that it was almost quitting time when we left, and that poor Josh could leave what was by now a 15' by 15' torture chamber.

But I digress.

The very next day, this afternoon, in fact, my puffed-with-pride manchild approached me. "Mom, Papa gave me a check today. I need to put it into my account."

I said, "Great! Give it to me and I'll go put it in for you."

Manchild says, and I quote: "Ummm...I'm not really down with that...giving you my PIN number and everything."

Nevermind the fact that his account is linked to mine, that I am the owner of said account, that I am the one who has his SSN branded into my brain and rattled it off like a POW reciting name, rank and serial number during our meeting with Josh. Also nevermind that I am the person who breastfed this child for well over a year, I am the one who sat in the doctor's office and wept while this child, at 3 weeks of age, was given a second circumcision to fix the botched first one, nevermind that I'm the one who cleans his bathroom. He wasn't "down" with it.

That is why I ♥ teenagers.


Have you hugged your flight attendant today?

You should.

A friend of mine posted an article about a flight attendant who lost it. You can read the article here. Yeah, go ahead. I always wait for you.

So as some of you know, I was a flight attendant many sizes and many moons ago. It was a soul crushing job. When I read this article, I actually smelled the airplanes again, felt the smooth surface of the overhead bins and yes, felt a huge swell of empathy for poor Steven Slater (the steward who flipped). Been there, done that. Didn't pull the emergency slide out, though.

Doesn't mean I didn't think about it. I remember flying on DC-9's, they're the smaller planes that we'd use for little trips, like from Minneapolis to Chicago. The emergency escape route on those planes was through the end cone of the planes, and I remember some flights where all I could think about was how long it would take me to put on a parachute, climb into the cone and hit the button marked "ESCAPE".

Just like Paul Westerberg in the Replacements crooned all those years ago, when you're a flight attendant you ain't nothing but a waitress in the sky. Trapped. Thousands of miles up in the air, a prisoner in a jail run by cranky, rude, cattle-like people. And I say this in the nicest way possible.

When you first get that wild hair to be a flight attendant, your hopeful little head is filled with mental images of you traipsing around the globe, pulling your wee wheeled suitcase through glamorous airports, flirting with hunky pilots and rubbing elbows with celebrities up in First Class.

It's usually after your first 24 hours of being a flight attendant when you realize that every airport is hot and crowded and at least 100 miles long, your little suitcase doesn't pull through snowy parking lots so well, the "hunky" pilots were almost always married and sometimes "drunky" pilots and the celebrities you did meet sometimes turned out to be gigantic assholes (one of the guys who was in "Robocop". Total dick. Emilio Estevez on the other hand...nice. And flirty!)

You have your ass grabbed, your boobs "accidentally" brushed by the arms of creepy businessmen, people bitching at you over a can of soda (yes my Minnesota friends, I said soda. I made the mistake of once asking a New Yorker if they wanted some pop. Never again.). I had diapers filled with poo, bags of barf, dirty q-tips and all other sorts of hazardous waste materials handed over to me. Had to be the bitch who scolded the little kids for running up and down the aisles while mommy drank contraband gin and daddy snored.

On one of the Geritol flights (the flights from anywhere in the upper Midwest to Florida that were filled to capacity with Jerry Seinfeld's parents) I had the misfortune of walking into a bathroom and seeing someone's grandpa with his trousers down around his ankles. What, no locks on the outhouses back home, Pops?

Then there were the wrestling guys. I can't remember if they were WWF or WWE or WWW or whatever acronyms there are for this group of guys, but there were about 7 or 8 of them. All well over six feet tall, all with necks about as thick as my waist is now. Each one, as if on cue, stood in the aisle, and dropped their carry-on bags. I remember looking at the guy I was flying with that day, a sweet and petite boy named Michael, and raising my eyebrows. "Do you gentlemen want to put those bags in the overhead compartments?" we asked them. One of the hulking missing links grunted, "You put them up there for us. That's your job." As I hoisted and jammed and sweated for the next fifteen minutes I was comforted by the thought that steroids make penises and testicles shrink.

I remember hanging out in the galley with the older, more experienced flight attendants. They were the lucky ones who got in before the airlines went to hell, and actually made a good living. Sure, there was the whole second-hand smoke and thrombosis thing, but every job has it's hazards, right? They gave us newbies advice and information that would help us as we learned the ropes. I clearly remember the day that I learned what "crop dusting" meant.

And it wasn't all awful. I made some kick ass friends, I eventually did see a lot of the world and I was able to live out my dream and be a real life Grace to my very own Will for a wee bit of time in Detroit (yes, I lived in Detroit. But it was with a fabulous gay man, so don't feel too sorry for me, we had a blast.).

Yeah, I know, it wasn't rocket science or brain surgery or even data entry, but it was my first real glimpse at the true character of my fellow humans. And it made me realize that there are a lot of mean people on this planet.

There were two parts of the aforementioned article that I loved the most: the first, when Steve paused before jumping down the inflatable slide, stolen beers clutched to his chest, and said something like "That was a waste of 28 years (the original story has been edited)." and then jumped; and the part where the police say they think he was in the "midst of having sexual relations" when they arrived at his home to arrest him. Steve went home, had a beer and then had some angry sex. Or was it relieved sex? Whichever- good for you, Steve. I lasted a mere one year flying the freaky skies, you did it for over two decades. If I could, I would buy you a drink, sir.

So... the next time you're flying, be nice to your flight attendants. Ok, you can be a tool to the ones who are turds (some of the mean people on this planet were duped into this job, too). But some of them are just nice, hardworking people who want just as badly as you do (probably more) to just get the hell off the plane. When the flight is finally over, and you are off to your vacation or relative's house or your very own home, they are most likely boarding a hotel shuttle-van and will spend the rest of the night in a musty Holiday Inn with crappy cable. It's not their fault that you don't get a meal, that there's a storm in Nashville or that yes, out of all the planes in all the world you were put on the one with a colicky baby and, *gasp*, fat people. They aren't your punching bag or your human comment card.

They are your waitress in the sky. And they don't even get tips.


Why I love Jersey Shore

There, I've admitted it.

I LOVE THIS SHOW. I want to move in with this tanned group of guidos and guidettes and be like their house mother or something. I actually got a little teary last week watching Sammi and Ronnie. When are they going to just admit that they're in love? Why, Ronnie, why the grenades???

Situation, God help me, I love him. He's actually starting to sound like the voice of reason.

I have a secret crush on Vinny. Only when he wears his glasses, though. And Pauly, who doesn't love that sweet grinning fool?

Snooki is priceless. Just priceless. When she dances? There are no words.

I hate Angelina though. There's going to be trouble this season. Big trouble. That girl is up to no good, trust me.

But here's why I think I really like these kids so much:

<< Click it, if you dare.

Yes, that's me, circa 1988. Cancun. My friend Anne and I went down there and we had the pure luck to be in a hotel with, and directly across the hall from a room full of Jersey boys. The two with me in the above photo are Tommy D. and, seriously- I cannot make this shit up- Pauly. I, of course, was the original J-Woww. Or J-NotWoww, you decide. I was certainly rocking the tan. These adorable guidos were like brothers to us. Walked to the bars with us, made sure we got back to our room, we even went to dinner with them almost every night.

For two naive girls from Minnesota, the experience of being immersed in this little pool of straight up Jersey was a culture shock of ungodly voltage. By the end of the week "we was talkin' like them" and "you betcha that they picked up our inflections, doncha knooow". We all exchanged numbers and addresses, and if I remember correctly we corresponded with them off and on for the next couple of years.

It was one of the best times, ever.

I have no idea where these boys are now, of course, but I get to go back in time once a week thanks to MTV and Jersey Shore. And I wallow in it.

Here's to you, my sweet Jersey boys from 1988!

Let Them Eat Cheese.....

So one of the kids told me this story the other day:

"I was at Dad's house, and I was starving. I saw a platter of cheese all laid out, with some crackers, so I took some. Next thing I know Secretary is screaming at me, telling me that the cheese is "NOT FOR YOU KIDS" and telling me that it cost like $20 a pound at Byerlys (a high end grocery store here) and that again, "IT'S NOT FOR YOU KIDS!!!". Then she screamed at me, "GET A JOB AND BUY YOUR OWN CHEESE!!". God, I was so mad, mom. I was hungry!"

I call this the "Let Them Eat Cheese" story, and I believe that it pretty much sums up the relationship my angels have with the lovely Secretary.

According to them, she keeps "her" food separate from "their" food. Which I get, believe it or not. I understand, to some degree. It's hard to deal with four kids who sweep into a kitchen like a swarm of locusts, leaving nothing but empty containers and dirty dishes in their wake. I have been known to hide treats in odd places, just so my foodie bloodhounds don't get their paws on them first. I get it.

But really, it's not like this whole step-parenting thing is new. She first met my kids long ago, long before Big Daddy and I were officially divorced. The kids had suspected that there was someone else shacking up at Big Daddy's house, but she was kept on the down low for quite some time.

I'll never forget the night Molly came home from Daddy's house. She was quiet, and looked like she had something to say. So I sat down with her, and asked, "What's up?".

"Mom, I found something at Dad's house. Something gross."

My mind immediately jumped to images of dildos, inflatable dolls, things of that ilk. But I just asked her what she found.

"There was a tampon in the garbage." Gaaah. There it was. I tried to play it light with her, I think I said something like, "Hey, maybe your dad got his period! That's awesome!". She and I laughed and the matter was dropped.

They were introduced to her not long after that little feminine hygiene discovery, and the rest is history.

They tried, very hard, to like her. I wasn't the best role model for them at first, as far as step-parent relations go. I was pissed, resentful, bitter, you name it. I'll admit it, freely. I said things that I shouldn't have said. The worst thing I let pass my lips was calling her a whore within earshot of the kids. Do I regret saying it? Kind of. What I really regret is that they heard me say it. Somehow Big Daddy caught wind of this slip up and let me have it one day, out in the driveway when he came to retrieve the kids.

He was leaned up against his little car, like he always was when we'd have a "talk" out there. "The kids told me what you called her" he said. "I can't believe you'd say that. You're their core, you're the one they look up to." I felt badly, and apologized, and I did watch my mouth from then on. As best as I could.

But kids are kind of like dogs. They can sense when they're in the presence of someone who's not a fan. Secretary tried, I'll give her that. How it must have felt, to go from being Big Daddy's dirty little secret to being thrown into the ring with four kids who were going through the hardest time in their young lives. I don't know if I could have done it, personally. But she hung in there.

She took Molly shopping, took my boys to the grocery store, played board games with them, watched movies with them. She did a good job, at first. But then the grind must have started wearing on her, poor thing. The kids started coming home with stories about being screamed at, having hair pulled (yes, pulled hair. In public, no less), being banished to a yucky basement while Big Daddy, Secretary and their posh group of friends would sit upstairs, drinking and eating.

And then the cheese.

I've often wondered what kind of stepmom I would be. The closest I have come to it was while dating the victim I refer to as Mullet Man. He was the one and only victim whom I allowed into my kid's world, and that was really only because he had three kids himself. I liked his kids, but I don't know if I could have loved them like they deserved to be loved. Who knows, maybe it's something that comes after time. But Mullet and I didn't have more time. We broke up shortly after he told me that he wasn't really divorced. Oh, and he was a felon. More on that one later, promise.

Anyhoo, as I was saying, I don't know how I'd fare as a stepmom. My own kids can tweak my very last nerve, to the point where I fantasize about dropping the whole lot of them off at the bus station and waving bye bye. But at the end of the day, I love them with my whole heart, with every fiber of my being. "With the heat of a thousand suns", I always tell them. Because they're my kids. Could I ever love another person's babies like that? I don't know.

But I do know that I'd share my cheese with them. I'm nice like that.


"Children make your life important"

That's a quote by one of my idols, Erma Bombeck.

I loved Erma even when I was a young girl. I devoured books like a moth does a sweater, and if it was on our bookshelf at home, chances were I'd read it. My mom had a nice collection of Erma books, therefore, I became an Erma fan. I also read some Gloria Steinem but go figure, it's Erma that stuck with me.

Erma kind of braced me for the future, in a way. She may have planted the seed that grew into me wanting to be a mommy, in fact. She was wise and funny, and I thank her for the laughs and prophetic visions she provided for me then and now.

But yesterday morning I read a couple of articles that have me thinking about this Erma quote. The first one was on the Smartly.Chicago site, you can read it here. A good, thought provoking post on its own, but the author also included a link to another fascinating read, right here. Go ahead, read them! I'll wait.

I don't ever recall my mom or my grandmas or even my great-grandmas doting on their kids, centering their lives, their very existences around their kids the way women my age, and those coming up the parenting river behind us do. I remember them gathering in the kitchens, sitting in the living rooms, perming their hair, doing dishes, gnawing on chicken bones after a big dinner, but never obsessing over the fact that they were mommies and how dramatically changed their lives were. Children were simply a part of life, like rainy days and laundry and laughter. Good or bad, they were there, they were dealt with and life went on.

The New York article picked some serious scabs for me (sorry, that's super gross). I think my favorite quote out of the whole thing is this one: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.” I love this quote, because it is a classic modern parent line. You first state your love for your kids, because duh, we all love our kids. Then you say what's really on your mind. Think about it.

What were your joys before becoming a parent? What made you smile, made you feel free? What were you working for, what made "quitting time" a relief? For me, it was lots of little things. Payday was always a biggie. Going out with my friends, drinking giant beers at Glueks. Sleeping in. Seeing movies the first night they opened. Sunday papers, Chinese take-out, getting the leftovers from big family holiday dinners. All of these things made me happy.

I didn't plan my first child. If you've read my earlier posts, he was a summer "oopsie" that turned into a baby. But like everything that has happened in my life so far, I ran with it. Because my philosophy of life is a simple one, ironically enough it was also a quote in the NY article:

It is what it is.

Among my friends, I wasn't the first one to start having kids, far from it. I was 27 when Charlie was born, so I wasn't exactly a dewy young thing. I took advice from my girlfriends who had already gone down this road. Signed up for Gymboree classes, ECFE classes, took the walks to the park, all of it. At some point I ended up with three more kids (odd as it seems, all but my first child were planned). It seemed like the thing to do.

And life did become all about them. I remember loving it, loving them, loving the whirlwind that was parenting. There were signs that Big Daddy was less than happy with all of it, I recall a big fight one summer when I told him how much our Park and Rec activities were going to cost. "Everything is always all about them!" he yelled. And I remember thinking, "Well, duh." But maybe I should have listened more closely to what he was saying.

One of the men quoted in the NY article complained about the state of his marriage after kids. He said he felt neglected. This was one of the biggest issues that Big Daddy had with our marriage. I remember I dragged him to see a pastor at our church after he first left, during my "Let's Fix This Thing" phase. He sat there in the meeting, refusing to look in me in the eye, and told the pastor that I wasn't supportive of him, that I spent all of my time and energy on the kids, that our lives had become all about them, and not about us. At the time I wanted to reach across the table we were sitting at and smack him in the head. I wanted to scream, "No shit, slick. THEY'RE KIDS. They need me!". Looking back at it now, however, I see his point. I did live for them, and I guess I still do. But when did that become a big taboo?

And more importantly, when did it become the fault of the kids?

Sometimes I think that he left because of them (let me clarify, not THEM, individually, as people, but parenting as a whole). I would never say that to them, but I really believe that part of the draw, the lure of the Secretary was the very fact that she didn't have kids. She was able to devote all of herself to him, peel his grapes, laugh at his jokes, do all of the things that I did before putting on my Mommy hat. She wasn't tired from chasing kids, doing laundry, breastfeeding, bathing, diapering. Her body didn't bear the wear from four pregnancies. It must have been like sliding behind the wheel of a fancy little sports car after schlepping around in a minivan. I get it.

Do I ever regret becoming a mom? I'll admit there are flashes when I think how things could have been if I had made some different choices way back then. Times when I wonder if life would be easier, prettier, less messy without kids. But regret having them? No. Towards the end of my marriage, Big Daddy once said, "We should have stopped at two." One of my kids overheard this, and still brings it up once in a while. I think that was the day I got my first glimpse at who Big Daddy really was, and maybe then, for a millisecond, I regretting having kids with HIM. Not the kids themselves, but the choice of the paternal DNA. But only for a second. Because, after all, it is what it is.

I think that may be the reason behind this whole "Parenting is hard!!" movement we're reading about now. For some reason, our generation feels entitled. Entitled to have things our way. On our terms. And if you're a parent, you know that if there's anything in this big beautiful world of ours that doesn't give a fig about what we want or need, it's kids. I don't understand why this comes as such a shock to so many people.

Having children isn't something that you do because all of the so-called celebrities are sporting baby bumps, or because everyone in your social circle is doing it. Kids aren't like cute puppies or kittens that you fall in love with and bring home from the pound. They aren't like a fab new Coach purse or a pretty plasma t.v. You don't bring them home from the hospital, set them on a shelf and then take them down when it's convenient or there's a good photo-op. They require work. Sacrifice. They make life infinitely harder than you can ever even begin to fathom.

Erma said, "They make your life important." Not easy. Not glamorous. Not shiny and perfect and clean.

Important. And I do believe that Erma was right.
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