My Emo Easter

Well hello there...long time no see!

I had the pleasure of working full time all this past week, one of the paras at our school had surgery, and one had a relative in New York pass away. So I was called to fill one pair of shoes.

Holy crap..I don't remember the last time I worked a full week like this one. And once again I find myself amazed by the women around me who do this every single week. By mid-week I was pouting about not being able to work out, not being able to sit my big ass on the couch and catch up with all my fantasy television friends (RHONY started up again, and whoooo boy do I have some comments about that one. Alex is modeling? She looks like Frankenstein.). We had our last confirmation night, baseball has started so there were practices every night...I was lucky to have a few minutes here and there to do really fun things like wash clothes, buy groceries and shower.

But I am so fortunate to be in the school district we're in, to have the opportunity to be around some of the coolest kids on this planet. I'm keeping fingers and toes crossed that I can turn this into a full-time job soon.

Anyhoo. So last weekend we had a holiday. If you know me at all, you know that I dread the holidays. Divorce has ruined them for me...even the ones where I get to keep the kids are tainted with the foulness of divorce, the reminder that things are always going to be either "mom's day" or "dad's day". The knowledge that next year will be different is always there, always looming.

Aside from the whole "do I have the kids or not" drama, the holidays are also a punch in the gut because I don't have the family that a lot of people do. My dad and I are still not communicating regularly; we have had a few awkward, stammering, polite conversations but still haven't done any real talking. And my mom has never been one of those holiday dinner moms...going over to her house on the holidays usually entails me alone, or me with the kids, sitting around with my mom and my stepfather. There's usually a fight of some kind, or one of them blows up at the other, and I want to crawl under the bed in my old room and hide until everyone has simmered down.

I have two methods of dealing with my non-kid holidays: I either declare it a Me Day, and do whatever I want, or I get myself invited to a friend's celebration. The friend thing is nice, don't get me wrong, and I have never once regretted crashing someone's holiday gathering (can't say for sure if anyone has ever regretted having me, though). But it's just about impossible to describe how it feels to be a lone attendee at one. I can't stress how NICE it is to be invited, and I don't want to sound ungrateful, but there is something really sad about the whole thing. Seeing families that aren't broken, all together, cousins running around, grandparents being all grandparent-y...for some reason it makes me miss my kids even more. Makes me miss having anything in my life that resembles normalcy.

So yeah, this past Sunday was Easter. It was a Dad holiday for the kids, so I got them up, made sure everyone was showered and was dressed decently (I used to just send them in whatever they were wearing, and Big Daddy would have dressier stuff for them at his house, but now he doesn't. So I like to make sure the kids look nice.). We had decorated eggs the day before, and the old Easter Bunny had visited, leaving four baskets chock-full of sinful candy. Remind me, next year, to tell the Easter Bunny that she should have sprung for better chocolate. There is nothing worse than shitty chocolate bunnies. Palmer Candy Company, I'm talking about you. Yes, I ate some candy. I've slipped up in my No Candy rule, among others. And yes, that was me, picking up Starburst jellybeans off the floor and eating them. I'm not going to lie. They were delicious.

After the kids were dressed, the candy was ravaged and the day grew older, we started wondering when Big Daddy was going to retrieve them. Of course he hadn't communicated with me at all about pick up times. We seem to be in one of our zero-communication periods; believe me, I love it but it makes days like that one a little discombobulated. His standard time for days such as this is 10 a.m., but that came and went. The kids started wondering if he was coming at all, and more than one of them said, "Hey, if he doesn't show up, that would be cool!". Just between you and me, I was kind of secretly hoping he didn't show.

Two hours later, he pulled up. The kids walked out, one by one, and then it was just me and Walter. And four baskets of candy.

I started to feel that old familiar blackness spread over my being, like a puddle of oil slowly spreading on pavement. I wanted to just go to bed, and sleep until the kids came back from whatever brunch or gathering or wherever they were. I started to feel completely, and utterly alone again.

My BFF had invited me over for the day, she was hosting Easter and had a bazillion people coming. I was planning on going, honest I was. But I didn't. She called, a couple of times, and I let it go to voicemail. Why? I don't know. I was frozen. The thought of showering, getting ready, trying to find something to wear that didn't look like I stole it from the set of Maude or The Golden Girls, it all seemed like the most arduous task ever. It was so much easier to sit there, in my living room, yammering voices from some random t.v. show filling the air while I let the angst seep into my soul yet again. I imagined walking in, making semi-uncomfortable small talk with people who vaguely recognized me from the last family gathering I crashed, telling my BFF's kids that no, my kids weren't with me and trying to not see the disappointment on their faces when they realized it was just little old me and no children.

I don't know why I let myself get this way. You'd think that I would be prepared for these holiday blues, it's been this way for 4 years, and yet each time I find myself immersed in the same pity stew, like it's the first time.

Uncle Lorie was sans children as well, and tried her hardest to get me out of my funk. She has declared a mutiny against these Awkward Family Holiday Gatherings, and this year she made a roast and invited her mom over. She called, she texted. She gave me some pretty good advice about how I have devoted way too much emotional energy into all things Big Daddy and the havoc his actions have created. Every word she said was true, and for a minute I could see myself chucking all of this negativity into the wind, putting on a smiley face and a pastel top and marching out into the Easter goodness. And then I froze again.

After a while, when the pathos was becoming too thick even for me, I said, out loud, "Fuck it." I put my running shoes on, had Walter bring me his leash (the one trick we've managed to teach this poor neglected dog) and off we went. We walked, and walked and walked. Maybe 6 miles. It was a beautiful day, and the walk was like a therapy session/anti-depressant cocktail. When we got back home, I was sweaty. My legs were sore. Walter sloppily lapped up the entire contents of his water bowl and then sprawled out on the floor, tongue out, tail wagging.

The sun was still shining, the gloom had gone away. And then the kids came back (after only about 3 hours with Big Daddy...because why would he just keep them and hang out, ya know??).

I survived another holiday. Now I'm good until July.


R.I.P. Phoebe Snow

I remember getting a Toni perm way back in the day, looking in the mirror and saying, "I look like Phoebe Snow." (yes, an albino version of Phoebe Snow, but still.......)

I'm going to admit something here. No judging, please....but all these years I thought Ms. Snow was African-American. In reality? A white, Jewish woman.

Who knew?

Aside from having an absolutely gorgeous voice, she was an amazing person. She gave birth to a daughter who suffered from severe brain damage. Her husband left her while their baby was still a baby, and Phoebe put her career, and life, on hold to take care of her daughter. The baby, Valerie, was not expected to live through her toddler years but made it to the age of 31.

I am hoping that Phoebe is up in heaven right now, having a long-overdue conversation with her girl.


Things I Lurve!

The past couple of days have been a wee bit harrowing. Harrow mixed with some fun times, though, thank God. I won't bore you with the details except to say that Big Daddy will not be in the running for Father of the Year any time soon. Let's hope the fifth time's a charm, you callous tool!

That said, I am trying with all my might to not think about the negative shit in my life. I'm trying to rise above it, to be all "turn the other cheek". To quote my good friend Uncle Lorie, I'm "putting my blinders on". Lots of kids grow up with fathers who are less than ideal, and they turn out just fine. I'm sure the prisons in our great country are also filled to the brim with people suffering from Daddy issues, but I firmly believe that having one parent who gives a rat's ass about you can neutralize most ill-effects of having one who doesn't.

I dropped William off at a baseball practice tonight, and who do I see waddling up the sidewalk about a block ahead? Big Daddy and a very wide Secretary. With their Ewok dogs and bags of take-out from the posh grocery store not too far away (and yes I said posh, my local friends may be giggling at this but seriously...Byerly's is out of my league these days. If you go there, say hi for me. I miss having my groceries walked out for me). I thought to myself, "Self, it's awesome that they are able to do that, isn't it?". I thought to myself, "Self, how ironic that this wife is a fat pregnant lady too. I wonder if he gives her shit for being so big, like he did with me?". I thought to myself, "Self...it's a damn shame that he couldn't be bothered to pick up his 10 year old son this past weekend, or answer his daughter's frantic texts and calls." I once again found myself wishing that I had laser beam eyes. I felt bad for a minute, and then....

And then the music started. On the way to baseball, William was rummaging through my haphazard CD collection I keep in the truck. He pulled one out and said, "I know you like this one, mama." As I drove away from the park, drove away from that stupid, pathetic man and his even more stupid wife, I cranked that CD and sang along. While I was singing along, of course terribly off key and for sure screwing up lyrics left and right, I thought to myself, "Self..there's a lot of things in this world that are bad. But there are also a lot of things that are good. This music. Spring. Sleeping with windows open. Self, you focus on that stuff and let Big Daddy and His Bloated Bride fade away. Soon they'll be up to their horns in dirty diapers, crying and lochia. Let it be."

The bad feelings drifted away and I started thinking. Thinking about things I lurve. And you know what? I lurve a lot of things.

Macy Gray. Yep, she sounds a little like a slurring, choking person but I can put in her CD "On How Life Is" and I'm singing like a fool immediately. In my very detailed, kind of creepy fantasy world, I have a Showtime series based on my life and the opening credits roll with her song "Finally Made Me Happy" playing as background music. In my very detailed, kind of creepy fantasy world, Macy and I are also super good friends.

Brownies. Old school, box mix. The edges first, then the middle pieces. Heaven on earth.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It never, ever fails to make me GUFFAW. Out loud. GOL. Every single time I watch it..even repeats. I am kind of hoping for a sex dream featuring Charlie. Don't ask me why...just like weeping Virgin Mary statues, this is one of those things that simply cannot be explained.

Losing weight. Typing that just reminded me that I haven't done a Wellness Post in a while...you'd think the thousands of emails demanding another one would have been reminder enough, right? But here's the deal: I think Wellness has become part of my everyday life. I'm losing weight, slowly but surely. Things that were too tight a few months ago are now too big. People are noticing a difference...not everyone, but those who haven't seen me for a while can see it. More importantly? I can see it. I now make better choices. I'm exercising every day...it's become a habit. My BFF's husband surprised her with the news that they'd be going to Puerto Rico in May for a big company shindig. She's been on South Beach for almost three weeks now. She quit drinking and we walk about 4 miles a day together. Sometimes more. I have begun to look forward to these walks the way I used to look forward to Fridays. They are almost better than brownies.

Tina Fey. My friend loaned me her copy of Bossypants. I am drawing it out, savoring it, giving myself just a nibble of it here and there because I NEVER WANT TO GET TO THE END. I watch 30 Rock and damn if I don't find myself relating to Liz Lemon a little bit every single time. I rarely covet anything anymore, but secretly, just between you and me? I find myself wishing that I had 1/1oth of her talent.

AMC. If Bravo and I were dating, AMC would be the dirty bad boy trying to get me to come make out with him in the shadows. And I'm going. They've always had Mad Men. Then they pulled out Walking Dead. And now...The Killing. Until the new Top Chef comes on, it's me and my burnout boyfriend AMC. Dry humping and sharing smokes.

eBay. I'm not selling at the rate I used to, but sales still trickle in. And if they didn't? I'd be sunk. Plus, I just got my 2010 taxes done, and I can't begin to tell you what a huge difference it makes, being able to deduct everything from laundry detergent to all utilities to mileage on my truck. It's not the same eBay I fell in love with all those years ago, but it's still a good thing.

Trivia night at TGIFriday's. I haven't written anything about this one, but my friend Danielle and her hubby are to blame for my addiction got me into this. The local Friday's has Pop Culture Trivia nights...Thursday and Sunday nights. We don't get there every week, but often enough that we're now regulars. They go late, and it's hard for me to justify leaving the kids by themselves for 3 hours, but it's become a ritual that I love. Danielle's husband is Charlie, and our team is called Charlie's Fallen Angels. It's usually those two, me, and whomever else we can scare up. I've made some new friends (Danielle's awesome niece, our waiter Tyler...he actually switched his schedule this week so he can be there with us this upcoming Thursday) (and he saves the big booth in the corner just for us...mwahhhh Tyler!) and it gives me something fun to look forward to that has nothing at all to do with kids, men or work. The team that consistently beats us is called "Sofa King Smart" and it has become my life's work to beat their smug asses. It's gonna happen. Soon.

There are so many more things that I lurve, but one of the things I lurve best is calling me right now...

Getting into my bed with my dog, setting the alarm clock, making sure I have my phone (why? why, Jenny??) and a big glass of water nearby. Snuggling in under the covers and reading until I can't keep my eyes open for another second.

I hope it goes without saying that there are a few things I love that didn't get mentioned here: my kids, my family, my kick ass friends....life itself. Those things are a given for most of us. But sometimes we need to dig around and find the little things that make us happy, make us smile. Help us forget about the icky things. Those are the things I lurve.

What do you lurve? What keeps you going on craptastic days?

I'd really lurve to hear all about them.

Sweet Dreams are Made of This...

Raise your hand if you've ever had what I like to call (drum roll, please, Ringo....)

The Sex Dream.

I know there are people out there, friends of mine, who claim that they never remember their dreams. In fact, I've been involved in some friendly debates with some of them regarding dreams. Some people don't think we dream every night. Some people dream, but don't remember them. I pity the fool.

I love dreaming, I love my dreams. Sometimes, they're like real life on steroids. No worries, no stress. In some of my dreams I'm in perfect shape, raising perfect kids and living the perfect life. Sometimes they mirror real life, only instead of driving to the grocery store I'll fly there. I have pregnancy dreams to this day, hand to God I wake up and can still feel the baby kicking. There are dreams about the past, where I'm gabbing with my now-gone Grandpa or running around my childhood neighborhood, barefoot and carefree.

Don't get me wrong; dreams in JennyOpolis aren't always awesome. I have the occasional scary dream, even nightmares. In some of my bad dreams I'm being chased by a bear or a clown (the two things in this universe that scare the crap out of me), trying to hide under desks or in closets. Some of my bad dreams are those horrible, awful ones, the ones where something bad has happened to someone I love. I hate those.

And every once in a while, my subconscious treats me to a sex dream. If you've had them, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't had one? I'm so sorry.

Mine never start out naughty...they aren't like a porn filled with bleached out images of mustachioed studs, tawdry guitar music playing (bow chicka wow wow). No uncomfortable close ups, no loosely tied bathrobes. Nah.

Take, for example, the most recent sex dream I had. In this dream, I was having lunch at some nondescript, anonymous deli type restaurant. I was by myself, sitting at a booth with overstuffed red vinyl seating. I looked over and to my surprise, saw John McEnroe sitting at the booth next to mine. All alone.

One thing led to another, and before you could say match-point I was tangled up with Johnny Mac. I should clarify, too...this was 80's John McEnroe, with the fro/headband look. Where were we? A hotel room, my bed, under a table? I have no idea. These aren't the most detailed dreams. The funny thing about them, is that while they're happening, while Dream Jenny is making out with Dream McEnroe, there's no disbelief on my part. No shock. No overwhelming urge to text my friends "OMG I'm totally getting down with a quasi-celebrity". Like making oatmeal for breakfast, sex with McEnroe (or whoever is on tap that night) happens every day.

The funny thing about these dreams is how random they are. I don't remember reading or seeing anything about McEnroe recently. I'm waiting patiently for my Alec Baldwin sex dream to happen. It's only a matter of time.

I've had these naughty dreams for almost as long as I can remember. They started out as kissing dreams (the skateboarding one involving me and Leif Garrett? 5th grade. I remember waking up BLUSHING). Over the years I've had a plethora of partners, some famous, some just regular every day fellas. And one girl...there was that really raunchy one featuring Christina Aguilera. To this day I feel funny when I see her.

Dream Jenny has gotten busy with Will Ferrell (in his "more cowbell" get up, go figure), Christopher Walken, several Top Chef contestants, Paul Rudd has made a few appearances, Conan O'Brien, a guy I used to work with back in the early 90's, Joey from Friends (I know...why???), the tall Nordic vampire from True Blood, and many more.

Having a fun, intense sex dream is kind of like pulling out a coat from a past season and finding money in one of the pockets. An unexpected, pleasant surprise. In some ways, it's almost better than the real thing: no worries about morning breath, hairy legs or the fact that when naked, you resemble a white, wrinkled roman shade. No fretting about whether or not he'll respect you in the morning, whether or not he'll call. No wet spots, no awkward pillow talk, no fumbling around a dark room looking for your clothes.

Just slam, bam, wake up ma'am. And sometimes, that's all a girl needs.

Sweet dreams, my friends.


Depression Lite and Silent Auction Update.

So the Silent Auction came, and went. And it went fine. Better than fine. My sweet friend Gillian gave me an out, told me that if I didn't want to get on stage with her, that was ok. Love her. And I bet, for the first few rounds of Jenny and Gillian time on the stage, she was wishing I'd taken her up on that offer. I stood there, like a mute trophy wife, watching my sequin-clad friend do all the talking. The lights were bright, I could feel a trickle of sweat creeping down the small of my back. She was all brave and bantery (or is it banty, Gillian?), working the herd and acting like it was an every day occurrence, to be standing on a stage talking to a good sized crowd. A crowd which included the principal of our school, several teachers, some of the more beautiful parents (the ones I see at school and wonder, how is it possible that we are in the same universe, pretty person??) and my former BFF, Big Red.

I started to feel all angsty, imagining Gillian complaining about me afterward: "Did you see her just standing there staring out into the crowd? Did someone give her a xanax and not tell me?". And so the next time we got on stage, I sucked in some air and grabbed the mic. I imagined that we were doing the NPR show from SNL, you know, the one with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon doing low-talking into the mics, chatting with Alec Baldwin about his Schweddy Balls? What the hell was that called....AHA Delicious Dish. Anyhoo. Once I started, it was all ok. Gillian and I were funny and I think we did an awesome job. I was scared shitless to get up and do this, for lots of reasons (the fact that Big Red was in the audience was particularly terrifying. She scares me.) but dammit, I did it.

The night, prior to that, wasn't so awful. I walked in with my date, Perry Menopause. Perry was sweet and gave me a big giant zit on my cheek in lieu of a corsage. A zit that taunted me as I looked in the mirror after my pre-auction shower, saying, "Hey, Jenny. Hey, over here on your left cheek. I bet if you worked on me a little bit I'd go away before the auction. Come on, just give me a little squeeze. You know you want to." My life is rife with bad decisions, and the decision to work on that zit is one of them.

At one point in the evening, someone's husband (won't say who, but she reads this and knows who it is. He's awesome and I still love him) said, "Hey, you have something on your face....oh...sorry. Is that a pimple?". God bless him.

Luckily one of our school moms is a pretty famous make-up artist and had a couple of her protegees on hand, to spice up the make up of anyone who needed/wanted it. I'm sure I made their night when I brought my sorry ass and my giant zit up to them and said, "Please cover this for me." I wanted to add, in an Elephant Man voice, "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL" but made a good decision and didn't do it. The young hot make up girls spackled me up good.

As far as feeling ALONE, yes, I did have a few moments where my friends were off chatting in foursomes with their husbands and another couple, and I was just sort of standing there, half-pretending to look at the auction offerings, half wondering if it would look totally pathetic for the Lonely Only to load up a plate of hors d'oeuvres and find a nice dark corner in which to stuff her pie hole.

But those moments were few, and passed quickly. I was once again reminded of how blessed I am to be surrounded by so many wonderful people. I got hugs from dear hens, shot the shit with some fabulous husbands, met several new friends. I talked at length with the one woman who knows exactly what I deal with every day, the only other divorced chick I know with four kids. One of my biggest cheerleaders/supporters/all-round good friend shoved her copy of Tina Fey's new book, Bossypants, into my purse, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it but I'm looking forward to this child-free weekend so I can crack that sucker open and devour it. Love me some Tina.

Thanks to my friends, and to my decision to say screw you to stage fright, not only did the night go well but that funky cloud of Depression Lite has abated a bit. I feel better. Not 100%, but way more than I did just yesterday. Even my zit is smaller today.

And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't go all Wedding Singer on the crowd last night. I did, however, reference the fact that I'm a single mom so shaving is a foreign concept...please don't ask how that came up. It took two barbecued meatballs to get over that one.

Of course, when I got home, the kids had ransacked the house. I had hoped that they'd be able to spend the night at Big Daddy's house, but when that option was presented to them, they went ape shit en masse. So I was greeted with a kitchen Armageddon scene (seriously, every single glass was used. And all the butter was gone. I don't even want to know.) and did one of my "crazy person cleaning and bitching" rants, but all in all, I found myself quoting Ice Cube:

I got to say it was a good day.


Adam Sandler, Sneetches and Me. Oh my.

Warning: I'm in a funk. So this is going to be a funkified post. Sorry. I'm trying to bring the funny, but even in real life I have been feeling like a cardboard cutout of myself.

Have you ever grappled with depression? I mean, gotten into the ring with it, doing scissor kicks and Vulcan death grips on it, pounding away at a seemingly unbeatable oppenent? The kind of depression that you can feel seeping in, but no matter how how hard you try you can't find a way to staunch the flow?

How about what I like to call Depression Lite? It's like The Real Thing only you can kick it to the curb in a day or two. Or three. The blues. Elton John sang a song about it (and here's a bit of Jenny Trivia: I thought the song was called "Dog Blues", and when I sang it out loud I sang "I guess that's why they call it Dog Blues") (proof that a high IQ doesn't mean a whole lot).

I've been dealing with something for the past couple of weeks. So far I've been able to keep it at the Depression Lite stage, but folks...this one is scaring me a little bit. I've only really dealt with the major depression stuff once, that was back when Big Daddy had left me for the second time. That was when things got so black, so scraping-the-bottom that I had written notes for each of my kids. Notes to be read after my demise. I think there are two main reasons I'm still here: my former BFF Big Red, and the fact that my god forsaken truck didn't fit in the garage.

This time, I'm not writing any notes, but I am finding it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. Finding it difficult to muster any enthusiasm, for anything. Maybe it's the change of seasons, daylight savings time. Maybe it's yet another malady that can be blamed on menopause and her bitchy little sister, Perry (because after the age of 40, you will discover that anything from dry skin to loss of hearing to flatulence can be blamed on one or the other. Menopause: The Middle Aged Woman's Scapegoat).

I've been doing everything by the book: getting outside, getting exercise, focusing on the positive. Surrounding myself with friends, petting my dog, etcetera etcetera. But I'm just not feelin' it.

Our school is having the big Silent Auction tonight, for the first time ever it's being held off-site and is an adults only function. My good friend Gillian and I are the emcees for the live part of the auction, and as flattering as it was to have been asked to do it, and as excited as I am to have a microphone in front of my big mouth, I'm filled with nothing less than dread. Not so much stage fright (although I have to admit, every movie scene featuring someone having a public, mic enhanced breakdown has been been playing in my brain all week), rather, this is yet another event where it feels like I have a big, glowing neon sign above my head blinking "ALONE" "ALONE" "ALONE".

School events are hard for single parents. Harder still if you have been part of a sticky divorce, and even harder if the event happens to fall on a day or night when the kids are with your ex. It's hard to describe what it feels like to be one of us, I know many of my friends have attended programs and such solo due to a spouse being out of town or otherwise engaged...but it's different. It doesn't matter who I go with, who I hang out with at the event, how much fun we have, at the end of the night it's always the same. My friends go home with their significant others, if I'm lucky, I go home with a buzz.

Yes, I am completely aware of how Eeyore I'm being, and I'm sorry. I try to not wallow in the little bouts of self pity that sometimes cloud my vision, but this time I'm finding it oh so tempting to just jump into it, wrap it around me and lose track of time while I close my eyes and let it encase me like a cocoon.

That's the thing about being single at this stage in life: it's not normal. It's not par for the course. People my age, with my background, with kids who are the ages of my children, we are not supposed to be alone. I know that it's not unusual, I know that there are statistics and studies and lots of t.v. shows that feature single parents in my age bracket, in the same demographic group I'm in...but we're still an anomaly. And most of the time, I think the majority of us in this situation do a great job of blending in. We show the world that we can handle it, that we are confident, strong people who rise up to the challenge of being a star-less bellied Sneetch in a world where all other Sneetches have stars upon thars.

But some days, some weeks, it's hard. Sometimes you just want to fit in, you want to be one of the pack. Sometimes it hits you, just how unbelievably alone you are despite the fact that you still can't use the toilet without someone standing outside the door asking where something is. Sometimes, you notice that everyone else in the world starts sentences with the words "We" and "Our" while you are the spinster who can only say "I" and "My".

The good thing about these moments, these days of realization is that they tend to come in waves. And just like the waves in a lake or ocean, they'll slowly recede, leaving the beach smooth and calm again. I guess I need to learn how to embrace these waves, learn from them and let them wash over me instead of trying to fight them.

When I was little, we went to California to visit some relatives. While we were there, we went swimming in the ocean. I remember playing in the shallow water, going a little bit further out, feeling the tepid water creep up my legs, shocking my belly and back, wrapping my chest and neck in a watery hug. I remember looking at my mom, who was sitting on a blanket in the sand, smoking a cigarette and chatting with some aunt or uncle or cousin. The water suddenly got deeper, and then pulled me under. The panic hit me like a sledgehammer. I remember trying to stay upright and the feeling of my legs being knocked out from under me, the brute force of the ocean pushing my face into the sandy bottom. I remember thinking "I'm going to die and no one knows".

And then, just as abruptly as it started, it stopped. I was standing in ankle-deep water, sand in my eyes and mouth and bathing suit, a wail just starting to erupt from my throat. No one on the beach knew what had just happened. No one saw me struggling to stay alive while a force with unbelievable strength held me underwater. No one knew.

So I spit the grit out of my mouth, tried to discreetly shake out my bathing suit bottoms, and got back to the business of playing in the ocean. My brief battle to survive had passed, and I had won. I had no idea that someday, when I was all grown up, I'd be doing the same thing over and over again...not in the ocean, of course, but in my own head. Fighting invisible waves, battling forces that are hellbent on keeping me down. But just like Little Jenny found herself alive and standing on the beach all those years ago, Grown Up Jenny will be doing the same. Shaking the sand out of my pants, spitting the rocks and salty water out of my mouth. But standing all the same.

I want to end this with something a little lighter, something that makes me laugh and I hope makes someone else laugh.

Here's one of the scenes that I've had in my head all week...those of you who will see me tonight, rest assured I will not be singing. I hope....


Swearing kids. Hurt feelings. Laughs.

When you have kids, it's like giving birth to your very own private fan club. The more babies, the more members of the club. As soon as they can focus their eyes, they worship you. You are the provider of their nourishment, the soft warm human easy chair they can settle into at any given time, the keeper of their days and nights.

And it's a two-way street, this love affair. You spend hours just gazing at their little faces, their tiny toes, their teensy squishy butts, their perfect little fingernails. Every strand of hair on their head is a blessed miracle.

For a long while, you are their commander in chief. You are the person they cry out for in the middle of the night, you are the one who knows exactly which cup they want for their milk, you are the one they want to please. It's you they create all of those drippy finger-painted masterpieces for, it's you they cling to when they're feeling overwhelmed with this big huge world.

You are the key master to their gate keepers. Yin and yang, you are.

Then one day they surprise you.

They start acting like turds. They'll snarl at you, glare at you, tell you that you are the Meanest Mommy in The Whole Wide World. You may even get an "I hate you". They'll stick their tongues out at you, tell you that your toast doesn't taste good. They'll fold their little arms and turn their heads when you reach out to scoop them up.

I'll be honest with you. When it first happened, I was crushed. I thought that I had failed as a parent, thought that my child had seen through this maternal facade I had built over the old me.

By the time my fourth child did the arm-folding, head-turned "harumph" thing, though...I was pretty much over it. Poor William, and all those other last-children: they never really get to feel that power. I remember saying to William, "Believe me, mister, whatever ya got, I've seen it before." Of course, that was before he was playing horsey on the back of our old massive couch, fell off and bent his forearm in half. That was a new one.

But as far as hurting your feelings, the first kid gets the honor of breaking you in. Unless you have one of those rare angel kids...I've heard they exist but have never actually seen one in real life. Those are the kids who are picking up trash at the park and recycling it before they are potty trained. The kids who look at the other, more "earthy" kids in school with morbid curiosity and a bit of disdain. No offense if you have one of these kids, really. I'm super happy for you.

My kids are perfect in their own ways. I love them, love them with every single fiber, every single cell of my being. But each one of them has a nice sharp set of horns. Believe me, they're there. Some of them got their horns early, in the name of kindness I won't say who got theirs first or which ones were the sharpest or which angels started rutting me the soonest. Each one has a set, and each one has used them.

As your kids get older, and your skin gets thicker, they come up with new ways to shock you. You may hear some swearing and/or other inappropriate phrases. I'll admit it: there are days I want to tell the neighbors to not worry, that my kids are simply rehearsing for a live theater production of South Park. I sometimes feel like I've stumbled into a drunken longshoreman convention or a seedy truck stop when I hear the filth that my kids have sputtered. I'm not proud of this, and have tried just about everything to quell it, but there you have it. Sometimes my kids swear.

And sometimes, they swear at me. I've heard pretty much everything, been called just about every name in the book. It hurts. It hurts my feelings, it embarrasses me, it fills me up with a cocktail of guilt, shame and anger. It has taken me a long time to build up my defenses when this particular barrage of sewage is thrown at me. I now simply say, over and over again, "You may not swear in my house." Sometimes they listen, and stop. Other times they'll retort with more verbal abuse (which may sound dramatic, but really, that's what it is). When it gets to be too much, sometimes I snap. I'll yell back, I'll start one of my rants (the ones where I walk through the house, picking up, putting things away and mutter about my choices in life), I've even sworn back at them. I'm not proud of that, but I'm human and it's happened.

I'm sure Dr. Phil or Super Nanny or even freaking Cesar the Dog Whisperer would have plenty to say to me about it, about what I've done wrong or what I should be doing. I've brought it up at their well-child exams ("tell them to stop" was the advice), mentioned it to school counselors and spent a lot of my "me" time in therapy waxing on and on about it. I've received lots of good tips, lots of commiseration and yes, a bit of judgmental reprimanding.

This is one of those times that I feel those cooled off embers of resentment towards Big Daddy start glowing again. I think to myself how nice it would be to have a loud male voice in my house, someone to defend me, someone to put a little fear into these kids. "DON'T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER THAT WAY". Isn't that something we all heard from our dads at one point or another? I don't have that. In fact, my kids hear their father saying some pretty awful things about me, things that I'm sure have stuck in their memories like gravel in the treads of your shoes. And yes, I have said my share of not-so-nice things about him. But I stopped that, a long time ago. When my kids say something like "I hate him" or "I wish we never had to see him" I defend him (imagine that...I really do). I tell the kids that he's their dad and they have to respect him. That he loves them and that they love him too. I save my venom for brief rants with my friends, or else here under the cloak of anonymity.

I wish I had someone to defend me. That's when I get mad, when I start to think about how unfair it is that I'm doing this seemingly impossible job all by my lonesome. I start to think that I'm doing my children a grave disservice by not having a man in the house, that maybe I need to go and aggressively seek out a guy just to get that male voice.

And then things calm down. The kid who swore will apologize, we'll have the same talk we have over and over again, about respect and love and kindness. Things will be better and the embers of anger cool down again, in all of us. And I realize that my kids, while not perfect angels, are simply trying to work things out. It's not always pretty, this growing up thing, especially when there are so many ugly circumstances and painful situations to deal with. That doesn't excuse their behavior, of course, I'm not going to backpedal now and say "It's ok". It's not ok, and it's something that I'm going to have to work on. If I do happen to find that man with the booming voice, my defender, my knight in shining armor, so be it. But I'm not going to wait for that to happen. I need to figure this one out in the same way I've handled all of the other parenting issues that have come up over the past 6 years: on my own.

I mentioned laughs in the title of this post, didn't I? We get those here, too. Sometimes those horns be funny. William and I went skiing with his class for a fabulous all-day field trip last month. It was the first time on skis for me, and only the second or third time for William. He had a blast. All of the kids had a good time, it seemed.

On the bus ride back, a group of kids had apparently decided that since they still had their "All Day" passes, it made perfect sense to come back after school let out. William started begging me as we drove home from school. "Please oh please oh please mom". He went on and on and on. The answer was no. I couldn't. In a perfect world, I would have. But I had to get Charlie to work, I was running low on gas, I didn't really have the extra money it would take.

William was furious. I should mention that William, he with the littlest of horns, has never sworn at me. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard him swear. But William wields his own weapon of anger: the grudge. He stews in it. He soaks it up. And he is a stubborn little boy...his grudges can last days. So, Angry William holed himself up in my office while I made dinner, got Charlie to work and did the other 1,000 things we all have to do every night. William was busy too.

A little bit later I walked into my office, and was greeted with the following sight: about 100 or so index cards spread out all over, like rose petals strewn about by a lover. Each index card had the same thing written on it, in pissed off 5th grade handwriting: I HATE MY MOM. Everywhere...on the computer keyboard, on the desk, on the chair, the floor. He worked hard on this one.

And it made me laugh. I didn't laugh in front of him, of course. You don't do that to the Grudge holders. But I did tell him to pick up the cards. Which he did, and when he was done he came up to me, snuggled in and said, "I'm sorry."

The good thing about the horns on my kids? They're retractable.


Why Can't We Be Friends? or, With Friends Like You, Who Needs Enemies?

So the funeral yesterday was just as you'd think it would be: sad. Sad beyond belief. That kid had so many people there, the church was as packed as it is on Christmas Eve. I'll be delighted if I get 1/4 that amount at my farewell.

As expected, it was difficult to see so many people hurting. My heart still aches as I think about the faces of his parents, his sister, his cousins. But at the same time, I feel joy in my heart for how lovingly this child will be remembered, for how much love and happiness he left his family with. What an impact he made on this planet in just 13 short years.

At one point, the people whom I assumed were his parents got up and spoke. I was in awe, in disbelief..how could you even form a sentence when wracked with so much grief? They spoke lovingly of their son, shared sweet memories, funny stories...gave us just a taste of what life with this boy must have been like. Although they were divorced, they presented the church and the mourners in it with a united front. "We are all one family" they declared.

After the funeral I discovered that those weren't his parents...those were his step-parents. Of course. Even though they surely loved this boy, perhaps their grief was just a tidge less deep than that of the boy's "real" parents. They let their spouses speak for them, and when I heard that, I had even more admiration for this child's family.

And it got me thinking.

Could Big Daddy and I have done that? God forbid, I know. But, really? Could we?

I don't know.

I have come across some divorced couples who have what is most commonly called an "amicable" relationship. I don't know why this word is paired with divorce and its aftermath so often, but it does pop up with great frequency when one starts delving into the topic.

When I meet people who are divorced, and who have this amicable thing going on, I'm always impressed. Always. I wish more than anything that my kids had parents who could stand around at events and games, stand within touching distance and be civil to each other. I wish they had parents who could call each other up to discuss something kid-related, just to keep each other in the loop. I wish they had parents who could sit in the same bleachers or pews or row of seats in an auditorium and present that "united front".

But my kids don't have that. And I'm partly to blame.

When Big Daddy first left, we did have an amicable relationship. We'd talk on the phone, when he began picking the kids up for visitation he'd come to the door or I'd walk out to chat for a minute. I even called him when I felt a freak-out coming on, he actually dropped what he was doing and came over to talk to me.

Then, I found out about the lies. The cheating. The indiscretions, the hidden stuff, the sneaking around behind my back. The other woman. I didn't find out about it all at once, like someone dumping a giant wheelbarrow of woe over my head. That would have been easier, I think. But no. These bits of information came at me one at a time, like a slow-motion shower of tiny, poison-tipped arrows piercing my flesh, my heart, my soul... one by one.

By the time I knew pretty much everything, I wanted nothing more to do with him. I wanted to wash my hands of him, bleach my memories and pretend as though my children had just shown up on my doorstep one day, anonymous donations from an unknown source.

But of course, that wasn't possible. In most cases with kids, at some point it's inevitable. You will cross paths with your ex. You will need to communicate with each other, whether it be via phone or text or email or carrier pigeon. And if you live in the same small city? Hooo boy. You will see each other, you will run into people who know your kids but don't know you, you will see the other person's car parked in a spot only a few cars away from yours and you will have to use every bit of sense you have left in your head to not key the word "ASSHOLE" or "PRICK" on it (totally kidding. Okay, mostly kidding. I preach non-vandalizing means of coping, bitches).

You will run into the new person in their life. Your friends will run into them. I remember a call I received one day not long after Big Daddy and Skankenstein tied the knot: "OMG, guess who I just ran into at Byerly's?" she said. After I guessed correctly, she went on, "Wow. She's not what I expected. I didn't know whether to offer them congratulations or condolences." You simply can't avoid it.

There will be contact.

So after I realized how long I'd been played for a fool, and how deeply he'd been undercover with the Secretary, I simply decided to keep our contact and communication as sparse as it could be. Emails are usually short and to the point (unless I am suffering from wine flu or PMS, both of which have been known to cause long, vitriolic rampages) . Phone calls have fallen by the wayside. I kind of miss those, to be honest. His ringtone is "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and I like that song. He waits in his car, in the driveway, when picking up the kids. When we have to be at the same event, we sit as far away from each other as possible. Whoever has to leave the event empty-handed is allowed to bid adieu to the child/children at hand, and then does that awkward, solo walk out to the parking lot. The singleton in a sea of families.

Could we be friends? I don't think so. I think too much damage has been done. Certainly, if one of my girlfriends had shit all over me like he did, we would not be friends. In fact, if one of my friends did to their spouse what Big Daddy did to me? I don't know if I could continue to be part of that friendship.

Because I don't think what he did was right. What he did was cruel. It was destructive. It was like a natural disaster hit me and the kids and the jury is still out with their verdict on whether or not we'll ever be 100% again.

Let's play pretend, though. Just for a bit, let's pretend that he manned up before cheating. Before renting his apartment while "out getting coffee" one Saturday afternoon. Let's pretend that Big Daddy chose to be an adult, a husband, a responsible human being and instead of doing all that crap behind my back, came to me and discussed it. Put it out there. Would our marriage have survived? Doubtful.

But we would have had better odds of becoming one of those Amicable Divorced Couples. Because I'm almost certain that those divorced people who do get along, who will sit on the same set of bleachers or row of folding chairs...those people weren't involved in any marital espionage. They had problems in their marriage. They talked about it, they mutually agreed that it wasn't going to work.

They both had a say in it.

I also think that most of the people who do deal well with each other are not engaged in any financial fisticuffs. If Big Daddy would pay what he owes, if he'd throw me a bone every now and then, the wall of bitterness and animosity that has built up between us would maybe erode a little. There is something so dehumanizing, so utterly humiliating about having to beg the father of your children to help out with their upbringing. It doesn't exactly inspire warm, "hey buddy!" thoughts.

I'm hopeful that with all the things in the near and not-so-near future that will require us to be in the same zip code (graduations, celebrations, weddings, but please oh please God no funerals), we will somehow be able to get to the point of civility. I'm hopeful that someday I can see him and not feel that white-hot stab of pain in my chest like I do now, that eerie phantom pain of a knife in my back.

Of course, I'm also hopeful that some night I'll hear a knock on my bedroom door and it will be a liquored up, half naked Alec Baldwin. I'm optimistic like that.

And Secretary? Ha. Men who are unfaithful to their wives can be classified as sadistic, the women who knowingly pursue a married man? They're in a whole 'nother league of awfulness. I can see trying to have some semblance of a public relationship with Big Daddy, but with her, there is no obligation. No requirement. No desire.

People in the divorce world like to throw around little platitudes and sage sayings. One of them is this:

"You have to love your children more than you dislike your ex."

I'm trying. Honest to God, I'm trying.

But he isn't making it easy.


Dear God:

It would be totally fine with me if there was never a need to have a funeral for a child. Ever again.



P.S. And if you could try and make it so Scrabble Facebook worked on my computer again, that would be nice too.


A funeral for a boy.

A boy from our church died last week. He was in Henry's confirmation class.

He was 13.

It was an accidental death. An accident on a Thursday during Spring Break.

I didn't know this boy personally. I knew him by sight, from seeing him at church. Henry really liked him.

Their confirmation teacher called me last Friday night, just minutes after the kids were picked up by Big Daddy. I cringe now, remembering how I immediately assumed that Henry was in trouble for something, something he'd done at church.

I wish that's what the call had been about.

The confirmation teacher is a dad who volunteers every Wednesday night, just like I do, to take on the role of leading a wriggling, giggly group of 7th graders through the Bible. He has a son the same age as the boys in his class.

I thought of my group of girls. You really do end up loving these kids. My heart sank as I listened to this man talk about a boy. A boy who was here one day, and now, he isn't.

At first I scrambled to put a face to the name. And then it came to me. A cute blond boy (I know...how odd to find one of those in a Lutheran church in Minnesota) who always had a happy look on his face. He had that fresh-scrubbed, crew-cut cuteness, that boy-next-door, Norman Rockwell aura about him.

And now he's gone.

After Henry's teacher and I finished our call, I sent Molly a text: "Henry needs to call me, now. It's important."

I thought about waiting until he came back, on Sunday night, but didn't think he would be able to go all weekend without hearing the sad news.

My kids have never had anyone die.

Sure, they've seen it in the movies, they've seen celebrities go.

But they've never known someone, like met them, talked to them, gotten to know them...and then lost them. I wanted to tell Henry this horrible news because I knew it would hit him hard. I wanted him to be in the company of someone who loves him, who understands him and would let him absorb the information in his own way.

And that's what happened. My boy let out a sound that you don't want to hear any kid make. My boy cried for the other boy. He asked what happened, why it happened, and was I sure? I talked to him for a bit, tried my best to comfort him over the phone (damn these away weekends), and told him that we'd go say goodbye to this boy. Told him we'd go to this boy's funeral.

A funeral for a boy. That doesn't make sense.

Boys should be getting cleats for baseball and dreaming of weekends at the cabin and shooting hoops as the sun sinks into the pink/orange horizon on cool spring evenings. They should be getting taller and have crackly voices. They should be trying to flirt with girls in that wonderfully awkward thirteen year old manner.

They shouldn't be having funerals.

That doesn't make sense.

Tomorrow I will take my son to say goodbye to this boy. I will sit back, quietly, and watch another mother go through something that no mother should have to endure. We will see a father paying his last respects to a son. Family members and friends who are most likely still just a little bit unsure if this is all real.

I will hold my own boys, and my girl, a little bit tighter for the next few weeks. My friends and I will discuss this tragedy, and talk about how we hovered over and stalked our babies and toddlers, how we capped outlets and locked medicine cabinets and gated stairs. To keep them safe. And how cruelly ironic it is that when our kids get "bigger", when they reach that Golden Age of ten, or twelve...or thirteen...we finally exhale and assume that they're safe from harm.

A funeral for a boy.

That doesn't make sense.


An April Fool's Baby...Happy Birthday Charlie

So it's been 17 years since he entered this world. Before his shoulders were out his eyes were open and he was screaming with every ounce of lung power he could muster. On April 1st, 1994, my son Charles was born, and life as I knew it changed for good.

And it really was for good. I've babbled on and on about how he was a colicky baby, how he pushed me out of my self-involved, all-about-me cocoon and schooled me in the art of motherhood. I've also gone on about the hardships he's endured in his young life, how he's tip-toed up to the edge of a dark and brutal place, and came back just in time. I've repeated, again and again, how much I love him, and how proud I am of him every single day. You'll note I didn't say every single second of every single day, because as much as I adore him he also has the ability to drive me batshit crazy.

Anyways. The one thing I haven't really expressed is how grateful I am that he is here. I think back to life before kids, before Charlie, and it's like looking at a stranger's life. It looks barren, no matter how many people wandered in and out of it, it looks not lonely, but what's another word I can use to describe it...solitary? Solo? Whatever. You get the idea.

Seventeen years ago today, at 5:00 p.m., that changed forever. Actually, a few months prior to that it changed. I remember driving home after my first doctor's appointment. I had suspected that I was pregnant, but a combination of fear and ignorance had kept me from confirming those suspicions until a co-worker at The Gap started a conversation with me while we were folding jeans at closing one night in October of 1993.

She was pregnant, about 4 months along, and had regaled all of us (mostly) young, (mostly) single Gap employees with the gory details of pregnancy. We heard about the morning sickness, about the tender boobs, about the disappearing waistline and the expanding ass. I was with Big Daddy at this time, we had just moved into our sweet Yuppie suburban apartment and were beginning to map out our future.

So as Amy (the knocked up co-worker) and I were folding the piles of Reverse Fit and Classic Fit jeans, we began gabbing. I told her how exhausted I'd been. I told her about my aching feet. I told her about my tight bras. About my ravenous appetite for both food and sex.

"I'm no expert," she said, "But it sounds to me like you're pregnant."

I remember feeling the whoosh of air leave my body, the lights dimming, my body simultaneously weightless and leaden.

Of course I was. Deep down I knew it. I hadn't had a period since...since...that summer? I started thinking of events that I could tie to certain dates, certain months. Let's see...there was Fourth of July...Big Daddy and I had gone to see not-yet-insane Tom Cruise in "The Firm" at Mall of America that night, and yes, there was the requisite date sex afterwards. August was my friend Lisa's wedding, she of the huge Irish clan marrying a boy from another huge Irish clan. The words "Open Bar" were an understatement for that reception. But yes, there was sex after that as well. I tried to remember anything about periods...buying or borrowing a tampon, ANYTHING. All I could remember was a conversation with a friend about the inconvenience of menstruating earlier that summer.

Yes, yes, yes. It was true. Back in those days Big Daddy would pick me up from work, and that night I made him take me to the grocery store where we purchased a pregnancy test. And a half gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

So back to the first doctor's appointment: she confirmed that I was with child, and probably about 4 1/2 months along. She let me hear the heartbeat, gave me a prescription for prenatal vitamins, set up an appointment for the ultrasound the next day, and sent me on my bewildered way.

We had a convertible back then, a Volkswagon Cabrio. I had the top down that day, that beautiful Minnesota fall day in October. The sun was shining, the air had just a slight crispiness that alluded to cooler days ahead. But that day it was still warm. I drove home with the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and one hand resting firmly on my belly. And as I drove, I smiled. I was terrified, sure, but beside the terror was another feeling.


Happy Birthday, Charlie.
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