Bitter/Sweet Thoughts on Christmas Morning

I'm sorry, friends. Not one of my happier posts. You might want to skip it today. I had to get this out, though. Just had to. 

Behold the Hausfrau family's Christmas Bush. They sold it under the guise of it being a tree, but there is little tree-ness about it. It stands about 5 feet tall, there is no pointy top on which to place the vintage Noma twinkling star. The branches poke out haphazardly, here and there wherever they please. The traditional triangle tree shape has given way to a stout mass of needle-emblazoned branches. Hanging ornaments on this thing was actually easy, since there was no narrowing towards the top.

It's a bush. And that's perfectly okay with us.

When I was little, we had a fake tree. It came out of a box the day after Thanksgiving and went back into the box shortly after Christmas. I was a kid, it didn't occur to me that there were people who had real trees. All I cared about was the pile of presents underneath it, and why my brother had two more than I did and why did mom and dad like him better?

When I first met my in-laws, it was Christmastime. I walked into their charming riverfront home and was greeted by a majestic Fraser Fir holding court in the living room. Tastefully gaudy Radko ornaments twirled silently in the soft glow of tiny white lights. The smell...oh Lord. The smell was what got me. It smelled like love and forests and security and cookies. I wanted to throw the smell on the floor and roll around in it like a cat does catnip.

We've only ever had real trees. Before Divorce, we made a grand show out of going to a tree farm and cutting one down. The kids remember nothing of those trips except for wrestling in the snow and the hot cocoa. I'd like to think that some day they'll recall them with more fondness than they do now. But that's for them to decide.

After Divorce I was determined to carry on the tradition. Especially so when the kids came home from Dad's house and announced that his tree was a FAKE. That pronouncement, along with the one that at Dad's house, Santa wrapped gifts instead of leaving them free and unfettered under the tree on Christmas morning, cemented my decision to keep Christmas real at my house. Real and true. I attempted the tree farm, once. A single woman and four kids does not a fun tree farm trip make. The lots are easier and the trees smell just as lovely.

There are no trees, real or fake, at my mom's house anymore. She doesn't move much, her legs have mysteriously stopped working. Parkinson's was the guess for a long while but was eliminated after some tests. She lives in a room. A single room. When I visit her, I stand at the doorway of that room, the room that was my bedroom and is now her world. She has a toilet chair, a laptop, a small television and an ashtray.

"Hi Jenny, it's your mom" her messages always start that way, as if there is another person with a Harvey Fierstein voice calling me, ever. "I was wondering if you could come over...." The messages she leaves me are always the same. Sometimes I answer her calls, other times I can't handle it and I let them go to voicemail. And when I listen to the messages I am consumed with a sad anger, a bitterness that stings my eyes and squeezes my heart.

My mom loves her cigarettes. I've only known her as a smoker. She smoked while I was in her belly, she smoked when I was a baby and a toddler and a school girl. Mom and her smokes. I stole them from her when I was a teen, hiding the absurdly long Virginia Slim 120's under whatever kind of hat I fancied at the time. I quit when I was pregnant with Charlie and aside from a brief, pathetic backslide after The Divorce, where I'd hide in the garage and puff away when the kids were with their father, I haven't looked back.

I hate cigarettes. Loathe them. I hate the smell, I hate the way they bounce on the road after being tossed from some careless asshole's window. The bright orange coals bobbing and weaving and sparking beneath the tires of the cars, like a tiny meteor shower.

I have become my mother's own personal cigarette shopper. She can't drive and her husband won't get them for her. There are times I simply refuse. "No." I tell her, without further reason. "No, mom."

Other times I will give her my excuses: I'm broke. I'm busy. It's embarrassing for me to buy them.

But usually, I do it. I drive to the convenience store and walk from my car to the swinging door and filled with resentful shame I approach the register.

"I need to buy cigarettes for my mom" I always begin. I think sometimes they don't believe me. I want to show them my work badge, the one with the name of my school district plastered over the mug shot photo. "I work at a school!" I want to say. "I hate cigarettes!".

I'm a 47 year old divorced preschool teacher, buying a pack of Mistys. "The blue ones..." I say. "The long ones," I add.

When I bring the smokes to my mom she shoves money at me. "Take it" she croaks, her huge watery brown eyes meeting my contemptuous, sad blue ones. Some days I take the money. Some days I don't.

She opens the pack like a kid on Christmas morning, and before you can say "CANCER" the room is filled with the noxious scent. It makes my nose burn and my eyes well up and fills my body and my mind with memories. I need to escape, need to go back to my safe world, where there is no cigarette smoke and no bad feelings and no toilet chairs and cat shit everywhere. I need to go home.

I drive away from that house, my hair and clothes reeking even though I left just minutes after she lit up. I put the windows down, now it's freezing outside and I drive and drive, the cold air caressing my cheeks, making the tears on them feel like tiny sharp icicles. I cry, almost every time I leave her house. I cry and I get mad and I ask God or whoever why? Why can't I have a normal mom, a normal family. Why can't I have a mom who is busy golfing with her friends or gardening or curled up on a couch reading a good goddamned book? Why do I have the mom who is addicted to nicotine, who sits in a room day after day just waiting for the weather guy to come on and tell her what it's like outside?

Why did I have the just plain bad luck to be born into a family where dysfunction is as hereditary as the color of your hair or the tilt of your nose?

Somewhere inside of me is a good daughter. She reminds me of the times, the times I did have a fun mom. A mom who walked and drove and who sang along to Pat Benatar with me in the car. We'd sing at the top of our lungs "HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT" and I'd look over at her and admire her auburn bob haircut and her cool patchwork jean jacket and the way she could hold a cigarette and the steering wheel with one hand. I love her, I'd think to myself. Singing with my mom in the car. That made me happy.

Today I'm home. Home with my kids. Home with them and our dog and our Christmas bush. I have a ham to make and Roadside potatoes to bake. I can admit to you guys that when the kids came home from Big Daddy's last night and announced that Secretary's ham was dry and her cheesy potatoes sucked, I beamed inside. Today our ham will be moist and our potatoes will be crispy deliciousness.

Our home doesn't smell like cigarettes, there is no animal crap on the floor and no monsters come out at night to hit my kids. We opened presents this morning and now I look around, I see William with the body pillow he wanted, lying on the floor reading his new book. Henry is wearing the fuzzy Batman pajama pants I got for him and Molly has changed three times, trying on the jeans and the sweater and the footie pajamas. Charlie is sad today. But he'll get through it, I know he will. Christmas is hard for him and I get it.

We're going to a movie tonight, as a family. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", I think. We'll clamber into our little car and sing along to Justin Timberlake: "SIPPING FROM YOUR CUP TIL IT RUNNETH OVER (Jay Z: uh, uh)....HOLY GRAIL". We have fun together, my kids and I. I make sure that when they are my age they'll have good things in their heads, good memories of the times we had.

I never tell them that I worry. I worry that someday it'll be me sitting in a room, wearing Depends and staring at a little screen waiting for the weather guy. I worry that someday they'll let my calls go to voicemail and they'll listen to my message, the one I leave all the time. Asking them to bring me martini fixings or Red Vines or a box of wine or shrimp pad thai. I worry that they'll feel pity for me, or not.

Tomorrow, Christmas will be over. Life will keep chugging along and I'll buy more smokes for my mom. I'll stifle the rage and the grief that shows up whenever I cross the threshold of her home, shove it back down for the millionth time as I hand my mom the blue pack of Mistys and she slides a folded twenty at me.

"Take it" she'll say, her yellowed fingers already peeling the plastic from the box.

Her eyes will leave mine and look back at the screen as she lights her cigarette and waits for the weather.


The Descendants: The Best Movie About Divorce That Isn't About Divorce

There are some fine films out there, all about divorce. My all time favorite, of course, is Heartburn, based upon the novel by my personal heroine, Nora Ephron. And every divorced woman is supposed to gobble up Eat, Pray, Love. I liked it, but didn't really relate to it so much. I mean, yeah, it would have been oh so lovely to take off on a whirlwind binge-meditate-hump vacay after being dumped but I don't think the kids would have approved.

My least favorite movie about divorce? Stepmom. Creepy old Ed Harris is the husband in that one, who is in a relationship with the much-younger Julia Roberts. Forever sexy Susan Sarandon plays the first wife, and although I thought this one was watchable, it planted a sick seed in my hypochondriac mind...now, whenever I diagnose myself with something terminal I go back to the scene where creepy Ed goes to visit cancer-ridden Susan and gifts her with a Christmas tree. And then gets ready to leave (again) to go celebrate Christmas with leggy Julia. In the movie, Susan is all beatific and dying and just sits there, accepting the tree and her ex and the cancer, and smiles. I hated that scene. I wanted to see her get up, and jam the tree up Ed's stereotypical dirty old man ass. And I find myself wondering, if I were dying, would Big Daddy come bring me a tree? Extend the evergreen olive branch, tying up that last loose end? Because I think I know what I'd do with it if he did.

I might have some unresolved issues. Sorry about that. Where was I? Ah...THE DESCENDANTS.

Have you seen The Descendants? It's one of my favorite movies. I had sworn off of George Clooney, completely, and then one bored night sat on my couch and watched it. I ended up bawling, and head over heels back in like with not only Clooney, but Hawaii, with the music, the houses...all of it! It's a keeper.

Cliff notes plot summary:

With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the man who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune.

Filled to the brim with metaphors and symbolism, this movie speaks to so many of us. And as a bonus, it gives us some of the best lines, ever:

"In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen."

Clooney's character, Matt King: "Nothing 'just happens'."
Matthew Lillard's character, Brian Speer: "Everything 'just happens'."

"What is it that makes the women in my life want to destroy themselves?"

"You give your children enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing."

"I'm the backup parent. The understudy."

"That was unreal. I mean, how often do old people just haul off and fucking coldcock you like that?"

"Shut up, you motherless whore!"

It's like an alphabet tree filled with ripe words, this movie. I haven't read the book, which was written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, but it's on my wish list and I can only imagine the word-smorgasbord it must be.

Of course, since I still see everything through divorce-tinted glasses, I found myself in Clooney's character's shoes. Even though it's not a film about divorce, it captures so many of the feelings a traumatic split evokes: the abandonment, the shock, needing closure with "the other", the helplessness one feels when faced with raising kids solo...I could go on and on.

Most of all, I felt his sadness. His awful, deep, angry, grieving sadness. This movie brought me back to a dark place, and even though it makes me sound like some sort of masochist, I think it's okay to revisit that place once in while. Just to know you've survived.

I also found myself fantasizing a little morbid fantasy scenario. What if Big Daddy had died unexpectedly, maybe crashed his stupid little car, before he worked up the courage to leave me? What would life had been like, then? For me, for the kids? Would I have done what Clooney's character does? Would I have ever found out about the lies, the cheating, the Other Woman? Or would all of it, all of the dishonesty and the betrayal...would it have died along with him? File that one under "Thoughts You Probably Shouldn't Admit Having".

I've watched this movie a least half a dozen times since that first bored night. It's one of the very few films I can watch over and over without losing interest in the middle. Yep, it's right up there with Shawshank Redemption, Mean Girls, and The Family Stone. Are you rolling your eyes at Mean Girls? That's okay.

When I watch The Descendants I'm transported into another time. Another place, another dysfunctional family. I love the barefooted aspect of it, how nobody wears anything on their feet except maybe flip flops. I guess living in a land that is inhospitably cold and harsh, where you have to wear thick fuzzy socks for six months out of every year has affected me more than I know. I start planning a make-believe trip to Hawaii, where I introduce my kids to the ocean and the volcanoes.

I love the cast. It's utterly perfect. Bonus points for having one of my girl crushes, Judy Greer, in it, as the unsuspecting wife of the Other Man. The kid who plays the eldest daughter's stoner boyfriend, Sid, provides most of the much needed humor and surprisingly, a good bit of the heart. Matthew Lillard, who plays the Other Man, is always good in his lanky, Shaggy way. The daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, do a wonderful job as the angsty teen and the struggling prepubescent, respectively. And Hawaii? It's hard to screw that up. I've only been there once, on a three-day layover back in my flight attendant days. I fell in love with it, opened up a Liberty House store charge account and got the worst sunburn of my life. On the flight home I was serving up cans of pop with blisters the size of silver dollars dotting my arms. That was fun.

And Clooney? Even if you're not a fan, he won't annoy you. I was impressed with this keyed-down version. Not the cocky, jutting-jawed, "I could eat myself up with a spoon and so could you" sort of performance here. He's good and believable.

One of the benchmarks of a good book or movie or poem or song, is if it makes you think. This one did that, in spades. And that's why I love it. If you haven't watched it, and I'm talking to you, my divorced friends, I highly recommend that you do so. P.S. it pairs well with a nice pinot noir. I had Cupcake and it was delicious with both the laughter and the tears. Yes, laughter...this movie is also bitingly funny. Guffaw out loud funny, even.

While looking up information on the novel "The Descendants", I came across a quote that pretty much sums it up for me. Although I know that the author of the book, and the people who made the movie, didn't set out to speak to strong, weepy divorced ladies like me, this got me right in the gut:

"My wife's not coming back, my wife did not love me, and I am in charge now."

For all of you who are, like me, in charge now...I highly recommend this movie. And Mean Girls, but that's another story for another time.

Aloha, friends.


The Rotten Mouse Smell is Disappearing! Unfortunately, so is MY JOB.

Last week I smelled something bad in my kitchen. Now, that's not a completely unheard of phenomenon, what with my sketchy culinary skills and the fact that there is almost always a fragrant teen standing in front of the open fridge.

But this was bad. Like, rotten potato/onion past it's prime/spoiled meat kind of bad. So I did the seek and destroy mission: dug through the tiny pantry looking for an alien-like potato or a dark liquid spot where a rogue onion had fallen. Nothing. I thought mayhap a can of veggies had sprung a leak. So I checked all of the cans in there (and believe me folks, you know I'm a proponent of canned goods. There's a lot.).


The smell worsened as the day meandered into late afternoon and by evening, it was painfully obvious that this was not the odor caused by food.

This was the smell of death.

I believe the angular and beautiful actors on CSI call it "Decomp", and I began wondering where they get that camphor stuff they put under their nostrils when dealing with putrefied remains. Because the smell emanating from the corner of my kitchen was not good, people.

I began a new search, this time wearing gloves and a grimace as I looked high and low for a corpse. A mouse corpse, I hoped. We have lots of critters in our neighborhood so I kept my latex-covered fingers crossed that I wouldn't find a dead squirrel or oozing chipmunk behind the stove or on a high shelf.

No body. But oh Lord, the smell. By this point it had permeated not only the kitchen, but the noxious tendrils had unfurled into other sections of the house. I caught a whiff of it as I walked out of my bedroom. A good and trusted friend came over just to reassure me that the smell wasn't as bad as I claimed and she almost threw up at the front door. Sorry Danielle.

I turned to my lovely friends on Facebook and was handed tons of great advice: Use charcoal! Burn some candles! Find the critter! Move!

We did the charcoal odor absorber things, and used up every scented candle in the house (even the Christmas smelling ones). I considered crafting DIY surgical masks out of dryer sheets. We avoided the kitchen (which I tend to do quite often, smell or no smell) and every so often one of us would ask, "Do you still smell it?" to which we'd all reply, "Yeah."

We have a large, unfinished attic here. Sometimes,we'll hear random scratching noises coming from the attic. Last winter, we found a bat stuck on the stairs. My hero landlord Dave came over and not only retrieved the bat, but took it to a rehab place so it would survive the rest of the cold season and be released in the spring (have I mentioned lately how much I love my landlord and his wife?). I have taught my children well, however, and we pretty much ignore any sounds even though in my head I'm thinking: "That's definitely not flowers in the attic I'm hearing". In my fantasy land, the creatures who are up there are simply stopping for a rest on their journey through the neighborhood. Surely they aren't copulating and making thousands of babies. Surely.

So I've surmised that a wayward animal fell between the walls, somewhere behind the pantry, starved to death and then began rotting. Is it weird that I feel kind of sorry for it? What a way to go.

After a few days, the smell was pretty much gone, unless you stuck your head into the pantry and smelled the wall, hard. I imagined the mummified Stuart Little in there, a "WTF" expression forever frozen on his tiny dried out face. RIP, my stinky little friend.

Unfortunately, another thing might be going away.

My job.

This week I learned that I might not have a job after August of next year. It's a long, complicated story that makes little sense to anyone outside of the public school system. It has to do with all-day kindergarten becoming mandatory in Minnesota, with seniority and with, it seems, just plain old fate.

It hasn't completely sunk in yet. I told the kids, just because I wanted them to know. Eight months is a long time, and yet, it's not. I'm sure I can find another job, probably in the same school district. I've worked here for 7 1/2 years, so I've made a few connections, networked in my own awkward way, over time. Eight months gives me time to cut back, to keep socking a little into my meager savings account, to PREPARE.

Believe me when I say, I know this isn't the worst news a girl can get.

But, still, I'm finding myself looking up and asking, "Why?"

2013 seemed to be the year things didn't suck. The child support finally started coming in, beginning in February. After almost 5 years of not having it, there it was. It's only for 3 kids, it's not a king's ransom, but it made a difference. For the first time in ages, I've had some breathing room in my little budget. Not enough to take big gulps of air, but I no longer feel like I'm suffocating every month.

And then, the job. After piecing together 2, 3, sometimes 4 part time jobs together, I got that Holy Grail: the full time job, with benefits. Paid holidays? Sick days? INSURANCE? I felt like I had won the freaking lottery, and even went all "Hear Me Roar" about it here and in the Huffington Post.

Time for another Plan B, apparently. Although at this point, I think I'm well past B. I might be hovering over E. Or F.

But first, I'm going to get through the rest of 2013. I'm going to enjoy Christmas with my kids, enjoy seeing them open presents that I paid for, that I didn't have to pick out at a charity-run Christmas shop. I'm going to take them out to dinner and look at their beautiful, almost-grown faces as they trade barbs with one another and laugh. I'm going to continue to help Molly plan for her fist year away at college (she got into the school of her choice, CAN I GET AN AMEN? More later about that) and not let her see the worry behind my "it's all good" mask.

I'm going to console myself with the knowledge that although my life may seem tangled and knotted and so-not-perfect, it's precious and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Like I told my coworkers when we got the news about our jobs:

I've been through worse. And it didn't kill me. In fact, it made me grateful for all that I have.

I'm grateful for everything, folks. My health, my healthy kids, my kick ass friends and my angel landlord. My crappy little car that starts even when it's 18 below. Family that still likes me, wifi and coworkers who make going to work seem like happy hour every damn day. A dog who wears his Christmas elf collar with pride and who greets me every single day with a wagging tail and adoration in his eyes (okay maybe that's hunger but I am taking some artistic license here).

Plus, my kitchen no longer smells like death. But I am making chili this weekend, so I'm not getting too cocky.

Have a great day, friends.


Self Doubt with a side of Insecurity, please!

Pretty much everyone who blogs is writing a book. Everyone I know, at least. Some are writing fiction, some are writing collections of essays, a couple are writing children's books.

Most of us, however, are writing memoirs. We are writing about ourselves, our lives, our children and our spouses.

Because that's what we write about on our blogs. OUR LIVES.

Our lives are all so different. And somehow, in some ways, they are so alike. We are moms, and dads, and women and men. We have cats. Dogs. Jobs. Homes.


Some of us are rich, some are not. Some of us wrestle with demons, some of us cuddle with serendipity.

We all have stories.

Ever since I started writing here, I've heard it. At first, it was from friends...which made perfect sense because those were the only people who read my stories. And when friends tell you, "Hey, you should write a book!" you take it kind of like they've told you "No, those pants don't make you look fat! You look beautiful!"

Your friends love you. Everything you do, say, wear...or write, is tinted by their love and affection for you. Kind of like moms and their kids, you know? How many of you have looked at a scribbly crayon-drenched note and felt your insides melt at its beauty?

It's a whole 'nother thing when strangers enter the picture and start telling you, "Hey, you should write a book!"

That's when you start to think: Hmm. Maybe this is something I can do. Maybe there really is a book inside of me!

And so you start thinking. Writing. Plotting.

In my case, what I've heard over and over is, "I started reading your blog and couldn't stop." "I started at the beginning and when I got to the end I wanted more!" "I was so sad when I got to the end!".

People, mostly women, send me emails telling me their stories. Stories about husbands gone wild, about sad kids, about the comical first post-divorce dates. And their stories about financial struggles, about hopelessness and trying to find the strength to get through the crappiest of times. I read every single one of them, and each one holds me firmly in its grip long after the words have flitted by my eyes.

We all have stories.

I thought it would be easy. I thought it was just a matter of gathering up the posts I've written which have garnered the most response. The posts that have made people laugh, cry, get mad. I thought it would be just that easy.

One of you, one of my dear readers, stepped forward and wanted to help. "Let me edit for you" she proffered. Edit? Be still my wanna-be writer's heart. Someone out there thought I was editor worthy! This splendid woman took my "manuscript", my collections of essays and posts which had been separated into their own little collections ("Before the Divorce" "The Kids" "Dating", etc.) and polished it up. She took on the massive job of correcting my woeful grammar, my apostrophe abuse, my chronic overuse of ellipsis.

I began to look forward to her emails, wondering if she liked what she'd read, if she thought I'd done good. We writers are a weird lot, you know. Kind of like puppies who just want reassurance that yes, yes, yes, you're a good girl! You're such a good girl!

And she did tell me I'm a good girl. I mean, writer. She brought up issues with tense, wondered whether or not some of what I had deemed as integral to my story was really that integral. She questioned me and praised me and then one miraculous day, she sent me the revised, complete manuscript. I looked at the little paperclip icon thingie, and the words "complete manuscript" in the subject line.

It was terrifying. I put off reading it, for several days. It was Thanksgiving, after all, and besides having to cook 50 pounds of potatoes (I was in charge of starches this year), we also had a hockey tournament. I took a few vacation days in order to set aside some WRITERY TIME.

Today was my WRITERY TIME. I sat down this morning, and cracked it open. I read it.

And guess what? I don't like it. I hated not liking it. It felt as though I had posed for a picture, thought I was looking good, thought "This picture will be so awesome!" and then seeing the finished product and immediately noticing every single flaw. Every wrinkle, every blemish, every hair out of place.

I read it and I thought to myself, Nobody will want to read this. I'm actually embarrassed that I thought this was good enough to be a book. And, WTF was I thinking? 

I thought to myself: I hate this.

I wrote to my dear, sweet editor. "I hate it!" I told her.

And then, because I'm me, I hastily wrote back:

"I don't hate your editing! That was awesome! I can't write. My writing sucks. I gave you a pile of goo and asked you to try and shape it into something readable..which you did, but MY WRITING SUCKS."

Because this chick, this reader, this lovely and kind woman, she's good at what she does. Not only is she good at it, she loves doing it. And it shows.

So I spent the better part of my Writery Day feeling insecure. Feeling foolish and stupid and so naively optimistic. I watched a couple episodes of my latest Netflix obsession (for the love of God, a Canadian cop show called Flashpoint...copy that, boss) and shared my woes with some of my writery friends.

I mentally broke up with my book, the tome I had so lovingly labored over and had named "What To Do When Your Husband Leaves You". I decided that maybe I didn't have a book in me after all, and that maybe all I'm cut out to be is an unknown blogger who sometimes writes things that people read.

And I was okay with that. For a minute. Then, I had a talk with my son.

My sweet, smart, wise-beyond-his-years son, Charlie. The kid who has gone through so much, who is en route to adulthood at a dizzying pace. Charlie and I bounce things off of each other. We talk about our hopes and our dreams and give each other encouragement. We also give each other shit when applicable.

"Charlie" I started. "Oh man. I'm feeling really icky today, son."

He sat down next to me, all muscles and height and that little boy face.

"What's wrong, mom?" he asked me, genuinely concerned.

I sighed. Picked at the last egg roll on the plate we'd shared.

"I don't think I can write a book, Charlie. I think it's not meant to be." I blurted this out, finally admitting it, finally saying out loud what I'd been thinking all day long.

Charlie scoffed. He stood up, folded his arms and scoffed again. And then he said:

"If you give up on this, I will never forgive you." And then, for good measure, he added:

"Seriously. Like, I will literally never forgive you. And you'll never forgive yourself."

Well, shoot. How can this kid be so smart?

He's right, of course.

If I give up on this, I will never forgive myself.

So I put on my big girl panties. I looked at the manuscript again, only this time, I looked at it with less critical eyes. I looked at it the way we moms look at those crayoned love notes from our babes. I looked past the obvious flaws, the garishness, the crudeness. I looked through all that, and you know what I saw?

I saw my book.

It's in there. And it's beautiful.


Will work for food

This essay was originally posted on the now-defunct website, Smartly.com. I wrote it over 3 years ago (my baby was only 10!) but I thought it's just as, if not more, relevant today. Yesterday I found myself sitting at a stoplight, trying to avoid looking at a woman who was standing less than 3 feet away from me, holding a sign that said "Single Mom Needs Help". I had nothing to give her, not even some change. It reminded me of this essay, and I thought I'd share it with all of you. It also reminded me to keep some spare cash in the car...just in case.

They started showing up just a few months ago. Sitting on overturned utility buckets, or standing there, facing oncoming traffic. Handmade signs, black ink on cardboard scraps:




There they are, when the busy suburbanites like myself exit the main highway that leads from Downtown to the cities we come from. The cities we live in. There they are, in the bitter cold, the snow, and now the rain.

I see them as I make my way home after a long, exhausting day. As I turn right, headed to Costco or PetSmart or OfficeMax. I see them, and yet I don't.

Some days I make eye contact, try to communicate with these sign holding strangers. "I'm sorry" I want to say.

Other days I feel resentment and yes, even anger. Are you really homeless, are you really a veteran, are you really willing to work? I ask them, silently. Or are you one of those "professional panhandlers", the guys who are supposedly making a nice living on these corners? Do you kiss your wife and kids goodbye every morning, leaving your comfortable home with your bucket and sign?

"Please help"? Who helps me?, I wonder as I sit there, waiting for the light to turn green. I work multiple jobs, I pinch pennies til they bleed, I live without so many things. I found myself divorced and broke...and yet I've managed to keep a roof over my head and my children are fed and clothed and warm. Help you? Why don't you help yourselves, like I have?

Then I feel the guilt. I feel the shame. I look at the man standing there in his dirty coat and slipshod boots. I am appalled at how easy it is for me to judge him.

And then I remember the help I've had. The mom who slips me some cash now and then, the friends who just happen to have a gift card they aren't going to use, the anonymous souls who gave my kids Christmas this past year.

Oh, I've had plenty of help.

We aren't so different, the bucket men and me. All it would take is a big illness, a lost job, a blown engine and maybe I'd find myself without any options other than to stand on a corner with a sign and an oddly dignified detachment from the souls in the cars speeding by.

A few weeks ago, my 10 year old son and I were coming home from Target or the grocery store or wherever. We pulled up at the stoplight, chatting about school and the summer and all of the random stuff you find yourself discussing with boys of that age.

There, to our left, was a man with a sign. He looked younger than me, but it was hard to tell with his face wrapped up in a scarf and the hood of his coat pulled tight around his head. His sign said:


My son, my sweet William, who wears hand-me-downs and eats reduced price lunches at school, who has never flown on an airplane and most likely won't see DisneyWorld as a child, who plays sports and goes to camp on scholarships...this boy, my boy. My dear, wise son.

He turned to me and said, "Mom. Give him some money. Please."

By some miracle I happened to have some cash on me that day. Not much, just a few singles, but I rolled down my window and handed them to the man with the sign.

"God bless you, ma'am." he said.

He already has, sir. He already has.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...