Sometimes The Truth Hurts

Behold my absolute favorite quote about writing. Anne Lamott wrote it, and those words are like a superhero cape to me. I stumbled upon them long ago, when I felt the first pangs of something that resembled guilt. Someone, anonymously, of course, because that's how critics usually operate, berated me for having the gall to write about my life. For having the nerve to express my outrage and sadness over what had happened to me, and to my children. Four years ago, criticism hurt. Reading comments like that actually caused me physical pain, swear to God. A little "oof" in the gut. It gave me pause, caused me to question everything I'd done and everything I'd written.

Now, my skin is nice and thick. Thanks to a few of my essays going semi-viral on HuffPost, I was baptized by fire as far as taking criticism goes. Having complete strangers express their hatred for you does that, you know. And honestly, it's not a bad thing. If I am going to be a real writer when I grow up, being able to deflect negativity will probably come in handy.

But...I still want to address it now and then. Sometimes somebody will send an email or leave a comment here or on whatever site my work is posted on, and it will again stop me in my tracks. The physical reaction still happens, too, which I blame on my double curse of being both a Libra and a Minnesotan. You can have skin like a freaking elephant and the inherent desire to not offend anyone is still strong, folks.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the ex and his wife visiting my daughter in college. It was well-received, with many of my regular readers chiming in and sharing their own tales about kids and dads and the frustrations involved when the latter doesn't do a whole lot to interact with the former. Par for the course on my blog. The comment section here on The Happy Hausfrau is rich with stories, and it's become my favorite aspect of blogging. The way you all share your history, the way you comfort me and each other, the absolute sense of belonging that one gets when reading these snippets of life is awe-inspiring.

There are always a few naysayers, though. And for the record, I welcome them. It's good to hear from a different perspective now and then. I especially like hearing from stepmoms and second wives. Since I've been neither of those myself, finding out their opinions on subjects like the ones I tackle here is invaluable. Yes, even when their opinions are not big glittery "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH JENNY" Valentines.

There were two comments on the Secretary Goes to College post that kind of stuck in my craw. Okay, not kind of. They were totally wedged in there. I texted my bestie, Danielle, and asked her if I should respond. Her level-headedness always prevails so when she responded "let it go", I did. Kind of. But I can still feel them in there and it's a lot like a piece of popcorn that is stuck between your teeth and until you get some floss and make a bloody mess in the bathroom sink to extract it, it's going to drive you a little bit crazy every damn day.

So I'm going to go all Susan Powter today and STOP THE INSANITY. I'm going to address the critics and say what's on my mind. You've been warned.

Here is the first one:

Now, this one I did respond to in the comment section. I went the "but you don't know my life" route, and tried to defend myself. I also put in some props for my daughter, because I think she handled the situation with way more class than I would have. I'm over-the-moon proud of her and will brag her up any chance I get.

Then the second one came in, as a reply to the first one:

By this time I was kind of wrapped up in my writer's block/I'm so fat/why am I involved with a guy I shouldn't be involved with drama so I didn't respond. But the words, man. That's TWO passive-aggressives! They got to me. Just a little bit. And now I want to defend myself, and defend everyone else who writes about their lives and what they've gone/are going through.

Like the almighty Anne said, this is my story. It happened to me, I felt every second of it. I lived it, I breathed it, I slept with it and I cried over it.

I have earned the right to tell my story. Period.

Are there times when I've looked back on what was written here and felt some regret? Absolutely. For about ten seconds. Because I'm a firm believer in karma, serendipity, reaping what you sow and all that jazz. I think how you treat other people lays the foundation for how you will be treated in the future.

I'm not a saint. I've been a massive dick many times in my life (and am instantly regretting using the term 'massive dick' because OMG the pervs will be here in no time. Thanks, Google.). John McCain? I couldn't have been more evil to him. I still feel guilt about that one. But, here's the thing: I own that evil. I did it. I don't like what I did but there's nothing I can do to change it. If he decides to write about me, about how I treated him, about taking me to Amsterdam, wining me and dining me and then getting the worst possible butt-dial in the history of butt-dials, then so be it.

My actions would be the catalyst for what he wrote, and that is 100% on me. It would sting like a mofo to read about my shitty behavior, for sure. But every bit of that sting would be self-inflicted.

And by the way, Anonymous #2? I call bullshit. It would take a lot more than a passive aggressive ex to make me give up on trying to spend time with my kid. Say what you want about me, and about my blog, but please. Don't make excuses for someone not doing whatever they can to be part of their child's life. Also, regarding the statement "While Big Daddy did serious, gut-wrenching harm, I do feel for him a little bit. It can't be easy to know that your every parenting failure is on display for the whole of the internet to read"...Listen. I appreciate what you're saying. You're right, I can't imagine what it's like, either. I could make a little laundry list here, name all the wrongs, all the atrocities. But I won't. I'll let Ms. Lamott sum it up for me:

He should have behaved better.

P.S. just so I don't sound like a complete bitch (I'm okay with like, 85% bitch though), I hope my critics take note of the times I do speak favorably of my ex. He's making his own kind of efforts, and I applaud that. I've always encouraged my kids to maintain a relationship with their father. Hell, I've actually begged them to spend time with him. But I will never be able to forget the pain he caused. And that's why I write. Because other women going through that same kind of hell need to know they aren't alone, and that they will get through it. He can become Father of the Year, and it will never erase the past. I won't dwell on it, but I will never, ever forget about it.


8 Years a Divorcee: 8 Things I've Learned Since My Divorce

The holiday season is a crazy one. Time seems to move faster, obligations pile up all around us and there are hundreds of things we think we should be doing at any given moment. It's hard to put the brakes on in November and December. But that's exactly what I've been doing.

You see, there are two dates that have special meaning to me during this rushed, exciting season. Not special like the birth of a child or a holiday, but things happened on those dates that have made indelible marks on my life. Kind of made me who I am today. And for those reasons, I acknowledge them. Not with any fanfare, mind you. There are no announcements made, no celebrations to be had. But still. I pause, momentarily on each of these days, and remember.

The first one hits in November. It's my now-defunct wedding anniversary. We got married on Thanksgiving. I was a blushing bride, 5 months pregnant and giddy with anticipation to begin a new phase in life. I have nothing but good memories of that day; despite the giddiness gradually giving way first to complacency and then to much darker emotions, the memories are nice.

Then, just around the corner, is the anniversary of my divorce. That one lands in the beginning of December. Thirteen years, a house and four kids later. The memories of this one aren't pretty or fun or dotted with sweet flashbacks. It was the final blow of a two-years-long beating, and in some ways it was a blessing. The date used to be a black mark on my calendar, THE DAY EVERYTHING ENDED. Now, I see it more as THE DAY EVERYTHING BEGAN.

It's 8 years now. There were times I didn't think I'd live through the first year, but I did. And each year after that as well. Some were harder to get through than others, but here I am: older, wiser and somehow...happier. I wish I could go back in time and let Newly Divorced Jenny know that things were going to be okay. I'd sit down with that terrified, sad woman, make her a dirty martini (which she didn't know would become our favorite cocktail) and tell her what I've learned:

1. You did the best you could. There will be people who are going to make you feel guilty about being divorced. Make you feel as if you didn't try hard enough, didn't make the right sacrifices. Your ex is going to do this, too. Head games and guilt trips and bizarre behavior that will make you question every single thing you've done to get to this point, this consciously-uncoupled state. Screw them. And screw the notion that you are to blame. You did try, you tried harder than most people would have. You showed more grace than necessary, more class than needed. You became the poster child for dignity, and you did all of that while solo-parenting four children. Own your part in this, my dear: you rocked it.

2. You should sell the house, right now. Sell it, give it to your ex, do whatever you can do to get this albatross off your neck. Yes, I know it's a box full 'o memories, but my friend...it's time to be done. The three mortgages will end up breaking your back, and your credit. You're going to discover, albeit a little bit late in the game, that home is indeed where the heart is. And you can move your heart somewhere better. You're hanging onto it for all the wrong reasons. To quote a movie that your kids will thankfully be too old to become obsessed with, "LET IT GO."

3. Don't rush into the dating thing. Honey, I know you're hellbent on getting back into the game, that you need to show yourself and everyone else that you can still do it, but slow down. Focus on repairing. There is brokenness all around you, and despite the nagging feeling that you're missing Mr. Right, you need to be in fixing mode for a while. Believe me...if Mr. Right is out there, he'll wait until you're ready. That's why he's Mr. Right. Oh, and FYI: when you see the Mullet guy on eHarmony, just say no. Dude did time for domestic assault. And he's still married. A married felon. You're welcome. And now please see #4.

4. You will have sex again. And again, and again. Remember that day, after some of the fog began clearing, and you realized your sole source of all things sex-related was gone? I do. You were getting the mail and actually said, out loud, "Oh my God. Who am I going to have sex with now that he's gone?". Fifteen years of being with just one person is kind of habit forming (well, at least it was for you). For a long time after he left, sex was the furthest thing from your mind. But then it wasn't. It was pretty damn close to your mind. Like, on top of it, in heat and quite possibly humping it. Know that the desire to have sex is natural and the fact that your Sexy Spidey Senses are tingling again is GOOD and NORMAL. But take this advice: choose wisely. Believe it or not, you will have several fellas to choose from. Some of them will be great for scratching that itch. Some will be fun to flirt with, and some will be best left alone. I will tell you that the guy who is remodeling your neighbor's kitchen is definitely one of the latter. I know you're lonely, girl, but do you not see his striking resemblance to Captain Caveman? PASS.

5. You aren't going to hate him forever. No, not Kevin James. It's 2014 and we still can't stand that rotund actor. Seriously, must you pull out the 'dancing fat guy' shtick in every single movie, Paul Blart? The "him" I'm referring to is your ex-husband. Right now, there is nobody on earth you love less. Lucifer himself sounds like a fabulous companion compared to the man who broke your heart. But there will be a day when the hate is just gone. Poof. You will change his name in your phone from "A HOLE" to "HIS REAL NAME". Your lips won't purse and your nose won't wrinkle and your eyes won't scrunch when you speak of him. No, you will never be the president of his fan club, but you will be relieved of the back-breaking burden that is hate. And it will feel all kinds of amazing. In the meantime? Take advantage of that hatey energy. Clean the damn garage.

6. -Wait, what? Another dirty martini? Of course! Didn't I say you'd love them?

6. Your kids will survive. Oh sweet Jesus of Nazareth. The children. It's almost unbearable to look at them right now, isn't it? The pain is so fresh and so vivid in their faces. That's where most of the rage comes from, my dear. I mean, yeah, it sucks to be cheated on, but your kids? The dismemberment of your marriage has hurt your offspring, and that evokes something almost otherworldly from you. Know this, woman: each one of them hurts, that's true. They handle their pain in different ways. Four kids, four ways of dealing with it. None of them are easy, and a couple of them are downright horrifying. You're going to be tested, my friend. Your limits to what you can take are going to be pulled and stretched like taffy, until you think you cannot possibly handle anything else. And then you get more to handle.

Spoiler alert. You handle it like a goddamn boss. The two older ones? They are almost 21 and 19 now. Both in college. Both thriving and healthy and happy. One of them is in love! The two younger ones are your roommates for now, and spending time with them is like a salve on your soul. You have really, really wonderful relationships with all of the kids. Thick as thieves, you are. And you know why? Because you stuck it out with them. You were there for them when they needed you, and you never, ever gave up.

(P.S. For Christmas of 2012 Molly buys you a toaster. You hide in the kitchen so the kids can't see you bawling over a freaking toaster. Yeah, you are still a big crybaby. Sorry.)

7. This is going to feel like the worst thing ever. Until you realize it's not. Your middle name is going to be Woe Is Me for a while, and honey, that's okay. Woe is you, no question. But then you're going to notice that planet Earth has been merrily spinning away while you were embroiled in what felt like mortal combat. People's lives were changing, kids were growing, the economy was getting ready to take a massive dump. Things are going to happen, some bad things, some scary things. People you love are going to get sick. You and the kids are going to hit some hard bumps in the road.

You're going to discover that your divorce, as painful and exhausting and traumatic as it was, wasn't the end of the world. It sucked, no doubt about it. But it didn't kill you. You will learn the difference between "bad" and "awful", my friend. It's not a pretty lesson, but it's something you never forget.

8. There is no limit to what you can achieve. This one is the most important, so I'm going to repeat it: THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE. Oh, what's that? You say that getting out of bed these days takes all you have? I get it. And that's okay. It's to be expected. Your world was torn asunder, girl, it takes time to recover. Time to work everything out. And when you're living in the aftermath of a brutal divorce, everything doesn't always work out with ease. You're going to face obstacles that scare the crap out of you, challenges that make you feel like a tiny, trembling David staring up at a gnarly, giant Goliath.

You're going to learn how to manage money and balance a checkbook and do your own taxes! You'll figure out how to change the bulbs in your car lights. You'll install a garbage disposal and hook up wireless routers and you'll talk to your teens about sex and love and condoms. You're going to become a fierce advocate for your children, you're going to ask for help when you need it and give help when asked. You're going to be stronger and smarter and tougher and more tender than you ever imagined you'd be. You're going to write like a mother-effer, and find so many friends and opportunities when you do.

You're going to love. You're going to be loved. You're going to adopt a dog who sheds so so much but who will own substantial real estate in your heart (and sadly, in your bed).

The day is going to come when getting out of bed is easy and you do it early every morning and work hard all day and then go home to be with your family at night. You're never going to master cooking much more than your curry chicken and a decent pot roast but that's okay. The kids still love pizza.

Eight years will pass in the blink of an eye even though some of the days and nights seem as if they will never end. Eight years, and look at all the good things that have happened. Look how much light and love and laughter there is in your life. I can't even begin to picture what the next eight will bring.

So, my younger, freshly divorced self (and anyone else who fits the bill), hang in there. You're in for one hell of a ride.

But...I'm here waiting for you at the end. Waiting with a hug and a spot on the couch next to me and an ice cold dirty martini. It's all going to be okay, and it's all going to be worth it.

I promise.


The Courtship of Jenny's Demons

One of my favorite writer friends, Cindy Reed, posted something that really resonated with me last week. Called "I have lost my words", it's an effort made by a writer to explain how it feels when that delicious ability, the almost effortless way some of us can spill our feelings and thoughts into a group of words that make a story...just goes away. Imagine something you can do easily. Something you've always been able to do, and do well. Can you knit? Draw? Ice skate? Now, try to fathom what it would feel like to wake up one day and know damn well that you CAN still do that thing, but for some awful, mysterious reason, you CANNOT do it.

Cindy struggles with things that I do not. But we are both struggling. As I read her post, I felt that warm feeling one gets when you realize that you're not alone. That what you are wrestling with may indeed be your own special kind of demon, but there's someone else, not too far away, who is trying desperately to get their demon into a full nelson, too.

I miss being here. I miss sitting in my bed with my crappy laptop heating up the tops of my legs while I blissfully clickety-clack away, oblivious to the minutes sprinting by or the dawn creeping up outside my windows.

I miss connecting with people, miss writing things that kinda make me feel insane but I know just make sense. I miss this. The sound of the keyboard, my dog snoring next to me, the taste of my way-too-strong-coffee fresh in my mouth. The television show I have on for company sounds far away and distant and although it's something I'd love to just sit and watch, it's taken a back seat to what's happening right here, right now.

So what's the deal, Jenny? I've asked myself that question every single day for the past several months. Many times a day. After I read something inspiring. After I read something insipid and roll my eyes. After I read something that's just kind of meh, I think, "I could have done that better." And then that part of me I can't stand, that bitch Inner Critic, says, "Could have and did are two different things, loser."

I'm struggling lately. My life is actually going pretty well, on the surface. The money stress is not as bad as it's been in the past. The emotional distress of raising teens is in a semi-reposed place right now. I love my job and going to work is not something I do with any dread or disdain. And yet, I'm struggling.

Fat shame on me, my weight is, well...weighing on me as of late. If you've been here a while you know self acceptance is not one of my strengths. Apparently, eating everything in the world and not exercising is. But if you are cut from the same cloth, you know. You know that sometimes hating yourself is much more convenient than doing anything about it. Excuses flow from me like lava. "I'm tired!" "It's so dark out!" "I don't have time to work out and shower before I have to be back at work!" "None of my exercise bras fit." Blah blah blah. This particular struggle seems to have overshadowed everything right now, and frankly, it's becoming tiresome.

My son Henry has this super annoying habit of taking pictures of me. All.The.Time. While I'm driving, when we're standing in the kitchen, as we sit on the couch. Takes them and then shares them on whatever site all the kids are on these days. Snapchat maybe. Or is that so last year? #clueless  All I know is that I hate it. Sometimes I feel like one of those ancient peoples who believe that the camera will steal my soul. Except my fear is that the camera will expose mine.

So the other night, he snapped one of me while I sat there and played Words With Friends on my phone. My face was tilted downward and he took it from an upwards angle. CHIN CITY, folks. Plus, I was wearing my massive black and white heathered sweater-burka that keeps me warm but also makes me look like a killer whale with a pigment disorder. I demanded that he show me the picture and when he complied I wanted to die.

"God, Henry...you have to stop doing that. I am so ugly!" I said this with conviction and not in the way one does when fishing for encouragement or compliments. I topped it off with "I am disgusting and fat and I hate myself right now."

Henry looked at me and said this: "I think you look great, Mom." And then, because he's one of those wise kids, he said, "If you think you're fat, you should do something about it."

Uh huh. So there's that. I guess it's just a matter of the loathing defeating the lazing. Which, fingers crossed, happens soon. I miss wearing jeans and also I'm getting tired of pulling my stunned stomach muscles when I bend over to put my boots on.

Another struggle I've been having is something of a similarly personal nature, but with a more intimate twist. I've been involved with someone, off and on, for a long time. (no, it's not John McCain, but this one overlapped and intertwined with that whole debacle-relationship) I've never written about it, and aside from divulging to a few close friends, never discussed it with others. To call it a "relationship" would be like calling leggings "pants": probably true by definition but certainly a misappropriation of the word.

It's nothing serious, and yet it reeks of solemnity. I walk away from it feeling bad, and even my fractured self knows that means it's not something worthwhile. It makes me feel wanted, at least for a little bit, but at the same time makes me feel despicable and lowly and so bottom-feederish. It's only future is that there isn't one, and for some reason that very aspect of it gives me comfort. Knowing that it's nothing more than pure and unfettered physicality, with no strings, no annoying conventional relationship complications attached, makes it easy. Easy to continue despite the very obvious fact that it's holding me back from finding someone who has strings and complications that I might find attractive. Fun, even.

For someone who likes to discuss the size and grandeur of my balls, they are nowhere in sight when it comes to this quandary. And that, like my current dissatisfaction with my weight, is bugging me.

Phew. I feel like I just spent some quality time in a confessional. And I haven't even gotten to the part about blogging, and how I'm more and more apt to disassociate myself from that word. Let's just say, I started out as a "blogger" but now find it almost embarrassing to be called that. I think it really struck home when an Allstate commercial came out that shows a tired mommy having an off day and yet still strives to be the best damn mommy ever. She proclaims, "I should totally start a blog." and then crashes her SUV into a pole. I'm a mom, I have a blog...does that make me a mommy blogger? These are the thoughts that haunt me, people. I'm a lot like Thoreau in that way.

But this is already way too long and rambly. Just so I don't forget, I'll remind myself here that a good title for the next post would be "Mid-Blog-Life Crisis". Let's just hope it doesn't take me six months to get to it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. And for being here.


Surviving Winters

Yesterday was The Day Before here in Minneapolis. Our panic-mongering weather people peppered us with maps and tweets and facebook updates, warning us that OUR FIRST SNOWFALL was imminent and hooo boy is was gonna be a doozy. Reports claimed anywhere from 5 to 15 inches, and woe unto you if you had to travel ANYWHERE.

Since most of us are dyed-in-the-wool Minnesota natives, we handled it like we always do: all of us, every single person who had ears and eyes and had heard of Snowpocalypse, went grocery shopping. Me included.

I dragged myself from the couch, where I'd been perched all day watching chick-flicky rom coms (dear God I sobbed at the end of Knocked Up all over again), and headed to SuperTarget to get provisions for my ever-decreasing brood. Molly had also asked for another Dorm Room Care Package, so I figured I was killing two birds with one Red Card.

The parking lot looked like it was December 23rd instead of November 9th. Throngs of people were flowing into and out of the Bullseye Palace, looks of panic and horror worn on their faces like cheap Halloween masks. I clenched my jaw, grabbed a cart, and found my spot in the river of humanity.

Of course I hadn't bothered to make a list. I had Molly's requests lined up in my brain, a foggy deck of cards that kept slipping out of order:

Stridex pads
Reese's peanut butter cups
A mug
A measuring cup
Paper bowls  and
"other snacks because I'm freaking starving" per her text

I'd taken a quick inventory of the cupboards and fridge before leaving home, and therefore had a vague picture of what we were running low on and what we were completely out of. Since our fridge is the perfect size for a family of American Girl dolls, we never have as much as I think is necessary. The freezer is crammed tight, a Jenga-tower of meat packs and bags of veggies and maybe a giant bottle of Prairie Vodka. (hey, you don't get to judge me just because I like my martinis super cold, okay? We all handle being stuck in Minnesota our own way, folks.).

My giant red cart filled up in no time, ground turkey and beef and chicken thighs and breasts providing a thick, chilly landing pad for the buns and oatmeal and cans of soup. I moved up and down the aisles with purpose, exchanging all-knowing nods of grim acknowledgment with my fellow shoppers.

I've lived in Minnesota for 46 years. Winter, like shit, happens here with an amazing regularity. Like clockwork, almost. And yet it seems to be such an alarming affront every single year. Like, we think that maybe this will be the year it skips us. "Al Gore warned us that winters would start becoming more mild, ya know". 

I used to look forward to the first snow with glee. Childlike, innocent glee. And then, not so much. I can't pinpoint exactly when this change happened, but I know it became serious when I stopped driving a giant truck and switched to a Starkist Tuna can with Hot Wheel tires. Driving in this crap used to be a nuisance, now it has become a duel to the death between me and the roads. Where most people live, "white-knuckle driving" means you're gripping the steering wheel pretty tight. Here in Minnesota, it means the bones of your hands actually pop out because you are hopped up on cortisol and believe with every fiber of your being that death is imminent any time you drive farther than a block.

So back at Target, I finished up my shopping with a very unnatural efficiency. I didn't even stop at a single clearance end cap, or visit the Big Girl rack to see if they'd gotten any new sweater burkas in stock. No, this wasn't a time for my usual Target trip, whereupon I maybe get a coffee at Starbucks and wander aimlessly through the rows of moderately-priced semi-essentials. There was no "oh maybe I should look at throw pillows" or "gee didn't Henry mention he'd like that giant Ninja Turtle onsie pajama thing for Christmas" train of thought during this venture. No, this was all business and business-like is how I handled it. I was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, except I had a shirt on and I wasn't vacuuming.

My cart was at capacity and my feet were getting tired so I decided that whatever I had grabbed was going to have to be enough to tide us over. I made my way to the checkout lanes and found one which wasn't 20 people long. I found out, momentarily, that the reason it was so short was because one of those super couponing cuckoos was waged in an all-out war with the teenage cashier over an expired coupon. "What the hell" I thought, and parked there, knowing that one of the uber-efficient Target managers would be over soon, keychain jingling and face set in a kind-but-firm smile/grimace ready to calm everyone down and get that lane moving. It happened just as I thought, the manager deciding to give the woman her 25 cents off and the woman giving the cashier a smug "I WON" look before finally paying and moving on her way.

I decided I would be the ray of sunshine in this poor young cashier's day, so I was pleasant and chit chatty. We discussed ADD and coupons and snow and I discovered she attends school with my son Henry and his homies. We then discussed how hard it is to be a teenager and bullying and I made a mental note to talk to Henry and his homies about being nice and not being dicks. I wanted to grab that oh so beautifully awkward girl, take her home, make her some cocoa and tell her that yes, it sucks now but someday she'll be in her 40's and none of that crap will matter...but that would have been kidnapping so instead I just smiled at her and told her "Some day all of this will be just a tiny sliver of your past, my friend. Hang in there."

So I had some tears in my eyes when I rolled my cart, now full of neatly bagged foodstuffs, out to my tuna-can car and loaded it up. I thought about how we are all so ensconced in our own bubbles of worry and fret that we forget about all of the other bubbles floating around us. It took a young Target cashier struggling with being, in her words, "a bully magnet" to not-so-gently shake me out of my fugue. Snow comes, snow melts. It's inconvenient and yes, driving in it scares the bejeesus out of me. But I imagined what it was like to be 17 again, 17 and not cookie-cutter cute or a jock or one of the cool smart chicks. I remembered what it was like, and as I drove home, enjoying what was most likely my last non-white-knuckle drive for a while, I said a little prayer for that Target cashier and for all the other kids like her. I prayed that her winter, that cold, awful season some of us call high school, would pass quickly and painlessly and that she'd soon be looking back at it with a sigh of relief and a new-found appreciation of spring.

Also, I forgot Molly's Stridex pads. So I'll be heading out again today. Knuckles, armed and ready. I think I can handle this.


BPBP: The Bullet Point Blog Post

  • It's been over a month since I've posted, and OMG I love you guys so much. Emails and comments and concern..."Hope you're okay!?!" messages. Come here and give me some sugar, my lovelies. Feel free to pull my hair just a tiny bit while we hug. Too much? Sorry. You bring out the lover in me.
  • I'M FINE. Kids are fine, dog is fine, everyone is fine. It's just taking me a while to adjust to our crazy new schedule.
  • Speaking of schedules: YES I AM EMPLOYED. Full time, insurance, sick days, the whole kit and caboodle. I have an angel disguised as an elementary school principal to thank for this. To say I'm #blessed is a massive understatement.
  • The new hours are insane. I'm at school by 6:30 a.m., and three days a week I don't leave until 6:15 p.m. I'm wearing several hats and love each one of them. Clerical, teaching reading to first graders, supervisory/para stuff...after this year I will be highly qualified to perform just about any job in an elementary school. Except, like be a real teacher. I'm thinking of going back to school again...
  • So with the new hours, my two remaining kids at home are 100% responsible for getting themselves up and ready and out the door for their bus at 7:00 a.m. And guess what? THEY'RE NAILING IT. Proud of my boys. We've only had one "omg mom we overslept why didn't you wake us up" call and now they know I mean business. Funny how it's taken me almost two decades of parenting to learn this lesson: give them the responsibility and they'll do it. Hanging my kinda-sorta enabling parenting head in shame.
  • My two college babies are thriving and surviving. It's hard for me to not try to live vicariously through Molly, though: she's nothing at all like I was in college (thank GOD) and although I know it's a good thing, part of me is worried that she's missing out on some of those stupid, beer-scented memories. Then someone (usually Molly) will remind me that I never graduated and my focus becomes clear again. 
  • Hello, fall television. I'm in love with Viola Davis and "How To Get Away With Murder", my second-in-command-pretend-boyfriend James Spader and "The Blacklist" and I'm gonna admit it right here, the boys on "Chicago Fire" keep me warm. I've also caught up on "The Good Wife" and of course Sunday nights are whole again thanks to "The Walking Dead" (although the last episode bored me to tears...). We also enjoyed "The Strain", thanks to Corey Stoll who is a tall, thick oak-tree I'd climb in a hot second.
  • Hey! I had a birthday! I'm 48 now and somehow still feel like a 20-something inside. I had a big party at my house and was surrounded by friends and love and martinis. It was beautiful:  
    I've know these ladies for over 30 years. Love, love, LOVE.
  • Speaking of parties, my BFF Danielle and I hosted a Halloween bash at my house last weekend. We fretted and worried that nobody would come and it would end up just being the two of us, drinking and taking selfies. We were so pleased that not only did a bunch of people show up, it was a raging good time. Next year's party is already being planned. We did manage to take one kick ass selfie, though:  
    Axl and Slash in the house! We had to bum a cig from one of Danielle's young coworkers. 
  • Okay so I kind of lied about everything being totally fine. I was completely stressed out during October, which killed me because October is usually the last sweeeet and fun month before the holiday stuff kicks in. But, the alimony that Big Daddy has been paying pretty faithfully for the past few years was scheduled to end on November 1st (have you heard of a Karon waiver? It was in our decree where alimony was concerned and it was a blessing/curse. More about that later). I've known the day was coming and tried my best to prepare for it. It's not a huge amount but of course it's helped. So I was freaking out about having this hole in my finances. Turns out the end of alimony means that child support goes up. Way up. I pretty much gave myself an ulcer wondering how I'd approach him with the numbers that the Minnesota child support calculator gave me. Talked to my lawyer friends, consulted with the hens, basically agonized over every single worst-case scenario my cuckoo brain could come up with. Turns out...all it took was an email. Is it possible that we've reached the amicable stage of our divorce? After only 8 years? So, my whackadoo bad thoughts have been put to rest for now, and I'm feeling pretty freaking good about life. I will say, stress is a total bitch. I couldn't sleep, couldn't focus, chewed the inside of my mouth to a pulp and ate pretty much everything that I could fit in my pie hole. When he agreed to the child support, I felt that monkey climb off my back and I've been walking on sunshine ever since. Still eating, though, because it's November in Minnesota and that's how we do.
  • How's menopause, you ask? I'd like to say THANK YOU to my wise sister-friends who advised me to hang onto the boxes of super plus tampons in my bathroom closet. Because after two blissful months of menses-freedom *bam* it came back. Like a mofo. Sigh. At least now I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And I'm also very thankful to have a black office chair. 
That's the end of the bullet pointing, folks. I will be back, just like Arnold in The Terminator. Thank you all for hanging out and checking in and just basically being your wonderful selves. Now I'm off to research UV lights to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. #winteriscoming


Secretary Goes To College

Molly sent me a text this morning:

Dad just texted me. He's coming here tonight. With her.

Remember when I wrote about the never ending hurts of divorce? Texts like this are part and parcel, baby. Now, this wasn't a big hurt. Not even a medium sized one. It was more like a mosquito bite.

I played it cool, texting back Yay! Free dinner! or something along those lines. Because tell me what college student doesn't welcome a meal that

a: doesn't cost them anything, and
b: doesn't come from the dining hall

I felt happy for my daughter that she'd be getting a good dinner. I felt uneasy for her because I know how uncomfortable she is around her dad, and the stepmother only makes her feel more uncomfortable.

And yes, I felt bitter. Bitter that now he shows up, almost a month later. Rides in on his white horse and takes her out to dinner, his sweet new family in tow. Where was he when she was crying when the university's website crashed as she was in the middle of filling out her application? Where was he when we filled out that God-forsaken FAFSA? Where was he at her high school graduation? Where was he when we were running around town a month ago, spending a small fortune on things like mattress covers and closet organizers and string lights?

Don't get me started on what I felt when she sent me a text later that said All three of them are here. They wanted to see my dorm room. Bitter would have been welcome. Because what I felt was a sick, quiet rage. The first thought in my head? How dare she?? Really, though, Secretary visiting my girl? She has no right to traipse into my daughter's dorm room, the dorm room I helped her furnish and set up. How dare she go there and play the role of College Mom, visiting her girl on campus and bringing a grocery bag full of ramen like someone who gives an actual shit?

I know I should be over this, I know this kind of knee-jerk "angry ex-wife" reaction is symptomatic of someone who hasn't truly accepted everything that's happened. And that's probably true. I'm a big talker about "moving on" but when it's all flayed open and laid bare in the light of day, it's painfully obvious that not all of me has moved on.

And that's okay. I'm showing myself some grace here, some forgiveness. My feelings are valid, even if they are unfounded and immature. I'm going to let them roll in, like a vengeful, sad tide. And then let them roll back out from whence they came. Back into that odd, roiling sea of feelings.

I'm going to remind myself, for the millionth time, that none of this is about me. That it's a good thing, having a dad who is alive and who sometimes acts like a father. I'm going to keep these icky thoughts and this twinging anger to myself, and the next time Molly and I text or Face Time I'll ask how dinner was and tell her that I hope she had a good time (and that I hope she ordered steak). I'll tell her that I love her and that I can't wait to see her next weekend, and when we're done I'll feel proud of myself for not being a shrew and for keeping a lid on the stinky hurts that once again hit me out of the blue.

And I might even laugh a little, thinking about one last text she sent me this afternoon:

Seriously? I hate ramen. 

I love that girl.


Dumb Stuff I Did

Just in case you're feeling low, feeling like you need to know there's someone out there who does things...really dumb things: this post is for you. It's like a public service announcement from me to the world. I started out writing a "Oh, hey, so this is what I've been up to" kind of post and then realized that I have been walking around doing dumb things. Thinking dumb things. Buying dumb things. And I wondered to myself, "Self? Am I the only one who does this shit? Or do other people do things just as spectacularly dumb only they don't talk about it?". Self was too busy lighting a candle to reply (you'll understand the candle reference in a sec).

You ready for the dumb (and dumber) things? Here we go:

I bought a pregnancy test at Walgreens. You might recall that I am suddenly period-less. And my brain is having a hell of a time accepting it. So naturally, I began to think, "Hmm. Maybe somehow I'm pregnant." Yes, it was a lucid thought, and it came to me while I was completely awake and sober. But guys, buying the pregnancy test, while surely a sign that I'm losing my mind, that wasn't the worst part. (one might argue that me actually taking the test when I got home was the worst part, and that might be a winning argument). For me, the worst part was that I had a story made up just in case the cashier questioned me. Actually, there are so many "worsts" in this story I will give up trying to decide which one is Queen of Them All.

I'm 47, I am pretty much celibate and I took a pregnancy test. I had a story about a fictional niece ready to go if the cashier looked at the test, and then at me, and blurted out, "Okay, the Starburst and the Frizz-Ease Hair Spray I understand. But seriously...a pregnancy test? Come on, Grandma Moses. I don't even know you and I can tell you with 100% certainty that there ain't no bun in that oven."

Oh, and because I don't want to leave you all hanging? IT WAS NEGATIVE.

Another dumb thing I did: I bought yet another candle with the word "Linen" on the label. People think I'm fairly intelligent but there's a slight chance that I was hypnotized at one point in my past and the hypnotist implanted into me the inability to walk past a candle that is labeled "Linen" and not buy it. It doesn't matter what other words are on it. It could probably say "Dog Turd Wrapped in Clean Linen" and I'd pick it up. Later, as it burned merrily away on the mantel, I'd sniff the air and say, "Kids? Did the dog crap in the house?". But I'd also catch the crisp, clean undertones of fresh linens so there's that.

Here's another dumb move: I signed another two years of my life away with AT&T. And I went back to iPhone. In my defense, I'd been dealing with this phone for a year:

I didn't slam this one down, I swear! 

Since the new iPhone is coming out, the old ones are dirt cheap. Did you know you can buy phones and get it all set up with most carriers at Target? You can. Add in a gift card and the extra 5% off when using the Target RedCard and BOOM mama gots herself a new talkie device. Now all I need is for the Targets in Minneapolis to start selling booze and I'm pretty much done shopping anywhere else, ever.

An added bonus was that somehow my entire iTunes library, which had disappeared, came back to me on the phone. I am awash in memories and music again. P.S. When did I love Maroon 5 so much?

Another really dumb thing I did might end up being kind of smart. I'm really behind on my blog reading. It's been a cuckoo two weeks! Moving Molly into her dorm, Charlie moving out into a house with his friends (oh yes you read that right. I AM DOWN TO TWO KIDS!!!), getting the other two yahoos ready for school and me starting a new job. It's been a whirlwind.

So anyways. A couple of weeks ago, I made myself a delicious gin and tonic and sat down to catch up on the blogs. I stumbled upon one of my favorites, Mommy Shorts, and saw that she was running a giveaway thing. Normally I can't be bothered with giveaways, because it's SO.MUCH.WORK. "Like so-and-so on Facebook" "Follow me and my grandma on Twitter" "Share this post twelveillion times" "Blog about it!". Sorry, I just want to win something and not have to move my fingers so damn much.

Well, yay for Mommy Shorts, because she made this one so easy. Just come up with a funny quip about what your house smells like, and which Method air freshener scent you'd like it to smell like instead. I'm always talking about how I smell like divorce, so naturally I wrote about that. She liked it, she really liked it! And now I'm in the running for a $1000 Target gift card. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY LINEN SCENTED CANDLES THAT WILL GET ME?

I'm way behind on there because I loathe posting reminders for people to vote. I don't care, really, because no matter what I win a $50 Target card and the whole line of air fresheners. #FreeStuffRules  However, if you feel like voting for all the divorcees in the house, go here and scroll down. I'm "Jenny and Middle-Aged Dating" and you have to vote down below all the pretty pictures. Here's mine:

Nobody has to know that by "dating" I mean "spooning with a body pillow"

I know there are several more dumb things I've done, but my fingers are now exhausted. Plus, I have to get back to work. Here's to being employed, right?

Dumbly yours,


P.S. Please tell me your dumb stuff.


Dude, Where's My Period?

Well. I'm late.

For the first time since I was in my breeding years, my period is late. Time was, a late period sent me into an ultrasound-imagining, baby-naming, "was that a kick?" tizzy. I loved being pregnant and would have done it more than four times if things had been different. A late period was exciting!

Now? Ugh. No. Not exciting. When I realized it had been a while since I had run, hemorrhaging, into the bathroom, I checked my period app and realized with a big Shaggy Rogers "ZOINKS" that my period was a week late. For a brief flicker of seconds I got those baby butterflies going again. And then I remembered:

  • I'm 47 years old. 48 in less than a month.
  • It's been a long, long time since I've had sex. I mean, the kind that makes babies. 
  • My tubes are tied (yeah, this one is kind of a biggie, huh?)
  • Did I mention it's been a while since I've done the bump-and-grind? Played hide-the-sausage? Experienced a Close Encounter of the Penile kind? IT HAS. A pregnancy at this stage in the game would be something of biblical/National Enquirer proportions.

So this can only mean one thing: menopause is approaching. It's not just a far-off phenomenon, something my friends and I can joke about when we're sweating our asses off or trying to remember what it was like to have an actual waistline. It's a reality, and with every day that passes, it's getting closer.

Of course, I brought this upon myself. Just over a week ago I bought three giant boxes of my beloved Kotex SupahSize tampons (I cannot resist a 'Buy 3/Get a $5 Gift Card Free' deal at Target). Swear to God...as I stacked the boxes in the red plastic cart I thought to myself, "Now watch me hit menopause, lololololol.....". They are now sitting on a high shelf in the bathroom closet and they mock me every time I go in there for something. (yes I still have the receipt)

From what my doctor WebMd tells me, this is not just the "oh my gosh I'm such a bitch this week" peri-menopause stuff. This, the first missed period, is kind of like the first horseman of the menopausal apocalypse. It means that the rattling sound you might hear when I walk by is not a pack of Tic Tacs in my purse, it's my shriveled ovaries, which are now like two macabre maracas flopping around inside my pelvic cavity.

I'm waiting for the night sweats to begin. The insomnia has already been here a while, but oddly enough hasn't affected me very much. I'm one of those super annoying morning people and even skidding by on 3 or 4 hours of sleep doesn't seem to dampen my "HEY! GOOD MORNING!" vibe. And of course I'm always a little bit psycho. That has been my modus operandi since before Aunt Flo made her appearance. 

The skin/hair thing? That's another symptom I'm having trouble dealing with. On one hand, if you have spent any amount of time with me, you probably know that I have beard envy. Seriously, if I could be a guy for just a month or two? Oh the beard I would grow! I imagine running my fingers through a thick, bushy Grizzly Adams size hairball on my chin. How warm it would keep my face in winter. And mine would be red, like Dexter! Or Yukon Cornelius' in Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer.

Ha! Remember him licking that icepick?


On the other hand, thus far I've only had to deal with about 4 hairs on my face. What they lack in numbers, though? They make up for in girth. I think I could grow those four hairs out and string a ukulele with them. They don't just grow, those suckers crown. I am actually terrified of the whole beard thing now. Hold me.

And please, don't get me started on that "vaginal dryness" and even more daunting, "thinning of the vaginal walls" business. Yep. It figures. Just when I finally have the time and energy to start getting my freak on again, I'm going to have to worry about a vagina made out of dollar-store tissue paper. You thought buying economy sized boxes of gigantic tampons was awkward? Wait til young Bobby at Walgreens has to ring up your bottle of "Lady Lube". Gah. 

For all of my bitching and moaning about my period, the thought of it never happening again fills me with a weird sense of loss. Oh sure, how nice to never again be standing there talking to someone, and have a shrill voice screaming in my head OH SWEET BABY J THERE IS A CRIMSON WATERFALL IN MY PANTS. It will be super great to not fumble around in my purse for a tampon and finding nothing but hair elastics and chewed gum wrapped in receipts and then having to MacGyver a maxi pad out of toilet paper in the bathroom stall at work. 

And yes, it will be refreshing to not have packs of bears and dogs follow me around for that week or so of intense menstruating. 

But it is the first time I've ever truly felt old. And I hate that. I already feel like a creepy interloper any time my friends who have younger kids are sitting around talking about adorable things like kindergarten and bedtimes and my dusty Crypt Keeper voice chimes in, always starting with the phrase, "Back when my kids were that age...". 

Because even if my kids are getting older, it kind of felt like I wasn't. My brain seemed to have found a comfortable resting place somewhere between 33 and 40, and my body has been playing along. 

Until now. While living in a world where I can co-exist with white sheets again sounds a little bit exciting, it's going to be tough for me to separate myself from something as big and as final as menopause. 

Then again, I thought divorce was going to kill me. Menopause can't be scarier than that, right? 

At least there are no lawyers involved. 


Rearview Parenting: Dropping My Daughter Off At College

I built this one up good, friends. Ever since she got that official "Welcome to college!" letter from the university all those months ago, I've been mentally rehearsing it. I've been dreading it and anticipating it and fretting like a mofo about it.

Dropping her off at college. And then driving away.

I imagined the sobbing, the clinging, the sweating (always, with the sweat). I thought long and hard about what my last words to her would be, what nuggets of wisdom and warm gooey maternal love I'd leave her to hold and examine and cherish.

As the pile of her "college stuff" grew in our weird little nook by the sliding glass doors, it became woefully obvious that my tinny little Ford Focus would not be able to carry all of it, plus my daughter and me and the one brother she requested to accompany us. No way. One of my friends, my young pal Alex whom I met at trivia many moons ago, stepped up and said he'd drive us in his SUV. Again, my friends save us. It never fails to get me all kinds of verklempt when it happens.

The BIG DAY arrived...so, so quickly and if a day could sneer, it would have been sneering at me. I woke my girl up, one last time, and as we finished packing the last-minute things, Alex arrived and we began the Tetris game of packing up the vehicle. Alex won:

All clear, Alex! Bravo. 

There was just enough room left inside for Alex, me, Molly and Henry:

If you squint, you can see the college freshman.

Molly's school is about 2 hours away from our house. Two hours! That's all the time I had to chat with my girl before she and I parted ways until Thanksgiving. So, naturally we all played games and facebooked on our phones most of the way.

Are you imagining the tears? Do you think I was like a human sprinkler with the crying that must have been happening?

Nope. There were none. There had been a few the day before, when William gave Molly a goodbye hug before setting out to a sleepover. And several the day before that, when I read a text from a friend, who was sending her little girl off to France:

"Enjoy your time with her as your little girl, she will have changed the next time you see her."

But my eyes were dry that morning. And during the drive. There might have been a few tears shed when we drove down the streets leading to the dorm, past the throngs of rental houses where the older students live. They were all out on their lawns, kegs and camp chairs galore, and several of the students stood, holding signs that said things like:

I'M GOING TO TEACH YOUR SON BULLDOGGIE STYLE! (held by a girl) (the college mascot is a Bulldog, obvs)
AFTER 18 YEARS, I'M HER DADDY NOW (this one was kind of chilling, actually, but made me laugh)
MILFS DRINK FREE! (Alex, slow down! I'm parched!)

And so on and so forth. I'm not a pearl-clutcher, so those signs didn't give me a case of the vapors. In fact, they gave me my first rush of nostalgia as I remembered driving down those same streets 28 years prior. There is no feeling like that in the world, is there? Knowing that you are about to embark on one of the most transforming life-journeys of all...the freedom, the fun, the responsibility...and oh yes, the parties.

It was those feelings I was thinking about as we unloaded the carefully packed car, and with just two giant rolling carts and some manpower, we moved Molly into her new home. I think that's why I wasn't crying. This whole experience is hers, and hers alone. I'd had my time, it was over and done. I was sad, yes, sad that my lone girl-child wasn't going to be around me like she's been for the past 18 years, sad because there was nobody else who would sit on the couch and watch awful television with me, sad because there are always going to be regrets and piles of "should've, could've and would've" thoughts during milestones this enormous.

But this time? It's Molly's time and knowing this kept my head in the right place. Not in the past, not bemoaning my loss...but right there, in the present, helping my daughter take her first steps in this new life. Just as I stood beside her when she first began toddling on her achingly adorable chubby little baby feet, so I stood beside her as we met her roommate, as we put her mattress pad on and made her bed, as we organized and plugged things in.

The pride that filled my heart was colossal. Proud beyond description of my daughter, my sweet lady who overcame painful shyness and some pretty intense anxiety and was now moving to a new city without any of her close friends in tow. Proud of her for not becoming one of the stereotypical "children of single mothers", those kids who, according to some asshat people and politicians, are doomed to a life of hardscrabble times, drugs and alcohol and teen pregnancies and gun violence.

Oh shit. Here come some tears. But not the big ugly cry I've been anticipating. Nope. I don't think that one is going to happen, folks. Maybe it was me preparing myself for this event months in advance. Maybe it was reading other mama's experiences with this scenario and weeping over their photos and words (like my new favorite blogger friend, Amy, and her piece about the drop off...read it here and then when you're done crying come back here to the place where THERE ARE NO TEARS).

Maybe it's because I've done with these feelings as I've done with so many others throughout my life: shoved them down somewhere deep and dark and covered them with Ling Ling's Potstickers and martinis. I am a wee bit worried that this is exactly what's happened and that something is going to trigger me at the wrong place and the wrong time: mayhap it'll be at school when I'm working and I'll see a mama and her kindergarten girl walking out to their car, hand in hand, talking about butterflies and new friends. note to self: don't look at them.

Or maybe, just maybe, all of this growing and changing that my daughter is doing, is also happening within me. Maybe the two of us are approaching separate, but equally major, developments in our lives. She's becoming an adult, living on her own without Mommy in the next bedroom. And me?

I'm watching the city disappear in my rearview, the city my daughter will call home for the next year...and there are no tears. Only love and pride.

P.S. I received my first text from her about 5 minutes after I took that picture. It read, "OMG Mom. I forgot to pack a toothbrush."  She's still my little girl.


Pepper Spray and Bravery: Talking About Rape

"Mom, someone said I need to get pepper spray."

This was my daughter talking. She's 18 and mere days away from leaving home for a college campus a couple hours away from here. Away from home. Away from me.

We were at the local Home Depot-ish store, doing one of our seemingly never-ending shopping trips to get her geared up for dorm life. Closet organizers? Check. Command wall hooks? Check. Underbed storage containers? Check.

Pepper spray? Oh God.

We asked the salesperson where we might find pepper spray, and without batting an eyelash, he led us to the correct aisle. There it was, a small section, maybe three rows down, three rows across: protection against attackers.

Just the simple act of picking up a package and placing it in our already-stuffed cart was a wordless affirmation to my girl. An acknowledgement that yes, she might need it. She might find herself being hurt by someone, and she might need to spray them in the eyes with this noxious chemical in order to save herself.

"Mom...how do I even use this?" She was looking at the package. We'd picked out a pink pepper-spray dispenser, just because. Shouldn't your anti-rape arsenal be pink? I looked at the package with her. "Oh...there's directions on the back. We'll read them when we get home." Pepper spray? Check.

We didn't read the directions when we got home. Our days have consisted of checking lists, procuring the items a young woman needs to make herself a home-away-from home. I didn't think about talking to my daughter about what she should do if she finds herself being attacked.

But now I know I have to. I have to tell her my story, and I have to make sure she really, truly understands that there is a very real threat out there. A threat that might look like a cute athlete or a shy bookish sort or a sensitive hipster. A threat that is just waiting for her guard to be down, not lurking in bushes but walking down the same hallways she will be walking, eating in the same cafeteria and shuffling laundry to and from the same washers and dryers.

Last week, I wrote an essay. I wrote it from my perch on the couch, on a drizzly Sunday. In between laundry and Lifetime movies and getting my daughter packed and trying really hard to remember that I have other kids who needed me, I wrote an essay about rape.

My rape. There. I finally, finally said it. Well, typed it. But...phew. 

I wrote it, cried a tiny bit, and then found myself struggling with it. It was powerful, at least to me, and it seemed to be something that would help other women, other girls, who had been through it. But. I struggled over whether or not it was something I wanted to put here, on my silly little blog where I talk about Louis CK and single parenting and giant tampons.

The truth? I was afraid. Afraid of my kids seeing it, because although I play dumb sometimes, I know at least two of them have been here. I mean, really...who can blame them? I remember holding my breath, listening to my mom talk on the phone about me, about her life. My ears would catch the words Jennifer and she and I'd strain to hear. The modern day version of eavesdropping is done online, right? This wasn't something I wanted them to overhear.

Another truth? I was ashamed. I thought about different people in my life, besides my children, and imagined their reactions. "You were a slut!" "You totally got yourself into that situation, Jenny. Duh." "Oh my gawd...who was it? Tell me their names!" "You have no proof. It's your word against theirs!" and the worst of all..."Well, you were drunk. You asked for it. You deserved it." Yes. I was ashamed to divulge something awful that had been done to me, because I thought it would make me look bad. Make me look whorish or loose or like a lush. In this age of oversharing and TMI, this was the ultimate overshare. Was it too much information?

I'd never done an anonymous post before, but this one seemed like it would be a good candidate.

So, I consulted three women. The first? Kristen, who writes at Abandoning Pretense. I chose her because she's younger and hipper and is infinitely more current on what's happening in the blog scene. And I trust her. The second? Jill, who is better known as Scary Mommy. I chose her because I trust her with my words, and if I did decide to pursue the whole anonymity route, her website was my first (and really, only) choice. The third? My homie/bff Danielle. I chose her because she's not involved in the blog world, not one bit. I jokingly call her my moral compass but it's not really a joke. She has a level head, she doesn't ever judge me and I trust her more than just about anyone else I know. Let's just say, if you need dirt on me? She'd be the first place you dig. You dig?

All three of them readily agreed to read it. And all three responded immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the first thing all three of them said to me was this:

"I'm so sorry this happened to you."

They all liked it. Two said, almost immediately, "Fuck it. Fuck them. Put your name on it. You owe those guys nothing." The third one came around to that, eventually. They collectively coddled me while I fussed about the anonymous thing. They put up with facebook messages and texts and my super annoying habit of hand-wringing and second guessing myself. Most importantly, though? They all supported me. I am so grateful for that. There wasn't a shred of disapproval, not one little voice asking, "Are you really sure this is something you want to do?". And that was the nudge I needed.

Jill ran my article on her site. You can read it by clicking here on the title: "Why Hello There, Old Rapist In My Facebook Newsfeed." 

So there it is. I'm admitting it. I'm coming clean. I'm doing this because I have a daughter, and I have sons. I am doing this because of the hundreds of comments on that piece, the comments like, "I saw mine at the store" and "You are not alone" and "The song Funky Cold Medina makes me want to vomit." The comments from women who were once 16 and went to a party and had bad things done to them, women who were once 5 and were violated by men with whom they shared DNA. Women who have been carrying around this hot coal of embarrassment, of self-blame and doubt and all those other things our culture has taught us about victimization and sexual offenses and being female.

And most of all, I'm doing this because we need to talk about rape. We need to educate our daughters, we need to educate our sons and we need to stop being so mother-effing ashamed of it, and of ourselves.

One of my best friends says that part of us just stops growing when something traumatic happens to us. Like, say you're ten and your parents get divorced. She thinks that for the rest of your life, there will always be a sad ten year old somewhere inside of you.

I think about the bad things that have happened to me, and about how many sad versions of myself there are:

The 9 year old me, looking down at the angry red hand print my stepfather left on my thigh.
The 15 year old me, stuck on the floor between a bed and a wall, feeling indescribable dread.
The 39 year old me, watching my husband leave our house, leave our family before dawn on the last day of school.

But now there's this brave, 47 year old me...the one who has been through some hell but who has lived to tell about it.

I'm ready to tell, folks. And it feels great. Scary, but great.


Blogging Anonymous: Brave or Not?

It was one of those essays that just happened. Those of you who write, you know what I'm talking about. Like a baby that is coming out NOW, there was no stopping it. On a lazy Sunday, while watching Lifetime movies and pretending that life wasn't about to change drastically at our house, I wrote what I think is one of my bravest, darkest posts ever.

It's going to be published on another site in the next few days. But my name will not be on it. For the first time in my very short "writing career", I am publishing an anonymous piece.

I agonized over this one. Truly, agonized. I called in some trusted advisers, let them read the essay and then gathered opinions. The majority (of three, ha) said it was okay to put my name to it. In fact, two of them actually said, "Fuck it. Put your name on it!". But all three agreed that going anonymous would be okay, too.

Putting my name on it almost happened. Because I know that it's an important piece, something that I should be proud to be associated with as a writer, and as a woman. But something took precedence, something was more important than pride or acknowledgement.

Actually, four somethings. Four someones. My kids.

When I first started writing here, at my lowly little blog, privacy wasn't much of an issue. I used my real first name, and the names of my kids. In fact, the only people I really afforded ANY privacy to were my ex husband and his lovely wife. Now that I look back on it, that doesn't make sense. I was worried about legal repercussions that could result in revealing details about who my ex is, and had very few concerns about what, if anything, could affect my children. Of course, I did ask them if certain subjects were okay for me to write about. And four years ago, they said yes. Four years ago, this blog was "mom's stupid online thing" and not anything to be concerned about.

I never dreamed that anyone outside of my little circle of hens would read this thing, to be honest with you. In fact, I'm still somewhat amazed that perfect strangers find this site every day, and stick around. Almost a million visits? Gah. Blows my little mind, folks. And considering the stuff this mind has seen, that's not an easy feat.

It also blows my little idyllic mindset that this is a private sanctuary, exclusive to friends and supporters.

Because of this, I've been going through old posts, and hiding those that might be considered embarrassing or invasive to my children. When I find enough time, I'm going to go through the whole thing and change names. I always used to roll my eyes when fellow bloggers used pseudonyms for their family members...now I totally get it. My apologies for any eye rolls, friends. YOU WERE RIGHT.

But back to the whole anonymous thing: so the post that's going public is nothing I am embarrassed about. I'm very proud of it. However, it's not something I want my kids reading. Not now. Considering the gravity of the subject, and the topicality of it, yes...I think it's worthy of discussion. And I'd like to decide when it's time to discuss it.

Those of you who are regular readers will probably figure it out. Writing styles are like fingerprints, right? And who knows. Maybe after seeing it "live" I'll change my mind and decide that it's okay to own it. To make it mine. In the meantime, I don't want to risk having my (very) well-intentioned friends linking me to the post, or linking it to this blog. I hope that doesn't sound pretentious, and I certainly hope it's not insulting.

Thank you, so much, for your support and understanding.


Doormat No More: Behold, My New Balls!

Forgive me for such blatant Vague-Blogging, but I'm going to keep this one opaque.

I have been dealing with a difficult personality for the past 18 months. It's someone I see on a daily, Monday through Friday basis. When I first encountered this person and their personality, it was with lots of forewarning: "Watch out, you're in for it" and "Good luck with that!" and "Don't let it get to you."

I remember laughing and saying to myself, "How bad can it be? I can get along with anyone."

Oh dear. It was pretty bad. In the interest of being vague, we'll just leave it at that.

However, I am not one to give up without a fight. Some of my favorite students at school are those who present me with the biggest challenges. The tougher the nut is to crack, the more I enjoy what's inside (or something like that...sounds kind of icky, now that I see it all typed out).

So I persevered with this person. Asked a lot of questions, joked around with them. Got to know them. I found bits and pieces that I liked, and ran with it.

"It's not so bad!" I exclaimed to the previous naysayers. "There's good in there!" I crowed. "I WILL LIKE YOU, DAMMIT" I said in my head while spending time with the difficult one.

And for a while, it worked. I think the person in question was surprised by my friendliness, by my willingness to chat and laugh and hang out. For a while, I really did like this person.

I think it started changing when the stress in my life flared up. When I found out that I was losing my job, to be precise. At first the stress was a long ways out, and I could barely hear it. "Yo, Jenny!" it called out. It was faint. As the days flew by on the calendar, it became louder. I heard it when I tried to sleep, it interrupted conversations, it talked over the songs on the radio as I drove hither and yon. About three weeks ago, it became the loudest it had ever been, and I found myself feeling low. The job interviews were not panning out, and the panic over what my next move would be worsened.

That's when the difficult person really began to irk me. Little things, things that had been happening for months prior, suddenly became big things. Control issues that had been quirky were now glaringly bizarre. It was like going from having a roommate who kind of bugged you to living with Julia Robert's husband in "Sleeping With The Enemy" (remember when she opened the cupboards and all of the cans of food were arranged just so? Yeah. Like that.)

Run, Julia!RUN!!!

And it was more. It was being treated like shit, in a very passive-aggressive, Nellie Oleson, "oh I'm sorry, did that bother you?" kind of way.

Here's the deal with me: I have always been a doormat. A Libra through and through, conflict terrifies me. Take it, suck it up, go with the flow...that's always been my way of living. Even when I was going through my divorce, after proof of my ex-husband's affair had been shoved in my face, I kept up my Doormat facade and tried to not rock the proverbial boat any more than I had to. "No need to be a total bitch," I'd tell myself. And always, always: "Take the high road, Jenny."

I am very familiar with the High Road. If the High Road had a Frequent Flyer program, I'd be flush with points. My kids hear it from me all the time, and it's a virtue I extol ad nauseam here on my blog and when discussing divorce and co-parenting elsewhere.

But does taking the high road sometimes equal allowing yourself to be shat upon? I think so. I think we, as women especially, are taught to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the better person. And that's GOOD, believe me, in most situations. In some situations, however, I think it allows the Nellie Olesons and the Regina Georges of the world to keep on being mean girls and bullies. And also allows difficult personalities, like the one I've grappled with over the past year and a half, to carry on with their cuckoo behavior without getting called on it.*

Sometimes you need to take a detour. And that's what I did. The difficult personality person did one of the things that has caused me many headaches and stomachaches over the past 18 months. And as I felt that old familiar stress ball start forming in my gut, I decided to fling the doormat from my forehead. I approached the difficult one, and I said exactly what was on my mind. Gesticulating like a mofo, I made my voice heard.

I closed with, "And THIS is exactly why I find it so frustrating to be around you." (cue the applause)

You would not believe how good it felt. The stress ball in my gut was gone, my heart was racing in a good way and I felt like a half ton of bricks had just been lifted off my shoulders.

You know that feeling after you've held your bladder for far too long, and you finally make it to the toilet without having tinkled even just a little in your pants? That release, that relief??

That. It felt that awesome.

Me: Oooh! What's that tingling sensation in my nethers?
Also Me: Oh honey. It's your balls. They're growing. (Also Me sounds just like Karen Walker, btw)
Me: They're so cute! And shiny!

See? I'm crazy, too. Only my crazy is kept inside most of the time. Hopefully, it doesn't cause anyone stress. If it did? I hope they'd stand up for themselves and let me know.

So watch out, world. I have lost my stand-up-for-yourself virginity. And I'm dying to do it again.

* HUGE CAVEAT HERE: I wouldn't be a real Libra if I didn't stress that sometimes people are difficult to be around because of underlying issues: true mental illness, going through a sucky situation, health problems, etc. And if that's the case, the High Road, with lots of compassion and empathy, is your best bet. BUT. To quote Gordon Gano and the rest of the Violent Femmes, "De-derange, we've all been through some shit". A lot of us deal with mental illness, with sucky situations, health problems and other life "stuff" that can make us less-than-pleasant to be around. I've been cut miles of slack by my friends, family and coworkers during low points in my life, and I'm eternally grateful. It doesn't, however, give us an excuse to act like turds.


Picture Them Doing Nothing: The Search For Super Henry

Today is my son Henry's birthday. He's 17. A strapping 17, almost 6'3" with a voice so rumbly and deep that sometimes I'll hear him from another room and think "Oh my god there's a man in the house! Who let him in?" We've come to the point in our mother/son relationship where his friends are riding shotgun, and I'm in the backseat. And that's okay, since he's my third child to reach this almost-grown stage it's getting easier to not only accept it, but to kind of enjoy it. Emphasis on the words "kind" and "of".

He's spending his birthday night with his friends. We'll celebrate this weekend, as a family, most likely at the hibachi restaurant down the road, where we'll get steak and shrimp and fried rice and leave reeking of oil and with a slick sheen on our faces. We'll laugh together, all of us, as we always do. We will talk about funny things from our conjoined pasts and gloss over the less funny parts, as we always do. Going out with my four kids now feels almost like having dinner with a group of friends. Except nobody fights me for the check at the end of the evening.

It's become a tradition of sorts for me to write something pithy on facebook as an acknowledgement of each child's birthday. I'll search for the perfect picture to post along with the words, and both of us (me and whichever kid it is) enjoy all the likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAY comments. I'll get a little misty-eyed as I reminisce, for a few whiles, about their day of birth and all the anniversaries of that day that have passed.

Which I was all set to do this morning. I thought about which picture I'd use for Henry's birthday ode. That's when I thought about Super Henry. When he was about 3-ish, I bought him a little Superman costume. One of those cheap, thin one-piece deals, that tied at the back and came with a separate,but identically thin and cheap, cape.

Henry became obsessed with that costume. He wanted to wear it all the time. And because he was my third child, I let him. One of the first things I learned as a mom was to choose your battles. Wanting to wear a Superman costume day after day after day? Totally not a battle. 

I'm an old mom. How old? So old that I have actual shoeboxes full of actual photographs taken with an actual point-and-shoot camera. I'm sure at one point in my dewy young mothering career I envisioned all of those photographs either gracing the pages of sweet, memory filled baby books or adorning a wall in a tastefully kitschy collection of mismatched frames.

Ha. The shoeboxes (there are about 5 of them) are shoved in a small cabinet that sits in my bedroom. You'd think there would be some modicum of organization, right? Like, all pics of Kid #1 in the Cole Haan loafer box, or all pics from 1995-97 in the Converse box. Ha, again. Have we met? My ADD has ADHD, folks. That's what I'm dealing with.

So, I knew there had to be a few pictures of Henry wearing the Superman costume in one of those boxes. I mean, the kid wore it nonstop for a year...how could I have not snapped a shot or two of my feisty three year old clad his beloved superhero garb?

I began the search, keeping one eye on the clock. I had to get to work, but that wasn't as pressing as my need to get Henry's picture all Instagrammed up and posted on the Facebook. Priorities, you know. I gots 'em. 

The search became a little more intense with every minute that ticked away. I became angry at my unorganized self. Why the hell do I have pictures of me, drunk in Mexico in 1989, mixed in with pictures of me, holding my newborn babies in the hospital? And glossy 4x6 reminders of how much fun my ex and I had before our marriage went to shit mixed in with faded 70's prints of my brother and I sitting on my grandma's couch?

I could see him in my mind, dammit, see his white-blond hair, his chubby cheeks and his tiny limbs clad in pilly royal blue and red fabric. I could feel the weight of his small body, leaning against me as I knelt next to him and tied the cape back on for the hundredth time that day. I could hear him crying in the morning, as I rushed to get his big brother, his big sister, him and my pregnant self ready and out the door in the morning, crying because his "SUPAman" outfit was in the wash.

I had all of these things as clear as lead crystal in my head, but where were the mother effing pictures?

The sweat began flowing as I flipped through stacks of memories. WHERE THE HELL WAS SUPER HENRY? There was a slippery Henry being pulled from my belly, Henry elbows-deep in his first birthday cake, Henry sleeping on the floor with his eyes open (that was the creepiest phase, ever). Henry playing t-ball, Henry tubing on a lake, Henry wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and a hippie costume and of course a ninja costume. COME ON, SHOEBOXES! Where was my kid wearing that godforsaken Superman costume?

Finally, finally. There in the Nike box. I found him. I found Super Henry. One picture:

I smiled. I laughed. I might have shed a tear or two. There he was, cape and all. Super Henry. Just as I had remembered him.

The picture, with the accompanying birthday tribute, was posted. The likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAYS rolled in. All was right in my cuckoo world.

Except, I was mad at myself. Still am, a dozen hours later. I was mad at my current self for not having anything in any sort of order. And I was mad at my younger self, Super Henry's mom, for not stepping back a few more times and getting just a couple more pictures of her toddler who was sure he could fly, sure he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. For not having the foresight to know that somewhere down the line, when that little boy was towering above her and spending more time with his friends than with her...she'd want to see him again. See Super Henry, with his white-blond hair, smiling and wearing a cheap little costume like it was the most natural, the most everyday thing in the world.

The lesson I learned today, aside from the one about how being unorganized can turn the most benign morning into a frenzied clusterfuck, was this:

My favorite memories of my kids are the seemingly mundane, no-big-deal moments in their childhoods: eating freeze pops in the shade of the apple tree that used to stand in front of our old house. My daughter, wearing nothing but a tiara and her underwear at the breakfast table. A determined preschooler pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble Mower behind daddy as he mowed the lawn on a summer evening.

And a little Henry, all cheeks and big eyes, just chilling in his Superman costume. Cape and all.

Mamas? Stop the action now and then, won't you? Take a minute out of those neverending days and catch your babies doing nothing. Nothing but being themselves. Trust me when I say... you'll be glad you did.

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