I’m not usually a Bah Humbug kind of girl, but this year I’m in a bit of a funk.
Maybe it’s a year of politics that has me wishing for a third party. Or no party.
Maybe it’s a year of “#metoo” and realizing that I think life is more like “who hasn’t?”
Maybe as I’ve gotten older and realized that what I actually want to do when I grow up is become a (real/paid/famous) writer and that means I am trying to reorganize and prioritize my life and activities so there is time every day for writing (breathing out) and reading (breathing in), and adding in a few dozen extra tasks between Thanksgiving (which we hosted for 37 people) and Christmas Eve (when we host 19 people) is making me stressed and anxious and feeling selfish and guilty all at the same time.
Maybe it’s because trying to be a real writer means that for the last six months I’ve actually approached agents, publishers, writing residency and fellowship programs and started getting my first rejection letters, which I am told is the badge of every successful writer. Just for the record, these badges feel crappy. And totally do NOT go with my outfit.
Maybe it’s because my pants are too tight and I’ve finally joined a gym and have been going religiously for a month and I’m not skinny yet.
Maybe I’m trying to do too much after recovering from post concussion syndrome after I got hit in the head with a sailing boom in August (first world concussion problems).
Maybe, just maybe, it’s all of those things.
So as a purposeful and attempting to be self-actualized human, I decided to make a list of Christmas things that I will and won’t do. No one ever said everything needs to happen to make Christmas. Except Pinterest, and she’s a made-up Queen of Nonsense, so there.
I don’t need to bake Christmas Cookies or do a cookie exchange. I only like my mom’s cookies anyway and since she is a saint I can just look at her with my pitiful puppy dog eyes and ask her to make me my favorite cookies and then I will eat them and continue to wonder why my pants are so tight.
I don’t need to go to every luncheon, shopping event, or cocktail party. When I was younger I used to think that I wasn’t successful or popular enough unless we were invited to something every weekend of December. Now I am grateful that we are invited to many things, but I’ve realized I actually prefer to be in my (loose) pajama pants near the fireplace in my own family room on the weekend. And every night of the week for that matter. I have fabulous cozy slippers and fuzzy blankets and a stack of magazines and books and I can look at my Christmas decorations and feel all is right in the world. I’m told this makes me an introvert. I prefer the term “socially particular”. I like people. Just certain ones at certain times.
However, there’s lots of stuff on the Christmas list of To Do items that I can’t get rid of. I mean, I could refuse to make sure that Katie has a “holiday concert outfit” that fits the requirements for school and fits her properly, but forcing her to be the only kid without black pants / appropriate length skirt and white shirt and black flat shoes (not boots or heels) isn’t really going to help cut down on time, as she would need to then attend therapy since I’d be ruining her life. And I could decide my kids don’t need any presents, or anyone else in my family, but I think that would be bucking the capitalist society of our country and I might get deported. Or reported to DYFS by my children, who can sometimes sway towards the entitled bratty end of the spectrum on occasion.
So when I mentioned to Brian that I had “a lot going on this year” and I didn’t want to do a Christmas card, I thought this was a good balance in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love other people’s Christmas cards. I really do. I love getting mail that isn’t going directly to the recycling bin, like the fourteen pounds of catalogs that arrive daily beginning in October. I open each card and put them all together in a little wooden display box, and we enjoy seeing how kids have grown and friends have aged and the whole cycle of life thing. When our kids were really young, and our friends were really young, we had a “cutest baby” contest that was really fun and most likely inappropriate. But making our own holiday card is not my favorite thing. And since I was trying to make Christmas this year all about my actual favorite things, like eating my mom’s cookies in my yoga pants and not adding additional tasks that are not necessary, I didn’t think anyone would even miss our card anyway.
But Brian thought this was a travesty. “How could we not send a card?” he asked me, incredulous, like I had just suggested I attempt to trap and torture Santa himself. I explained myself and my precarious mental state. I didn’t want to spend the time searching for a photo of all of us where everyone was smiling, where my fat was either hidden by a child in front of me or easy to photo shop, where the backdrop of the photo was a scene that was pretty or interesting but not pretentious. I didn’t want to look online for cards that were holiday generic so we could send to our Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Atheist and Humanist friends and family without making someone feel excluded. I didn’t want to spend money on something that would be recycled. I didn’t want to update addresses. I didn’t want to review who stays on the mailing list and who gets dropped and who added them and who were those people anyway? I did not want to do any of that – or eat green eggs and ham. “Fine – I’ll do it,” said Brian. “You won’t have to do a thing – I’ve got this.” And I knew that this was going to be a great story. Maybe not a good plan, but a great story.
First, Brian asked me what photo we should use. I explained the criteria, refusing to look at a single photo. He then researched every photo we had online for approximately seven thousand hours and asked me what I thought of three thousand of them. I explained that this was still his job. And then he researched again and showed me a dozen. A dozen I could look at – this is the executive summary that I need in life. I nixed some. I praised others. I reminded him about cropping out my fatter bottom half. We settled on a few that we both sort-of kind-of liked but didn’t love, and then he went back and looked at the original three thousand again, as if he had missed the perfect photo. He hadn’t. He came up with the same photos again. I smirked. He had now spent more time on the holiday card project this year than in all of our other years as a family combined. Perhaps more hours than any Christmas Related Items combined. Except for maybe the year he put together Katie’s Playmobil dollhouse, which took approximately 12 hours, and an entire bottle of scotch. And then Christmas morning he had to pretend that Santa’s elves had put the whole thing together and he couldn’t take an ounce of credit. He kept telling my three-year-old Katie “Those elves must have worked REALLY hard on this!” and finally my feminist Katie said “I bet Mrs. Claus worked even harder.” Out of the mouths of babes. There’s a reason Katie is often my favorite child.
So as Brian became more sucked into the Christmas Card Chaos, I realized I enjoyed his misery. He was getting a small taste of what it is like to be me, or any wife, for that matter. I decided that since I had done the Christmas card for the first 16 years of marriage, he could do the next 16. And then when he went online to pick the actual card to go with the actual picture, he completely and utterly melted down. “There are over a THOUSAND CARDS on this website!” he screamed, thoroughly freaking out with the abundance of choice. In past years, I had given him the executive summary, having gone through everything and shown him two or three options for finalists. Or just the one I thought he’d like. He’d never known the plethora of choices I saved him from. Now the cards were streaming at him like an angry mob with pitchforks. I loved his torture. And I realized I was a little bit evil, enjoying his Christmas pain.
What is Christmas, and marriage for that matter, if not sharing the joy and chaos and crap together?
There was a great article not too long ago about the mental taxation of being a woman. How the emotional part of keeping track of everything is exhausting. Just in regular life. Not Christmastime. Christmastime elevates it all to a totally different level. I organize the house, the kids, the lists, the calendar and the things we do and the things we don’t. I plan, research and purchase the gifts for the kids and our families, the gifts for teachers and coaches, and tips for the garbage guys. I make sure we have something for the various and important causes and donation drives for the people who are less fortunate, I get the Secret Santa gifts, the white elephant gift exchanges, the extra gifts for hostesses and the people I will forget to get a gift for. I decorate inside and outside of the house (and try to take down the outside decorations before July, which actually happened one year). I kept track when the kids were little of what presents were from mom and dad versus Santa, how and where to hide them, when to wrap them with what paper, how much tape we needed (just, more, more tape). I psych myself up to visit the post office and try to figure out if there is a time of day when it is possible to spend less than 45 minutes on line. I figure out travel plans and plane fares (really we should do this in July as well as take down the decorations) and remind myself to be thankful every day for my first-world problems and abundance of good problems to have. But god forbid anything else actually happens in the month of December, like a family birthday, or sick kid, or sick pet, or man flu, or a broken garbage disposal or even just the endless broken Christmas decorations that require me to invest in gallons of super glue. I really do try to put my super powers to good use, but somehow this many things starts to suck the joy and fun out of it and instead of feeling like I’m party of a Merry Team, I feel like I’m the cruise ship director making sure everyone else is having fun.
And then, on top of it all, there’s the freaking elf.
Tune in for the next blog where I discuss the freaking elf. Because we all need to take a breath, and have a glass of something merry, before we get to that.
And did I forget something for this Christmastime list? Feel free to let me know. We’re all in this together after all.
I miss the days when I could just sink money into the most adorable Disney Princess Halloween costumes possible. Katie has been Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Anna from Frozen, Sleeping Beauty (which at the time was before Katie perfected her speech articulation and she called her Cheapy Booty which gave my family the hysterics) and Merida, which was probably her favorite because it included arrows – and weaponry when you have an older brother is really a fabulous idea.
Here we are. Two weeks and counting. And there will need to be not one, but two, acceptable costumes for my tweenage daughter.
Because what eleven year old girl could commit to just one outfit in a day?
Princesses are no longer an acceptable avenue of dressing up. My feisty and fiery independent girl is now balancing her desire to be whatever her imagination creates alongside her friends who may or may not want to create a group of themed costuming. Two girls considered being Salt and Pepper, then a third wanted to join in and they switched to Rock Paper Scissors. A fourth was interested and suddenly the other original costume friends have moved on to other groups. “How does that make you feel?” I asked, unsure if this will be something that will send my daughter into hysterics. “Mom,” she tells me, rolling her eyes, “They’ve known each other since kindergarten. Of course they need to do something together!” I exhale. Drama averted. For now.
My relationship with our country and its symbolisms is a complex one. I’m not a flag waver. I’m not a flag burner. I grew up with both in my family. I broke bread at the same table as the patriot and the hippie. It was interesting, as a child, to watch these two men eat meals together, knowing that they could not possibly be more different, yet there they sat, respecting each other and both loving my grandmother’s amazing whipped potatoes. Those potatoes transcended mere mashed potatoes – she whipped those taters til lumps were a distant memory. I didn’t even know mashed potatoes could have lumps until I was in high school.
My grandfather was named Jack, and he was part of America’s greatest generation. He signed up to be a Navy fighter pilot before he was 18 and convinced his mother to sign the permission to enlist form by promising her he’d keep one foot on the ground. He never broke that promise – he brought a bucket of dirt up in his fighter jet every time he flew, and kept one foot in the bucket. Jack didn’t believe in lying. He landed jets on giant aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean and passed his final exams with flying colors, identifying friendly and enemy aircrafts shown on a giant screen for just a fraction of a second. Some of his classmates found the answer key and cheated. Jack thought he should study anyway, and ignored the answer key. In the end, anyone who had used the answer key was dismissed – it had been a plant by the instructors to see who would lie, and it was designed to root out the liars. During visits home in New Jersey, Jack would fly his jet through rain clouds over the skies of Clifton so he could make it rain below for my grandmother, where she worked as a nurse in the hospital. The hospital staff would run for cover, unsure if it was Germany or Japan or friendlies. My grandmother knew it was Jack, courting her, changing the weather just for her.
The forks are missing. This is a catastrophe.
Yes. There are amazing and important things happening in the world, in my country, in my town. I’m even involved, doing my civic volunteer duty. My girl scout troop is running an encampment to introduce younger girls to the joys of nature and camping. My Junior League colleagues and I are launching a state-wide initiative to offer training to anyone who wants to be more involved in helping to run nonprofit boards (by the way, registration is ending soon so you should visit www.getonboardnj.org asap to register if you haven’t done so already – shameless plug but it’s really gonna be amazing). There are also one thousand four hundred and fifty seven end of year school events that are on my calendar. So that will be fun.
But what is it that has me really laser-focused at the moment? Scheduling? Organizing? Increasing registration numbers for important things like nonprofit training? Or perhaps finishing the edits on my book so I can finally submit it to agents and maybe be a famous writer? Or at least a published-not-famous writer?
The forks are missing. The forks are not broken, the forks are not dirty. I do not have forks where the tines are crooked which I can’t stand because I have OCD and the crookedness feels like evil in my mouth. The forks are just unavailable. The forks are freaking gone. WTF forks? And WTF family? How can I have raised children that allow this sort of catastrophe to happen? How can I live among animals where utensils are not a treasured and respected part of daily life? Take a fork. Use it. Put it in the dishwasher. Maybe the sink if you truly cannot find the energy to open the dishwasher door because of the lethargy induced by eating whatever it was you ingested with said fork. But did you throw out the fork? Did you put it in a couch cushion? Is it hidden in some dark recessed place in our house? What has happened?
Last November, something happened. I didn’t see it coming. And after it happened, I didn’t like it.
My good friend, Jenna, didn’t like it either. She was the one who first asked me if I thought I might consider going to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to go, but I also don’t like being cold. I mean, President Harrison DIED because he went to DC for his own inauguration. Except he didn’t wear a coat or a hat and he gave a two-hour speech. And then he died from pneumonia. Jenna promised to lend me gear to keep warm. I agreed. We were going. But we also thought we could find a few other people to come with us. So we hired a bus. And then looked for people to fill it. Worst-case scenario we would be a lonesome twosome on a very expensive bus and we’d just have to hope that the husbands didn’t mind us spending that kind of money. “I accidentally hired a bus” doesn’t sound quite right, but it was sort of the truth.
So Jenna and I posted in our “secret” facebook group, “Chatham Moms for Hillary”. A friend of a friend started it as a safe place for Hillary supporters to talk with like-minded people. Chatham tends to be a rather red place to be, with slightly more registered republicans than democrats, and an awful lot of independent voters who tend to lean right when they get in the voting booth. Democrats in Chatham tend to feel like a minority, even though our state of New Jersey is always counted on to go blue for the President. In a sea of red Morris county, Chatham (Borough and Township) went for Hillary in 2016. I partially credit Chatham Moms for Hillary for making that happen. We were together. We felt empowered. We got out the vote. We made signs and posted them boldly on our front lawns and in public places. We let others know we weren’t alone. But our candidate lost. And we were collectively sad. So when the idea happened to come together and ask for our voices to be heard, we asked others to come along. It wasn’t just a ‘we don’t like Trump’ thing. It was a ‘can you please hear us’ on the issues thing. Issues like climate change (and believing science), education, health care access, financial security, homeland security, women’s issues and human issues.
We filled the seats of the bus in a week. And then there were more people who wanted us to get a second bus. We sent them to our friends in Madison and to Rallybus. We were satisfied with 53 women. It was enough for the time being. “I accidentally hired TWO buses” would definitely not fly.
So you may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front. There’s a reason. I’m writing a book. The Book. And I actually would love a little help from my friends on a couple of things, if you don’t mind, and have the time…
Well, I actually have a couple books in the figurative fire, but The Book is right now called A (Few) Year(s) In My Head, and it’s scheduled to be done around January or February sometime. I have an actual writing schedule with the number of words I need to write each day. I’m ahead by 18 days at the moment. I like being ahead of schedule. It reminds me of my school days and extra credit. I loved getting 105 on a test. That would happen sometimes in English. Never math. Or science. That shit is hard. But English? Bring it. I’m such a nerd that way.
So, you ask, what is the book? What’s it about? Are you in it? So the book is similar to my blogs. In fact I’ve incorporated some of that writing into it, so some of the book will look familiar to you if you’ve read all of my yesitreallyhappened.com stuff. But the pieces are longer, more detailed, updated, and supplemented by another 50,000 words that I had to say. Out loud. And on paper. Well, for now my laptop screen. Hopefully someone will actually want to publish The Book when it’s all done and maybe even PAY me for it. I might buy some celebration book shoes.
But I am still adding new material – and if you WANT to be in the book I still have room. I’m looking for a little help on some of the research in three areas at the moment. So while you’re perusing the internet, or hanging out on the couch, or can’t sleep, some things that I have in my brain:
- I would like to add some more personal stories to the “Why Teenagers Should Drive Piece of Shit Cars” segment. If you have a story to add, please sent me a note. I also love these stories in general and they make me laugh, so thank you in advance for contributing to my excellent state of mental health.
- I would like to expand on my theory of why scientific studies are stupid. It’s also likely to go into the idea that polls and surveys are dumb. I know you’ve read an article about something and wondered who PAID researchers to do a study on lint traps in dryers, or why red wine is good for you (only to be followed by a study about why all drinking will kill you).
- Last but not least, I’m looking for a list of things that could kill you. This is going to be a pivotal new chapter called “And Then You’re Dead”. That might sound a little dark. It might actually be a little dark. But it will absolutely lean on some humor and has a happy ending. So if there’s a fear or phobia or thing that you read in the news that made you go “Hmm, we could die from that”, please share. I know you’re out there. I’ve seen your list on your phone. I’ve heard you over lunch, over wine. We talked about it waiting for our kids outside the school. The truth, the fear, the holy crap we’re all gonna die, it’s out there. Let’s share.
Thanks for reading, researching, and being there for the journey! Onwards!
Today I want to talk about something that plagues me on a daily occurrence. Dog Poop.
Those of you who know me may know that I have not one, but two, Bernese Mountain Dogs. Gryffin is 130 pounds of pure happiness and love. Nicky is 90 pounds of medicated hyperactivity. I love them both, but I really love Gryffin. He is the best dog ever. But there is one area in which Nicky beats Gryffin. Poop.
If you are a dog owner, or a parent, you can understand the ability and desire to discuss poop. Poop is indicative of overall health. Physical, emotional, mental. It is the essence of the being. You see, Nicky has his issues (please see Yes My Dog is Crazy if you haven’t read it already), but in the poop department, he is king. Regular, perfectly shaped, excellent consistency, not too hard or too soft, not overwhelming in size. And the best part is that he poops in the yard every day without fail and NEVER poops on a dog walk. And since I live the life of a princess, we have someone who comes pick up the poop in the yard and take it away twice a week so I NEVER have to pick up Nicky poop. Ever. That is perfection.
Gryffin, however, poops every time we take a walk. Which is every day. It’s as if he can only find comfort in pooping on someone else’s lawn. So a daily part of my life is picking up his poop and carrying it home with me. Now, here’s the thing. Gryffin has food allergies. If he eats a bite of something he shouldn’t, his poop falls apart. And then, too, so does my day. Easy, one might say. Just make sure he only eats what he is supposed to. Yes. That sounds right. But the only food that doesn’t make Gryffin sick is Hydrolized Soy Protein. So any bite of food that falls from anyone’s hands, anything that’s left on a coffee table, any tempting piece of morsel – runny poop. Cheese, milk, any dairy, pork, chicken, fish, duck, venison, we’ve tried it all. The only protein we haven’t tried is kangaroo. I like kangaroos. I can’t believe it is a dog food. But we’re not buying it. Might as well be called “cute furry creatures”. So in the meantime, poop.
I’ve come up with a system for rating my poop days. Remember, Gryffin is 130 pounds. So he has poop the size of a human. Sometimes more than any normal human. So in order to have an easy time of picking it up, despite whatever size it may be, it needs to have a consistency of perfection. That makes it possible to use the first piece of poop to pick up the other pieces of poop, sort of like stacking pieces of playdough against each other. This is what gives me joy.
We’ve done this routine before. Mother’s Day. Smiles, flowers, breakfast in bed. And a few realities too. This is how it will play out tomorrow.
6 a.m. I hear Katie stirring. She is an early riser. She comes into my bed and snuggles and whispers “Happy Mother’s Day!” She is adorable. She’ll wake Brian and head downstairs to cook breakfast and bring it to me on a tray. She is good that way. Brian will pat my head and stumble downstairs after her.
6:45 a.m. Breakfast will arrive. I will pull off my sleep mask and reach for coffee. I wish for sleep. Just, sleep. And I marvel that despite all the wonderful things my husband can do in his career and life, he makes terrible toast. I remember when I was sick once, and I asked him to make me toast, and I got back this hard, brick like substance with a smoosh of butter in just the center, not spread out to all the sides. Toast is really an art. And no one makes better toast than my mom. Perfectly toasted, the butter married to every nook and cranny all the way up to the crust. Toasted but still soft that it isn’t overwhelming you with crumbs. Just looking at the toast would make you start feeling better.
7:15 a.m. I’ve eaten and put my sleep mask back on. I bet I can catch 40 minutes before we have to go to church. Because yes, I agreed to teach Sunday School on Mother’s Day. And yes, I’m part pagan. But the kids love me. And I’m nice, so this is what we do.
7:20 a.m. Katie checks on me to see if I want more breakfast. No. Just Sleep.
7:25 a.m. Brian checks on me to see if I want more coffee. No. Sleep Mask. Sleep.
7:30 a.m. The dogs check on me to see if I want to get up and feed them breakfast. FML.
We left the boys home. They weren’t interested. Or at least not obsessed enough. So this trip was just Katie and me. Two girls on an adventure to Minnesota, to follow the road to all things Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie.
We started by flying from NJ to Minneapolis/St. Paul. I’m not sure why these Twin Cities are so close together considering how far apart everything else in the state is, but they’re only 25 minutes apart. It can take longer than that to get across midtown in NYC. We hopped in a rental car for a 2 ½ hour trip across the southwest portion of the state. The rental car guy asked if we needed a map (yes please) and where we were headed. “Walnut Grove!” I exclaimed, thinking everyone on the planet would jump up and down at how exciting that is. I mean Laura LIVED there. He shook his head, “Never heard of it,” he replied. “Sleepy Eye? Springfield?” I implored. Those were the big cities Pa would take the wagon to when he needed supplies. “You must be going out really far,” he answered, and gave me directions out of the airport. I was on my own, with Google maps and Katie, age 10, as navigator. I also decided the rental car guy was nice, but a total turd for not knowing and worshipping Walnut Grove.Read More
You might have heard this before, but my dog is crazy. Not Gryffin (short for Sir Godric Gryffindor of Harry Potter fame) -he’s my first dog, the older dog, the perfect dog. Firstborn son dog. Dog that finished every training class they had at the local animal shelter and was recommended to be a pet therapy dog for hospitals and senior centers because he was soooo good and soooo perfect. That dog I like. But I liked him so much I figured, hey, why not get a second dog? Then my pet can have a pet. I think he’s lonely when I’m not home. He needs a puppy. Great idea, right? Wrong.
Welcome Nicky. Short for Nicolas Flamel, also of Harry Potter fame. Except the only magic this dog has is that he hasn’t managed to kill himself. From the beginning he wasn’t “normal”. Most dogs can be crated and learn not to poop in their crate. This dog pooped in the crate and rolled in it so that anytime I left the house for an hour I had to bathe him. And get poop off of him. Gross. So away goes the crate. He doesn’t like to be contained or restrained. I get it. Except when I leave now he starts eating not just anything he can find laying around, but also the walls. Not just the corners, or the moldings, although he ate those as well, in addition to the actual walls.