An Entry By Jennifer, My Guest Columnist

My friend, Jennifer, used to have a blog, but for various reasons, she deleted it. Because this story is worth a blog entry, I invited her to be my special Guest Columnist. Here is her story:

This morning, I realized that I was out of a few essentials….soymilk, juice, diaper wipes, and hand sanitizer. Yes, when you have 3 young children who touch and lick every germ infested surface, hand sanitizer is an essential.

Around 10am, I packed up my 2 youngest boys, Alex and Ben, and off we went to our local discount market. Bob’s is the kind of place where someone who doesn’t have to budget, wouldn’t be caught dead shopping in. Most of the products are bought at reduced warehouse prices by Bob himself, then shelved and priced drastically below grocery store average. The store itself is clean but fairly disorganized. The aisles are narrow and the shopping carts are rusted leftovers of bankrupt enterprises.

My system is to put Ben in the seat of the cart and have Alex in the basket. Today Alex insisted he walk. To keep him occupied and attentative, I gave him my written list of 4 items to hold. We proceed down the chip aisle to get to the dairy section. Imagine this; The aisle runs along the length of the store and 8 aisles dump out into the chip aisle. It is the only access route to the rest of the store. So in other words, it’s a traffic jam of carts and shoppers.

I am standing near the Cheetos when an elderly woman and her lady friend pull out of the dish rag aisle and stop me dead in my tracks. I am not paying much attention as I am trying to control my 3yr old son. He is weaving and running, lagging behind and dancing. I am calling out to Alex to, “come here NOW,” and waiting for this woman to move her cart. I force a smile and ask her to excuse me. She doesn’t hear. I inch forward alittle. Turn around, yell at Alex again to come here. He comes at the same time she notices me and decides to move herself. Alex dives out of her way. I shoot her a dirty look. I pick him up off the floor. She strikes up a conversation with her lady friend about the the marigolds on sale. I dust my son off and growl. I can’t move forward because her lady friend is in front of me….I cant move backwards because the woman’s cart is jammed up against me. I notice the list is missing and search the floor for it. Alex spots it and jumps behind me to grab it off the floor. Unfortunately the list is right next to the old lady’s cart wheel. She starts to move…Alex reaches down, I yell, STOP! Her reflexes are rather slow and she runs over his fingers…then stops. She turns to me with a nervous smile. A smile? “What the heck?! You ran over his fingers!” She apologizes profusely as I stand there shaking my head and repeating over and over again, “What is wrong with you?” Alex isn’t even upset….in fact, I am not sure he realized what happened. The woman appears as if she is about to cry when I realize what I am saying outloud. I start to cry because I see that she is about to cry. I cry, she cries. Again, she apologizes and her lady friend, who is tearing up also, grabs her arm to support her. I feel like a passive aggressive monster. I try to convince her I was asking myself, “what is wrong with me?” We become a mass of fleshy tears jammed in a 4 foot wide aisle. The only one not crying is Alex because Ben started to cry when I yelled, “STOP!” the first time.

The irritated patrons behind us finally insisted we move along and I avoided the elderly ladies the rest of the shopping trip. On the way to the car, I saw the marigolds for sale on the sidewalk and kicked a pot of them over. It was their fault anyways.

Jen

Premenstrual Syndrome At Its Finest

My husband has been working really long days. So have I. And yet, even though I clean my kitchen, it never looks clean. I ran out of dishwasher liquid because he is never home at night so I can get to the store. Yesterday, I rewashed all the dishes in the dishwasher and put them in to dry, then washed all the dishes from the night before. And there were still dirty dishes.

And then we had dinner. I left the mess in the kitchen, supervised the boys because they had to leave at 6:20 p.m. for church. Then I concentrated on playing with the baby and cleaning her and putting her in her pajamas. At 7:30 p.m., she was ready for bed, but I needed to wait and let the boys in and instruct them to get ready for bed because if I did not, they would just play Nintendo until their eyeballs fell out.

At 7:55, the phone rings. It’s TwinBoyA relaying some frivolous information about the movie plans for tonight. But at least I know he’s at church and will be home soon. I put the baby to bed at 8 p.m. Husband returns at 8:02 p.m. and wonders where the boys are. I tell them they will be home very soon and sure enough, they come home moments later.

I say the same things over and over again. Stop playing Nintendo. Put on your pajamas. If you want a snack, it’s now or never. If you want to watch television, it’s time. At 8:30, you are going to bed. Stop yelling. Okay. You can play Nintendo, but you have only fourteen minutes. Stop being annoying. Okay, five minutes. While I’m saying all this, I’m at the computer, biding my time, waiting until they go to bed because I have work to do.

Earlier in the afternoon, in a fit of greed and delusion, I agreed to do a transcription job that had to be finished by morning. Al estimated it would be 24 to 32 pages. That translates to about three hours.

Then while standing in the kitchen, my husband said it.

“Well, I’m glad to see that the kitchen is a mess as usual and that the house is a wreck. Someday, dear, you’ll wear make-up again and a dress and everything, right?”

I didn’t hear everything, though, because at that point I jumped up, hurdled the iron railing between the family room and kitchen and decked him. Then I sat on him until he couldn’t breathe, which, at my current weight, only took a few moments, and pummeled him with my dishwater hands.

Oh. Wait. Maybe I only imagined that part.

After he commented about the condition of my house–the house I haven’t left for 72 stinking hours–I stood up and told the boys it was bedtime. I allowed them to finish “just one more thing.” Then I picked up a few things in the family room, mouth in a tight, grim line and tried not to stomp.

My husband asked what time Shrek starts today. (He’s taking YoungestBoy. And furthermore, we’re letting YoungestBoy skip school to go to a movie. Boy, I wish I was my own kid.) I answered in an even voice, not making eye contact. I said, “Let me look,” and went into the kitchen to check out the listing in the paper.

Now, my husband, being brighter than the average bear, says, “Hey, are you mad? If I can’t joke around with you, then I just won’t say anything again.”

I said, choking back tears, “It’s fine. I just have PMS.”

Then I told him the movie times.

Then I typed.

While I was typing, I heard him in the kitchen rinsing dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. Of course, I should have told him that I have no dishwasher liquid, but I was too angry that he was doing the dishes because doing the dishes is my job and his actions commented silently to me, “YOU ARE A HORRIBLE FAILURE AS A HOUSEWIFE! WHY, OH, WHY, DIDN’T I STAY IN TEXAS WHERE WOMEN KNOW HOW TO TREAT THEIR MEN?” When he finished loading the dishwasher, he said, “Where’s the dishwasher liquid?” I said, “I’m out.” He said, “Well, I just loaded the dishwasher.” (Which, by the way, took him at least three times longer than it takes me.) I said, “Yeah, well, I guess I’ll have to rewash them by hand as I need them.” Before he went upstairs, he brought me a big, cold glass of water and pretzels for a snack.

I finally finished typing at 11:35 p.m. I would have finished earlier, but my stupid word-processor gave me an error message and warned me, ever so sweetly, that I might lose the unsaved material I had. That was five pages, gone in a poof!

So.

Today, I am $68 richer and my house is still a wreck. I’ve just baked and eaten chocolate chip cookies, though, with the last half-bag of chocolate chips that I own. Only two hours until naptime. I’m pretty sure I can make it until then, unless, of course, someone comments on my housekeeping skills or washes dishes for me.

At Some Point, Things Will Get Better

Monday, my husband’s day off, he was gone from 9:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. J_____ had a heart attack and died around noon. The funeral will be on Saturday.

Tuesday, my husband worked from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. He spent the afternoon and evening at the home of a middle-aged woman who was dying of cancer. Five minutes after he left, she died. He figured she was waiting to die until she was alone with her family. That seemed to be the case. She leaves behind a husband and two teenagers. The funeral will be on Sunday.

Tonight, he will head back to assist the family with funeral arrangements. He’ll probably be home at 8 p.m.

This means that I have been on full-time duty for . . . well, it seems like forever. He takes the kids to school, but I’ve been doing everything else. I am so weary. And there really is no end is sight, which makes the journey seem even more grueling.

And then, I think how grateful I should be for my health and the health of my family and all that. So, I am grateful. Weary, but grateful.

Like Me, Only Prettier

When I was in college, I knew a boy named Ron. Well, I knew several boys named Ron and when I say “knew,” I do not mean in the biblical sense. Anyway, I remember first seeing Ron in the cafeteria when he was a brand new student. He was blond and attractive and he was collecting old baked potatoes from people’s trays. He found this wildly funny and I found it wildly weird. But he was cute.

As time went on, we connected somehow. I was “taken” already–having committed to a relationship with my now-husband–so I was a safe partner to just hang out with. (My boyfriend lived in another town, three hours away.) He knew I wouldn’t get any ideas about dating him since I was off the market. I was happy to just laugh at this wacky boy.

I remember mostly riding in his red car, going to the ice cream parlor. I remember how amazed he was that I was a virgin.

And I remember very clearly the conversation we had one day in the cafeteria. At one point, he said something like this:

Ron: I just wish I could find a girl who is really smart and really funny. Someone who can make me laugh and who likes to have fun.
Me: (Half-joking) Oh, you mean someone like me? Only prettier?
Ron: Yes! (Relieved that I understand.)

The thing is, those kind of back-handed compliments used to really hurt my feelings. But the older I get and the saggier my eyelids become, the more grateful I am that I always treated myself first as a really smart, funny girl. I always felt I had a secret when male eyes would flit over my unremarkable face, overlooking me in favor of my Beauty Queen friends.

The secret is this–if you could actually read, you wouldn’t judge this book by its cover, you idiot!

A Final Update

Husband returns home at 7 p.m. and is ambushed by YoungestBoy asking, “Can we go down and see our kittens?”

The kittens that we promised the neighbor we would adopt.

They return twenty minutes later and YoungestBoy says, “We are going to get the mama cat and two kittens.” Husband looks at me and says, “Mom and I have to talk about it.”

Later, YoungestBoy says, “We have to get the mama cat and the kittens so that the kittens don’t run away back to find their mama.”

Husband raises eyebrows at me. Apparently, we are soon to be the proud owners of three cats. Yes, count them. One. Two. Three. One for each of the boys, I guess.

(Remember, husband said “no more cats.” Of course, that same night he got the Chinese fortune cookie that said, “Someone will give you something.” Who said fortunes don’t come true?)

An Update

My husband came home for a short time and told me that J____ had stabilized. Unfortunately, not for long and my husband returned to the hospital. He just called me to say that the man died.

I think of his wife, now a widow. She did CPR on him this morning to keep him alive until the ambulance came.

They were married a long, long time. They liked to square-dance until she hurt her back. They raised children and doted on their grandchildren. For fun, they took their huge R.V. on vacations, when they weren’t going on cruises. He served in World War II. None of this will be a comfort to her right now, but I hope that as the days pass, the memories of their happy life together will surround her like a soft hug.

(DaycareKid went down for his nap at 1 p.m. as usual. Babygirl is awake. It’s going to be a long time until 8 p.m.!)

Monday, Monday

My husband is a pastor. So, he takes off Mondays. I think he feels guilty about taking a day off when I don’t ever have a day off, so between naps, he tries to do things to help me. Before he started his Superdad/Superhusband Day, he decided to go have a nice quiet breakfast in a restaurant and read.

Here at the homefront, the phone rings and a crying, hysterical voice says, “I’m trying to reach Pastor. This is C____ W_________. J_______ just had a heart attack and they are taking him to the hospital.” I tell her all right, I’ll give him the message. Call his cell phone. No answer. Call the restaurant and the woman checked with every solitary man there (“does he have an earring?” Uh, no!). He wasn’t there. He arrived home shortly and I gave him the message and off he went.

So, he will not be taking YoungestBoy to play at the park and hit some balls.
He will not be taking Babygirl for a walk.
He probably will not be mailing that package for me at the post office.

And this day just keeps getting stranger. I ran YoungestBoy some bathwater and when I returned downstairs, I found Babygirl asleep on the floor. At 11 a.m. Then I went into the boys’ room to sweep and when I returned to the family room, DaycareKid was all curled up facing Babygirl. Asleep.

They did not have lunch yet. Their naptime isn’t until 1 p.m.

Apparently, today is a test of my flexibility. I may not be able to do a backbend anymore, but I sure can swing with the punches!

Garage Sale Signs Put Up By Idiots

Will someone please tell the idiots who put up the sign that read “7-Family Garage Sale” that I did three u-turns trying to find the garage sale?

It helps if the signs actually direct people (with money in their purse, ready to spend) to your garage sale.

I did find have success at one garage sale, though. I bought a Playskool “Sit’n Spin” which is 30 years old, though it looks brand new. Babygirl can’t quite figure out how to spin around, but she does swing from side to side and say “wheeeeee!”

YoungestBoy had a baseball game schedule for 10 a.m. and when he arrived at 9:40 a.m., it was just ending. The coach called my husband’s work number, late, after he left work yesterday to notify him on the time change.

Are people trying to annoy me?

By the way, Babygirl has started yelling “Mom!” at me, usually from another room. It’s lovely how advanced the youngest child of the family is.

And now, only fifteen minutes until bedtime, thank heavens, or I might actually bash my head into my brick fireplace until I fall unconscious.

Look Out!

I can only hope that no boys are reading this. And by boys, I mean anyone who has a penis, no matter how old. I like to refer to the male human as a boy. My propensity to do this used to really annoy the colllege boys, but I can’t help it. If I’m a girl–which I am–then they are boys.

All that to say that this upcoming week will be that glorious time when I turn into the Evil Mel. I will be looking into the corners of the cupboards in search of something even remotely cookie-like. I will probably stomp my feet at least once and scream, “THIS IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!” I will think I am ugly and fat and, don’t bother telling me differently, I will know that you are lying to me because I do have a mirror, by the way, and don’t be condescending to me. I will cry for no reason. I might grit my teeth so hard that they ache. And don’t lie and say that avoiding chocolate helps premenstual syndrome. I know better. And no, I won’t share. Give me those M&Ms back.

It doesn’t matter that I am aware of my cycles and these patterns. I will just be irrational. I will probably pick a fight with the women on the message board where I hang out. I will stub my toe on a shoe and scream out, much louder than necessary, just because I have so little self-control. I will seriously consider whacking off all my hair because it is so hideous and unstyleable.

Of course, my husband has gone to visit a woman who is dying and tomorrow he’s taking YoungestBoy to a baseball game at 10 a.m. and then he has some volunteer work to do at the pool and then he’ll have to visit the dying woman again. And that means I will be in this house, with these kids, for an entire Saturday again, so help me God.

So if you hear some shrieking and some foot-stomping, don’t worry. That’s just me enjoying my womanhood. Now look away.

This won’t be pretty.

Why Anne Lamott Makes Me Want to Cry

A miracle occurred today. I attended an Anne Lamott lecture, the lecture that has been sold out for months. Only, a friend of ours found out that a teacher had gone home sick today and that teacher donated her ticket to my cause. And I didn’t even have to pay.

I had seriously considered lurking outside of the building, sneaking inside, nonchalantly pretending I had a ticket. Or something. But God smiled down on me and preventing me from breaking the law and got me a free ticket.

The college student who introduced her read an introduction that was lifted directly from a book jacket or something. I recognized it. When she walked in carrying a big leather bag and her sweater, I wanted to cry. I felt like some fourteen year old girl swooning at a Clay Aiken concert. The entire room–150 of us–applauded as if she’d already done something amazing.

And she had, really. She wrote books. She writes books. That’s amazing, no matter how you look at it.

She wore black. A black t-shirt. Faded black jeans. Sensible black shoes. But a foresty-green headband on her dreadlocked hair and a matching greenish scrunchy holding the back into a crazy ponytail. She put on her sweater and said “I get hot, I get cold.” And then she took it off.

She read ten pages of her new book. Ten pages about Sam, her now-14 year old boy, a boy who sounded so much like my own boys, like my Shane specifically, with his propensity to whack bushes with a big stick. I laughed in recognition and comfort. (She also mentioned at one point how being at home with a baby is so boring that you want to hang yourself. That is so true some days.)

After she read, she talked about writing, about the process. I’ve read her books and I know. I know what to do, I know how to do it. I just don’t do it. I don’t write because I can’t see the whole road–and she pointed out that all you really need to see is what is in the headlights. You can make an entire journey in the dark, following the illumination of just the headlights.

Then she took questions, but only a few. They were excellent questions, but I wanted to know the following things:

1) Favorite authors, favorite books.
2) What first? An agent? A publisher? How do you actually get someone to say “yes” to your novel?
3) Will you write for Salon again?

I also wanted to tell her that my dad died, too, when I was in my early twenties. “Hard Laughter” spoke to my heart. I wanted to tell her that I have boys who smell and brandish sticks like swords and that some days I am so bored I want to climb out of the bedroom window on a rope of tied-together-bedsheets. I wanted to tell her about the miraculous way I got a ticket, thanks to Beth Stevens’ illness. But all I did tell her at the book-signing afterwards was, “You are the only author I ever wrote a fan letter to.” And she smiled and said, “Well, I’m sure that I would have lifted it up for a blessing, but I never answer letters anymore.” And I smiled and took my book and went home.

I had a fantasy on my way to the lecture that she and I would go out for coffee and chat and she’d definitely want to be my New Best Friend. But she mentioned during her talk that she hates to travel. She hates to mingle. She likes to be alone. She has a boyfriend, a son and about four good friends, but other than that, she doesn’t like to leave her house. She certainly does not like to eat with anyone.

And, of course, neither do I. So, she doesn’t want to be my New Best Friend, but that’s not why she makes me want to cry. She makes me want to cry because she makes me feel normal, validated, uncrazy. She’s a little farther along the path than I, and I can see her bobbing lantern up ahead in the dark and it gives me assurance that there is a path and not just a drop off in the dark.

As an aside, I noticed shoes tonight. Several women were wearing these shoes that reminded me of bowling shoes crossed with “earth shoes”, like the blue suede ones I wore in fifth grade that had the toe higher than the heel, so you were kind of tipped backwards on your feet at all times. And I thought, I need to get out more because apparently fashions have changed while I’ve been wearing my red Keds.

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