Category: Personal (ew)

The other day I had possibly the fanciest experience in Walmart history: I met a real-life French dude there. FROM FRANCE. In the interest of preserving his anonymity, I will refer to him as “Olivier,” which I consider the best French boy name. (In high school French class, we were encouraged to choose a French name, and since to my knowledge there is no French equivalent for Ami, I chose Vivienne because of Vivien Leigh and my near-psychotic love of Gone With the Wind, made obvious by my Southern-belle-inspired prom dresses. Later I discovered that for his French name, Chris had coincidentally chosen Olivieras in SIR LAURENCE, the love of Vivien’s life — and it all just seemed too perfect, as long as you don’t think about the infidelities, mental illness, murderous rages and divorce.)

Pour moi, French has always had a certain je ne sais quoi because of the way they throw away perfectly good letters at the ends of words and never use one word when five will do (much like this blog — though it generates no revenue, mentally I like to pay myself by the word, with generous bonuses for dashes, ALL CAPS and italics). Despite the allure of the language, though, I have never been the type of girl to squee at a foreign accent (or attract male attention — EVER), which made this encounter all the more unexpected.

There I am in the toy department, my cart loaded with Shopkins paraphernalia for Maribeth’s birthday party, when a KU-spiritwear-clad middle-aged man exclaims in a heavy French accent: “Your stores here are huge! I get lost in them! Do you like it this way? In France we have to go to lots of small stores for different things.”

I immediately flash back to the shock and awe of my first visit to the wonderland that was Hypermart USA in Topeka, Kansas, in 1988. “Yeah, I guess we’re used to it and kind of spoiled.” [Upon reflection I thought: Spoiled? You are in Walmart, Ami. WTF.]

Olivier: “You speak French? Parlez-vous français?”

Me: “Oh, no, not really. I took some in college, but that was 20 years ago.” [When I recounted this story to Chris, I admitted that afterward I realized it was more like 28 years ago, and he said, “Yeah, I thought, ‘TWENTY years — what are you talking about?’” Time flies when you’re forgetting everything you ever learned, especially math.]

Olivier says a bunch of incomprehensible français that I think ends with “Comment allez-vous?”

I sift through the jumble of foreign words my sievelike brain has retained, a vocabulary heavily tainted by the semester of Italian I took a mere 26 years ago. Va bene? No, that’s not it. On va à la plage? Non. Oh, here we go: “Comme ci comme ça?” (Because we are, after all, in Walmart, so bien seems a bit much.)

Olivier (in an encouraging tone): “Ah, oui! How much French did you study?”

Me: “A couple of years in high school and a couple of years in college.”

Olivier: “And you never went? To France?”

Me: “Oh, nooooo.”

Olivier: “Why not?”

Me: “We never had money to travel.” [Bumpkin alert!]

Olivier: “You can work and travel. You can pick grapes or apples. It is not hard labor.”

Me: “Oh. Huh.” [When it hits 80 degrees, I find watering flowerpots on my stoop too taxing. I have never wanted to go ANYWHERE enough to work as a field hand.] “So do you live here now?”

Olivier explains that he is here for a few months to tutor some children in French.

I smile and nod.

Olivier: “You could learn too, if you wanted to. Just start speaking it again; it will all come back to you.”

Me: “Oh, you think so?” [Hmmm. I did recently resolve to become multilingual because some days English just doesn’t have enough expletives.]

Olivier spouts some more français, all of which I miss.

Me: “Uh, I never spoke it very well. I could read more than I could speak.”

Olivier: “Oh, well, start reading again; you will pick it back up. I could help you, if you wanted to meet for coffee sometime.”

This is where my brain goes on alert rouge. What the hell is this? I feel awkward enough conversing with people I know in my mother tongue, let alone a strange Continental in a language I barely understood two (or three) decades ago. I try to imagine the rendezvous at which this coffee would be drunk. School is almost out for the summer — would I bring my kids? Or would I leave them at home and tell them I was going to my “French lesson”? I scramble for an escape hatch from this interaction.

Me: “Oh, I’m married.”

Olivier: “Because you are married, you cannot meet someone for coffee?”

Me: “Um… I don’t know if my husband would like that.” [Truth be told, I didn’t know at the time whether he’d give a rip whom I had coffee with, but I’d chosen to Pence this situation, so I had to stick with it.]

Olivier: “Why would your husband not want you to have coffee with someone?”

Me: “Well… Because you’re a stranger? I mean, maybe if we had worked together or something…” [Mentally I immediately start poking holes in that theory: “Really? Would that scenario be more husband-soothing?” Luckily Olivier is so perplexed by my refusal that he doesn’t argue that point.]

Olivier: “I am just trying to understand this American mentality… In France we do not…”

[My unspoken knee-jerk reaction: “Oh, I KNOW in France you do not. I’ve seen movies.” I order myself to stop thinking in stereotypes.]

Olivier [shaking his head at my silly American prudishness]: “OK. So you do not think…?”

Me: “Probably not a good idea.”

Olivier: “OK. Well, it was nice meeting you. What is your name?”

I tell him. He tells me his and then spells it and asks if I can repeat it. Of course I can, because he shares a name with one of the bad vampires from the Twilight saga, but I refrain from pointing that out. He compliments my pronunciation and then hugs me. Overwhelmed by his cologne, I take the back alleys to the grocery section and pray that he once again gets lost amid the ’mart’s American excess.

Afterward, I pondered Olivier’s motives and my reactions. First of all, I cannot imagine that the man was trying to hit this mess — no one did when I had the bloom of youth about me, much less now that I am 48 and look every damn day of it and then some. AND I wasn’t even wearing eyeliner. (Also, one would think my cartful of Shopkins crap, which implies that I either own a small child or have extremely juvenile taste in décor, would discourage even the most desperate lothario.) I checked my purse, and my wallet was still there, so he was not a pickpocket (or at least not a good one). Maybe that “coffee” was really a basket of lotion in a cellar hole and he wanted my hide for a suit? Doubtful — I’m pretty pasty, blotchy and speckled. Perhaps he’s a bit lonely in a foreign country and simply looking for a friendly face? Maybe. I smile a lot and try to be Christlike af because I am the only Bible some people will ever read. (Unfortunately, by the time my family gets home, that Bible has usually fallen facedown on the floor, figuratively speaking, and Jesus can’t get out, which may be why Chris is stymied that in public I am so approachable, or as he puts it, “a freak magnet.”) My only other conclusion is that Olivier was trying to drum up more tutoring business so he could stay here longer because they don’t have Walmarts in France. (Quelle horreur!)

Whatever Olivier’s reason for approaching me, the encounter made me feel like a teenager again — not in a good way, just awkward and full of self-doubt. The fact that I resorted to “I’m married” as an excuse makes me cringe because 1. It sounds presumptuous, as if I assume I am super-hot and am constantly rejecting indecent proposals and 2. By this age I should be able to just say, “No, thank you,” instead of feeling I need to shelter a man’s ego with a tent of lies. At the time I didn’t know whether I believed I shouldn’t be able to have coffee with whomever I choose. I have since clarified this point with Chris.

Me: “Would it have been OK with you if I had agreed to meet him for coffee?”

Chris: “Hell no.”

Good thing we cleared that up. Tomorrow I need to go back to pick up some birdseed, and an Italian could be lurking around any corner.

Personal (ew)

My beloved daughters,

Knowing that you are unable to process any information that follows the words: “In my day…,” I am writing this in case my fondest revenge fantasy ever comes true and you are whisked back to spend an eye-opening summer in my childhood. (Note: Maribeth has been spared because 1. She is too young and innocent to have deeply offended me with laziness and antisocial behaviors and 2. She would starve, as Go-Gurt and Cinnamon Toast Crunch have not been invented.)
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom to help you navigate this harsh, earth-tone, low-tech world:

You live on a rural access road, not a fancy “street.” Of course, you will not have any visits from friends, but you do not need friends because you are surrounded by cousins who will gladly play Dukes of Hazzard with you every day — once everyone’s chores are done, that is.

Yes, there will be chores. You are now the proud owners of ponies, which are somewhat less magical than Hasbro has led you to believe. For example, they require food and water, even when it is super hot outside. Every morning you will walk the ponies up the road a piece and tie them to the fence along the highway. Choose a spot that has plenty of grass (duh). At noon you will walk the ponies back home for a drink and then tie them to a new spot along the fence to graze some more. In the afternoon you will return the ponies to their pen, at which point you may ride them if you are so inclined. The tan pony (“Rusty”) is gentle enough to ride bareback, but the gray pony (“Lightning”) will try to kill you.

At some point Grandpa may ask you to mow the yard. It is huge and takes forever. I found out quite by accident that if you hit enough stumps, Grandpa will eventually give up on you and leave the mowing to the boys. (This is one time the patriarchy benefits you, so go with it.)

Grandma may send you out to pick raspberries. This means there will be pie. There will also be chigger bites. Thousands of them. Scratching is your new hobby.

Speaking of hobbies, you will have plenty of time to pursue them because, except for The Dukes of Hazzard (which, as you kids say, “gives you life”), there is nothing good on TV. In my room you will find plenty of supplies for drawing (as potential subjects, might I suggest horses, ladies in giant hoop skirts and The General Lee?), weaving potholders (of course they are unusable, but they make great gifts!), creating latch-hook-rug “art” and crocheting. You can do any of these while listening to my homemade audio recordings of Dukes episodes.

Kate, you will be thrilled to finally have access to a record player. Hope you like Eddie Rabbitt.

Good news! No more will you shoulder the crushing burden of having to bring your dirty dishes down/up from your rooms (or endure my griping on this topic), as you will do all of your eating in the kitchen. Dinner will be whatever Grandma cooks. (The concept of eating what you want when you want has not yet been invented.) After dinner, Grandma will scrape all the table scraps into a bowl, and you will try not to vomit while serving them to the dog.

You also no longer have the arduous task of carrying the recycling to the garage! Instead, you will haul all of the trash to the big rusty barrels out back and burn it. (I’m sorry I never taught you how to light a match; you’ll figure it out.) Place the paper bags in a barrel and tear them lengthwise about halfway down; then light the torn areas and, when you are sure they are well aflame, run away fast to avoid shrapnel wounds from exploding aerosol cans.

By now you are probably so sweaty, itchy and smoke-smelly that you would enjoy a nice, long shower. Unfortunately, this house does not have the utilities that you have always taken for granted; Grandpa has to haul water in a truck from the neighbors’ house down the road. This is a time-consuming, life-draining process that makes Grandpa very keen on water conservation. Shower quickly. (This should not be difficult, as the only products at your disposal will be a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo; at this point our family does not know about conditioner.) When family members fantasize aloud about someday having “The Pipe” (municipal water service), don’t crush their dreams with the sad truth that that day will never come.

Enjoy your freedom from the tyranny of sunscreen, seat belts and notifications.

DO NOT, under any circumstances, try any of these things: a puff of your
great-granddad’s cigarette (it’s a trick to make you associate smoking with lung-incinerating agony), a sip of beer (it’s gross), Nair (also gross) and most important, a perm (IT WILL NOT SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS).

DO try interacting with the people who are in the room with you at any given time. You will have many opportunities because 1. There are lots of family gatherings and 2. You will have nothing else to do — the closest you can get to communicating on a device is punching 55378008 into a calculator and reading it upside down. (Boys think this is hilarious, but it gets old fast.) You’ll have more fun listening to your grandparents’, great-grandparents’ and great-aunts’ and
-uncles’ stories — keep in mind how short your time with them will be. That’s something I only discovered in retrospect.

Sometimes snakes get in the house. It’s not the end of the world.

Hug Grandma for me.


P.S. I’m not looking down on you from a high horse. I often marvel that my dad, who grew up milking cows and working on the family farm, never smacked me upside the head for whining about my few chores. Gratitude grows with age.

Parenting (sloppily) Personal (ew)

Against my better judgment and without any real hope of lasting triumph, I seem to have embarked on another “weight-loss journey.” (Excuse me as I throw up in my mouth, but I assume that BY LAW I am required to refer to it as a journey because nowadays everything in life is a journey: I read about faith journeys and cancer journeys, journeys through addiction, depression and anxiety; Maribeth just started her first-grade journey and Kate her orthodontic journey, while Ella recently completed her Chipotle-employment journey — clearly, we are all GOING PLACES.) If history is any indication, my journey will end at Kohl’s, with my purchasing pants several sizes larger than the ones I started out in.

To those of you whose brains went on red-alert status (“Trigger warning! ABORT! ABORT!”) at the word weight: I GET IT. For years I have wanted nothing to do with anyone who broaches this unsavory subject. You bring up calories, you are dead to me. (When Oprah joined Weight Watchers, she broke my heart.) Call it recovery from lifelong eating disorders or simple denial; I can’t hear you over the crinkling of the Oreo package. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for second dessert. On the other hand, if your ears prick up at the prospect of a weight-loss success story, you’d better move along. No one would call what I’ve got going on here a “success.”

I am still deeply uncomfortable with this fraught topic. I cringe at the decade-old memory of thinking I’d finally “arrived” at a destination that had no room for sanity and at the humiliation of weighing way more long after Maribeth was born than I did at nine months pregnant. (I haven’t had a checkup in years because I’ve been too ashamed to step on a scale.) I know what it is to feel in ABSOLUTE CONTROL of every morsel that crosses my lips and to feel ABSOLUTELY HELPLESS to rein in my insane appetite or motivate myself to exercise ever again. Now I’m teetering in the middle, still overweight but feeling healthier (for me, it’s a wonder to be able to stand up by engaging muscles rather than by lurching and to have the energy to wipe off the countertops after dinner — not that I necessarily bother) and aware that I am measuring myself often, that my workouts are getting longer, that I am voluntarily restricting my food choices, though I am never denying myself dessert (or even second dessert)…


I don’t know exactly how I got going this time. The struggle to disentangle myself from compulsive exercise and dieting left me resigned to obesity. I tried to exercise a few times a week for health (ugh) but never felt any benefit; I was permanently tired. I finally gave up the notion that one should not need to be caffeinated to live life (spoiler alert: one does), took up drinking coffee and didn’t feel as ravenous; then I started noticing the times I was tempted to eat not because I was hungry but because I was d r a i n e d.  (You try being an introverted mother of three girls and see if you don’t need a little somethin’ — and that somethin’ had better not be solitude because your babies always NEED YOU RIGHT FREAKING NOW.) On SOME of those occasions I recognized the futility of eating and chose not to, and sometimes I ate anyway to keep from screaming, but eventually I realized I wasn’t eating as much as I used to. After years of letting myself have whatever I wanted, Twinkies and Oreos finally lost some of their allure. I inexplicably started making a few healthier choices and working out a little more — and had to start wearing a belt.

Spurred on by this unexpected development, every midmorning this summer I shut myself in my room (blinds drawn, because nobody needs to see this), put on The Walking Dead and flailed around at the instruction of a workout DVD. The Walking Dead is an excellent exercise companion because: A) it reinforces the importance of cardio (see Zombieland Rule #1); B) everybody is sweaty and miserable (like you) but also inspiringly wiry from starvation and machete wielding; C) there are no scenes with tantalizing meals; and D) as a weight-loss incentive, you can imagine being light enough to hop on the back of Daryl Dixon’s motorcycle without inadvertently causing it to pop a wheelie. After a couple of months, I felt stronger and more energetic, and pretty soon it was “Au revoir, old fat pants!” and “Hola, new slightly less-fat pants!”

But then my body sensed that something was amiss. All that flailing had awakened my sleeping appetite and filled it with a terrible resolve. “NO MORE NEW PANTS! EAT! LATE AT NIGHT! EEEEEEEEEEEEAT!!!”

Now I’m caught in a mental cage match between Day Ami, who makes fairly healthy choices, and Night Ami, who despises her and everything she and her new pants stand for. Night Ami just wants to feel satisfied FOR ONCE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Day Ami just wants to have a waistline that’s half her height so Dr. Oz can sleep at night and to be able to shop in the normal women’s section at Target. (Day Ami googled strategies to defeat Night Ami and the only advice was to go to bed earlier. Thanks, Internet.) Sometimes Day Ami uses reasoning to talk Night Ami down. Other times Night Ami vanquishes Day Ami with chocolate chips and hatred. Almost every morning Day Ami measures herself to see if she needs to work harder to make up for Night Ami’s shenanigans.


It’s embarrassing to be this old and such an obvious, pathetic type of crazy. By comparison, heroin addiction seems glamorous — I’d be thin and pale and chill (which my family would appreciate) and maybe tattooed and then I’d kick it once and for all and have a bunch of cool stories to tell instead of: “Last night was off the chain! I went to town on a box of Chicken in a Biskits and now I can’t zip up my pants.” But one must play the hand one is dealt (and be thankful one has hands at all, because eating with one’s feet takes too long).

So for now I teeter along ever so slowly on my inglorious “journey,” hoping to scavenge a nugget of wisdom along the way. Thus far all I’ve got is: 1. Exercise is gross but worth it and 2. Always keep the fat pants. Halloween’s coming, and a candy corn-fueled Night Ami could put Day Ami in a coma and end this trip once and for all.

Fat pants Personal (ew)

An open apology to all who attended my wedding 22 years ago:

First of all, THE DATE. August 28. In Kansas. Who does that? No, I really wasn’t trying to find a reason to live through the dog days of summer. Chris had originally suggested October, but I wanted to seal the deal before he had a chance to escape. I also thought I needed to consider the production schedule of the magazine I worked for. Future brides: Do not do this. Your coworkers will survive your absence. No amount of employer goodwill is worth a lifetime of having your anniversary fall on your children’s back-to-school nights.

Next, THE CEREMONY. If you only knew how out-of-control that whole affair was. By default rather than any real religious conviction, we held it at the church I had attended since childhood (but not so much in my young adulthood). The pastor moved just prior to our wedding (but not before forcing us to participate in an excruciating “counseling” session during which he said he knew I was from “a good family” but he didn’t know Chris and so maybe there were some sins he needed to confess? That is ALL I remember from that interlude; thanks for the words of wisdom, Pastor). He arranged for another minister we’d never met to officiate the wedding; our one “counseling” session with him a week before the big day was equally dreadful and had me agitated over whether he was going to toss “obey” into my wedding vows. He didn’t, but he did include the whole “wives, submit to your husbands” line in his LONG sermon. The highlight was when he introduced us as “Mister and Misserusses Chris Johnson.” We didn’t even kiss; we just fled.

THE RECEPTION VENUE. The Spring Hill Community Center — just as elegant as you might expect. What can I say? It was affordable, and the bright-orange plastic chairs were included. Who could have predicted that the air conditioner would fail? (It took me forever to find out that had happened; I just kept thinking, “Wow, this veil is really HOT.”) Sorry that all those black candles I thought were so cool made the atmosphere even more hellish.

THE DANCING. Chris and I don’t dance. We had never danced together before our wedding reception. Performing our debut in front of you all was mortifying, which was why I kept inviting (begging) you to join us on the dance floor. Only years later did it occur to me that we could have had a dance-free reception. A special apology for the horrifyingly tacky Dollar Dance: I would have gladly paid you all not to dance with me.

THE GARTER TOSS. Another awful tradition followed because I thought it was required. First, I was afraid I was going to blow out the best man’s knee when I perched on it. Second, I was terrified of how much of my heavy legs were going to be revealed in the removal process. Third, I was worried that I wouldn’t get back my special “Love Me Tender”-emblazoned garter that came from Graceland. (I did, but as it turns out, the man who caught the garter remains a bachelor to this day. So it was all for naught.)

THE GUEST LIST. If you were a coworker, an extended family member from out of town or a friend of our parents, I am sorry you felt obligated to attend our sweltering little shindig. If I had it to do over again, I would have subjected only close family and friends to our nuptials. You could have had the day to yourself and wouldn’t have had a buy a gift, and I could have relaxed with people I felt comfortable with instead of flitting about in an awkward attempt to grace everyone with my bridal presence. As a special bonus, I would not have had strange men kissing me all evening. (Seriously, what the hell, guys?)

I have many other regrets: the manicure I scheduled the morning of the wedding (and immediately destroyed while getting into the car); the lack of thought I put into the decorations, flowers and music (my theme was basically “whatever”); the long-sleeve bridesmaids’ dresses IN AUGUST (I’m lucky those girls still speak to me); the ridiculous photo poses I submitted to. But my choice of groom has never been one of them. So to all of you who bore sweaty witness to our union, I hope it pleases you to know that your generosity was not in vain. Thank you for the gift of your presence, and we promise not to invite you to any vow-renewal ceremonies.


Personal (ew)

For years I have dyed my own hair (because why pay a professional upwards of $40 when you can do it yourself for $9 — and ruin your carpet in the process?) with fairly decent results: More than one strange (and I do mean strange) man has approached me to compliment the color (what greater indicator of success is there?), and one time a guy at Walmart asked me to show him which box I used because it was the exact color his wife wanted. It felt good to be able to save their marriage, although I seriously question that woman’s judgment; I would never entrust Chris with picking out a new hue for my head. That decision is for me to agonize over alone. But if you are interested in my process (and who wouldn’t be?), here is the inner monologue I experienced the last time I bought a box of hair dye:

Look at that one: “Flaming Reds” — I want to be aflame! “Developed with Claudia Schiffer.” Hmmm. I didn’t realize Claudia was a chemist. Or that she knew anything about red hair. But look at that shiny picture! Hold it up next to the usual box. Wow — this makes my regular color look like an Irish setter that rolled in the mud.

But what if it turns out weird and beetish like last time I strayed? Better compare it with that regrettable shade. No, this is much less violet. Hold it up to the regular box again. Yes, this really is much more vibrant. Of course, it does cost a dollar more. Is it worth a dollar AND the risk that strange men will no longer come a-calling?

What the hell — live on the edge. How bad can it be? I mean, it’s CLAUDIA FREAKING SCHIFFER.


The gloves come in a little packet? Fancy. Ooooh, they’re so ROOMY! The gloves that came with my old dye always made me feel like O.J. I’ve got to hand it to you, Claudia: You know how to treat a full-fingered lady.

Time to squirt. WTF??? This stuff looks like pureed carrots. It is certainly staining my scalp effectively. Thank God I didn’t do this before back-to-school night. This can’t end well. I’m going to have traffic-cone-orange roots and dark-orange dirty-Irish-setter ends. At least the ombre look is in. Or is it? Probably not now that I know about it.

Let’s look at that box again. What exactly was Claudia’s contribution?  “…[T]he formulas combine her beauty insights from runway shows and fashion shoots….” Oh, THAT’S reassuring. When have you seen a runway-show hairdo and thought, “You know who that would look good on? A frumpy, middle-aged suburban mom.” You really didn’t think this through, did you?

Well, it may turn out looking ridiculous, but at least it promises to be long-lasting.


Epilogue: Despite my initial reservations, somehow the color ended up looking just as it did on the box — so fabulous that no one in my family noticed. Claudia, I’ll never doubt you again.


Personal (ew)

Oh, hello, Late-Night Emotional Eating. I thought you moved out years ago. What’s that? You were just away at college? And now you’re back. Awesome.

How long are you planning on staying? Till I get my life together. Hmmm. Let’s have another Fudge Stripe so we don’t have to think about that. Oh look — broken ones! They make it so easy to lose count. Denial is the best.

You know what would be good after those Fudge Stripes? Potato chips. Funny thing: I used to not even like potato chips! Oprah would talk about going to town on a bag of potato chips and I’d think, “Yuck. Have you HAD Doritos?” But ever since you came back, they sound really good. Especially with some of that extra-sharp cheddar cheese in the fridge…

WOW that’s a lot of salt. I’ll be lucky to be able to squeeze into my flip-flops tomorrow. Tomorrow — ugh. Another day to feel bad about not exercising. Let’s not think about THAT. You know, I did actually work out today. First time in 15 days. But I can already tell it’s not happening tomorrow. Don’t want to overdo it. Moderation, my friend. Except where you’re concerned, of course.

So really, why ARE you back? I honestly thought you were a distant memory. You know we’re not good for each other. Not that I don’t enjoy spending time with you, especially when I have to wait up for Ella to get home. It’s nice to have company, and you’re so quiet and undemanding. Kind of comforting, really. As long as I don’t think about how sweaty I’ll probably get when I sleep tonight. Gross. I hate summer. So. Much.

You remember what Dr. Phil said about us all those years ago? That we just want to have a party in our mouths. That judgy bastard. Every time I think about that I want to wolf down a row of Oreos for spite. And Joy Bauer from the Today show — I’d like to snap her over my knee like a twig except her bones are probably too strong because you can bet she gets plenty of calcium. Well, with all the cheese I’ve been eating (it’s practically been the Summer of George around here, except not shirtless — I do have SOME dignity), at least I shouldn’t have to worry about osteoporosis. As if I ever did. Please. Brittle bones are the least of my problems. Have you seen this place? Careful stepping over the dollhouse and the princesses and the horse-and-carriage and the magic markers, because if you fall down on that linoleum you’re going to stick there. On the bright side, at least you’ll find enough granola-bar crumbs and stray Chicken in a Biskits to stay well-fed.

Speaking of well-fed, yes, something lemony DOES sound good right about now, but we are done for tonight. The mouth party’s over, old friend. I still don’t know why you’re here, and I understand that you might be hanging around until summer break ends, but once we get back on a schedule, I’m going to have to insist that you move on. Have you ever thought about grad school? Me neither. That sounds hard, and I don’t like hard things. Obviously.

Let’s not talk anymore. Surely there’s something interesting on the Internets. NOOOOOOOOOO NOT PINTEREST — all those damn recipe pictures make me feel like I haven’t eaten in days. Here we go, good old Facebook. Surely there’s some inspirational message about forgiving ourselves for gluttony and slovenliness. Thank God it’s too late for people to be bragging about their workouts. Oh look, another ad for those mouth-numbing MealEnders lozenges. “We all know how easy it is to get carried away.” YES WE DO. Of course, I’d probably get carried away with the MealEnders and wind up an incoherent, drooling mess. And then chew off my tongue on the potato chips anyway. Because no amount of weird lozenges can numb the feelings.

Good night, old friend. See you tomorrow.

Fat pants Personal (ew)

Congratulations, May: Though you always challenge my will to live (what with your pileup of end-of-school activities and the bringing home of ALL THE PAPERS), this time you really outdid yourself. Not since the year that Maribeth and Kate contracted hand-foot-and-mouth disease have you delivered such a thorough ass-kicking. And you still have three days left! I don’t know whether it’s my cocktail of coffee, maximum-strength Mucinex and Claritin-D or PTSD, but I’m so jittery I can hardly think.

Not that it was all bad: Ella’s and Kate’s concerts were great; Maribeth bravely endured her checkup and vaccinations (and even provided a urine sample, once she recovered from her incredulity at the request); and I enjoyed lovely visits with my sister and friends from out of town. Little did I realize how much I would need those happy memories to sustain me through the week that was to come.

The morning of Saturday the 16th, as Maribeth snuggled with me on my pillow, she wiped a bit of crust from her eye. Given what we went through in March (see here and here), that should have cued the music of doom in my head, but it wasn’t until later that I realized what we were looking at: Maribeth’s third case of pinkeye in two months. Off we went to the walk-in clinic, where I really should have my own reserved parking space or perhaps a punch card that earns me a free shot of morphine with every 10th visit. At least this time we knew to ask for the $30 eye drops that don’t burn (not that that eliminates the wailing) and only have to be administered two instead of four times a day. Recidivism has some perks.

The next day Maribeth rose early so she’d have more time to bemoan her disgusting eye. We did have a blissful hour or so when, after being forced to lie down with a compress, she passed out, but when she woke, not even a visit from her beloved aunt — bearing gifts, no less — could mitigate her suffering. Thankfully, she finally rallied in time to go to dinner at Grandpa’s house and went to bed that night worn out and happy.

And then it was Kate’s turn. Evidently her new IKEA loft bed came with a powerful Scandinavian gastrointestinal curse because this is the second time this month that she has had a middle-of-the-night vomiting-and-diarrhea bout and ended up moving to the couch so she didn’t have to negotiate the ladder on her way to and from the bathroom (though I give her serious props — and my undying gratitude — for the several times that she successfully did so). The next morning she was in no shape to go to school, and I was in no shape to nurse her, as I barely made it back from chauffeuring Maribeth without vomiting on myself. After lying around for the better part of the day, we both recovered, and it was with a new lease on life that I approached the last few days of school and our impending departure for my dad’s lake house.

But May wasn’t done with us yet. The night before we were to leave, the portable DVD player inexplicably died. I say “inexplicably,” but after all, it was nearly a year old, having been purchased for our Memorial Day weekend trip last year, and it had been used daily to play sticky library discs (if I had a dime for every time I’ve cleaned some kid’s yogurty fingerprints off of a Dora DVD, we could afford to buy the entire Nick Jr. oeuvre), so I don’t know why I expected it to last. As I weighed the expense of a new one against the agony of the children who would otherwise be forced to share the van’s single onboard DVD player (oh, the HORROR), I wished for a time machine to transport the pampered darlings back to one of our 1970s family vacations — three kids sweating in a cramped backseat with nothing to entertain us but the view and our prayers that Dad would find a motel with a swimming pool in the parking lot.

Practicality (budget-wise) ultimately won out, as the next morning I had another expense to consider: the cost of my own trip to the walk-in clinic and prescription for — you guessed it — pinkeye. Kate and Maribeth stared with loathing when I warned them that we might have to postpone our trip for a day; a mother never knows exactly how little regard her children have for her well-being until one of her ill-timed health problems threatens their plans. As it turned out, the doctor cleared me to leave that afternoon, provided I didn’t hug, kiss or share drinks with anyone; I couldn’t imagine that would be a problem — if my weird, outdated glasses (seriously, there’s nothing like an eye infection to make you wonder what the hell you were thinking when you picked out those frames) and makeupless visage didn’t repel everyone, surely my horrible eye would do the trick. (Incidentally, all of you who are wasting your hatred on the word moist would do well to focus your enmity on the far more repugnant term purulent discharge. I can hardly type it without throwing up, and it is burned into my brain from wiping it out of my eye for three days.)

My eye did not clear up as quickly as Maribeth’s did, so I was stuck wearing no makeup and my regrettable spectacles for five days. To my family’s credit, they treated me as if I looked no more terrible than usual, and we all had a great time. I was able to wear my contact lenses yesterday, and aside from some cold symptoms, the past few days have been OK. Which makes me leery. Did you really give us everything you’ve got, May, or are you lulling me into a false sense of security? I can’t help but notice that Maribeth’s been rubbing her eye again…


Personal (ew)

I thought I had it all figured out: The key to a “happy” (or at least not crushingly disappointing) Mother’s Day is keeping your expectations super low. I guess I just assumed there would be less sobbing and fewer decapitated bunnies.

Don’t get me wrong; the first two hours were quite nice. I slept in; Ella and Chris made pancakes while Kate unloaded the dishwasher. I got to watch a movie virtually uninterrupted — by which I mean I only had to pause it about 10 times (that is a genuine estimate, not an exaggeration, and is a significant improvement over my typical movie-viewing experience). Chris gave me a lovely card and wrote what seemed like a heartfelt message of thanks and encouragement inside. (The older girls also signed the card: “Thanks for being a better mom than Lori [a notorious Walking Dead character] — Ella” and “Thanks for acknowledging my thirst for justise. Gutenprank — Kate.” Oh, THANK YOU, girls — glad you didn’t make yourselves throw up in your mouths by getting sentimental and expressing any real love or gratitude.) Maribeth had already insisted on opening (herself) the Mother’s Day gifts she’d made at preschool as soon as she got off the bus on Friday, so I had a new pinch pot and picture of her to enjoy. So far so good. But then I got cocky and decided to shower, and thus endeth the pleasant part of Mother’s Day.

Maybe someday they’ll develop technology that enables a mother to record a holographic image of herself saying, “We’ll talk about that when I am out of the shower” to project outside the bathroom door while she bathes, I mused when the yelling started. To my surprise and delight, no one was waiting when I exited the bathroom, and I had just enough time to comb my hair before Maribeth ran in, reeking of the outdoors and complaining that her legs were all itchy from the grass. (There went my dream that someone else would bathe her today.) Into the bathtub she went, and as I was drying her off I heard Chris shouting. He had hit a nest of baby rabbits with the mower, killing one and mortally wounding another, and wanted to know if and how I thought he should euthanize the latter. And thus endeth the part of Mother’s Day where I was not an accessory to murder.

The rest of the day (folding laundry, cleaning and sweaty vacuuming for the in-laws to come to dinner) was noteworthy only in that I banged my head on the underside of Kate’s loft bed so hard that I wound up sobbing. I am not ordinarily such a baby — last week I stubbed my pinky toe so hard it ended up looking like a black grape, and I shed nary a tear — but once the waterworks started today, I couldn’t get a grip. My aunt’s Facebook comment wishing me a happy Mother’s Day got me thinking about my own late mother, and thus endeth the part of the day where I was not a basket case.

Now I’m sitting here dreading putting on makeup, changing into nice clothes and cleaning up the kitchen to honor my mother-in-law on this “special” day that has been so full of carnage, pain and emotion. And I wonder if the universal theme of Mother’s Day is: Well, you tried. And while we appreciate your efforts, maybe we’d all be better off if we eliminated the pressure of a whole Mother’s DAY and just called it Mother’s Two Hours. That’s much more doable. And next year, forget about the flowers and get Mom a helmet.

Personal (ew)

This morning on the way to school Maribeth asked, “Mommy, why you wear mascara today like Ella and Kate?” Yes, that’s right: So slovenly is my usual appearance that when I aspire to the level of glamour that my 11-year-old sports every day, my effort raises eyebrows.

It’s not that I never try; out of respect for others, I do get tarted up for church, for company and for school events (when I can manage it, but May has such a punishing schedule that I’m not offering any guarantees, so I apologize in advance to any of you I might run into at the many, many activities next month). Looking presentable in the morning, however, is out of the question. On a good day, I drag myself out of bed in time to do a bit of exercise and shower before driving Ella and Kate to their schools, packing Maribeth’s lunch, selecting an ensemble for her approval (or not), helping her get ready and then driving her to school. That’s a good day, and you’ll notice I did not mention any makeup, hair styling or real shoes. (I can’t count the number of times I have been tempted to stop at Walmart after dropping off Maribeth only to realize that I was wearing bedroom slippers. And while I know that no one there would bat an eye, I don’t want to tread too close to that slippery slope.)

On not-so-good mornings (and let’s be honest: they far outnumber the good ones), there’s no time to shower, and my poor kids are being chauffeured to school by an alarmingly red-faced, sweaty, straggle-haired woman on the edge. (No, I do not find that exercise relieves my stress, especially when I am expected to carry on a conversation/dodge a little co-participant/wipe someone’s bottom while maintaining proper form and my target heart rate.) On those days I console myself that at least I am wearing a bra. (You’re welcome, kids and fellow drivers of high vehicles.)

Don’t even bother suggesting that I get up earlier to pull my life together, because for some reason we have a slew of free movie channels now, and my nights are devoted to catching up on the last halves of the many, many films I have not been able to view in seven-minute increments (the typical maximum amount of time Chris and I can watch a DVD without being interrupted) during the past 15 years. (Django Unchained was really, really good! Prisoners — interesting; I might understand it better if I’d seen the first 30 minutes. Restoration — lovelier than I remembered; has Robert Downey Jr. had his teeth done? Edge of Tomorrow — I’m going to have to google some stuff to see if that made any sense. The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy — don’t judge me; everybody makes bad decisions.) Even without the movie channels, night is MY TIME, and the quiet and the sweet, sweet FREEDOM (to read or watch or think my thoughts) are often more alluring than sleep.

So aside from the rare morning on which I have a school meeting (today’s motivator), my girls don’t have the example of a well-groomed mother seeing them off to school. Not that I think it bothers them — my mom could have been wearing a clown wig when she dropped me off and I doubt I’d have noticed; I was too focused on my own appearance. Yes, shockingly, I used to care — A LOT. I had always been fascinated by makeup and couldn’t wait to start wearing the small amount I was allowed in junior high. By the time I was in high school, I had studied countless magazines and mastered the classic ’80s three-color eye: medium-blue shadow (iridescent, of course) across the eyelid, deep, dark blue in the crease and swooping up at the outer corner, and very light (almost white) pearlescent blue on the brow bone, embellished by heavy eyeliner and lots of mascara. I didn’t understand why a girl would wear different makeup for daytime and evening; the evening look was more dramatic and therefore obviously better, so why not wear that all the time? Thus I spent my high school career looking like at any moment I might step out on a Broadway stage.

Though the colors changed over the years, the attitude — that my bare face was unacceptable — didn’t. Before I caught a husband, I never went out without makeup. Even now that I have Stockholm-syndromed a man into sticking around for two decades, I feel ashamed if I foist myself on the unsuspecting public without at least covering my rosacea-ruined skin with foundation and putting on some lipstick. Sometimes I long to dust off my old skillz and add some glamour, but my drooping eyelids (when the hell did that happen?) and lame lifestyle make a smoky eye seem kind of silly.

Now I’d rather look at my daughters than in a mirror. Given my often less-than-polished appearance, I am surprised and honored when they come to me for makeup advice and hair-styling help. I loved being trusted to do Ella’s hair for homecoming, and it was fun to help her pick out new eye shadow colors to try. Though I was trying to hold Kate off until at least seventh grade (which is when I was first allowed to wear makeup), I had to acknowledge that times have changed and recently let her start exploring a bit. So far, both girls have exhibited much better taste in makeup than I had (or have now, considering that I am still drawn to glitter: You can take the girl out of the ’80s, but you can’t take the ’80s out of the girl — or middle-aged woman). I just hope that they can use it without ever feeling like they need it.

Personal (ew)

Every once in a while someone will compliment my complexion, and it’s all I can do not to burst into maniacal laughter, point and yell, “Sucker! I’ve fooled yet another!” Thanks to the miracle of cheap drugstore makeup, I have managed to keep my real face hidden from all but the unlucky few who live with me or see me at Walmart on a bad day. But it’s time to come clean (so to speak — I shan’t humiliate myself by posting a bare-face photo; if you really want an idea of my natural coloring, do a hundred jumping jacks and then scrub your nose, cheeks and chin with a Brillo Pad).

I have rosacea. I don’t want your pity; I’m here to educate. Don’t be afraid: It’s OK to talk to me; it’s OK to touch me — you can’t catch it. Though no one knows exactly what causes it, my favorite theories are: 1. a “bug” that causes infections in the intestines and 2. large numbers of skin mites that live on the nose and cheeks. (Thank you, American Academy of Dermatology, for making me want to drink bleach and boil my face.)

The point is, I’m diseased. For years I thought I was just “ruddy” and tried to mask it with green-tinted makeup under my foundation. I don’t know how it appeared in real life, but in all the photos from the late 1980s I look like I’m about to vomit. Then one day I was makeupless at the salon and a visiting skin-product salesperson interrupted my haircut to diagnose me right then and there for free. The exchange went something like this:

Susan Powter-lookalike salesperson: “Excuse me, are you wearing blush?”

Me: “Uh, no.” [You think I did this to myself on purpose?]

Salesperson: “You have rosacea! I have some products for that…”

I did not buy the products but eventually consulted a dermatologist, who confirmed that yes, I was diseased and prescribed products to help keep it from progressing. By that time damage had already been done. The only way to rid myself of the tiny broken blood vessels on my cheeks is with laser treatment, which the dermatologist repeatedly offers unsolicited and I of course decline. (Lady, if you think my rosy cheeks are tragic, look down — it’s a drop in a really big bucket.)

You may wonder how I maintain a positive outlook in the face of such affliction. First, I am in good company; my sisters in rosacea include (according to the Internet) Cameron Diaz, Renee Zellweger, Princess Diana and Cynthia Nixon. But more important, I am a member of Bayer’s “Rosacea Concierge,” a program that offers (among other benefits) free unlimited 24/7 telephone access to nurses specializing in rosacea education — which will come in handy if I ever wake up at 3 a.m. looking like W.C. Fields.

Having my own “concierge” makes my disease seem so fancy that I can’t help feeling special, and I want other sufferers of inglorious maladies to enjoy a similar sense of dignity. So pharmaceutical marketing people, get on it: The world has already waited too long for Hemorrhoid Butler, Gingivitis Valet, Ringworm Majordomo, etc.

Personal (ew)