Making Friends

“I think the neighbors are communists,” I tell my husband as I glance out the kitchen window.

“Communists? There hasn’t been mention of the Red Scare for over 50 years,” my husband says in his best ‘I’m-an-expert-on-everything-because-I-watch-the-history-channel’ voice.

“That’s exactly how this kind of thing spreads; it creeps up when you’re least expecting it. Look at all the twerking that is going around and what it did to poor Miley Cyrus,” I say.

“You still don’t know what ‘twerking’ is, do you?” my husband asks dryly.

“No, not really,” I admit.

“The only thing ‘creeping’ around here is you. What makes you think the neighbors are communists anyway?” he asks.

I pull my nose away from the window it’s been plastered to in an attempt to see the neighbors as they pull out of their garage. “Well, they leave their trash can out all the time; I don’t think they ever pick up the dog poop in their backyard and they painted their house that horrible shade of green.”

“We really need to revisit the topic of you branching out and getting a hobby,” my husband tells me.

“I don’t need a hobby, I need to keep my eye on these people,” I insist.

“You sure you don’t want to learn to play the mountain dulcimer? There’s a class at the community center,” he says mockingly.

“You have to bring your own mountain dulcimer to enroll in that class, Maestro. I looked into it after our last discussion of ‘why a grown woman should not stand in her back yard and throw walnuts at squirrels.’ I thought the soothing tones of the mountain dulcimer would calm me, but turns out mountain dulcimers are hard to come by,” I say.

The truth of the matter? I don’t really think the neighbors are communists, nor would I care if they happened to actually be communists. The problem: the neighbors don’t like me and I simply cannot stand for that. I find myself utterly charming, albeit a bit neurotic, but I call that one of my endearing, little quirks. I have tried everything to get these people to like me and still I get the cold shoulder.

“The neighbors hate me!” I whine.

“They don’t hate you. I think you might be overreacting,” my husband says.

“I don’t overreact,” I state emphatically.

He laughs at me. “You once assaulted a piece of living room furniture because the grocery store was out of spaghetti squash.”

“That doesn’t count! You know squash is an integral part of the majority of my culinary endeavors!” I yell.

“You flipped over the coffee table and said you would never cook again.” He can’t remember the place where we were married but he remembers this?!

I need to redirect this conversation quickly. “I’m going to take the neighbors some cookies I baked.”

“But you have no idea when they will be back,” he says. Why must my husband be so logical?

“I’m going to station myself strategically in the bushes until they come home, then I’ll pop out with cookies and we will become lifelong friends, exchanging recipes and comparing our children in a passive-aggressive manner.” Now who’s logical?

“Doesn’t lying in wait to ambush the neighbors with cookies seem a bit weird?” my husband asks.

“Of course not! Everyone knows hiding in the neighbor’s bushes ceases to be creepy with the addition of baked goods.” My husband has a lot to learn about making friends in the suburbs.

A Knock at the Door

This is the story of a very nice couple who found themselves standing on the porch of a nut.

Bored. So bored. It’s one of those rare days where everything is done. House is clean, laundry is done, garden has been weeded. Any other day I could think of a dozen things I’d like to be doing, but today I can’t think of one. I already called the cable company under the guise of getting a lower rate, but when I asked the service representative if he had any exciting ideas for what to do with leftover chicken, he promptly hung up.

I decide to clean out that weird drawer in the kitchen. I find the good tape, a roly poly being held captive in a tiny plastic bubble, enough rocks to landscape the front yard, and my favorite pen. I release the roly poly then rejoice: my pen! I love this pen! I should write something. What to write? I wonder if I can write the entire Gettysburg Address? I begin, “Four score and seven years ago. . .”

A knock at the door. Sorry, Mr. Lincoln, I have to get this. I open the door to two smiling faces.

“Good morning! I’m Barb and this is my husband, Morrie. We’re here to talk about pornography with you.”

“Not my first choice of discussion topics, Barb, but the Gettysburg Address is proving to be much more difficult than I thought, so I’m all ears.”

Barb appeared puzzled but undaunted. “This is about pornography,” she says and hands me a booklet.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to look at this, Barb. You know, I tried reading a chapter from that “Fifty Shades of Grey” book and I haven’t been the same since. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of adventure, but a ‘red room of pain’? The last time I was in a room of pain I was trying on swimsuits at Macy’s under way too many fluorescent lights.”

“M’am I don’t think you quite understand,” Barb interjected.

“Oh Barb, I get it. You and Morrie have what, twenty years of marriage under your belt? I imagine things can get kind of boring in the bedroom and we all know how frustrating those shows on basic cable can get; you almost see something, then the camera pans away. It’s rough.”

“That’s not where I was going with this.” Barb seemed to be blushing.

“Listen, Barb, my porch is a safe place to discuss all ideas. I just think you and Morrie might be heading down the wrong road with all this pornography stuff. Have you ever tried dressing up?”

“Dressing up?” Barb was confused but Morrie looked intrigued.

“Yeah, you could switch things up a bit with some role-playing. Maybe play a little game called ‘Bawdy French maid meets Naughty Chef in the pantry.'” It felt really good getting to counsel Barb and Morrie this way. And I was going to waste my day on history!

“How about ‘Cotton Candy mogul meets a down-on-his-luck biologist while on a caribbean island?'” This is my personal favorite but I’m willing to share it because Barb and Morrie need help and I’m pulling out all the stops.

Just then Barb and Morrie turn and leave. I guess my ideas gave them a bit of inspiration after all.

Back to the Gettysburg Address. I wonder where I can get a Mary Todd Lincoln costume?

High Maintenance Child

I just landed the lead role in my daughter’s latest production, “Sally, the Unicorn’s Mother.” Ironically there are no unicorns in it, but there is a poodle and a treehouse. It’s a musical comedy.

Playing with a high maintenance child means being on your toes. My daughter is a sweet, adorable little girl with a panache for scripting and directing play time. In other words, she can be quite precocious. Just the other day I told her she was being bossy. She said, “I’m not bossy, Mommy. I’m angry because you won’t do what I told you to do.” I guess there is a slight nuance there that I just can’t discern.

Playing with my daughter consists of her giving me my lines for whatever scenario she has decided we will act out–’bears who adopt wayward woodland creatures,’ ‘super secret spies that make donuts,’ and ‘clumsy zookeepers who trip over stray penguins.’ The zookeeper scene is my favorite; I created it to showcase my talent for physical comedy (and nothing is funnier than mommy pretending to trip over invisible, cheeky little penguins).   

Games like “Fashion Model” are not as easy for me. This is a game where we dress up and parade around the house with lots of pizazz and flair. My daughter had me run through my scene eight times giving me directorial advice like, “That’s good, but next time try looking like a sassy peasant from France.”

Sometimes the pressure of this high maintenance kid gets to me. I can usually escape for a moment by telling my daughter I need to ‘find my character’s motivation.’ That’s when I turn to my husband and say, “I hope you’ve rehearsed your lines; today’s the big production of ‘The Bear Family Goes to England in a Spaceship.” Unfortunately, all of my husband’s accents sound like pirates, so my daughter quickly demotes him to a nonspeaking role; he’s now a back-up dancer for the final number. Luckily the only thing better than my physical comedy is my British accent. I nailed all my scenes and my daughter tells us, “That’s a wrap!” Then she’s off to write tomorrow’s play. I know my husband is secretly wishing for something about a pirate.

There’s no doubt–my daughter is a high maintenance girl. Not only does she script all of our play time, she makes me take her to the pet store to sing “Happy Birthday” to the ferrets, she requires a fork when she eats Cheez-its and she follows everything I say with, “Yes, mommy dearest.” And I wouldn’t want her any other way. 

 

Grocery Store Adventures

I love grocery shopping; it encompasses two of my favorite things: making a list and crossing things off of a list. The grocery store itself is a wonderland full of excitement, intrigue, and fresh produce.

The adventure begins with cart selection. No easy task. There’s the holy grail of all carts: the coveted pink race car cart that seems to elude us all. I’ll never forget the day I saw it there, unattended, in all it’s pink glory. I skipped toward it and grabbed it’s sleek handle while thinking, ‘What luck!’ Then I realized I had left my daughter at home with her father. My embarrassment was only enhanced by the shoving match that ensued with a set of five-year-old twins, but when you get the pink race car cart, you don’t let go.

It wasn’t until I reached the back of the store that I discovered the cart wouldn’t turn left without ample muscle, sly maneuvering, and a fair bit of swearing. I had to apologize profusely to a woman in the pasta aisle. “I didn’t mean to teach your son such a colorful adjective, but let’s face it, he’d probably pick that up in preschool anyway.”

I made it to the produce section. I love playing a game called, “Stump the Produce Manager.” I try to come up with a vegetable he has never heard of. So far the score stands at: Produce Manager–12, Me–0, but I’m an optimist so I keep playing. “I’m looking for some celeriac today, Stan.”

“Celeriac is right over there by the turnips.” Stan tells me. “What are you making?”

“Nothing. I actually thought ‘celeriac’ was a yoga position until just now. See you next week, Stan.”

A quirk I have while shopping: I talk to myself. In a British accent. Out loud. My husband assures me it’s not a life-threatening condition but it does cause me some unwanted stress. I picked up a phallic-shaped butternut squash and before I took note of the unmistakeable shape, I announced in my best imitation of The Queen, “This is really small; I’m going to need two of these.” It was then that I noticed the shape and that two people were standing directly behind me when I made my announcement. I can never shop here again. I may have to move. Probably to another country.

I decided that a trip to the alcohol section of the store was necessary. The pink race car cart prove rather tricky to negotiate around all those booze-filled shelves and I got stuck behind a woman pondering the wine selection. “I love a good Pinot Noir. But I also enjoy a light Reisling. What kind of wine do you like?” she asked.

“Grey Goose,” I replied and squeezed past her.

Everything is checked off the list, including my dignity, so I pay and head to my car. Grocery shopping is done. Now all I have to do is drag it all upstairs, put it away, prepare it for dinner, and then clean it all up. I should have gotten two bottles of Grey Goose.

Neurotic Monologue

By Brandi Haas

The workout of champions, that is what I will call it: a four-mile run on the treadmill followed by an hour of weight training. I feel bionic as I leave the gym. I’m still basking in my endorphin-filled glory when I see it–that burger place. So we meet again, McBurger in the Box–my old nemesis. I can go literally months without a single thought of a cheeseburger, then something snaps and I am caught in it’s tractor beam of greasy goodness.

Before I can stop myself, I’m in the drive-through lane nervously waiting my turn to talk to the magic speaker that will transform my words into carb-loaded reality. Maybe I should just get a salad. No dressing. Water. Yes, that is what I should get. Don’t waste that workout on this stuff. Okay, a salad it is. One more car and it’s my turn to order.

But I ran four miles and a ‘cheat day’ now and then is fine. Yeah, everyone has a cheat day. I should have a cheat day. Cheating. Cheating is okay. I cheated on four out of five vocabulary tests my freshman year of high school. I even won an award for it. Not for cheating, for ‘Outstanding Work in Vocabulary.’ I got a parchment certificate suitable for framing. Of course, I never framed it because it’s still a sad reminder that I have no idea what ‘umbrage’ means.

“Order when you’re ready.” Okay, this is it, the moment of truth. Order something that will not cause butt-expansion. “I’ll have a cheeseburger and a large Diet Coke.” Who said that?! The mere phrase filled me with trepidation and exhilaration. I glanced in the mirror at the woman in the car behind me. She’s probably ordering a salad. Her yoga pants will still fit tomorrow. What? I think I heard her say ‘chocolate shake.’ Wow, no self-control for that lady. I am better than her.

I pull away with my cheeseburger and the calorie-balancing Diet Coke and head home. Should I eat this now? The question barely floats through my head when I get stopped at a red light. Surely an invitation to take the paper off of this bun-wrapped slice of joy. I take a bite. I look around to see if anyone is looking. Just one car next to me. A good-looking businessman in a Jaguar. Great. Like I need his judgement. I take another bite. Look at him. Just sitting there, judging me. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t what it’s like to have a cheeseburger beckon you as this one did to me. He doesn’t know that I need this cheeseburger. He thinks he’s fooling me by looking straight ahead; I know he’s watching. Another bite. Sure, I’ll regret it after I finish it. Like when I coincidentally back up at the same time as the trash truck and that ‘beep, beep, beep’ seems to warn the people behind me, ‘Watch out, here she comes!’ And I’ll regret it when I’m too big to fit into my cute new boots. Yeah, Mr. Judging Face, I will be too fat for footwear! I’ll certainly regret it, but for now, can’t I just have this moment without his judgement?!  Another bite.

I wash down the rest of my cheeseburger with the Diet Coke, infuriated that this guy has just ruined what should have been a special moment between a woman and her cheeseburger. Wait, he’s on the phone. He isn’t looking at me. I just ate an entire cheeseburger during the course of a single red light and that guy didn’t look over once! Oh, now he finally glances up at me. He gives me a smile. I made a cheeseburger disappear in five bites and you just look over and smile?!

What a nut.

Road Trip

A family road trip, in the planning stages, sounds like a blast. Let’s pack up the car and go for an adventure! The whimsy of this excursion fades approximately one hour into the trip when everyone in the car realizes that the only things keeping them from killing each other are a couple of coloring books and a large bag of Red Vines acquired at a ‘Loaf -n- Jug’ in Nebraska.

Mount Rushmore–an amazing work of art and engineering in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A mere 1,110 mile drive through nothingness and the destination of our first family road trip. I packed the car diligently, forgetting only our jackets, causing my husband to question my priorities, “There is a five-gallon drum of almonds and enough beef jerky to get us through a Canadian winter! How did jackets not make the list?” He clearly does not appreciate my love of a high-protein snack.

I may have forgotten jackets but I did pack enough bug spray to delouse a prison. I won’t go near anything remotely resembling nature without bug spray. I’m so terrified of ticks that I don’t leave the house unless I’m covered in Backwoods Off–this stuff is so ‘backwoods’ I swear I can hear banjos playing when I spray it.

“Are we there yet?” The phrase itself is innocuous, it’s the rapid-fire repetition that caused me to consider a nice kindergarten boarding school in Luxembourg. I sensed my husband’s head was about to explode so I distracted my daughter with a game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ We actually abandoned the rock, paper, scissors part of this game a long time ago. We added in things like bologna sandwich, zombie, and bulldozer. I succeeded in distracting my daughter for an entire five minutes until we got into a heated debate of whether ‘rain’ beats ‘Egypt’ or vice versa.

After six gas stations, twelve sing-along CDs, and an in-depth discussion of why Taco Bell doesn’t serve french fries (I believe Taco Bell simply needs to reevaluate their moral code while my husband thinks it’s because fries don’t go with burritos; he’s just not the visionary I am), we arrived at our hotel. Only it wasn’t a hotel; on the website, it looked like a quaint little cabin nestled in the forest. Up close, it was a different story. I struggled to remember where I had seen this place before and then it came to me,  “It’s that motel from ‘Psycho’!”

“Does everything remind you of a horror movie?” my husband inquired.

“Not everything,” I said and thought carefully. “Bath and Body Works.”

“What?” My husband looked at me then continued to unload the car.

“Bath and Body Works doesn’t remind me of a horror movie. It just smells so good in there. And the people that work there are always so nice. You know, now that I think about it, their elevated moods may be caused by the constant exposure to chemicals, but that is more of a clinical concern than a horror movie fear.”

“I’ll get us a hotel if you want,” my husband said.

“No, no, it’s fine. I’ll just check the bathtub for bodies.”

We survived the night in the Bates Motel and headed for Mount Rushmore early the next morning. It’s an amazing sight to behold–art, engineering, and history all carved into a mountain. We were in awe and spent a few breathless moments just taking it all in. We spent the next forty-five minutes posing our daughter strategically so that it looked like she was picking each of the presidents’ noses. Roosevelt proved to be especially tricky, but the photographs were well worth holding up that German tourist group.

We spent the next morning at the Crazy Horse Memorial. Another wonder of design and testimony of the human spirit. This monument is amazing and now the setting of our infamous family memoir entitled, “Mommy and the Bathroom Walk of Shame.” I was stricken with sudden gastrointestinal issues and in search of the restroom. Always at my side, my daughter insisted she come into the stall with me–a decision we both soon regretted. My daughter pushed herself against the stall door and screamed at the top of her lungs, “Oh Mommy! This is why I don’t like to leave the couch!” This declaration of her’s was met with laughter from every corner of the bathroom. I pondered how long we could live in that bathroom stall–I had bottles of water and a baggie of Goldfish. But alas, it was a bathroom stall and certainly my husband would miss us.

I did the only thing I could do: I held my head high, picked up my daughter, and announced to the women in that Crazy Horse bathroom, “Do not eat the churros!”

All in all, it was a great trip. We learned a lot of new things and now when my daughter and I use a public restroom, I always get my own stall.

 

Carol

On Friday I posted a story called “Birthday Parties.” I introduced a woman named Carol and I have gotten a lot of questions about her, mostly friends asking me accusingly, “Is that me?” So I thought I’d take a moment and tell you more about Carol.

Carol is a working mom. She is a stay-at-home mom. She is an amazing cook. She orders pizza a lot. She is a single mother. She is married. She has one kid. She has three kids. She has five kids. She endured 40 hours of labor. She cried every night for two years waiting to adopt her baby. She has run a marathon. She likes sitting in her favorite chair. Her house is a disaster. Her house is spotless. She holds a master’s degree. She didn’t finish high school. She is invited to every party. She tries to forget how many times she’s been left out. Her kids drive her insane. Her kids make her beam with pride. She wants a babysitter for one night just to get out. She misses her kids so much it hurts when they are away.

She wants what is best for her kids. She falls short of her expectations and never lets herself forget it. She judges herself based on what other moms do. She apologizes for things that aren’t her fault. She never takes time for herself and she doesn’t really mind. She cries at inopportune moments. She forgets why she just walked into the kitchen. She believes every magazine  that tells her she’s not good enough. She worries, oh man, does she worry.

She loves reading to her kids. She tickles her kids every chance she gets. She kisses sleeping foreheads two, sometimes three times a night. She puts on puppet shows. She sings to her kids, mostly off-key. She hugs her kids more times than they sometimes want. She cheers even louder when her kids strike out. She brags about her kids to everyone. She absolutely knows that her kids are cuter than anyone else’s.

She has good days and she has bad days. The good days are easy. The bad days? Well, that’s when we need to be reminded that we are all Carol; I am Carol and you are Carol. So let’s take it easy on poor, sweet, sweet Carol, because she’s one hell of a mom.