Unemployed

“So, you’re unemployed.”

The words rang in my ears. I recognized each word but somehow the way that woman strung them together just didn’t make sense to me. My world froze in that moment.

A routine, simple mammogram. Not my preferred way to spend a afternoon but I know it’s what is best for me so I made the appointment. It was an imaging office I had never been to before so there was the prerequisite mountain of paperwork to be filled out. The receptionist handed me the clipboard and a pen with a two-foot wide pink daisy duct taped to it.

“Nobody is going to accidentally walk away with this thing in their pocket,” I told the receptionist as I held up the pen with the huge daisy theft control device adhered to it.

“You can go sit over there and fill out your paperwork,” she said curtly without acknowledging my obvious compliment about her pen safety procedures.

I walked over to the waiting area and scanned the room for the best possible seat. There was a woman coughing uncontrollably at one end of the room and I thought, Sounds like pneumonia, probably here for a chest x-ray, and I made my way over to the other side of the room where a mom was sitting with her two-year-old son. I sat down and smiled just as the mom reached into her bag for a toy. No, it wasn’t a toy, it was a baseball. A real baseball. She handed it to the two-year-old and he started throwing it around the room.

The mother smiled at me and said, “It’s the only thing that keeps him quiet.”

“Quiet and dangerous, just like a psychotic mime,” I said under my breath as that kid hurled the ball straight at some poor man’s head. I’m sure it won’t be a problem for them to add in a quick cat scan along with whatever else he was here to get x-rayed in the first place.

I finally finished all the paperwork despite the gravitationally pull on that daisy pen and I walked back to the receptionist’s desk. She looked really busy so I just stood and waited.

“Can I help you?” she said, never once looking up at me.

“I’m all done filling out the medical forms,” I said as I handed her the clipboard.

“Okay, I just have to look over everything and make sure it’s filled out correctly,” she said and leafed through my paperwork.

I gave the area a quick visual sweep to make sure that kid armed with a baseball wasn’t sneaking up behind me. I came here for a boob scan, not a head x-ray.

The receptionist suddenly stopped flipping through the pages of my paperwork and said, “You don’t have anything listed under Employer.”

“I’m a stay-at-home mom,” I said with all the strength I could muster given the sting I still feel from no longer earning a paycheck.

“Are you self-employed?” she asked.

“Well, um, no, kind of, no,” I stammered, my head spinning.

“So, you’re unemployed,” she said and wrote the degrading word on my paperwork.

Unemployed. How can I be unemployed? I haven’t had a day off in seven years. I work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I have been peed on, pooped on, and puked on—in the same day. I shop for groceries, turn those groceries into meals, clean up the meals, then do it all over again. I dust, mop, vacuum, and make the beds, then I go back and dust again. I feed the dog, I feed the fish, and I replace the fish when it goes belly up so my daughter is spared the heartache. I volunteer at school and church and dance class even when I don’t have the time. I pay bills and make doctor’s appointments for everyone in my house. I do laundry every day of my life. I find missing keys and missing shoes and missing homework and missing teddy bears. I pull weeds and sew rogue buttons back onto shirts. I may not get a paycheck but I am not unemployed.

I stared at the receptionist. She was probably in her early twenties, with manicured fingernails, wearing an expensive jacket with a matching pencil skirt. I couldn’t see her shoes, but I imagined they were just as extravagant. I was just about to unleash seven years of pent up mommy wrath when I realized something: I was this woman once, many years ago. Little life experience, working my first “real” job, spending my entire paycheck on clothes.

I didn’t have to justify my life to her. She wouldn’t understand right now anyway. But one day when she’s standing on the opposite of this desk, she’ll understand. But not today.

I looked at her and smiled, “Yes, I’m unemployed and it’s the best damn job I’ve ever had.”

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Married Sex

“There’s nothing good on TV. Wanna go do it?”

“Ah, the four most romantic words I’ve ever heard,” I said and rolled my eyes at my husband.

“So does that mean I have a chance?” he said with a suggestive lift of his eyebrows.

“I can’t believe you said that,” I told him.

“What? I’m a man with needs, you’re a woman with needs…”

“Not that. I don’t believe there’s nothing on TV. Did you check the Food Network? What about HGTV? Isn’t House Hunters on tonight?” I said.

“It’s the one where that lady goes and looks at houses with her dog shoved in her purse,” my husband said. “We’ve already seen it and besides, I know how you feel about purse dogs.”

“I just don’t get it. I mean, I put a lot of stuff in my purse but I draw the line at pets. Purses are for essentials like wallets and lip gloss, not things that bark,” I said. “Aren’t there any shows on about Alaska?”

“No, I would have never suggested we do it if something about Alaska was on,” my husband said without an ounce of sarcasm.

“We could watch that show about the family with nineteen kids,” I suggest.

“No.”

“What about the show about the guy with four wives?” I ventured.

“No.”

“Okay, what about the show where twenty women fight to the death over the one guy handing out roses?” I asked.

“Do they really fight to the death?” he asked, his curiosity piqued.

“It’s more of a metaphor, but I think they get really bitchy,” I said.

“Definitely no,” he said. “We could watch that show about how they make things. There’s one about how they make cast iron skillets.”

“No,” I said as I grabbed the remote control and starting clicking through channels.

“There’s got to be some kind of alien, super hero, military, robot, explosion based movie on,” he said.

“Definitely no,” I said. “Remember when I watched that movie with you? What was it—Aliens Attack People: The Sequel? I had nightmares for a month.”

“I don’t think that’s an actual movie title,” he replied.

“That wasn’t the name of the movie, it was the plot,” I countered.

“That was a good movie! Is that one on?” he said, completely missing the point.

“There really is nothing on TV,” I said with a sigh.

“We could go do it,” my husband said again.

“So that’s it? This is your A-game? No flowers, no music? You think it’s just that easy?”

“Yep,” he said confidently.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you love me and I love you,” he said with a big grin.

“I can’t argue with that logic. Let’s go,” I said.
Ten minutes later, we’re back to channeling surfing. We found a new episode of House Hunters. It was the perfect night.

Tales of an Insomniac

Bedtime is a magical time. It’s when the day comes to a peaceful pause as you snuggle into your warm, cozy bed and drift away to sleep while dreaming of fluffy clouds and white sand beaches all while your brain and body get re-energized for another day of productive bliss.

I read this on the back of a box of tea once and I thought, “What a load of crap.”

For me, sleep is a lot like geometry—it just isn’t easy. My husband and daughter, on the other hand, have both been blessed with the gift of sleep. When I tuck my daughter in, she’s asleep before I can say good night. My husband seems to have some kind of sleep switch that is activated by his head merely touching the pillow. I’ll be mid-sentence with an uproarious account of my day of doing laundry but as soon as his head completes the circuit with the pillow, he’s out.

Then I’m left all alone with my inability to sleep. Of course I’ve tried to imitate my husband and daughter, hoping that their talent for falling asleep might somehow get passed to me, but I never have any luck. I try to relax and rest my head on my pillow but that’s when it all starts…

10:30pm: I sprawl out in bed in an attempt to mimc my daughter but when I look up at the ceiling all I can focus on is a cobweb. I should get up and and clean that. No, I need to sleep. I flop onto my left side and try to get comfortable but I get the strange feeling that I am being watched. That damn cobweb is like two glowing eyes boring through my soul. I should clean it. No, I’m sleeping.

10:33pm: I get out of bed and grab the duster and clean the cobweb. Since I’m at it, I finish dusting the rest of the room. I glance in the hamper and realize I have enough clothes in there to warrant a load of laundry, so I head for the washing machine.

11:02pm: I get back into bed and curl up on my right side. I end up playing a little game I like to call “fighting my husband for knee dominance in the middle of the bed.” It’s basically a battle of strength and skill we have when both of us have turned to the middle of the bed and both of want one knee bent toward the center. It involves a fair amount of kicking and a few subliminal taunts like, “Don’t you love how much the government taxes your paycheck?” meant to give him nightmares and relinquish the center of the bed. The great irony of this game: I don’t even think my husband knows we play because he never wakes up.

11:14pm: After losing yet another battle for the center of the bed, I turn onto my left side and close my eyes. I open them back up and see the book I’m currently reading on the nightstand.
“I’ll just read one chapter,” I think.

3:29am: I’m sitting in bed with my laptop ordering the second book in the series because the first book was so good I couldn’t put it down—literally.

3:37am: I do a quick calculation of how much time I have left to actually get some sleep. I’ll get three hours of sleep if I fall asleep right now. The thought sends a shiver down my spine. A shiver?! Am I cold? When I was in the hospital after having my daughter, a very kind nurse told me, “When you’re cold, your baby is probably cold; when you’re hot, your baby is probably hot.” Since then every time I wake up cold or hot, my first instinct is to go check on my daughter.

3:45am: My daughter was perfectly fine but since I was up and about, I put the laundry into the dryer. I also made a grocery list. Over ninety percent of the list was caffeine-loaded beverages because I know tomorrow is going to be painful and hourly caffeine jolts will have to be administered just to keep me semi-functional. I also make a note to steer clear of operating heavy machinery, like forklifts, just to be on the safe side.

4:03am: My eyes keep closing but the dog has decided that she needs out right this minute. Maybe my husband will wake up and let the dog out. I laugh almost manically at the thought (or maybe I was crying). I decide that if I ignore the dog she will just go away.

4:10am: The dog wouldn’t stop breathing in my face so I had to get up and let her out. On the way back to bed I add minty dog bones to my grocery list because the dog’s breath is something straight out of a horror movie. Wait, that doesn’t make sense because the technology for smellable movies has not yet been invented. Has it? No, if it had I’m sure I would have seen that story comes across my Facebook newsfeed or I would have read about it on Yahoo News. Regardless, if you could smell horror, I’m pretty sure it would smell like my dog’s breath.

4:17am: I’m pretty troubled because I’m almost certain that I just had a conversation with myself about smellable movies.

4:38am: I am finally comfortable and sleep, glorious, life-renewing sleep is just moments away. I can feel it…

4:40am: I have to pee.

4:42am: But I’m so comfortable. I don’t want to get up.

4:43am: I really have to pee.

4:44am: Maybe if I just flip to the other side, I will take the pressure off my bladder long enough to fall asleep.

4:45am: Nope, I have to pee. I stumble to the bathroom then back to bed in record time.

4:48am: ZZZZzzzzz.

6:09am: My husband’s alarm goes off. I grunt something profane as the dog jumps on the bed and drops her squeaky squirrel toy on my head.

6:35am: My husband kisses me good bye and says, in the overly chipper tone of a man who just got a restful night’s sleep, “How’d you sleep, honey?”

Oh, I’m definitely going to kick him again tonight when he’s sleeping.

Frankendriveway

“Honey, the basement is flooded…again.”

Fewer phrases can quicken a homeowner’s pulse than the dreaded flooded basement. There’s the mopping, the tearing up of carpet, the obligatory swearing, and worst of all, the call to the plumber.

After administering what can only be described as a colonoscopy of our main sewer line, the plumber’s diagnosis was grim. “There’s a tree root in the pipes. We are going to have to dig up your driveway to get to it and repair it.” I asked the inevitable question, “How much?” The plumber took the next 20 minutes to measure, pace, smoke a cigarette, consult an magic eight ball and then checked his calculations on an abacus.

“It comes to $4975,” he said while avoiding making eye contact with me (which makes sense, since my eye was doing that twitching thing it tends to do under duress). Now, the way I see it, when the plumber tells you the broken pipe is in fact under the driveway, necessitating the digging up of said driveway to the tune of $5000, you have two choices: kill the plumber and bury him in a shallow grave, or, laugh hysterically. I chose the latter (which ironically still seemed to scare him).

Between fits of laughter, a near-piddling, and the start of my Grey Goose and cranberry IV drip, I called my husband to break the news to him. “Well, if it has to be done, it has to be done.” My husband’s coolness under pressure is, surprisingly, one of his most annoying qualities.

“They are going to dig up the driveway!” I bellowed.

“Are you worried about the landscaping? It can all be fixed,” he tried to pacify me.

“Landscaping?! That’s the least of my worries. What if they dig up an old Indian burial ground? Which, of course, will most decidedly end with a poltergeist issue. Or worse, what if they find a pet ‘semetary’?! Do you know how many fish I have flushed in four years? That’s probably what’s causing all the plumbing issues. That’s all I need: a dozen zombie goldfish sloshing up the stairs to seek revenge on my lackluster fishbowl cleanings!”

“Zombie goldfish?” he asked.

“Yes! And remember that shaggy-looking beta that always stared at me with his one good eye?”

“You mean Daisy?” he said.

“Yeah, that’s him! You know he’s going to lead the zombie goldfish attack or become a poltergeist.”

“I don’t even know what a ‘poltergeist’ is,” my husband’s patience was wearing thin.

“Do you know that 18% of marriages fail because one spouse lacks a working knowledge of horror movies of the 1980s?” My husband is a numbers guy so I think my clever use of statistics will sway him.

“I have to go now, honey. Do not annoy the plumbers while they are working.”

Ten minutes later I’m down by the driveway asking the plumbers what I feel to be very valid questions. “Can’t this procedure be done laparoscopically? You know, a small incision, robotic arms, ultrasound? Come on, I have cable and high-speed internet! We are living in a rapidly advancing world!” Needless to say, that guy did not appreciate my vision of the future of plumbing.

Epilogue
Frankendriveway is healing well, no worse for wear other than a giant, concrete scar. And happily, no ancient burial grounds were uncovered.

Growing up on Maxon Lane

I love hanging out in our front yard, watching my daughter play. Sometimes she rides her scooter rescuing invisible animals along the way and other times she runs as fast as she can to the mailbox and back. But one thing is always the same: she doesn’t go into our front yard unless my husband or I is there to watch her.

When I was a kid, it was different.

I grew up on Maxon Lane—a suburban neighborhood that I’m sure was just like any other neighborhood at the time. Houses in shades of brown, freshly planted trees, and kids. Lots of kids.

When we first moved to Maxon Lane, I was five and my only objective was to find kids to play with. I was scanning the neighborhood for kids before the moving truck was unpacked. I noticed two kids across the street and the three us aligned and continued on our mission to find more kids. Maxon Lane was a newly developed community so everyone was new to the neighborhood. Without discussion, me and the two kids I just met decided to go door to door asking one, simple question, “Do you have any kids?” It was easy: if they didn’t have kids, we made a note to never go to that house again and if they did have kids, the parents shoved the kids outside to play with us. Our group got larger and larger as we worked our way down the street.

I don’t know what I would do now if I saw a group of roughly fifteen kids, ages four to thirteen meandering around my neighborhood, but back when I was a kid, it was simply normal. And not a single parent in sight.

Our horde made it to the end of the street where the next phase of the neighborhood was still under construction. Us little kids watched as the big kids hurled rocks through the windows of the unfinished houses. I threw a couple of rocks myself, but I only managed to hit the kid standing behind me.

And just like that, friendships were forged. No one had to ask if we were friends, we simply were. From that day on, everyone just played. We never had to go knock on someone’s door because if they were home and not in trouble, then they were outside and playing. All you had to do to find where the kids were was to listen for the hollering and look for the driveway full of bikes.

We played after school until we all got called in for dinner and on the weekends we were outside as soon as we finished our bowls of Lucky Charms. We played baseball and football; we played army and had make believe ‘wars’ until lunchtime. We flew kites, rode skateboards, and we fought. We argued and screamed and yelled about who was up to bat and who got to use the wagon first to careen down the street. No parent came out and mediated. We fought it out. Mostly with words but sometimes punches were thrown and someone cried, but everyone would be playing together again by the end of the day.

We played like that for years, up until some of the kids became ‘cool’ and realized some of the other kids weren’t. Some remained friends and some went on to make different friends. It wasn’t traumatic, simply the way time manipulates youth with something called maturity.

I looked up Maxon Lane the other day on Google Maps. I didn’t even recognize it. But it still made me smile.

How Old Does My Daughter Think I Am?

While looking at the new dinosaur exhibit at our local amusement park, my daughter could not contain her excitement.

“Mommy, these dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, like way back in the 1970s!”

This, my friends is why some species eat their young.

I’d like to say that this is the only time my daughter has unwittingly taken a shot at my age, but it isn’t. One morning when I was brushing my daughter’s hair I felt a bit nostalgic for the 80s so I pulled all her hair into a side ponytail just to see what she thought of it.

Her eyes got big and her mouth contorted in horror as she said, “Oh my gosh, Mommy, now I look like someone from the 1960s!”

Exactly how old does my daughter think I am?! I’m not old—my formative years were in the 80s, my hell-raising years were in the 90s—hell, I was a kid when grunge was cool. That’s not old. But as hard as I try, my daughter still seems to believe that I must come from a time that predates the wheel and Doritos.

One day as we sat at the table coloring pictures, my daughter put down her crayon and asked me, “What colors were around when you were a kid?”

“Honey, trees have always been green and the sky has always been blue, no matter how old you think I am,” I said and kept coloring diligently on my Dora the Explorer picture.

“No, what color crayons did they have when you were a kid?” she asked with absolute curiosity.

I looked at her and thought for a moment. My Crayola box had just about all the same colors as hers—I clearly remember burnt sienna and cadet blue—but I know my daughter will never believe that answer. So I quickly came up with a better answer for her.

“Well, way back when I was a kid, before we had those new-fangled iPads and such, our crayons boxes had just one color—black,” I said in my best toothless, old woman voice.

My daughter was enthralled. “Just black?”

“If I wanted to color the sky, I colored it black. If I wanted to color the ocean, I colored it black,” I said and glanced at my daughter.

“Until one day, a new color crayon was invented. Everyone rushed to the toy store to buy the new color,” I said and coughed because imitating a toothless old woman is hard on the throat.

“What color was it?” she asked with barely contained excitement.

“Gray,” I told her, trying not to laugh.

“Did you buy it?” she asked with wide eyes.

“I sure did, cost me four chickens and donkey. But you know what I discovered?” I said and waited for her to respond.

“What?” she gasped.

“Gray is just another name for really light black,” I said.

“Did you ever get your donkey back?” my daughter asked with concern.

“No, but I could color one heck of a picture of him with that new gray crayon!” I said and started laughing. My daughter processed the story for a moment longer, then began laughing hysterically.

Then I realized, I don’t care how old my daughter thinks I am. There’s no better sound in the world than my daughter laughing so hard she has work to catch her breath as she says, “Mommy, you’re so funny!”

Funny and old—I’ll take it.

Real Cowgirls Wear Red

The summer before I started kindergarten, my mother bought me a cowgirl outfit. A real cowgirl outfit—cowgirl hat, leather skirt and vest, boots with spurs, and two six-shooters slung low on my hips. The best part? Every bit of that wild west ensemble was red—not bright red but deep, menacing red like a sunset before a storm. That outfit made me feel like the sheriff of a dusty lawless town and I moseyed around in it all summer long with my spurs clanging and my fingers itching to draw those six-shooters.

My mother somehow managed to convince me to leave the cowgirl outfit at home when kindergarten started. I’m pretty sure she used a subtle threat to ban Sesame Street during breakfast and even cowgirls have priorities so I hung up my spurs and headed to school.

I loved school, even without spurs, and I wore my red hat and boots everyday when I got home. Life was good. And then my teacher made my life even better.

“Remember, next week is Halloween. We are having a party and you can wear your costumes!” she said excitedly.

My five-year-old mind reeled. A kindergarten Halloween party could mean just one thing—my red cowgirl outfit was going to school!

The day of the party arrived and I was all decked out in my cowgirl finest. I even dusted off my boots. My mom frisked me before taking me to school, insisting that I leave the spurs and the six-shooters at home. I shook off the small defeat and reveled in the glory of wearing an entirely red cowgirl outfit to school.

I got to school and the first thing on my to-do list was painting. I doubled up on the smocks that day, not wanting to risk getting paint on my leather vest or skirt. I immersed myself in Impressionism until the curly-headed blonde girl at the easel next to me interrupted my artistic flow.

“What are you dressed as?” she asked with a nasally laugh.

“I’m a cowgirl,” I said proudly and thought maybe this girl could stand to watch a Clint Eastwood movie or two.

“That isn’t what cowgirls wear,” she said as she waved a paintbrush in my general direction.

My ears felt hot and I was sure my face had to be the same color as my boots. Did this curly-headed little girl wearing her pajamas and carrying a pacifier really just dare to question my cowgirl outfit? Before I could stop myself, I shoved my paintbrush into the pink paint and then swiped the brush back and forth over the girl’s face.

I got my paint privileges revoked that day and was relegated to playing with trucks for the rest of the week. It was totally worth it.

Later, it was story time and we all gathered on the rug. After an hour of playing with trucks, I was ready to listen to a good book. I smoothed out my cowgirl skirt and waited politely. I glanced to my right and there was the curly-headed girl, a little worse for wear because of the painting episode. I smiled, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad can happen within the sanctity of the story rug.

But then something bad happened.

The curly-headed girl leaned over to me and whispered, “Real cowgirls don’t wear red.”

I felt myself heat up again and my fists clenched involuntarily. No one disparages my red cowgirl outfit twice in one day. I hauled back my arm and let my fist land right between her shoulder blades. She let out a pained breath and then said, “You hit me! I might die now!”

Being five and not knowing the telltale signs of imminent death, I watched for obvious things like bleeding from the eyes and uncontrollable diarrhea. Nothing.

The curly-headed girl was just fine and learned a very valuable lesson that day: real cowgirls do wear red.