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.
The party store: it’s filled with balloons, candy, and a colorful assortment of paper goods. It should be fun; it’s got ‘party’ right in its name. But for the parent shopping for their child’s birthday extravaganza, it’s agonizing. It is especially painful when the party theme your child has attached herself to is the ever-popular: ‘Coconut, Dentist, Puppy’ theme.
So far all I have come up with is having my husband put on a sterile face mask and a coconut bra while walking our dog, but I quickly vetoed that because I actually like 52% of the people I’m inviting to the party (that number may not be entirely accurate as I figured it using a calculator from high school that only has two buttons left–cosign and tangent, but I think it’s a safe estimate anyway). Maybe the dog will wear the coconut bra.
I decide to move onto goody bags. My idea of a really great goody bag: chip clips and a slotted spoon, because let’s face it, you can never have too many of those. Of course, I know better than that. Well, I do now after last year’s party. I sift through plastic frogs, neon bracelets, and tiny little Slinkys. The truth of the matter: the kids will love any of this crap, it’s the moms I’m trying to impress. Two things define us in this world: how many Beatles’ songs we can name without taking a breath and what we put into a goody bag. And nothing opens you up to suburban criticism like a bad goody bag (other than wearing a tube top to the school picnic, but that one is pretty obvious).
In a last minute strategic move, I decide to give gift baskets to all the moms with a bottle of wine, various cheeses, and an autographed copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I grab some ‘Over the Hill’ themed decorations because my daughter can’t read yet anyway and I bid the party store farewell.
One party detail I am certain of: no piñata. Nothing will reduce a gaggle of children to their most primal of instincts like a piñata. My daughter had her first encounter with a piñata just a couple of weeks ago. That paper-mache, twine-dangling, horrifyingly distorted animated character should have heralded joy, but ‘twas not the case. Some birthday party etiquette: when inviting an abundance of portly children to your soiree, it may be prudent to forgo the piñata. My daughter waited patiently to see what exactly was in SpiderMan’s cardboard head and all she got was an elbow to the throat. Thankfully it was a very chunky elbow and caused no discernible damage. My daughter was appalled, “That’s what they do for candy?” I pulled her aside, “Wait until you learn what that kid will do for a free beer at 19.”
The next thing on my party ‘to-do’ list: invitations. There are three categories of invitees: people I like, people I want to impress, and people I have to invite. That last category is based solely on the ‘destruction factor’ of the children (a ranking system from 1 to 10). This number takes into account how much cake the children will smear on the walls before their parents realize their children could use a hose-down. Case in point–Carol. Poor, sweet, sweet Carol. She is the mother of four boys and was forced to give up hygiene a long time ago (her boys’ and her own). It was the survival instinct, really. She used to dress them in matching outfits with perfectly combed hair, but lately she’s had to prioritize and frankly, keeping her home from becoming a UFC cage match has taken precedence. No one blames her.
I ran into Carol and her boys at the grocery store just the other day. Two of her boys were squaring off–one boy armed with a mangled box of taco shells, the other with a bag of frozen pearl onions (I resisted the urge to inquiry about that recipe), another boy was singing a very off-color sea chantey to the free sample lady, and the baby was covered in what I can only hope was pudding leftover from lunch. Poor Carol was singing the ‘ABC’ song to a cantaloupe she was gently rocking. You just can’t leave a woman like this off of your guest list. That last shred of sanity is what bonds all moms.
Last party item: presents. I asked my daughter what she would like for her birthday to which she responded, “A volcano and a trip to China.” Nothing’s ever easy.
By Brandi Haas
“You’re not going to introduce yourself as ‘The Commandant’ again, are you?” My husband asks with his trademark smirk.
We are on our way to yet another doctor dinner party and my husband runs through the checklist to ensure I will behave myself. So far I have agreed to not retell stories of my time in the CIA in exchange for full bar access. He might end up regretting that one.
Doctor dinner parties: big houses and even bigger egos. Add to that equation: I don’t have a good track record at these things. I remember the invitation we received for the first one; it had a microscopic footnote that read, ‘Children Welcome.’ My husband insisted it was just a smudge, but with no babysitter to be found, we took a chance and brought our then two-year-old daughter with us.
The house was stately with the obvious touches of an interior designer. I looked closely, but not one piece of furniture had peanut butter or banana smudges anywhere. The hostess, one of the doctors my husband works with, came over and introduced herself. We made small talk then she asked what I did for a living. “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” I said with the kind of confidence that can only come from a woman who had to scrub toddler poop from under her nails an hour prior. The hostess’ smile faded a bit as she said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
Nice? I get to shower so infrequently that our water bill has actually decreased, I don’t know who the president is, and I’m fairly certain there is a Cheerio in my bra. Nice is not the word we’re searching for here, Dr. Hostess.
She continued the small talk until she saw my daughter suddenly run to the other side of the room. Dr. Hostess asked, “What is she doing?” My heart sunk and I cursed poor timing. “Well, with that intense look of concentration, she’s either pondering the indigenous people of Peru and those amazing hats they weave or she’s pooping on your custom sectional sofa.” My mother always said, ‘You can have kids or you can have class.’ Score one for kids.
Well, I have vowed that this dinner party will be better; we have a babysitter and I have updated myself on current events. We arrive and my husband goes to find us some drinks as I get comfortable by the bookcase. I find a book entitled, “Removing Vestigial Organs” so I pick up it, figuring I might as well learn something while I’m here.
“Planning on performing an appendectomy?” A doctor I’ve never met before is engaging me in conversation. This is new territory for me, so I choose my words carefully. “No, but the book on lobotomies is already checked out so I went with the next best thing.”
“I’m Dr. SingleMaltScotch, nice to meet you.”
“I’m a stay-at-home mom with a slight Blues Clues addiction.” I wait for his imminent retreat but he sticks around and keeps asking questions. “So what are your hobbies?”
“Hobbies? Okay, well I really enjoy using the bathroom by myself and I love staring,” I answer with every bit of honesty in me.
He appears thoroughly intrigued. “Staring?”
“Yeah, it’s great. I usually get a solid twenty minutes to myself, somewhere around midnight; I pick a wall in my house and then I stare at it. I’d like to say I think deep thoughts during the staring but mostly I just hum quietly. Yesterday I hummed the entire ‘1812 Overture,’ but I really don’t like to brag.”
“I will have to give staring a try,” he says and then he moves on.
My husband reappears with drinks and I tell him excitedly, “Someone was actually interested in what I had to say!” as I point to Dr. SingleMaltScotch.
“Oh yeah, that’s the new psychiatrist,” my husband tells me.
Crap. Oh well. “Is he taking new patients?”
While enjoying pedicures with my daughter and discussing kindergarten excitedly, I overheard a mom and daughter discussing the girl’s first year of college with the same excitement. The mom and I caught each other’s glance and in that moment I knew we were both seeing something unique; she was seeing a sweet memory and I was staring at a beautiful future. I can’t be certain, but I think we both had tears in our eyes.
I’m not someone who overuses phrases like “how time flies” or “where has the time gone” but there are moments when I wish I could freeze time just long enough to forever etch an image in my mind, like my daughter wearing her favorite rock star jeans, cowboy boots three sizes too big, and hair in pig tails pulling her wagon with one hand and making a dandelion wish with the other hand.
But time does move on and my daughter keeps growing and with every new milestone she reaches, I add to the mental list I am making of everything she needs to know.
For My Daughter:
Childhood is finite; treat it as such. This is where dreams take root and this is where imagination is nurtured. Play with your stuffed animals for as long as you want; believe in Santa Claus for as long as you can. You’re going to be in a hurry to try so many things, but trust me, you will have plenty of time for all of it.
Warning: I’m going to talk to you about some pretty embarrassing stuff. There will be diagrams, strange vocabulary, and blushing, lots of blushing. When you’re a lot older, I’ll tell you some jokes to go with this topic, jokes that will suddenly become funny when you’re in your twenties and on an elevator somewhere and you suddenly remember and start laughing uncontrollably, scaring everyone in the elevator. You will try to explain and pay homage to me by saying, “My mother is quite the craftswoman of a good penis joke.” Which will only frighten the elevator passengers even more but you won’t care because you will finally understand how important that really embarrassing talk was.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from me. Tell me your joys and your fears; don’t put everything on your own shoulders. You’d be amazed how much I can carry. And know that there is never anything you can do that would make me stop loving you. Nothing.
All those things you’re going to be afraid to try? Try them. Let life lead you where it will; be open to change and new ideas.
Forgive. You must always forgive because not forgiving makes you ugly and I’m not talking about the kind of ugly you can see in a mirror. It’s the kind of ugly that twists you and changes your heart forever. Forgive and don’t lose faith in people, but temper this with the knowledge that letting go isn’t the same as giving up and sometimes it’s the wiser choice.
Be prepared. One day the world is going to break you into so many pieces you will think you’ll never be whole again. But believe me, you will heal and you will be better than before. Don’t let the moment destroy you; let your renewal define you.
The fairytale you grew up hearing about? Yes, it’s out there, only it doesn’t look like a pink sparkly gown and it doesn’t live in a castle. It’s respect and compromise and arguments and tears and laughter and love. Prince Charming has flaws and so do you, sweet princess; you will save each other over and over again and fight the dragons of this world together.
And for every time you’ve asked me, “Mommy, what do you want me to be when I grow up?” My answer has never changed: I want you to be confident and compassionate; everything else will follow.
I love you bigger than big. Always have, always will.
There’s no dearth of problems in this world: shark attacks, cross fit, expired milk, and I hear that there is rampant twerking going on (although I can’t be certain what twerking is, I know I am afraid of it).
Another problem is the verbal hostage taker. I, myself, have been taken verbal hostage numerous times. Police won’t do anything about it. I have been told many a time by irritated law enforcement, “M’am, just tell them to quit talking.” Ha! If only it were that easy! Truth be told, the verbal hostage taker is usually nice enough, adding a degree of difficulty in telling them to shut it. Being taken verbal hostage is a severe irritation and unfortunately, this person isn’t particularly charming or clever either; they merely possess an uncanny talent for talking for extended periods of time without pausing or breathing. They also lack the ability to identify socially acceptable topics.
Being a verbal hostage is uncomfortable; like trying on a swimsuit in January–it’s not pretty. They will corner you and begin a story right in the middle with no discernible thesis.
My attention span is already that of an amoeba, so I usually check out after one to three minutes. My mind drifts to a field of green under a light blue sky as I think about all the things I’d rather be doing: undergoing a pap smear, having my spleen removed, frying bacon topless. The drone of a voice drags me back to reality and I know I need to interject a word, a gesture, or a sound of some kind. “Wow,” is what I manage to get out. Luckily, it was enough. That was a close one.
I tell myself, ‘Just act like you are listening.’ Good, I will act. I am a pretty good actor. Then I wonder if I really am that good of an actor. Well, I’ve never won an academy award and now that I think about it, I’ve never even been nominated!
It’s about this time that I start to perspire and the verbal hostage taker asks the dreaded question, “So what do you think?”
What do I think? What do I think? I panic and blurt out, “I think puppies are cute, I think it’s embarrassing to order ‘pulled pork’ in mixed company, I think the cranberry has been typecast in sauce, and I think Play-Doh tastes pretty good.” Thank goodness the verbal hostage taker is a poor listener as well.
And just like that, it’s over. I can’t help but think this is what a largemouth bass must feel like with catch and release.
By Brandi Haas
“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 a 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.
Frankendriveway is healing well, no worse for wear other than a giant, concrete scar. And happily, no ancient burial grounds were uncovered.
Some neighbors bring out the best in us and some bring out…the crazy.
My neighbor has a totally organic garden; it’s green, it’s lush, it bears nutrient-rich vegetables free of any chemicals. Our garden consists of a man-eating tomato, mutated carrots, and the ‘little butternut squash that could’. The other day my husband and I were working in the yard and Organic Neighbor came over to say hi. I heard him extolling the virtues of keeping the earth pesticide-free so I quickly jumped behind the sandbox to hide the four-gallon jug of ‘Weed Annihilator’ I was spraying with extreme prejudice. (I made a mental note that hopping over stray legos had made me quite agile.) Once I ditched the weed killer, I walked over in time to hear our neighbor say that he and his family enjoy eating their weeds. “Most varieties are very healthy and make a hearty salad.”
Tripping over a sprinkler, my mouth got the best of me, “I fashion our weeds into hats.” At this point, Organic Neighbor and my husband glanced at me with the same look of disbelief but after 10 years together, my husband knows better than to stop me when I’m on a roll.
“It’s a fairly long, drawn-out process to dry the weeds, but I’m usually ready for weaving by fall. I finish the hats in time for Thanksgiving and we wear them while we sit around the table and name our favorite squash.”
Why stop there? “We also compost!” I exclaimed to Organic Neighbor. My husband gave me his ‘why-aren’t-you-medicated’ look and I knew he had forgotten all about the clogged toilet in the basement which can surely be considered compost.
It was about this time that Organic Neighbor said his goodbyes and backed away slowly from us. As we waved goodbye, I asked my husband, “Did I just alienate another neighbor?”
“Yup. By the way, what is a ‘worm casting’?”
“It’s worm poop,” I said.
“That guy just stood there and told me about worm poop for 10 minutes? He quoted weights and measurements!” My husband could not conceal his disgust.
“He knows his poop. Well, I’m going down to the basement to work on our compost pile. You coming in?” I asked my husband.
My husband smirked, “No, I have to clean up the yard; it’s covered in dog castings.”