My Eight Legged Friends

There are two types of people in the world: those who smash intrusive spiders cowering in corners or boldly creeping across a wall, and those who catch and release any arachnid invaders. We are the latter. We have a special spider catching jar and everything. I feel like being a friend of the spiders puts us firmly in the minority, which I completely understand. Those suckers are creepy.

I probably would be more likely to just brutally murder the tiny eight-legged monsters if it weren't for Other Boy, who happens to have a great love of anything gross and creepy. His favorite part of the Harry Potter movies are Voldemort and the Dementors (we even have action figures of them. He enjoys chasing people around the house with them and shouting forbidden curses), he takes apart his toys and reconfigures them into mutants or headless villains or legless victims. He sleeps with a stuffed Komodo Dragon named "Slobbers."

He also desperately wants a reptilian or amphibious pet of some sort: Turtle, iguana, snake, toad, salamander. And it's not that I dislike those particular creatures, I'm an animal lover in general, actually, it's more that I can't quite bring myself to own a pet that requires me to feed it helpless baby mice or actually buy live crickets from a store and bring them into my house, when normally such an occurrence would lead to me hunting the suckers down like a hired hit man out for blood. Also? Yep, they're creepy. I just don't think I can do it.

As it is, we just have one pet, an eccentric Chihuahua mix (and by eccentric I mean legitimately insane.) The kids are all crazy about him, especially Other Boy who adores non-terrifying animals as well. And he does all the good stuff having a pet is supposed to do: teach them how to be gentle and nurturing and to think about someone else's needs. And despite his propensity towards all things icky and scary, Other Boy is a very sweet, kind child who loves nothing more than cuddling up with his dog on a sleepy summer afternoon.

I myself had several pets growing up. I loved each and every one of them, and if it were up to me we'd have more. Probably another dog. And Boy would really like a cat, which may happen at some point. My favorite childhood pet was a yellow Parakeet named "Tweety," so I think birds make wonderful companions. And who knows, maybe I'll consent to a lizard or turtle someday, when Other Boy is old enough to deal with the less savory parts of having a pet (I really could live my whole life not knowing what it's like to clean up snake poop), but I have to draw the line at  anything that can eat the dog. So Komodo Dragons are out.

And no spiders. I may save them from certain death but that doesn't mean I want to buy them fake aquarium plants and name them.

Well This Is Awkward

I am awkward. This feels like confessing a deep-dark secret, but the truth is that anyone who spends more than thirty seconds with me already knows this. I know. You know. I know that you know. This really just makes the whole thing worse.

I'm terrible at small talk. For one, I don't really see the point in yammering on about nothing, especially to strangers. But mostly it's because I'm a thinker. I need to marinate on things to fully form an opinion, so I spend a lot of time inside my head. This is, of course, why I like writing; but it has the unfortunate side effect of making me so uncomfortable when I'm buying my groceries that I read magazine covers and pretend to care about the latest Kardashian diet or marriage fad.  I never have been able to work out an appropriate level of friendship with the person who is currently scanning my tampons and five bags of PopChips.

Even just passing someone on the street is fraught with difficulty. Common courtesy around here is to smile and say some sort of pleasant greeting (hello, good morning, my your Cockapoo is looking particularly fluffy today, etc.) But starting from about ten feet away the panic begins: how soon do I start smiling? Too far and I look like a deranged overly happy axe murderer, too close and it just looks like I flippantly tossed a halfhearted smile at them. And how much eye contact do I make? Again, too much = creepy. Too little = douche-bag. Am I blinking enough? Am I blinking too much? And now I've completely missed whatever stilted conversation the poor, unsuspecting, able-to-make-basic-eye-contact-without-having-a-mental-breakdown person is attempting to have with me.

Mommy groups are particularly painful for me. If you've never been to one, it's basically the equivalent of the first day of school when everyone had to go around and say something interesting about themselves, only for hours at a time once a week or so. (Am I the only one who blanked and just said the name of my cat? This was my go-to interesting fact for some reason.) To me it felt a lot like being called on in class when you'd just spent the last ten minutes watching a squirrel eating a french fry outside the window and you don't have the slightest clue what the teacher was talking about.

I would get nervous and stammer and babble when it was my turn to talk, and never contribute any sage advice (though I am clearly just chock-full of it,) because I only thought of the perfect thing to say once the conversation had moved on to new topics, and my blurting out the best way to puree carrots somehow failed to fit in with the discussion over when it's okay to resume sex after having a baby. (Hey, maybe some people are into that sort of thing, you don't know.)

And to make things worse every one there is somehow already best-friends-forever and I'm left standing on the outside looking in, yet again, wondering how I always miss the memo when we're teaming up into cliques and if, had I shown up a few weeks ago instead of waiting for the stitches in my perineum to heal, I would be bff's with everyone already, too. (Answer: no.)

But as painful as this was and is still, sometimes, I'm finally to a point where I'm really fine with it. I have enough people in my life who accept me for all my uncomfortable weirdness and love me anyway or even because of it. I'm an interesting, fun person who has a lot of deep, complex thoughts as well as a myriad of shallow, crass musings (the vast majority of which are boob and/or penis jokes). Maybe I've failed at finding myself and my kids a wide social network, but on the other hand it's taught them how to be self-suffcient and quietly creative and mindful.

I do hope that they find socializing to be easier and less traumatic than I do, and so far the boys seem to be comfortable around a large variety of people when I do pluck up the courage to go flitting about among the general public (Girl is quiet but sharp and sweet when she warms up.) I sometimes even follow their lead; aka, hide behind my adorable, charming children and let them do the talking. I wonder if any of them has worked out the appropriate number of blinks required for a three-minute conversation while the dog pees in the grass nearby. At least the dog never feels awkward. Maybe he knows.

The Two-Ton Death Machine


“The most important thing you should know about driving is that a car is essentially a two-ton death machine, and everyone else on the road is trying to kill you.”
Thus began my first driving lesson with my father when I was fifteen. It should really come as a surprise to no one that I was well into my sixteenth year before I worked up the nerve to take my driving test. And that it took me three times to pass it because I so was nervous. 
(*Me, driving 45mph* 


DMV driving tester: What is the speed limit on an unmarked road? 


Me: 35mph. 


*continues driving 45 mph*)
I can’t completely blame my dad, though. Obviously the message he was trying to get across was that driving is a big deal and something one should take seriously and cautiously, something a lot more people could stand to hear, really. I live in the South, a lovely, clean, suburban city where people are friendly and polite. To your face, anyway. Put them behind the wheel of a car and they will not hesitate to run your ass down. I’m pretty sure that around here, people are legitimately trying to kill each other via vehicular manslaughter. Or kill themselves with a heart attack induced by excessive road rage.
I preferred the driving patterns of Seattle, personally, though it made my impatient husband crazy. In Seattle people are more your aloof dreamer types, which does translate to their driving. The light turns green and they maybe contemplate going through it. They gaze absently at the clouds above as they putter along, seemingly oblivious to anyone else on the road. It’s not the safest way of getting around, true, but at least it’s more likely to cause fender benders or accidental drifting into road-side ditches. Even though I’m pretty sure they’re all doing it ironically.
We are staring down the long, dark, angst-ridden barrel of puberty with Boy. He is already interested in learning to drive, and has become a pretty accomplished backseat driver. I was anxious about learning to drive myself, but this does not hold a candle to the blind terror I feel when thinking about my first child navigating the roads in what is basically an aluminum box travelling upwards of 65 mph with nothing but a flimsy strap holding him in place. 
I can only hope that when I repeat my dad’s words of wisdom on his first journey out into the realm of the automobile it puts him off getting his license for at least a year. Of course, it’s my job to guide and teach and hope that I send him off into the world prepared to meet any challenge that may come his way. But that doesn’t mean I can’t teach him to be careful and contentious. Or, consequently, that I can’t try to scare the crap out of him first. 
Thanks Dad.

The Room Where No Children Shall Pass

When I was little, my grandparents lived on a sprawling ranch in the Florida swamplands (Florida swamplands = all of Florida.) To a kid this place was heaven; orange trees dotted the fields, just waiting for me and my siblings to shimmy up and pluck a juicy sun-warmed orange and eat it while still tucked up high in the branches. They owned horses, and though most of them weren't tame enough for us to ride them, from a very young age we learned how to approach a horse and feed it slices of apples, the right way to stroke down the white patches on their long muzzles; we even woke up early one morning to watch a brand-new foal take his first wobbly steps. We'd spend hours making up imaginary adventures on the thick grass of the pastures, the towering haystacks in the barn, the sloping shores of the pond. They even had a swimming pool. Their house was our play-time empire.

But there was one room inside that we could only stand looking in wistfully from the threshold, voices lowered to a murmur. It was The Room Where No Children Shall Pass: white brushed suede couches, plush ivory-colored carpet, fragile knick-knacks beckoning enticingly from high shelves. Everything about this room said touch me. Mostly because we couldn't.

Not that we didn't try. We learned the hard way that the pristine carpet was so thick and vacuumed so often and so thoroughly that sneaking across it on a dare would leave footprints. Sometimes we'd lay on our bellies on the edge of The Room and the living room just to run our hands over the lush pile.

The rules for The Room relaxed over time, too many grandchildren to keep tabs on probably; but the lesson was still embedded deep in our young psyches: There are places that children shouldn't go.

With newer generations it seems like this is less and less of a concern. With my own kids certainly there isn't a place in our house they don't claim as theirs. Not a well cared for room that is only for adults to do adult things, like complete a sentence or relax for all of a minute. Not our bedroom which has long been the domain of adults doing other adult activities. Not even our bed, where all three of them spent their early months and years; where they never hesitate to come back to during a thunderstorm or a bad dream.

We see it everywhere, too. Kids at R-rated movies late at night. Babies at bars. Pint-sized protesters holding up neon poster boards and shouting along to directives that they can't fully understand. Gone is the trend of the adult-only room, but is this a bad thing?

I know I'm certainly glad we're past the days where children were to be seen and not heard, where being young meant being marginalized and disrespected. I always want my kids to feel valued and heard and that they are an important part of this family. But then I remember those days of swinging from tree branches, and pretending to hunt alligators with spare car parts we found behind the garage. While inside the adults sat on plush sofas, in a room with even plusher carpet, sipping Bloody Marys and having actual conversations not punctuated by requests for juice or squabbles over toys; and I can't help but wonder if they were on to something after all.


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Things You Can Do With Boobs

It was a lovely spring day, and the boys were attending their art class; so Girl was getting some quality time with mom and dad in a quaint little coffee shop we found named something adorable like Hill Of Beans or By Any Beans Necessary. We were happily sipping on lattes while she munched on a chocolate chip cookie the size of her head, when suddenly she reached over, grabbed both of my breasts and asked (loudly, of course) "What do you do with these things anyway?"

Ah, quality time.

"Extortion," I answered, swatting her grabby little mitts away. I was kidding, mostly, but it's kind of a complicated question, isn't it? So, for my girl-who-will-someday-be-a-woman and anyone curious like her, I offer:

Things You Can Do With Boobs:

- Feed babies. Yep, we'll go ahead and put this one out there. It is why we have them, and whether or not they end up being used for this purpose is irrelevant. We're mammals! It's kind of awesome. We can grow people inside of us, then make food for them when they rip their way out our wombs, Alien-style. Trippy stuff.

Women are the cows of people.


- Play with them. You know. You know... I'm talking about, like, using them to put on lipstick or wash a car with them. Stuff like that. Why, what were you thinking?

Just don't try doing a hot wax. Ouch.


- As a shelf. This one is more for those bustier gals out there. Doesn't really work for me, I buy my bras at The Limited, Too (I don't! But I could.)

Do you think IKEA was invented by someone with A-cups?



- Hold things. Again, this works better if you have actual cleavage, but it makes a handy spot for stashing stuff if you have no pockets. Cell phone, cigarettes, lip gloss, extra pacifier (for the baby, you pervs.)

Tiny people? Hey, you never know.


- Feel them. This is breast cancer PSA. Grope those things and grope them often. To check for lumps. But if you just enjoy groping for groping's sake, who am I stop you? Rock on.

For real, though.


- Use them as a pillow. Think about it. When your kids were little, where did you nestle their downy little heads when it was 2:00am and they wouldn't sleep anywhere but on you, so you just marathoned Scrubs reruns and tried not to smother your sleeping husband with a pillow? Right there on your bosom. And even when their feet are bigger than yours and they are nothing but sharp elbows and gangly limbs, that's still the place that offers comfort and softness. Even if it's just metaphorical. And hopefully doesn't involve being groped in public.

Wallaby cuddles are ok, though.





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The Adventures of Dumbledore and Mr. Carrot Man

Girl has one of those overly pink dollhouse monstrosities taking up most of a corner in her room, one of those toys that I always wanted as a kid, but never got; so I snagged one for her as soon as I could (on crazy sale at Kohl's on Black Friday: score!) Of course she doesn't actually play with it all that much, and it mostly accumulates junk (like the rest of the house.) But sometimes I catch her involved in an elaborate house party of some sort, usually with a pretty motley crew in attendance. Recently we had: Strawberry Shortcake, two My Little Ponies, a dinosaur, Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore, the dollhouse Daddy sans legs (gangrene?), and two carrots. The carrots were not hors d'oeuvres.

This isn't the first time vegetables have turned into a plaything. Once in a giant Costco size bag of carrots (guess which vegetable the kids will eat) we found a carrot that looked like legs, and one that looked like a torso and head. It was thrilling. So, naturally, we put them together with a tiny nail and named it Mr. Carrot Man.

But with arms and legs. And less phallic.


Mr. Carrot Man was cheerful fellow. He liked to entertain us with song and dance numbers. He enjoyed fraternizing with the toys and having grand adventures. He sat on the counter and kept me company as I slaved over boxed macaroni and cheese. And then he got old and shriveled up and gross and I had to throw him away. Oh, Mr. Carrot Man, we hardly knew ye.

I like that the kids play with unusual things or play with their toys in different ways, (possibly minus the time that I stumbled upon their stuffed animals embroiled in some sort of hostage situation, bound and gagged and strung up from the bed posts. That one was a little disturbing.) Especially Girl, who loves princess and baby dolls and ponies and refuses to wear anything but dresses, with the exception of the occasional tutu. I want to be one of those progressive parents who only has gender neutral toys carved from sustainably sourced beets or whatever, but I somehow ended up with plastic superhero action figures for the boys and sparkly high heels and tiaras for the girl. Anything else just gathers dust.

Sometimes I worry that they'll be restricted by gender norms. That my daughter will grow up thinking she has to be pretty to be of worth. After all, hasn't feminism long been associated with rejecting all things feminine? When I was growing up, it felt like anything that was girly was inferior. That it should either be rejected outright or hidden in shame.

I like to think that Girl's generation may be a new kind of feminist. One that doesn't see the disconnect in being feminine and being strong. Because she does kick-ass and look good doing it. And I hope that she'll never find it strange to wear her fanciest dress to poke a stick in mud puddles, have lightsaber fights in heels, or have Barbie pool parties with an alligator, three army men and Princess Tiana. After all, who says girls can't play with carrots?



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10 Easy Steps To A Successful Relationship

Husband and I just celebrated ten years of marriage, and fifteen years together. As such, it is safe to say that I now know everything there is to know about having a successful relationship, and it would frankly be a crime for me to not share the secret of our success with the internet, nay, the world.

1. Start dating in high school.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. Relationships need a foundation of maturity and life experiences. I say that is no match for the power of the angst and insecurity of being an awkward teenager.


Ready for romance!






2. Throw caution to the wind and have a child in your early twenties.

Nothing bonds you quite like sleepless nights, spit-up, diapers, and missing all the awesome parties your friends are throwing. 

This is way more fun than a kegger



3. Be broke

This one is important. If you have financial security, how will you ever know the joy of buying a weeks worth of groceries with a mere twenty-seven dollars and thirty-two cents?

We have $7.17 and three buttons



4. Have a low-key engagement

And by that I mean have the following conversation: 


Me: Wanna get married?
Him: K


5. Get married at the justice of the peace.

Make sure the officiant is one extraneous staff meeting away from taking the whole place down in a blaze of glory. He will also repeatedly yell at you for trying to steal his pen. And you should find some witnesses who are currently at the courthouse to take out a restraining order against a psychotic ex-boyfriend. Makes the whole thing more cheerful.

The pen bandit strikes again



6. Have two more kids.

As many as possible, really. Don't want to risk having a good nights sleep or actual money.

We're comin' for you Duggars!



7. Live in a series of crappy apartments, then buy a cute house in a town even more podunk than it sounds.

Think "Deliverance." Ok not really. (But yeah.)

Sadly, there were no banjos 



8. Randomly move across the country

It should preferably be a place you've never been and as far away as possible from the vast majority of your family. Your reasoning should be thus: Just 'cuz.

9. Randomly move back across the country

Again, it is essential that you have as little money as possible.

This is all we have left in savings


10. Celebrate tenth anniversary with frozen pizza and the Chianti your mom gave you for Christmas.


It's fancy. Also, Chianti is gross.

fancy-gross


11. Be lucky enough to be able to marry your best friend. Someone who makes you laugh, and who you can't imagine not going through all of the shit life is determined to throw at you with. Love each other. But like each other, too.

Yeah... probably just that one.




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