Friday, October 30, 2015

Autumn and Pinterest Fail Time Again!

On the left, what you see is something that was supposed to be a teal pumpkin. It's still left out from Halloween, as in last month October and yes I know it's now November. I got the idea off Pinterest.

There on the right, sitting like it thinks it's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is searching for, that's from something I saw in Midwest Living. Only in Midwest Living, it didn't look like a pumpkin sitting in a planter, the way it does here. It looked like Step Right Up to the Best Autumn Decorated House, folks!

This Harvest Duo of Shame should make me hang my head with the weight of a thousand lost Pinterest dreams, but nope. It doesn't. Autumn is the season for crafting and The Season O'Crafting and the missteps of a lifetime have built up within me a healthy dose of immunity from fear of fall failure.

Since 1995, I have set out to discover the secret to domesticity. I tried for the first ten years on my own by following Apartment Therapy and then on to the next decade with family in tow through the tutelage of Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, and the baddest homemaking b*tch of them all, Real Simple. Every August, I bring home supermarket fall issues and spread them before me. My index finger follows directions line by line with the same diligence that I take with the Tylenol bottle before dosing my children.

My intent is the pursuit of hominess, memories, vibrancy to create a life for the people I live with that lets them how very much I want to gift them with a home that makes them proud. This is why I plant flowers, it's why I stick $30 blown glass garden center orbs around the yard that promise to mesmerize and glow like a trail leading to a fairy garden on a summer night. The flowers I plant die before the first leaves turn in September and the only way any fairies find their way to our home is if they have a teeny weeny three inch tall seeing eye dog.

Autumn is the most patient of the seasons with me. It lures and sings in a breathy whisper, I fall into step, trance-like with hopes and dreams to beckoning words like cozy, intimate, warm, home. I close my eyes and sway side to side as fiery reds, comforting oranges, soothing yellows, life affirming merlot and cranberry purples dance invitingly before me. 

Right about now is where you hear the record needle scratch.

Crafts and things homey are not my nature. That's another way of saying, they don't come easy to me. You think that when you've had half a century of failed homey experiences, that you'd connect the dots and come up with letters that spell G-I-V-E--U-P. But I can't turn away from the haystack bundles and the corn centerpieces, and I never will. Because the song that the exquisite photography paints of turning your home into a haven will never fall upon deaf ears with me. You can do it, Alexandra, just get a pumpkin, put it in a pot. Autumn up your home--You can do it. Before long I'm humming along with the tune, knowing all the words, and next thing you know I'm grabbing the keys and jumping in the van on my way to a pumpkin patch.

You can do it you can do it you can do it, I hear the verse in my head. And then in a low, hushed whisper, It'll be amaaaaaaaazing.

As patient as autumn is with me, it is at the same time my biggest cheerleader. Autumn removes all fear and doubt and magically year after year, wipes the slate of my memory clean, CLEAN I tell you, from the decorating disasters of the season before.

Who remembers the pumpkin pancakes that tasted like Play-Doh?
 Not me.
What about the tri-color field corn you hung from the front door as a harvest welcome and the squirrels had at it?
 Not me.
Remember when you Martha-Stewarted that bowl of foil wrapped chocolate and left it on the porch to welcome trick-or-treaters while they waited for you to come to the door but the chipmunks got to it first and OD'd all over the front stoop?
 Nope, not that either.
Surely the brown bread and raisin egg-free milk-free peanut-free loaf that weighed as much as a brick has got to come to mind?

Autumn has blessed me with craft amnesia, any disasters released to the air. She is that benevolent preschool teacher who puts her arm around my shoulder and encourages me that maybe this time, Alexandra, you'll be able to stay within the lines--you just have to practice.

The season of warm colored hues and brisk energizing temperatures has made me hopeful, hardy, and resilient. See that teal mess of a pumpkin up there? I'll recover. And the pumpkin sitting in the planter like it's majesty of its patch? I'm already over it.

Every beautiful autumn I try. And every autumn my neighbors walk past seeing a new kind of decorating horror. But I have no worry of embarrassment! Autumn is my queen and has me ready for next year's pondering of crafty pleasure: it involves chicken wire, a collection of red leaves, and some old railroad ties from behind the trees out back.

The autumn decorating world is my oyster! Nothing holds me back when I have a half off discount coupon to Michael's in one hand along with freedom from the fear of mortification in the other.

* * *

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A List of Ideas

My sister's son died. People ask when and my answer is to ask them back if it matters. 200 years ago or 200 seconds ago, it doesn't take away that he's not here with her.

At night, I think of ways I can help my sister be without him. My Idea #1 is to close my eyes and bring him back to her. I plan on thinking on this right before bed, and I will ask him to visit her in her dreams.

I want to pull him back from where he is gone to and then by the elbow I will push him up and front to see her, “See! Here he is! It's him!” and then step away to leave them together.

At night, I think of what I can do for my sister, and my next idea, Idea #2, is that she needs mothering. But we don't have our mother here so I think of Idea #3: My sister finds pennies and knows it's our mother leaving her messages that no one is really gone. Idea #3: sneak to my sister's house and reach into my pocket that I've filled with pennies and leave them inside her shoes, under her plates, waiting behind her sofa for her to find when she cleans.

I have boxes of pictures somewhere, from long ago. They might be in the basement or in my closet. I remember that I have these, in shoe boxes, and Idea #4 comes to me: I will concentrate, find and bring those pictures I must have of my nephew. I know I have his smile in a 3x5 space, and I need the photos in my hands, and I will take these pictures and hide them under the pennies I hid in my sister's house.

Idea #5 came when I scrolled through facebook and see my sister writing of doing life now, one day, one hour, one breath at a time. Idea #5 is to not miss any of her words and do her life with her: my hour with hers, my day with hers, my breath with hers. If I combine mine, it becomes my Idea #5: to divide the work it takes her to live life with her son away.

Since my sister's son died, she keeps his things in a small closet in the room across from hers. The door to the closet is closed.

Idea #6: I will go to my sister's house, open the closet door for a second, just one, to whisper, “Tommy, it's your auntie. I know you know this, your mother--anyway, I have some ideas, but I need three more. My idea #7, Tommy: if you would come visit me in my dreams and leave me three more ideas, then I will have ten. I can help her with ten."
That night, after talking to him, I will go to bed with a notebook and pencil waiting next to me on the table. I need to be ready so that when I wake up I don't forget what he tells his ideas are for #8, 9, and 10.
* * *


Sunday, October 25, 2015

What's Scarier: Chips or Cillian Murphy

My husband is reading over my shoulder right now. He's telling me I should call today's post, "Things He'd Like To Forget."

I think "I Scare Nice People" is a better title.

We have been through this before, my spouse and I, it's not that there is any one thing wrong with me or even red flags about me—they're more pinkish, and more white than red. And not even flags at that, more flagettes.

But here it is: I like to scare people. I like to scare the nicest people of all, my husband.

I can't resist the urge to turn him into a dancing bug-eyed fool. And before anyone jumps on me about His age! His heart! What about the children?? I can tell you that my husband's premature grey is no reflection on his physical state. I know his family history and follow his most recent physical exam results. His BP, heart rate, cardiac risk factors, would be the envy of any 18 year old. He's so healthy when I asked his Dr. for his opinion on my husband's nightly snack favorite of chips and ice cream, the Dr. told him to have at it. So there you go, the man will live to 98, but back to the story.

October is scary movie month, and for me, it's opportunity like no other to hatch plans in my wicked wicked brain.

You all know the movie Batman, the one with the heart pounding 20 second segment of breathtakingingly mad Cillian Murphy, playing the role of the mentally unstable character, Scarecrow, who drives an asylum patient into further breakdown? Well, in this scene, the angel-faced pucker lips sociopath psychiatrist--gorgeous beyond words--but still a nasty, nasty human being, knows just what he is doing and he psychologically skewers this knowledge in.

The scene is cinematography wonder; filmed in broken, twitchy frames showing close ups of an unevenly stitched burlap sacked head. It is the unexpected beauty of Cillian Murphy inside that bag, with him being so sadistic mastermind certifiable, that makes this scene pure horror.
As wonderful as the acting and the torment by the villain is, it's so much more many degrees of unsettling is what it is. Especially alone, in a dark living room, at 11 PM. After seeing this scene, it took all of half a second for me to know just what I'd be doing before the film was over.

I excused myself to go to the bathroom and left my husband sitting in the silence of the house--watching the horror of the psychoness of Scarecrow unfold.

On tiptoe, I went upstairs to our bedroom. I pulled a pillowcase and scarf out of the bedroom closet and tiptoed back down to the bottom of the stairs, just ten feet from where my husband was watching Scarecrow drive some poor hanging on to sanity by his fingernails asylum patient to the edge of reality. I sat on the bottom step and placed the pillowcase over my head, tying the scarf loosely around my neck.

For the final step, I slipped my shoe off, and threw it, hard, against the staircase wall.

And then I waited.

I knew my husband would come check on the noise and the delicious anticipation almost had me dizzy.

When I heard him call my name, I just about yelped in glee.

Alexandra? [omg omg omg]

At the sound of him getting up from the sofa, I had to bite my thumb to keep quiet.


The sound of his footsteps coming in my direction had me holding my breath and chewing the inside of my cheek.

HE WAS COMING toward me.

I tucked myself into the corner of the stair, crouched into the very wedge, pillowcase over my head, scarf securely around my neck. He was just steps away now. It was dark, he took one step up and stumbled into me with his knee.

I heard "What the..?" and then....THEN, I felt his tentative hand reach out in the pitch to see what he kicked and the universe is good to me because his fingers landed perfectly on my clothed head.

His hand sprang back and he looked down to see the rough shape of a head enclosed in a burlap bag that was tied closed at the neck with a scarf.

OH! OH! The long awaited prize of his yell was just about to happen. How I live for moment when things are moving too fast for a brain to understand.

I couldn't chance missing seeing his reaction so I pulled off the pillowcase, blessedly in time to see him staring at me, blinking faster than a strobe light and hopping from one foot to another as he tried to process what was going on.

After seeing it was me, he leaned over and rested his hands on his knees. Shaking his head he mumbled about one of these days my pranks will take their toll.

I reminded him that he was grey when I met him, and that if anything is going to take him from longevity of 98 years to 95 years, it won't be my pranks but the nightly fright that I witness of a popcorn bowl filled with Ruffles followed by a hot fudge sundae chaser.

Tell me witnessing that as a 10:30 PM snack doesn't strike terror in the hearts of partners across America.
 * * *

Friday, October 23, 2015

Depression and Anxiety Try to Convince You You're Alone, Five Women Promise You You're Not

When my first child was born, nothing was the way I had been promised. The baby books, magazines, pamphlets and friends' stories about having a baby all left me with one image: blissful bonding of mother and child.

I looked around me in the first few weeks home with my beautiful son, and I saw the dream had come true for every new mother I encountered, but me. Playgroups, diaper bag clubs, in supermarkets and baby stores, women so overtaken with their new role of motherhood, they couldn't help but smile and coo at their little one. I only had tears.

All of this made me hide deeper into the isolation and shame of my feelings. Instead of joy, I had panic. Instead of napping with the baby, I paced. Instead of laughter and giggles, I had sobs and despair.

Where was anyone like me? Why wasn't there anyone like me? What was wrong with me?

When I finally sought help, I found community and acceptance through the postpartum support group my physician referred me to. It was these women who welcomed me and together, we created the one place where we were no longer alone, where we were safe to share our feelings. In the company of these women, I felt the promise of recovery.

On Aplus today, five women share their stories of postpartum and maternal mental health. I am honored to be among the women whose story of postpartum depression and anxiety is featured.

I hope you take the few minutes to read of our journey, then consider sharing our stories with someone you know, someone who may be struggling. Depression and anxiety tell us we're alone, but the five of us here share our postpartum experience to tell you otherwise.

Thank you.

* * *

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview about a Mother

This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo! Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. I loved the interview that Raven Snook did with her daughter about Raven's occupation as a burlesque hostess, her Goth dress, and many tattoos, so I did my own here. If you have a story to share, use the hashtag #NoShameParenting or email YParenting at yahoo dot com.

As a kid, I dreamed about being someone's mom. I had baby dolls that I would diaper and pour asthma-triggering Johnson's powder over their plastic dimpled bottoms like they were biscuits about to go into the oven. I had plastic baby bottles and would coo and feed and coddle and coo and feed and coddle my imaginary children, then go to sleep for the night, and wake up fresh the next day for another day of pretend mothering. Feed Coddle Coo, I loved the rhythm of it. I wanted to take care of little ones in my life, no matter if they were real or not. When I finally did become pregnant, at an age old enough for my OB-GYN to stamp my medical chart with the red letters AMA, and not because they were part of the American Medical Association, I walked on air and patted the kidney bean in my womb for nine months straight. 
I had big dreams about motherhood. At the head of it all, even more than wanting to nurture and feedcoocoddle, was how I knew I would be a cool mom. Without a doubt, I would listen to my children, I would possess a bottomless well of patience and wisdom, and they would never be embarrassed about who their mother was.
Now that I am a mother, it's time to check the status of that dream of mine. So I did an interview with my youngest, based on the awesome piece by Raven Snook I mentioned above. My life pales compared to hers--that of a one woman burlesque show, but still, I thought my children would answer my interview questions with shouts resounding enough to knock the cedar shingles off the roof . YOU ROCK, MOM! they would yell. Not quite so, as evidenced below: 

1.) When I was a kid, my mom embarrassed me. She was so different from the other moms. I just wanted to blend in and she was having nothing doing with the Sally Homemaker in the Midwest. She was Colombian and loved it. She wore red lipstick when other moms wore pink. She wore gold hoops when other moms had gold studs. She had curls of Ava Gardner hair--don't ask, she's an actress from the stone age you don't know her. What about you? Do you feel embarrassed when I'm around? 

No. You dress like you should for your age. You don't try to be hip and hot like you're not. But you don't dress like a really old lady, either. And you look pretty good for your age. And you don't wear embroidered cat clothes.
2.) Do you think I wear the clothes I do like my heels and stuff because I like them?
Well, you wear like 43 year olds stuff because you look pretty good for your age. You don't dress like the other moms--they dress younger like Old Navy. Because they are younger.
3.) I used to worry about my mom. She did things that didn't make sense, and she would sometimes get frustrated over things I didn't understand. Is there anything I do that confuses you?

No. I kind of never wondered about that because you act like you don't care. So anything that happened was just funny, like we would both be surprised. But the stuff that makes me angry... [topic shelved for later at mother's request]

4.) If I were to dress and act like other moms, would this make you feel like you fit in more? Like, do you ever wish I looked and acted like the moms of your friends?

Hmmm. No. How you act created an essential part of who I am.

5.) Is there anything you want to ask me for this interview? I'm good at interviews.
Yes. Why do I have to do this interview.

6.) Do your friends ever say anything about how I am as your mother? 
Well, when you taught Sunday School they would say they thought you would be a neat parent. And I would tell them that yeah you give us a lot of freedom with how we think and what we think BUT that we need to obey you or you really lose your mind.
7.) Nice. Thank you.


8.) Do you wish you had a different mom?

No. Because then I wouldn't be the kid I am.

9.) You got me! A surprise 30 minutes of PS4 for you!

Nailed it. High five!

10.) What bugs you about me? Anything?

No. Wait... yeah. No. Wait. Yeah. With the rights you give me. I have no rights. I wish you gave me technology rights and let me hang out with people without having to know who they are.

11.) If someone asked you what I did all day, what would you say?

Write. Sike! No, I'd say , [lowers voice] "She is productive and makes sure her family is cared for. She probably cleans too. And goes to Starbucks."

12.) Ok, last one and then you can go. If there was one thing you could change about me, what would it be?

 P-H-O-N-E. Get me one. And let me hang out with girls without asking questions about who they are and where they go to school.
13.) [me dying laughing] Like that's going to happen.
"Mom, I opened all the Christmas presents and not a single dang box has a PHONE in it!"
Be sure to click over and check out Raven Snook's interview with her daughter as part of Yahoo! Parenting's #NoShameParenting campaign. 
P.S. It's fun to talk to your kids.
* * *

Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Essay of Intelligence. Please.

Another installment in my long running series, McSweeney's Rejects:

My responses to the request, "Please submit a substantial analytical essay of intelligence and insight."

How do I write that?

Insight to what?

General intelligence or just my intelligence?

Can I pick a genre for it? Do you get too many on the point of view of displaced homemaker?

How do we know when we reach the point of satisfies substantially?

Is there a special instrument I need to measure that? Can I find it on amazon?

What are you going to do with this?

Do you offer courses on essaying substantially analytics of intelligence and insight?

Do you really really really need this, because if yes, then Ok. I'll do it.

Is there such a thing as too intelligent?

How about too insightful?

Is this supposed to be entry level?

Before I start, did you want me to unload the entirety of it all at once or just some, like a peek?

Are there other kinds I can choose from? Like how about unsubstantial essays?

Is there any place I can look online for examples of essays of substantially analytical intelligent insight?

* * *

Thursday, October 15, 2015

10 Causes to Neck Pain

You won't notice it for the first few minutes. But within two or three pleasantly exchanged sentences, you'll see it. I'll lift my right arm and begin to rub the back of the left side of my neck.

It feels so good. I'll press on the muscle that runs behind my ear and roll my neck, hoping you're not thinking this is my nonverbal plea for you to Please stop talking.

My neck hurts. All the time. To the point where Tylenol has now been added to my daily food groups of Twinkies, double espressos, and Hershey's kisses.

This morning, I had had enough, so I turned to everyone's Doctor in a box, WebMD:

Here's what I need to do, before I can do anything about this pinch between my head and body:

Diagnose. There were so many causes to neck pain given on the site, and none of them pretty. How the articles took me from obnoxious annoyance to 12-hour surgeries at the Mayo Clinic in three breezy steps, I don't know.

But let's start at the beginning, with the diagnosis.

Question 1: Is there physical strain in your life?

You know--there is. I'll stop carrying laundry baskets.

Question 2: Are you hunching?

Funny you should mention it. Pulling my shoulders off my knees as we speak.

Question 3: Any occasion of whiplash?

If you count how many times a day I have to snap my head back to make sure my 7th grade son gets off PS4 when I tell him to, about nine times a day.

Question 4: Pinched nerves?

[It's too late for me but not too late for you. Don't google causes of pinched nerves. You'll have 19 of the 20]

Question 5: Could you have iPad neck, laptop neck, smartphone neck, tablet neck?

I refuse to answer on the grounds of confronting the issue of best use of my time.

Question 6: Rough night no pillows?

No answer is best but allow me to say this, this item would be up there with spouse refusing to get CPAP mask in the event of marital dissolution papers. #pillowrobber #selfishsleeper

Question 7: Up till 3:00 a.m. reading again, Alexandra?

Like you could put the book down when the preschool administrator walks in on the new mother and the ex-wife both showing up to pick up Daxson at the same time!!

Question 8: Standing tall?

Thanks for the reminder. Promising right now, won't let number of writing rejections determine my posture.

Question 9: Target bags too heavy?


Question 10: Eye rolling so pronounced it involves the neck?

Who is this? Put the medical director back on.
After you've answered these 10 questions honestly with a capital H, you can isolate the cause and make the diagnosis necessary to begin treatment. Isolating the cause is essential. Once a diagnosis has been made, you can work on choosing your treatment option.

My personal possibilities to care include:
--Appropriate exercise: Prescription: come home with TWO bags from Target to balance out one-shouldered shopper's droop.

--Restore range of motion: aaaaaaaand I now have the perfect reason to justify the $100 a month pretty yoga studio that is conveniently on the way home from the grocery store.

Here is the specialized treatment plan advised:
Ice. In my mimosa? I wouldn't have it any other way.
Heat: Like that tropical warm blow dryer that only comes with a blowout from a drybar.
MMMMMMMMMmassage: Say no more.

WebMD left me with this final pearl of wisdom: “Analyze home and work environment in order to ensure that you're not re-injuring yourself."

I think I found the answer: Bending over to empty the dishwasher will just aggravate my symptoms.

Thereby proving WebMD's final caveat: Be sure the problem of neck pain is not just that pain in the neck.
* * * 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's Never Just a Meal

Steaming, broiling, mashing, baking. How many ways can someone who enjoys being in the kitchen, show the people in her life the love she has for them? The choices are beautifully limitless when cooking is her love language.

Time to stop apologizing about and begin sharing the joy I feel in feeding the ones I love.

Delighted to share my story of how cooking feeds me with more than just food, on Purple Clover.

* * *

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Go Ahead, You Can Miss Them

They're our children. Our son, our daughter. They are our family, and we're their parent. For a long time, we were more than their main caretaker. We loved them, adored them, obsessed and fussed over them--so star struck in love with them that every eyelash length, we knew. Every freckle and its placement on their arm, we knew.

We were the only ones they wanted when all they knew was that they wanted. "Only mommy," my children would say when someone else stepped in to bathe them, dress them, feed them. 24 hour days, from breakfast through to dinner, from waking up through sleep in the night, our children are the undercurrent that hums in our life. They are the hub and all else radiates from that center.

But they grow up, and they start on the path that leads to life on their own. Kindergarten, middle school, camp away, travels alone, first love, college, their own families. They have to.

But somehow, if we shed a tear and say that we miss our children, we're told that we smother. That our tears are selfish and crippling and we should feel shame for how we sickly cling. As if our tears are a twisted prayer for time to hold off and keep our children from their own lives.

All I've wanted to do in my life is to be real. To leap into the love I have for the ones most important to me by being there, with open arms and an equally open heart, and have a place for them inside of me that will never grow cold.

I spent the first minute that I met my children looking down at them through a blur of tears so thick I couldn't make out their faces. As the nurses brought them to me, I took them in with trembling hesitancy for fear of crushing their small form. I've since held them in a fearless bone-breaking embrace, sobbing hard enough to soak through the shoulders of their clothes as they moved from their first home with me into their first one without me. I know what has made them laugh, cry, be happy, and scared. I know what they liked to eat, what they found funny, their favorite kind of weather and how I knew they were tired by the way their faces grew paler than usual.

When I hear someone's harsh words telling me I should only have one reaction to witnessing my children as they reach milestones, and it should be without tears, I can't understand. Yes, my tears have been part of each step they've taken into their own existence: but it is from overwhelming emotion of having a life spent with them. My goodbye holds within it the one that came before and the one to come after. Why is there no space allowed for new bearings as we see life shift?

My tears were part of the goodbye when I first dropped my children off for their first playdate without me. My tears were there again when I waved goodbye, seemingly forever, as they turned and looked, turned and looked, to see me watching them from the front of our home on their first morning walking to school alone. On the day they first sensed that someone outside of their family liked them, my heart seized goodbye then when I caught a flash of secret smile meant only for them.

I say a thousand goodbyes a thousand different times, and each one with tears, as my children practice and discover life without me. I breathe a shaky goodbye one breath of love at a time. I say goodbye for every treasured second of their days spent with me. I whisper a watery-eyed goodbye that is not visible to them with each step they take into their own, setting the words to the wind knowing they'll carry through and surround them.

And when I'm gone from here, I will have said enough goodbyes in my lifetime that I am confident will fill the silence in my childrens' hearts. They will hear my warbly-voiced on the edge of tears words I love you I miss you I am so glad my life was with you.

Why are we shamed for weeping as we witness our childrens' lives unfold? There is joy and gratitude that cannot be held within a pat on the back and a hug of congratulations. To have had such a life, spent in such a privileged place in someone's life!

What other outlet is there that can speak in a language adequate enough to translate for a heart that bursts wide with pride, excitement, appreciation and love for them--if not one's tears?
I will not be shamed for crying tears over my children. Because I know every memory, hope and wish that exists in each hot drop that falls for only them.
* * * 
You can find more of my writing here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Things Yelled at Me during Zumba

From my long running series, McSweeney's Rejects:

No bone weary in here! This is not Sit and Be Fit!

Arms up! Hoooooooooold. Arms up! Hooooooooooooooold. Two more! Ha! I lied! Ten more!

Don't drink the water here it's an old building I can't guarantee there's no rust in the pipes!

Organize your moves! Plan for your arms, people! Your arms shouldn't come at you in surprise!

Uptown Funk You Up! UptownFunkYouUp. I have no idea what Funk You Up means but it doesn't sound good!

I love Neil Young! Oh wait. I mean Annie Lennox. I get those two mixed up. Both such sad people.

Down down down down dow-n. Woohoo. That's ELO for you. What? He says No? Okay. No no no no no-o. Woohoo. No problem, ladies, he says he'll say it once more before we get off the floor! 

I don't hear anyone clapping on Clap! If you don't clap on the Clap you won't get the full effect of the clap!

Arms up! Wait. Is this Silver? If it's Silver, then arms up. Or down. Whatever is fine.

Work, ladies! Don't let the sweat fool you! It's probably a hot flash!

Come on baby let's do the Zumba! Or Conga, whatever. It's a Latin beat! Oh, and for the record, I'm not saying I think all Latin music sounds the same. You gotta be careful, everyone's so sensitive these days.

Are you all hot? I thought so because I look around me and all I see is a bunch of hotties!
Alexandra? I'm going to send Julie back there for you. Julie? Julie, can you go in the back there by Alexandra? We've got some twisty turn moves at the end. So, yah, just go in the back by her. Thanks, Julie.
* * *

Monday, October 5, 2015

Preschooled: A Novel

Dear Anna Lefler,

I am in love with Preschooled.

Without gushing, I can only say that you made me fall in love with Justine. Everything she felt about this world of alpha moms in the preschool world was me, and did I relate? In a way that made me miss having a friend like her when I was going through this shock of the new world I was thrown into when I quit working and started taking my kids to school.

The thing I want most to say to you is THANK YOU for taking this world of momming it seriously. Many think it's just a side note, that we can continue with our lives and kids are over there in the corner of it, but the people we meet and this new world of parenting can swallow you up and leave the most capable of us in full blown doubt of ourselves.
You gave me validation, Ms. Lefler, for all the overwhelming and drowning I felt and still feel. 
I knew your words would be funny, it is, after all, written by you. But to find solace in your book, where I felt understood and where I fit in, well, I did not see that coming. 

Your book is wonderful.
Your book is wonderful, Anna.
Alexandra Rosas

**I am GIVING a copy of Preschooled: A Novel away, just leave a comment to enter. But if you can't wait, you can order your own copy here: Preschooled: A Novel, available at amazon


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Do We Ever Leave The Land of the Uncool

High School: when no one could even get my name right.
In the nicest part of McDonald's, the section where they have the leather chairs and a loveseat, seven teenage girls sit. They're texting each other, instagramming, and squealing with each "like" they get on their posts.

I'm sharing a lunch with my high school son, my middle boy, and we hear everything the teens are saying. I ask him how these girls could have so many friends. He shrugs and says, "People do," and he goes back to his burger. I stop chewing so I can hear them better, because I have always wanted to know, Why do some of us have the secret to social life? Will these girls fall away from how effortless friendship feels right now? Do we lose this sense of feeling at ease with others, do only some of us? Will we all?

"Oh!," one of the girls shrieks. "She just liked my selfie!" The other one grabs her phone to look and asks, "Why do you even like her?" "I'm only stalking her to find out about her boyfriend's friend. She doesn't know I can't stand her." I ask my son if people in his school pretend to like each other a lot. "Some might," he answers again without looking over at them as they leave.
I was never a teen in the midst of giggling girls. I was never among a crowd that numbered in the sevens. I was eighty-nine percent of the time on my own, inside my head. My teen life was spent in the land of the uncool.

Back then, when I met someone new, I would cross my fingers that maybe they would turn into a friend, but instead of smiles back when I initiated conversation, it was knitted brows and pursed lips that came back in reaction to my not knowing when to stop with any topic of discussion. I couldn't help it, I had a head full of trivia and nothing that I loved to do more than share little known facts and historical surprises. Believe me, I had no shortage of things to talk about. And each one, at the ready.

Kids would spend a few minutes with me and then excuse themselves, saying, "I'm going to go talk to Jackie now," I'd smile at them and nod, "yeah, sure, Ok. I'll see you at school Monday!" And they'd give me a tight lipped smile back, no teeth showing, a quick look back but without the energetic, "Yeah! For sure!" that I hoped I'd hear.

Then, when I was 15, during our school's morning announcements, some news came out that could have changed my world. The department store downtown was going to be interviewing for a candidate to win a scholarship to their charm school. Charm School is what I needed! This was it! My big chance to learn how to do everything right. I would learn how to eat in an expensive restaurant if someone ever took me to prom or homecoming. I would learn how to waltz if someone ever asked me to dance at a wedding reception. I would learn how to walk with my shoulders back and how to keep eye contact. I would learn etiquette and how to carry conversation so it would be equal for both parties. I clicked my pen and wrote down the date, Saturday, and the time, 9:00 a.m., at Boston Store.

The Friday night before Interviewing Saturday, I set my clothes out: a pair of brand new sailor pants, a thin as an extension cord white suede belt, a red ribbed sailor top and white suede platform sandals that matched my belt. I snuck a red chiffon neck scarf from my older sister's room to tie around my neck, I planned to have the bow twisted to the side. I bought new blush, "apricot sparkle." It was a cream form, and cost almost a dollar more than powder.

I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. and tried to get the beauty sleep Seventeen magazine told me I needed so my complexion would not be sallow and my eyes would be bright. On Saturday morning, I arrived at the department store by 8:30 a.m. for the interview. It had taken me two buses to get there. I had only been up to the third floor of the store before, but the offices holding the session were on the 7th floor. I got on the elevator and pushed 7. When the doors opened, I looked out into a hallway that held every beautiful teenage girl in the city. Their tall, long bodies with hair to match, leaned against walls, sat in front of occupied chairs, and rested against window sills. There wasn't a single girl who looked anything like me there. There wasn't a single girl there wearing pants.

When I checked in with another tall woman who had a clipboard, she wrote my name down and gave me a number. She told me I probably wouldn't get seen because of the amount of girls that had answered the call. Still, I wasn't going to go back home after taking two buses to get downtown before 9:00 a.m. I would wait until they told me I had to leave and locked the doors behind me.

At a little before noon, the woman with the clipboard shouted my number. I gathered myself up from the hard floor and with wobbly legs and a pounding heart I followed her to the office where the interviews were happening. There, a woman sat behind a faded wood desk. To me, at that time, I guessed her to be about 50 years old. She had black glasses that sat at the end of her nose that she kept pushing back up to her eyes with her sharp red fingernails.

She asked me to keep standing. Then to turn. Then to walk away and then turn and walk back to her. She asked me to turn sideways, then to lean the side of my body against the cold wall, with one hip jutting out. I did all those things while I watched her write. She made some notes, had me repeat my name and phone number, and then asked me for my pictures.

"I don't have any." I panicked. No one had mentioned pictures.

"Well. Thank you. You can go now."

I stayed, I was ready for the interview part.

"You can go now."
"I'm ready for the interview. I can talk about any question you ask me."
"This was the interview. You can go now."
"Didn't you want me to talk?"

She put her pen down and peered up at me. Then she stared. She asked, "What did you think today was for?"

"An interview," I told her, "for charm school."

"This was the interview and we have other girls to see."

I looked down at my feet, flustered. I had so much information to tell her, from all the books I had read. Then I noticed that the zipper on my pants had been down the entire time. My cheeks burned, both from embarrassment as well as the excess of apricot sparkle. I thought about how I never got anything right and never fit in anywhere. I stood, ready to go, but before I left, I turned around. "When do we find out if we won?"

"We'll let your school know."

I was sure to thank her for her time.

On Monday morning, back at school, girls buzzed about the interviews. "Do you know anyone that went? Who would go? I can't believe anyone would go. You'd have to be beautiful. I heard Antoinette Omdahl went." I stood frozen against my locker. Antoinette Omdahl, the senior went? She was the girl with the most perfect legs, a ballet dancer, a cheerleader, on student council, prom queen. Her teeth looked like they had been put in place by a master. Why didn't I know the interviews were for girls like Antoinette Omdahl? Why did I think I was one to go?

The school morning announcements began, and toward the end, our principal cleared her throat. In her thick Italian accent, she began, "It is my great pleasure to announce that one of our girls was chosen for the Boston Store Charm School scholarship. Antoinette Omdahl is going to be our ambassador with Boston Store."

Antoinette Omdahl. Popular, athletic, always smiling and giggling. The senior who skipped down the hallways, her shiny hair bouncing behind her. Her hair never needed to be tied down when it was humid. Why did I think I belonged somewhere where she was? This was another event that I thought I understood. My life was missed marks and misunderstandings. How did people know not to do things, when I didn't?
The girls at McDonald's begin to squeal again. "Oh.My.God. You guys, look at this-I can't believe she posted this. And that Keith even likes her. Whatever."

I've forgotten about the story of charm school, until today. And how much being cool mattered. I tell my 18-year-old son the story about the charm school interview, my zipper being down, my cheeks ablaze with apricot sparkle. How I waited for the interviewer to ask me for my favorite Louisa May Alcott book, to which I would have answered Jo's Boys. He laughs while eating his french fries and almost spits out his soda. "You're so funny, mom. I wish I could have known you back then."

The last 20 years of my life have been spent as a mother. I have been with my children who accept me as naturally as sunshine and without question. Their hearts so full of love, they listen to me prattle about facts and the books I've read and the things I've learned, and look at me as if I'm the most fascinating person they've ever known.

They make me feel like I just graduated from charm school.
* * *

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just Two Women in the Kitchen

I stretch my legs out from on top of the red vinyl stool. I'm careful to stay on the right because the seat is split and the foam is coming out from the other side, leaving the plastic to jut up and out, like my Abuelita's black knife. I think of how the edge could slice through a tomato like a blade. My father wants to take this chair and keep it in the garage for his tools but I won't let him. The red sparkles shine through the cover and fill the spaces like tiny galaxies.

It is early afternoon and the sun is streaking in through the kitchen windows. I love to be here in the kitchen more than anything. I am so close to where my Abuela is happiest, I stand inches from her in the small room and I don't know how she stops the urge from stepping away so she has space.

When people's skin gets too close to mine, I feel like I lose the air around me. I have to change how I am and pay attention to how I breathe when someone comes close to me. I don't want them thinking how I am too loud or too fast or that they'll hear my voice shake or say something to me and then I'll have to answer them when they are this close.

Soon, my brothers and sisters will be home from school. My grandmother is getting the rice and chicken started and my baby brother and sister are sleeping. I am waiting to start the most important job, the meal can't begin without my work - that's what my Abuela tells me. I gather the slices of tomatoes and strings of onion that my grandmother has set aside and I toss them into the hot oil in the pan. I jump when the wet from the tomato and onion sizzle and spark as they hit the pan, but I can never say no to the thrill. I go back to my grandmother and her cutting board, I know she will have the garlic smashed and ready for me to carry over in a measured tablespoon. I walk to the stove, my right hand cups under the garlic so nothing tips out. I clank on the inside of the pan to release the garlic in one plop.

Wiping her hands on her apron, my grandmother comes to stand next to me.

“You can go now, mija, the hard part is done.”

“Can I stir?”

“Claro. Si. Of course!" She lifts me up while I hold her weathered wooden spoon, the rim of the edges now burnt brown, and I hear the rasp of my back and forth scraping against the bottom of the pan.

“It's all brown now, Abuelita. The rice can go in.”

"You know just when it is time, little one." I smile and nod, I'm never wrong about the timing of the oil. Setting me down, my grandmother scoops out the rice from the pot next to us where it has been soaking in water overnight. We wait to hear the gurgle of a hard boil and then she stirs everything together, covering rice with water fold after fold. Leaning down, she checks the stove's flame, being sure to lower it to the precise flicker she needs for a simmer.

I set the table with our purple plates, but I wish they were larger. The ones we have aren't big enough to hold the amount of rice I want. Everything is finished and we have time before the rice is ready and we have to leave to get my brother from school.

My Abuela reaches across the stove and pours a cup of espresso, mixing it with warmed milk from the small pot. She divides it into two separate cups and hands one to me. There is an equal amount in both. I blow across the steam the way she has taught me, until it is cool enough to sip. Then I take the first cautious lick. The warmth spreads down my throat and across my shoulders, I feel it slide down filling the entire of my stomach.

We are two women in the kitchen. One is five, the other seventy-five, but we feel no difference. We have earned this time, to blow and sip, while we are across from each other. There is quiet between us, but it is anything but silence.

“Ponque?” she asks, wanting to know if I want cake.

She laughs when she sees my eyes pop open. I love cake and my grandmother knows this, she has hidden a piece for me, away from my five brothers and sisters. “Si, Abuela, Si!” From behind the sliced rolls in the bread cabinet, she has a torte that is wrapped in re-used wax paper. Placing it in my lap, like she's trusting me with a hummingbird, she hands me the square. I open it and see dense baked apple, the white frosting cracks as my teeth break into it.

My grandmother is small, with thick waves of still dark hair. She is awake when I first come down in the morning and she is awake when I go upstairs for the night. She never tires, she never sits. But in these afternoons, while the others are deep in sleep or away at school, she takes time.

Tomorrow's dinner may be pork sausages with quartered cabbage. The day after that a thick oxtail soup. I know the meals will be different, but they will always begin with me doing the most important work. Laying the foundation for everything that is to come when I toss in the tomatoes, the onions, the garlic.

It's the hardest part, my Abuela tells me, and I do it well.
* * *


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