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Love means never having
to say you’re sorry

Hillary IbarraThe other day Matthew approached me and said casually, “A couple of moms came up to me tonight and thanked me for coaching the soccer team.”

Eyes narrowing over a sink of dirty dishes, I looked up and demanded, “What’re you telling me that for?”

I really have to get a handle on this jealousy thing. It’s been raging for a robust 12 years. Just the slightest hint of another woman can send my radar beep-beeping all over the bleeping place!

My husband and I have gotten in many freeze-outs because of my overactive imagination. Our freeze-outs consist of communicating only on a live-or-die basis, looking at each other only if we can look cock-eyed with triple-pronged daggers, and rubbing nothing but jabby elbows and feet that could use some serious lotion in bed. The only time we ever get in a freeze-out is when I breathe fire first. It portends an apology; I’m going to have to say I’m sorry for something silly — again — and it wounds my pride. I’m always the one who apologizes, and it’s so very predictable and tedious and conflict-resolving…

For instance, there was that time, quite early on, when I found those pictures — hard evidence, my friends! — that proved my husband took me on a honeymoon hike to the same hill he had enjoyed with an old girlfriend. I stewed and fumed for a good two weeks over that one.

Or the time in San Antonio when I started the mother of all marital brawls outside the Alamo on a ghost tour because I demanded to know if his gold cross necklace, the one I had stolen for my own adornment, came from another woman. And just why had she given it to him for his Confirmation in the first place? Did they like each other that much? He promptly deserted me outside the old fort. I tried to spy the 666 they claim is seared on the Alamo’s wall as I pondered apologizing, but the green-eyed monster blocked my view.

Then there was that time I got mad at him for watching a show about the tango while I was gone on a Mom’s night out, and the film was partly filmed in Brazil — Brazil! And don’t we all know the out-of-control, mind-blowing and dangerous sexiness that goes on in Brazil every day?!?

And there was that ugly misunderstanding about the cleaning lady. I like to blame that on hormones but this jealousy thing isn’t really based on science…

I always have to apologize, because I’m always the one who starts it — all of it, any of it and for any reason. I have a serious defect called Needs to Talk about Every Little Thing That Gets Her Goat, Even Outlandish, Hugely Improbable Wild Imaginings. Love means never having to say you’re sorry — unless you’re the feisty, jealous one in the relationship.

Not so long ago we fought about a commercial with young, skinny women in bikinis rubbing their svelte bums as they dash from a car. Not many people can start a three-day war over 20 seconds of television, but I can.

“What the heck is this?” I demanded.

My husband unmuted it and turned it up because he thought my question was one of curiosity. What I really meant was: If you don’t change this right now, I’ll know that you’re secretly cavorting with supermodels — blondes, no less! — at business luncheons.

I need to go to jealousy management. But, stink, that would probably mean I’d have to go through some nine-step program, which might include learning to really apologize for all these petty arguments I start — even the ones I haven’t apologized for yet. Or learning tiresome, effective techniques to prevent them in the first place. I would have to practice my soulful eyes and clasped hands and sincerely articulated, “I’m sorry,” instead of sticking out my tongue, adding a garbled, “Fine! Sorry then!” or pulling skeletons of old disputes out in a nice Powerpoint presentation to shore up my defense.

I wish it were give and take. I wish he would throw me a bone every now and then. I can’t remember — honest to goodness cannot recall — the last time he said sorry…but, then, I can’t think of a time when he started a fight about the mailman coming around too often or our parish priest making small talk with me or my obsession with 18th and 19th century British literary heroes (all of whom wore plenty of clothing by the way, including top hats and gloves!). A good friend suggested I train our Yorkie to say ”Rar-ree” for him. (I would do it, if the dog would pay attention at all.)

But love, I suppose, means never having to say you’re sorry to a hot-tempered, hyper-imaginative, jealous woman who doesn’t know how to hold her tongue. And ain’t he the lucky one?

But maybe someday, in our golden years, he’ll look back at me with gut-wrenching sincerity and pronounce softly, “I’m sorry, too, sweetheart…” and then with slight perturbation add, ”…for something…sometime….uh, I suppose.”

And with a self-satisfied smirk, I’ll gently reply, “Baby, love means never having to say you’re sorry….”

Unless you’re me.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

A day in the wife

Linda Roy7 a.m. “Your breath smells like you brushed your teeth with sadness.”

That is the first thing my 8-year-old Miles says to me upon waking.  Alright, I get that morning breath is the stuff of death warmed over, and I’ll admit that I sometimes feel like I flossed with the fear of humanity, missing a spot right around the bicuspids before rinsing with the tears of lost souls, but man, that was deep, kiddo.

His breath? Sweet as the SpongeBob bubblegum toothpaste he’s just hastily brushed with. “Why can’t grown-ups have fun toothpaste, too?” I often wonder until discovering the mojito-flavored stuff. But what happens if I’m pulled over by a cop and he gets a whiff of my minty fresh hint of alcohol breath?  “It’s breath spray, I swear, officer!” His reply would most likely be, “Nonsense! Grown-ups don’t have fun-flavored toothpaste!”

10 a.m. I’m half heartedly applying the day’s war paint and 15-year-old Max strolls in with “What’s with all the makeup? There’s so much. It looks terrible. Are you gonna be one of those old ladies who pencils her eyebrows in?” Apparently, that ship has sailed.

Excuse me?

I blame it on the bathroom lighting, but the truth is, I’m so sick of putting on makeup that I haven’t done it in months. I’d probably feel more put together, more vital, more camera ready for the store surveillance cameras at Target. But it’s a monotonous chore applying layer upon layer of moisturizer, primer, concealer and foundation. And really, do they make a concealer for the soul?

How’s that for deep?

In life’s background, I need the kind of incessant chatter that makes me feel less alone and more a very real part of the communal fabric of life.

And so…

11 a.m. The View

12 p.m. The News

1 p.m. The Chew

2 p.m. The Talk

3 p.m. The Kitchen

3:30 – 4 p.m. The Kids.  That’s not a show. They’re home.

Showtime!

4 – 6 p.m. Vacuuming through the Stepfordian motions.

6 p.m. Did I really forget to go to the grocery store again? For the third week in a row? I’ve got a half dozen chicken tenders, a bag of frozen peas and carrots, a box of spaghetti, a can of cream of chicken soup and a container of stale french fried onions. What would Betty Crocker do?

The kids file into the kitchen and the mood is full-on trepidation.

Max: What’s that?

Me: Chicken spaghetti!

Max: Chicken spaghetti? What is this — Honey Boo Boo?

Me: No! I got the recipe from The Food Network. Kids love it!

Me: I guess in terms of reality TV show recipes, it’s like…what’s that thing the Duggars make?

Kevin: Children?

Me: No, tater tot casserole.

Max: Well, this is horrible.

Miles: I’m not eating it.

Kevin: Just chew quickly and swallow it fast. You won’t be hungry anymore.

8ish: Time to swap the clichéd yoga pants for PJs and a good book. I’ve been on page 78 for three days reading the same three paragraphs before passing out. Tonight will be the night I make it to page 100, so help me God.

— Linda Roy

Linda Roy is a humorist, writer and musician living in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Her blog elleroy was here is a mix of humor and music she likes to refer to as “funny with a soundtrack.”  She’s managing partner and editor-in-chief at the political satire and pop culture website Lefty Pop and was named a 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year. Her work has appeared at The Huffington Post, Humor Outcasts, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, Aiming Low, Mamapedia, BonBon Break, Midlife Boulevard, Funny Not Slutty and The Weeklings. She is also a contributor to the upcoming humor anthology Clash of the Couples. When she’s not writing, she’s fronting the Indie/Americana band Jehova Waitresses. She’s on  TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle+ and Bloglovin’.

Handbag survival guide for men

Dan Van OssAccording to Mintel, a market researcher, U.S. handbag market sales reached $8 billion in 2011, up from $6 billion in 2006. I can only assume that this $2 billion increase is due to concurrent rise in sales of those little Kleenexes you keep in purses, but I have no report for that.

Perplexed men, including me, ask, “Why this fascination with handbags, enough to cause an increase in sales in five years equal to the Gross National Product of Greenland?” (Note to Greenland: Consider building more handbag factories). Let’s take a look.

The scientific hope for a sub-atomic handbag

The handbag section is an area of your average department store that, if designed by men, would consist of a single medium-sized cloth sack with a drawstring on it hanging from a stick, suitable for carrying any number of objects, but, of course, with an almost criminal lack of style.

As with shoes, there are about as many handbag styles as there are overly dramatized reality TV shows, and with less apparent purpose to the male eye. You can choose from Totes, Satchels, Saddle Bags, Backpacks, Hobo Bags, Shoulder Bags, Clutches and Evening Bags, Wallets, Travel Bags and Diaper Bags, not to mention Doctor’s, Drawstring, Half-moon, Messenger, Evening, Flat, Trapezoid, Baguette, Bucket and Bowling Ball bags. Some bags even have bags of their own, like a kangaroo mother’s pouch for her baby; bags that fit inside larger bags, and pocket books inside that, and wallets inside that, quite possibly on down to the atomic level, where scientists may someday try to successfully collide a Gucci electron into a Versace molecule without blowing up Bloomingdales.

Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my handbag!

But each of these bags (so we’re told) provide an important function, indecipherable to males, who could successfully use a Wal-Mart plastic bag for everything from carrying their lunch to their grandmother’s ashes and not think anything of it. These functions include, but are not limited to, carrying everything in the known universe. A woman’s handbag is like a magician’s hat; curious things appear out of it that make you wonder why they exist, such as

• A program from the spring vocal concert of your 1st grader (now in college)

• 23 kinds of stuff you put on your lips

• Coupon for 5 percent off knee waxing (expired in 2003)

• 14 kinds of gum

• Approximately 12,468 receipts

• Small pets

• More bags (see above)

Men, to understand this a little better, it may help you to compare the contents of a woman’s bag with the contents of your garage, with its shelves of car parts from that Chevy you had once but never restored, 14 rolls of ill-fitting weed whacker string, boxes of malfunctioning Christmas tree lights you curse at every November, and 34 different kinds of ancient insecticide you got from your grandfather’s garage that you never use and have probably already given you cancer. Where the analogy falls apart spectacularly is that you have no need for nine different garages, to be switched out every few months, with giraffe-skin-patterned doors and eight zippers on the walls.

The ceremonial changing of the handbags

Another function of the handbag is to tell other women that you have a new handbag. Much like the Raving Otters of Saskatchewan, who proudly grow a new tail each month for the purpose of telling the other female otters to — well, no, that doesn’t really work; maybe it’s like the magnetic crystals in homing pigeons that allow them to… um… or — well, to be honest, I’m not finding a good analogy from nature, which explains why men continue to be so confused when Purse-Changing Time occurs. Did the old one break? No. Do I need to glue that thing on it again? No. Did it spring a leak? Does it need an oil change? Is it molting? Of course not, silly man, now, fetch me my Macy’s catalog; I feel winter approaching and my lipstick needs to be protected by a new fur half-moon clutch.

So, men, we are left to ponder the intricate bond between a woman and her handbag, possibly now as clueless as when we started (the men, not the woman). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Christmas tree lights to go curse at.

— Dan Van Oss

Dan Van Oss is the curator of the Dubious Knowledge Institute, and divides his creative time between writing, music recording and performance, painting and photography. He lives in the Iowa City, Iowa, area with his wife Nancy, three beautiful stepdaughters and a Golden Retriever named Jack.

Love hurts, cake helps

Muffin Top: The MovieIn a recent survey, 96 out of 100 of women say they think a bad thought about their bodies every day, and romantic comedy “Muffin Top: A Love Story” says those other four women are lying, or in a coma.

“Muffin Top” is a hilarious, romantic antidote to our culture’s photoshop madness, and its core message is this: Be happy now, not 10 pounds from now. The movie’s fans say, “Muffin Top is not just a movie, it’s a MOVIE-MENT!”

Wait, how does a movie that isn’t even out yet have fans?

Crowdsourcing, driven by social media, is creating an audience revolution. Last fall, “Muffin Top” fans saw the movie’s trailer and came together to 1. Create a nationwide red carpet tour, 2. Create screenings in their own towns, and 3. Create Girl’s Night IN Video On Demand parties to raise money for Girl’s Inc., the national girl’s empowerment organization.

Using Kickstarter, “Muffin Top” tapped into the female audience frustration as movie theaters are flooded with white male super heroes in spandex. The campaign to create a 10-city red carpet tour with the film’s stars went viral and raised 122 percent of its goal because people loved the trailer and embraced the film’s slogan “Love Hurts, Cake Helps.”

Now Muffin Toppers are using audience empowerment platform Tugg.com to create Girl’s Night Out screenings at their local multiplexes. For more information, click here.

“Muffin Top” is about a women’s studies prof who gets dumped and goes into a body image shame spiral, eventually learning that the first step to finding true love is loving YOURSELF.  I co-wrote and directed the film, which also stars David Arquette (Scream)  Retta (Parks and Recreation)  Dot Marie Jones (Glee) Haylie Duff (Napoleon Dynamite) Gary Anthony Williams (Key and Peele) Melissa Peterman (Fargo)  Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tony Winner Hairspray)  Diedrich Bader (Napoleon Dynamite) and Maria Bamford (Arrested Development).

Kickstarter fans created a free, fan-generated party kit PDF that will be on the film’s website with recipes and ideas for Girl’s Night In viewing parties that raise money for Girl’s Inc., the national organization that teaches girls to be strong, smart and bold.

“Muffin Top” is distributed by Mar Vista Entertainment and will be on all Video On Demand platforms Nov 4, simultaneous with the Muffin Top Red Carpet of TRUE Beauty tour, the Tugg.com screenings and the Girl’s Night In VOD parties. Muffin Top’s MOVIE-MENT is an audience revolution.

View the movie’s trailer here. For more information, visit Muffintopmovie.com and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

– Cathryn Michon

Cathryn Michon is a best-selling author, stand-up comic, actress and Hollywood screenwriter, director — and the creative catalyst behind  Muffin Top: A Love Story. In 2014, she was part of the faculty at the EBWW.

Writer’s block? Get nacreous

Con ChapmanIf you want to be a writer, you’ve probably suffered from writer’s block. Consider Henry Roth, to take just one example.

When his novel Call It Sleep was published in 1934, it didn’t do well, and Roth gave up writing and worked as a firefighter and teacher, among other occupations.

Call It Sleep was re-published in the 1960s, and this time was a success; it sold over a million copies and was hailed as a masterpiece. You would think, with that kind of wind at his back, a writer might get in touch with an idle muse and crank out book number two; not Roth. He didn’t start writing again until he was 73 – a 45-year layoff! – at which point he wrote a six-novel cycle.

I don’t share the critics’ enthusiasm for Call It Sleep, but I sympathize with Roth. How would you like to be stuck at your desk for nearly half a century, tearing page after page out of your typewriter, crumpling them up and starting over?

If you don’t want to write and you don’t write, you don’t have writer’s block. You go on about your life, drinking beer, watching hockey, etc., without the nagging sense that you should be writing something. You’re not a blocked writer – you’re a beer-drinking schlub.

But if you want to write and you can’t, you have writer’s block. For those who write to live – like newspaper reporters and others who tap a keyboard all day for pay – if you have writer’s block, you lose your job, and the threat of unemployment usually means you reach deep down within yourself and start writing.

Which brings us to those who live to write. You’ve got something to say, and you can’t find enough time in the day to either write or sit in a place where, if inspiration strikes, you’ll be able to get it down on paper. Like Virginia Woolf’s “room of her own.”

If, despite having a blank computer screen in front of you, you find yourself unable to write, it may be because you’re not nacreous enough.

“Nacre” is the substance that forms the inner shell of an oyster. If an oyster gets an irritant – a rock or your brother-in-law Darrell – trapped within it, it secretes nacre around the offending object to make its existence more bearable. This reaction produces a thing of beauty – a pearl. Once enough pearls have been formed in this fashion, a necklace is made that is strung across the bodice of a little black cocktail dress.

One theory of inspiration is that artists create their aesthetic gems as a reaction to the sort of irritation that produces pearls. While this theory isn’t true in all cases – I can’t write when the two chihuahuas next door are yipping – it has enough basis in reality to be the subject of a highly regarded study by critic Edmund Wilson, The Wound and the Bow.

The central figure of that work is Philoctetes, the Greek warrior whose foot was bitten by a snake. The wound festered, his foot smelled awful and the Greeks abandoned him on an island. They later discovered that in order to win the Trojan War they needed Philoctetes’ bow and poisoned arrows. They go back and get him, and Philoctetes hides in the Trojan Horse and kills many Trojans when he gets out.

Wilson concluded that artists were like Philoctetes because their feet stink and people avoid them.

I’m kidding! Wilson drew an analogy between Philoctetes and a number of writers, such as Dickens, who use a psychic wound in their lives as the spur to their art.

So if you have writer’s block, it may be because your childhood wasn’t unhappy enough, but there’s nothing you can do about that now, is there? There are other ways you can “get nacreous,” however, and thereby jump start the creative process and become the world-famous writer you’re destined to be. Here are a few suggestions from the Famous Pained Writer’s School of Writing:

Self-torture. Lying on a bed of nails hurts, but you’ve got to suffer to sing the blues or write the Great American Novel. Available in twin, Queen, King and Alexander Woolcott sizes.

Artificial stimulants and depressants. Alcohol is a time-tested method of getting your muse to cooperate, up to the point where you get the dry heaves. Experiments during the 1960s with lysergic acid di-whatchamacalit, or “LSD,” by contrast, tended to produce works with opening lines such as the following: “It was a dark and stormy night, and as I looked out the – OH MY GOD – THE CARPET IS EATING MY TOENAILS!”

“Slumming It.” Many writers – Orwell and Steinbeck come to mind – deliberately expose themselves to substandard living conditions in an effort to experience life in its rawest form, facing hunger, bedbugs and guys named “Mitch” who say it’s your turn to buy the next bottle of high-alcohol bum wine.

Not exactly a pleasant existence, but on the other hand, it is irritating.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Falling down at the gas station

Carolyn LackeyA week ago today, I was driving south on Hwy 84 from Lubbock holding a bag of ice against my temple with my left hand and the steering wheel with my right.  From time to time, I would steady the wheel with my right knee and reach down for a handful of Corn Nuts, my favorite stay-awake-while-driving snack.  I was bound and determined to reach my destination no matter how much blood was shed.

An hour earlier

I dressed carefully and thoughtfully before hauling my luggage, hanging clothes and show-and-tell items to the car.  Yes.  This was, indeed, the perfect long-time-no-see outfit.  My Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater with a Brooks Brothers crisp white shirt worn beneath — collar popped up — looked great with my pale yellow Chico’s jeans.  The time I spent searching YouTube for an adorable way to tie my pink and yellow scarf was well spent.  The pearl necklace and studs added that “devil may care/preppy” vibe that served as the icing on my I’m-so-happy-to-see-you-and-you-haven’t-aged-a-bit-either ensemble.

I jumped in the car with a light and breezy heart.  A GIRLS’ WEEKEND awaited!  After situating my phone and tuning in to my audiobook, I was off!  But first, I made the ill-fated stop at the corner gas station.  I only needed a half a tank.  More importantly, I needed a large bag of stay-awake-while-driving Corn Nuts.  I already had a large bag of Jolly Ranchers.  Sweet.  Salty.  Sweet.  Salty.  For five hours of highway driving.

At the gas station I hopped out of my car and popped the gas nozzle into the Altima’s gas tank.  Then, I proceeded to take a giant step over the hose that separated me from the “payment method” side of the pump.  From this point, I will switch over to the conversation I had with myself within the privacy of my own mind.

Ahhhh!  The fresh morning air of spring!  Look at that sunshine!

I think that I’ll get the gas pumping and then run in to get my Corn Nuts!  I can pay for both inside!

I am an efficiency freak.  I save steps, miles and minutes using “strategery” that comes from a constant flow of situation analysis in my brain.  Some people cure cancer.  Some people save people from burning buildings.  I busy myself by plotting the most efficient route to travel from my house to Hobby Lobby via the post office.

Oh, wait.  It says here that I have to pay inside before pumping!  How will I know how much gas I’m going to need?  I’ll have to walk all the way inside, give the attendant my card, come back to the pump, start the pump, and then go back in to get my Corn Nuts and pay.  Well now, there’s got to be a better way.  Let.  Me.  See.  Oh!  I’ll pay AT the pump! Then, I’ll go in and get my Corn Nuts.  Brilliant!  I won’t have to go in-out-in-out!  Just in-out!

Turning back towards my car, I commenced to taking another giant step over the knee-high gas hose.  One foot over.  Then, it happened.  My left foot didn’t quite make the leap. The toe of my left Skecher caught on the hose that was dangling like a knee-high jump rope.  I tried to steady myself by hopping on my right foot to regain my balance.

Yikes!  I’m falling!  I NEVER fall down!  This must be what it feels like to be Mother.  She’s 87!  I’m only 56!  I’m too young to start having falls!  Quick, grab the side of the car and try to save yourself.

I began to flail my arms in the general direction of the car.

This is really happening.  I’m hopping and flailing and STILL FALLING!  This is so embarrassing!  I wonder who’s driving by right now.  Dang this flashy Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater!  I’m sure that every woman driving by is admiring my sweater and laughing at my hopping and flailing.  WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!  I’m going down! OOOOOOH NOOOOOO!

I toppled to the pavement landing first on my left knee, then on my left arm and finally came to rest by bonking my head on the gas pump cement platform.

Oh no!  Oh no!  I hit my head!  Am I seeing double?  (Took a quick glance at the bottom of my car.) Oh, good!  There’s just one of everything.  Quick, get up!  Get up!!  People are watching!  OK.  Now, I’m standing.  Nothing seems to be broken.  Oh, man!  I got my pale yellow Chico’s jeans all dirty.  I wonder how my head looks.  I wonder if there’s a knot (felt around on my forehead).Feels OK, but oh, no!  My hand is covered with blood!  Quick get in the car!  Get in the car!  Don’t cause a time-wasting ruckus!  Grab a Kleenex to stop the bleeding!

I sat in the car assessing the situation as tears began to stream down my face.

I’ve looked forward to this Girls’ Weekend for so long!  Now, I can’t go!  I’m probably going to need stitches.  I’m going to need stitches AND a CT scan.  If the attendant sees me sitting here with blood running down my face, he’s going to have to make me fill out some corporate documents explaining how I’m not tall enough to leap over a knee-high gas hose. What if he’s duty-bound to call 911?

I quickly started the car and eased towards home holding a Kleenex against the gash on my forehead.

Should I drive straight to the ER?  I may be bleeding internally!!  Nah!  I’d have to wait for hours.  I wonder if my doctor does stitches in his office.  Calm down, Carolyn!!  Just go home and survey the damage.

I began to cry in earnest.  My ugly cry.  My woe-is-me cry.  I had left the house not 10 minutes before heading out of town towards a fun-filled weekend.  Now I was pulling back into my garage and closing the door quickly so that no neighbor would see my war wounds.

Once inside, I studied the gash on my forehead with a magnifying mirror and  then glanced up at the bathroom mirror and saw that my crisp, white collar was covered with blood.  Oh, no!  There were drops of blood on my Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater!  My tears flowed faster, and I began to hiccup.  I did, however, manage to stop the bleeding.  Then, I looked down and saw that there was a patch of blood seeping through the knee of my jeans.  I began to wail.

I’m covered in blood, AND my I’m-so-happy-to-see-you-and-you-haven’t-aged-a-bit-either ensemble had been compromised!  My absolute most darling casual clothes are hanging in the car!

I had outfits for the two days we were to spend in Granberry accompanied by some contingency clothing.  I couldn’t dip into those clothes.  That would have totally disrupted my weekend apparel plan.  I hurried into my closet and came up with a suitable Plan B. Thirty minutes later, I had dried my tears, blown my nose, fixed my makeup and washed the blood out of my hair.

Back on the road, I checked my forehead in the vanity mirror on the visor of my car.  My eyes sprung open wide with terror.  The knot that had formed on my temple had shrunk. But, the veins in my forehead were bulging out blue and ropy like the top of an old woman’s hand.

I’m having a stroke!  There’s a clot!!  I’m going to black out and swerve into oncoming traffic!

I pulled off of the road and called one of my besties who also happens to be my doctor’s wife.  She talked me through a roadside ”neuro exam,” which greatly resembles a roadside sobriety test.  I only thought that my Steinmart Lily Pulitzer Look Alike sweater called attention to my plight.  No, standing on one foot with my eyes closed and my arms held out from my sides all alone on Hwy 84. THAT will get passersby looking.  With Lisa on speaker phone, it totally looked like I was also having a nice chat with myself.

Soon, sweet Lisa helped me calm down.  ”You sound pretty lucid, and you’re standing on one foot OK.  Put some ice on it.  I’ll bet you’ll be fine.”

So, I stopped at the next convenience store and explained to the clerk that I had fallen down at a gas station just a while ago and I needed some ice for my head.  Without a word, she gathered up a plastic sack, held it under the ice dispenser on the coke machine until it had just enough ice in it and handed the sack back to me. “Have a good day,”  she said. “I’m trying. I’m really, really trying,” I said.

The weekend was a blast!  Sorority sisters with fun stories, shopping, games and sweet memories.  They made me forget all about the episode that I now refer to as “Falling Down at the Gas Station.”  I still haven’t told my mom about my fall. She would definitely call 911 on my behalf. With her sweet little voice she would remind me of the time that she fell down, bumped her head and had to have brain surgery. Apparently, she did not pass the “roadside neuro exam.”

– Carolyn Lackey

Carolyn Lackey is a homemaker in Lubbock, Texas.  She and her husband, Alan, raised three  healthy, normal, imperfect, rowdy sons.  Before the boys came along, Carolyn was an elementary school teacher.  As a stay-at-home mom, she taught parenting classes and did a bit of humorous keynote speaking.  Years ago in an effort to write a non-boring, non-braggadocios Christmas letter, she began to simply share funny stories about raising sons.  When her friends clamored for more family humor, Carolyn’s blog, Finding the Funny, was born.

They grow up so fast

Rachel BarlowEarly last spring a little boy led his family out of their cocoon/cave/house on a walk up a forest-flanked road.

He was seven then. He’s seven now, but the creature that twirled and danced up a road glittering with magic spring sunlight hitting millions of melted droplets on leaves and twigs is no longer with us. That person found magic swords everywhere we looked. He found quests to complete and saved his mom and dad from their winter doldrums.

On the way back, the boy and his family noticed a mommy and a daddy turkey crossing the road (They knew it had to be a mommy and daddy because they all heard the mom ask the dad if the new spring feathers made her look fat).  The boy and his family were so excited about seeing another family emerging from their cocoon – a sure sign that spring was on the way – that they missed a golden opportunity to ask them why poultry crosses the road.

Then the turkeys disappeared into the forest and the family continued on, not realizing that the turkeys were omens. Or at least a signal that the family had reached the beginning of the end of the beginning or possibly the beginning of a new beginning. Either way, it was an auspicious occasion and the human family completely missed it.

That, not spring and not time, is when the boy – the little magic man – began to change.

Blog-turkeys-550x260A few weeks later as the family was coming home the turkey family – an actual family of a mom and dad and quite a few babies – crossed the road.  After a sitting silently trying to think of a way to explain to the boy why human mommies couldn’t lay that many eggs at one time, the human mommy waited for turkeys to cross the road for that thing they just had to and for the boy to go back to torturing his older brother so she could keep on driving.

All summer the human family kept bumping into the turkey family. They met each other on the road and saw each other across the garden.  Somehow they never got around to saying hello because the turkey family was secretly carrying out a plot to evolve the seven-year-old boy.

Here’s the proof.  Each time the human family saw the turkey family, the boy was forced to ask new questions, and with each question it would have been clear to the un-overscheduled observer that he was changing.

In May:  “How do the turkeys potty train their kids?”

In June: “Where do they sleep at night?”

In July: “Why isn’t turkey season in November? (These are the hard questions a parent just can’t answer.)

In August: “Why do the turkeys always have to cross road when I need to go to the bathroom?”

And finally in September: “Can I have some money?”

He was definitely changing, and the human mom blamed the turkeys. The boy was evolving so quickly she wasn’t even sure if he’d want a theme birthday party this year.

Then one day she looked up from her desk and out the window towards the garden.  The turkey family was crossing the driveway, waving at or taunting the family dog who was skipping back and forth in front of the window as if she had to go to the bathroom, and the mom realized that the turkeys had changed even more than the boy had in the last few months.

They weren’t just a family. They looked like a flock.  They were a flipping flock of turkeys heading for her garden.

Fortunately, the mommy turkey still had a better handle on her overgrown offspring than the human mom had on hers because they politely heeded her instructions to only eat the weeds and not ruin their dinner before they got into the main part of the forest.

The human mom watched the flock disappear, one turkey at a time, into the decorative weeds she called shrubs that grew at the edge of the woods. Then she noticed that the seven-year-old boy had sidled up next to her and wormed her arm around his shoulders in an appropriated hug.

“Wow,” he said. “They grow up so fast.”

The human mommy wasn’t sure if her eyes were suddenly moist from the smell of the boy’s socks or some other illness, but the little boy spoke quickly enough to forestall any deeper contemplation.

“Mommy,” he said using the term that every child uses when they’re looking for something. “Mommy, can I invite my friends on the bus to my birthday party, too? I already said nine of them could come with the kids in my class.”

But this isn’t just a story about turkeys or kids.  t’s a story about the meaning of all life. Or at least a little part of it.

The upshot is that you shouldn’t get down wondering if your seven-year-old is getting too old for another theme birthday because that flock of turkeys is in the yard looking for the party and wondering if, even if it’s not the boy’s birthday, should we celebrate something anyway?

So, there you have it. Life is like a flock of turkeys. You never know when they’re gonna cross your road and there’s nothing you can do about it except put it in neutral and enjoy the chance for a breather.

They do grow up so fast, after all.

– Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her way) to sanity.”

Selective memories

Suzanne Braun Levine(This piece by Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. magazine, first appeared in the Huffington Post on Oct. 7, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

When we were cleaning out my mother’s home of 60 years, I found an envelope in the handwriting of my father who had died 30 years earlier. It said, “to be opened in case of my death abroad.” He traveled a lot and alone, so I could understand his concern that his wishes under those circumstances be known. The letter is very business-like, he lists bank accounts, insurance, stocks, practical things like that; and he makes clear that he wants to be cremated in whatever country he died.

Then he adds one last request, “forget me fast.”

I think what he meant — his English was never very good — was, “don’t grieve and mourn and make a fuss; get on with your lives.” But the message was chilling, as if he wanted us to act as if he had never lived.

I think of “the afterlife” as the place where memories of those who touched our lives live on. Nothing is more precious or sacred.

m-OLDER-WOMAN-LOOKING-AT-OLD-PHOTOS-460x345Recently, I have been immersed in memories of people and times long past, as I packed up to move from the apartment where we had lived for 18 years and raised our children. I had to go through our “stuff” including boxes and boxes marked simply “memories,” a couple of which hadn’t been untaped since our last move. A lot of it had to go.

The process gave me an intense trip down memory lane, guided by what I had thought worth saving …. how well I still remembered why …. and countless photographs of the people and events that had been highlights of my life. With each one I had to ask myself about which of those “memories” I wanted to take with me into the future.

There were birthday cards, letters, children’s drawings, every report card I ever received, and all those photographs. (I guess I am from the last generation that will have boxes, as opposed to digital files, of them). What to toss?

One category quickly emerged: the who-what-where the hell is that? In some cases I tried really hard to activate the glimmer of recognition the photo or artifact ignited and had to settle for the sad fact that I never would.

Another category was: what can I save for my children to know about our family history, my life and their own childhoods. I had to smile as I designated for safe-keeping every single one of their baby teeth that I had stashed away, well aware that they both thought that was “gross.” What I was trying to pass on, I realized, was the memory of the fact that I was the kind of mom who saved baby teeth.

The biggest revelation came as I entered the next round of decisions: triaging the meaningful memories.

I realized that some of them were items that only I would be able to identify, and that I knew I would never have occasion to look at again. So why keep them? Intimations of mortality are supposed to be sad, but I found myself strangely exhilarated by all this. First of all, shedding baggage, even good baggage, is freeing; it lightens the load.

Even more unexpected was the delight I felt for the momentary visit with the letter, snapshot, or home-made ashtray on its way to the discard pile. As I held it in my hand, I often found myself smiling and sometimes sighing before saying goodbye. That moment was enough. A gift.

I am grateful for the moment of recollection, but also grateful to be moving on.

Each decision to save or toss helped me define What Matters, really matters, to me, and what memories define me. Each decision also made me aware of the need to tend to the memories we create in the lives of people who cross our paths. Ultimately those, not my boxes of teeth and photos, are our legacy.

– Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your HealthIn 2014, she served on the EBWW faculty.

Reflections of Erma