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Post-Labor Day e-mail inbox cleanup

Con ChapmanThe week after Labor Day is traditionally considered “America Gets Back to Work Week!” by office managers and other spoilsports. Efficiency experts say the best way to “streamline” your work is to cut down on distractions, but many people return from vacation to find their email inboxes “jam-packed” with hundreds of distracting messages! Here’s how you can “cut through the clutter” of accumulated e-mails and annoying “random” quotation marks:

Set a cut-off date, then delete earlier messages: Some people use very recent cut-off dates (“Hi, Jen, I see you’re back from vacation!”) while others take the safe course and choose a date old enough to recapture all important messages (“We will be installing something called ‘E-mail’ over the weekend. How you are getting this message is beyond me.”) Once you’ve picked your date, stick to it and don’t listen to whining chain-letter sponsors who claim you will lose a finger in a lawn-mower accident if you don’t pass on their emails! Nobody cuts grass after Labor Day!

Delete all messages from people named “Steve” and “Michelle”: This may seem harsh, but you have to draw the line somewhere. If you respond to a message from one “Michelle,” pretty soon your whole first day back is shot listening to people complain about their shoes, their frost jobs and their pedicures. Let’s face it – Stevieness and Michellability are two of the greatest drags on productivity in the American workplace.  The U.S. economy didn’t emerge from the recession of 2002 until unemployment among Steves and Michelles hit double digits.

HR never has anything important to say: Let’s face it – people in Human Resources who send around mass emails are basically frustrated TV weather, people, always yammering on about fire drills, HMO “open enrollment” periods and other worthless trivia.Who died and left them boss? Delete all emails from H.R. Director Sue Ellen and her assistant Janie – if you need to know how many personal days you have left this year, ask Michelle in the copy center.

If it’s from “Corporate HQ,” it’s not important to you: What’s the point of working at a faceless corporation if you can’t be faceless? Do these people think just because they pay you money and give you health insurance they can run your life? Don’t let them! Search for “corporate policy,” “accounting” and “finance” in the subject line, then hit that “Delete” button ’til your finger screams.

Charity begins at home and ends at the office: Who knew that little Tiffany Marie’s U-12 softball team was going to Disney World?  Who cares? And how about those chocolate raisin bars Devin is selling so his junior high drum and bugle corps can go to the national finals? If your software doesn’t have a “block sender” function for these parents, send a “Reply to All” response to fund-raising emails that says you’ve adopted a sub-Saharan goatherd who helps you keep the affluent lifestyle of over-scheduled suburban brats in perspective.

Messages from “The Something-or-Other” don’t mean jack. Scroll down to the “t’s” in your in-box to find messages from phony-baloney organizations such as The Institute for Professional and Career Advancement and The Chamber’s List of Outstanding Assistant Compliance Officers, hold down the “shift” key and delete those suckers. Oh, wait – save any messages from “The Sugar Shack” with “Half-price Bucket o’ Chicken Wings Night!” in the subject line.

– Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works includeThe Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). He is the author of 30 plays, 10 of which are published. His articles and humor have appeared in national magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine and Salon.com, and he’s a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald.

A day in the life of a spider spazing freak

Colleen Rankin-WheelerThere are few things in this life that I am sure of and know to be the absolute truth.

And since the list of what I DON’T know is so much greater than what I do know, that’s where I shall start.

First, what I do know. I know I don’t like spiders.

Second, I am a spaz.

When you combine these two winning attributes, you wind up with ME. A spider spazing freak! I know that I am not alone with this affliction because it has a name. Aracanaphobia. A word that, when shortened, can be used in such really cool sentences like, “Hand me my Raid please; this Spider is an aracnaphob’s worst nightmare!”

It’s not that I am saying spiders are bad. Never think it. It’s just that spiders and I don’t get along. They don’t like my music, I don’t like their webs, they spew silk, I spray Raid. It just gets ugly.  Over the course of my life I have encountered many spiders. Many of these encounters, unfortunately for me, have taken place in public places, such as the mall, at work or my yard while the neighbors watched.

Over the years I have written down, in detail, what I have come to call ” Spider Spazing Techniques.” You see, every spider is different. Therefore, every spaz is different, and you will find they take on a story all their own. Such is the case of the story, “A lovely spring day.”

It’s a lovely spring day. The sun is bright, the breeze is warm, birds are chirping, flowers are blooming. It’s a time for planting, gardening, BBQ with friends. All of nature is awake. And unfortunately for the woman writing this story, so are the spiders!

In my lifetime I have seen some spiders. Big ones, little ones, black ones, brown ones and the occasional white one. Today, however, I saw the King. No, NOT Elvis. The King of all spiders. A spider that could scare a pit bull off a meat wagon. If there were a spider underworld, HE would be “Scarface.”

I was planting flowers next to the house when out of the corner of my eye I saw a large dark mass moving slowly not more than 10 inches from my head. I turned and came face to face with HIM!  Here is where the different forms of  “spider spazing” happens. First, just for a moment, I went into “Spider Shock Syndrome.” It’s a little like “Toxic Shock Syndrome” without that time of the month. I felt feverish, light-headed and nauseated. Then a touch of the ” Holy S@#T” spaz kicked in. I sucked in mass quantities of air, fell backwards and a very obscene word flew out of my mouth.

This is when the “Crab Crawl spaz” took full effect. I started crab crawling backwards, never taking my eyes off of “IT.” All the while a steady stream of obscenities was flowing out of my mouth, bringing ME  to the attention of my neighbor and his  children. One big head and three little heads stood there watching as I continued to crab crawl across the yard spewing obscenities!

With my heart pounding, and the neighbors children traumatized, I declared YARD WORK FINISHED! As for the rest of this lovely spring day, I will be in the house watching “I Love Lucy,” and that is where THIS redhead plans on staying. (I will be heading to Home Depot for an assortment of pesticides tomorrow.)

— Colleen Rankin-Wheeler

Colleen Rankin-Wheeler is a licensed cosmetologist and a writer of humorous shorts. She is married to her high school sweetheart, David Wheeler, and is the mother of two sons, Dimitri and Christopher, both of whom she has lovingly passed along a generous dose of aracanaphobia. She was born in Crescent City, Calif.

So here’s the thing about walking…

Darla RichterIf you ever happen to be strolling down a walking path in Maine and come across a limping, weeping, zombie Darth Vader, don’t be alarmed. It’s just me.

It all started a few years ago when my podiatrist pointed to the tiny stress fracture on my X-ray and said, “See this? When your foot comes down on the pavement, it cracks, just like a pretzel.”

“Okay. I guess that’s not good?” I asked.

“No.”

“But I was only walking.”

“Yeah.”

“So what you’re saying is…I can’t walk anymore?”

“Oh, no. You can walk. But…well, pretend my fingers are your toes,” she pressed her hand onto the table and made a loud cracking noise.

I blinked.

“Tell you what,” she peered over her glasses at me. “Just keep walking using this orthotic insert and we’ll see what happens.”

“What will happen?”

“Oh, nothing, if it doesn’t work, we’ll just cut open your ankle here…” she tapped her finger on my ankle and made a zipping noise, “…yank your tendon up…”  she blew a raspberry, “insert it through the opening in your bones here…”  she made a series of popping noises, “and wrap it around there so it’s tighter and more stable,” she clicked her tongue. “No biggie!”

So my loose tendon and I went for a long walk to mull over the doc’s advice.

I walk five days a week for about 30 minutes. Funny thing about walking, I’ve been doing it all my life. Unfortunately, I’ve been cursed with one leg that’s a good few inches shorter than the other. When people ask me how tall I am, I tell them it depends on which leg I’m leaning on: 5′ 5″ on my right, 5′ 3″ on my left.

But I’m not too keen on the ankle-cutting thing, even with the cool sound effects. So I decided to take my chances, maybe stand mostly on my right foot. At least then I’d be taller and in less pain. Win-win.

So my orthopedic insert and I went for another long walk today. The local bike path is a busy place, lots of runners, joggers, bikers, sloggers.

I was the slogger.

Aside from the limping, I also tend to breathe heavily when I exercise. As I slogged beside a huge field of dandelions, the only sounds I heard were the sweet chirps of chickadees mixed with my ear-rattling breathing. Very unnerving. I imagined I was on a mission to destroy the Death Star, and Darth Vader was chasing after me in hot pursuit. Helped quickened my step, anyway.

And damn it all, it was also a breezy, sunny day. A blazing sun to someone with pale blue eyes is akin to having lasers beamed directly into the retinas. So as I walked, I cried, tears spilling down my cheeks. I was in a great mood, honest. In spite of my exercising.

I came upon my first fellow walker. She was a tiny dot in the distance, winding her way up the path toward me.  As we approached each other,  I tried in vain to wipe my Tammy Faye Bakker tears away and quiet my breathing. And the zombie dragging of my bad pretzel-foot only got worse.

So here’s the thing about walking: I hate when I pass someone on a path. The pressure of acceptable social interaction is too much.  I panic and questions flood my oxygen-deprived mind: How do I not appear crazy? Why, oh why didn’t I use waterproof mascara that day? What should I say or do?

1) “Hi!”

2) “Hey!”

3) “Nice day, huh?”

4) “So you too, huh? Exercise! Pfft! Ever have the sudden urge to go lie down in that field over there and pass out from the pain? No? Just me?”

5) Simply nod and grin through tears.

6) Do nothing, no eye contact, pretend to stare intently at a distant tree.

I should have gone with the last option.

As the silent power-walker woman and I approached each other, the only sounds were my Darth Vader breathing and the gentle slapping of my loose tendon. And those damned chirpy, happy birds mocking me in my time of need.

We made brief eye contact and she nodded, so I made the first move.

“Good!” I blurted while limping and wiping away tears, “Morning! Good morning!” I repeated with a ghastly gasp as we passed each other.  “Nice….” my voice trailed off as I took a nasty step to the side, my ankle twisting.  Searing pain shot up from my cursed pretzel-bones. “Ah! Gah!” I seethed, wincing at the Power Walker, my face twisted into a grotesque mascara-coated mask of agony.

My foot decided that was a good time to break free from my tendon and roll violently to the side, so I let out a strained cry of “Oof! Ahhhhh! Good God!” and stumbled off the path. “I’m okay, I’m fine, just fine,”  I continued to babble to myself to further add to my looking like a complete lunatic.

By then it was too late, our precious moment of Walker Solidarity over, culminating in the woman giving me nothing more than a few startled glares in return as she hurried on her way.

I suppose I was lucky she didn’t have mace.

Maybe it’s time to get that tendon tied up in a pretty little bow after all.

But only if the surgeon does those cool sound effects.

— Darla Richter

Darla Richter is a writer, blogger and mother of two. She lives in the deep woods of Maine, loves to laugh uproariously, and makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich. She’s middle aged and her eyesight is failing at an alarming rate. Her ridiculously popular blog She’s a Maineiac is a WordPress Featured Family Blog and was Freshly Pressed five times. She also won third place in a baton competition in the fourth grade. Please visit her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

I was perfectly ok with turning 40

Marie MillardI was perfectly ok with turning 40. It happened last fall, and I didn’t need to dye my hair and try to look 24. I didn’t need to wear yoga pants and use text lingo out loud. I didn’t need to be the cool mom or know who the people on the front of tabloids were. Maybe I was a little proud of my lack of vanity. Maybe I needed to be tested. But could anyone have passed this vanity test?

I pulled into the parking lot of my beloved local grocery store and exclaimed “SMH, it’s senior discount day. I’ll never find a parking space.” It wasn’t easy, and more than one senior stole my space, but I persevered. In the checkout line, and wearing my blue sweatshirt and baseball cap, I chatted with the lady in front of me about whether or not the impulse-buy beef jerky was chocolate covered. “Well, there’s chocolate-covered bacon now, so you never know,” I said wisely.

She paid, and then it was my turn. And remember, I was perfectly ok with turning 40. I was ok with the fact that when “American Idol” started, I was already too old to audition. I was ok with the fact that I’ve probably missed my chance to be in the Olympics.

But here’s what I was not ok with.

The cashier, a woman about my age with a apologetic expression, said, “I’m sorry, I’m new – do you…qualify for the senior discount?”

It turns out I do have a teensy bit of vanity. While I simply said, “No I do not,” I thought, “Does being new make you incapable of guessing someone’s age within 15 years? Don’t you think I would have asked for my discount if I wanted it? Was my banter about the chocolate-covered bacon so full of elderly wisdom that you ignored my smooth skin and the ends of my hair which aren’t gray yet?”

And then I left, and I thought, “I should have said yes and gotten the 10 percent discount.” But I wasn’t old enough to be wise enough to do that. And then I got home and checked the store’s web site to make sure that the definition of a senior citizen was indeed 55. No, I was not old and wise enough to not do that.

It was 60.

And then I thought, “My husband’s going to leave me. I have one foot in the grave. I’m really not going to the Olympics, am I? Maybe I should have applied for the job of the grandma who advertises for Kozy Shack Pudding.”

So, a tip for cashiers everywhere. Let people ask you for the senior discount. Because it’s hard enough getting over being your real age.

— Marie Millard

Marie Millard taught elementary and junior high band for 10 years before turning, in desperation, to humor writing. One would think she would have plenty of material about trombone spit and shrieking clarinets, but it’s still too soon. She has published a children’s book, When I Grow Up, and is soon to publish a YA novel, Anaheim Tales, both under the name M.L. Millard.

Quoth the squirrel, nevermore

Samantha RodmanOnce upon a naptime dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious website filled with mommy lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my front door.
“Tis the UPS guy,” I muttered, tapping at my front door —
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
As my husband was traveling for work, my sanity was in pieces on the floor.
But a sitter was coming soon, giving me a break in the afternoon
And the minute she appeared I planned to run right out my door
A rare and radiant sitter whom the angels name Lenore —
Nameless here for evermore.

And the polyester sad uncertain rustling of each Target curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“Tis the UPS guy entreating entrance at my front door —
Or possibly the FedEx guy entreating entrance at my front door;
Amazon and nothing more,”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam,” truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my front door,
Did you not see the baby asleep sign?’ — here I opened wide the door;
My overgrown shrubs, and nothing more.

Into those bushes deep, long I stood there half asleep,
Hallucinating due to fatigue?  It had certainly happened before;
Nobody seemed to be around, but I heard from near the ground
Some rustling and then suddenly the whispered word, “Lenore!”
“What?” I whispered, and again the voice murmured the word, “Lenore!”
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the house turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely what I hear is the Amazon box must be here
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;
Tis UPS and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the window, and then, with his paws akimbo,
In there stepped a stately squirrel of the normal furry type
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched beside my Diaper Genie
Perched upon a sleeve of diapers just beside my Diaper Genie
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this squirrel began beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the fuzzy face it bore,
“Though you are quite brown and furry,” I said, “art sure don’t seem in a hurry
Like the usual squirrels that are endearing —
Can you tell me why you’re leering?”
Quoth the squirrel, “Nevermore.”

I marveled but wasn’t fazed, as I hadn’t slept in days
And nothing fazes the mother of three children under four.
But I could not help but noting that it’s rare to get a rodent
Sitting on the Diaper Genie in the playroom on the floor —
Just sitting there and chilling by the toy pile on the floor,
And saying “Nevermore.”

But the squirrel sitting lonely on the changing table, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further did he share — and I started to get scared —
And I scarcely more than muttered “Soon the sitter will be here
At 4 o’clock she will come so I don’t lose my mind as I fear.”
Then the squirrel said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it’s stating has nothing to do with how I’m waiting
For the sitter who promised she would soon be arriving at my door
The texts were clear as a bell and she’ll be coming to my door
She seemed reliable to the core!”
The squirrel murmured, “Nevermore.”

“Now, squirrel,” I entreated, “The sitter’s sorely needed
Because I have to get my hair done and feel like a person once more
Although my children are adorable, their behavior is deplorable
And this sitter seemed more reliable than the other ones of yore.”
Still, the squirrel said, “Nevermore.”

Then I started to getting panicky and the squirrel laughed manically
And his fiery eyes now burned into my lactating bosom’s core;
And I sat there getting madder hearing my children’s pitter patter
Oh for God’s sake they had awoken. Where was the sitter?  Was she joking?
The squirrel whispered, “Nevermore.”

Then, methought, the air grew chilly; I tried to think, “I’m being silly!”
How could this squirrel know if the sitter wouldn’t show up anymore?’
“Wretch,” I cried, “you know so little! This is not some kind of riddle
We agreed she was going to show up on Wednesday just a little after four!
I really felt I trusted this babysitter named Lenore!”
Quoth the squirrel, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of doom!  Why are you spouting all this gloom?
What do you mean in telling me she’s going to no-show at four?
Desolate yet trying my best, I have kept it together with no rest
And now I was delighted just to go and get highlighted
Is there — is there a shot she will show up? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the squirrel, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of horror! — tell me, what about tomorrow —
By that Heaven that bends above us — by the naptime we all adore —
Will she leave a message and cry and say that her car battery had died
And then I can reschedule with this sitter whom the angels name Lenore —
With this CPR certified sitter, whom the angels name Lenore?”
Quoth the squirrel, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, demon!” I shrieked upstarting —
“Get thee back into the unmowed grass and trees outside my home!
Leave no rabies as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — just scurry out my door!
Stop thy paws from ripping out my heart, and scurry out my door!”
Quoth the squirrel, “Nevermore.”

And the squirrel, never moving, still is sitting, still is grooving
On the stupid Diaper Genie just inside my own front door;
And the sitter never came, never texted, really lame
And my roots stayed just as gray as heathered clouds upon the moor
Now my children have a pet, and I’m not dead from exhaustion yet,
But not getting a backup sitter?
Nevermore!

— Dr. Samantha Rodman

Dr. Samantha Rodman is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Maryland and a happily married mom of three kids under 5.  She blogs on Dr. Psych Mom and has been featured in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. Like her on Facebook, and tweet to her @DrPsychMom.

The way summer camp should be

Head shot_potato headWe’ve gotten summer camp all wrong. We are sending the wrong people. Namely, kids. I discovered this years ago when I had my first encounter with summer camp, or more accurately, when I first had to research camps for my kids after my town’s camp failed to be a viable option any longer (they tended to lose kids much like the clothes dryer loses socks — you know, you put both in, but you only get one out).

Admittedly, my camp intelligence was fairly non-existent, but my research that day opened my eyes to the vast, seemingly endless array of recreational activities designed specifically to ensure a spectacular summer experience for those age 5 through 18. There was, quite possibly, a camp for every single activity on earth.

It was then I had the epiphany. Why in God’s name are we sending kids to camp?

If anyone needs a camp, it would be adults. I mean how stressful can life be for a kid? They don’t work. They don’t cook. They don’t do laundry. Or go food shopping. Or even pick their clothes up off the floor. They don’t have a mortgage to pay. They don’t plan for the future. And, most importantly, they don’t have kids. What on earth do they need to get away from?

Among the varied and almost limitless camp options unearthed by my research were a knitting camp, a yoga camp, a tech and gaming camp, a few fashion camps, several theater camps, tons of art and sports camps, and a gifted and talented camp. Then there was a camp to learn how to shape hot molten glass; a rock-and-roll camp training in the important life skills of stage performance; a drumming circle camp, where one could learn “earth-based beats” and chant a “root mantra;” a Tae Kwon Do camp; and a zoo camp. I think that last one is just a way for the zoo to get free pooper scoopers. Well, actually, you have to pay to be a pooper scooper.

But that’s not all. I discovered a Magic for Muggles camp. And, I even found a circus camp, training youngsters in the fine art of juggling, plate spinning and slapstick, aimed at those parents who aspire for their children to grow up to be circus clowns.

I considered submitting an application to one of the camps I came across. The volleyball camp. But it was only offered for 5th through 8th grade girls, and while I look young for my age, I thought the counselors might catch on. I was quite distraught over the situation since my volleyball class adjourned for the summer, and no volleyball courses are offered for adult women with the skill set of 5th to 8th grade girls. Which seemed a little unfair if you ask me. It appeared to be a blatant case of age discrimination.

The one camp that really caught my attention, though, was the Surf and Turf Adventure Camp. This one wasn’t so much a camp as a land-based cruise ship. It boasted a fun-fueled, action-packed summer of rafting, hiking, tubing, biking, canoeing, spelunking and surfing. I’m pretty sure you also got to take a zip-line tour through a tropical jungle somewhere in the continental United States. And, by you, I mean your kid.

And that’s what I’m talking about. Do you think I’m going to shell out $500 a week for my kids to go have all the experiences want to have?

And, that doesn’t even touch upon all the sleep-away camps we’re missing out on.

— Stacey

Stacey is the mastermind behind the humor blog, One Funny Motha, a site she sees as a refuge for rational people. Predicated on the belief that parenting is not nor ever should be an extreme sport, One Funny Motha provides incisive cultural commentary, also known as common sense. Her work has appeared on such sites as The Huffington Post, BlogHer, Scary Mommy and Mamalode, and in 2014 she was named one of the Top 10 Funny Parent Bloggers of the Year by Voice Boks. Perhaps most importantly, she is the proud founder of the Detached Parenting Movement, a child-rearing model she single handedly developed without any guidance or advanced degrees in child psychology. The woman’s a genius. Find her running her mouth on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and, of course, her blog.

 

The drop-off

Tracy BucknerDuring a recent trip, I sent and received the following texts from friends: “It takes time to get over it,” “There is nothing worse,” “You will have good times and then you will be a crying mess again.”

At the same time, my daughter sat in the back seat of our car texting her friends and giggling. Later, she answered her phone and I heard her say, “Yeah, both my parents are crying, too.”

Thankfully this is nothing as serious as death, divorce or cancer, but rather the yearly trek that some of us make taking our kids to college. The drop-off.

If one more person tells me “I’ll be fine,” I think I will throw up. Of course I will be fine and I’m hopeful I will love my new life, but I’m not quite ready to be on the road to recovery just yet. I’m thinking of starting a support group like AA for those of us recovering from the drop-off.

We could call ourselves DOA — Drop-Off Anonymous. We no longer would have to tear up alone in the car, in the bathroom, making a bed, hiding our tears behind sunglasses, ashamed and alone. We could all do it together — once a week for as long as it took to get a grip. We would recognize and deal with the stages of recovery. We could have sponsors who are fully recovered and would give us hope.

My youngest left last Thursday for college, and I am no longer a sack of drippy emotions. For the last three weeks, most of my friends also have been dropping their kids off at various colleges, and so we are all in different stages of recovery. We’re like emotional cheerleaders for each other. “Hang in there!” “As long as they’re happy, you can be happy!”  Nobody really expects to feel happy, but just knowing that we are all being ridiculous (You’re probably thinking “pathetic”) is helpful.

Those of us who have been through the college drop-off before are familiar with the first stage: denial.  We knew what the “first timers” were in for and tried to warn them. But like children with no point of reference, they had no idea and happily went on their way buying bedding, microwaves, fans and USB ports. The denial stage made them blissfully unaware of what this spike on their VISA bill really meant. Those of us all too familiar with this stage started with the tears weeks in advance of the actual drop-off. We wistfully looked at moms walking their young children to school and wondered, “Where did all the time go?”

The depression phase started the last two weeks in August when were all walking around in different stages of duress. Everywhere I went I saw women who were usually rushing through Shop Rite in yoga pants, sweaty from their most recent workout of Guns, Buns and ABs clutching a phone in one hand and a food list in the other, instead, acting sort of weepy and slowly ambling down the aisles.

We were like zombies anxiously awaiting THE DATE as it loomed ever closer. “When is your date?” I would ask. “Aug. 15, Aug. 21, Aug. 30, they would mumble.  You would think we were sending our kids off to slaughter. Get a grip, I kept telling myself, your new life awaits! My mother said to me, “Get over it Tracy, you will cry for a week and then you will be fine.” Gee thanks, mom.

It’s been two weeks since the drop-off, and I’m in the transition phase of my recovery. During this phase the worst is over. You are calmer and go most of the day without tearing up. It helps that I hear from my kids regularly. Texts will come in at 3 in the morning so my sleep is interrupted but I force myself to remember that I love and miss them so much that I don’t mind searching for my glasses, turning on a light,  picking up the phone to read, “Hey.” “Hey? How do you answer a “hey?” From this profound and well-written message, I can see that they are up at 3 in the morning, and I tell myself the university library is open 24 hours so I know they are studying. I get pictures of food so I know they are eating, pictures of school mascots and 60,000 of their friends so I know they are getting social interaction. No pictures or texts of getting an education, but I don’t want to dampen their mood.

The side effects are receding, and I believe I am into the acceptance phase of my recovery.  I am getting used to putting myself first and there is considerably less laundry. I find joy in the fact that my daughter can no longer use the laundry basket as a drawer. The laundry fairy has been freed.  It makes me smile that my son, a college senior, has to get up before noon and that it will occur to him (on his own, and not by a nagging parent) that if he wants to stay up till 3 in the morning, it may be difficult to function. I practically beam to think that one of the stops in his day is finding time to go grocery shopping. And then, guess what? Dinner just doesn’t appear every night at 6:30! Do I sound giddy? You bet.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I do miss them…every day.  I was never one of those mothers who cheered when the bus came in early September to pick my kids up for their first day of school. But instead of having until 2:30 p.m. to do anything for me only, I have until Thanksgiving. I’m doing things I have thought about doing for years.  I’m taking a writing course, I’m volunteering, and I’m only doing the food shopping once a week! But the best thing about being home alone is the fact that my husband and I no longer say to ourselves, “Can we do this?”  Because, YES WE CAN!  We saw the Kenny Chesney concert at MetLife Stadium, flew to Vegas for a long weekend and have lots more planned on our calendar. We don’t have to worry about who’s home or who may need us. As a matter of fact, upon getting home at 3 in the morning I did something I’ve always wanted to do. I texted my kids, “Hey!”

Recovery is sweet.

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming.

War in the skies

Stacey GustafsonFlying has become tortuous since X-ray body scans, flight cancellations, smaller seats and lost luggage. We travelers are sometimes treated worse than cargo.

But there are strategies to employ in order to survive flying. Southwest Airlines offers an open-seating policy where customers can grab any unclaimed seat. On a recent flight from San Jose to St. Louis, I hatched a scheme. I waited for my number to be called at the terminal, rushed to the first available empty row and grabbed an aisle seat. Then I set a trap like a spider to solicit a seatmate.

Anyone skinny, without kids or a large handbag, and who appeared germ free met my prerequisites. I spotted a possibility and announced to her in a loud voice, “Excuse me. Would you like to sit here?”

“Oh, thanks. How thoughtful,” she said. More like self-serving. But on airlines with assigned seating, your seatmate is a crapshoot. Take a recent Delta flight. Without checking my ticket, I was confident I was in the right row and grabbed a prized aisle seat. I stowed my books, attached the seat belt and waited. And watched. A rather portly man came barreling down the aisle, eyeing my area.

Oh, God, please no. Just keep walking, I thought. Let’s just get it out here — one size seat does not fit all. He lumbered by.

I survived the next wave of crying kids, sneezing teenagers and businessmen with briefcases. A slim, petite woman smiled in my direction. Jackpot, come on over. She fumbled to check her ticket and said, “You’re in my seat.” I checked and rechecked my ticket. She checked hers again. Damn, I had the wrong seat.

I returned to the main aisle and moved down a few rows. Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a man over 6’4” and 250 pounds was in the aisle seat of my row. I squeezed past Big Guy, climbed over his huge shoes, oversized coat, bulging briefcase and big bag of greasy take-out food. I avoided eye contact out of pure irritation.

Then the flight attendant announced, “Put away all electronics. Buckle your seat belt.”

Mr. Big dug around his seat searching for the belt, knocking me in the chest with his mammoth elbow. “Sorry. Can’t find the darn seat belt.”

A few more jabs to my ribs, and the search was over. I glanced out the corner of my eye to watch him buckle in, no seat belt extender necessary. Whoosh, like a can of biscuits, flesh exploded over and under the armrest and filled in all available spaces.

After removing his shoes and stuffing the extra blanket under my footrest, he asked, “Honey, could you please turn on the overhead light?”

That was his opportunity to snatch my armrest. My skinny arms were no match for his muscular, oversized appendages. I tried to ignore my discomfort and took a short nap. When I awoke, I discovered my tray table down, crowded with a cup of water, a can of soda, a coffee mug with the contents half finished, and The New York Times. An iPad was squeezed to the side, the cord dangling across my lap.

I let out a sigh and fought to keep my mouth shut. Despite its size, the tiny bathroom would be a welcomed reprieve from the cramped setting.

“I need to go,” I said, and rolled my eyes as he removed all his items from my tray table. Then he stood and let me by.

Over the loudspeaker, the flight attendant said, “Due to turbulence, you’ll need to return to your seat, please.”

You’ve got to be kidding.

In my hurry to be reseated, Big Guy moved to the middle seat. Despite his “nice” gesture, sitting in the aisle seat proved as bad. He leaned on me the rest of the flight, bending my spine like a case of scoliosis. I was so far into the aisle my head got clubbed by the drink cart.

Soon our captain announced, “Prepare for landing.”

Once on the ground, I gave Big Guy a smooch on the lips. Then I whispered in my husband’s ear, “Thanks for the terrific vacation,” squeezed his arm and motioned for our kids in another row to wait for us at the exit.

Maybe next time I can be upgraded to first class.

— Stacey Gustafson

Stacey Gustafson is an author, humor columnist and blogger who has experienced the horrors of being trapped inside a pair of SPANX. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the SoulNot Your Mother’s Books, Midlife Boulevard, More Magazine, Better After 50 and on her daughter’s bulletin board. Her book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With An Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, will be released September 2014. She lives in California with her husband and two teens. Visit StaceyGustafson.com and Twitter @RUKiddingStacey.

Reflections of Erma