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Fear, freedom and a fight club quote

Abby HeugelI have a funny post to share with you, but that will have to wait a couple more days. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I did that annoying vague status update thing about something rather life-altering happening Friday, and not in a good way, and that I might need a little time to regroup my funny.

While I never do things like that, for once I needed support and you guys came out in such a way that I was actually emotionally touched, which rarely happens. And even though I owe you a “thanks” and not an explanation, you’re getting both instead. Plus, writing is my therapy.

*Here’s where you can click away if you don’t want to read a ramble and instead come back next time for normal neurosis (waits for the room to clear.)

quoteOkay. Let me start with a little story…go grab a drink.

I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was much younger I was in a relationship with an older guy for more than five years. He wasn’t a bad guy, but it was a very bad relationship for me that left me feeling trapped and has contributed to many of the issues I still have today. At a time in my life when that should have been carefree and fun, I was miserable.

I cried myself to sleep way too often.

So why did I stay in a situation that I knew was wrong, that was making me sick and unhappy? Because at the time, I was naïve and craved that stability and safety. Even if it wasn’t ideal, it was something that I could depend on. I would finish college, get married, have financial stability and the “normal” that we’re told we need to achieve.

When we finally broke up, I was devastated. I mean, I was “cry your eyes out the world is going to end” devastated but not for the obvious reasons. It wasn’t that I was going to necessarily miss him as a person, but rather that the stable future I thought I could depend on was gone.

I panicked. I cried. I did the normal 20-year-old freaking out thing.

But you know what happened? In less than a week, I woke up and everything was fine. In fact, it was awesome. For the first time I had the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. I got a job as a cocktail waitress and had the best summer of my life, making new friends and doing things that made me happy — for me. It took losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I was — as much as you can know at age 21.

What does that have to do with me now?

Friday I lost my job.

I’m still a little in shock and I’m sure it hasn’t completely sunk in yet, but the enormity of the situation is obvious. My benefits run out at the end of the month and I have to apply for unemployment all while trying to pay my mortgage, bills, etc. all on my own. That’s huge. Enter panic and “oh my God the world is going to end” initial reaction.

But while you don’t need to know the details, I will tell you that the situation was not healthy and in fact bordered on abusive on several occasions.

And I know I was damn good at my job. Hell, two months before I was told I was great and my job was mine as long as I wanted it, which is why this was a surprise (but not unheard of, seeing as they’re a small company and more than 20 people had come in and out of that office in six years.)

But more than external praise, I know how hard I worked and I’m proud of the quality that I produced, the effort that I gave and the way that I conducted myself, despite an unhealthy situation. So while right now I’m trying to decide how to decorate the cardboard box I might end up living in, there’s also a small sense of…unfamiliar relief?

Although it’s still raw, there’s a sense that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that maybe this is just what I needed to find something that is healthier for me — physically and mentally. Maybe this will allow me to actually do something that means something to someone other than the only person making the profit.

Because much like that relationship mentioned above, I felt stuck in this job, but yet I never left because I didn’t know what else I could do even though what I was doing wasn’t making me unhappy.

So I’m taking this as a sign.

If I wasn’t going to  seek out the respect and fulfillment I deserve, the universe decided it would step in instead and throw a high-speed curve ball at my head. Now I have no choice.

That’s not to say I’m not scared, that I won’t miss my coworkers or that things are going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Right now there’s a little bit of fear. There’s a little bit of panic. There’s this whole long ramble nobody probably read. But there’s also no walking on eggshells. There’s no sitting at a desk and counting down the seconds on the clock.

With my security stripped, there’s also an unfamiliar freedom.

Maybe it will take losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I am — as much as you can know at age 33.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer who runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

Holiday drama

Aline.Weiller“Can I just be the video guy this year?” my husband Mark said last December 25. He was referring to his role in my family’s annual Nativity re-enactment. Mark’s been a willing participant for a good quarter of a century and wanted a reprieve from the spotlight.

“You know the deal…everyone’s in the play. Just go with it,” I said.

Mark didn’t respond, but instead was in hushed conversation with my European brother-in-law, Luigi, who seemed to share his sentiment. My mom saw their hesitation and caved — she allowed Mark to film the show and dubbed Luigi the narrator, who later delivered a distinguished prelude. The two of them hail from quieter Christmases and preferred their involvement not require a wardrobe change. Conversely, Dan, my remaining brother-in-law, is a trooper — an only child who enters into the fun.

My family is a creative bunch. Raised by a drama teacher and lawyer, we are a verbal brood. We revel in holiday happenings and each Christmas, my mother directs a home pageant, complete with authentic costumes and a loose script. Improvisation is encouraged. Guests often marvel at our production. This theatrical display is our norm — just another day in the life of our family — but for outsiders, it’s deemed uncommon.

A usual holiday boasts a minimum of 25 relatives, a few friends and the occasional new spouse, significant other or child. We have a rolling admission policy — visitors are welcome year-round; at our Christmases, there IS room at the Inn.

Presents are exchanged up front, then the play begins between the main course and dessert. It is a palate cleanser of sorts, the sorbet of entertainment. I bring costumes and props that have been housed in my basement for a year — shepherd’s garb and angel wings, among the dormant outfits. We then sardine into my mother’s living room for the distribution of colorful attire — striped ponchos, sturdy staffs, earth-toned scarves, and headgear to include herdsman’s hats fashioned from draped fabric and rope. I scatter stuffed animals amid the makeshift manger.

My mother appoints the roles and most graciously accept, with the exception of a few last-minute trades among the disappointed. The younger actors are told to get in costume, stand on the stairs and wait for their cues, giving more weight to their entrances. Mark, the pleased documentarian, takes backstage footage rife with hammed-up poses and faux interviews in a “VH1 Behind the Music” vein. Perfect fodder for a “best of” compilation.

“The townspeople and Wise Men were off in the distance, peacefully making their journey to meet the newborn Savior,” my mother may say, in an effort to quiet off-stage chatter.

With six grandchildren — five of whom are boys — we’ve been flush with baby Jesuses over the years, but they’re now teens and are beyond fudging it. My sons, Grant and Cameron, took rotating turns and had a good decade run. The new understudy is an American Girl doll named Madison, nabbed from my niece, who I swaddle in a timeworn Gymboree blanket.

With long brown locks, I’ve reprised my role as Mary several years running, and my two sisters, make for spirited angels, one who can actually sing on high. They even don their wings pre-show to get into character; they’re full-on method.

My brother, with his built-in beard, is usually Joseph, and the nephews and sole niece vie for the power-trip worthy Three Kings’ spots. It’s all about the crowns. First we had those of the paper Burger King ilk, but they’ve been replaced by plush, bejeweled numbers akin to those that magically appear in old Imperial margarine commercials. The kings also sport fur-lined, velvet Lillian Vernon capes for added street cred. Last year we went Hollywood and sprung for Santa and Mrs. Claus suits, commercial characters we now incorporate at the show’s close.

My mother, Gloria, is a storyteller at heart. One drama class in graduate school changed the course of her life — and in turn, that of her offspring. Still vibrant at 76, she is a dark-eyed, dark-haired Colombian who carries herself with a quiet elegance and love for play. She revels in fun. My father died 15 years back, but was always game for a repeat performance. He saluted my mother’s efforts and was often head shepherd in residence.

With age, some relatives have grown a tad less enthusiastic about our production, now eagerly offering to take pictures or be stage hands, but are guilted into, at the very least, a villager’s part. The grandchildren still willingly join in, but it’s the first-time guests — like a cousin’s girlfriend — who double as scene stealers; they approach their portrayals with refreshing fervor and have been known to use an old timey accent and dramatic gestures for added effect. They relish their newfound fame; perhaps to seek redemption for not being cast as the lead in a grade school play. Or maybe it’s an experience that’s escaped them altogether. Regardless, they want in. And my mother, who prompts our lines, knows how to bring out the best performance in everyone and affirms our delivery.

“Then Joseph questioned the Inn Keeper…” she’d say.

She’s a director’s director; everyone’s a star on Christmas.

Our holiday pageants take on a different spin each year, some are marked by surprise bloopers, others by poignant moments. One year we spontaneously broke into song — a heartfelt rendition of Little Drummer Boy — when my Uncle Johnny kept a steady beat with newly unwrapped toy bongos. Our annual renditions, unique but at the same time similar, are sealed in the albums of our memories.

A teacher first, my mother has a penchant to educate with an artistic flair; the holidays take on the aura of a play-based preschool. Our productions themselves are touchstones, constants upon which we can rely. They are the very essence of home. So, too, our plays provide the comfort of routine, rooted in tradition. They are, at once, the core of our gatherings — the means by which we celebrate not only the season, but also our collective talents and the force that is our family.

After the show, I gathered costumes haphazardly strewn about and glimpsed Mark giving the dessert crowd a proud preview of his newly minted film.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller is a journalist, essayist and guest blogger whose work has been published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Mamalode, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown, Skirt and Your Teen, among others. She also the CEO/Founder of Wordsmith, LLC, a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Suburban haiku: wrap up

Peyton PriceThis time of the year
don’t forget what’s important:
Scotch tape and scissors.

We do not bag gifts.
We wrap our gifts with gift wrap
‘cause that’s how we roll.

Won’t this be charming?
Gift wrap made by my children.
(“Keep stamping. No breaks.”)

Here, let me show you
how to cut out a snowflake.
“We YouTubed it, Mom.”

One more gift to wrap.
Oh wait! One more gift to buy.
One more gift to wrap.

Bless them, every one.
I’m praying for those poor souls
pinning “Gifts to Make.”

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or looking for the Scotch tape.

Confections and miracles

Anne BardsleyIt was Christmas Eve of 1958. I was 6-years-old. I’d woken up in the dark to pull up my covers closer. The wind was howling as the tree branches smacked against my window.

“Dear God, please don’t let Santa freeze tonight,” I prayed. I prayed for everything. Sister Mary Matthew, my first grade teacher, said this was a good thing to do. Just as I finished my prayer, a blazing light shot across the sky. “Was that Santa?” I sprang out of my bed to see.

The girls at school were spreading rumors that Santa wasn’t real. “Wait until I tell them I saw his sleigh.” I shook with excitement and scooted back under the covers.

The next morning, my 4-year-old sister, Pat, woke me early. She’d already gone down the stairs and peeked under the tree. She was bouncing on my bed screaming for me to “wake up! wake up!” I was rubbing my eyes when I noticed there was white stuff on my bed.  It looked like snow.  How did that get here?  There were footprints on my carpet, too. We followed the prints down the stairs, through the dining room and into the kitchen. That’s when we saw it.

“Uh–Oh!  Somebody is in big trouble,” Pat said seriously.  There were cookie crumbs all over the table and the floor. Gran’s favorite miniature Irish tea cup from Donegal was on the table, too. We were never allowed to touch that cup in case we broke it. It was a treasured possession all the way from Ireland. My little sister’s high chair was pulled up to the table. Three phone books were on the seat.

What the heck was going on?

Mom and Dad came into the kitchen as we chimed in “We did not do this! And we didn’t touch Gran’s tea cup either.” Mom was looking at us with a doubtful expression when my dad said, “I did it last night.”  Oh, he was so brave to admit that! Pat didn’t care. “Let’s open presents!” she shouted.

My dad said, “Okay if you don’t want to hear about the elf that was here last night, go right ahead.” I couldn’t believe my ears! An elf?!? An elf was in my house?!?! “Tell me! Tell me!” I jumped up and down.

Dad said he was driving home late from work when he saw something moving in the snow. He thought it was a dog, but as he got closer, he was shocked to see it was an elf.  “He was cold and scared. His leg hurt really bad, so I took him to Doc Morrison and he put a bandage on it.”

I had so many questions.

“Where did he come from?”

“How big was he?”

“What was he wearing?”

“What is his name?”

“Dad! Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I did try to wake you up. You must have had sugar plums dancing in your head. You didn’t even feel Charlie kiss your cheek.”

This was too much for me! “I’d been kissed by an elf named Charlie?” First, I saw Santa’s sleigh and now an elf had come to my house and kissed me! Wait until I tell the girls at school!

Dad continued to weave his tale. “Blitzen must have leaned too far to the left, and the elf just slipped off. I guess he didn’t notice and kept on flying with the other reindeer. The poor little guy was so scared when I found him.”

Mom suggested we open some presents and talk more about the elf at breakfast.

At breakfast, Dad talked more about Charlie, the elf. He told us how he rode on our puppy, Towzer. “Dad,”I said, “elves don’t ride on dogs.”

“Well this one did, ” he said. “Then he had some hot cocoa and cookies. He loved snickerdoodles! Blitzen came back for him at two a.m. I heard a tapping on the window. Boy, was I suprised to see a big reindeer at the window. Charlie was so happy to see him. I helped him back up onto Blitzen. He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll try to stop by again next Christmas. You have yourself a Merry Christmas.’”

Later that afternoon, my dad was falling asleep on the couch. The Christmas lights twinkling. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” played on the radio. I leaned over the top of his head, so we had upside down faces. I kissed his forehead and whispered, “This was the best Christmas of my whole life.” He smiled and said, “Mine, too, Anne. Mine, too.”

Some gifts you just can’t buy in a store or online. Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. This tradition has continued with all my sisters and our kids — and now their kids. Every Christmas Eve we buy a 10-pound bag of confectioners sugar and dip a doll’s foot in it to make the prints. I’m sure my Dad is smiling in heaven every Christmas Eve.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

How a stingray saved my vacation

Megan WoolseyI will admit that I did terrible job packing for my family’s weeklong Thanksgiving vacation to Southern California. As the designated momager to four small children and a husband, I am in charge of wardrobe planning and activity bag packing. Along with clothes and shoes, there are medications, special blankies and outdoor activity gear.

If you are a mom, you know this packing job sucks.

I was utterly uninspired for the packing tasks that lie ahead for this trip. I shoved long-sleeved clothes in for everyone. I packed those imitation Uggs. There were winter coats, sweaters and jeans included. I even packed myself these ridiculous flannel leggings and a wool sweater instead of my bathing suit.

The problem was, we weren’t going to Minnesota for Thanksgiving — we were going to Los Angeles. The weather was supposed to be in the 80s all week.  The sad part is that I was privy to the weather report for the week, and I still chose to pack like an idiot.

My poor packing had burdened us along the way, but we had made it work. Boots and long pants on the beach were definitely a bummer. We looked like the Griswolds vacationing in Southern California, but it was working OK for a while.

Fast forward to our last day of our Thanksgiving break vacation. We drove to Huntington Beach to visit my brother-in-law and his family.

The day was so incredibly beautiful and the beach so pristine and vast with its white sand and perfectly shaped waves that we decided for an impromptu beach stop.

My husband doesn’t always do impromptu well. He is very timely and he likes everything to be planned out perfectly. In other words, if he were the momager in charge of packing, there would be flip-flops instead of Uggs and shorts instead of pants on the beach.

Nobody had their bathing suits on so we piled into the disgusting beach bathroom with our too-small beach bag that was shoved with towels, bathing suits and sunscreen. The bathroom had just been hosed down by maintenance so it was disgustingly sopping wet from floor to ceiling. No one wanted to stand on that floor without shoes. We couldn’t get to the bathing suits because they were at the bottom of the too-small beach bag. We couldn’t put the beach bag on the ground because the ground was wet.

My husband stood in the bathroom loaded from head to toe with beach paraphernalia, my purse, kids’ shoes and socks and various other sh**.

He was fuming. I could almost see the steam escaping in full force out of his ears in fury. In the past, my husband has had a few vacation meltdowns prompted by the stress of schlepping four small children around everywhere. It is no small feat catering to the demands and moods of six-year-old triplets and a high-maintenance 10-year-old for a week away from home.

“I cannot believe we don’t have beach shoes!” was his first outburst.

“Do we not have a single other beach bag other than this one?”

“I can’t stand how we never bring enough beach towels! There are four towels for six of us!”

“This whole vacation the kids haven’t had a single pair of shorts!”

“This is the worst packing job I have ever seen!”

Now I was fuming.  I had already admitted earlier in the week that my packing sucked, and now at a low point in our lives he was throwing it in my face.

I responded like every wife in her right mind would and shouted “THEN YOU SHOULD’VE PACKED FOR ALL THESE KIDS YOURSELF!” Do you think it is easy packing for five people for an entire week of vacation?”

Then he said what NO husband should ever say, “well I would’ve done a better job.”

Then I called him an a**hole.

Then we walked to our beach spot and ignored each other for an hour while we watched our children run and jump in the waves and enjoy that very moment of the perfect day despite their crappy mother who can’t plan or pack properly.

My husband went into the ocean to swim. As I watched him, throwing daggers at him with my eyeballs, I suddenly noticed him grab his foot and almost fall.

He probably stepped on a rock. Big baby.

stingrayA few minutes later he walked up to me and said he thought a jellyfish stung his big toe. We walked over to the lifeguard station and that is when he learned that he was really stung by a stingray. A stingray? You mean the same animal that pierced its poisonous tail through Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter and killed him instantly?

Suddenly all our anger and hostility over my poor packing faded away. I loved my husband. He is the best husband and father in the world; he just doesn’t handle poorly planned impromptu situations well. My husband spent the next hour in pain with his foot in a bag of hot water.  The kids came by to ask if they could take his stingray first aid bag that his foot was soaking in so they could use it for sand play because “they reallllyyyy need it.” We reminded them that the warm water was the only thing helping subdue the pain from getting stung.

That pretty much summarized the ups and downs of the family vacation.

Just a little story of the day a stingray saved our last day of vacation, and maybe even our marriage.

— Megan Woolsey

Megan Woolsey blogs at The Hip Mothership. When Megan is not raising her four children (including triplets) or writing, she likes to take long walks, practice hot yoga, obsess about travel, cook, wine and dine with friends, and spend as much time as possible in the sun (wearing sunscreen, of course).  Her dream career is travel writing.

Mommy coffee time

Brandi HaasThe mommy coffee meeting. A sacred event held on rare days when a group of moms, against all odds, somehow manage to coordinate nap times, babysitters and school events long enough to cull out 30 minutes to simply sit back with friends and complain about the price of milk and to chuckle over the latest PTA gossip.

These times are rare because all it takes is one feverish child to bring the whole gathering to a screeching halt. Other common reasons mommy coffee meetings are canceled include: vomiting, diarrhea and head lice.

Even if just one mom has to cancel, the entire coffee dynamic is altered, and you must work to avoid the awkwardness of being left alone with the one annoying mom in the group. That mom who only talks about how fabulous her child is.Timmy is the best reader in his class.Timmy knows all his multiplication tables.Timmy has a secret laboratory in the basement where he is working on a compound that would completely eradicate cooties. I get it, okay? Your kid is on the fast track for a Nobel Prize, and my kid still picks her nose and eats it. No one wants to be left alone for coffee with this woman.

Weather is not a factor in canceling mommy coffee meetings. Mommies will forge snowstorms and navigate surging rivers to get to sit down and talk with their mommy friends. Unless the weather results in school closings. Then everyone involved is totally screwed.

But sometimes the stars align — school is in session, the kids are not sick, and the annoying mom is on vacation. It’s officially mommy coffee time!

So when I got a call from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while asking me to meet her for coffee, I jumped at the chance. She said there was this great new cafe that served amazing coffee. When I arrived, she was already gazing at the menu, excited about all the coffee choices. I glanced at the menu and realized that coffee was all that they served.

The greatest irony of mommy coffee time for me is that I never actually drink coffee. I usually just get some kind of weird tea and let it sit there while I chat with my friends.

The reason: I don’t drink coffee. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good caffeine jolt every now and then, but I prefer to get that jolt from a soda. That way I also get to reap all the negative health benefits of extra sugar and empty calories. And, I’ve simply never developed a taste for coffee.

But here I was, stuck in this cafe that had the nerve to only sell coffee. My friend was so excited about finding this new place that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I hated coffee. (What are friendships for if not to lie and hide our true selves from those we call friends?) And besides, sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone and force yourself to drink a bitter beverage that you have tried at least a hundred times before in a hundred different variations with the hopes that this time you will actually like it.

I got to the counter and panicked. I had no idea what to order so I gave it the old, “I’ll have what she’s having.” We sat down and my friend started drinking. I gave my coffee a tentative sip and to my surprise it wasn’t completely horrible. I matched my friend sip for sip as we caught up and before I knew it, we had been there an hour and my coffee cup was completely empty.

I guess I wasn’t ready for the amount of caffeine in that little cup of coffee because as I drove home, I felt my pulse quicken and I swear my heart was about to beat right out of my chest. My eyes kept darting back and forth uncontrollably and I felt nervous like right before you go into the dentist’s office and you haven’t flossed in a month or two.

I got home and spent the next four hours cooking a week’s worth of meals, reading all about the Panama Canal while jogging in place, and making a few dozens calls to my husband insisting that I was having a heart attack.

“You’re not having a heart attack, honey,” my husband tried to assure me.

“Yes, I am. Hey, did you know it takes 20 to 30 hours to get through the Panama Canal? But it only takes me 30 seconds to run through the entire house. Oh, and we are having spaghetti and meatloaf for dinner. Unless you want tacos, because I made those, too.”

“Goodbye, dear,” he said completely dismissing the obvious signs of the myocardial infarction I was displaying.

The next time we meet up for coffee, it’s going to be at a bar. Because I’m pretty sure I could have handled tequila shots better than I handled that cup of coffee.

— Brandi Haas

Brandi Haas is slightly neurotic and extremely sarcastic and loves writing about her adventures in the suburbs. She writes a blog, Tales from Suburbia, and has published her first book, Tales from Suburbia: You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Live Here, But it Helps. It’s a collection of hilarious stories about surviving motherhood.

I gave Hubs a pole dance
and he can’t stop laughing

Vikki Claflin(This is an excerpt from Vikki Claflin’s newly published book, Shake, Rattle & Roll With It: Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s. Reposted by permission of the author.)

After the success of our date night, recommended in the article “10 Ways to Bring Back the Romance in Your Marriage,” I thought I’d pick another suggestion for this week.

#4 was “Try something sexy and fun that you’ve never done before.” As my mind began a quick visual reel of possibilities, I immediately ruled out naked tandem bungee jumping or partner swapping (unless I get Robert Redford and Hubs takes the homeless woman under the bridge), and finally settled on one of the author’s ideas. I decided to learn to pole dance.

I know what you’re thinking. This probably wasn’t the obvious choice. Yes, I’m aware that I’m 57, I’ve never done this before, my gene pool leans more towards sturdy German peasant stock than limber Romanian gymnast, and I have Parkinson’s. What the hell. Go big or go home, as they say. I promptly ordered a “Pole Dancing for Beginners” DVD and eagerly awaited the lessons on how to wow my man.

Of course, figuring out the pole part of the kit was a bit tougher. This isn’t something you can just order and have delivered with no questions asked, especially when you live in a small town. When the UPS guy that you dated in high school asks “What’s new with you?” as he delivers your porn pole, he really wants to know.

Three days later, my DVD arrived, and I immediately popped it in, ready to get started rockin’ Hubs’ world.

Since I didn’t have an actual pole, I decided to improvise with the wooden pillar that separates the kitchen from the living room. Silently offering up a prayer that “weight bearing” was meant literally, I grabbed hold with both hands and prepared to execute my first exotic dance move.

1. The Wrap-Around. Grab the pole. Stick one leg out, swing it to the side, step and pivot (bending the knee to make it more graceful), hook the pole with your outside foot, and finish by arching your back. Yeah, no.

I grabbed the pole with one hand, swung a leg out to the side, whacking my foot on the indoor ficus, stepped and pivoted, twisting my ankle as I hooked the pole, then limped on to the Big Finish, energetically arching my back and swinging one arm up overhead, immediately causing a nasty back spasm, accompanied by repeated, involuntary yelps of “Owee, owee, owee!” Okay, then. Apparently we need less enthusiasm, more technique.

2. The Basic Climb. This is the stripper version of rope climbing in 8th-grade P.E. class, but in less clothes. Since I was unsure whether the thin wooden pillar would withstand my 120-pound attempt to mount it, I decided to improvise and try a door casing.

Blithely ignoring the tremor in my left arm and the chronic, medication-induced foot spasms, I grabbed hold of the bathroom door jamb and began my ascent. Note to self: When you need two arms and two legs to do something, and only one of each works with any consistency, consider skipping that exercise. Thirty seconds later, I was a tangled heap on the floor, mortified as I realized that all the blinds were open and the delighted neighbors were gathering in the driveway to watch the show.

3. The Fireman Spin. Ha. I’ve got this one down. Small leap, grab the pole, bend the knees, and let centrifugal force spin you repeatedly around the pole until you stick the landing with small back arch and a flourish of the arm. Piece of cake. Until I flourished before I stopped spinning. I spun off the pole and into the front door, cracking my head on the door knob. Yeah, that’ll leave a mark.

4. The Body Wave. Basically a full-body undulation, while hanging onto the pole with one arm and leaning out. Like most Parkinson’s patients, I struggle a little with coordination activities, specifically like my body waving in one direction and my arm going in another. It looked less like an erotic pole dance and more like I was frantically flagging down an ambulance on a deserted street. Moving on.

5. The Backwards Wiggle. Stand up with your back to the pole, grab said pole with hands up behind your head, then gyrate your hips as you slide down. Seriously??

First of all, I’m not built for gyrating. I couldn’t gyrate in college, when I was considerably younger, 15 pounds thinner, and my appendages only shook when I told them to. All attempts at gyrating simply looked like I’d just been tasered. But I did discover that when I put my hands up behind my head, it inexplicably increased the tremors, resulting in a fairly impressive shimmy. This one could work. It’s all about making lemonade, people.

So that evening when Hubs came home, I proudly announced my new secret skill. Not surprisingly, he was thrilled and immediately settled in, happily anticipating my Big Move. I decided on the Fireman Spin, letting my body weight do most of the work. I grabbed the pole, swung out my leg to get a good spin going, tucked the other heel up under my butt, and flashed my brightest “Come Get Me, Sailor” smile as I twirled past him.

On the second twirl, my foot cramped up and my arm had a seismic tremor that caused me to let go of the pole and sail across the room, landing on top of an unexpecting Hubs with a thud, sending him into unrestrained laughter, while he choked out, “That was awesome. Do it again!”

He still thinks it was supposed to be like that. I’m not telling him otherwise. But I’m thinking of teaching a pole dancing class at the next Parkinson’s convention. We’ve still got the moves.

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin, author of  the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines, has published her first book, Shake, Rattle & Roll With It: Living and Laughing with Parkinson’s. Two of her pieces have been published in Life Well Blogged: Parenting Gag Reels — Hilarious Writes and Wrongs: Take 26. In 2014, she received a BlogHer Voice of the Year award for humor.

The back story

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, Jessica ZieglerNo one told us we COULDNT publish a book in just four weeks. So we did!

It all started with the fortune cookies. And then before you could say Happy Chinese New Year!  Jessica Ziegler (my Science of Parenthood partner) and I were working with Hall of Tweets’ Kate Hall to publish a holiday collection of the funniest commentary on parenting ever to fit into 140 characters or less. And we edited, illustrated and published our gift book in an absurdly short period of time. We seriously do not recommend you try this at home. But we are highly trained professionals. At least that’s what it says on our business cards … that Jessica designed for us. So … uh … there you are.

Still, we must’ve done something right because the day after The Big Book of Parenting Tweets debuted, it hit #5 on Amazon’s Hot New Parenting/Family Humor Releases, alongside our good friend Jill Smokler and her Scary Mommy’s Guide To Surviving the Holidays, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi’s No Lands Man, and Adam Mansbach (of the bedtime classic Go The F*ck To Sleep) with his follow-up, You Have To F*cking Eat. A few days later, we hit #3.

Let me just say that THAT’S some pretty amazing fortune. How’d we get from fortune cookie to #3 on the hot list? Sit right back and you’ll hear the tale.

Norine: So, there I was, toiling away on what I thought was going to be our first book, Science of Parenthood, coming out next November, when you decided to slip another book in ahead of that one. Seriously, Jess, were you trying to give me a heart attack?

Jessica: [laughing … laughing … hysterically laughing]

Norine: You were so excited! You texted me early one morning ridiculously early for you since youre two hours behind me, and I was still in bed. You texted, Ive got a great idea for a holiday gift book! The next thing I knew, we were signing contracts with Kate and some 30 other contributors to create it. WTH?

Jessica: I was excited! I’d been trying to come up with an idea for an anthology or collection for a while, and nothing I had come up with before this felt really fresh to me.

Norine: You know that does sort of ring a bell. I do remember shivering on a playground bench when I was out visiting you last year and bouncing anthology ideas around while our kids played on the merry-go-round.

Jessica: You were cold? I thought you might be tweaking from all the coffee and idea talk. But yes, I wanted to do an anthology, something different than just an essay collection. I wanted something that was unique to us and could somehow bring in our illustrations. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was literally lying in bed and Boom! The idea just dropped into my head: What about doing an anthology of parenting tweets? There is so much funny stuff on Twitter. It’s actually the perfect vehicle for humor because sticking to 140 characters forces comedians to distill a joke to its comedy essence. And I thought this would be the perfect gift book to get out before the holidays. Too bad I didn’t have the idea until October. It would have nice if I’d had the idea in, say, June.

Norine: Eh, wheres the fun in that? Were living on the edge, baby. And for the record, I was freezing my tush off.

Jessica: Of course you were, you weigh 10 pounds. I just knew this would be the type of book that would be great as a gift. You can give it to your mom. Teens can give it to their parents. Parents can buy it for other parents they know. Or … as a kind of heads up for parents-to-be. You know, like, Good luck to you!

Norine: They should really hand this book out in sex-ed classes.

Jessica: Exactly. And so many people say they don’t “get” Twitter. I totally understand that. At first glance, Twitter looks like a big mess. There are all these Twitter abbreviations and private conversations. To weed through all of that to find what is really top-notch humor is a burden. People are busy. They don’t want to do that. So we did it for them.

Norine: Tell me about the fortune cookie that started the wheels turning. How on earth did we get from fortune cookies to a book?

Kate HallJessica: I saw one of Kate Hall’s posts and somehow tweets and fortune cookies were mentioned together in the comments. I can’t remember if it was about tweets in fortune cookies or if I made that leap, but I commented, Thats actually a brilliant idea. I did a little research and found a place that does custom fortune cookies. I texted Kate about that idea that night. I was still thinking about how to market tweets the following morning when the book idea hit me. I instantly thought, Kates a Twitter all-star. Lets get her to do this with us! I messaged you, then messaged Kate.

Norine: So, Kate. Wed been in some Facebook blogging groups together. And wed shared a suite with you at the BlogU Conference last summer. But you still barely knew us. What did you think when Jessica emailed and said, We want to publish a book in four weeks! Come do this crazy project with us!

Kate Hall: I loved the idea! I had been thinking (selfishly of course) about doing something with my own tweets.

Norine: Well, your tweets are pretty hilarious.

Kate: Thanks! This book makes a lot more sense, though. I immediately had all of these people pop into my head who I wanted to ask to contribute.

Norine: Of course! Because youve featured many of the books contributors on “Hall of Tweets” or theyve made your monthly 10 Funniest Tweets lists. How long have you been doing that?

Kate: Probably 75 percent of our contributors, I’ve either interviewed or they’ve made my list. I started doing the Top 10 Funniest Tweets list on my other blog, “Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?” two years ago. Now that it’s been around a while, people look for the list and they enjoy when they make the list. People enjoy reading the lists because the tweets are so funny. I liked doing the lists so much, I built my “Hall of Tweets” blog around that a few months ago. At this point, I’ve read more than 100,000 tweets. I read 6,000 to 10,000 tweets a month to create my lists. People may wonder if I even have a life outside of Twitter. Haha! I don’t.

Norine: Get out! Thats a helluva lot of tweets! Do you think that makes you a more discerning humor consumer?

Kate: I’m always on the lookout for something that’s creative and unique and said in a different way. Parenting humor is pretty much the same topics over and over, and you tend to see a lot of the same jokes done by different people. But I find I can pick out the tweets that will make my followers laugh. For me to RT something, I’m like, This is relatable. I know people will like this. I’ll RT it, and it’ll do well. But it may not make me laugh because I laughed at it two years ago when I first read it.The Big Book of Parenting Tweets

So spending so much time reading tweets has done two things: It’s made me more aware of what’s really funny. I’ve definitely gotten better at picking tweets that are really funny. But it’s also kind of deadened my humor. I don’t laugh at what I used to laugh at years ago. I’m like a humor junkie; I need more unique and creative humor to make me laugh like a junkie needs heroin to get high.

Norine: Maybe thats why I like the real-kid conversations in our book so much theyre so unique. And weve got so many moms and dads playing straight man to their comic genius kids.

Jessica: The use of pauses in these conversations is really great. There’s the use of ellipses, so you can tell the parents are sort of thinking about something. Or it’s just a blank pause. And you know the kid and the parent are just looking at each other in a moment of standoff.

Norine: Like the dad taking his kid to the library but first the kid has to run and grab his sword. If it were a play, the stage direction would be [blink blink].

Jessica: Right! And the parent has to make a split-second decision, I cant think of a valid reason why not, so lets do it. When the writers get into using spacing and returns on Twitter, it’s pretty amazing. You can go pretty far with 140 characters.

Norine: We have some smart, clever people who really get into the nut of what its like to negotiate situations with kids. Kate, with your three children two boys and a girl, ages 10, 8 and 5 youre smack dab in the middle of the best time to write parenting humor. 

Kate: There’s plenty of stuff that they say or situations that can lead to good tweets or blog posts. So many things that all parents can relate to.

Norine: I think my favorite was when your husband asked, Do you love your sister? Your son said, About 4.5. Then your husband said, Its not on a scale of 1 to 10. And your son was brilliant!

Kate: [laughing] Yeah, that’s on a scale of 1 to 100!

Norine: All of the tweets are funny. And we have 30 illustrations in the book. Jessica, how did you decide which tweets to illustrate?

Jessica: I was looking for things that had a strong visual element; something I could see in my head as being drawable. But I was very thoughtful of not stepping on the joke with the drawing. My dad’s a New Yorker cartoonist, and that is the format for the cartoons in The New Yorker: You have a drawing and you have a caption. They need to work together. You don’t want the drawing to supersede the caption. Or vice versa. So I looked for tweets where the illustration would support the joke but not give it away.

Norine: The perfect illustration of that, if you will, is (tweeter) Brenna Jennings’ joke about Keith Richards.

Jessica: I had to pull up pictures of Keith Richards to see what exactly he looks like, and I had to think about how to turn this craggy almost-70-year-old dude into a 6-year-old and make that connection work. You look at the cartoon, and you’re wondering, Why the hell does this child look so awful? Then you read the joke and you’re like, Oh, there it is.

Norine: Start-to-finish, concept-to-copies-for-sale, this book came together in four weeks. Thats stupid fast!

Jessica: It should have been impossible. Luckily, I had put books together before so I didn’t have a learning curve in terms of the technology and the tools I would need to get it done. I’d done the self-publishing process several times with my custom children’s books for Story Tots. That was a huge shortcut right there. Plus, curating the editorial was relatively easy. We asked for tweets people had already written, so they didn’t have to write anything new, just gather up some of their favorites and send them in. We gave them a week and they delivered. And then we went through the voting process.

Norine: Blind voting. We didnt want to be influenced because we know many of the contributors. The tweets were judged strictly by their LOL-ness which I heard is now a new metric.

Jessica: And some of the things that didn’t make it into the book weren’t necessarily cut because they weren’t good, but because we already had something with that same joke structure already. We really strived for balance and making sure each tweet stood on its own. And that we weren’t repeating phrasing or concepts. Because, as Kate mentioned earlier, we’re all going through the same stuff. People are going to have very similar jokes about certain things.

Norine: Think of where the best humor comes from: the stuff that drives us crazy or challenges us. And thats going to be the same kinds of things for every parent: Toddler stubbornness, diaper blowouts, potty training, picky eating, refusing to go to sleep, endless video games, projectile vomiting. Were all fishing in the same pond. I was not surprised that we had a couple of duplicate jokes.

Jessica: I’m surprised that we didn’t have more. Because we asked these tweeters to send in upwards of 20 tweets. It was kind of amazing that we didn’t see more of the same sorts of jokes. And I love that we got so many dads.

Norine: YES!

Jessica: Dads have a very unique voice. At least the dads we’ve got in our book. They’re approaching parenting from a different angle. Even if they’re staying at home. They still have a different sensibility.

Norine: True. I think my favorite dad tweet was this conversation:

My wife: Thats not the shirt I sent her to daycare in. 

Me: But its the right kid?

Wife: Yes.

Me: Awesome. Im going to play Xbox.

That sums up the differences between mom humor and dad humor so perfectly. Does dad humor seem sharper or edgier to you?

Kate: Nah, I’ve never really thought of dad humor being edgier than mom humor. I think it depends on the person/writer. There are some edgy women out there and some not-so-edgy men. On Twitter you have the entire spectrum.

Jessica: I think dad humor may stand out because it’s just a different voice. We’re so used to hearing women’s voices in our circles. And right or wrong, there’s a different expectation for dads. Like when you hear about a dad taking the kids to the grocery store. He’s a hero. But, of course, Mom does that all the time, and it’s no big deal.

Norine: Classic. So, can you believe that on our second day out, we hit #5 on Amazons Hot New Releases for parenting/family humor?

Jessica: I am stunned and thrilled. Last night I was saying that I feel like one of the X-Men. Like we shot all of the powers we’ve amassed over the past almost-two years at this book launch and it just exploded. It definitely goes to show the massive effect that being a part of a solid blogging community can have. I mean, you still have to have an appealing product, but WOW.

Kate: It’s incredible. So many people came together to support us by getting the word out. And I think the combination of good reviews, a fantastic and professional cover and hilarious contributors made this book something people want to read. They knew it would be good.

Norine: Now, you sort of took me by surprise with The Big Book of Parenting Tweets. Are you planning on springing Book Two on me any time soon?

Jessica: [laughing] Of course, I am! The wheels are already turning. I’m trying to figure out when we can fit it in. Meanwhile, I’ve told our comedy troupe to start gathering their tweets. So we can be ready for the next book.

Norine: You heard it here first, parents! Book Two already in development.

—  Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

Magazine writer Norine Dworkin-McDaniel is the co-creator of the illustrated parenting humor blog, Science of Parenthood, with illustrator/web developer Jessica Ziegler.  They do a monthly column, The Truth About Parenting, for You can also find the duo on Scary Mommy, Bonbon Break, In The Powder Room and Huffington Post Parents. Occasionally they are invited to be on podcasts, like DJ Paris’s Bloggers Are Weird and the Blogging Betties.

Reflections of Erma