In the suburbs, highly educated and ambitious parents funnel their professional training and personal desires into managing every aspect of their lives — and their children’s — with zeal. At first, Peyton Price was shocked and appalled. But now, her indoctrination is complete. In Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence, Price reveals that, try as she might, she has succumbed to the reality of having an SUV, a stint as PTA president, kids on the honor roll and thousands of dollars in travel team fees. As it turns out, in the ticky tacky world of the suburbs, resistance is futile.
Much has been written and lamented about Facebook. And rightly so, I tell myself, as I slog through a report on a recent, yummy breakfast, excruciating details of a trip or weekend, boasts about junior’s GPA and multitudinous photos of Little League.
But I have to say that there is something especially off-putting about those one-size-fits-all FB greetings. Examples: “Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms I know,” “Wishing everyone a happy new year,” “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by [fill in disaster]” and “Happy [fill in religious holiday] to all my friends who celebrate.” Those who post these no doubt well-intentioned sentiments aren’t actually directing their sentiments to anyone in particular, but to everyone in general. Everyone on Planet Facebook anyway.
I would add the generalized “thank-you” to these digital pet peeves. I’ve seen pages thanking everyone who liked the page. Now that’s personal!
Welcome to the anti-social media.
The real dangers to my lunch staying down are those treacly posts about how much we love our husband/wife/son/daughter/puppy, typically accompanied by images of flowers and rainbows. Like this one, spread onto a deep red, heart-shaped background, “Share this if you love your son with all your heart.” Now, if I don’t share it — oh, maybe because it’s vapid and meaningless — does that mean I don’t love my son? Or at least not with all my heart? Maybe I’m half-hearted about it. Never mind the fact that my son would be appalled if I did.
For those who have trouble expressing themselves, the “I’m Proud of My Kids” page offers such gems as “I love my kids more than words can describe.” So if you post/share/like it, this makes you what….superparent? the bestest mom on earth? The IPOMK page also provides, “The weekend with the kids is priceless,” which sounds like a joint custody greeting. For St. Patrick’s Day you can post, “I [shamrock] my kids.” I’m not sure what that’s about — did you run them out of Ireland with the snakes? Another classic, “It’s the little moments that make every day amazing,” framed by concentric hearts. I’ll leave for another day my rant on the overuse of the word “amazing.”
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but why does one have to trumpet these illustrated emotions to every outpost in the Facebook universe? OK, you love your kid! Do you want a cookie?
And I’m urged to “like and share.” How about “barf and snicker?” Or shall I just say, “Ick.”
And let’s work on the definition of “share.” If I send along the written equivalent of an emoticon, what is it I’m sharing? The fact that someone found a saccharine way to announce to the world that I love my kids? Sometimes I’m asked to “like” and “share” if I’m against cancer or for mental health. Does my not sharing make me some kind of ghoul? It’s like they’re trying to induce the same guilt you’re supposed to feel when you break a chain letter.
Here are some helpful tips on how not to nauseate your Facebook friends. Posts should pass the Eye Roll Test. Before you “share” something with the world, ask yourself, if I saw this coming from someone else, would my eyes roll up in my head? Soul-search a bit more: Why are you posting this? Do you think if your kid sees this he or she would really, truly, honest-to-God know you care? Are you just bored? Why are you borrowing words from someone else? Is IPOMK’s “Having my kids taught me that the greatest gifts in life do not come from the outside but from within ourselves” better than anything you can come up with?
Not that I’m above connecting with FB pages that others doubtless think ridiculous. I’m friends with such luminaries as Grumpy Cat and Henri, Le Chat Noir. (Detect a pattern here?) But I don’t inflict this stuff on other people, with the exception of fellow feline fanatics.
So, if you love your kids (with all your heart, like life itself, to the ends of the earth), just tell them. And leave me out of it.
— Ann Green
Ann Green is a freelance writer, tutor and self-described “crazy cat lady.” She gives a popular talk, “Religion and Humor: The Historical and the Hysterical,” to community groups in the Boston area.
I’ll admit I’m not much of a housekeeper. My myopic vision doesn’t seem to notice piles of newspapers or cobwebs in the corners. But I’d let things go so long that the spider’s web in the bathroom sported a little bronze plaque. I had to get a magnifying glass to read it. It said that the web is now on the arachnids’ historic register.
Of course, I couldn’t destroy it after that.
I was brushing my teeth and heard a tiny “Ding!” I looked up and saw the spider opening a tiny microwave and taking out a burrito.
“Oooch! Hot! Hot! Ow!” the spider said as it tossed the burrito in three or four hands. It settled into a little recliner and used a fifth hand to point a remote at a TV that, proportionately, was bigger than mine. A flat screen. Maybe plasma. Where does a spider get that kind of cash?
“Whatcha watchin’?” I asked.
“CNN. MSNBC, sometimes FOX,” the spider said. “I’m totally hooked on news channels.”
“Don’t spiders have their own networks?”
“There are only so many shows on weaving techniques, insect lures, and how to coordinate eight shades of eye shadow that I can stomach. And if that team shows up and remodels MY web while I’m out, I’ll dessicate their soft little bodies and eat them whole. Besides, your issues are much more entertaining.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Relationship drama, for instance. You guys complicate things so much. You mate; you devour your mate. It’s clean. It’s simple. And you never have to change the locks.”
“Well, you have a point, but I don’t think your method will catch on around here.”
“I guess not. But how about this whole gasoline thing? Two legs aren’t good enough for you? And this ‘going to work’ business — explain that to me. You need food, go snare some. You need shelter, build something. All this other business is stuff you made up to worry about. Am I right?”
“More than you know.”
“And these wars over territory. Just move on and spin a new web. It’s not worth fighting over. Either everything belongs to everyone or nothing belongs to anyone. Either way, lay off the bombs already.”
“You’re wise. How’d you learn so much?”
“I have cousins all over the world. They keep me clued in. Did you know that pretty much anywhere in the world, you’re only two feet from one of us?”
“I’d heard that.”
“I just heard from a cousin in London who was at those last Olympics. You know, we could decimate humans in track and field. It’s so cute to see you with your two little legs trying to compete. If I’d had good sense, I would have signed my last batch of kids up for gymnastics. I’d be on Easy Street by now. “
I looked around a little nervously. “So, where ARE all of your kids?”
“Oh you know how teenagers are. They have their own ideas and won’t listen to their parents. Most of them went to school for web design, as if their own instincts weren’t enough. I washed most of my hands of them. Shhhhh! Stephanopoulos is starting.”
I backed quietly out of the bathroom. It was clean enough.
Kerri Albertson teaches composition at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, NC. The very first “real” “grown-up” book she ever read was At Wit’s End when she was eight. She promises to vacuum when the semester is over.
Here’s the deal: If you finish the toilet paper, replace the toilet paper! Don’t even think that by leaving two sheets of paper on the roll means you’re Scott free (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You’re not.
Two sheets to wipe a #2 is two too few. Also, if you do get a new roll, please replace the roll; don’t just sit it atop the old one. What does this tell your loved one? I love you, but, gee, just not enough for such taxing, physical labor.
However, having a loved one at home when you run out of toilet paper can be a blessing; just yell for toilet paper and ye shall receive toilet paper. Only, there’s a risk involved if the loved one who makes the delivery is your child; your young child who has friends over. Friends who are under the assumption they are filming an action movie and bust open the bathroom door; friends who are not shy looking at you in an uncompromising position. These friends seem shocked when told to “Get Out.” These friends go home and spread rumors to their parents about Crazy Potty Lady.
There are also risks involved to being home alone and running out of paper. You realize too late there is no toilet paper and the tissue box is empty. So, home alone, you rise and with ankles shackled by your underwear shuffle to the spare roll drawer. You open the drawer, you reach in the drawer, you curse the drawer. The drawer is empty.
Now, you try to make a mad dash for the kid’s bathroom, down the hall. Only, with underwear binding your ankles, dashing is hard to do. You feel like your running in a three-legged race. You get to the bathroom and realize it’s void of toilet paper. Not only is there an empty roll on the spool, there’s a second roll atop of it, also empty.
While you question the intelligence level of family members, you plan for the trip to the downstairs bathroom. The safest way to make this trip with underwear at the ankles is to slide down the steps, on your belly. It’s risky, but drastic times call for drastic measures. At the bottom of the steps you let out a symphony of curse words because you now have third-degree burns.
In the third bathroom you hit the jackpot, your search is over.
With all the risks, it’s imperative for the toilet paper to keep flowing. Going to the bathroom should not be a crap shoot.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento is the author of Deal with Life’s Stress With a Little Humor. Her award-winning columns and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Click here for her blog.
I just read an article on mindfulness meditation. The idea is to spend time to oneself focusing only on the moment and one single thing, like breathing. The author described how the she spent five days in this state by not talking to anyone, including her family. It was an inner revival, an opportunity “to gain clarity, wisdom, and freedom…” by paying attention to “moment experiences.”
I thought about this. Could I do this? Me? And then I thought about it again. And again. Could I do this for five days? An entire week? Not likely. That’s a long time for me to keep my mouth shut. And as for mindless?? For me it would be mindless alright. Because I would probably lose my mind or what’s left of it. Then I’d have to spend another seven days looking for it.
I can see it now. I’m scrounging around the house, rummaging through everything I see. My husband, Howard, just stands there, watching it all. And then he says:
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m mindless and I can’t find my mind,” I reply.
“It wouldn’t be the first time. … Try looking under the couch.”
As for paying attention to moment experiences? Ha! I do pay attention to momentous experiences, the big events that grab your attention by the tail. The cat just threw up on the dining room table? I won’t forget that for awhile. The additional momentous experience of clean up would also grab my rapt attention as my intestines galloped up and down my esophagus.
Mindfulness?? I don’t think so. Maybe mindless. Senseless would be a better word for it. Not speaking to anyone would clear my mind. But if I didn’t speak to Howard for that long a time, I’d get to do it just once — and it would be over. There would be no second time. Howard would repay the week of silence with three months of silent sulking. I would complain:
“Why aren’t you speaking to me?”
Hours later he still isn’t talking. I hear only silence and indignation.
“Is this because I spent last week mindfully meditating?”
He ignores me. The silence burrows through my eardrums.
“Well, I wasn’t being spiteful.”
“Sure you were,” he replies.
“I was meditating. I wasn’t oblivious to you.”
“You should have thought of that in the first place.”
And so it would go. An exchange of acrimony and inner peace. As for our daughter, Jennifer, If I didn’t speak to her, she would cry for two days straight.
Even If I was single, I wouldn’t do it. No sense talking to just me. I know. Lots of people talk to themselves. They make verbal conversations inside and outside their heads, no listeners in sight. Sometimes we call that disturbed. And as for keeping my mind on one thing?? No way. Because that’s when the mental cockroaches — worries — come out. I call worries cockroaches. They scurry and skitter through my subconscious all day and come out at night. It’s a Florida thing. Florida has big cockroaches and I have big worries. And they are very busy at night.
When Howard doesn’t speak, it’s not because he is meditating. It means he is real mad, angry. Some thing, maybe something I have done, has made him unhappy. When he gets into this kind of “meditation,” he can “meditate” for a long time. And while he’s doing that, I’ll meditate myself into a good case of hives. On the other hand, I should maybe meditate on how better to avoid him when he’s “meditating.”
Not speaking could have real repercussions around this household, especially since I don’t cook. It probably wouldn’t result in a divorce, but I could end up eating hot dogs for a week.
— Maggie Millus
A published writer of several science textbooks, Maggie Millus writes humor and blogs at Barmy Bottom Hollow. “My humor is a hyperextension of my reality. I hate housework, heat and humidity. But I cope, anyway, thanks to friends and family who think I’m normal — some of the time,” says the South Florida writer.
Teen 1 is ready to leave for university and I’m a bit panicked wondering if he will ever give us our car back is ready. I’ve been lying awake at night asking myself why I chose Wheatgrass as our bedroom color if there’s anything we forgot to tell him. To remedy this, I decided to write him some last-minute advice to help him navigate life on his own: Don’t throw away your clothes when they get dirty.
• Look for a washing machine (Google it) and pretend you’ve used one before follow the instructions.
• When it’s winter, you will notice white flakes in the sky and on the ground. This means you should just skip classes like I did and stay warm it is very very cold. Wear a jacket (Google it).
• Bedding (Google it) needs to be washed before bed bugs open a strip mall on your mattress weekly.
• Aim high. Your father and I are drowning in debt and are counting on your future neurosurgeon salary want the best for you.
• If you call to say a textbook costs more than $500, please know I already spent it on Botox injections. I look amazing Sorry.
• Inserting your bank card into your ‘H’ drive won’t work.
• Drinking hard liquor is a total blast not advised. Stick with beer milk.
• Eat vending machine crap at all hours while you have the chance your vegetables.
• Sleep alone lots.
I think that about covers it. For good measure, I also tattooed our home address and code word for ‘stranger danger’ on his wrist. Honestly, I think I’m about to fall off the wagon he’s going to be just fine. I’ve done stuff in university I’m not proud of the best I could. He’s never going to make it without me on his own.
— Colleen Landry
Colleen Landry has been writing since she was a beautiful and precocious child weaving tales of magic mushrooms turtles and princesses. Now a fully grown (ish) adult, her writing offers very little magic but lots of laughs. Colleen thinks laughing at others life’s stages is healing and infectious. She has been published in Canadian Living magazine and the Globe and Mail, as well as various local newspapers. Colleen also teaches high school writing in an online environment where discipline is as simple as ‘Ctrl’ ‘Alt’ ‘Delete.’ She is married and has two teenage sons who eat even while asleep. Follow her on Twitter @LandryColleen and enjoy her blog.
“Grandma, are you Daddy’s Mom?”
I looked down at my 6-year-old grandson’s beautiful eyes staring up at me, his little brow slightly furrowed as he tried to get his family tree sorted out in his mind. “Yes,” I smiled, while silently praying “Dear God, please, don’t let this question go any further.” But God was apparently taking another call, because my little guy thought for a moment and said, “If Daddy was in your tummy, how did he get out?” Oh, crap.
Time stood still as my brain replayed my experience of bringing young grasshopper’s daddy into the world, and the movie highlights included a few indelible moments:
- I gained 65 pounds. And I’m 5’3″ tall. My baby hump was so big, I was ultrasounded twice for twins. Doc said there simply had to be two babies in there. Nope. I was just fat. Of course, to be fair, I hoovered frosted brownies like they were life support, obviously thinking I was going to have a 65-pound baby, so it was a 9-month eating free-for-all. (My size-2 sister took one horrified look at my pre-birthing photo and asked, “Were you really that hungry or is this some kind of freaky hormonal thing??” My mother still blames me for Sissy opting not to have children.)
- At my Lamaze class, the instructor was speaking about birth control after the first few months post-birth. I raised my hand and asked, “What about the first three months?” which promptly sent seasoned birthers into peals of group laughter. “Oh, honey,” one woman replied, wiping her eyes, “this must be your first. For six months, birth control is ‘Get off me.’” Good to know.
- At a New Year’s Eve party, when I was 7 months into a what felt like a 2-year pregnancy (elephants give birth in less time…true story), we ran smack into Hubs’ ex-girlfriend, a perky, annoying aerobics instructor with a killer body. She was wearing a skirt almost longer than her woo-hoo, with a midriff baring top, and 4-inch stilettos (seriously, girl, put some clothes on), while I was wearing a pup tent with matching flats. And since my hair wouldn’t take a color from day one of my pregnancy, it had returned to its natural rodent-brown shade, so I was in a pup tent with matching flats and rodent-colored hair. We left early, with me bawling all the way home.
- My due date came and went, and I was getting so depressed, my mom suggested pedicures to help pass the time. Upon arrival, the nail tech announced, “Are you sure? You look like you’re going to have that baby now.” “I’m never going to have this baby,” I replied. “I’m going to be pregnant until I die. Let’s do this.” We happily got soaked, scrubbed, and polished, until I stood up and my water broke. Seriously?? All instructions to my OB/GYN to “mind the wet toes” were blithely ignored.
- Hubs finally showed up with my overnight bag and a copy of my birthing plan. Since I was only going to do this once, I wanted it to be perfect. Part of “perfect” meant no drugs. This was going to be a serene, life-changing, mystical event that bonded mother and child like the biblical Madonna and her baby. Yeah, no. I was in labor 45 hours. Again, not a typo. Forty. Five. Hours. The nurses had four shift changes while I was there, each time coming into the room with “What, girl?? You’re still here??” Well, not by choice, lady. This kid keeps changing his mind and crawling back up the chute. The birthing plan got “accidentally” shredded while I demanded, and got, enough drugs to induce endless hours of enthusiastic, but widely off-key renditions of “I met him on a Sunday and my heart stood still. Da doo run run run, da doo run run.” Yep, I sucked at parenting, and the kid wasn’t even born yet.
- By the 45th hour, Doc was prepping to do a cesarean section, when one of the nurses shouted, “I can see his head!!” You don’t know humble until two doctors, eight nurses, your husband, AND your parents (and some guy I’m pretty sure was the night janitor) are all staring up your skirts, excitedly pointing to something trying to come out of your body, and you don’t care. I was exhausted, I had no dignity left, my throat was hoarse from days of singing, and I was done.
Besides the “no drugs” instruction in my now-defunct 3-page birthing plan, I’d also stipulated “no forceps.” Women have been popping kids out for centuries without help. How hard could it be? But Jake wasn’t budging. Finally, Doc takes my face in his hands and says, “If you don’t push, I’m going to have to use forceps.” I looked at him and mumbled sleepily, “I don’t care if you use an ice cream scooper. I’m done. Get him out yourself.”
Two days later, we proudly took home a beautiful, perfect, bouncing baby boy, and I was besotted for life. But as I looked down at my grandson’s trusting face, I smiled and said, “You know what? Let’s go read a book. Grandma knows a great story called ‘Hansel & Gretel.’” Yeah, it’s about a witch in the forest that kidnaps children, bakes them in an oven, and then eats them. But I figure it’ll require less childhood therapy than the story of how Daddy came to be.
— Vikki Claflin
Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in “Life Well Blogged, Parenting Gag Reels, Hilarious Writes and Wrongs,” sold through Amazon.com.
I joined a gym for the first time at the tender age of four score minus 21.
“Okay!” I told myself, “I did it.” “Wait a minute,” said another voice from the same head, “you have to come back and use it.” I had thought I could get credit for good intentions, like when people buy an exercise bike, fully intending to ride themselves into shape, but wind up using it as a clothes hanger. “No,” said my inner masochist.
With my membership card firmly attached to my cat key ring, I walked in meekly for my first-ever appointment with a trainer. The young man, barely out of diapers, politely showed me around and explained the various, nefarious machines. He wrote out a schedule for my exercise routine. Wearing my self-consciousness like an albatross necklace, I tried to remind myself that everyone was too busy working on their abs to pay attention to me. I looked around for reassurance that there were others who might also be arrested for wearing spandex. Then, because I’m a walker and was particularly interested in the treadmill, the trainer introduced me to it. After showing me how to program it for speed, heart rate and weight loss, he left us to get acquainted.
I begin to tread. I did my usual 45 minutes, at a more even pace than I’d be able to keep on my own. Hmmm, not bad. Then it was on to the machines, which for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to use or adjust. At a towering 5’2” I had a particular need to know how to move the seats. Was my drawing a blank caused by senility or a faulty memory? I can’t recall.
On my next visit, I did what any easily intimidated person would do — I avoided the confusing machines and stuck with the treadmill. I couldn’t figure out how to plug in optimum heart rate but managed to program the time I wanted and the rate of speed. It took me a few visits and a lot of peeking at people around me before I figured out where to hold on and that I really didn’t need to.
I was glad to see all the TV screens hanging above the treadmills and ellipticals — a nice distraction — but I couldn’t quite read the dialogue as it appeared on the screen. When I mentioned this to a friend she gently suggested that I could buy ear buds and probably just plug them in to the treadmill. Who knew? One trip to CVS later and I had both sight and sound.
A few weeks into my regimen I made an appointment with another trainer. Miraculously, she was close to my age. We focused on a few machines and she wrote out how many times I should do everything as well as the settings that were best for me
It’s been over a month now and I go a few days a week. I still can’t help paying close attention to what other people are wearing. Everyone looks so fashionably Lycraed. On the other hand, some forms which might give one a fit are wearing form-fitting clothes. Mostly I wear capris from the “active” section of T.J.Maxx. But as I treaded to the reality show “You’re Wearing That?” the fashion enforcers made fun of the episode’s victim for wearing capris. Being fashion-challenged, I panicked. Once home I went straight to the Internet to make sure that someone on Planet Earth was still wearing capris. (My thighs make shorts nonnegotiable.) To my relief I discovered that men and women are wearing them in Paris. So it must be okay at the gym.
I still sneak peeks to see if I’m the slowest treader, but can’t really tell. I do my 45 and work up a real sweat, so I guess I’m doing ok. I still feel a bit awkward, but there is something about sweat running down my back that feels virtuous. Of course once I leave I feel self-conscious about my need for an immediate shower, which I much prefer to take at home. God forbid someone inhales while standing next to me.
No pain, no gain, will my discomfort ever wane?
— Ann Green
Ann Green is a freelance writer, tutor and self-described “crazy cat lady.” She gives a popular talk, “Religion and Humor: The Historical and the Hysterical,” to community groups in the Boston area.