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Stuck in the middle with myself

Lee GaitanI pride myself on having a wide range of female friends.

And I mean wide range rather literally as several of my girlfriends happen to be clustered at the extreme ends of the height spectrum. Over the years, I have listened sympathetically to each end gripe about the ridiculous-to-rude remarks they routinely endure, but lately it’s become almost a competition about who has it worse, the under-talls or the over-talls. I feel their pain, and if your personal altitude has exposed you to unfair ridicule and mockery, I feel your pain as well. But you all are not the only ones suffering injustice on the vertical plane.

Why leave me out? This is still America, gosh darn it, and I intend to claim my fair share of victimhood.

Now hear this: middle dwellers suffer, too. We are your mothers, your sisters and your daughters, although it’s likely you never noticed us as we blend into the crowd without distinction. We of nondescript height are neither charmingly petite nor alluringly statuesque. We are stuck in the middle, part of the pack, just one of the herd. If height were hair color, we’d be dishwater blond. If height were grades, we’d be a “C” average. We are neither rare, nor well-done; we are plainly and unremarkably medium. Medium, a breath away from mediocre.

We are the usual; you are the unusual. We are the typical; you are the atypical. We are the expected; you are the exceptional. Let’s face it, we average-heighters put the ordinary in extraordinary. Even the Bible eschews those of us who occupy the middle ground. It says we, the lukewarm, being neither hot nor cold, will be spit out of God’s mouth. Spit out of the mouth of the Almighty (who presumably made us this way in the first place!). That’s a bit more severe than having to suffer foolish comments like “How’s the weather up there?” or “You don’t have far to go when you fall down.”

You, both the height-gifted and the height-challenged, command attention wherever you go. Heads turn and tongues wag when you walk in a room because you are, folks say,“something to see.” The most people say about us middle-of-the-roaders, if they say anything at all, is that we are nothing to write home about. So, tall ones and small ones, be grateful for your major or minor stature. It accords you recognition we fair-to-middling types will never attain. Tiptoes can never lift me high enough nor slouching push me low enough to be of note, a status you achieve just by being who you are. And who better to be other than yourself?

Come to think of it, who better for any of us — high, low or somewhere in between — to be other than ourselves? I hereby declare the height-whining competition null and void. (But, I still think I should have won!)

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

THAT shirt?

Told over two summers three years apart, Is That The Shirt You’re Wearing? is a collection of Kristen Hansen Brakeman’s funny and poignant essays about her life and family. From a laugh-out-loud debate with her potty-mouthed first grader to the hazards of shopping in an overly perfumed clothing store with her tween, to helping her husband cope with his diagnosis of prostate cancer, Brakeman tackles it all with wit and humor. The book, to be published in May 2017, is available for pre-orders here.

Pies are round like my hometown’s square

Judy ClarkeI’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.

That my dad lived such a long life — 90 — is attributable, in part, to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!

The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.

My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”

It is difficult to say no to a home-baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.

When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.

I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages, I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.

Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made.

But her great-gramps would have loved the results.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Laughter through the walls

Tracy BucknerThis past December, my husband and I took our two 20-something-year-old kids on a vacation to St. Croix. I love vacationing as a family, but the older your kids get, the more opinionated they become on what is considered vacation worthy and what isn’t.

Fun for my daughter is a beach. Fun for my son is anything BUT the beach. It gets a little heated between those two and telling them to face the wall and think about their behavior and tone doesn’t work anymore. My dream of being The Waltons had faded long ago.

So in past vacations it usually came down to my husband and son claiming any activity with the word extreme in front of it, and my daughter and I sitting on a beach with an extreme tiki bar.

But this vacation was different. I thought someone had kidnapped my children, replacing them with siblings who actually agreed with each other. When did this happen? It certainly hadn’t happened all through grade school when I paid my son to be nice to his sister for the babysitter. It hadn’t happened when I paid my daughter to play NASCAR on GameCube with her brother. I was constantly asking my husband for $20. And for those of you who say bribery will get you nowhere, guess again.

It’s expensive trying to be the Waltons.

During this vacation we went to tiki bars — TOGETHER! We went to beaches TOGETHER! Both wanted to ride wave runners and ride on ATVs, TOGETHER! I was dumfounded. Was that my daughter covered in mud and laughing as her brother deliberately ran through every single mud puddle? When the Captain on a boat trip to an outer island invited my son to ride up on the bridge, his only question was, “Can I bring my sister?”

Turning to my husband wide eyed, I said, “Did you bribe them to be nice to each other? Is that why you’re always searching for your wallet? Did he really say, “Can I bring my sister”?

OMG, we were the freaking Waltons!

I always pictured a life with my grown children living close enough to drop in whenever they wanted, to come for Sunday dinner. But my son was switching jobs and had accepted a position in California and my daughter, who would soon be graduating college, had accepted a job in Boston. Those sweet childhood years would be in my rear view mirror, and my role as Mom was changing. It’s a turning of the page, I guess.

At the end of our vacation both kids presented my husband and me with a thoughtful and generous gift, but they could have saved their money. Their friendship with each other was priceless. Their greatest gift to us was their laughter I heard through the walls long after we had gone to bed. It filled me up with such happiness that it’s hard to describe. Despite their bickering all those years, it was evident they were their own biggest fans. My daughter told me it had always been so, that bickering and siblings go together. Imagine the money I could have saved.

As we were getting ready to leave for the airport to catch our flight home and thinking we should be singing Kumbaya, my son looked at my daughter and said, “You are not going to the airport in those shorts.” And then my daughter looked at my son and said…

Well …. I can’t really repeat what she said.

I’m not expecting perfection.

After all, the Waltons aren’t a real family.

— 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. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

Spare clothes

Jennifer MeerThere are at least two if not many more universal truths known to all mothers. The first, is that while no child can hear the words “go get dressed” even when shouted directly into their eardrum, they can always hear any mother unwrap any item of food at any decibel and from any distance.

The second and equally important truth is that whoever doesn’t pack some spare clothes in the carry-on is the one who is going to need them.

Any guesses as to who didn’t pack herself a spare shirt?

As we set out on the rental car yesterday to begin our journey home from vacation, I turned to my husband who would not be making the trip back with me and my three kids and said something like, “It’s no problem. Really. I’ve got this.”

At which point God, overhearing this exchange, literally laughed out loud, put on his favorite footy pajamas, poured himself a drink, and I imagine said something like, “Well, this ought to be a good show.”

Was it the two-hour delay that turned into a four-hour delay or the toddler vomiting banana crepe all over me during that delay or the gate that wouldn’t go up in the parking lot to get us to the car that wouldn’t start because the battery was dead? I mean honestly, I’m not sure.

Truthfully, none of that matters now. What I really need to tell you is this:

• Never ever feed your children banana crepes ever and most certainly not when you are traveling.

• Other mothers are amazing. Should you find yourself alone in an airport with three children whilst covered in vomit, mothers will spring into action from all directions. I honestly did not know any of them nor where they came from, hoisting upon me plastic bags and wipes a plenty. I know on the Internet and even in real life we have a tendency to judge one another, but when it counts, we show up. We know full well that we are in this together.

• Our kids are capable of more than we think. We spend most of our days yelling not particularly useful things like, “Pick up your plate and shut off your video games!” and I wonder if they just start to believe they really aren’t capable of much more than that. Until one day you find that they are surprisingly adept and responsive as you yell, “Hose the baby off with your water bottle!” and “Grab those suitcases!” Sometimes I wonder if we’re just overthinking this whole enterprise. Maybe the best and most we can ever do at any one time is just believe in them.

• Lastly, pack yourself some spare clothes. Literally and figuratively. Throw in an extra shirt for yourself on that carry-on. Maybe it will just be a drop of soy sauce. Maybe it will be baby puke. Who knows? It can’t hurt. But more than that, think about what you will need. Practice thinking about and prioritizing your own needs.

Though I forgot some spare clothes yesterday, I was fortunate to remember a book which I read during a brief moment of bliss affectionately known as video game/nap time. It occurred B.B.C. (before banana crepe) and as I sat there, flipping through the pages of an old Erma Bombeck book, I could just picture my mother, buried deep within the pages of Erma’s columns and books on our vacations so long ago. I know now what she knew then: that if you give a child in a pool a mother, someone will suddenly need to pee or puke or eat, and that the mere sight of you will illicit the desire for someone to express their needs. My mother wasn’t reading. She was hiding.

God, that woman was smart.

I loved this line from yesterday’s pages in particular: “I don’t think women outlive men. It only seems longer.”


And if it’s going to feel longer, remember what I told you. Pack yourself some spare clothes, a candy bar that has had the wrapper previously removed and a good book. At the very least, God shouldn’t be the only one to enjoy this show.

— Jennifer Meer

Jennifer Meer writes a personal blog about parenting and family. Her work has been published in several online publications including, BlogHer, The Huffington Post, Kveller, Mamalode, The Manifest-Station, Modern Loss,,, Scary Mommy, The Stir and The Washington Post.


Public humiliation

Cindy Argiento We’ve all had embarrassing moments. My most recent one was forgetting to brush my teeth before I left the house in the morning and then wondering why everybody I spoke to kept backing away.

At least this time people didn’t laugh and point the way my classmates in sixth grade did when my skirt got stuck in my underwear. They all pointed and laughed as I walked to my seat. I guess I should be happy it happened before social media where it would be plastered for the world to see. Social media takes embarrassment to a whole new level.

Sometimes we’re embarrassed not for ourselves, but for others — “second hand embarrassment.”  You ever get embarrassed for a comedian dying on stage? You feel bad (squirming in your seat) knowing they know they’re bombing. Silence to a comedian is worse than a tomato in the face.

As part of a couple, if your spouse tells a joke and it falls flat, the embarrassment falls also on you — “second hand embarrassment,” embarrassment by relation.

In a house where the bathroom is off the kitchen, the stage is set for embarrassment. Tell me the genius who thought the kitchen/ bathroom combo was a good idea. It’s not.

You go to a friend’s house for dinner and halfway through the meal someone dashes to the bathroom. As you’re chewing your steak, you’re now being serenaded by moans and groans. You winch when you hear grunting and noises heard only from animals in the wild. You applaud when you hear the flush, but your glee is short lived as there’s a round two.

This round comes with cursing and air freshener being dispensed. Finally, the boxer emerges looking weary, but triumphant. Nobody acknowledges what went on in there. You keep eating and gradually realize you smell more than what’s on your plate. The smells wafting out from the bathroom and mingling with your food has created a rancid, overpowering stench of a cloud. People lose their appetite. Nobody wants to eat steak that smells like that. You gag with every bite. Guests offer excuses and make a hasty retreat. You, the hostess, watch people run to their car and think, how many friends did this cost me? Some embarrassing moments come at a high price.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

Dear Bernie…
A Boomer’s wish list

Molly StevensI don’t usually get involved in political rhetoric for fear of becoming homicidal and spending my retirement behind bars. And I look dreadful in orange. Plus I don’t want to think about the last time I wore a jumpsuit.

Anyway, with the election intensifying, I’ve become entangled in some of the Bernie brouhaha.

I took a pen in hand and wrote him a wish list.

Dear Bernie,

I know you appeal to Millennials and Generation XYZ, but I have some ideas to help you capture Baby Boomers’ hearts and votes.

Since I worked two jobs earning my degree from a state college, and paid off my modest loans years ago, here is what I want: free plastic surgery. Why should the elite be gorgeous in old age with access to eyelid lifts, liposuction and Botox? You could benefit from this, too, Bernie, and it might make people stop fussing about your advanced mature age.

Buoyed by the courage it took to tackle ATM fees, I suggest you focus on coupons. Do you know how much time and brainpower we waste clipping and saving coupons? And what about carbon emissions driving a 50-mile radius to save $1 on a case of Bounty? Let’s eliminate the coupon system and give everyone discounts. This is the only fair strategy for those who forget their coupons, or find outdated ones crumpled in the bottom of their purses.

I know you have a plan to pump more money into Social Security, but why do I have to wait until I’m 66 to draw the full amount? Who is going to tell Gen X they will be working until they are…er….your age? I think we should get the maximum monthly check whenever we retire.bernie Should we be penalized for graciously creating jobs for the unemployed?

This is a leap year, and those who live in the northern hemisphere will experience an additional subzero February day. Maybe the younger crowd loves the cold, but I see it as an extra day to suffer arthritis pain. Is this equitable when those in Australia enjoy a summer bonus day every four years? And how does this affect their global warming trends? I propose a trade agreement with the southern hemisphere for an extra day in June every eight years.

Before you establish Medicare for everyone, please revoke annual “wellness exams.” There is no evidence to suggest this improves health, and it causes harm from the shock of the yearly weigh in. With the billions you’ll save by outlawing these exams, you will have funds for important things. Like my plastic surgery.

I am thrilled that you support vacations for everyone, but could you take it a step farther and guarantee me an annual trip to Florida? I watch with envy as the affluent 1% pack up their Airstreams and head south at the first threat of a cold snap. Coming from the northeast, it is shocking this isn’t on your campaign “to do” list.

I hope my suggestions can boost Baby Boomer loyalty. Unfortunately, Hillary has cemented most of the superdelegates’ votes, so you have a “Vermont snowball’s chance in Florida” of winning the nomination. I’m counting on her plan to cure Alzheimer’s by 2025 to keep me from wandering off into “Dementia-ville.” Despite my sagging eyelids and cellulite, my brain will be forever young.


An Uneasy Baby Boomer

What would you add to this wish list? What are your ‘Bernie-ng’ desires?

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Before I die: sink hair!

Barbara Younger HeadshotIn Dallas last summer, I visited a beer garden with a huge chalkboard. At the top, I read the words, “ BEFORE I DIE.” Below were blanks, each beginning: “Before I die, I want to______.”

From the looks of the crowd, I suspect the answers were chalked in by beer drinkers a lot younger than I am. I imagine they contemplated their bucket lists with a much airier attitude than we older folks do.

But this post isn’t about my bucket list. It’s about coming to terms with dying. Who’s working on it? Me.

My mother’s death last year from cancer at age 90, and the great courage she showed, give me the guts to really contemplate my earthly mortality. The experts promise that accepting death helps us live the rest of our years with gratitude and gusto.

Barbara Younger-Photo-Before I DieFor me, one aspect is finally realizing I can’t control much of what happens after I die (because I’m dead). Who takes my childhood dolls and my grandmother’s china? How many years (or months!) until my husband Cliff remarries? Will anyone remember (or keep) my published books?

What I cared about at 40, I can now let go.

But the other day we had friends coming over. I realized at the last minute that I had NOT gone over the bathroom. Yucky hair festooned the sink. My hair.

What if I weren’t here to clean the sink? What if I were dead and people came to pay their condolences to Cliff and the sink looked like it did last Friday night?

I don’t care if laundry blankets the couch. I don’t care if the sink is teaming with greasy dishes. I don’t care if shoes make a mountain by the back door. Do I care about sink hair? YES!

I told Cliff not to let anyone into the house until he has checked the sink. The sponge and cleaner are underneath. He said okay. What a man! I hope he finds an adorable second wife.

I’m not ready to die yet, but I’m one mini-step closer now that I know my sink’s appearance is secured.

How about you? What have you let go? What do you still worry/care about after you die?

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013 and 2014.

Reflections of Erma