(This piece by Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. magazine, first appeared in the Huffington Post on Oct. 7, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)
When we were cleaning out my mother’s home of 60 years, I found an envelope in the handwriting of my father who had died 30 years earlier. It said, “to be opened in case of my death abroad.” He traveled a lot and alone, so I could understand his concern that his wishes under those circumstances be known. The letter is very business-like, he lists bank accounts, insurance, stocks, practical things like that; and he makes clear that he wants to be cremated in whatever country he died.
Then he adds one last request, “forget me fast.”
I think what he meant — his English was never very good — was, “don’t grieve and mourn and make a fuss; get on with your lives.” But the message was chilling, as if he wanted us to act as if he had never lived.
I think of “the afterlife” as the place where memories of those who touched our lives live on. Nothing is more precious or sacred.
Recently, I have been immersed in memories of people and times long past, as I packed up to move from the apartment where we had lived for 18 years and raised our children. I had to go through our “stuff” including boxes and boxes marked simply “memories,” a couple of which hadn’t been untaped since our last move. A lot of it had to go.
The process gave me an intense trip down memory lane, guided by what I had thought worth saving …. how well I still remembered why …. and countless photographs of the people and events that had been highlights of my life. With each one I had to ask myself about which of those “memories” I wanted to take with me into the future.
There were birthday cards, letters, children’s drawings, every report card I ever received, and all those photographs. (I guess I am from the last generation that will have boxes, as opposed to digital files, of them). What to toss?
One category quickly emerged: the who-what-where the hell is that? In some cases I tried really hard to activate the glimmer of recognition the photo or artifact ignited and had to settle for the sad fact that I never would.
Another category was: what can I save for my children to know about our family history, my life and their own childhoods. I had to smile as I designated for safe-keeping every single one of their baby teeth that I had stashed away, well aware that they both thought that was “gross.” What I was trying to pass on, I realized, was the memory of the fact that I was the kind of mom who saved baby teeth.
The biggest revelation came as I entered the next round of decisions: triaging the meaningful memories.
I realized that some of them were items that only I would be able to identify, and that I knew I would never have occasion to look at again. So why keep them? Intimations of mortality are supposed to be sad, but I found myself strangely exhilarated by all this. First of all, shedding baggage, even good baggage, is freeing; it lightens the load.
Even more unexpected was the delight I felt for the momentary visit with the letter, snapshot, or home-made ashtray on its way to the discard pile. As I held it in my hand, I often found myself smiling and sometimes sighing before saying goodbye. That moment was enough. A gift.
I am grateful for the moment of recollection, but also grateful to be moving on.
Each decision to save or toss helped me define What Matters, really matters, to me, and what memories define me. Each decision also made me aware of the need to tend to the memories we create in the lives of people who cross our paths. Ultimately those, not my boxes of teeth and photos, are our legacy.
– Suzanne Braun Levine
Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your Health. In 2014, she served on the EBWW faculty.
When planning our family vacation, I had never heard of the banana taxi. I certainly did not picture myself on one, yet somehow I ended up straddling the inflatable yellow raft pulled by a speedboat, hanging on to a small piece of rope for dear life.
I had no idea that the banana taxi ride would teach me valuable life lessons, and remind me of some that are easy to forget.
1. Be the fun parent on occasion.
“You’ve gotta go on the banana taxi, too! C’mon! It’ll be fun!” my tween implored.
I was dubious. “I don’t think parents do that, honey, it’s all kids.”
Another dad nearby said, “I did it last year.” I presumed that meant he was hopping on the banana again. Wrong. He opted out and the taxi was full of tweens and teens, with my husband and I sandwiched in the middle of them.
We were the only parents on the ride. I was mortified, but my daughter was okay with it. Actually, she seemed downright pleased. She said that we were fun. That is what family vacation was all about.
2. Go wild, not mild.
There were two options: mild and wild. The young staffer handling banana boat registration (how does one include that on a resume?) cheerfully informed us as we signed waivers that the mild ride was full. We would be on the wild ride.
I expressed concern that “wild” was not where we of the middle aged belonged. She said, “It’s not so bad.” Then she laughed maniacally.
It was pretty bad. That boat driver did, in fact, take the term “wild” seriously. He went fast. Really, really fast.
He made sure to crisscross over the wakes he created, sending the banana and its riders high into the air. He made sharp turns that created what I’m sure were 3Gs (okay, maybe not). It was, in fact, wild.
3. Hang on tight.
Sometimes, on the banana taxi and in life, things get unexpectedly bumpy. There’s not much you can do other than hang on tightly. You do what you can, and that’s enough.
Even when it isn’t enough, you fall off and get back on. That’s okay, too.
4. Enjoy the ride.
This taxi ride lasted longer than anticipated. We got our money’s worth, but I had time to think about whether my obituary would include the phrase ”unfortunate, unexpected banana taxi accident.” When I realized that such phrasing would be awesome, I enjoyed the ride.
I still feared for my life (and my dignity), but I laughed a whole lot more.
5. People are kind.
Neither my husband nor I fell off the banana taxi. It was a family vacation miracle!
Actually, no, it was not. As I ungracefully dismounted from the banana, the driver said that he had tried to take it easy on the side of the boat on which my husband and I were sitting. Something about us not wanting to break bones and sue him. But really, I think he was trying to be kind to us, and I was grateful.
In our defense, the ride was still not a leisurely lake cruise. I know this because my child went on her second banana taxi ride the following day, without us.
She couldn’t wait to sign up for the wild ride. She was livid because the driver went slowly, and no one fell off. “It was nothing like yesterday,” she said. “Yesterday was wild, and awesome! Today was like it was for all the old people.” That day, there were no adults on the banana taxi.
– Shannan Ball Younger
Shannan Ball Younger is a writer living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and tween daughter. She blogs about parenting at Mom Factually and weathering the hormone hurricane at Tween Us on ChicagoNow. She grew up in Erma’s home state of Ohio and was thrilled to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2014. Her essays can be found in the anthologies My Other Ex and The HerStories Project. She was part of the Listen to Your Mother Chicago 2013 cast. You can also find Shannan on Facebook and Twitter.
Superman, Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk all possess superpowers, but I enjoy supremacy even greater than X-ray vision, unlimited strength or the ability to fly. My capabilities come from grocery lists in my pocket and canned goods on aisle seven. It’s the power of food acquisition, and I’ve assumed extreme control.
Simply put, I do 97.376 percent of the grocery shopping for my family. Let the scope of that sink in for a moment. Pause and ponder like you might over the glazed donuts in the bakery section.
Victuals. Chow. Sustenance. Edibles. Nourishment. Cuisine. Food impacts the menu, mood, mind and mojo – and the person purchasing the food is in charge. Not even Superman with his flowing red cape and tight blue tights can top that.
It’s absolute power at its finest. If I want tacos for supper, we have tacos for supper. Yo quiero. Never mind they had tacos at school for lunch. To heck with that. Mom’s got a craving – for pizza or potato salad or potpie. It’s what’s for dinner.
Creamy or chunky, white or wheat, whole or skim, dill or sweet, apples or bananas, cool ranch or spicy hot, rocky road or Neapolitan, cheddar or pepper jack, mayo or the other stuff – it’s all my call.
It gets even better. I alone am in control of their entire cookie supply: chocolate chip, frosted, oatmeal – or none of the above. Snack control is a commanding tool when in the hands of the skilled superhuman formerly known as mom.
For instance, three years ago I banished fruit snacks from the pantry, declaring them imposters – without membership in any food group. The young people living with me still beg for fruit snacks on occasion, but I’m holding fast. Power trips can be exhilarating.
Speaking of power trips, I took two today. There’s another perk of supremacy – multiple trips to the grocery store on any given Tuesday. This phenomenon occurs when an essential item is forgotten during the initial outing. Even superheroes have memory lapses. Today I forgot dog treats and ice cream, which were egregious errors according to all four and two-legged inhabitants of my home. So I returned for round two of the hunger games. They are happy with me now. That isn’t always the case.
Like the time I went on a diet. They lost 12 pounds between them during the first week; I was up two. I finally caved and bought some white bread and processed cheese spread. It took a couple days, but they warmed up to me eventually. Such is the price of super-heroism.
Sometimes one of them attempts to accompany me to the store. They’ve even tried stowing away in the back seat, but I’m smarter than a fifth grader – plus I have eyes in the back of my head. Having a sidekick acts like kryptonite to my superpowers and causes us to return home with extra cereal and corn chips. There can be only one superhero in the family – except if you are Batman.
I am not a complete mom of steel. I allow them to make food requests, which I may or may not fulfill. They’ll just have to wait and see. Anticipation can encourage a person to do super-uncharacteristic and super-helpful things – like make the bed, pick up dirty clothes off the floor, empty the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry or mow the lawn without being asked. All completed in the time it takes your mom to do the grocery shopping.
The power to influence them like that is nothing short of super – and I’m not even wearing my cape today.
– Jill Pertler
Jill Pertler’s weekly syndicated humor column, “Slices of Life,” appears in more than 100 newspapers across the U.S. Her columns have received awards and recognition from Humor Press as well as publication in numerous Chicken Soup books and books in the Not Your Mother’s Book series. She’s also an author and published playwright (Brooklyn Publishing), with three produced plays. You can find her column on her “Slices of Life” Facebook page, where Jill welcomes followers, as well as numerous newspaper websites. When not writing, Jill is an award-winning mother, wife and queen – and she’s got the tiara to prove it.
If you ever want to find out what’s going on in my life on any given day, just look on my refrigerator door. It will tell you everything you want to know about me, my family and even people we don’t know.
With a single glance, the door tells you who is doing what, where, when and the stages of life of every family member. Forget Facebook, our lives are an open book hanging out for everyone to read on a kitchen appliance.
The refrigerator door has become the family bible and scrapbook of contemporary life, noted a friend who has been following our family over the past 10 years by the pictures, notes and the other magnetically affixed mishmash that hangs there. And, she’s right.
Our refrigerator, our life
If you look at our refrigerator door right now, you can decipher we have three sons, in their mid-to late 20s. Through simple deduction, you can guess one son is married, because there’s a picture of him in a tuxedo standing next to a woman wearing wedding dress.
Several Christmas card photos show our youngest son in military fatigues posing on a $25 million Army helicopter. And a third son stands in front of a large display of playing cards and dice. The pictures kind of tell you what they all do.
Through closer examination, you can tell by the receipts on the fridge we shop at D&W and Meijer for groceries, T J. Maxx for clothing and Sam’s Club for laundry products and other bulk items. The receipts tell you we have cats, wash clothes a lot, drink coffee and diet soda, are well-stocked on bathroom tissue and spend a lot on Christmas but generally look for bargains.
Pizza delivery source
If anyone wants to find out about my family, they don’t need to go through a tedious search of paper and electronic files, look through our garbage or read Twitter. All they need to do is walk into our kitchen and glance at the refrigerator door.
Our whole life is cataloged on that refrigerator door. You can tell what colleges we went to, what clubs we belong to, our pizza delivery source, our church, where we have to go next week, our job locations, doctors, appliance repair people and next week’s dinner plans.
We also display on our refrigerator favorite relatives and their children, where we went on vacation last year, where our friends went on vacation, our shoe sizes, dates of birthdays and special occasions, favorite sports teams, lost personal items, pending bills as well as a note to remind everyone to, “Shut the refrigerator door.”
When I was growing up back in the 1950s, there wasn’t much on my mother’s refrigerator at home because sticky notes and magnets with advertising on them hadn’t yet been invented. The only thing I can remember always seeing on our refrigerator was the name “Amana.”
Later of course, my mom put up Scotch-taped notes reminding me to close the refrigerator door and admonitions that read, “Don’t eat the tuna salad. It’s for dinner.”
When my wife, Madeline, and I got married, we started putting up baby pictures on our refrigerator so we could remember that we had three boys and what they looked like. Actually, we stuck pictures on the refrigerator because we were too poor to buy photo albums, but we already owned a refrigerator.
Over the years, the landscape of our refrigerator has cataloged the changing seasons of our lives with every picture, crayon drawing and report card.
The refrigerator door is how we keep track of our lives.
In fact, I remember once taking everything off the refrigerator door to clean it. I looked at the stark naked refrigerator door and thought, “It looks like no one lives here.
– Myron Kukla
Myron Kukla is a professional journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company WriteStuff. Kukla is the author of two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He has also just published two ebooks on Amazon.com, Chomp andSomething in the Blood.
You just may be a Halloween hater if:
• Seeing your neighbors’ houses dripping in orange lights, life-sized scarecrows and inflatable witches, you give in to the pressure and plunk a half-price, festering pumpkin on your front step on Oct. 30. And you deeply resent spending the buck fifty.
• Your kids’ store-bought, lead-based, choking hazard, 100% artificially-dyed, plastic costumes come with a personalized lecture from David Suzuki. And you don’t flinch.
• On Halloween night, you turn off your lights at 6:15 p.m. and gorge on Ruffles chips and Crispy Crunch bars. Cry me a river, tardy goblins.
• You buy your candy at the Dollar Store and it contains names like: Teeth- Manglers, Glucose Gut Rot and Dextrose Death. And you deeply resent spending the buck fifty.
• When you spot a van from another neighborhood dropping off hordes of sweaty, hulking superheroes, you give them canned ravioli. Opened.Upside down.
• You ‘unfriend’ anyone on Facebook who makes homemade costumes and uploads photos. If they say stuff like “I just whipped this up before breakfast! Soooo easy! lol” or “Ta da! Check out little Hunter’s and my matching costumes!” ‘unfollow’ their blog, too. They asked for it.
• You bring a mickey with you when you take your kids door to door. And let’s just say it doesn’t always end well. Don’t judge me.
• When the doorbell rings for the 7 millionth time while you try to watch an episode of “Mad Men,” you simply remove the doorbell’s battery. With a sledge hammer. In front of the little costumed beggars.
• When a brain-fried four-year old trick-or-treater points at the makeshift spider web you spent five endless minutes manipulating with your bare hands in the cold and asks, “What’s that?” you smile really, really wide, bend down so you’re eye to eye and say, “You wanna see how it feels against your face, sweetie? Because I swear to God I can make that happen in a hurry!”
• The sight of Martha Stewart sneering from a magazine cover, posed with a montage of symmetrical, laser beam-carved pumpkins and Gummi-worm stew inside her Beetlejuice-themed grand room, holding a sign saying: “Too bad you can’t do this sh**. Loser.” brings you right back to the anger phase you’ve worked so hard to get beyond.
**Please note: The opinions in this article do not reflect those of the writer. She quite likes the jaundiced look when she wears orange and black; she goes crazy for dressing up in a French maid costume; and she adores reminding unsocialised little witches and goblins to say “please” and “thank you.”
— 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 at https://onehotflashinmama.
“I have a respect for manners as such, they are a way of dealing with people you don’t agree with or like.” – Margaret Mead
Before I was a mother who daily pounded the concrete playground jungles of New York City, I was a nanny. The playground is an excellent place for urban anthropology. After a certain number of years logged people-watching, I fancy myself the Margaret Mead of playgrounds.
For tourists with children, I’ve compiled a handy pocket guide to the types you will encounter most frequently on the NYC playground because it is important to know whom to ask for a spare diaper or Kleenex with which to wipe something biologically produced off your tot’s red nose or bottom.
1. The East Side Mother. They’re spreading out. You can now find them wandering west of the mid-line of Central Park, a whole cab-ride distance from their penthouses on Fifth or Madison Avenue. Some even live on Central Park West or in Soho, but they are still East Side mothers. There are a few ways to spot one. First, this woman is amazingly dirt-repellent. Her suede Prada boots or Burberry flats have a Teflon quality. Her hair, similarly, is immune to the winds of January or the humidity of July. Her makeup is impeccable, and her black Chanel sunglasses convey her existential boredom. Her child wears a quilted jacket to match hers, and if it is a girl, she will have a grosgrain ribbon in her silky blond hair. Grab a snapshot of this urban legend (but not myth) while you can, because within half an hour she will look up from her phone, wave distractedly at her child, who will be swinging with the aid of her nanny, and briskly vanish. She is going somewhere very important. She must attend private sessions with her trainer, lunches with fellow Episcopal School PTA members and appointments with a personal shopper at Bergdorf’s. She is also forever in charge of school fundraisers and charity events. Do not attempt conversation with her; she will cut you like a serrated knife. She won’t have a diaper in her Hermes tote, anyway. Feel free to ask her nanny for supplies if you are desperate.
2. The Hipster Father. Just as many birds have distinctive tail colors that make them easy to spot, the Hipster Father is instantly recognizable from his bright orange sneakers. I don’t know who started this orange thing, but it isn’t going anywhere among fathers who play in Brooklyn-based bands and have penchants for vegan cuisine and home-brewed beer. The hipster father loves to give you a Kleenex. He wants to demonstrate that he is every bit as much a caregiver as a mother, and you know what? He is. I have no beef (so to speak) with the Hipster Father, except that this species tends to call male offspring “buddy.” This semantic tic reveals the Hipster Father’s refusal to acknowledge a difference between childhood and adulthood. Still, the Hipster Father will help you with the iron latch gate, he will ask you if it is okay to catch your falling daughter (because many parents think letting girls fall face-down on asphalt gives them a leg up in life and the Hipster Father wants to establish his feminist credentials) and he will offer your child Cheerios or whatever other form of snack he has in his grungy jeans. He is usually a very nice guy. Please note: he will not, under any circumstances, talk to you. It’s tricky for any father on the playground. How can he be nice without seeming like a single, or worse, married dad who might be hitting up the playground for dates? This problem is compounded by being a hipster: he usually looks like a college kid and, therefore, like someone perpetually seeking some action. Be kind to the Hipster Dad; he is shy and doing his best. Offer him a Kleenex if you can.
3. The Artist Part-Time Nanny. You can tell she is not a mother because she is too young to be one in Manhattan. Manhattan dwellers don’t start reproducing until their mid- to late-30s, and the Artist Part-Time Nanny is most definitely in her mid 20s. She is pretty, she uses a canvas backpack, she is on high alert when her charge is climbing any structure: one fall and it could be curtains for her. She rarely uses her cell phone except to talk to her boss. She is well spoken (having just graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts), and her eyes will widen with surprise when a mother chats with her as though she were a person. Her hair is very long or daringly short, she looks like the tomboy sister who blossoms into a swan and steals the heart of the nerdy star of a mumblecore movie. She has her makeup bag and her script for her audition tucked at the bottom of her backpack, so if you unexpectedly need some blush or sheet music or a leotard while on the playground, she is your woman
4. The West Side Mother. She’s a tricky one. She might be in jeans and stylish boots, but she is usually in her Old Navy leggings and Easy Spirit sneakers. The West Side Mother is nicer than the East Side Mother, but she is usually involved in a conversation with other mothers she made previous arrangements to meet. Her son is named “Hudson” instead of the East Side Mother’s “Spencer” or “Brantley.” She might work part-time, or try to, and she might have a nanny and be heavily pregnant with a sibling for Hudson. She might be just as sparkling with diamonds as her East Side counterpart, but she usually attempts to be down to earth. She and her spouse are discussing leaving the city even as they renovate the kitchen in their co-op. If you need a diaper or directions to a bathroom, she is happy to help you. The Upper West Side Mother is neither friend nor foe. She will not be quick to exchange numbers for a play date, but if you find one who is happy, she might chat with you for a bit.
5. Grandparents. Oh boy. They came in for a few days to help out. They live about an hour or two away from NYC. They are obsessive about every step their grand-offspring make. If your child so much as steps in their grandson’s direction, they will mumble something about what is wrong with parenting today. No child need trespass another before a vague, often accented speech can be heard at the back of their throats. You will hear these phrases coming from Grandparents: “There is no such thing as the terrible twos, only terrible parenting.” “I didn’t even know he knew what a menorah was, and suddenly, this little genius is reciting the Hebrew blessing,” and “How about some ice cream? Come on, aren’t we tired of the sandbox?” Beware of engaging in conversations with Grandparents. You might take to them because their perfume reminds you of your own grandmother, but resist the urge. They are crazy, and they are not your family. They also have a tendency to make statements to which there are no appropriate responses, and you might get confused and lose track of your own child while trying to converse with a Grandparent. Before you know it, your daughter is dangling head first from a towering structure and Grandpa has wandered off for ice cream anyway.
6. The Full-Time Nanny. I’ve arrived at the third rail of Manhattan parenting topics. Here we have the most common type you’ll see on a NYC playground, but the least recognized or discussed. The Full-Time Nanny is easy to spot because she is the only grownup on the playground, grownups included. She does not generally have patience for mothers. You might be typing creepy things into the website “I Saw Your Nanny.” (Some Manhattan mothers devote hours to stalking this site, expecting to find out that her nanny is the great-granddaughter of Jack the Ripper or worse, that she is giving her child non-organic bananas.) She may soften if you badger her with chit-chat. She is more confident in her choices than the Artist Part-Time Nanny: when she says it is time to leave the playground, her charge knows she means it. She is tired, commutes a long distance and works long hours so she will talk on her cell phone as much as she wants. She does not use baby talk; she has real conversations with children. They run into her welcoming arms when they need her because she does not hover. If you need a Kleenex, wipe, snack or diaper, she is your go-to source. She has every supply imaginable packed perfectly into the stroller, and she can find anything she needs in 2.5 seconds. She also knows the way to every playground and museum in the city. She even knows what time story hour is at the nearest library branch. Go ahead, try to stump her.
And there you have it: the six types you see most frequently on a New York City playground. There are others, of course. You’ll see the chic Parisian Au Pair, the Parent-On-Her-Day-Off, the Wall Street Dad still dressed for work but pushing a swing on a Friday afternoon. You will also see The Swedish Nanny. She’s the one who parks her bundled-up charge in a stroller by icy lakes in the dead of winter because that’s how they roll in Sweden; they think children sleep better frozen.
In fact, you’ll see it all here: a carnival of oddballs. The one thing you won’t spot is someone normal. Don’t let that trouble you. Most of us are happy to give you a diaper wipe or an apple slice. The other day I opened up a bag of peanuts and 20 toddlers clustered like pigeons at my ankles. Nothing breaks the ice like your toddler storming a stranger and demanding food. Every parent can relate to that.
New Yorkers are not exactly warm, but if you prod and push, they will give in and offer up some conversation, at least about the weather. Welcome to the Big Apple, and happy playground people-watching!
— Leslie Kendall Dye
Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor and dancer in Manhattan. She was a nanny for years before having her own child. Her work has been featured on Mamalode, The Huffington Post, Nanny Magazine, Tipsy Lit, Mamapedia , Project Underblog, Off The Shelf and others. You can find her typing her weird little essays into hungrylittleanimal.blogspot.com when she is not trying to get her toddler to bed before 11 p.m.
(This piece originally ran in the Stamford Advocate on Sept. 25, 2014. Reposted by permission of Jerry Zezima.)
The late, great humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “Housework, if you do it right, can kill you.”
Since I am still alive, thanks to my wife, Sue, who does most of the housework in our house, I guess I am not doing it right.
This does not come as a surprise to either me or Sue because of a startling statistic I read in the latest edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which states: “The average American woman will spend 6 years of her life doing housework; the average American man, 3 years, 8 months.”
Looking on the bright side, men die sooner. According to the Almanac, the average American man lives for 76.19 years; the average American woman, 81.17 years.
This means, I figured out when I should have been doing housework, that women live about five years longer than men but do housework only 2 years, 4 months longer. So men actually do housework for a greater percentage of their lives, 21.16 vs. 13.53, than women.
“That’s a stupid statistic,” Sue said when she heard this, resisting the urge to end my life about 16 years short of the average. “I’ve been doing housework for 36 years. I started the day we got married.”
“No, you didn’t, because we went on our honeymoon, remember?” I pointed out helpfully.
“OK, so I got a week off,” Sue said. “But I’ve been doing housework ever since.”
“You can’t say I haven’t helped,” I said.
“Yes, you have,” Sue acknowledged. “You do clean our bathroom, but I do the other two. So that means I clean twice as many bathrooms as you do.”
“One and a half,” I noted, reminding her that we have a half-bathroom downstairs.
Sue also acknowledged that I clean the litter boxes (for our two cats, not me, because I use the bathroom that I clean) and that I vacuum (the carpets, not the litter boxes).
“And I iron,” I said, “because I’m a member of the press.”
Sue ignored the remark, even though she was steamed, and added, “And you do fold clothes.”
This gave her a chance to air my dirty laundry. For the first 25 years of our marriage, I didn’t do the laundry. Then, finally, I learned how. But we recently got rid of our old washer and bought a new one, which Sue won’t let me use.
“I’m afraid you’ll break it,” she said.
“Does this mean I don’t have to do the laundry for the next 25 years?” I asked.
Sue looked at me as if to say, “If we’re still married 25 years from now, I’m going to stick my head in the oven.”
Speaking of which, she said, “You don’t cook. And you don’t empty the dishwasher. And you don’t dust.”
“You’re not supposed to dust dishes, are you?” I inquired.
“And,” Sue continued, “you don’t do windows.”
“That’s because they’re a pane,” I reasoned.
Sue reminded me that I don’t do yard work anymore because we hired a landscaper this year. “So you should have more time to do housework,” she said.
She was right, of course, so I said, “What do you want me to do?”
“The windows,” Sue responded. “They’re filthy.”
“Should I use ammonia and water?” I asked.
“You sound like you’re stuck in the 1950s,” Sue said. “Nobody uses ammonia and water anymore. Use Windex.”
“I use that on the bathroom mirror,” I said, though I was afraid to mention that I also use it to clean stains from the carpet when one of the cats coughs up a hairball.
I got a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex and proceeded to do the windows in the family room. I also cleaned the glass in the front storm door. For the first time in ages, sunshine streamed in.
“Nice job,” Sue said.
“Anything to help,” I replied. “Do you want me to make dinner?”
“No!” Sue shrieked. “You might burn the house down.”
“At least then,” I said, “we wouldn’t have to clean it.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
I spent an afternoon with a few girlfriends, and one of them asked me to help her load pictures from her camera onto her computer.
I said, “Don’t you have three kids at home who can upload, download, share and/or tag anything faster than you can say the word help?” “They have no patience for me,” she responded. Another girlfriend said, “They only want to show me something once.” Then, “they are always putting me off…too busy.”
Seriously? I thought. No patience? They’re too busy?
I’m wondering how these kids would have responded if their mothers had the same impatience when it was time for potty training. Can you imagine as they cried because they needed a diaper change if we rolled our eyes and said, “Really? Again?”
When it was time to teach them to ride a bike without training wheels, how about if we said, “Are you kidding me? Didn’t I just show you this yesterday? Don’t you have a friend you can ask?”
I’m sure you fondly remember making yourself available to teach them how to throw a baseball, a football, a frisbee, to ice skate, swing a racquet, a golf club, do a cartwheel, a forward roll. Just imagine their faces if we had said, “Does it have to be done right now?”
The list goes on and on of what we did with patience and smiles. We spent weeks explaining how to tie one’s shoelaces, sip from a cup and then when it was finally accomplished, we clapped like they had won the Pulitzer. You put your own socks on?! You pulled your pajama pants up?! YAY! Clap, clap, clap! I clapped so much I had calluses on my palms.
I can’t remember ever once rolling my eyes at my kids, can you?
I didn’t think so.
A friend had the best retort when her son complained about helping her with her iPod. “Look, she said, it took me months to potty train you. Sit down and show me this.”
Right on, girlfriend.
I admit, technology issues do need to be explained a few times before I understand enough to be proficient. But once I have it down, I’m pretty good at remembering how to do it. And sometimes, after getting impatient waiting to be shown how to do it, I figure it out on my own. Our kids must think that if they just ignore us, maybe we will have to figure it out on our own. Maybe it’s their way of showing us tough love?
Maybe we should have tried the tough love approach when they wanted us to teach them to parallel park.
But what a feeling when on my own, I do figure it out.
Hah! I want to shout, “I did it! I did it!”
Who needs those uber-busy, hyper-connected, impatient and oh so brilliant, incredibly fast-texting children anyway?
After realizing nobody was coming home from college or driving 900 miles from Michigan to show me how to make an online photo album, I researched, did a few trial-and-error uploads to my computer, Photoshopped all the photos so that nobody looked better than me, got rid of red-eye, tagged people, and I even added music! I cropped photos, made an album cover and allowed people to post and share comments. Then I sent all the photos out electronically for printing to Snapfish.
All on my own, thank you very much.
As I hit SEND, I secretly wait for someone to clap, to say “YAY,” to give me a prize, a ribbon, a trophy, anything as I had done for so many years.
So I called my mother.
And she clapped.
(Thank you, DL, for the inspiration and for my Mom who always clapped the loudest).
— 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.