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One mortifying moment

cynthia-washingtonSexy underwear was coming to town! Victoria’s Secret announced its grand opening in a colorful (mostly flesh colored) full-page ad days after the opening of a new shopping mall.

After four years of baggy cotton briefs and absorbent nursing bras, I was ready! When I pointed to the sexy model wearing a thimble full of silk, my husband Charlie and I decided to go. I had doubts about bringing Sean, our four-year-old, along, but we didn’t need no stinkin’ babysitter!

Inside the busy Victoria’s Secret, sales staff helped customers make selections and graciously ushered them to plush dark-pink fitting rooms. I browsed sheer lingerie and became smitten with a tiger-striped push-up bra. Lost in a fantasy of wearing this little number under a starchy business suit, a Mona Lisa smile on my face, I was distracted by a giggle. Then the sales woman next to me began laughing. Curious, I looked up.

There he stood.

Face down in a stack of panties.

Our son.

Sean was rolling his face side to side, groaning with pleasure at a display table in the bustling entrance (of course). Passing shoppers slowed their pace to stop, look and listen. They also pointed and laughed.

I glared at his dad, the two of us instantly telepathic.

Do something!

I don’t know him.”

How can you not know him? He’s tethered to your wrist!”

That may be, but he’s 10 feet away.”

Are you kidding me? You were supposed to keep an eye on him!”

Look at this stuff!”

I was trying to! Get him outta there!”

Nope.”

Fine!”

I walked over and gently asked my son to lift his face from a stack of Mediterranean-blue silk thongs.

“Aw, mom, they feel soooooo nice on my face!” he protested loudly, his timing impeccable as he patted his cheeks for emphasis. A woman behind us erupted into a loud belly laugh. Blushing, I marched him to a bench a safe distance away. His dad followed at the end of the 10-foot tether, still pretending he wasn’t with us. I handed Sean over and told Charlie to stay out.

I didn’t buy anything, but I made a couple shopping decisions that day — leaving the boys home and wearing dark glasses and a trench coat the next time I browsed there.

— Cynthia Washington

Cynthia Washington, a retired federal employee, lives in Washington State (honest!), is a freelance journalist and a creative quilter. She’s written on many topics including compost worms and surviving a near-divorce experience after an archaeology dig “vacation.”

Regret and the empty nest

Kim EllerI’ve got a secret to tell you. You know what the empty nest really is? It’s a big old never-ending Monday morning quarterback session and it sucks.

When my youngest left for college, I wasn’t one of those weepy moms hanging out at the dorm dreading the goodbye. First of all, it was hotter than the hinges of hell, and anger is my only real emotion available in sweltering heat. There was a tense hug goodbye, mostly due to the fact we both were stinky sweaty, and he wasn’t appreciating my design-on-a-dime lecture. By the end of the day I was on my way home to air conditioning and freedom.

How I would fill my time was not a worry, I entertained. Hell, I had a list titled Freedom Sweet Freedom that was a mile long. I wasn’t short on plans for the future, and the top three were writing, sex with the door open and leaving the liquor cabinet unlocked.

I envisioned myself in a very compromising position wearing nothing but pearls and balancing a martini.

But things didn’t quite work out as I had so eagerly anticipated.

It turns out without someone to parent I was stuck in a playback reel of my worst parenting moments. I ended up crying over scrapbooks while clutching my pearls and drinking straight from the bottle.

Would Michael go into the world scarred because I didn’t make him a hot breakfast every morning? I have Lisa Grodman to thank for that guilt. Damn breakfast cooking mother!

Did I talk to the kids enough about money and finances or would they end up homeless and bankrupt because I let them slide on that stupid summer math homework?

Would my children dread coming home for break and try to slip home with a cool kid’s family? Would they dread coming home because I was too nosey? Those are their words not mine; I like to think of myself as actively interested in the lives of my children.

Would they recall all those times that I hid in the van to have a moment’s peace? I vaguely remember threatening to sell our house and get a one-room apartment if they didn’t get out from under my feet. I wish I had been more patient and realized one day they would be gone and I would be home alone drowning in vodka and nostalgia.

It just doesn’t seem fair that I have to spend my first days of quiet in 23 years filled with self doubt.

So yes, my nest is empty, but my heart is full of regret.

I wish I had been more patient and tolerant.

I wish I had colored more and worried about my house less. I wish I had built more forts and played more Barbies.

I wish we had taken more adventures and road trips where the destination was unknown. I have Angela Youngblood to thank for that guilt. Damn spontaneous road tripping mother!

I wish I had taken time to talk to them, really talk to them more often about things that mattered and not just about the importance of a clean room. From the looks of their dorm rooms that time was clearly wasted.

I wish I had snuggled more and hugged them really hard every chance I got. The kind of hug where they knew I never wanted to let go.

But I did have to let go and there’s no getting back that time. My only redemption will be with the grandchildren I hope to have someday.

So I guess with all this regret and wishing swirling around in my brain, it’s a good thing the liquor cabinet is all ready unlocked.

P.S. It’s really hard to relax and have great sex with the door open with all this time-consuming regret. Go hug your kids!

— Kim Reynolds

Kim Reynolds is a happily married, midlife maniac raising four talented millennials and is a caregiver for her crazy Southern mother (Bless Her Heart).  She chronicles her attempts at surviving all this on her blog Kim’s Crazy Life and for the Oakland Press in Pontiac Michigan.

Tantrums and trouble

Barrie BismarkJust imagine what the world would be like if it was acceptable for grown adults to act like children. I mean actually acceptable — at work, home, restaurants, wherever.

Perhaps it already is. I have witnessed far too many adults throwing tantrums and acting like toddlers in the workplace and in the general public. I fear that this behavior is becoming the norm. If I am being completely honest, I, myself, have been known to throw a fit or two when I didn’t get my way, but I’m usually right (at least I think so). I’ve seen it first hand — executives acting more ridiculous than young children who really don’t know any better. In my opinion, serious times outs are needed for those crybabies.

Like me, most toddlers want to rule the household. They lose their cool at the most inconvenient moments. They throw food, yell at people who annoy them, and just simply act like jerks because they can. They have a complete lack of inhibition and a way of manipulating everyone to get what they want, exerting control over everything.

Sound like anyone you know? Unfortunately, I know too many. What if everyone, not just the really special people who don’t have to abide by rules, ignored the etiquette expected of  adults? What would happen if all adults acted like toddlers on a regular basis? What if we all had the honesty of a toddler, social awkwardness of a toddler, or, worse, the temper of a toddler? If only all adults could get away with some of the stuff that toddlers do.

What if we:

• Chewed up our food and just spit it on the floor and walked away? Left it for someone else to clean up.

• Convulsed and thrashed about like a bizarre, intense interpretive dancer when we didn’t get our way?

• Scratched, bit or throat punched anyone that irritates us? (This one is tempting, so very tempting).

• Had a complete lack of personal space? (I hate close talkers.) Or just lurked and stared at strangers for a little bit too long?

• Got frustrated with something, and just said, “I’m done.” Throw it on the floor and run away crying. (I may have been guilty of this one a time or two…)

• Held our breath until we got what we wanted? Works for two-year-olds, and I’ve seen it work in the workplace as well.

• Flat out told people when we didn’t like their clothes and thought they looked fat?

• Cried uncontrollably when someone we liked leaves? OR cry uncontrollably when someone we don’t like stays? (Unfortunately I’ve seen that one far too often at work).

• Stopped dealing with stress in acceptable ways? Instead, we screamed and cried in public so, so loud simply because we can? (Again, I’ve worked with folks who did this regularly).

• Asked “why” for everything?

• Removed our pants because we didn’t want to wear them anymore, no matter where we were?

• Threw our plates across the room when we didn’t like the food or when we were “done?”

• Ate our dinner in the middle of the kitchen table?

• Took a nap whenever and wherever we wanted? (Like an IT guy I once knew who napped at his desk EVERY DAY).

• Wiped our snot on anything that was in our hands at the moment?

• Reacted this way when someone asked us to come to his office? We look them straight in the eye, smile and then run the opposite direction and say, “get me.”

Although “acting like a toddler” works well for actual toddlers, as an adult, we look like a dill weed throwing fits and acting like an a**hole when we don’t get our way. Adults, let’s raise the standards a little, especially at work. Let’s set an example for our children. So, crybabies (including myself from time to time), GROW UP. Get over it.

Now,  go to time out.

— Barrie Bismark

Barrie Bismark, the mother of three, is “amazed every day at the chaos, laughs, adventures and exhaustion that motherhood brings.” She works full-time in commercial real estate and in her free time she enjoys. …Oh, wait. She has no free time. She blogs here.

Mean mommy on back to school

Kerri LouiseWhen I was a kid, back-to-school shopping meant I was going to get some cool new jeans and sneakers.

Depending on my mother’s mood and finances that month, I might even get a pair of brand-name sneakers. Oh, I prayed to the “Sneaker Gods” for that cool pair of Nike, Converse high tops or Adidas to be on sale that day.

Maybe I’d come home with a notebook or two, and the shopping was done. It was fun, and I was back to the beach.

Back-to-school shopping has taken on a whole new meaning. Now that I have kids I hate back-to-school shopping. Fighting with them over why they’re not getting the jeans that make them look like they’re in a gang is the least of my worries.

I get a list of school supplies that I have to buy for my children, and it’s all due on the first day of school. Where was this list when I was a kid? We didn’t have these lists. In school, we had an endless supply of markers, pencils (already sharpened) and crayons. We had lots of scissors in a coffee can. None of them worked but they were free. Even the lefty kids had their own scissors.

Due to budget cuts, parents have to get all the supplies.

They send out the list early so you have the whole summer to get them, but being the organized mother that I am, I waited until the day before school started. I thought it would be easy. I would just get all the supplies at the dollar store, but then I realized that I didn’t want to be known as the “cheap mommy” on the very first day of school.

They needed three-ring binders, notebooks, pencil cases, highlighters, folders, plastic page protectors, tissues, Purell hand sanitizer and two packages of 20 #2 pencils. That led to some jokes from my two oldest. “Why are we writing while we’re doing #2? Do we have to get these pencils in public Mom? I don’t do #2 in school; I wait until I get home. These pencils smell like #2!”

I pretended I was annoyed with their sophomoric behavior, but deep down inside I thoroughly enjoyed it. I stopped laughing when I realized they had to be sharpened. Two packages of 20, times two kids. Do that math. …That’s 80 pencils that need to be sharpened by the end of the night.

On my youngest son’s list was a package of purple construction paper. I had to go to five different stores to get a package of purple construction paper. No stores had the color purple. They all had red — why couldn’t my son get red construction paper on his list? I swear I almost called Oprah to get the color purple.

Mean MommyFinally I needed Clorox bleach wipes. Clorox? What? Are we cleaning for the schools now, too? Did the janitor’s budget get cut, too? Next thing you know we’ll all be donating gas cards for the principal to get to school. Six hours and $93.35 later, we got our supplies.

The money doesn’t stop there. Don’t even get me started on the fundraisers that will be coming in my children’s book bag on a daily basis. Join the PTA! Our school needs money! Let’s get a new playground! And I love this one, let’s raise money for the school’s yearbook. Yearbook? My kid is in first grade. He doesn’t need a hardcover leather-bound yearbook, so kids who can’t even spell can write, “Dud! Hav a grate somer!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love the first day of school! I’ve been waiting for this day for three months. I had all their first-day-of-school outfits laid out, all their book bags packed, and their lunches made. I was ready, but we were up all night sharpening pencils so everyone overslept, and we missed the bus.

— Kerri Louise

Comic Kerri Louise has appeared on Oprah, Dr. Oz, The Howard Stern Show and The Apprentice. Kerri was a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and starred in Two Funny, her own reality TV show on The WE Network. Kerri has been featured on Comedy Central, was the warm-up comic for The View and performs at top comedy clubs and comedy festivals nationwide. She’s the author of Mean Mommy: Tales of Motherhood Survival From the Comedy Trenches. She lives in New York with comedian husband Tom Cotter and their three sons.

Making a splash

Kathleen Gerard

Photo: North Jersey Media Group — The Record

My dog, Sissy, has a host of peculiar behaviors, but her chronic tendency to hide takes the prize. Sometimes her disappearances make me feel as though I’m living with a covert CIA operative!

I work from home, and there are days when Sissy and I get up and have breakfast together, and I don’t see her again until dinner. I’ve gone on plenty of search missions only to find her, an eight-pound Yorkshire terrier, hidden under my bed or behind the upholstered flap of the sofa. After 10 years of this, nothing really surprises me anymore. But one day, when Sissy was still a pup, she completely floored me.

A raging nor’easter was pummeling our little corner of New Jersey. The rains had come and stayed for days, complete with kabooms! of thunder and zigzags of lightning that tore through dark skies. Sissy didn’t like i t— not one bit. Shaking and shivering with anxiety, she actually let me cuddle her close. She didn’t want off my lap or out of my arms. The disappearing covert operative had suddenly become like Velcro!

During a reprieve from the storm, Sissy detached long enough to let me take a shower. Before I flipped on the water, I decided to keep the bathroom door ajar just in case Sissy had the urge to be near again.

When my shower was done and I flipped off the water, a loud rumble of thunder and a bright flash of lightning pierced through the mini-blinds shrouding the bathroom window. I wrung the water from my hair and, as a few droplets of rain pelted the roof, another thunderous quake clapped as if to usher in an after-shock of the storm. In the silence that followed, I heard a tiny splash.

What was that? Did I drop something into the tub, maybe the soap? I looked, but all was clear.

 As I ripped open the shower curtain and stepped onto the cold tile floor, something caught my eye—a dark splotch rising up from inside the toilet bowl. I did a double take: two triangular shapes, like dueling dorsal fins from baby sharks, rose from inside the toilet seat.

The pointy ears, wet face and doleful eyes of Sissy emerged.

I gasped. Yikes — what a place to hide!

A pitiable look on the shivering drowned rat telegraphed, Help! Get me outta here!

The Thing IsI quickly reached into the bowl. Drenched, trembling Sissy jumped into my hands as if my fingers were magnets and she were made of iron.

She licked my wrist and looked up at me with a warm, grateful gaze as I wrapped her in a dry towel and drew her close, feeling as though the storm had served to bond us.

When the sun finally broke through the clouds a short while later, Sissy, her hair blow-dryer soft and smelling squeaky clean from her very first bath, went back to normal — her idea of “normal.” She scampered away from me and went into seclusion. I didn’t see her again for hours.

— Kathleen Gerard

Kathleen Gerard writes across genres. Her work has been short-listed for the Mark Twain House Humor Prize, The Saturday Evening Post “Great American Fiction” Prize, Short Story America and Best New American Voices, all national prizes in literature. Sissy served as the inspiration for the dog-hero of Gerard’s latest novel, the thing is. The story deals with serious issues in a lighthearted, comical way and centers on a blocked romance writer, Meredith Mancuso, a young woman who is grieving the death of her fiancé.

Public service announcement

Lou ClydeAs a celebrity public figure blogger I have the responsibility to give back to my fans readers family. And I take that responsibility seriously.

Here you go.

How to prevent a torn rotator cuff:

1. If you are over the age of 50, do not go to a Trampoline Park with your children and act like you are 16 again.

2. Stay away from balance beams. Especially those that are no wider than dental floss.

3. If you happen to find yourself on a balance beam the width of dental floss, attempt to hold onto the loops suspended from the ceiling. They are there to help you maintain your balance.

4. If, when you grab for one of the loops, it begins to swing like a pendulum, be patient. Wait until it returns to the center, or at least within reach, before attempting to grab it again.

5. If attempting to grab for the loop causes you to further lose your balance, simply fall into the pond beneath the balance beam. It is full of foam bricks. That prevent injury.

6. If, when falling, you lack the wherewithal to aim for the pond of foam bricks, do now throw your body backwards, toward the edge of the foam-filled pond. It is made of cement. Not foam.

7. If you fall backwards toward the cement edge of the foam-filled pond, do not put your arm out to break your fall.

8. If you put an arm out to break your fall as you are headed backward toward the cement edge of your foam-filled pond and you are left handed, put out your right hand.

9. If you are left handed and fall off a balance beam onto the cement edge of a foam-filled pond and break your fall with your damn left hand, go home.  Do not move on to the Ninja Warrior Obstacle course.

10. Ignore your husband when he says, “I told you so.”

But then again, ignoring your husband when he says, “I told you so,” may not be the best advice.

You will need him to drive you to your MRI (because you can’t drive under the influence of Valium).  And you’re really going to need him after the surgery. You’ll be in a sling for six weeks.

And there’s no way you can open a bottle of wine with just one hand.

When your husband says, “I told you so,” smile and say, “You’re right, honey.”

— Lou Clyde

Lou Clyde, whose car has “NERDLING” vanity plates, has been publishing Notes from a Nerdling since 2009.  She has also authored the play, “Heck the Dolls with Chardonnay,” which will be staged later this year in Columbia, South Carolina.  By day, Lou is the director of customer insights and analysis at a South Carolina energy company.

The pure electricity of a snit

Laura BeckerThe day started with seven dead electrical outlets, one broken toilet, three cereal bowls full of popcorn and a snit.

As I mopped, ran back and forth to the breaker box and started the unanticipated load of toilet-water laundry, I could have done it all without a word, letting him finish readying for work to head out the door to a hopefully better day…but I did not.

It seems the electrical outlets were not the only ones burned out by the overload of activity in the sum total of 30 minutes my feet had been on the floor. The friction of my frustration at our manic morning electrified my emotions as I amped up the voltage and hit him with one of those live wires that starts, “Why didn’t you just…”

ZAP!

I was in a snit. Not a full-blown fit where everything overheats and melts down. A snit. Not a fight where sparks fly and you lash out at the other person with malintent and heat-seeking precision. Just a snit, my own personal huff where I should phrase my questions better or not ask them at all because the answers are really no longer relevant. Just a snit where if someone had not been grounded enough to know better than to engage, they might have gotten quite a jolt.

My husband and I are wired very differently. Differently than most outsiders anticipate. Many a mechanic has been shocked to find I am the one they need to direct their diagnosis to. I am the spatial-relations-assemble-the-furniture-fix-the-vacuum-with-a-butter-knife-call-the-plumber-can-always-find-true-north-fix-the-immediate-problem partner in our nuptial pact. But I still love nail polish, Vogue and huge glitzy holiday parties filled with friends.

He is the way-with-words-master-communicator-buy-quality-so-it-doesn’t-break-always-book-a-reservation-let-someone-else-drive-make-sure-everyone-is-heard-resolve-the-issue-to-the-best-resolution-for-all component to our cohabitation. And he still loves boxing, hoagies and EA PlayStation marathons with his brothers at Christmas.

AC and DC, two very different types of current, both powering the same household. AC changes directions quickly, plugs right in and rolls with it. She gets her energy from outside connections and is great at keeping the daily things running. But she shuts down when the wires get crossed or the squall becomes incessant.

DC weathers the storm, is self-sufficient, great for portability and keeps the lights on when the darkness is closing in. He supplies a direct, focused, steady flow of current. However, the batteries drain and he needs time out from all of the activity to recharge.

And, for the most part, we ebb and flow as needed according to our individual talents. However, this particular morning, the current chaos had all landed directly in my wheelhouse and I had revved up my resentment over our existing electrical grid.

Zap! Snit! Zing! I was short-circuiting. And once my husband walked out the door, I satiated my stress with three full cereal bowls of salty satisfaction popped to perfection for breakfast. Crunching the kernels as I bit my tongue and swallowed down all of the unhelpful utterances which sought to escape my now fully galvanized disposition directly into my empty kitchen.

Then I fixed the toilet, dried the clothes and called the electrician.

I waited for his prognosis, prepared for some massive problem that required immediate maintenance. An underlying error so monumental it was placing us all in peril and required a complete dismantling of the current system…but no.

Turns out, the breaker box was fine. All of the outlets were fine. All of the connections were solid. It was the wiring that was a little wacky. It had been laid long ago and all routed in a very unconventional way. Which worked for the most part, but on occasion, with just the right configuration of demands, overburdened the circuit. It happens in most households from time to time. So he put in a reset button.

According to him, no matter how screwy the wiring, if everything’s good overall and there’s no chance of getting burned, unless it’s driving you to drink, just go with it. Take a moment, unplug for a bit, then press reset.

Sound advice.

So, after he left. I took a moment and unplugged for a bit. Then I picked up my phone, called my husband and pressed reset.

— Laura Becker

Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.

The Barbie complex

Meg Myers MorganI had a parenting rule that no child of mine would ever own a Barbie.

This rule was grounded in the need for my child to understand that women very rarely have eyes that are bigger than their breasts, or thighs that are wider than their waists. And that most women can bend their arms and knees to accommodate tasks like hard-hitting journalism and rocket science.

Four years and two daughters into parenthood, I have never once bent this rule. But then, despite my best efforts, my whole parenting framework fell apart. Because of one ruthless and vicious infiltrator. Better known to some as “Nana.”

She took my oldest daughter Lowery to the store and let her pick out a toy. When she brought my daughter home, Lowery came running toward my open arms carrying none other than, a Barbie. Stripper Barbie. Complete with a skintight leather dress and glittery shoes that reeked of daddy issues.

When my eyes lifted from the doll to meet my mother’s gaze, I saw panic wash over her. “Oh,” she said, looking down. “I forgot about your Barbie rule.” Now, I feared, my child would grow up thinking women stand on their tip toes.

After a week of having Barb around, I began to feel as though perhaps just this one anatomically incorrect doll couldn’t possibly warp my daughter’s sense of self-worth. But then, when I picked Lowery up at school, I found a large, lumpy bag in her cubby. I opened it to see a lovely note from one of the teachers: “Dear Meg, these are my daughter’s old Barbies for Lowery. Enjoy!”

And under the thoughtful note was a tangle of perfectly tanned plastic limbs, peeking out through sparkly spandex and shiny hair.

That night, Lowery came downstairs with her arms filled with plastic.

“Play with me,” she said, as she handed me G.E.D. Barbie.

“I’ll play with you, Sweetie,” I responded. “But I won’t play Barbies.”

She looked hurt and confused. “But they are so fun to play with.”

“That may be,” I said. “But they aren’t realistic.”

“But mom…” Lowery sighed heavily. “They are just pretend.”

It was likely, I thought, that my child was out-maturing me in what was possibly a defining moment in my parenting. If she could grasp that Candy Striper Barbie and Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Barbie were just pretending to be attacked by a dinosaur, then she would probably realize their body shape was also a thing of make believe.

“And they have the cutest shoes!” she declared.

“Right there!” I stood up and threw my hands in the air. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about. These dolls are not a realistic depiction of what women can or should dress like! Have you ever tried walking in heels that high?!”

She looked at me, clearly confused, so I pushed on, forgetting I was talking with a four-year-old. “Lowery, I’m worried you will grow up thinking this is what women look like.” She looked at Barb for a long time. And then back at me. Then at Barb again.

“But, this is what you look like!” she exclaimed. “You look just like this doll! Your hair is the same color. Your skin is the same color. You look just like Barbie!”

I looked at her, looking back and forth between the Barbie and her mother, trying to find what exactly was different between us. And so, before she had the chance to figure it out, I got down on the floor next to her, grabbed a Barbie and said: “Let’s keep pretending.”

— Meg Myers Morgan

Dr. Meg Myers Morgan is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma. She holds a Ph.D. and an MPA from the University of Oklahoma, and a degree in English and creative writing from Drury University. Meg is the author of Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time. The book ranked in the Top 10 humorous books on Amazon, was awarded a gold medal in humor from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, and was recognized as a  Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year.” Her piece “Tabling the Discussion,” about female behavior in the classroom, was a cover story for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Based on the themes in her writing, she gave a TED Talk, “Negotiating for Your Life,” for TEDxOU in 2016. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and their two strong-willed daughters.

Reflections of Erma