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Ring me

Becky MunstererIn a day and age when music programs across the nation are being cut from school budgets, there appears to be one place where music is still a hot commodity: on cell phones.

Gone are the days of the boring monotone ringer.  We are in the 21st century…a time of innovation, a time of creativity, and a time when you can download a belching sound as an indication that your grandmother is calling.

When my best friend’s cell phone rings, it plays the first three bars to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” My mother’s cell phone plays a waltz from “The Nutcracker.”  More impressively, my friend from college has downloaded the theme to “Murder, She Wrote” on her cell phone. (Every time it rings, I feel a little nervous for my life.) My father, however, has stuck to the more traditional, one-beep ring. (I don’t think he knows how to program his cell phone ringer. Nor do I think he cares.)

However, your cell phone ring can be an important personality identifier.  Can you imagine if your company president had a cell phone that played “Money, Money, Money?”  Or, would you date a guy whose phone rang to “Smooth Criminal?”

Walking around Main Street this weekend, I kept my ears glued for different cell phone rings.  I was amazed at the diversity of music coming from people’s pockets and purses.  I heard everything from Justin Timberlake to the sound of fireworks.  At one point, I really believed that Bruce Springsteen was in the local bookstore when I heard his voice coming from behind the non-fiction section.  (I was highly disappointed when I learned it was a pregnant woman with adult braces, and not my beloved Bruce.)

During my research, I also realized that some people have a talent for recognizing others’ cell phone rings in only a few notes. I felt like I was witnessing an episode of Name That Tune while watching a mother of three teenagers distinguish who needed to answer their phone in a local diner.  She knew that it was her youngest daughter’s Rihanna phone ringtone in fewer than two notes!

So, after hearing all of these clever cell phone rings that have surrounded me, I realize that not only do I have to choose what cell phone service to buy, I also have to worry about choosing a ringtone for me.  Shall I pick a classic Beethoven ditty or a more contemporary Kate Perry song?  Shall I try out the “sound of rain falling on a car roof” or the bizarre “funny donkey” pre-loaded ring?  (Does a funny donkey really have a sound?)

I’ve contemplated this decision, and have come to a verdict. In order to be distinctive, I’ll stick with the vibrate mode.  Apparently, everybody else just wants to make noise.

— Becky Munsterer

Becky Munsterer writes daily for the “here today, gone tomorrow” blog, Novel Nibble. She’s also the author of two children’s books (The Little Rippers and Kat McGee and the School of Christmas Spirit.)  She lives in Norwich, Vt., where she actually doesn’t have cell phone reception.

I’m sexy and no one knows it

Alisa SchindlerI might be having a mid-life crisis.

I’m not sure because crisis is exactly the opposite of how I’m feeling, which is sexy.

Hard to believe, since I can no longer just bend down and get up in a single motion, and have a wrinkle in between the brow that is now a crevice you could lose things in. Still, I’m sashaying around wearing all my fancy clothes that are actually years old, but I would never wear before because apparently, I was saving them for my mid-life crisis. Also, I have clean hair. Never underestimate the power of clean hair.

I had no idea that this feeling was one of the mid-life symptoms. So I started researching, and sexy wasn’t anywhere on the list of what to expect.

It did say that mid-life is the time more people step out with a young lova. But this makes no sense to me. Someone young cannot see someone middle aged without causing one to die of shock and the other of embarrassment. If anything, I’d have to get me a very old, blind lova. That is, if my husband says it’s okay.

They also say there’s a lot of reassessment, and I have been contemplating my life lately and wondering if I actually have one.

Many people quit their jobs. I don’t have a job. Maybe I’ll get a job! Yeah! That’s it.

But then how could I go to the gym to lose the five pounds I need to rock my minivan right and attract my old, blind lova? All of sudden, I understand why men buy Porsches. They’re feeling it and want to show off their bada** selves, while they’re still bada**.

I read that a mid-life crisis spurs drinking, so I bought a couple of cases of wine because I like to be prepared. I don’t know if that would go over well on my new job, but I’m thertainly giving it the ole college try. urp.

Not that I’m qualified for anything anymore.

I can just see me at a business lunch, cutting up a client’s food and then, if he gets distracted by our fascinating conversation about what’s on sale at the supermarket, forking some fish into his mouth. At least since he ordered it; it wouldn’t come back out in a disgusted dribble like I just fed him clumped dirt. So there’s that.

Okay, forget the job. I’ve got too much to do anyway. Let’s see… well, the kids are all finally at school, leaving me with the bulk of the day to my own devices. It’s the first time in over 10 years that I’ve had the house to myself for the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

It’s amazing. I can actually think when they’re gone.

Silence.

Think.

They are gone. My babies! Oh my babies are gone!! Oh my GOD!!!

Pause for slug of wine.

Okay, deep breaths. Much better.

I do wonder what is going on in my body that’s making me feel so full of… No. Not myself. I was going to say, life. Whatever it is, I’m feeling good. Maybe I’ll take up tennis. Or start running races. Or schedule a little fix in the face? Or dye my hair a ravishing red.

Wait?! What if it’s like when a person is near death, and they all of a sudden get that last surge of energy before the end??!! Oh no!! Is this my last bit of sexy?? Then it’s gone?! FOREVER?!

Well now I’m depressed. They say that’s a sign too.

Pause for another slug.

Whatever. For the moment, I got my sexy back.

Maybe hot flashes will be better than I think.

How you doin?!

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog www.icescreammama.com. Her essays have been featured on Mamapedia.com and Bonbonbreak.com as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

No trampoline tonight

Laurel McHargueI suppose it’s a good thing that my goal is to live to be 110 because after spending the last several hours cleaning my son’s apartment, I may inadvertently have sacrificed a year or two.

He didn’t ask me to do it, and he certainly didn’t expect that I would. We were supposed to be enjoying a merry old time tonight with a group of his friends who invited us for dinner and then an evening at the local indoor trampoline park. Awesome, right? Yes, I was ready to don a set of Nick’s sweats and hop till I dropped this evening, but an unexpected call from his workplace changed our plans, leaving me with four hours to entertain myself, and no cable television.

“I guess I’ll have some time to write after all,” I tell him as he hurriedly dresses to cover a shift. He looks great in his dress pants, shirt and tie, but cuts himself in his rush to shave.

“Why are you using a disposable razor?” I ask, knowing from personal experience how unforgiving they can be.

“I don’t know,” he says, pressing a piece of toilet paper to his chin. “A leftover habit from when I didn’t used to shave every day, I guess.”

If he could, he’d likely never shave, but his job now requires it. I make a mental note to buy him a real razor.

He leaves, and I open the refrigerator to rustle up some dinner. Looks like it’ll be a celery and peanut butter extravaganza, and when I open what should be the fruit drawer to see if there’s anything I might add, I recoil in horror.

No, there’s no severed head or any other body part in the drawer, but there’s clearly something growing, and not something anyone should eat. I decide that my young bachelor could use a little help, and set aside the celery for later.

I survey the small apartment and decide to start with the floors, drab beige-brown linoleum that almost hides months of neglect. After running the vac (note: buy new vacuum bags), I fill the tub with bleach water and search for a mop, but find only a dry-mop. Into the tub it goes, and I instantly feel better slopping it across each room and capturing all the dust bunnies.

The color of the tub water when I rinse the mop makes me think that I should repeat what I’ve just done, several times, but my time is limited and there’s much still to do. Like clean the tub, which is blooming both black and an unnatural pink. And the toilet, which rocks when you sit on it, and the sink, which is attached to the wall at the perfect height for a Lilliputian.

I look for a new sponge (note: buy new sponges), to no avail, so I use the one that keeps the bar of soap from slipping into the sink; it’s in considerably better shape than the scary one Nick has been using on dishes in the kitchen. My hands start to look like old lady’s hands (I’ve only just hit my middle-age) and I wonder if I should be wearing a haz-mat mask, but it’s too late. I’ve gone too far.

After dousing all bathroom surfaces with bleach (note: buy more bleach), I scrub what I can, including the abused trash can. Then it’s back to the kitchen. I open the refrigerator again, hoping that what I saw an hour ago isn’t really as bad as I first thought, but in fact, it is far worse.

When I remove the drawer to clean it in the sink, what I find under it at the bottom of the refrigerator defies description, and for a moment, I consider pretending I’ve not seen it. I could clean and replace the drawer, and no one would be the wiser. But then I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Ever.

And so I do what I must with a skanky sponge soaked in antibacterial spray (note: buy more antibacterial spray), and as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. I do my best not to breathe each time I go in for a scrub, but I start to hear the doctors’ dialogue when I’m 108.

“Poor old girl,” they say. “I’ll bet she cleaned her son’s refrigerator when she was just middle-aged. There’s no way she’ll make it to 110 now.”

Nevertheless, I know that I will finish what I’ve begun.

When all of the red-green gooey jelly-like substance is gone, I finish up by scraping a meal’s worth of food from the inside of the microwave and wipe down the stove front and hood. The sponge can handle no more, and my peanut butter celery is calling me.

I clean the kitchen trash can, toss in the mangled sponge, and scrub my flaky hands with the last drop of antibacterial spray. Time for dinner (note: buy more celery) and three, yes three brownies. Hey, I’m only going to live to be 108 now, so I might as well enjoy every moment!

Nick returns shortly after 10 p.m. and I note a brief expression of concern on his face. He senses that something is different, but cannot put his finger on it.

“Wow. I normally just carry the whole trash can to the dumpster. You were brave to pull out that flimsy bag,” he tells me when he sees the over-full bag by the front door.

I tell him just how brave I’ve been.

“Thanks, Mum,” he tells me, and I know that we both will sleep well tonight.

— Laurel McHargue

Laurel McHargue was raised as “Daughter #4” of five girls in Braintree, Mass. After attending Smith College for three semesters, she then graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1983 with the fourth class to include women. Her constant quest for adventure landed her in Leadville, Colo., where she currently writes and resides with her husband and German Shepherd. She has recently published her first novel,“Miss?” and has co-edited Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Stupid Kid (Publishing Syndicate). Read more at www.leadvillelaurel.com.

Something to sneeze at

Judy ClarkeYou probably already know — maybe not in so many words — that a sneeze is a “semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth, usually caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa.”  Well, that’s Wikipedia’s definition anyway.

I’ll tell you what irritates my nasal mucosa: Is it just me, or do all women suffer menfolk who have disgusting habits?

Not long ago husband Peter and I had bad colds with deep choking coughs that lingered on and on like guests who stay past bedtime — one more sneeze, another funny story, a couple more bone-rattling coughs, kiss miss hug ugh — will they never go?

Achoo!

I’m contagious!

Goodbye!

I doctored myself with aspirin, Clementines and tea, but the tickle turned into a scratch, followed by a bark, then volcanic explosive sneezes.  Full. Blown. Cold.  Aching, itching, coughing, Nyquil moments, although no Nyquil passed my lips.

Peter’s symptoms started a few days after mine. But would he eat a Clementine, take a spoonful of yummy orange-flavored cough syrup or swallow an aspirin?  No-o. He is English, though, so he willingly drinks tea. Lots of tea. At least six cups a day when he’s well, eight or 10 cups when he’s under the weather. Plus, he’s very good at resting and doing nothing. Excellent, in fact.

Meanwhile, I dragged myself through daily chores — opened cans of soup, kept the teapot topped up, changed sheets and towels, disposed of used tissues.  As soon as I was sure I would live, I returned to my routine which, by then, included piles of laundry. Sorting. Washing. Drying. Sorting again. Folding. And folding.

In my husband’s pile there was one shirt, two pair of knickers and thirty-two (32!) handkerchiefs. (Peter will not use tissues, which I argue are more sanitary, but that’s a battle I’ll never win.)

So that many hankies I could understand, but why, for the same period, did he wear only two pair of skivvies and one shirt?  The man showered every day, yet didn’t change his underwear? I checked to make sure his drawer was full of “drawers.” It was, all in good condition, too, a surprise in itself.

Are all men like this or just my man?

Now I have a lot of handkerchiefs, delicate, lacy, embroidered ones, but would I desecrate them by using them when I have a cold! Heavens, no! I always carry one in my purse in case I happen to swoon and need to dab my forehead daintily.  Or I make curtains with them. Yes, I do.

I use tissues for colds, sweat and tears.

My mother never allowed a box of Kleenex to cross her threshold. “Wasteful,” she said. “You have perfectly good hankies to use, Judy,” she’d say. “You can blot your lipstick on a square of toilet paper, one square, mind you.” I still do the latter, but tissues, especially the aloe-impregnated ones, are my friends when I have a cold. I’m sure I went through at least two 124-count boxes of “Dematologist tested” Puffs during my illness.

At a recent luncheon, friend Nancy said she’d looked everywhere for men’s handkerchiefs. Finally, she asked a clerk at J.C. Penney’s where they were.  The young woman was blank, so Nancy described a white sixteen-inch cotton square with rolled edges. The woman said, “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She probably uses the crook of her elbow when she sneezes. Call me old-fashioned, but I think a well-placed tissue to encapsulate those millions of germs, followed by well-washed hands, is more effective, and certainly more ladylike.

Gesundheit.

— 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).

Maybe tomorrow

Rosie SorensonI wanted to write something funny today about the meaning of life, or about the Middle Eastern Meltdown, or about my lack of a cosmetic surgery fund, but then I accidentally tuned into “Philosophy Talk.”

Philosophy Talk is an entertaining public radio show featuring John Perry and Ken Taylor, philosophy professors at Stanford University. The topic was “Procrastination.”

I decided to clean up my kitchen while I listened to the program.  Cleaning the kitchen had been on my “To-Do” list for awhile, but it hadn’t worked its way to the top until today, when it became a convenient way to postpone some other task, like writing my column.

Until I listened to the program, I had no idea that I was engaging in what Dr. Perry calls “Structured Procrastination.” I thought I was just goofing off as usual. But when he started explaining his ideas, I perked up.

Most people regard procrastination as one of the seven deadly sins, but Dr. Perry has created a brand-new philosophical framework for understanding it and making it work for us. Oh, be still my beating heart! 

He explains it this way. “Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils . . . Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”

He goes on to say, “The trick is to pick the right sorts of projects for the top of the list. The ideal sorts of things have two characteristics. First, they seem to have clear deadlines (but really don’t). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren’t).”

For example, I started my column weeks before the deadline, but when the radio show came, I was presented with an irresistible opportunity to clean up the kitchen instead. Second, although my article is important to me (and, hopefully to my editor and my seven fans), its urgency lessened in the face of the sticky kitchen floor, the grubby dishwasher and the food-streaked cupboard doors. It was only afterward that I discovered I was practicing the fine art of Structured Procrastination. Now, I can feel smug and philosophical at the same time!

If reading Dr. Perry’s treatise doesn’t give you reason enough to enjoy your proclivity for procrastination, then let me tell you about another. Procrastination has monetary value!

Most people realize by now that businesses operating web sites often install “cookies,” or little bits of code, onto our computers each time we visit their sites. These cookies are like little spies who monitor and record our Internet activities.

What I learned from a technology expert was how to use this shady practice in my favor. She explained that if you visit a website and place an item in its shopping cart but don’t finish the transaction, the company will likely target you later for an ad and/or coupon for a discount on that very item. It’s no coincidence that after you leave the PetRX site, for example, you will notice a banner ad for discounted Advantage popping up on your screen as you check your email.

I had unknowingly discovered this on Amazon a few days before Christmas. Ever since reading a review about the Kodak i8 video camera, I became besotted and surfed many sites for pre-Christmas deals. I got so carried away on the Amazon site that I placed the camera in the shopping cart, but then got cold feet at the retail price of $179.  My Inner Mother said, “Why are you spending that kind of money on yourself — you don’t NEED it!” Sadly, she won, and I left the site before completing the transaction.

But on Christmas Eve, the nice folks at Amazon sent me a sweet email saying I could have my coveted video camera for only $98, plus free shipping. I told Mom to go bake some cookies while I grabbed my credit card and ordered the camera. It arrived five days later.

It’s now almost March. The camera is still in the box. Unless something more important comes along to bump it from the top of my “To Do” list, I probably won’t get around to it for awhile.

Thanks to Dr. Perry, however, I can use my “Get-Out-of-Guilt-Free” card and enjoy whatever it is that keeps me from opening the Kodak box.

Can you say “cheese?”

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

5 ways to properly criticize others

Meredith GordonThe writer Stephen King says that everybody has a filter and that his filter is terror. He sees the world through terror-colored lenses. He can’t help but see everything as terrifying, or how it can be. It’s just how he rolls.

My filter is commentary.

I can’t help it. I notice stuff.

If I could turn my filter off, I would. It’s somewhat excruciating to grow up a “noticer.” Sure, old ladies call you precious and wise when you’re 10. But what 10-year-old wants to be wise? Ten-year-olds want to be cute and jolly and popular. We don’t want to be the 4th grader who notices Susie’s parents seem distant five years before they announce their divorce.

It took me until this late age to stop trying to be a non-noticer. Now, I just accept it and make some cash off of my noticing. Writing’s a great career for noticers. There’s only one job requirement of a writer and that’s to notice.

So here we are.

Often times we noticers are mistaken for our good friends, critcizers. Technically, we’re different. Noticers just report back. Criticizers attach judgment. Noticers let you attach judgment when you criticize the bad behavior we’ve noticed.

Like most noticers, I grew up feeling like a square peg in a round hole. This is a polite way of saying noticers grow up feeling crazy. No one else seems to notice, or be bothered by, what a noticer notices. But when was the last time you wanted to watch a TV show about someone whose filter is “Happy go lucky?”  Hollywood is the land of noticers, all relieved to find out they’re not nuts. At least about what they notice.

But as good as writers are with words, we tend to be bad with criticism. Me, personally, I dish it out so I’m happy to take it. I’ve had a lifetime of criticism preparing me for my career as a writer starting with the normal growing-up crap, then my move to LA — a city that serves as a graduate course in self-loathing.

In my 10-year career as the world’s worst actress, I put on my thick skin to endure comments like, “You were the most talented actress we saw, but you just weren’t pretty enough,” “Your eyes are too close together” (which they are) and “You don’t have a strong voice. Not your point of view, the one you speak with.” I’ve been told my hips are too wide, but my face is too thin. I’ve been told girls aren’t funny right before I’m told how funny I am. I’ve been told that at a size 6, I should consider full-figure modeling. And on and on and on.

So I’m technically really good at criticism, unless it comes from someone who can’t spell. Then, I tend to “notice” you’re a moron and not take your criticism to heart.

So when I received my first mean and personal comment on my blog the other day, I was torn. On one hand, I’m thrilled. Criticism means controversy and controversy means ratings/interest/readers. I’m also a bit grateful when anyone reads my stuff, much less takes the time to comment on it — good or bad.  And I’m also a firm believer in dishing it out AND taking it. Not just dishing it out.

So when I received this comment the other day on my post about the see-through Lululemons I wore to the gym, I couldn’t help but notice a certain grammatical error. (You can read the whole post if you’d like to judge whether or not I don’t have a real job as suggested by the writer).

From Justin (Not my husband. Trust me, I checked.): “You need someone to tell you if your clothes are see-through? I’m guessing your an idiot who does not have a real job or brain?”

I was at first touched. Someone took the time to read and comment on my work. He doesn’t have to like it.

But since I’m a professional noticer, I couldn’t help but notice that the kind gentleman, who called me a moron, did not know how to spell. I thought we all knew that rule:  criticizers lose all credibility if they don’t know how to spell.

So in effort to help I thought I’d explain my own personal rules of criticism. You’re welcome to adopt them, even when criticizing me.

1) Never comment on personal appearance.  Criticism should be earned by bad behavior. No one can control how they look. Lord knows if we could, my hips would be smaller and my eyes would be further apart. Criticize people for what they can control, like their crappy behavior and bad personality. Leave the looks commentary to a plastic surgeon or mother-in-law.

2) Criticize differently than a third-grader. Little kids like to tease others with cute phrases like “Stinky-head” or “Doo-doo mouth.” These things don’t make sense, but they do hurt other’s feelings.  It’s best a grown-up not comment in way that makes them sound like they are in elementary school. If you’re not sure if your comment makes you sound like you are in elementary school, take the “Neener neener neener” off the end and see if it still holds up.

3) Don’t get personal. If you don’t like someone’s writing or you think the writer doesn’t make valid points, comment away. But if you end a comment with the phrase, “Take that” or “That’ll show ‘em,” you’ve probably gotten a little mean.

4) Remember we’re just writers. We’re not responsible for genocide or mass graves.  There’s often a “who do you think you are?” face that’s met when someone says she is a writer. Doctors don’t get this and they amputate real live body parts. Astronauts don’t get this and they defy gravity. But if you think you have something to say and the words to say it, the world wants to say “ F*** you.”  But do remember, a writer is just a writer. We haven’t say…killed anyone, nor can we control hurricanes. What’s the big deal?

5) Know the difference between “you’re” and “your.”  You don’t have to be smarter than me to comment on my writing, but you should know your credibility is lost if my 6-year-old has a better command of the English language than you do. And these days, you don’t even need a thesaurus (that’s a book with big words); you just need “Google.”  (The thing you currently use as a dictionary.)

My response to Justin on the Lululemon post? You’ll just have to read it.

— Meredith Gordon

Meredith Gordon is a recovered actress and stand-up comic who has always been a “glass is half annoying” kind of girl. She write movies, blogs and ad copy, and you can find her innermost snarky thoughts at Bad Sandy. She is married to the world’s most stylish straight man and they raise their children in Los Angeles.

Deepening the connection

Molly CampbellI just happened across an article written by an expert. I love these. They give us ways to enrich our lives in “10 easy steps.” This one was about how to deepen the connection with your partner. I have been with the same partner for 43 years, and I am not sure how much deeper I want to go, but I thought, “Hell, why not? Let’s just see if these experts know what they are talking about.”

This particular article provided 10 questions you can ask your partner every day (well, that will get old) in order to plumb the depths and connect on some sort of cosmic level. Yeah. So here it went:

How was your day today?  “Well, it was kind of cold in the basement. You know that one of the cats is peeing in the corner by the water heater?

What do you need from me right now? “Huh?”

What are you looking forward to today, this week and this month?  “Huh?”

Am I being a good spouse to you?  “Huh?”

If you could be a character in any book, which character would you be and why? “Huh?”

Describe your perfect day.  “That’s easy. Coffee, golf, accordion practice, and that stuff you make with sauerkraut and sausage.”

What is your greatest fear? “That you will keep asking me these questions. I have to poop.”

I feel so completely in tune with my husband. And it only took eight questions! We are way ahead of the curve on this! Our marriage is so full of meaning and depth. We are one.  And I realize just how in tune we actually are. Because now I have to poop.

— Molly D. Campbell

Molly D. Campbell writes a blog from her pantry, often in pajamas. She is a two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, winning honorable mentions in both the humor and human interest categories in 2010 and 2012. She recently self-published Characters in search of a novel, her first book.

Poxy lady

Risa NyeSomehow, I managed to avoid getting the chicken pox during my childhood. Never thought much about it, since I’d suffered through measles, mumps, appendicitis, tonsillitis, head lice, two broken arms, pneumonia, allergy shots and a few hard knocks on the head. I thought I’d caught a break.

However.

One day, my 3-year-old daughter came home from preschool with some red itchy spots that quickly spread all over her body. I was home with a baby, living in a new neighborhood where I didn’t know anyone very well, and my husband was out of town on a business trip. My sister hadn’t had chicken pox either, so she couldn’t come over to help me. I polled other local family members and the couple of neighbors I’d just met to ask if they would go to the store for me, since I was under quarantine and out of milk. After a few days of baking soda baths and medicine for the itchies, my daughter started to recover. But I had clearly been exposed. I noticed something that looked like a blister on my shin. Just a tiny little blister…

Oh. My. God. Within hours, I was covered with a crazy itching rash that found its way into every nook and cranny and covered my scalp. And I was nursing a baby! Did I mention that my husband was NOT AT HOME?!

He finally returned to find a murderously irritated wife who spent hours up to her neck in the bathtub, running through boxes of baking soda by the dozen. No looking in mirrors, no catching my reflection in a window. Just a quick slide into the tub with eyes closed, praying for the misery to end.

When things had reached a sort of pox plateau, I asked my husband if I looked really terrible. He paused just a little too long before he answered. Oh, it was bad.

And then I found a tiny little blister on the baby’s bottom while I was changing his diaper. Well, what did I expect? Here, a gift from Mom — chicken pox! No need to thank me.

My son had the lightest case of all, thankfully. I don’t think he even noticed, but I still felt terrible about passing it on to the little guy.

The advice nurse at the pediatrician’s office stifled a laugh when I told her I had the chicken pox — at age 30. She tried to make me feel better by telling me that she’d just heard from a boy who’d missed his senior prom because he had them. This did not make me feel better. Not at all. You should not laugh at anyone who has the chicken pox. Ever.

The following week, I got a call from a dad whose daughter went to the same preschool as ours. His wife had just come down with the chicken pox. “Can you help her?” he whispered into the phone. “I think she’s ready to jump off the roof.” The story of my plight had apparently made its way through the preschool grapevine. I was the expert on this now.

“Let me talk to her,” I said.

I don’t remember exactly what I told her, but I heard that she followed my advice. I believe she spent the next few days in the bathtub with a box of baking soda and a nice bottle of Cabernet.

— Risa Nye

The essays and articles of Risa Nye have appeared in local and national publications, and in several anthologies. She’s currently writing about cocktails under the name of Ms Barstool for www.berkeleyside.com. She co-edited an anthology called Writin’ on Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between When Children Leave the Nest. Her next book, she promises, will have a shorter subtitle.

Reflections of Erma