Monday, August 24, 2015

Toe Pinchers and Other Exotic Pets

Grace, fearless before the sea and its sea creatures.
My five-year-old daughter Grace is terrified of bugs. I mean, the horror goes so deep that if she even sees an ant from 10 feet away or a fruit fly in the same domicile, she screams bloody murder.

Because of this total and absolute terror, she has developed an uncanny ability to spot the smallest of insects in the largest of rooms. Grace's eyes scan the horizon upon entry into any new environment. Like sophisticated radar technology known only to one small blond child and the United States Navy, Grace's eyes dart around the perimeter scanning for any discernible creature with multiple legs, wings or hard-shelled body armor. One teeny tiny gnat tucked in the upper quadrants of a cathedral ceiling, and Grace is quick to sound the alarm:


And then she screams and shoots like a bullet out of the room.

My husband and I have marveled at her ability. She's really got a sharp eye, that one. We both wonder if there will be any employable skill that could evolve from this. Jeweler? Microscopic scientist? Atom-splitter?

Recently, we took our little Bug Hunter to South Carolina for a family vacation. We were mainly looking for a place with warm swimming pools and warm ocean waters. Being from Michigan, we were tired of visiting lakes that left our children with blue lips and shivering bodies. We wanted warmth! We wanted sun! We wanted both sandy beaches and chlorine! We wanted it all!

Sure, in the back of my mind, I wondered if South Carolina had bugs like Florida. But we were going to a fancy Golf Resort. This wasn't our usual rustic vacation so I had high hopes. When we unlocked the door to our cottage on stilts, it was immaculate and new. All surfaces were shiny. And so it was that we continued our bug-free existence for many days.

I thought South Carolina was in every way superior to Florida. You had palm trees, warm ocean waters, sandy beaches and … no bugs! Why had I ever even bothered with Florida when South Carolina existed? I couldn't believe my ignorance.

Late one night, around 3:45 a.m., I heard a piercing scream that shook the walls of our cottage and all the palm trees that surrounded it. I stumbled from my room to my daughter's, where I found her pointing at the wall, yelling:


"Grace, you can't keep screaming your head off every time you see a bug," I mumbled and picked her up. "Now where is this bug you're so afraid of…"

"There!" she pointed at the wall and tried to launch herself further away from the wall in question.

I turned to observe what I thought had to be some sort of electrical device or appliance affixed to the wall that I had not previously noticed. It was close to the television set that was attached to the wall, so my weary head surmised that it must be related to the big-screen TV. Perhaps a cable box or the WIFI router?

I scrunched my eyes up and tried to focus in the dark.

It suddenly dawned on me that this was no electrical device.

This was a Volkswagen bus parked on the hotel wall.

I hoofed it out of there, my daughter and I clinging to each other in mutual terror, through the living room and back into my own bed, where I deposited my daughter next to my husband.

"WE HAVE A SITUATION," I announced, loudly, launching him out of the bed.

"What situation? A bug?" He twisted his boxers around his waist and prepared to do battle.

"That, Sir, is no bug."

He sighed as if I was being ridiculous and disappeared into the dark. I waited to hear the THUMP as he crushed the enormous jungle beast into the wall.

Instead, he slid back into bed.

"Listen to me carefully," he began.

My eyes widened in the dark.

"I did not K.I.L.L. I.T." He spelled the words so the small child shivering next to me would not understand.

"Why???" I gasped.

"It's too F.U.C.K.I.N.G. E.N.O.R.M.O.U.S."

"You have to K.I.L.L. I.T.!" I said.

"With what?"

"Your S.H.O.E.?"

"You have got to be kidding me."

"A broom?"

"I'd need an M-80 to K.I.L.L. that thing."

I snickered.

He snickered.

"I saw a fly swatter in the laundry room," he offered.

I snorted.

"Maybe you could C.A.T.C.H. I.T.?"

"With what?!?"

"A C.U.P.?"

"Are you H.I.G.H.?"

"She could keep it as a P.E.T."

"You are S.I.C.K."

"Seriously. What do we tell her?" I said.

"We tell her I K.I.L.L.E.D. it."


"We L.I.E. to her."


Later, as I tried to sleep and not think about the gigantic beast that was living in the room next to me, I noticed the bedroom was lit up by my husband's phone.

"What are you looking at?"

He flashed the screen at me, which was full of enormous black beetle-looking insects.

"It's either a T.O.E. P.I.N.C.H.E.R. or a C.O.C.K.R.O.A.C.H."

"Stop talking to me." I closed my eyes and tried to not think about my bare toes under the thin blanket.

"We'll tell her it's a B.E.E.T.L.E." he said.

"We're certainly not telling her it's called a T.O.E. P.I.N.C.H.E.R. Jesus!"

"Are you talking about the beetle?" a little voice chimed in from the dark.

"No, Baby. We're talking about something else." I said.

"Did Daddy kill it?"

"Yes. Yes he did."

She shivered her little body against mine. And mine shivered back.

The next day, as the full light of morning flooded our room, my husband nudged my elbow. I looked up at him and he pointed at the door wall, along the curtain. An enormous bug sat there and in that moment, deep within me, I felt something die.

My husband lifted his flip flop from the floor and pointed at the bug. I looked down at the sweet little girl nestled against me, sleeping peacefully. I looked back up at my husband nodded. I nodded back.

With a great THWAP! the deed was done and my husband spirited the carcass off, I know not where.

"What was that?" my little angel had opened her eyes.

"It was nothing."

"Did Daddy kill the beetle?"

"Yes. Yes he did."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer Storms: A Reflection on Parenting

My daughter is at the age now where she has nightmares and assorted creatures scare her in the dark.

All of this means that I am jolted awake by the sharp rap tap tap of five-year-old knuckles on my bedroom door, usually around 2 or 3 a.m. Did I mention I have to be at work at 7:30 a.m.?

We forget this part. We parents think we just need to make it through the first few months, six months, year, two years, three. Sleep deprivation only lasts so long. Tantrums have a limited duration. They'll grow out of it and our lives will go back to normal.

But normal never comes.

You find yourself stumbling in the dark to soothe another baby five years later. Only it's the same baby and this time there's thunder and lightening instead of an empty tummy. Sometimes my eleven-year-old son wakes me up in the middle of the night too, but not as often anymore. Sometimes it's just to tell me, "I can't sleep!" Other times it's to vomit 360 degrees all over the hallway walls.

Last night, as I lay on the floor of my daughter's bedroom sleeping on an all-too-thin duvet, a child tucked uncomfortably under my arm and a cat furiously purring behind my knees, I wondered at how she would never remember any of this.

So much of parenting is without credit.

Maybe it's the most selfless form of love? You sacrifice sleep, comfort and barrels of cash for these little beings and you ask nothing in return. I mean, maybe you ask them to make their bed or empty the dishwasher, but does the really even out?

I gave you life!

I comforted you in the middle of the night!

When she's thirteen I'm sure she'll roll her eyes at me and say, "Gawd, Mother!" Or she'll shoot me a dirty look like my eleven-year-old shot me the other day when I wouldn't buy him an Xbox game that was rated M for Mature.

I snuggled that boy in the middle of the night too. When he cried out, I raced to stroke his brow and tell him everything would be okay. I do the same for her now. And neither of them will remember it. Or care. They'll just be annoyed at whatever it is I'm preventing them from doing on any given day.

And it will hurt.

Because I'm the one that comforted you. I took you from the dark and made you safe. How did I become the enemy? It's a hard thing, this parenting. We take them helpless from the womb and it's our job to protect and nurture them.

But then it's also our job to let them go.

In the end, they owe us nothing. They did not ask for life. We willingly gave it. We raised them and loved them to such a degree we think it might kill us. And then they just walk off into the good green earth and don't think much about us anymore.

They have someone else to love.

They have their own life to live.

They'll forget to call.

And it will be right. It will be good. They will function without us and we will have done our job well. 

But oh how we'll miss those nights of thunderstorms and hard floors.A little girl crooked awkwardly under your arms. A cat purring on your leg.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How I Married the Next Door Neighbor

Did I mention that my husband's name is Fred?
Ten years ago I broke up with my ex and moved out. It was a rather hasty event. Imagine me, in a huff, packing up all of my belongings and cramming them into a Jeep Wrangler...including my infant son.

I don't think my friends really believed it was over, over. I'm sure they all thought we would get back together. But this time I was done, done. I'd moved in with a girlfriend (bless her heart) and despite the fact that no one else believed me, I knew it was finished for good this time.

"As god as my witness," I told my girlfriends, a glass of wine raised to the heavens, "I will go out on a date!"

None of them believed me. They rolled their eyes and waited for me to come up with the list of excuses of why I was going to go back to the ex. But I got serious. I went on and resisted the urge to rewrite my profile a dozen times. I browsed through all of the men available to me in my immediate area. I scrolled through photos of smiling faces like I'd scrolled through sale sweaters on J.Crew.

Finally, I found a cute one.

He was tall, he had dark hair and he was handsome. Plus he had an excellent vocabulary and used compound sentences. I clicked the "Wink" button and waited to see what would happen. Normally I would never initiate contact with a man. I like to be found. But I didn't have a profile picture and figured I'd have to throw myself out there if I was going to prove my girlfriends wrong.

Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome responded to my wink.

"You are a smartass," he wrote. "I myself am one of those."

My eyes widened. I'd written a smartassed profile and he'd not only read it, he called me out on it! In my profile I'd mentioned my likes and dislikes. Included in my list of dislikes: "Old ladies."

"I can't stand old people," he wrote. "As a matter of fact, I splayed an old blue hair out on the sidewalk just this afternoon and her cane clattered across the sidewalk."

What was this?

This was new!

This was different!

He was playing my game, singing my song. Soon the emails were firing back and forth, one barb exchanged for another. Each witticism deftly returned, sailing across the internet like a well-placed badminton birdie.

And so it was that FredFromFresno and SpinDoctor510 fell in a deep state of like. Eventually we took our email conversations to the phone, and once on the phone, he asked me out on a real-live date. We discussed the logistics of the date, of course. I lived in Troy, he lived in Birmingham. We decided to meet in Royal Oak. It was convenient for both of us.

"I used to live in Birmingham," I said.

"Oh really? Where?" he asked.


"Downtown where?"

I named the cross streets.

"Where exactly on those streets?"

I named the specific street.

"Where on that street?"

Well this was getting awfully specific.

"SW or NE corner?" he continued.

"I don't do directions! Why does it matter!?!" I laughed.

Finally, I simply told him the names of the neighbors on either side of my ex's house.

"Oh my god!" he said. "You're ___________'s ex!" and he named my ex.

"You know him?"

"I live two doors down!"

We both paused in stunned silence.

"How is it that I never met you?" I was confused.

"I rented out that house and bought a bigger house!"

"And you moved back?"

"Yes, I moved back in after my wife and I separated!"

"So you live two doors down my from my ex?"

"Yes. Yes I do."

More stunned silence between the two of us. This was new.

"Does this mean you don't want to go out with me?" I asked.

"No. I still want to go out with you."

"Well I still want to go out with you too."

"So I'll see you on Thursday?"


"See ya, neighbor."

"Very funny."

I married him five years later. Give or take a few hiccups and missteps. We made a cute baby girl along the way. And now I live two doors down from my son's father. Life is funny. Life is strange. But somehow, it all works out just the way it's supposed to.

And it all started out with a wink and a couple of smartasses.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mother's Day Forgiveness

On Mother's Day I give myself a little gift of namaste. My thought process is, "What a relaxing way to start Mother's Day!" I figure I'll be nice and chilled out for the day and that will make me a truly pleasant mom for the whole entire day while my family is forcibly nice to me. 

(Just kidding. They're always nice to me.)

The yoga teacher plays a bunch of mom-themed songs and it really doesn't mean much to me. I pretty much cut myself off emotionally from any over-the-top mom sentimentality. I try to be pretty cool and unemotional about most overly treacly mother stuff because I have mom issues. 

I know, who doesn't? 

Maybe the difference is that I've been in therapy since I was 14 years old. I don't know whether to be proud of that or ashamed. I've never claimed to be a quick learner. I've taken those emotional intelligence tests online and basically I'm emotionally impaired. So cut me some slack. I'm medicated and in therapy. 

I'm a work in progress.

There I am, in yoga, with 50 other people jam-packed in a tiny room, listening to soothing sentimental songs about mothers, listening to the yoga teacher talk about moms and al of the sacrifices they made for you, and I'm totally focused on the physical aspect of it all.

It's the first time I've tried a regular Vinyasa class. I'd been doing slower Vinyasa classes during the week because I'm new at the whole yoga thing and my kinesthetic intelligence comes second only to my emotional intelligence. All 5'10" of me does not communicate smoothly or harmoniously. The head does not know what the heart, arms and feet are up to. 

It's potentially comedic.

But I'm doing it! I'm keeping up! I'm touching my toes and going in the right direction! Everything is so cool! I kind of roll my eyes at some of the over-the-top mother stuff because I'm still working through "My Mother Was an Alcoholic" even after 30 years of therapy. I'm medicated now, so the learning seems to come quicker. But I'm a hard girl with walls. I rarely if ever cry in therapy. 

I'm basically a badass.

But then: Eminem.

Motherfreaking Eminem comes on and he's rapping all angry and spitting out words about his mother like he always does. I usually don't pay much attention to Eminem save for the rhythm and energy and whole force of the thing—but I'm in yoga. It' dark. I'm sweaty and exhausted. I've built up emotional walls from all the sacrificial mother talk and I might be in a weakened state.

Suddenly there's Eminem wrapping about forgiving his mom, about being too old to cry about this, and even though the tone and the music are angry and driving, the words are wrapped up in pain and forgiveness and goddammit all, I'm crying for the second time in this new yoga studio.

"And I'm way too old to cry, the shit is painful though
But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both."

Fortunately it's dark and hot, everyone's body is running with sweat. No one is going to notice silent tears running down the sides of my sweaty face. I'm doing everything I can to not start sobbing. Like ugly crying. All I want to do is to go out to my car and rest my head on the steering wheel and cry from the depths of my soul, I want to cry so hard my throat gets raw and whatever nameless hurt in me is finally excised once and for all. 

"And as you left, I had this overwhelming sadness come over me
As we pulled off to go our separate paths
And I saw your headlights as I looked back
And I'm mad I didn't get the chance to thank you for being my Mom and my Dad"

But I'm in a yoga room packed with people on Mother's Day. I'm a civilized person and I keep my shit together. I'm really good at keeping my shit together. Finally we all lay on our mats, palms up, eyes closed, and the room is filled with a new song. I keep pulling it together and then those rebellious tears run down the sides of my face but I'm in the back row and I'm silent. I'm so good at being silent. So good at remaining unnoticeable. I blend into walls, I blend into carpet, I blend into the hallways at school so no one notices how bad everything is at home. 

My god, can I blend now please?

I blend and bleed into my yoga mat and suddenly: hands on my face. Hands stroking my forehead and hair. Sympathetic hands that soothe and rub out the pain and I'm torn between mortification and gratification. I hope the teacher's hands have moved to every one of those 50 faces in the entire class. I hope it's not because she saw that the water running down the sides of my face wasn't sweat.

And then a cool cloth on my eyes. Gentle hands that press it down on my eyes. I accept this kindness. I accept this love. I let go of the fear that she notices my pain.

Then class is over and I remove the cloth from my eyes and see that everyone else has a white washcloth over their eyes too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Thing About Bullies

*This is an older blog post that I'm reposting for a friend who is dealing with a bully. Thought it might help those of you who are dealing with bullies too.*

Most of my life I have dealt with various bullies by either trying to stay under their radar or by trying to kill them with kindness. What heart of stone could resist my continuously applied sweetness and light? Surely I could tame the savage beast and hence be special enough for the bully to be kind to me and bully anyone who messed with me.

Turns out that's exhausting and doesn't actually give you much in return. I don't know about you, but I don't have people messing with me very often. Besides, it's usually the bully in question who is messing with me, so what's the point of befriending him in the first place?

Lately, I've had enough of bullies and I've been speaking up for myself. Of course the conflict riles me up and stresses me out. I prefer that everyone be nice, including me. But enough is enough. Turns out being a doormat just encourages bullies to wipe their feet on you.

So the other day I dressed down a bully. Oh, I went in for the kill. I sliced and diced the bully with the long knives of a verbal ninja and the bully didn't know what hit him. I was mostly stunned by how easy it was. When I actually lashed out and took the bully to task, he had nothing to say. It was almost like slapping around a baby. He fell apart under the truth being hurled at him, no holds barred, no filter, just the brutal truth. One after the other. Brutal truth punches left and right.

It wasn't nice. It wasn't pretty. And he probably felt completely emasculated and like a ginormous loser after I was done with him. I imagined I would feel really bad about it after all was said and done, but oddly, I felt empowered. Emboldened. "Don't mess with me." Hells yeah!

Kinda like a bully, right? I worried about that. Had I just turned into the aggressor? No, I was merely holding the line, announcing that I have boundaries and they will not be crossed. Bullies like to leap over your boundaries and then slap you in the face. This particular bully once knocked me around a parking lot and I had to get a restraining order to make sure he didn't leap over that boundary again.

And he hasn't.

That's the trouble with bullies. We want them to be reasonable. We want them to be good, to simply obey the rules so everyone can live in peace. I don't want any trouble. I just want to be left alone. But nooooo.

Yet the guilt persisted. Was I now the bully? The bully had called ME a bully and that threw me off, I admit it. Doormats aren't accustomed to being called bullies. We want people to like us. And to have clean feet. So I did a little Internet research on how to deal with a bully.

It didn't help.

In column after column I read about how it is best to avoid conflict with a bully. (Duh.) Article after article spelled out how the bully is actually a very psychically fragile being. A bully is merely the gruff mask to a terribly insecure ego. Wracked with insecurities, they lash out in order to protect their tiny, tiny egos.

Some articles went on to say that you should encourage the bully and praise the bully for what they do right and not mention where they fall short. Are you kidding me? If that's not a co-dependent and dysfunctional relationship I don't know what is. Jesus.

So should I praise the bully when he stops grabbing me by the arms and banging my head against the wall?

"Thanks for stopping your attack! That was really nice of you and showed a lot of restraint! Good job!"

Screw that. I may be trying to progress along the Buddhist path, but I'm thinking the Buddha wouldn't think I was showing myself compassion if I let a bully continue to scare me. So I looked around a little more, ignored the self-help writers and went straight for the politicians.

This is what I found:

"If you let a bully come in your front yard, he'll be on your porch the next day and the day after that he'll rape your wife in your own bed."    

- Lyndon B. Johnson

That's what I'm talking about. I'm not a bully. I'm not prancing all over someone else's lawn. I'm just telling one asshat to stay off mine.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Everyone Says I Should Do Yoga

"You're a Buddhist? Do you do yoga?"

I don't even want to tell you how many times I've been asked that question. And if you really are asking me that question, the answer would have been "No. I don't." I may have glared at you too.

I've been asked this so many times and it irritates me so much that it's become a standing joke between my husband and me. He sends me articles about yoga or if someone asks me that question in front of him, he hides a huge grin behind his hand. 

Despite my general irritation with yoga, I have tried it off and on throughout the years. But it never took. Many yoga classes are too slow and too boring. Some are too fast and too confusing. I almost got into yoga last summer when I tried Hot Vinyasa. The sweat made me feel like I was actually accomplishing something. But most of the teachers were either too new-agey and soft-spoken or too hip and full of themselves.

But when my friend asked me to try a new place a few weeks ago, I said "Yes." I wanted to spend time with my friend. Plus I'm super stressed out and my body is super inflexible. I mean, despite not liking yoga, I've always known my body could benefit from it.

I carry my stress in my shoulders and neck. I'm a huncher from way back. Maybe it's because I was too tall too soon? As a young girl and teen, I hunched down to try and seem like I wasn't taller than all of the boys. And I don't handle conflict well. If there's tension in the room, my shoulders go up to my ears as though I'm shielding myself from a blow.

You try a lifetime of that and see if you're not wound as tight as a drum.

So I went to yoga.

And I liked it.

Like really, really liked it.


I found a class that just jived with me all around. It was after the kids went to bed. The class is never busy because it's the last one of the night and everyone else is probably going to bed. The yoga room is lit by candles and there's gentle music playing instead of hip modern tunes that are meant to make me push myself to the edge like a goddamn spinning class.

That's not what I need.

I need to lay on a mat in a hot room with only flickering candlelight. 

On top of all that, it seems I've found a yoga teacher who speaks my language. He reminds me of the guiding teacher at my temple. He "gets" it. He's enlightened without being pious. He drops a lot of f-bombs and makes me laugh. He tells stories about letting go of all the shit that got you all riled up during the day and the way he tells it, it doesn't seem like some new-age pretentious bullshit. 

It just seems like truth.

The other night, as we took a big breath in and then slowly exhaled, something happened. 

"What if, when you exhaled this last time, you really let go? What if you let go of that thing that has burdened you the most? What would that be like? What would that feel like? What if with this breath, you finally let that shit go?" he said.

I thought of that place in my heart, the tender spot. That source of all my heartache. And instead of rolling my eyes, I allowed myself to consider it.

"What if I let it go?" 

For a moment, while I exhaled, I imagined that I breathed out that hurt—flushed it out of my body, and where it once was, I was light.

Then I felt tears falling down the sides of my face. A part of me wanted to shake my fist at the room and say, "Damn you, Yoga! You finally got me!" But the other part of me felt … happy and relieved.

So I laid on the floor in the candlelight and kind of rejoiced in those tears.

Namaste, indeed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nothing Much to Say in Detroit.

An aptly-named vin.

I recently received 130 emails notifying me that my blog was being spammed by some spambot selling presumably fake and/or stolen Michael Kors purses. Or was it Michael Cores? Whatever the case, it brought my attention over and over again to this neglected blog. Each *ping* of an email received was another tap on the shoulder saying, "Hello. You have a blog. Why don't you write in it?"

But as is the case with most writer's block, the moment I feel as though I must post in my blog, my mind goes completely blank. Even once trivial thoughts and ideas begin to emerge, I immediately dismiss them as "not good enough" or "already posted as status updates on Facebook."

I bought these today. I'm putting them here now in order to add color.

I've been thinking I would post while I'm in Paris. I mean, if you can't come up with writing material in Paris, what the hell kind of lame excuse for a writer are you, anyway? I'll have nothing but time over the course of six days in the most wonderful city in the world. I'll bring my big camera and take real photographs. I'll post them artfully with witty quips about Parisians. It will be wonderful.

This is my cat Obi-Wan Kenobi. He used to be feral too.

But what can I post about Detroit? I've had three jobs in the past six months. After working in the same ad agency for seven years, I left. That was momentous enough. But then I left the new job after 12 weeks for a new, new job. All this newness and change has been quite exhausting. It hasn't left me with much energy or inspiration to write. Besides, I'm terrible at change. I've also been horribly homesick for agency life. It's like being in the creative department of an ad agency allows you to go completely feral and I've been trying to get domesticated at these new jobs. I want to drink beer at work and swear at my co-workers. I miss having remote controlled helicopters buzzing over my head. I miss rock bands and cappuccino machines. I miss all the beards and tattoos. My god, I even miss leggings as pants, if only to mock them with my work partner. So yes. I'm a little homesick and dealing with change and all of that leaves me creatively challenged.

These are paper cats. I made them. I'm not sure why either.

Paris. Paris is when I'll have something to write about that is interesting and beautiful. Profundity will pour out of me like a heavy cab and creativity will spread across my brain like fois gras. I'll sit where Hemingway and Fitzgerald once sat and fantasize about never coming back to the bourgeois Etats-Unis.

I'll write then. When I have those kind of thoughts. Readable thoughts. Dreamer's thoughts. Thoughts that will take you away from wherever it is you're sitting right now, reading this, wishing you were somewhere else.