Category Archives: Writing

Parenthoodwinked

54ff10b5d0722-ghk-woman-embarrassed-nervous-s2

One of the most challenging aspects of parenthood is convincing your child that you have some idea of what you are doing…because you usually don’t.

“I don’t need a jacket today,” my six-year-old will report to me on mornings that I look out the window and observe ice falling from the sky.

“You need a jacket,” I will insist, “It’s freezing, and you are only wearing a t-shirt that appears to be two sizes too small.”

“But, I’m not cold,” he will reason, as if logic is something he uses on a regular basis.

“Put on your jacket,” I will counter.

“But, MOMMY WHHHHHHYYYYYYY?” His voice will go up several octaves and level out in a long whine like a dying balloon looking for a safe place to land on the floor.

“Because,” I will pause and then utter those words that all parents swear never to use: “I SAID SO.”

Providing such rationale is typically a dead giveaway to any child worth his salt that you have exhausted all your ‘real’ answers and have gotten desperate. My older son, aged ten going on 40, is especially salty.

“I really think you should join a soccer league,” I will say on occasion, varying the suggested sport with each season.

“Not interested,” he will murmur from the couch, the glowing reflection of Minecraft dancing in his eyeballs.

“You’ll make some new friends,” I will point out, “And, you could really use the exercise..”

I’ll go over a prepared list of data points and supporting research to validate my position, like a freshman on the first day of debate club, usually getting monosyllabic counter-arguments or grunts in reply.

Finally, I’ll give up. “How do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it??” I’ll wail, exasperated.

Here, he’ll glance up briefly and inform me, “I’ve never tried having my brain eaten by zombies, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t like it.”

Obviously, my children are getting older, and they are becoming more aware of the fact that at any given time, as a parent, I am winging it. “Because,” is increasingly less convincing as an answer for questions like, “Why can’t I have a bowl of jelly beans for dinner?” or “How come I have to wear pants to Grandma’s party?” Really, I just don’t know.

Recently, I overheard my older son instructing his brother on the finer points of a video game they were playing.

“Why do I need to defeat ALL the bad guys on this level?” the six-year-old questioned.

“Because….,” his brother paused, “I said so.”

At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

4 Comments

Filed under children, Essays, humor, parenting, Writing

Hate.

Love-and-Hate-

Despite a historic lack of experience or proficiency on the matter, I recently discovered a hitherto hidden talent in myself – the aptitude of abhorrence.

And, while I have used the word ‘hate’ in varying degrees of articulated emotions, I was likely wasting it on matters that now seem clearly trivial.

“Hate is a strong word,” my mother would comment after I expressed my feelings as a child about the slimy, gelatinous slices of ooze on my plate that she assured me were zucchini.

“You should never say hate,” I remember my grandmother instructing, although her passionate religious convictions probably precluded her from participating in the colorful discussion I hoped to have about the girl in my third grade class who stole my idea about what to play at recess.

In the universal sense, I hate ignorance and mass genocide and people who don’t clean up their pee after using public toilets.   But, personally, apart from my proclivity for the dramatic and need to embellish narratives about my daily life in order to provide more entertaining accounts to friends and family, I don’t think I have ever put in the effort it takes to truly hate anything or anyone.

Until recently.

It didn’t happen all at once. It grew like a pervasive, resistant virus, attaching its thorns into my heart and taking root in my brain. Some days I would fight it, using logic and common sense to dampen the heat that seemed to be constantly building within me. Other days I would embrace it, relishing the validated rage I felt by poring over injustices that had been committed against me.

Hate is tiring. It requires a dedication of time and energy. It involves hours of obsessive thoughts and dark fantasies. The kind that pull you away from your regular responsibilities and demand your full attention.  It steals your sleep and eats away at your joy.

Hate takes a toll on your body. It quickens your heartbeat and gives you a sweat. It blurs your vision and fills your ears with a cloud of noise. It hardens your expression and puckers your lips.

Hate makes you a bore. It constricts your conversations into repetitive rants and alienates your friends and family. It opens a faucet of negativity that flows from your mouth, spills out all over the floor and must be stepped over cautiously by relatives unlucky enough to be listening.

Hate is irrational, illogical and uncontrollable. It is intolerant, angry and vicious. It is fearful, gathering in the shadowy recesses of your soul feeding off distant memories of anguish or struggle. It’s fueled by anxieties of the indefinite; to hate is to throw a lasso around the unknown and brand it for yourself.

Hate is pointless. It sickens without a cure, weakens without an ending and deteriorates without closure.

There is no resolution. But, eventually there may be diminishing, given the right evolution of circumstances. A softening, like a lens that readjusts as a point of reference recedes in the background.

As dark and vibrant as my hate feels today, I am clinging to the hope that it will soon fade.

3 Comments

Filed under Essays, Writing

Hair Apparent

hairstyles-for-boys-with-long-hair-wallpaper

As the mother of two young boys, I have resigned myself to certain standard operating procedures regarding their appearance, which, per their preferences, typically include a lot of Minecraft t-shirts, Skylander tighty-whiteys and socks with skulls on them. Although, once upon a time, I had dressed my first-born in collared shirts and plaid short pants, relishing the look of a daintily-dressed prepster, I have accepted the fact that as he has grown, his taste in clothing has became more contingent on a myriad of marginally humorous cartoon characters and video games rated ‘E’ for everyone, eventually passing along those predilections to his worshipful younger brother.  Subsequently, I relinquished my position as fashion director. Or, maybe I just got lazy, as my days of roaming through the Babies R’ Us newborn section, marveling at the level of adorableness that one can find in a pair of teeny, tiny overalls have given way to rushed Target runs that allow me to pick up milk with a side of pajamas.

The one facet of my sons’ facades that I have remained steadfast in my partiality is their style of haircuts. From the day my oldest son was willing to sit still long enough to be draped with a nylon cape snapped tightly around his neck, I have enjoyed the ritual of taking them both to the barbershop. I love the barber chairs. I love the buzz of the clippers.  I love the old, weathered picture on the wall of each standard haircut, as easy to select as a fast-food menu item: “I’ll have a #4 across the top with a #2 on the side”.   I love watching the line of boys and young men sitting patiently as their hair is clipped, creating a scene that could easily be a snapshot from a long-ago decade.

Perhaps one reason I enjoy the ceremony of such an establishment is it represents a recent exposure to a world that has historically existed outside of my own. As the eldest of four girls who endured home-snipped bowl cuts sitting on a wooden stool in my kitchen, I never had cause to frequent barbershops and each time I passed by the door of one, would peer through the glass and ponder.  Barbershops were for boys. Boys who didn’t have to worry about what they looked like. Boys who could get their hair cut short without being judged. Boys, who wore what was comfortable, said what was straightforward and did what was easy.

For me, there was always a perceived freedom in being a boy, which grew more profound as I got slightly older and suffered through typical estrogen-related tribulations: my first period, a training bra, home-perms and blue eye shadow. As I felt increasing pressure about what I needed to look like or act like, I longed to wake up one morning as a boy, throw on whatever t-shirt smelled the freshest, run a comb through my hair (or not) and feel ready to walk out of the house as Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly, convinced I’d be judged on how cool I was, not how pretty I looked. If I could not get to inhabit that fantasy, I’d live it vicariously through my sons.

While it occurred to me they may eventually demand more of a say in the length of their coifs, for the moment, I felt certain the young ages of my boys and associated disinterest in what was probably required to style their own hair on a regular basis gave me a few more years of having my way. This confidence was foremost in my mind as I brought my five-year-old son to the barbershop last week. His hair seemed to have grown in much more quickly than usual, which I attributed to the time of year (summer) and a gradual evolution in the standard haircut that I requested. In recent months, his tolerance for haircuts (along with everything else) had dropped dramatically and required an increasing level of bribery. Since the summer was only half over, I thought it wise to insist on a slightly shorter cut – less upkeep, cooler for the weather, etc, which I did fairly casually.

“Sure,” said the woman barber, draping a cape around my pouty son, “I’ll use a #1 on the sides instead of a #2. That will keep him until school starts.”

Ten minutes later, she brushed the fallen hairs from his shoulders and spun the chair around to face the mirror…which gave me a clear view of my son’s grief-stricken face.

“Too short!” he shrieked, crossing his arms over the top of his head.  The barber frowned even as I smiled apologetically and assured her it was exactly what I asked for.  Granted, it WAS short, but not quite boot camp short, and certainly not the shortest haircut he’d ever had. Still, the transition from a grown-out longer cut to this may have been a bit visually shocking.

“You look great!” I assured him, “Very handsome!”

He glowered and kept his hands over his head as we walked out toward the car. “Too short, too short, too short….” he started to chant as he climbed into the back. “I look bald.”

I rolled my eyes as I looked back at him through the rearview mirror.  “Dude, get over it,” I grumbled, “It’s a haircut.”

Over the next several hours, I attempted to soothe my son’s anguish over the new length of his hair in various ways, each less successful than the last.

“You look older,” I said, “You look like, almost seven.”

“I look old and bald,” he countered.

“Lots of little boys get their hair cut this short for the summer,” I said.

“No one I know,” he said firmly.

“You know Daddy has really short hair,” I tried, “You look just like Daddy.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Look, I’m sorry I had the lady cut it this short,” I finally offered, “I didn’t realize you wouldn’t like it. I won’t have it cut this short again, ok?  But, let’s move on, because it will grow back and in two weeks it will look like it did before.”

“I want to wear a hat to camp,” he demanded.

As much as I wanted to point out to my five-year-old son that he was not being reasonable and rational about this situation…..well, I don’t think I have to finish that sentence.

His major concern seemed to be that everyone at camp (both adults and children alike) would make fun of him for being ‘bald’ and I could not talk him down from this imaginative ledge perched precariously above an out-dated and clichéd nightmare. And although I knew his age would not allow him to intellectualize the absurdity of this vague fear, I had difficulty contemplating how a common boy’s haircut had created such a sense of anxiety and dread.

48 hours later, he continued to refuse to leave the house without a baseball cap pulled down tightly over the tops of his ears and I marveled at his tenacity.

“Did he wear his hat in the pool?” I sighed to the camp counselor as I signed him out the next day.

“No,” she smiled, “But he kept his arms over his head most of the time.”

As dramatic as my son’s reaction to his haircut seemed to be, I realized I could relate. How many first days of school loomed heavily in my mind as I worried about whether my new polos and corduroys would be shunned? How many times did I try to express my individuality (in seventh grade for several months, I wore a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap after reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’) only to feel a burn in my cheeks relative to the number of snickers I heard behind my back. As much as I wanted to stand out, I couldn’t stand the attention that came with it. My son, who routinely expresses his passionate and creative personality within the confines of our home, but worries about fitting in once beyond the front porch, is obviously cut from the same cloth.

Eventually, it dawned on me that my pre-conceived notions about the carefree nature of little boys were naïve and sexist and my attempts to dismiss my son’s feelings about his appearance were unfair. As five-year-olds go, he’s proven he has more than a casual interest in how he chooses to present himself and within certain parameters, I am willing to support that…..Which is a polite way of saying no pony-tails or mullets.

2 Comments

Filed under Essays, parenting, Writing

Self-Promotion: New Essay up on Role Reboot!

New essay up on http://www.rolereboot.org!

“If the culprit is nature, you must assume your anxious disposition or pessimistic temperament originated in your DNA and seeped through the membranes into your unborn child as you lay prostrate and pregnant, pondering the ways you might ruin her. If it’s nurture, you have surely laid the groundwork for his impatience and volatility by tapping your foot angrily while you wait for him to clean up his toys. Either way, you seem to have only yourself to blame.”

http://www.rolereboot.org/family/details/2015-06-has-my-perfectionism-rubbed-off-on-my-son/

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays, Writing

Mothers are Forever

n-ENGAGEMENT-RING-large570

Charlotte and Oliver’s romance was rocky from the start.

“Where did you meet this guy again?” Charlotte’s sister Rhonda asked over fajitas and margaritas. “Wasn’t it horseback riding or something weird like that?”

“Rock climbing,” Charlotte answered abruptly.  “I joined a Facebook club. It wasn’t weird. My friend Lydia and I did it together.”

Rhonda smirked. “Well, Lydia’s pretty weird, but I won’t say anything else negative if that’s what you’d prefer.” She sawed off a piece of tortilla with her fork, doused it in a glob of salsa on the edge of her plate and shoved it into her mouth.

“Yes, that’s what I’d prefer,” sighed Charlotte. She was 40, and although she felt she looked good, she was getting tired of hearing ‘for your age tacked onto the end of every compliment she received lately.  She was also sick of conversations with other women who felt the need to interject ‘good for you!’ as a way to express their ‘support’ for her life choices. ‘Never married at 40? Good for you!’ ‘No kids to worry about, eh? Good for you!’ they would smile, as they clutched their own babies slightly tighter on their hips and sashayed down the frozen food aisle to pick up some family –sized bags of tater tots.

The truth was that Charlotte desperately wanted to buy the family-sized bags of tater tots, rather than the individual portions of Lean Cuisine that filled her supermarket cart week after week.  A successful CFO at an up-and-coming architectural firm, she’d put certain things on the back burner as she focused on her career.  She bought a house at 35, by herself, and filled it with art and Faberge eggs – not real ones, but very high-quality facsimiles. She was certain a marriage and family would follow eventually, but woke up one morning on her 39th birthday in a panic.  She downloaded a book titled ‘Find Mr. Right, Right Now!’, which was recommended by four out of the five urban sophisticate bloggers she followed and read about how best to catch up on achieving the domestic bliss she suddenly sensed was overdue.

Quickly, and with the fastidious type-A personality that had allowed her as a child to out-sell every other roadside lemonade stand within three miles of her house through an ingenious marketing campaign involving a rented pony named Mellow Yellow, Charlotte began restructuring her life in order to best acquire a husband. She replaced her yoga classes with kickboxing. She joined several dating web sites connecting local white-collar singles based on a unique algorithm combining astrological data and Goodreads recommendations . She studied micro-brewery and watched Martin Scorsese films. She replaced her signature raspberry champagne cocktail with a vodka tonic and grew out her hair from a sensible bob to a long and layered mane of come hither curls.

Charlotte gave herself 12 months to meet someone suitable and it was almost to the day of that self-imposed deadline that she met Oliver.   The Facebook group through which they connected called itself ‘Adventures in Romance’ and boasted a 45% successful marriage rate amongst the ten or so couples who had met online in the group and eventually gone on to exclusively date one another. Charlotte was dragged along on a rock-climbing expedition by her friend Lydia, who promptly tripped over a loose harness on the ground and twisted her ankle before even getting to the cliff.

It was this fortuitous accident that allowed Charlotte to find herself strapped to a tall, dark-haired replacement climbing partner with piercing blue eyes who introduced himself as Oliver.   He seemed as charming in person as he was satisfactory on paper, which she had already ascertained when she Googled every member of the group weeks earlier. Her online investigative skills had led to the following knowledge: she knew he was a cardiologist with a healthy Instagram following.  She also knew how much his old house had sold for three years ago. She had not known he collected ukuleles, volunteered at a food bank and wrote poetry, but discovered it over the course of the three hour cliff climbing expedition. She also didn’t know he was engaged twice, and had his heart broken each time, a solemn confession Oliver delivered in hushed tones while holding her hands delicately in his own, over fried calamari and martinis on their third date.

“So, what’s wrong with him?” Rhonda swiped her finger around the inside of her margarita glass and licked off the salt.

“There’s nothing wrong with him….” Charlotte paused. “Except. I think he lives with his mother.”

Rhonda shrugged. “I dated a musician last year who lived with his mother.”

Charlotte grimaced. “That musician was 19!”

“Oh, right…” Rhonda grinned. “Well, have you met the old battle axe, yet?”

“Tomorrow for brunch.” Charlotte sighed. “They are coming over for crepes.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you,” Rhonda said, holding and twisting them together as she spoke. She noticed a grain of salt on her index finger and licked it off.

****

“I thought we were having pancakes.” Eunice stared at her plate, which Charlotte had delicately garnished with three layers of home-made crepes and an assortment of fillings.

“They are crepes,” Charlotte said brightly, “Kind of like pancakes, but more upscale.” She smiled and looked at Oliver, who nodded his approval at her little joke.

Eunice looked at Charlotte blankly for a minute, and then turned her eyes back to the plate. “Ollie, where’s the Mrs. Butterworth?”

Ollie? Charlotte winced at the nickname, but Oliver looked pleadingly as if to say ‘just indulge her, please…’

Charlotte pulled the syrup out of the fridge and handed it over, sitting back down to study Eunice. With a figure Charlotte would refer to as ‘squat’, she had a typical post-menopause look; choppy short haircut with obvious streaky highlights. She wore too much powder on her face which had fallen into a layer of dust around her turtleneck collar. Her thin lips were a gash of garish red lipstick, and with every sip of her coffee, she left another ring of it on Charlotte’s stone white china. She seemed as coarse and unrefined as Oliver seemed stylish and graceful, and Charlotte briefly thought to ask whether he’d been adopted.

The one bright spot hidden away amongst Eunice’s overall tackiness was an elegant diamond ring she wore on her stubby left hand. It was in a simple setting of platinum filigree and stood out from the rest of Eunice like a white rose in a field of crabgrass. Charlotte’s eyes were immediately drawn to the size of the stone and even from across the table, she could see its quality.  The thing had to be at least 2 karats.

“Never married?” Eunice jolted Charlotte out of her reflections. “What’s that?” Charlotte asked.

“I said – have you ever been married?,” Eunice’s nasal tone was amplified as she wrapped a yellowed handkerchief around her nose and milked it a few times.

“Not yet!” Charlotte grinned and shot another look in Oliver’s direction. He smiled and winked in response.

Eunice noticed the exchange and wrinkled her face in disapproval. She checked her watch. “Ollie, don’t forget you’re driving me to the podiatrist this afternoon.” She looked at Charlotte. “I’m getting my calluses shaved,” she added unnecessarily.

Charlotte reluctantly swallowed a piece of crepe she had just placed in her mouth and pushed her plate away. “Well, don’t let me keep you two,” she smiled coldly.

Oliver gathered his mother’s things and gave Charlotte a quick peck on the cheek as they exited. “The crepes were delicious,” he almost whispered as he followed his mother out the door.

“40 year old women who have never been married are desperate,” she heard Eunice’s nasal-y voice trail off as she shoved herself into the car.

Charlotte watched them drive off and reconsidered Oliver’s suitability. She would give him three months, she decided, before going back to square one.

****

Over the course of the next several weeks, Eunice proved herself to be a major obstacle in Charlotte’s short-term trajectory towards matrimony. Mostly because she was always there. Oliver seemed incapable of refusing her constant suggestions that she invite herself along on any number of hopeful romantic occasions, quickly turning them into errand runs, as Eunice had a habit of suddenly remembering she needed more Epsom salts or hemorrhoid cream.  It was always a product that created an awkward air of embarrassing silence amongst the three of them, which certainly seemed by Eunice’s design, as she sat smugly in the front seat of the car.

The few times they were able to be alone, Eunice would call or text at a rate that was well past intrusive.

“Just call her back,” Charlotte pleaded, as her gazpacho soup actually warmed while she waited for Oliver to finish directing his mother through the simple process of setting up an online Zoc Doc appointment.

“Just one more minute,” Oliver promised, “She’s got a rash.”

Despite the meddling, Charlotte found herself increasingly drawn to Oliver’s quiet, almost passive behaviors. As she projected into their future lives, she saw herself easily taking the reins and guiding him into the marriage and family she coveted. Oliver seemed quite willing to acquiesce to any decision she decreed; he was born to play a supporting role and Charlotte was eager to star in his show. There was only one problem. Someone else was already the star.

****

“God, I really wish she would just disappear!” Charlotte violently stabbed her fork into a piece of grilled chicken in her Caesar salad over lunch with Rhonda.

“I know a guy,” Rhonda winked. She slowly sawed through her eggplant parmesan with her butter knife for effect.

“Ugh, I wish it were that easy,” Charlotte smiled.

“If he’s such a momma’s boy, why are you hanging around?” Rhonda spoke through a mouthful of eggplant.

Charlotte sighed. “I don’t know….” She trailed off. “I hate losing,” she gritted her teeth.

“You might lose this one, kiddo,” Rhonda intoned sagely, “You know, a boy’s best friend is his mother….” She did her best Norman Bates voice.

Charlotte groaned and ordered a glass of Chardonnay.

*****

A week later, Charlotte had what she would later describe to her sister as a show-down with Eunice. She had arrived several minutes early to pick up Oliver for an art gallery opening and found herself sitting on the couch picking individual black cat hairs off her velvet pant suit. Eunice’s cat’s hairs. Charlotte made a mental note never to own a pet.

“I know what you’re thinking about,” Eunice’s nasal-ey voice drifted through the front room as she descended the stairs in a housecoat with the cat in her arms. She looked like a frumpier version of a James Bond villain.

Charlotte rose from her seat and smiled. “You couldn’t possibly,” she said warmly.

“You think you can replace me,” Eunice accused darkly, glaring down from her vantage point two steps above the floor.

“Eunice, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’ll never have my Ollie,” Eunice said defiantly, “Or this, either.”  She gesticulated wildly into the air with the hand that wore the diamond ring.

“Eunice, please….”

“As God is my witness,” Eunice trumpeted dramatically, “I won’t let you replace me!”

******

One week later, there was an answer from above.

Initially, Oliver seemed inconsolable over the death of his mother, which apparently happened during an overly strenuous Jane Fonda work-out session. The doctor explained that one of her leg-warmers got caught on a nearby lamp during a scissor-kick, flipping her head over and onto the smooth marble floor.  “She probably never felt a thing,” the doctor assured Oliver, “besides the impression that she looked great in her leotard.”

Charlotte remained by Oliver’s side throughout the funeral and bided her time during an appropriate grieving period.  She felt the months she had invested may have finally paid off when Oliver asked her to join him for dinner at very expensive and exclusive restaurant for what he deemed ‘a special occasion.’

It was between the soup course and the mini egg roll appetizers when Oliver pulled a small box from his pocket and placed it on the table. Charlotte’s heart leapt and she pictured Eunice’s ring on her own slender finger. Getting my cake and eating it too, she smirked to herself.

“Charlotte, you should know, my mother was everything to me,” Oliver began, and Charlotte looked down quickly to conceal her eye-roll.  “…Until you came into my life,” Oliver finished.  “I was hoping to keep both of you in it, but when my moth-“ he stopped himself for a moment, choking back a sob.

Charlotte patted his hand and urged him to go on with a carefully constructed facial expression of concern and support.

“Well,” Oliver continued, “I think I have found a way to hold onto both of you.”

He pushed the box toward Charlotte, who tried not to rip it apart with her impatience.

Inside was a diamond ring, but not THE diamond ring.  In fact, for a moment, in the dim light of the restaurant, the shape of the gem looked off. She couldn’t quite make out the cut. Was it an emerald cut? Or a pear-shaped? As she squinted harder, the diamond almost looked…..squat.

“What is this?” Charlotte’s voice lowered a full octave. “This is not your mother’s diamond ring.”

Oliver waved away her question. “Of course not. My mother was cremated in her ring, per her will.”

“This gem is much more special….”  Oliver took a deep breath.   “Charlotte.  I wanted the spirit of my mother in something we could hold and admire for our entire lives. Something I could put on your hand and marry you with, so that a part of my mother would always be there on your finger.  Every single second of every single day, with you….with US, forever.”

“Charlotte,” Oliver smiled, “This diamond isn’t my mother’s…..this diamond IS my mother!”

******

“The thing about Lean Cuisine,” Charlotte said to her sister Rhonda on the phone as she walked briskly through the frozen food aisle, and pulled several individually-sized portions off the shelf and into her cart, “Is that it tastes best while watching a marathon session of John Hughes movies while wearing sweatpants,  comfortable slippers and a Snuggie and followed by a large tub of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream….by myself.”

6 Comments

Filed under humor, Stories, Writing

Mind The Gap

550x298_Georgia-May-Jagger-opens-up-about-her-gappy-smile-1037

As a child, I felt extremely fortunate to be spared the pain and indignity of braces. The indignity was perceived; growing up decades before the introduction of more discreet orthodontia inventions like Invisalign or lingual braces, my only associations were the railroad tracks cemented across the teeth of the poor souls I watched in the lunch room, forced to cut their apples and carrots into miniature pieces and denied such life-affirming foods as popcorn and pizza crust, for the love of God. I heard horror stories of night braces and orthodontia headgear, specifically designed to drastically lower one’s chances of being recognized as a human person, rather than as a cyborg with hormonal acne. I watched friends slowly drag out their retainers before meals, creating strings of thickly webbed saliva that grew and thinned until they snapped and remained hanging from the device, swaying in the breeze precariously until wiped away.

There was no uncertainty about the pain of braces however, which was made exceedingly evident to me through the tribulations of my younger sister.  Deemed orthodontia-ready by the age of 15, she was forced to endure years of what resembled tiny barbed wire fencing around the expanse of each tooth, and I wondered if it was painful to close her tiny lips over them, for fear of ripping right through the flesh. On several occasions, I had the misfortune of accompanying her to the orthodontist’s office to have her braces tightened, a fairly barbaric process which seemed to me not unlike the medieval method of thumbscrews, but on one’s gums. While I gratefully stayed behind in the waiting room, she disappeared behind the door of what was surely a dungeon torture chamber, which I ascertained from the sounds of metal scraping, gear grinding and anguished human screams that emanated from within.  My sister, who typically practiced respect and deference to adults, could be heard issuing forth a steady stream of obscenities, threats and general terror toward her doctor which included promises of making future appointments with him in hell.  At the end of the visit, I couldn’t tell who was more upset, my sister or the orthodontist.

Although it was gratifying to evade this brief phase of oral shackling, which surely would have compounded all the other anguish and agony of my adolescence; I was disappointed to discover a by-product of growing in my teeth naturally. A fairly sizable gap between my two top incisors. As a child, the only bother it bore me was an interesting sucking noise that occurred while I drank from a cup, but as I grew older and began placing more importance on my physical appearance, I couldn’t help comparing my mirrored image to a beaver or the Easter Bunny. I would stare at my visage while chewing on a piece of Chiclet’s gum, eventually forcing it with my tongue in between the empty space in my teeth to create the illusion of the missing enamel and think about what might have been.

Ever conscious of my gap, I tried to remember to always keep my lips closed while having my picture taken. Still, there are several pieces of photographic evidence from various school yearbooks that document an unintentional toothy smile; my front teeth dipping below my lips like the tiniest of sawed-off vampire fangs. Not the Twilight kind, but the Nosferatu kind.

As a bespectacled teenager working alongside several (slightly) older men at a bookstore in the local mall, I was introduced to the fairly absurd concept of my gap being a badge of sexual prowess. “Gaps are sexy,” I was told. But, the revelation was delivered more in the way of “I’m telling you that because you are somewhat nerdy and I hope it brings you genuine comfort”, rather than “And, now I will ask for your phone number.”

Still the idea of my diastema – the technical word for a space between two teeth – being a help rather than a hindrance to my overall appearance grew on me.  After all, Chaucer wrote of ‘the gap-toothed wife of Bath’ because of the connection of the physical characteristic with lustful tendencies, a popular premise at the time. Several African cultures associate gapped-tooth women with increased fertility and cosmetic procedures to create a gap are common. And, in France, they are called ‘dents du bonheur’ or ‘lucky teeth’. Perhaps it was finally time to ‘embrace my space.’

As an adult, I have more or less come to terms with my gap, though my thoughts on its allure vary depending on which gap-toothed celebrity I am told my mouth resembles. Madonna and Lauren Hutton, I’m fine with, but I was a bit more distraught at a recent comparison to Lawrence Fishburne.

Ironically, gapped teeth are currently having a moment and I can’t turn several pages of any fashion magazine without coming face-to-face with an advertisement featuring a close-up of a gap-toothed model; eyelids heavy and lips slightly parted so as not to miss the dark section of nothingness between her two front teeth. Regardless of the product being promoted – from eyeliner to dog food to lawn mowers – such a facial expression is necessary to bring prominent exposure to the gap – a clause no doubt written into her contract.

I am still routinely wooed by dentists who promise to ‘fix’ me.

“You know it’s going to keep growing, don’t you?” one dentist intoned ominously at a recent appointment, “The space, I mean.”

“Really?” I wondered how big it could actually get before becoming a small window into the inner workings of my mastication process for the entire world to see.

“Don’t you change a thing, sweetie!” his dental hygienist clucked, “That space gives you character.”

Being told my gap gives me ‘character’, which is often used as a synonym for ‘unattractive’, routinely makes me question my life-long commitment to accepting it as my fate.  Still, as I grow older and watch various parts of my face and body change and evolve, what remains the same (albeit imperceptibly larger, apparently) is that space between my teeth.  No doubt it will provide me with an amusing level of eccentric charm for years to come….Not to mention a superior level of spitting abilities.

5 Comments

Filed under Essays, humor, Writing

Not My Department

Businessman holding up hand

I have long been of the opinion that domestic partnerships should be run like organizations, with clear divisions of labor and mutually-agreed upon but separate departments of responsibility. Any job that falls outside those departments should be debated and assigned, perhaps outsourced, or eventually pink-slipped. For example, I make school lunches for our children. My husband mows the lawn.  Cleaning the floors gets outsourced, though probably not often enough. And, after a couple of re-orgs, we pink-slipped washing windows.

Although it’s the hallmark of poor customer service, the phrase ‘Not my department’ is increasingly used as a valid explanation in our house, while our domestic corporation has evolved into an ever more sharply-defined conglomerate of varied available amenities.

“Mom, can you play a video game with me?”

“Sorry, that’s not my department.”

“Dad, can you help me find matching socks?”

“That black hole of a dresser drawer is not my department – ask your mother.”

Recently, a corporate cog has been thrown into the works of the finely-tuned machine that has perpetuated a stable level of relative domestic bliss, or at least kept us from a hostile takeover: my husband has taken a position overseas for a year.

Thus, temporarily, I am now managing ALL departments, and never have I been so keenly aware of the need for division of labor to maintain efficiency. Now, instead of passing the buck on tasks that do not fall within my area of expertise, I must add them to my project roster, investing my time and energy, with only a faint hope of being reimbursed at some future date.

Shoveling snow? Not my department…. until now.

Burying family pets? Definitely not my department, but not the sort of task that can be put on hold.

Dealing with frozen pipes? This is actually a new department – that apparently now belongs to me.

Catching rodents in the house? Looks like I’ve just been promoted.

In fact, these new pest control skills were put to the test over the past week; a project that launched less than auspiciously with the damning words uttered by my nine-year-old son, “I think I just saw something crawl under that door.”  I fought my initial urge to actually scream ‘Eeek’, like some comic book character and instead presented a facade of calm. After all, this was now my department. 

We determined it must be a mouse, although my son insisted he had not seen a long tail. Ironically, until their recent passing, we had been the proud pet owners of two large male rats; one would have thought my sons and I would have possessed softer hearts toward a tiny trespasser looking to take shelter from the cold. 

However, one would have been wrong.  “Kill it! Kill it!” my nine-year-old chanted, perched precariously on top of the dining room table so as not to cross paths with whatever was in our utility closet.

I immediately piled everyone into the car to drive to Home Depot (a destination that could not be further outside my jurisdiction) to procure the necessary tools for success – a two-pack of Tomcat-branded ‘snap traps’, guaranteed ‘effective, reusable and easy to set’. Sadly, none of these marketing promises were to be delivered on.

Although I was not previously aware that a dollop of poorly placed peanut butter can render a mouse trap ineffective, I tucked away this helpful tidbit of information for future use, or perhaps to include in my summary report when I transferred this position to somebody else, which I hoped would be as soon as possible. Several days, two traps and no mouse later, I began to wonder whether our guest had moved on to better accommodations down the street.

It wasn’t until that weekend during a visit from my mother, her husband and my sister, did the mouse make itself known again. Hearing a faint rustling from within a cabinet beneath the sink in my kitchen, I opened the door to reveal several small piles of rodent droppings….all over the fine china and silverware we keep for special occasions; occasions quite different than this one was turning out to be.  As I made a mental note to burn everything in this now obviously contaminated cabinet, I noticed a slight movement within my field of vision. A half empty box of k-cup coffees was shaking. There was definitely something inside it besides coffee.

Had I been alone in my house, I would have had no choice but to find a way to remove the mouse-in-the-box, likely by donning my rubber oven mitts over my husband’s heavy snow gloves over my own gloves and carefully placing the box into several layers of shopping bags and holding the resulting bundle as far away from my body as possible to be disposed of over the fence on my unsuspecting neighbor’s lawn.  Either that or permanently move. But, with other adults in the house, it dawned on me that I had another option.

I decided to outsource.

After my sister disposed of the box in the dark of my backyard – in a much more regal and sophisticated manner than I could have mustered – I was certain we had seen the last of the tiny trespasser. So, it was all the more frustrating when my sister informed me the next afternoon that she just saw ‘something slip under the closet door’.  “No tail,” she added. Could it be the same creature? Or a similarly handicapped friend?

Although I feared multiple trips to Home Depot within the same week might damage my reputation, we had no choice but to return for more ammunition. I was quickly becoming an experienced purveyor of pest control contraptions – something I did not plan on including in my resume. Along with the additional snap traps and high frequency sonar rodent repellers, I grabbed two humane traps, mostly to prove to my mother’s vegetarian, PETA card-carrying husband that I’m not a cold-blooded killer. 

My sister and I arrived back at my house to a scene that would have been comical were it not so rife with panic: my mother’s husband and my older son yelling at my bookcase. “We caught it!” my son squealed, and I realized they had trapped the mouse behind it.  Each time the mouse poked its quivering nose out beyond the shadows, my son barked it back. “Hey! Hey! Heeeyy!”

“Quick, get one of the traps out!”

The project had become an outsourced team effort. A team made up of my mother’s husband, my sister and my son. A team that did not require my full participation. I baited the trap, handed it over and took a step back. Any guilt I felt at not taking a bigger role in the capture of a small mammal in my own living room was superseded by the tremendous relief of not having to handle this alone. After months of overseeing all the departments, I was grateful to transition something to someone else in the room and take the equivalent of an emotional coffee break.

As if purporting some evil (but tiny) plans of domestic espionage, our mouse turned out to be a mole, despite the insistence of numerous Google searches that moles do not like to be above ground, scurrying about living rooms and nibbling on peanut butter. We reasoned he was confused, or perhaps was having an identity crisis. (“Maybe he hangs out with mice,” I suggested, “Or covets the life of cockroaches.”)

My sister and I took no more chances and drove several miles away from my house before freeing the tiny mole into the snow. Thankfully, we haven’t seen him (or any co-patriots) since. Unfortunately, without other visiting family members, I’ll be forced to take on the position of pest control alone should additional mice, moles, ferrets or small Chihuahuas invade.  But, only on a temporary basis.  Because it’s definitely not my department.

3 Comments

Filed under Essays, humor, Writing