The “little c” Chronicles, Week 2: Shit Gets Real.

Hoo-wee, y’all, A LOT has gone down in the week since I shared my news. So let’s start at the very beginning (a very . . . OK, well, not “a very fine place to start”—how about “a semi-shitty place to start”?)

As promised, before I go down a rabbit hole or two, here’s the pertinent news that came out of this week:

  • I will receive both chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.
  • The chemo will be administered weekly, in two rounds totaling 12 weeks each (so yep—24 weeks of this business).
    • For the first round, I’ll be given Cabazitaxel (I think).
    • For the second round, I’ll be given a different drug, but which drug I’m given will depend on the results of an echocardiogram to determine the health of my heart toward the end of the first round.
  • The immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, will be administered once every three weeks, throughout both chemo cycles, and will last 27 weeks total.
  • Surgery will not take place until 30 days after the last chemo treatment.
  • I may, in fact, be a candidate for radiation even if I have a mastectomy, because of the size of the tumor (it measured at 4.3 centimeters; the “possible radiation” zone is 4-5 cm, and the “whoa, Nelly, that’s a big’un—we gotta burn that mutha out” zone begins at 5+ cm). The other factor that makes radiation a possibility even with a mastectomy is whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (the biopsy indicated this was NOT the case, but the MRI will tell us more).

And here’s the timeline of treatment-tastic events that I’ve either completed or have scheduled in the upcoming week:

  • Monday, 8/1: First meeting with the oncologist
  • Tuesday, 8/2: Failed MRI attempt / Creatinine blood test
  • Monday, 8/8: Echocardiogram
  • Tuesday, 8/9: Phone consult with genetic counselor
  • Thursday, 8/11: MRI , second try / Port placement

And here’s where the long-story-made-longer begins . . .

Note: for those of you who've been following along since the last post, I've made some (retroactive) changes; specifically, I've made an attempt to anonymize the professionals on my care team, so as not to put ALLLLLLLLLLLLL of my business out in the wind. SO in an effort to avoid confusion: 

Dr. Get-It-Done = the surgeon I met with initially, who performed my biopsy, gave me my diagnosis, and walked me through it (the stage, etc)—and who will perform my port placement AND my eventual post-chemo surgery.

Peppy McPerks = The nurse navigator assigned to my case, who may in fact be Secret Jesus.

Dr. Cool-and-Calm = The oncologist who's building my treatment regimen.

Monday, 8/1: Onward to the oncologist

I received a call on Monday morning from Peppy McPerks, the nurse navigator assigned to my case. She’d been on a mission trip to Colombia when I first met with Dr. Get-It-Done—a meeting she’d normally have attended—so she was calling to introduce herself and touch base. She asked if I had an MRI scheduled yet (yes), and whether I’d met with an oncologist (no). She said she’d get to work scheduling the oncologist visit and call me back. She asked tentatively if I might be able to meet with the oncologist TODAY (which surprised me, as I thought the oncologist visit wouldn’t happen until there were MRI results), or whether I had something else going on. I told her I didn’t have ANYTHING going on that was more important than THIS, so she should rock on with her bad self (OK, I didn’t actually say that, but I might have said, “do your thang”) and I’d make it work. About 20 minutes later, she called back and said she’d gotten me an appointment with the oncologist, Dr. Cool-and-Calm, for that very afternoon.

My husband and I arrived at my 1 p.m. appointment, and as I sat in the waiting area filling out paperwork, a breathless Peppy McPerks arrived from another floor (where she’d bounced out of a new patient consult with Dr. Get-It-Done) to meet me and accompany me to the meeting with Dr. Cool-and-Calm. Although I liked Dr. Cool-and-Calm, and have been happy overall with the care I’m getting, HOO CHILE. Talk about a ball of confusion (” . . . that’s what the world [was that day] . . . HEY hey . . . “); I was smacked every which way by a TON of information and walked out of that meeting with my head whirling. Luckily, my husband took notes like a bawss (hence my ability to coherently give y’all any useful information in this blog post).

When the doctor had left the room, Peppy McPerks stayed and went over all the “treatment-adjacent” information, like side effects (we should be able to keep the nausea under control, she said, but I would definitely lose my hair—likely ALLLLL of it (if you know what I mean—I joked that it would be like getting a free Brazilian), and I’d likely suffer more and more fatigue as the treatments progressed), and talking to our kids about it (which we’d already done), before carefully outlining the next steps in the treatment plan:

  1. I’d undergo the MRI I already had scheduled for August 2.
  2. I’d meet with a genetic counselor to find out if I’m the lucky winner of the BRCA gene (which would inform the type of surgery that would be recommended for me post-chemo).
  3. Once the chemo regimen had been approved by my insurance, I’d be set up with an appointment for chemo education.
  4. I’d undergo a port placement procedure.
  5. Let the games begin.

Later that afternoon, Peppy McPerks messaged me that I’d been set up for a port placement procedure at 3 p.m. on Thursday, August 11—the hope being that I can begin chemo treatments the week of August 15.

Tuesday, 8/2: Insurance irritation

On Tuesday morning, I walked into the hospital for my MRI appointment, only to learn—at check-in—that my insurance had denied the procedure. The nice lady who delivered the news handed me a sheet of paper with all the pertinent info (physician, procedure codes, etc.) and advised me to get in touch with Dr. Get-It-Done’s office to see if I could get more information about why the claim was denied, and then call the insurance company. After a twirly few minutes looking for my car on the wrong level of the hospital parking garage, I made it back home, and called Dr. Get-It-Done’s office.

The nice lady THERE told me that my particular insurance agency was notorious for taking awhile to approve procedures. She encouraged me to “call us back in a few days” to see if the procedure had been approved, and said she’d work with me at that point to re-schedule the MRI.

When I hung up, I called trusty Nurse Navigator Peppy, to explain the situation and ask how a delay in getting the MRI would affect the treatment plan she’d laid out for us the day before. She said it wouldn’t affect most of the steps, EXCEPT, of course, for the most important one—the chemo—because they needed the MRI before the start of chemo, to get a baseline assessment from which they’d later be able to determine if the chemo was actually WORKING.

She also said that my insurance agency often declined MRI procedures scheduled at hospitals (as mine was), preferring instead that they be done at independent facilities. The trouble with THAT, she said, was that independent facilities were often booked up for weeks or months, and cancer patients didn’t have the luxury of that kinda time to wait.

BUT! She told me (and here came the glory) I was NOT going to deal with this myself; she was taking over from here. She’d call around to independent imaging facilities and see if she could get me in soon—and if not, we’d file an appeal with the insurance agency and get this business done. I should try not to worry, she said, and she’d get to work and call me back within a day or two with news.

She did not lie. Within half an hour, I received a text from an imaging facility, saying, “Thank you for scheduling an appointment!” I texted Peppy to thank her, and she texted back that she hadn’t had a chance to call me yet, but confirmed that yes, I was set up for an appointment on August 11 for an MRI at an independent joint.

I’ve never had occasion to know this before—FORTUNATELY—but I now understand that nurse navigators are pure magic.

By early afternoon, when that was all over, my stress (and concomitant urge to sleep—y’all know how I do) was elevated, so I went upstairs to crash for a little bit. My nap was cut short, however, by a call from a nice lady at Dr. Cool-and-Calm’s office, who said my insurance company was refusing to approve my chemo regimen until the doctor sent them results from a creatinine blood test. Typically, she said, they’d do this test later in the process, but since my insurance required it in order to approve the treatment, she wondered if I’d be available to come in THAT AFTERNOON to have a blood draw.

So off I went to take care of that. The only interesting thing about that was that it gave me a little taste of the chemo experience. I was led from Dr. Cool-and-Calm’s waiting area to a recliner at one end of a semicircle of recliners, in which were seated a handful of bald women, reading, knitting, and chatting amongst themselves. And even though I still had my hair, and was getting something sucked out of me rather than pumped in, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of My Future People.

After the blood test, I drove to CVS to keep my previously scheduled appointment for my second COVID booster—I was overdue for it, but this situation lit a fire to get it done before I started feeling like crap on a cracker.

As I sat surrounded by displays of fluorescently lit canes, reading glasses, and socks, filling out the intake form, I was stopped cold: for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to quickly and blithely check NO on the extensive list of health issues listed on medical intake forms . . . but as I quickly moved down the list, doing my usual thing (nope! nope! nope! what even is that? nope!), I realized that I now had one big fat YES to check:

Welp. Shit.

Other than that, though, the process went quickly and smoothly, and look at me, needle-phobe extraordinaire, surviving a two-needle afternoon!

Thursday, 8/4: Echocardiogram, Ahoy / Insurance Intrigue

After all the twirliness that occurred on Monday and Tuesday of this past week, it was nice to get a little reprieve for the rest of the week. The only health-related things that happened after Tuesday were two Thursday phone calls: one to inform me I’d been scheduled for an ECG on Monday, August 8, and the other from a lady at my insurance company (I must confess that when I heard who was calling, I thought, “What these mufuggaz about to deny NOW?”), to inform me of my eligibility for a special program offered by the company, whereby my oncologist would have the opportunity to consult 1:1 with oncologists from national cancer centers. She whizzed, in typical salesperson-y fast talk, through a bunch of details I missed—because I was simultaneously trying to log onto a Zoom call for work, and once I realized I wasn’t going to have to jump from my chair and dive through another hoop to get approval on a medical procedure, I tuned out a little—and then she asked, “Does that sound good to you?”

“I . . . uh . . . I’m not sure,” I responded haltingly. I told her I hadn’t been able to catch all the details, and asked if she had information she could email me. She said she did, and would send it immediately. Then, while I futzed with the Zoom settings on the work call to make sure I was muted before speaking with her further (which, OK, is only a click of an icon, but ever since the day I took a meeting lying supine in bed with my laptop on my chest, and accidentally TURNED ON MY CAMERA in an attempt to unmute and say hello—revealing a visage slightly reminiscent of a bullfrog, encircled as it was by about half a dozen each of both pillows and chins—I focus HARD on making sure I’m clicking the right icon), she said something about how when I received the email, I was going to have to click “Accept” to view the information, but would not be signed up for anything until I signed it and clicked “Submit.”

At the time, that little tidbit went in one ear and out the other, but when I received the email in the form of a DocuSign document, it started to make more sense—and make me less comfortable with the whole thing. I mean, by the time I saw the email, I was already feeling skeptical about this “opportunity.” First of all, an insurance company’s primary concern is its own bottom line, right? So would signing up for this insurance-sponsored service mean these physician “consultants” were basically there to convince MY oncologist to go with procedures that would cost the insurance company less money? (And I mean, y’all know me—I love a good discount—but in this case, a clearance sale ain’t what I’m lookin’ fer.) Plus, I wondered, would my oncologist be annoyed by my shoving more cooks into his kitchen (potentially tying his hands or resulting in slower approval of the procedures he recommended, if the “consultant” disagreed) and just be like, “Eff this bitch—let her ass die”?

(OK, that last bit is a little extreme, but again, I make no apologies for being this much of a weirdo.)

So the email still sits unopened in my inbox. I do plan to talk to my care team about it next week, but at this point, I’m not feeling inclined to sign on the dotted line.

And in non-medical (well, medically-adjacent, but not specifically involving doctors) news . . .

Now that things are getting hella real, this has been the week of “do it now, while I can.” This isn’t the morbid “I should have had more Jamocha shakes” moment I experienced the day of the diagnosis; it’s just that since I’m not sure how I’m going to feel once the chemo starts—I only know that I’m gonna be feeling that way for an awfully long time—I’m trying to do ALL THE THINGS NOW. I mean, not like bungee jumping or feasting on monkey brains, but I’m pretty much trying to spend a little more quality time with my people. To that end, I’ve accepted more invitations this week than I’d normally be inclined to, from both my friends and my (literal) homies. For example, during my second night out to dinner and drinks with friends THIS WEEK (I know, I am OFF THE CHAIN, yo), I got an adorable text from my husband, inviting me out on a milkshake date when I got back home. Although I was already stuffed chock full of wings, queso, beans, rice, and fish tacos (oh, did I mention I’m also trying to EAT all the things now, before nothing tastes good anymore?), plus perhaps one margarita too many, I happily accepted and steeled myself, as my sweet friend (who’d generously sprung for my gluttony) drove me home, to make a way out of no way and FIT THAT GODDAMN SHAKE IN MAH BELLEH.

Luckily, when I walked in the door to my house, girded to dump some ice cream on top of my food baby, my husband saw the look of overconsumption-spawned misery on my face (or maybe just the protrusion of the food baby), and kindly suggested we take a raincheck. So we watched a movie until I slipped peacefully into a food-and-booze-induced coma on the couch. The next day, he took me out to lunch at a place we learned about last weekend—an unassuming but delicious Thai/BBQ fusion joint called Buck Tui (10/10 would recommend, but if you decide to check it out, beware of the dead pig on the website)—and then suggested we walk to get shakes, as a family, later that evening.

Which, again, we didn’t do, because at 8 p.m., it was still 91 degrees, with a heat index of 102. And the closest shake place is Sonic, which doesn’t even have malts. If I’m going to walk 5 miles round trip in a heatwave, I deserve a little malt powder, dammit.

So hopefully, we can make time in the coming (cooler) week to take that walk.

And finally, today (Sunday, August 7) was the long-awaited celebration of my little one’s half-birthday.

We’ve been planning to do something to honor the day for months, because his actual birthday is in February (so any celebration thereof basically necessitates an indoor cootie fest of some sort), and COVID has robbed him of two birthdays’ worth of celebrations. So this particular event was not fueled by the cancer diagnosis, per se . . . but the fact that what I initially conceived as a handful of kids coming to the house for a couple of hours of sprinkler-and-sidewalk-chalk fun turned into me renting out an entire movie theater and paying out the ass for the kids to have bare-minimum snacks (the movie theater strictly forbids bringing one’s own food, and my purse isn’t big enough to smuggle goodies for ten kids)? Oh, and letting the half-birthday boy talk me into goody bags (each of which contained gifts he’d handpicked: a Hot Wheels car, a self-inking zoo animal stamp, a set of markers, a blank book to use them on, and ten colored dice)?

Yyyyyeah. That may have had a LITTLE to do with the diagnosis.

At any rate, it worked out OK, and the little dude seemed happy (and he got to spend one last bit of quality time with his next-door bestie, who is literally moving out of town TODAY, and yet took the time to show up for him and a mediocre animated film). Now onward to the start of school for both boys this week, and the start of a new normal for me the week after that.

To help me along that road, however, I’m discovering I have the most amazing friends a soon-to-be bald gal could ask for. Although NONE of it is necessary (because I also have a pretty amazing husband), the little tangible treats-o-love have already started rolling in:

An out-of-state coworker sent THEEEEEE most amazing pastries I’ve ever tasted, all the way from Wolferman’s Bakery (it took serious self control to NOT eat the whole box; instead, I ate 50% of it and offered some up to my older son . . . then harbored secret resentment when he gobbled down the other 50%. But I’m past that now.

A sweet longtime friend, who has been on this train with me since I found the lump (because again, I was SO sure it would be nothing that I told her about it one day over lunch—and then she was dogged in her pursuit of updates, so she was among the first to know the worst) sent me three tubs of Queasy Drops, which are still sitting on my desk as a daily reminder to send her a note of thanks. So one thing that doesn’t look like it’s going to change is my failure to send thank-you notes.

Another kick-ass friend, whom I’ve known since Kindergarten, has already started the “giant earrings” train rollin’, by sending me two pairs of pearl-studded, bracelet-sized hoops (again with no bleepin’ thanks).

And a third beautiful soul is gifting me with yummeh satin PJ pants I chose myself (in a size larger than I need, because my size was sold out—but hey, this allows me to keep eating all the things with impunity if I so choose).

ETA: And OMG, y’all, the hits keep coming: literally two minutes after I finished and published this blog post, my doorbell rang with the delivery of a soft, fuzzy throw from two former coworkers (from two different employers), who happen to be married to each other!

Add to that an avalanche of calls, texts, good vibes and offers of help in all varieties—not to mention the most delicious chocolate chip cookies brought to the theater for me today by my cousin (do my people know me, or what?)—and I am full-on overwhelmed in the best possible way by all the love oozing my way. And although I have pretty much always had it this good (not to brag, but my people are FUCKING AMAZING), I am humbled and fortified by this outpouring.

Lezz do this shit.

Big C, Little C — What Begins With C?

So in an effort to avoid what my journalist friends call ‘burying the lede,’ I’ll come out with it:

I have breast cancer.

Invasive ductal carcinoma. Triple negative. Stage 2a.

This is literally about all I know right now, except for a few other things:

  1. I will undergo chemo, surgery, and possibly (depending on what type of surgery I choose) radiation.
  2. In a couple of days, I’ll have an MRI to help determine if there are “spots” anywhere other than the lump I found, which will help determine the course of treatment.
  3. At the moment, however, it appears the cancer is localized to my left breast.
  4. Assuming the MRI confirms #3, I’ll have the option (after the chemo) to go with a lumpectomy (removal of the lump and surrounding tissues), or a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast).
  5. If I end up going the lumpectomy route, I will also have radiation (see item #1), and I may or may not choose reconstruction.
  6. If I end up going the mastectomy route, I will likely choose reconstruction (via the DIEP flap method, which mines one’s own fat (I mean, how awesome is that?) to reconstruct the breast, rather than using an implant).
  7. However, if I go bald from the chemo, I will likely NOT choose to wear a wig. Asymmetry makes my eyeball twitch (so walking around with one boob is likely to cause me a world of grief), but baldness doesn’t bother me—I grew up Black in the 70s, baby, and thanks to Isaac Hayes and The Ohio Players, the Pat Evans aesthetic runs deep in my soul:

Mind you, I am not in any way under the delusion that I will look NEARLY this bad-ass with no hair; but knowing it’s possible somehow alleviates most of the fears I have about hair loss (which is kind of huge for a Black woman—but that’s a discussion for another day), leaving only a couple of small concerns about whether I’m going to discover a weird dent in my head, and what I’m going to do about the giant mole that’s currently buried in my hair, about three inches above my right temple. But dammit, if there were ever a time to lean into giant earrings and hope for the best, it’s now.

But I digress.

The point is that big changes are afoot for me, and I hope to use this space to tell you about them, in a kinda-CaringBridge, kinda-stream-of-consciousness rambling way. But tell you what: since we all know my rambling can get a little out of control, I’ll make an effort to begin each blog post with the most recent medical news I have, so you won’t have to pick through a 6,000-word babble-fest to find out what’s going on with me health-wise (i.e., dig up the lede). Then you can decide for yourself if you want to stay for the rambling.

To that end, this is the point in THIS blog post where THAT part (which will also likely include some TMI) begins.


How It Started

At some point in early- to mid-June, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, putting on deodorant, when I paused in wonder: why the heck did I have a DENT in my left breast? I reached my right hand over to touch it, and felt a rather large, oblong lump beneath the surface.

I wasn’t INCREDIBLY worried; in my early 30s, I’d undergone a series of imaging procedures on my breasts, because the new gynecologist I’d started seeing had some concerns about lumps she felt while palpating them during a routine exam. In the end, there turned out to be no cause for alarm (my boobs were just fibrous), so I skipped on my merry way. Cut to 20 years later, and I’m assuming this lump is just a matter of my girls being who they are, and perhaps partying a little harder in this, The Age of Perimenopause.

Plus, based on a few Google searches, this didn’t seem to have the characteristics of a cancerous lump: it didn’t “feel like a frozen pea” (it was much bigger and softer), it didn’t seem to be immobile, and it did, occasionally, feel slightly tender (which, I’d read, malignant tumors generally don’t). Still, in an effort to err on the side of caution, I booked a June 13 appointment with (again) a new gynecologist, mainly in order to get a referral for a mammogram and put this whole thing to bed.

(The gyno visit turned out to be a whole ‘nother thing; based on questions I answered about my periods during intake, I ended up feet-up and cooch-out, deep breathing and clenching my toes while the doctor plucked out some of my uterine lining (OUUUUUUCH!) for a biopsy of that tissue. And y’all know me and my love for a good story (and good irony), so I was already crafting a tome in my head about how I went in because of a lump in my breast, but ended up discovering cancer in my uterus. (I make no apologies for being this much of a weirdo.) The endometrial biopsy showed no malignancy, however, so I put my (figurative) pen down, cooled my (also figurative) jets, and followed the gynecologist’s referral to follow up on the breast lump.)

On June 27, I walked into the appointment the gynecologist had set up for me at a place called Midwest Breast Care, thinking I was there to have a mammogram. Instead, the visit was short and sweet; a nice nurse practitioner named Kelli felt me up for like three minutes, and then set me up with an appointment at Diagnostic Imaging Center for a mammogram and ultrasound. Because of the 4th of July holiday and a planned trip to Texas to visit some family people with my offspring, THAT appointment didn’t take place until July 15—but things started moving pretty quickly at that point, because before the end of that day, I’d been given the first piece of concerning news: the lump they’d examined via mammogram and ultrasound had earned a rating of BI-RADS 5—which indicated a 95% chance of malignancy. I was going to have to have a biopsy.

That’s when the “Oh, shit” began.

The biopsy took place at a different place—The Women’s Imaging Center (where the doctor from Midwest Breast Care could perform the procedure herself)—on July 19; it, too, was relatively short and sweet. The worst parts were:

  1. The injection of local anesthesia to numb the area
  2. The play-by-play details the doctor was kindly sharing with me as she worked (I know some people are probably comforted by knowing EXACTLY what’s happening when they can’t feel or see what’s going on, but me, I prefer ignorant bliss), and
  3. The fact that my husband, who’d accompanied me on this appointment, wasn’t allowed to come into the procedure room with me and hold my hand, so instead I clutched the edge of the mattress where I lay, took deep breaths, and tried to pretend the doctor was reading me a book, because I never pay attention when people read shit aloud to me.

I walked out of the biopsy a little shaky from nerves, but fine—and then began the wait for results, which I’d been told would take 2-3 days.

Two days later, on Thursday, July 21, as I wrapped up a Zoom meeting at work, the phone rang.

The woman on the other end introduced herself as a nurse with Midwest Breast Care, and after the initial pleasantries (“Fine, thanks, how are YOU?”), said she was calling to share my biopsy results with me. I said, “OK” . . .

. . . and then she paused. Paused for a full, deep breath. That pause told me everything I needed to know.

And, of course, a couple of seconds later, she confirmed the worst. Aside from telling me the mass was malignant, however, she was unable to share any more information. I would, she said, learn more when I met with Dr. Get-It-Done (who’d performed the biopsy) in nearly a week, on July 27.

How It Went After That

In the moments following the news, I felt mainly numbness and sudden exhaustion (I joke that whereas sudden stress triggers a “fight or flight” response in other people, it triggers a “fall asleep” response in me). I immediately called my husband at work, and he said he’d come home right away—which I tried feebly to discourage, because I didn’t feel so much like I needed a good cry in someone else’s chest, but rather a good nap. But he came home anyway, and after we talked for a little while, I went upstairs and crashed.

After I woke up, he drove me on a couple of errands (I was due to pick up groceries for, and deliver them to, my mom, and then pick up our younger kid from day camp, so we did both of those things, and then made a run to Costco), and as we drove around town, my inner Maudlin Maude came ALL the way out to play.

The whole world became more vivid: the grass so verdant it practically hummed, the sky suddenly Simpsons-intro perfect. Looking out the window from the passenger seat of the car, I suddenly felt, deep in my bones, the inherent magic in all the things: Trees! Why had I never taken the time to appreciate the miracle of trees? Their different shapes, textures, colors? And how had I ignored the simple fact that the clouds not only bathed us in rain, but actually engaged with us by occasionally arranging themselves into shapes we recognized—dinosaurs, penises, Winnie the Pooh—to keep us entertained? And OMG, Arby’s! I was going to miss Arby’s so much . . . how many more Jamocha shakes would I be able to experience in my life? I should have had more Jamocha shakes!

Every song we heard in the car during our three-hour tour spawned a This-Is-Your-Life-type mental vignette of some small moment from my past—and, it’s worth noting, we keep our Sirius XM firmly planted on the 70s on 7, 80s on 8, and Yacht Rock stations, so there was no shortage of nostalgic mind movies.

Every person at whom I glanced at a stop light, in line at a cash register, or out the window of the car as they stopped to pick up their dog’s poop became a fascinating and complex creature whose stories, stresses, and triumphs I suddenly wished I could know.

It got DRAMATIC, y’all.

For the six days between the initial diagnosis and the follow-up discussion with Dr. Get-It-Done at Midwest Breast Care, I wavered between sadness, numbness, exhaustion, and that first-day maudlin-yet-stoner-like fascination with the world and everything in it.

But the kicker was that I couldn’t tell anyone. I mean, come on—y’all know I like to fling my business ALL UP INTO THE WIND. But this time, I had to slow the blow.

I mean, of course my husband knew, and he was amazing support. In fact, the day we found out, the speed and unequivocality with which he said YES to my every request made for a little silver lining:

“Hey, can we have pizza for din-“
“YES.”

“Would you please put the little one to bed toni-“
“YES.”

Shoulda gone big and asked him for an Airstream.

But I digress again. The point is that without ANY more information than “I have cancer,” there was NO WAY I could share the news with the other people closest to me: my older kid (who was away at camp when we got the news, anyway), my mom, my sister. And I have this weird hang up about Order of Operations with big news like this (good OR bad): ya gotta tell your inner circle first; you can’t let your sister find out on Facebook!

So I kept mum.

The day after we got the news, we shoved our littler dude in the car and drove up to Minnesota to fetch the bigger dude from camp. Our little dude is only 6, and although he’s more perceptive than I’m ready for sometimes, we were able to process the news a little bit—speaking in quiet, parentally-coded sentences—during the 8 hours on the road.

Once we picked up the 14-year-old, however, we had to mum ourselves back up—which proved unfortunate when, sometime in the middle of our drive back home, I received an email with my official lab results from the biopsy. From that report, I learned that in addition to the BI-RADS 5 rating it had earned from the mammogram/ultrasound, my little overachiever of a lump had also been categorized as “high grade.” So I silently Googled THAT as we tooled down the highway, and . . . it wasn’t good. But I couldn’t SAY anything about it with both kids in the car, so I texted my husband, who was in the driver’s seat right in front of me (my 14-year-old is taller than I am, so I graciously offered him the roomier front seat for the ride home, and sat in back with the little dude, play-acting arguments between his two identical Thor figurines about which one of them was more handsome).

My husband read my text (and the report) during a bathroom stop, and then once we got back into the car, we had to turn off Dan Fogelberg (damn that deep-feelings-melody man) for fear he’d make us both start bawling—which would likely make the kids more than a little suspicious. But at that point, I really started to feel like I was in for some REALLY bad news once I was able to talk to the doctor.

Once we arrived back home, I had to deep breathe and fake chill my way through a regularly-scheduled weekly visit with my mom (which also included my children), and peppily vague my way through a couple of check-in texts from friends who wondered whatever became of that issue with my breast (back when I was SUUUUUUUUUUURE the lump was going to turn out to be just an angry, atrophied milk duct or something—and that the worst possible news I’d get would be that even though it was benign, I was going to have to have it removed anyway—I’d told a couple of friends about it, mostly to complain about the pitfalls of middle age).

All the while, faced with what I believed was my imminent doom, I began to see/feel signs that confirmed as much: a slight back ache from scrubbing down the shower became certainty that the cancer had spread to my spine. Each moment of forgetfulness or ding-dong decision-making (both of which, we all know, are regular occurrences for me) became irrefutable proof that it had spread to my brain. Gastrointestinal distress brought on by questionable Mexican food . . . ? Well. You get the picture.

But finally . . . FINALLY . . . the follow-up consultation came.

The appointment was at 1:30 in the afternoon, and for the whole morning, I was so freaked out, I felt vaguely nauseated and couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING. When I arrived for the appointment, and was undergoing the initial vitals check, the nurse who took my blood pressure didn’t TELL me what it was, but instead said, “You need to STOP STRESSING.”

Easy for YOU to say, lady! You’re not the one about to find out your chances of having another Christmas with your kids!

At last, we were ushered into a conference room, where Dr. Get-It-Done sat with us, went over the pathology results in detail, and answered all of our questions.

And while it wasn’t ALL good news (the triple-negative nature of the cancer means a slightly less desirable prognosis, and more limited treatment options), let me tell you what: when you’re sitting there, prepared to hear that your cancer is at Stage 4 (and that shit, forget Christmas, you may not make it to Halloween)—and then you hear “Stage 2,” which means the cancer hasn’t spread—the urge to kiss EVERYONE within a three-mile radius takes over your entire soul.

How It’s Going

So since then, things have been . . . dare I say GOOD? I know that sounds jacked up, but between learning that I’m at Stage 2, AND being able to share the news (and thus the emotional load) more widely, I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my psyche.

(Well. The one chunk of weight that still remains is telling a childhood friend whose husband is battling colon cancer. When she first shared that news with me, I signed on to be one of the people she could call in the middle of the night if she needed to vent, to be a friend who’d haul ass onto a plane at a moment’s notice. In short, I signed on to do what I could to help her feel BETTER.

So since the first “Oh, shit” moment, I’ve struggled with how on earth to tell her this news—and when. I mean, if I told her before I knew anything for sure, and then it turned out I was fine, I’d get her all freaked out for nothing (when she already has enough to freak out about). On the other hand, if I WASN’T fine, and then suddenly sprung this on her, she might do the math and be like, “Wait—I just talked to you six days ago, and you didn’t say ANYTHING about this!”

Ultimately, I took the gamble that it would all turn out to be nothing, and she’d never even need to know any of it had happened.

I lost that bet.

So there’s a hurdle I have yet to jump (therefore I’ve excluded her and her husband from the Facebook post linking to this blog post until I make that leap)—but compared to the period of time when I couldn’t tell ANYONE, I’m still psychologically lighter.)

Hard days ahead, yes—LAWD, yes—and of course things won’t be the same, but my closest people now know (and are taking the news better than I expected), and at this point, in the lull between diagnosis and treatment, things feel . . . normal.

The surprising thing, so far (other than—for real—the Stage 2 status, because I was already writing my obituary in my head) has been the fact that I always assumed a diagnosis like this would, for me, bring great clarity and perspective, a take-no-prisoners, tolerate-no-bullshit certainty about how I wanted my life to be . . . and that didn’t really happen, not like I thought. Mostly things still feel the same. I still take a little bit of bullshit (mostly from my kids), and I still care way too much about things like dusting and vacuuming and making sure my bathrooms get cleaned once a week. Is this who I really am? Not sure.

But the one thing I AM sure about is who—per the title of this blog post—gets to be the “Big C” and what punk-ass interloper gets relegated to “Little C.”

I am OWNING this capitalization. Chandra. THAT’s what begins with (capital) C.

Take THAT, cancer. Ya lowercase motherfucker.

Who’s that lady (who’s that lady . . . )? Oh, shit. It’s me.

Welp. After about a year of being cooped up at home with all the children in the world, SkipFitz and I made a big decision . . .

We bought scooters.

Well. We ORDERED them, anyway, about a month ago; they won’t be here until early July. And as much as that news jacked with my need for instant gratification, it did give me time to suck my act together and get licensed to ride mine (whom I’ve already named Shirley).

So I got busy and signed myself up for a beginners’ motorcycle safety course at the local community college. With the sacrifice of a single weekend (6-10 p.m. on Friday night, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday), I could walk away with greater knowledge about motorcycle safety, several hours of hands-on (and butt-on) motorcycle riding practice under my belt and, most importantly, a certificate that would allow me to walk into the DMV and get an M slapped onto my driver’s license (which SkipFitz already has, having taken the class years ago).

The class took place a couple of weekends ago; I joined two other women and seven men for an evening of classroom instruction, followed by two more mornings of classroom work and two afternoons spent practicing motorcycle skills out on “the range” (i.e., a designated parking lot).

The classroom work was a piece of cake; mostly workbook exercises, done en masse and peppered with anecdotes from our instructors—and also from one guy in the class who already had his license, but was taking the class with his 30-something son, with the plan that soon they’d be hitting the road Easy Rider-style on a coupla phat hawgs.

But I digress.

The point is, the actual riding part was, erm . . . more challenging.

Oh, I started out strong; the initial exercises on the range were simple enough (owing in part to my ability to drive a manual transmission car, which gives you a leg up on learning to shift motorcycle gears) that I immediately started thinking maybe I wanted a motorcycle instead of a scooter—an inclination (complete with overconfidence) unwittingly supported by one of the instructors. On the first night of class, each of us had shared, by way of introduction, what kind of motorcycles we had or were getting, so I told the class about the little red scooter in my near future; the next day, as I finished one of the riding exercises and rolled up to the instructor for feedback, he said, “So you’re going to forget the scooter and get a MOTORCYCLE, right?”

Awwwwww, yehhhhh, baby. I had this shit DOWN. Mama was HOT Stuff . . .

. . . and then Mama wiped the [BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEP] OUT during an exercise toward the end of Saturday’s practice. I know exactly what happened: I’d been having some trouble shifting from first to second gear (I kept kicking it into neutral instead), so during one of the exercises, as I attempted to build speed, I kicked up HARD on the gear shift to make sure I bypassed neutral—and accidentally sent the engine from first to THIRD gear. As the bike started to sputter and the engine threatened to stall, I panicked, and grabbed what I (in my twirliness) INTENDED TO BE the clutch lever on the left handlebar, to quickly downshift . . . but was in reality the lever on the RIGHT handlebar—aka the FRONT BRAKE.

Next thing I knew, my entire field of vision had rotated by 90 degrees, my head hurt (thank God for helmets!), and people were running toward me.

Several minutes later, I was bandaged up (once I’d assured everyone I was fine, one of the instructors pointed out a brand new hole in my brand new jeans, complemented by a big fat raspberry on my knee—and once I’d gone to the Ladies’ to drop trou and slap a giant Band-Aid on that sucker, I discovered a roughly five-inch bruise blooming up my right thigh to go with it) and back on the bike. I wasn’t even that afraid, really (although the achy stiffness that took up residence in my neck and shoulders later that night revealed some residual anxiety . . . my body rats me out like a toddler on the phone with Grandma EVERY TIME), and for the rest of that day’s class, I rode high (and upright, hallelujah) on the fact that the father/son duo in the class had cut out during our second riding exercise, because the son noped tf out (Dennis Hopper dreams be damned) once he got a taste of actually RIDING a motorcycle—and here I was, back on that bad boy after having dropped it on my own leg!

But Hot Stuff was gone, and in her place was the sudden realization that in this scenario, I was THAT LADY.

You know the one: the kind middle-aged lady (in fact the oldest person in the class in this case, due to the father/son departure) wedged in amongst the young’uns, who all like her and are rooting for her, but who also secretly feel a little bit sorry for her.

I have encountered That Lady at least twice in my own life:


One

In my late teens/early 20s, I worked at Old Spaghetti Factory (aww, yehhh, baby, mizithra cheese FOREVAHHH), and one of our semi-regular customers (an apparent Lady of Leisure) decided to apply for a job there as a hostess, “just for something fun to do.” Although I questioned her idea of FUN, she was right about one thing (which she declared matter-of-factly to me just before she quit): she didn’t need the job. But it’s not like I didn’t already know that; she and her husband rolled up all bougie in their BMW about once every couple of weeks, dressed to the nines, ordered wine, joked with the servers, and (rumor had it) tipped extremely well. Everything about them (except, perhaps, for their taste in Date Night fare) oozed money. To boot, they were just really lovely people (who, for some reason, really dug a relatively cheap pasta dinner that included spumoni for dessert).

But I digress.

The point is, Fancy Nancy got the job—but she fit in with us broke-ass college kids, working for rent and beer, about as well as a t-rex in a pteranodon nest. (I mean, sure, Buddy’s family thinks he’s great now, but once he hits puberty . . . .) She showed up to work in her ritzy car, wearing posh, expensive evening wear she’d bought especially for the gig (the dress code called for black or khaki pants/skirt and a white blouse or button-down top), and lasted about 3/4 of a shift before she came to resent criticism from a trainer half her age (who was not evil, but who took her job very seriously—and who’d commented politely but pointedly on Fancy’s failure to adhere to the dress code). She hugged me sweetly and thanked me before departing mid-shift, and we were all a little sad to see her go . . . but really, what was she thinking? Although we’d all liked her OK, nearly everything about her whole endeavor became mildly pitiable, from thinking Old Spaghetti Factory seemed like a fun place to work, to dressing up for a minimum-wage job, to—and this was really the crux of it—choosing to work at all, when she could already afford all the beer she could possibly drink.


Two

In my mid-20s, I started grad school. Because my mother had used the entirety of the four years I spent working in restaurants and bookstores between undergrad and grad school to express her profound disapproval of this little “break”—every moment of which was apparently doubling the probability that I’d end up living in a van by the river—I was convinced that I was WAYYY late to this party, and that I’D be the older outsider in my Master’s program.

But as it turned out, most of my peers were pretty much exactly my age . . .

. . . aside from that one (even older) lady enrolled in my Cultural Criticism class. Again, she was kind—parlaying her extra years of life experience into a maternal role, advising us on the importance of proper nutrition (in those days, “fat-free” ruled the diets du jour, and she reminded us that we needed some fat, for the sake of our hair), making sure we had safe ways to get back home when the evening class was over, etc.

And we liked her. But she . . . didn’t quite “get it”—not like we, replete with the spry intellect of youth, did.

During our unit on blues legend Robert Johnson (complete with Faustian narrative), we were assigned a CD of his works for our aural edification. When we showed up for the class following our listening homework, she unabashedly declared that she didn’t see what the big deal was—she didn’t find Johnson’s music to be impressive at all. In fact, she thought it sounded pretty horrible.

Um. WHAT.

I mean, HELLO—what advanced scholar worth a grain of salt disparages Robert Johnson?

(Now, at this point, if I’m being completely honest, I should admit that much of my horror at her declaration was due to the fact that I’d been assigned to lead that evening’s class discussion, and I was afraid it had just become MY responsibility to convince her of Johnson’s talent. As it turns out, the professor was a guitar player, and so was able to demonstrate the technical difficulty of some of those chords Johnson managed to pull off (with Satan’s help). I still don’t think she was convinced—but the important thing was that her dismissal of Johnson’s work didn’t become MY failure to effectively articulate his greatness.)

Because we liked her, we simply sat silently, giving one another secret “YIKES” looks on the DL. But we all felt mildly embarrassed for her in her unenlightened state.


Anyway. You see what I mean: THAT LADY.

And now, in this motorcycle class, I was THAT LADY.

I was the lady who’d shown up on that first Friday night of class as a walking homage to my own youth (now decades in my rearview mirror), in an extremely oversized sweatshirt (emblazoned with the name of my undergrad alma mater), capri-length leggings, and brand new sparkly Doc Martens (which I could never afford during my actual youth) purchased especially for the occasion (sound familiar?).

I was the lady who, that same night, was the only one NOT getting a bad-ass motorcycle, but rather a scooter that would see no highway miles.

I was the lady getting the sincere-yet-still-kinda-patronizing high-fives from the rest of the class for getting back on the bike that day I fell.

And the next day, when a rumbling and raging morning storm resulted in a practice range replete with standing water, I was the lady who damn near quit.

Like the day before, we started the day with classroom instruction. But because the storm hadn’t let up during the time we spent taking our written tests, our practice on the range was postponed by almost an hour. When we finally got a break in the downpour, we geared up and straddled our bikes . . .

. . . but the mojo with which I’d begun the previous day’s riding practice was gone, replaced by a vicious snowball of doom: the fear of wiping out again (I mean, I’d managed to do a pretty good job of it on dry pavement, so imagine what I could do in this puddle of a parking lot) caused me to fail miserably at the first few exercises (especially those involving tighter turning maneuvers at higher speeds), which in turn caused me to become twirly with frustration, thereby failing harder at each subsequent attempt. Finally, my hands shaking like two young Tina Turners decked out in fringe, I steered my bike toward the “staging area” (i.e., where we returned our bikes between exercises), parked it, dismounted, removed my helmet, and told the teacher (who approached with a look of confusion and concern), “I think I’m going to have to go.”

She didn’t argue, but in the process of answering my questions about what this meant (yes, I’d have to start the class over from the very beginning if I wanted to take it again; yes, it was possible to forego another class and do written and driving tests at the DMV (possibly even on my own scooter, but I’d have to ask); etc), she told me I was welcome to sit out for awhile, then rejoin the class if I wanted to, just to get some more practice in.

After a couple more minutes, my hands stopped Rollin’ on the River, so I opted to get back on the bike and see how it went (I mean, at that point, I’d already quit, so the pressure was low). When she saw me climbing back on the bike to rejoin the class, she stopped the class and sent me through the current exercise on my own a couple of times (this was an exercise where everyone was riding follow-the-leader style in a giant oval), while everyone cheered for me (see? THAT LADY). In the end, I stayed for the rest of the day and passed the driving test, all with copious high-fives and encouragement from my classmates—which I went on ahead and leaned into, because by that point I’d fully accepted my That Lady role.

And y’know what I’ve learned about That Lady? She doesn’t need anyone’s pity. Or, perhaps more accurately, she doesn’t really care; she’s hit the age where both her feet are firmly planted in the No Fucks zone, so she will rock the clothing that makes her feel good (whether it’s sequins in an Old Spaghetti Factory or sparkly Doc Martens on a motorcycle). She will walk away from the job (or the motorcycle class) if she doesn’t feel like it’s working out for her. She will say what she feels (whether it’s that Robert Johnson sucks, or “Hell, yeah, I’m scared shitless to fall off this bike; these bones are more brittle now!”) without needing you to agree that she’s right to feel that way. SHE IS NOT EMBARRASSED (which doesn’t mean she’s incapable of embarrassment, I mean nobody wants their skirt to blow up into the air when they’re wearing their laundry-day underwear (or none at all)—but rather, she’s not embarrassed by who she is, so nobody else needs to be embarrassed for her when she’s expressing exactly that . . . but if you want to be, you do you; no fucks given).

Like Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes, she’s older and has more insurance.

I kind of love her.

And I especially love her scooter.

Shirley.

Tales of a 5th Grade Someone

So part of the reason I’m returning to this blog (aside from having been inspired by my friend Paige’s blog; check out Paige in the Shed (I wonder if she realizes the acronym there is PITS . . . a huge irony, because both she and her blog are friggin’ awesome . . . but I digress) when you have a minute) is because I kinda left y’all hangin’ right? I mean, five years ago, I went and told the world (or at least the seven people who read this blog sometimes) that I was a middle-aged woman about to have a BABY, and then . . . crickets.

Sorry about that. I’ve been busy raising a child. A child who is now five, and ohhhhh, ya gotta meet him. He’s a real butthole, but he is worth every bit of pain in my old ass.

But more on him (and my other pain in the ass, who is now 13) later, because my third impetus for returning to this blog is that earlier this week, I found out that my best friend from 5th grade (and part of 6th) passed away last month. After I got the news, I spent the afternoon feeling sadder than I had any right to be, given that, aside from the occasional thumb or emoji or birthday wish (her birthday—November 18—has remained emblazoned in my brain) on Facebook, I was not really in touch with her (although I really wanted to be better at that, because based on her Facebook presence and a couple of private messages, she seemed like she’d somehow become an even better person than she was before we had armpit hair—and the two years (TWO YEARS; how did I miss this?) of Caring Bridge posts she wrote during her epic battle with cancer (which I spent an evening reading) support this theory; she is going to leave a huge gap in the good around here).

But I remember her. I remember so many things about her that fall into the category of Why do I remember THIS so clearly, but routinely forget that my poor dogs are outside in the rain??? that my spouse suggested I compile some of those memories, in case someday her husband might want to share them with their four perfect-faced children.

So I’m gonna do that here. You’re welcome to come along for the ride (I’ll drive and deejay). Here goes . . .


“Four days later, floatin’ down the Delaware, chewin’ on his underwear, lookin’ for another pair . . . “

I remember, before we were friends, seeing her with her best friend at the time—a spindly, petite girl named Diana. When I left school to walk the single block home to my house, they’d be walking to the bus together; sometimes she carried Diana piggy-back, and they’d be singing scandalous kid versions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” and cracking up. I was so jealous of a friendship that seemed like so much fun (and of kids who got to ride the bus, but that was just my own weirdness).


“Shinin’, gleamin’, streamin’, flaxen, waxen . . . “

Also, she had amazing hair. She wore it daily parted down the middle, and held back on either side with those little metal barrettes—the kind some girls (including Yours Truly) wove ribbon through, and attached beads to the dangling ribbon ends, which resulted in an attention-grabbing, beaded-curtain-type clacking sound at the flip of a head; but this girl kept it humble and simple, and let her lovely, thick, long hair do the talking. Sometimes, she’d bump it up a notch and do a side part with a single barrette on the more voluminous side, which I always thought made her look amazing, like a stewardess or a waitress (occupations which, in my little 10-year-old mind, were about as glamorous as you could get if you lacked the chops to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader). But later—after we’d become friends—when she got a haircut and got it FEATHERED?

Done. I was done. I would never have hair that amazing.


“I feel like bustin’ loose, bustin’ loose . . . “

What really made me want to be a part of her life though, was that she had boobs. I mean, not that I could see, exactly—but I took her word for it. I remember being a part of a circle of girls, huddled together in conversation on our classroom floor (our school was incredibly groovy; 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms were all together in what was called “The Big Room”: one huge, orange-carpeted open space that had pillows, beanbags, and three-dimensional x-shaped nooks strewn about in common areas for reading and hanging out, and what basically amounted to a sunken living room—called the Drama Pit—in one corner (there was no furniture, but it boasted a few levels of steps for sitting and lounging) . . . but I digress). The topic of discussion (on which not one of us was anything even close to an expert) was bras and bra sizes. I remember her complaining that her parents wouldn’t get her a bra, but declaring that she needed one; gesturing towards the western-style brown plaid shirt she wore that day, she insisted: “I have boobs! You just can’t see them, because this material is pressing down on them.”

I mean. Undercover boobs, y’all. That right there was enough for me to think she was pure magic.


“Up like a rosebud, high on the vine . . . “

At last—I no longer recall how, but I may have found my foothold when I somehow became a part of the talent show act she and Diana conceived (a group of 4 or 5 girls performing a dance to Hey, Look Me Over; and although Diana (being the only one of us who took dance lessons) was responsible for the choreography, it turned out that it was my future BFF who executed the best leprechaun kicks . . . but I digress again)—I finally worked my way up to inviting her and Diana to my house after school. I wasn’t looking to wreck this girl’s most cherished friendship; rather, just to get a piece of her orbit. As it turned out, though, the two of them got into an argument at my house and, well . . . maybe I used that to my advantage a little.


“Fightin’ the system like two modern-day Robin Hoods . . . “

At some point after that, Diana scooted out of the picture, and I. WAS. IN.

I was now the bestie (a privilege I’d later abuse, but at this point, all was good). What I remember most about those halcyon days are her favorite things:

The Dukes of Hazzard. More than a few sleepover nights at her house—far preferable to sleepovers at my own house, because her room had the coolest feature I’d ever seen: she and her dad had hung her bed from the ceiling of her room (against one wall, with thick ropes run through holes they’d drilled in a wooden base); I had never known such ingenuity in a person my age (but she had it to spare, at one point even making her own braces out of wire, although she got the real deal a couple of years later . . . but again, such digression)—were spent in her basement with the Duke boys*.

The song “Centerfold” by the J.Geils band which, on the occasions when she slept over at my house and my parents took us to the pizza joint I loved, we always played on the jukebox and waited with bated breath for the “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!” after the second bridge. Once, we missed it because we’d been playing video games. That was a tough moment for both of us.

Horseback riding, which scares me a little now, but back then, with my preteen sense of invincibility, I was totally game to tag along for the adventure when her parents bought her a horse (what I specifically remember about that, so very clearly, is how she approached me at first recess—with a grin so wide it’s a wonder she made it through the door to get outside—and said, simply and quietly, her eyes lit up like a Christmas display, “I GOT HIM”). I remember his name (but I may butcher the spelling): Prince Charlie Quodiyaque. And I remember how pretty he was, but mostly I remember how in awe I was of her ease with these FLIPPIN’ GIGANTIC CREATURES THAT COULD REALLY JUST FLATTEN YOU IF THEY WANTED TO; she showed me the proper way to walk around the back of a horse in order to avoid getting kicked . . . but in my mind, touching anyone (a horse included) on the butt seemed MORE likely to get you kicked, so instead I just allowed like a city block’s worth of berth each time I had to walk in the vicinity of a horse’s behind. She also tried to teach me how to post, but I sucked at it, so I typically wound up with a sore toot by the time the ride was over (which maybe explained my sensitivity to butt-touching).

* I actually thought of her, years after high school (which was really the last time I ever talked to her until the advent of the interwebs) and before Facebook (which is how I found her again), when I was working as a waitress in Atlanta (funny . . . I enjoyed my job, but waiting tables did not turn out to be nearly as glamorous as I’d anticipated it would, decades earlier) and John Schneider walked in for dinner. I wasn’t his server, but happened to overhear a conversation in the kitchen amongst my coworkers, who were trying to figure out whether he’d played Bo or Luke Duke.

I mean.

HOW DID NOBODY KNOW THIS? This is Early ’80s Television 101, people! I thought, giving silent props to my 5th grade bestie as I put a definitive end to the mystery . . . which resulted in Mr. Schneider’s server writing “BO” in sour cream atop his dinner. So I may have some regrets about sharing that wisdom, but I’ll never regret how I came to have it.


“Wake up, all the teachers, time to teach a new way . . . “

I also remember a few things she taught me (aside from how to do a good leprechaun kick):

What a peppernut was. In the years of worldly wisdom I’d amassed by 5th grade, I’d never heard of them until I met her. As part of a school assignment to write instructional copy, she wrote instructions for making these cookies (which her family did at holidays)—and brought a batch to share with the class. I remember when she received her paper back, the teacher had written “I tried it—it works!” so perhaps she educated him, too.

What a sequoia was. I believe this was in 4th grade, before we were really friends, but I recall our teacher telling us about huge trees that grew on the west coast, and asked if anyone knew what they were called. As she’d recently moved to Kansas from California, her hand shot up. And, well. How amazing of a new word was “sequoia”? I immediately integrated it into the stage name I had concocted for myself. Now, when I grew up and became famous, I wasn’t just going to change my first name to Raquelle; I was going to change my WHOLE name to Raquelle Sequoia (a plan which is not entirely off the table; watch out!). So really, this lesson wasn’t just about California dendrology; it was also about the beauty of words (which I’ve kinda carried with me since). And on that same note, she also taught me . . .

The classy way to pronounce “Hallelujah.” At Girl Scout camp, we sang “Thank You Lord for Giving Us Food” as grace before a meal. Only we born-and-bred Kansas girls put a midwest twang on that sucker the likes of which her tender west coast ears had probably never heard:

Thaaaaaaaaank yew Lord, for givin’ us fewd,
Thaaaaaaaa-AANK yew Lord, for givin’ us fewd . . .

But it was the “Hallelujahs” that really did her in:

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-luh-lew-yuh, praise thuh Lord,
Haaaaaa-AAAAAAAH-luh-lew-yuh, praise thuh Lord . . .

“It’s ALL-eluia,” she insisted in a whisper, and (I swear) with a slight shudder.

And whoa. That kinda blew my mind. ALLELUIA. So new. So classy. So much more invocational, so much closer to divine than our hick little Hallelujahs.

(She brought the same kind of class to calling people out for saying, “Oh, my God.” Whereas another girl in our class would spit, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” (actually slapping someone for it once), she chastened gently and with humor: she’d drop her voice an octave and pretend to be The Big Guy himself, asking, “Were you calling me?” At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now it occurs to me as a pretty clever way to call people out without making enemies in the cut-throat world of preteen girls. At any rate, it beats a slap across the face.)


“A present from you . . . strawberry letter 22 . . . “

Because we were in two different classes for at least part of our closest friendship, we were unable to pair up on projects, critique one another’s artwork, or even just sit next to one another and bask in the glow of our friendship. But we were at least able to communicate, because remember how ALL the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes were in that one giant open room? That stroke of 70s progressivism was a great facilitator of our note-passing.

Well.

That and the brass-monkey audacity we both had, because I recall that we’d legit just get up and blatantly walk over to one another’s classrooms/desks to deliver notes (a subsequent bestie, who arrived new to the town and the school sometime during 6th grade, told me years later that she’d been shocked by our chutzpah).

At one point, I do recall both of us being called on the (literal) carpet about our note passing. By that time, however, we’d become so devoted to the art that we (well, SHE, being the brains of the operation) had developed a special, coded alphabet, to prevent nosy would-be interlopers from knowing our deepest thoughts. (I daresay I could still write it today, although I’m less confident in my ability to read it.) And though ultimately we weren’t able to communicate with quite as much impunity as we initially enjoyed, we continued our correspondence—sporadic though it was in later years—through middle and high school.

I’m suddenly stricken by another memory: I was sitting immediately to her left in Mrs. North’s middle school classroom (by then we each had a different best friend, but as I said, we never didn’t get along, due largely to her huge capacity for forgiving asshole behavior . . . but as usual, I digress), and we were passing a note back and forth. I have absolutely NO recollection of what we were writing about (a skinny, awkward boy or two, perhaps), but I remember that as she replied to whatever message I’d just passed her way, she paused mid-written-sentence, looked up at me with a puzzled expression and, when I turned to meet her gaze, asked:

“How do you spell—” and then she puckered up and made a kissing sound.

It took a bit of (written) discussion, but eventually, we agreed that it was spelled, M-B-W-U.

Again: sometimes I accidentally leave the dogs out for HOURS, and I routinely forget to give my 5-year-old a bath, but damn if I don’t distinctly recall the moment I figured out how to spell a kissing sound.


“Right smack dab in the middle of town, I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof . . . “

So although I didn’t have a bed that hung from the ceiling, one of the cool features of my house was the back patio. My dad had poured the concrete, added a roof over it, and adorned it with a barbecue pit he built out of bricks. And WOO-WEE, his ribs were mama-slappin’ good. But that’s not the point; what really made the back patio cool was that once you got tall enough, you could hoist your way up onto its roof by standing on an adjacent retaining wall that separated the patio from the rest of the back yard.

One day, when she was over, my brother (13 years my senior) took us to the public library and checked out books for us. Once we returned home, I—in the vain hope that I and my house could offer her even a shred of the amazement she offered me at her house—showed her how to get up on the patio roof. She hadn’t had as much practice as I had, so I had to give her a boost, but once we got up there with our library books, we huddled up (I remember it was cold and overcast) in the wedge-shaped nook where the roof over the middle level of our side-to-side split met the upper level roof, and tucked into an afternoon of reading.

I remember that I had chosen And This is Laura from the library, and she was reading The Pistachio Prescription. (Seriously, don’t ever tell my dogs about this.)

Eventually, we got cold, or hungry, or maybe had to pee, and so decided to climb down and go inside. Again, lacking the experience I had at getting onto and off of the roof swiftly, she got stuck trying to get down; her feet couldn’t find the retaining wall, and she clung, frightened, to the edge of the patio roof, the gutter digging into her gut. And my mom just happened to peer out the kitchen window at the PERFECT moment to see our guest’s legs dangling helplessly in the air.

I pretty much caught pure hell after she left. But it was worth it for what I remember as just the most glorious afternoon.

It just so happens that my childhood home has been on the market recently, with concomitant real estate photos; and although the patio roof and the barbecue pit are long gone, and the patio is now a deck, I can still offer a visual of where we huddled with our books that day 40 years ago. I remember it as delightfully cozy, but boy, does it look uncomfortable now:


“Now, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend . . . when people can be so cold?”

So I’ve hinted a couple of times that I wasn’t the kindest BFF a gal could have had in my younger years (or hell, even now, although these days it’s more a function of forgetfulness and time (or lack thereof) than of pre-teen hormones and the thrill of cruelty and drama). And really, it’s the same boring story that has played out in multiple 6th grade classrooms, between countless girls (and a buncha boys, too) forever: I met her openness, kindness, authenticity, and generosity with insecurity, pettiness, and power plays. Sometimes I hurt her feelings just because I could. Eventually, she sought greener pastures in a fellow horseback rider named Elizabeth (they got matching Sasson t-shirts and jeans, AND a set of those heart-puzzle “Best Friends” necklaces . . . this was the real deal), and I became part of a friendship trio with The New Girl at school and another girl I’d envied for years on account of her role as Suzy Snowflake in our 2nd grade Christmas program. I mean, that costume . . .

BUT. The point is that my sweet 5th grade bestie was unfailingly kind and forgiving, and continued to be a friend to me until we both ran off to college.

We didn’t hang out or talk a whole lot in high school, but despite that, she was more than willing to help out when my mom charged me with corralling volunteers among my friends to sell toffee at a pop-up booth in the mall to raise money for a non-profit my family staunchly supported.

I also remember that she led our high school’s Christian club . . . and although I attended her church (where her dad was the pastor) regularly as a kid (I was agog that people wore JEANS to her church . . . so flippin’ cool, as the women at my own church wouldn’t even wear PANTS in the house of the Lord), I never took part in the high school Christian club (having started inching down the path toward agnosticism); however, I somehow remember that the meetings were held at 7:17 p.m. And to this day, I consider it a little wink from the universe if I happen to glance at a clock that reads 7:17. Hey, agnosticism doesn’t preclude the HOPE for the existence of a little magic . . .

And I can’t think of better magic than the fact that I saved my first draft of this blog post at 7:17 p.m. That little sparkle, of course, has been slightly squandered by the hours of obsessive editing and such . . . but I kinda think there’s still a little wink in there.

So Back to this Blog Business . . .

(Re)starting Things Off With a Bang Back-dated Post

OK, this is kind of cheating, since I originally posted this story on Facebook, lacking (at the time) access to my blog (until my fancy IT husband got me back in). But I figure posting it here is a good way to dip my toes back into this blog . . .

[Cue Wayne’s World Flashback Doodle-oodle-oos]

So a few weeks ago, Auggy and I took a little road trip a deux (given the choice of taking the trip with the entire family, or with just me, he chose a brother-free escape, go figure).

Poor kid had a rough summer: sleepaway camp cancelled, no pool visits (in previous years, he went almost daily), no visit to the Texas cousins (which we try to do every summer), and very few friends (limited as he was by social distancing restrictions), since during the hotter days, nobody really wanted to stay outside for any length of time just to hang out with him. So about a week and a half before the start of school, he and I headed off for a few days of R&R in an Arkansas AirBnB.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t cancel it; and after the trip (which caused my mother to stop speaking to me, because she thought it was a bad decision), we launched into two weeks of post-trip quarantine, and simultaneously into figuring out what preparations to make for the beginning of the Most Bizarre School Year Ever (TM). In the meantime, I told my sister over the phone about the trip, and she told me I should commit the story to writing. This morning, I finally found the time.

Settle in and read away if you’d like. If not, the TLDR version is this: If you’re not accustomed to spending time in a curtainless house surrounded by woods, maybe skip the scary movies.

The Story

The three-hour drive down to Northwest Arkansas (apparently commonly abbreviated as NWA, but that just makes me think of Easy E) was:

  1. uneventful (aside from the SUV we passed somewhere in the Missouri boonies, that had stuff like “No more masks” and “Masks are stupid” written in white shoe polish on all the rear windows)
  2. quicker than we thought, and
  3. not actually pretty in the least until about 20 minutes before we reached our destination in the late afternoon.

The house, though, was awesome! Nestled into a twisty-roaded, heavily-wooded neighborhood, it wasn’t TOO remote (there were neighbors), but still seemed very secluded (the folks were far outnumbered by the firs). Lots of light inside (a wall of curtainless windows and sliding glass doors at the back of the house looked out on trees forever) and gorgeous mid-century furniture (which is my jam). Two bedrooms upstairs and, to Auggy’s delight, a small, shotgun-esque basement area (accessible via spiral staircase) with a queen-sized bed, a twin day bed, a couch, a small game table, and a TV.

“I’m sleeping down here!” he declared, and although there was no bathroom down there, and it wasn’t nearly as posh as upstairs (the owners had certainly made an effort, but they were working with a cement floor, cinderblock walls, and only a couple of small windows), I figured that at his age, I’d have probably dug the idea of having my own little “suite,” too. So I shrugged and went back upstairs to call Skip Fitz and tell him we’d arrived.

(There had been some concern about the timing of our trip, as it coincided with the threat of hurricanes/tropical storms affecting parts of Arkansas; we consulted a weather map right before we left, and saw that our destination was outside the path, so we decided to chance it, and just head home if at any point it started to seem like a bad idea. Once we got to the house, and Skip mentioned the possibility of strong winds even in our area, I reasoned that hey, I could always sleep in the basement with Auggy if stuff started whipping around upstairs. But I digress.)

As I talked to Skip, Auggy went about lugging ALLLL of his stuff downstairs (suitcase, pillow, books, and the roughly 5,112 electronic devices he’d brought). When I got off the phone, he called, “Hey, Mom! Come check this out!”

Right next to the queen-sized basement bed, it turned out, was a dead-bolted door. A night stand had been shoved against it, but a curious 12-year-old ain’t gonna be discouraged by no stinkin’ nightstand.

He had, of course, moved the nightstand, and unlocked and opened the door. Behind it was the hugely expansive but not-even-close-to-finished rest of the basement. Even with our phone flashlights, we couldn’t really see where it ended, but didn’t go into it, because it didn’t even have a floor—just a bunch of rubble with tarp over it. Plus there were copious cobwebs, and my elder son does NOT do spiders. Aside from the cobwebs, the only indication of any type of residency in there was a mattress propped against a wall.

For a minute or two, I feigned more interest in the “secret room” than I actually felt—then I walked away, leaving him to close the door and replace the nightstand before coming upstairs to discuss dinner.

Because of COVID, I’d pre-planned (and brought stuff to make) most of our meals for the 4-day trip; I’d planned for our first dinner to be one of two take-out meals, but Auggy decided instead on the chicken salad sandwiches I’d slotted for the next day’s lunch, so I got my mouth and mind all set for an evening in.

But that didn’t end up happening.

You see, I had ALSO pre-planned (and purchased) our snacks, but I did that thing where I decided we were going to be HEALTHY on this trip (hiking every day! healthy food! nature! air! glory!), so all I’d brought for snacks was fruit (*YAWN*) . . . and then once we’d settled down after dinner to watch a thriller movie (as has become our custom these past couple of months), I found myself yearning for more satisfying (read: bad-for-you) snacks than plums and nectarines.

Auggy got up and ran downstairs, reappearing with a small bag of candy he’d brought from home (a little goodie from our friend Rachael, who loves sending us candy and cute gifts; I’d stashed the candy away to hide it from my children, but Auggy found it right before our trip and, because it contained a few pieces of his favorite kind of candy (those little strawberry candies that are hard on the outside and chewy on the inside, with the wrappers that look like strawberries), he begged to bring it with us on our trip), and dumped it out on the coffee table as an offering.

“You can have a strawberry candy,” he offered, in a grand show of generosity. “We have three of them, so that still leaves two for me.”

“Aww, thanks, Babe,” I said, “but that’s OK, I’ll let you have all those—I know they’re your favorites.”

Besides, while I appreciated his generosity, I wasn’t really feeling the strawberry candies, OR the chocolate coins that came with them; rather, I wanted something chippy/dippy/salty/crunchy. Looking outside, I surmised it would be dark soon, and given the twisty, woodsy neighborhood roads and the fact that I didn’t know the area, I figured we’d better jump on it if I was going to find my way back after procuring Pirate’s Booty, so we paused the movie, popped our shoes on, gathered our masks, and headed out to a nearby grocery store.

By the time we arrived back at the house, it WAS dark—and as we fumbled to figure out the electronic lock on the door (having only unlocked it once before), we discovered that we had actually failed to lock it when we left, so the house had been unlocked for about half an hour.

YEESH.

After a quick check to make sure nothing was amiss or missing in the house, we opened a bag of chips and a tub of dip, tossed them onto the coffee table between us, and settled back in to watch Mira Sorvino hunt down an escaped serial killer, who was himself busy hunting down men he’d kidnapped and tortured as boys (who had managed to escape from HIM—so meta), in order to finish the business of killing them.

When the movie was over, Auggy quietly declared that he was no longer sure he wanted to sleep in the basement.

Secretly glad that I wouldn’t have to sleep upstairs alone (remember those curtainless windows? Yeah, they’re great in the daytime when you can see OUT, but ULTRA CREEPY at night, after you’ve watched a scary movie and can’t see who’s possibly out there peeking IN), I offered to help him haul all his stuff back upstairs, AND offered him the master bedroom (since part of the appeal of sleeping downstairs was that he wanted “a big bed”), taking the second bedroom, with two twin beds, for myself.

As we lugged his stuff up the narrow winding staircase from the basement, he continued to justify his decision: “I mean, it’s a little creepier down here at night, and there’s that door into the weird part of the basement . . .”

“Well,” I countered, feeling the need, in Skip’s absence, to appear to be a logical, non-alarmist parent, “that door has a deadbolt on it, so as long as it’s locked . . . ”

“Oh, there’s a key on the other side,” Auggy replied matter-of-factly.

Cue the alarm bells in my psyche (which suddenly ramped up my interest in the secret room): Oh, shit. That is NOT COOL.

On the outside, though, *I* tried to play it cool, and set about the business of relocating my stuff from the master bedroom to the second bedroom, folding up our couch throws, and moving the leftover chips and dip from the coffee table back into the kitchen, etc.. As I headed toward my bedroom to call it a night, Auggy (who’d been getting his stuff all set up in the master bedroom) came back into the living room to say goodnight.

“Oh,” he remarked casually. “You decided to have a strawberry candy after all, huh?”

“No, I didn’t. I told you you could have them all.” I looked at him.

He was looking down at the coffee table, where the candy was still strewn.“Then why are there only two left?” he asked warily. “We had THREE of them, and I haven’t eaten any.”

A beat.

We stared at one another in silence.

The house left unlocked. The secret room. The mattress. The key in the door. The woods. The windows. The darkness. Serial killers.

By then, the alarm bells were jangling in both of our psyches (like mother, like son . . . ).

Then, of apparently one mind, and with zero words, we both instantly started looking around the coffee table for the missing candy. Eventually, unable to find it, we dropped to our knees, peering and patting under the couch.

Still nothing.

Once again, I tried to take a rational approach: I mean, what—the killer who’s now hiding in the basement and giddily anticipating the warm splatter of our blood on his face as he takes a hatchet to us in our sleep has a SWEET TOOTH?

I wasn’t entirely convincing myself, but for the sake of my kid, I put on . . . well not a brave face as much as an apathetic one.

I stood up. “OK, well, we’ll have to find it in the morning,” I declared as casually as possible given my impending murder. “I’m exhausted.”

“Yeah, me too,” Auggy said, apparently feeling obligated to roll with this “whatever” vibe.

“Are you gonna be OK?” I asked, still feigning lack of abject fear, while hoping he felt enough of it to take me up on the offer I was about to make: “I mean, if you want to sleep in my room tonight, that’s totally fine.”

“Nah,” he said, stubbornly holding his own in this (for real) game of chicken. “I think I’ll be fine. But if YOU want to sleep in MY room, you can.”

Both soundly defeated, we retreated to our respective rooms . . .. . . where Yours Truly lay awake ALLLLLLLLLL. NIGHT. LONG.

No joke; when I last looked at the clock before FINALLY drifting off, it was 4:41 a.m.

I woke again around 7:30 and, knowing Auggy to be a relatively early riser, I forced myself out of bed, figuring he’d be up soon, and not wanting to disappoint him by spending the whole day crashed out.

I shuffled to the kitchen to make coffee . . .

. . . and what to my bleary eyes should appear but the previous night’s bag of chips, propped dutifully next to the coffee maker—and adorned with one wrapped strawberry candy, which was stuck to the side of it (and also with about 20,000 ants, swarming both the candy outside the bag, and the chips inside . . . but again, I digress; the point here is—)

OH. MY. GOD.

I crumpled to the floor, cracking the hell up.I couldn’t wait to tell Auggy when he woke up, and in fact left the whole mise en scene exactly as I’d found it, ants and all, to give him the full effect.

More than three hours later, I was still waiting.

I spent most of that time reading (which was a GLORIOUS treat, given that my home life is replete with Interrupting Toddler), but then when he still hadn’t made an appearance by 11:00, I started to think, “What if I’m sitting here happily chilling with my book, while he’s in there floating in a pool of his own blood?”

I went to his bedroom, knocked, then opened the door. He sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“Just checking to make sure you’re OK,” I said. “You’re sleeping really late.”

After inquiring as to the time, he confessed: “I couldn’t sleep all night; I was up until FIVE IN THE MORNING.”

Like mother, like son.

Epilogue

For the remaining days of our trip, we were able to sleep just fine, but without actually discussing it, we mutually agreed not to watch any more thrillers until we got back home, and not to go back into the basement, even during the daytime. And we triple-checked the locks any time we left the house.

Overall, it was a good trip, but because of COVID, I had told Auggy to manage his expectations and bring a lot of books, as there would be no shopping, no restaurants (except take-out), no museums, nothin’. Basically just hiking, eating, sleeping, and reading (with a sprinkling of TV and board games). And for the most part he got it, but he was still pretty bored by the end of it—although once we’d spent a day back home with his brother, he wished aloud that we could have stayed until school started.

And by the way, hurricane-schmurricane; save for about an hour on our third morning, it didn’t even rain.

Where AARP Meets Kindergarten Roundup

I’m rarely one to begin a sentence with, “At the risk of dating myself . . .” (There are so many reasons for that, most of which exist at the intersection of ageism, feminism, American standards of beauty and value, and plain old stubbornness. And I’d love to discuss it, but that kind of digression would take a few years – and at my age, I don’t have that kind of time.) But essentially, that’s what I’ll be doing when I begin this story by referencing a 1981 Saturday Night Live sketch featuring George Kennedy, of Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Airport (1970) fame, singing an off-key lament about being “53 at Studio 54.”

For those who didn’t grow up in the 1970s (or earlier), Studio 54 is the short-lived-yet-long-revered New York City nightclub that opened in 1977 and boasted all-star clientele during its roughly 5-year heyday: the Warhol crowd, Liza Minelli, Baryshnikov, Diana Ross, Elton John, Calvin Klein, Cher . . . pretty much anyone a regular, 70s-era, Kansas-bred schlub like me wanted to be when he or she grew up – including one particular person I’d venture to say everyone wanted to be (surely it wasn’t just me): the stunningly gorgeous Bianca Jagger, who was famously photographed atop a white horse inside the club. (Despite decades of ensuing lore, Jagger denies having ridden the horse into the club, which is too bad, because if anyone could have pulled off that kind of bad-assery, it would be her; however, whether or not she actually went Lone Ranger that night was of little consequence to those of us who knelt at her proverbial feet – or maybe at her horse’s proverbial hooves.) But again, I risk serious digression.

Back to SNL. Kennedy’s woes, put to music, detail the reasons his age makes him an ill fit for a “hip joint” (and of course the SNL writers make use of that double entendre) like Studio 54, including lines like

Once I get down, I can’t get off the floor
It’s no fun to be 53 at Studio 54

and

It’s no kick to snort and smoke and joke with artists and their models
when you wheeze and cough and only take your drugs from plastic bottles 

Unfortunately, I was unable to locate an online video of the sketch (what gives, YouTube? I can watch a thousand videos of Justin Bieber doing and saying idiotic things, but I can’t get some old-school SNL?), but if your cyber-sleuthing abilities are better than mine, and you can find it, I highly recommend it.

Why, though, do I bring up a 1981 SNL sketch about a nightclub that fizzled out (under new ownership) not long thereafter, you ask? Because Kennedy’s dirge about his – to borrow a quote from Danny Glover as Lethal Weapon’s Roger Murtaugh (which reference dates me once again, I know) – “too-old-for-this-shit” situation is one of the first things that popped into my head after I, at age 45, huddled awkwardly over my own lap in a Target bathroom stall to hold that famously prophetic white stick in a stream of my urine . . . and read the word “Pregnant” in the results window.

Let me repeat: Age 45. This is the age where most of my college friends are sending their kids off to college; when maybe some of them are slightly saddened (or perhaps invigorated) by newly empty nests; when a handful of them are even welcoming grandchildren into their arms and hearts and spare bedrooms. And here I am, readying my “spare” room (which I recently redecorated and set up as an in-home office for myself, but so much for that) for a child from my own aging loins. Granted, I’m no stranger to late starts; I gave birth to my first (surprise!), and so far extremely spoiled only child (boy, is he in for a rude awakening) at age 37, when most of my friends were already lamenting the fact that their once sweet, innocent, and loving babies had suddenly reached the infamous eye-rolling age, and were beginning to look upon their parents with more disdain than a Studio 54 doorman on a C-list actor. So I’m well aware of both the advantages and the pitfalls of what the medical community calls “Advanced Maternal Age.”

But this time I am beyond “advanced,” y’all. And unfortunately, moving beyond “advanced” in this case doesn’t mean I’ve achieved “expert” level. In fact, it more or less implies I’ve aged out of the damn contest (the chances of a woman my age conceiving without medical intervention are somewhere around 2%).

At this point, however, I’m nearly halfway to D-Day, so I’ve made peace with the whole idea, and – after a slew of nerve-wracking tests to ferret out potential chromosomal abnormalities (which so far have shown none) – have actually come to be a little bit excited about this impending new addition to our little tribe.

But there are still moments. Oh, there are moments. Moments when the reality of all this really sets in – like when I overhear a conversation between my mother (who is exactly 40 years my senior – I was a surprise to her, too) and my best childhood friend, who are busy tsk-ing and tutting with one another about my “old eggs.” Or like when I toddle precariously on cushioned flats, with aching hips and one hand poised for back support, towards the break room at work . . . and cross paths with another expectant mother, further along in her pregnancy than I am in mine, who struts jauntily by in cute skinny jeans (skinny maternity jeans, which to me is a total oxymoron) and three-inch pumps. Or perhaps most of all when my husband and I make the requisite cutie-booty Facebook pregnancy announcement – which features our 7-year-old son in a “Big Brother” t-shirt, along with a couple of pithy Godfather movie references – and the hundreds of responses range from expressions of excitement and congratulations to those of a couple of bravely honest souls, who reply simply, “WHAT???” or “STFU.”

And don’t even get me started about kindergarten. It was what I call the “Kindergarten Realization” that nearly knocked me on my ever-widening ass. For you see, when this precious bundle of joy and tears and snot and puke and giggles and wails and love I’m carrying starts kindergarten, I will be over half a century old. I will be eligible for AARP. The year will be 2021 (frankly, up until this realization, I truly believed any year beyond 2019 only existed in science fiction movies). My child will be five. I will not quite be 53 in Studio 54, but I will be 51 at Kindergarten Roundup – which is, in many ways, the same. I have already begun to imagine the far-hipper-than-me regulars I’m going to find in this club:

The 7-Months-Pregnant Mom. You know, the one who is wisely and carefully planning her family so that her kids are far enough apart in age that she only has to deal with one daycare bill/diapered butt/2 a.m. wailer at a time – but close enough in age that they don’t end up being virtual strangers when they’re adults who will be required to share in her and their other parent’s care and feeding. As a bonus, she has managed to hold on to most of the key baby items from her first child, so that she doesn’t have to buy (or beg for) every. single. solitary. thing she’s going to need for her second baby all over again.

The Barely-Out-of-Her-Teens Mom. This is the mom who has also experienced a “surprise!” baby – but at the other (read: teenage) end of the age spectrum, so she is a virtual font of youth and energy. Her child will be whip-smart and full of confidence, because not only has she had the unending adolescent energy to engage with him non-stop, she also has a youthful disdain for conventional parenting advice – which means she’s talked to him and treated him more as an equal than as a ward. It’s kind of admirable, really – but still, playdates will be awkward, because she doesn’t get the pop-culture references of the Over-50 crowd (after all, that’s, like, her parents’ generation).

The Hot Mom. This is the mom who is a little older, maybe, than the two aforementioned moms, but looks at least 7 years younger than her real age, thanks to daily runs, yoga, and a low-carb diet. (While I may look good as well, I won’t hold a candle to this mom, because just running across the living room to save my child from concussing him/herself on the fireplace bricks is a likely to be all the workout I can handle at that point.) She’ll be extremely warm and friendly, but her deep knowledge of the latest health foods and fads will make every other parent silently insecure about serving hot dogs and store-bought cupcakes (which her kid probably won’t even eat) at birthday parties.

The Cool Dad. He’ll show up for the first day of school with his ball cap on backwards. He and his kid will arrive in matching sunglasses (or perhaps matching piercings) and engage in whatever the 2021 version of the fist bump is as the kid takes his seat in the classroom. This dad will casually drop the name of whatever video game all the kids LOVE at that moment – with promises to play it with his kid after school. He and his mohawked offspring (will mohawks ever go out of style for cool kindergarteners?) will not hug goodbye, but rather throw horns at one another (again, this particular expression of “cool” seems timeless) before Dad ducks out to rock out on his motorcycle ride home. This dad will like everyone – and everyone will like his kid – but nobody will quite trust him to properly supervise a birthday party.

The Clingy Parents. Bless their hearts. This is their first “sending a kid off to school” rodeo, and they won’t be ready to let go. They’ll both show up on the first day of school, take 1,000 photographs (kid in front of house, kid from behind as she walks to school, kid in front of school, kid in front of classroom door, kid at desk), and stay long after the other parents have left, just to get in one more hug. (Finally, the teacher will be forced to fake a seizure and, when they run for help, lock the classroom door behind them.) They, too, will be incredibly nice – but it will be obvious that this is the first kid they’ve sent off to school, because they don’t yet realize what this means in terms of their own freedom. The good news about playdates at their house is that the snacks will border on gourmet, and there will likely be Pinterest-worthy craft projects, for both kids and adults.

OK, I confess: with my first kid, I was the latter type of parent (I mean, I thought he was going to be my only child, right?) – but when the next one heads off to Kindergarten, I’ll likely fit into this club about as well as poor George Kennedy among the Warhol/Jagger crowd, because I’ll have at least a good 10 years on the eldest among them. What I hope I will also have, however, is my original set of hips (in good working order), more stories to tell . . . and gratitude for the ride thus far.

Wish me luck.

Free Failin’.

Wow. OK. Been awhile, no? Well, I have a good reason: between March 14 and April 5 of this year, I trussed myself up, combed my hair, spit-shined my eyebrows and tried like heck to be impressive as I interviewed with not one, not two, but FOUR different companies (with multiple interviews at a couple of places) for a position involving writing and/or editing (which are pretty much my only two skills besides eating and flipping my tongue over). Although I have no idea why that particular feast occurred, I am delighted to report that I was lucky enough not only to land one of those gigs, but to land my favorite one (all other things being equal—since all other things are rarely equal, however, I might have actually taken the job that’s less than two miles from my house had it been offered to me, because sometimes the ability to hock a loogie from your home to your place of employment trumps the work that’s the most interesting to you . . . but I digress). So that’s what’s been going on with me for the past month or so.

Actually, if you want to get technical, the whole situation really only ended this past Friday, which officially goes down in the (Face)books as the official start to The Weekend of Epic Failure—about which I was woefully unspecific on my Facebook page. And there’s nothing I hate worse than a vague Facebook post. (Well, OK, I probably hate black licorice and the smell of Estee Lauder Youth Dew body powder worse, but you catch my drift.) Yet I posted one, which is another way I failed over last weekend. But I’m here to make up for it now, with an itemized explanation of the weekend’s copious moments of “GAHHHHHHH!” Read on:

The Friday Fumble

OK. So remember how I said I was interviewing with four companies? Well, the fourth company was a little late to the game; shortly after I scheduled my first interview with Company #4 (but before I actually went), I got a job offer from Company #1. Still, I kept my interview with Company #4, because:

A.  I’d been a wallflower for so long, I got sucked into the heady rush of having so many suitors at once, and so became a walking After School Special: The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No.

B.  Although I was incredibly excited about the job I’d been offered, I couldn’t stop wondering what Company #4 would offer in the way of pay and benefits. What if this company paid double what I’d already been offered? What if they gave me use of the company jet, six months of vacation and my own real, live special unicorn named Raquelle? (Yes, for a Copywriter position—it could happen.) While I seriously doubted they’d be able to offer me enough to back out of my promise to join Company #1 (even if they offered slightly  more than Company #1), how would I know for sure unless I turned over that one last stone? And besides,

C.  Even if a 9-to-5 at Company #4 didn’t work out for me, it’d be a good networking opportunity, and maybe result in some freelance work—who knows? Also,

D.  I had already suffered greatly just to get the PTO (Paid Time Off) from my current job to take the interview1, so by golly, I was taking it.

After my initial interview with Company #4, I felt even more convinced that Company #1 was the place for me– but technically, I still didn’t know anything about what Company #4 had to offer in the way of salary. So when Company #4 called for a SECOND interview, with the hiring manager—by which time I had accepted the job at Company #1, given notice at my current job, and told everyone (including my Facebook universe) that I was going to Company #1—I said YES.

(I know. It’s a sickness.

And now it’s reached Lifetime Movie proportions: YESsing Herself to Death.)

So two days after I gave notice at my current company, I sent an e-mail to my boss and department, letting them know that I was going to take ½ a day of PTO this past Friday.

That’s when I found out that once you give notice at my company, you’re not allowed to use any more PTO. They pay you in your final paycheck for whatever PTO you have left—but they “want you there” in the interim. So then I went through days of emotional sturm und drang; should I just call off the interview, since I didn’t want the job anyway (unless there was a unicorn on the table)? Ask Company #4 if I could meet with the hiring manager after hours? Sneak out and hope nobody noticed?

Finally, I had an epiphany: Why on earth would I even consider letting a job I’m leaving dictate my ability to pursue future opportunities? So I decided I was gonna go on witma bad ass, take the interview at the scheduled time, be upfront about it, and let the chips tumble if need be.

For the record, when the HR person at Company #4 originally called me to request the second interview, I tried to pump her for salary information at that point, saying I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time on a second interview if salary was going to be a deal-breaker on either side. She fished up my application while I was on the phone, and confirmed my salary requirement, but she was unable to tell me anything—said I’d have to talk to the hiring manager. I agreed to come in for the interview, and she promised to send me an interview confirmation e-mail later that day. An hour or so later, I received an e-mail from her, and all was well.

So come last Friday, I made myself presentable, headed to work for the first half of the day, and then left my office around noon for Interview #2 with Company #4.

Turns out I left a little too soon, because I ended up with a little over half an hour to spare once I arrived in Company #4’s parking lot. Therefore, I did what anyone would do in such a situation: pulled out my phone to putz around on it until such time as I felt I could make a respectable entrance (being 30 minutes early would seem a little too “leg-humping Jack Russell,” whereas I wanted to come across more like “eager-but-independent Border Collie”). In the putzing process, I pulled up the confirmation e-mail from the HR person.

The confirmation e-mail I never bothered to open previous to that moment.

The confirmation e-mail that was not, in fact, a confirmation e-mail at all, but was instead a message from the HR person, saying that Company #4 would be unable to meet my salary requirement, and to let her know if I still wanted to meet with the hiring manager (the implication being that the appointment would be considered cancelled unless I told her otherwise).

FML.

I immediately called Pretty Bad Dad and led with this: “I am a complete idiot.” He was kind enough to hold his tongue. And kinder still to invite me to lunch with him, his boss and his department. On the way to meet him, I called the HR person and offered abundant apologies to her voicemail for not having responded to her e-mail about the salary. Then I went and had some Chinese food with some nice fellas, went home and took a nap, and hit the reset button for the weekend (which the boy and I were spending at my mom’s house) . . . or so I thought.

The Saturday Super-Suckage

About once a month, my son and I make a weekend trip to visit his Grandma, who lives about an hour and a half away. Since I generally plan these visits in advance, based on the kid’s crazy birthday-party schedule, and my mom’s more predictable church and bridge-playing schedule, I usually know way ahead of time when I’ll be there next.

A couple of weeks before this past weekend’s visit, I somehow discovered that there was going to be a 5K race happening in my mom’s city on the Saturday I planned to be there, and decided on a whim to sign up. I wasn’t ready by any stretch for any sort of PR—heck, I hadn’t even run on pavement since early October of last year (first there was a car accident, which jacked up my knee for awhile (actually, it’s still a little jacked up, but that’s beside the point), and then there was winter, which has kept me confined to the treadmill at the Y)—but I figured what the heck? It would let me get my feet wet, so to speak, and since it was the inaugural occurrence of this particular event, there was a chance there wouldn’t be many participants, and therefore a (slightly more remote) chance I might actually win something.

When the boy and I arrived at my mom’s house on Friday evening, though, I just felt incredibly exhausted (despite the afternoon nap). So over dinner, I started to whine about not wanting to do the race the next day.

My mother, who has never been a big proponent of exercise (and in fact has been known to actively discourage it2), reminded me that I didn’t HAVE to do it. In fact, she said, it might be better if I didn’t, especially if I hadn’t run on pavement for several months, because I could hurt myself, etc., etc.

I went to bed, still feeling puny about the whole thing, but thinking that in the morning, I’d have renewed ambition…

That didn’t happen. When I woke up, I checked the outside temperature online, and was immediately chagrined to see how flippin’ cold it was. Once again, I whined. I knew I’d be fine once I started running, but the long wait for the start, in just my little track jacket and tights, would be annoying.

My mother agreed. “I think you’d better just sit this one out,” she said.

Didn’t have to throw a brick at ME.

So we made a lovely breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast, because what the heck—once you fall off the wagon, may as well roll yourself right on into the deepest part of the ditch), and planned a morning of errands instead.

As my mom was showering for our errand outing, my cell phone rang. It was Pretty Bad Dad.

“Where are YOU?” he asked in a chipper voice tinged with concern.

“At my mom’s house,” I answered.

“Why didn’t you do your race?” asked he.

“How do you know I didn’t?” I wondered aloud.

Ahem. Here’s how: Because he was waiting for me at the finish line.

With flowers.

FML.

When he saw the people with strollers (who’d been put at the back of the pack at the starting line) cross the finish line, he knew something was up. Despite the fact that I’ve lost a bit of speed because of the car accident—and wasn’t by any means fast to begin with— he thought surely I couldn’t be THAT slow.  Had I fallen? he wondered. Was I hurt?

Nope. I was in my mom’s bed, licking bacon grease off my fingers.

I felt so awful I burst into tears. Mostly I felt horrible because he’d woken up early, on his “bachelor weekend” and driven an hour and a half to cheer me on—and I’d completely ditched the race, (unwittingly) standing him up in the process. However, I was also sad for myself (they don’t call me InstaPrincess for nothin’), because HOW AWESOME of a surprise would it have been to cross the finish line right in the middle of the Guess Who’s “Share the Land” (I’d worked out my playlist a week in advance, and saved “Share the Land” for the end, because I’m telling you—it is more inspirational than you’d think) and see him standing there with his face and everything?

He ended up coming by my mom’s house (that’s how I found out there were flowers, too) for a little while, and then drove all the way back home—and although he thought the whole thing was funny, I was still heartbroken by my own petard (I know that doesn’t make any sense, but roll with me, here– I’m emotionally delicate).

It sucks having nobody to blame but yourself.

Oh, and P.S. Only about 100 people participated, so Dude. I totally might have won something.

The Sunday Say WHAAAAAAT?

So I returned home Sunday, tail still firmly tucked, and set about getting ready for houseguests we have arriving tonight for a five-day stay. Over the weekend (since I didn’t do shit else), I’d planned out a few dinners to make while they’re here—including a pot roast—and so headed for the grocery store soon after I arrived home to buy the goods for the first couple of dinners.

When I got to the checkout, I put the meat (I’d bought the pot roast and a buncha chicken parts) on the conveyor last. When the cashier had rung up all BUT the meat, I noticed the total and thought, “Wow—I’m getting off really cheap!” because at that point I was only out about 30 bucks.

So imagine my surprise mere seconds later when the cashier, having rung up the meat, gave me a total of EIGHTY-SOME BUCKS.

OK—not horrible, considering it was going to feed six people two days’ worth of dinner, but still—WTH?!!?!? How did the last two items end up more than doubling the bill?

Turns out that I’d spent THIRTY-FIVE BUCKS on the pot roast alone. When I picked it up, I paid attention only to the weight on the sticker. I was looking for a three-pounder, so once I spotted a tasty-looking 3.25-lb. chunk of beef, I grabbed it and ran, completely ignoring the $10-per-pound price.

Sheesh.

Part of me feels like such an expensive roast deserves better treatment than my ages-old, tried-and-true, so-much-easier-than-pie pot roast recipe (beef broth + cream of mushroom soup + onion soup mix + slow cooker). Like maybe a fancy red wine marinade with gourmet mushrooms or something. But another part of me doesn’t really want to try anything new, because I will poke my own eyeballs out if I screw up a $35 piece of meat. And I’m not confident that I’m entirely past this period of failures. Let’s hope I get past it soon, though—I’m starting a new job next week!

 

FOOTNOTES

1. OK, so the Wednesday afternoon before my first interview with Company #4—and the day before job offer came from Company #1—I .sent an e-mail to my boss and others in my department around lunchtime, saying I would be taking a couple of hours of PTO that coming Friday morning. Usually, I make up an excuse, because I’m such a SHARER that I knew everyone would instantly be suspicious if I didn’t say WHY I was taking the PTO. However, on that particular day, I just got tired of making things up and trying to keep stories straight (contrary to what my husband believes, I’m a bad liar), so I just simply said I was taking PTO, and would be in around 10:00. . .
 . . . which is when my boss’s red flag went up. First, I got the casual drive-by: he stopped at my desk, and said, “Wow, you’re really burning through the PTO lately.”

Although my heart rate instantly doubled, I pretended I didn’t catch any subtext there and replied, “I know—I think I still have enough, though . . . “

“Oh, you do,” he said, “but I always get a little concerned when people burn through a lot of PTO in a short time.”

Again, I ignored the implications. “Oh, well,” I sighed, “we’ve already decided we’re not taking a vacation this year.” Then I started rambling about how our car blew a head gasket (true), which was an unexpected expense (true), and that sucks (true), but what are ya gonna do (true)—even though none of that would actually prevent us from taking a vacation. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

Then, 5 minutes before quittin’ time that afternoon, I got an e-mail from my boss, asking me to stop by his office on my way out, to “touch base” about my PTO status. Shit, shit, shit.

Long story short, I went in, and he began by looking up—and remarking on the enormity of—the number of PTO hours I’ve taken so far this year. And then there I stood for half an hour (which meant then I had to call Pretty Bad Dad to pick up our kid from preschool) while my boss asked if I was OK? Was I SUUUUUUURE? Was everything hunky-dory? (Yes; he actually said “hunky-dory.”) Was I happy? I didn’t seem like my usual happy-go-lucky self lately. Was I SURE everything was OK? He just wanted to make sure everything was OK with me, because I am SUCH a valued employee—he tells the company owners all the time what a great asset I am to the team! Why, one of them called just the other day to ask who wrote that article about our Convention keynote speaker, because she loved it so much, and he told her it was me, and that I am such an incredible writer!

Not sure I’ve ever been so uncomfortable in my life. And when I’m really nervous, my right eye waters, so I was basically half-crying through the whole thing.

At any rate, it became clear to me that he wasn’t buying my assurances that everything was OK, and I felt like I had to give something up. So I ended up throwing my entire department in front of the bus, by telling him that we’re all getting a little frustrated because our projects are all stalled in the approval process (true)—mainly because since November, our COO has been in the office maybe a total of 10-12 days (true), and there’s no delegation of authority to keep processes moving (true). And because so many of our projects are on hold, basically, none of us has anything to do (true).

He agreed that it was a problem, and seemed satisfied with that little confession . . . but needless to say, the job offer I got the next day could not have come soon enough, because when he FINALLY let me out of his clutches that day, I went home thinking, “Dang, if I don’t get a job out of all of this, I’m going to have to lay low for awhile, because he is totally on to me.”

It was actually a relief, five days later, to confess everything as I gave my two weeks’ notice.

“I knew it!” he said, when he learned I’d been taking PTO for job interviews. “I was going to just come right out and ask you, but I thought that might be crossing a line.”

Hmmmm… given my confessional nature, I wonder if I would have answered honestly if he had.

2. Though she is staunchly and quite vocally opposed to my pursuit of hot yoga (“It can’t possibly be good for you,” says she) and tries to stop me from going every chance she gets, my mother has lately been a little more focused on putting the kibosh on my running. Not ALL of it—for example, she’s OK with my doing short, slow runs on a treadmill—but if it involves (a) the outdoors, (b) the dark, (c) more than three miles or so, and/or (d) the potential for injury, she’s gonna have somethin’ to say about it.

And the recent unbelievable news about the Boston Marathon has not helped.

I was at my desk yesterday, training one of my soon-to-be-former coworkers to take over one of my current duties after my departure. My desk phone rang, and I saw it was my mother, but rather than interrupt my tutorial, I let it ring, figuring I’d call back later.

20 minutes later, she called again.

Since we were just wrapping up the lesson, I let it ring again.

As soon as the coworker/trainee left my desk, the coworker in the next cubicle turned to me and said, “I didn’t want to interrupt you guys, but come look at this—there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon!”

As I read and absorbed the news over her shoulder, it hit me: This was why my mother called.

When I stepped back over to my desk, my phone rang yet again—and yet again, it was my mom.

I picked up, and said, “Before you say anything, I know why you’re calling.”

“WELL?” she scolded, clearly shaken, “Has this TAUGHT you to leave that mess ALONE?”

As if it mattered AT ALL, I pointed out that I have never had any desire to run a marathon.

“WHAT,” she demanded, “do you call what you were supposed to be doing last Saturday?”

“A 5K,” I replied. “A 5K is three miles. A marathon is twenty-six. My stuff is small potatoes compared to a marathon—and even SMALLER potatoes compared to the Boston Marathon!”

“Still,” she insisted, “you KNOW there are crazy people everywhere, and there are going to be copycats. You NEED to leave all of it ALONE, or at least stay on the treadmill!”

More conversation ensued, where she all but called me stupid for taking the wholly unnecessary risk of running in the first place.

So.

Looks like I won’t be signing up for any more races in HER city, for fear of imprisonment in her basement. But at least I won’t have to worry about completely jacking up another sweet surprise from my husband . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Payback

Y’all, I been sold out for chicken change. Oh, it’s a long story, and it’s not nearly as interesting as a single trial or tribulation of James Brown (oh, no!), but suffice it to say that my wonderful husband, Pretty Bad Dad, totally promised a friend I’d write a blog post in her honor, in exchange for $1.5984 (I gotta getta better agent). And the check—in that exact amount—arrived a few days ago.

So in honor of both the Godfather of Soul and our beloved check-writing Kendra (not to mention that fat chunk of change!), I give you:

 Five Ways Kendra is Totally Like James Brown (Only Even Cooler and Far Less Dead).

But first, a word from our sponsor:

OK. Now on with the show. Kendra is totally like James Brown because:

1. She’s got soul….

Let me make one thing clear: I knew I was going to like Kendra the moment I met her. Well, OK, that’s not entirely true. Technically, the moment I met her took place during a mass family Skype session on my boy’s 3rd birthday; all of the local family squished up into my living room like D-cup boobs into a B-cup bra and stared at our TV, where Kendra, the yet-unmet love of our favey boy Jake’s life, made her flat-screen debut from our mutual Mother-in-Law’s Arizona abode.

At that point, she was only moderately impressive; I mean, sure, she seemed unfazed by the tribe of roughly 876 folks who sat in curiosity and judgment on the other side of the screen (which is key to survival in this family), but what else did she have? Could she cook? Tap dance? Make a free throw 94% of the time?

Actually, as I eventually discovered, she had something even better (two somethings, actually, and no, not THOSE, get your mind outta the gutter): a killer wit, and a solid knowledge of correct grammar (both of which I discovered later, via Facebook friendship). I mean, seriously? Those are the reasons I married my husband, so needless to say, Kendra won my heart with her well-placed adjectives and immaculate subject-verb agreement.

It wasn’t until her wedding to Jake, a year and a half later, that I discovered something else she has: a kick-ass set of pipes. At her wedding reception (and at her family’s request) she moved us all to clutch hands with our neighboring table mates, chins aquiver, and vow to be better people—all with her gorgeous rendition of Amazing Grace. So it turned out that not only does Mama have brains… she’s got soul to boot.

2. …and she’s super bad.

So Kendra’s love affair with Jake has basically had her poinging back and forth across the country like a rabid squirrel on a racquetball court: from Arizona to Pennsylvania and, eventually, back again. When the two love squirrels began, in the midst of a Pennsylvania winter, to plan their future together, they decided that in addition to making MY cutie-booty son the ring bearer at their wedding (a decision I’m sure has resulted in some regret, because the kid stuck his tongue out in every single photo, and then spent the latter half the reception wearing the garter—which he’d caught—around his head) they’d also be making Arizona their long-term home.

Part I of that plan involved Kendra blazing the cross-country trail ahead of Jake, to seek her fortune and to set up camp. And honey, our girl did it in style; not only did she pick up a classy new ride for the occasion, Sister also got herself a gun (which she named Clarence, at my suggestion). Then, with her best Clint Eastwood “Mess with ME, Motherf!@#$%&%#er!” face at the ready (for those of you who rely heavily on mental images, please conjure more of a Dirty Harry-era face, and not a 2012 Republican National Convention face… although if she’d gone for the latter, that empty passenger seat would have provided some great road trip conversation for our heroine), she set forth like the bad-ass she is.

3. She’ll say it loud—she’s black and she’s proud!

Wait . . . what? She’s not? Oh. Well, I’m sticking with this one, because honestly, I’d give her an honorary membership in the club of my people any day, if I were in charge of that sort of thing (which, unfortunately, I’m not any longer, after an early-90s debacle in which I accidentally sent a congratulatory letter of honorary membership to David Koresh instead of David Bowie—but can I just say that it was an understandable mistake, given that they’re both pretty, pretty men who are (or were, in one case) kinda out there?). As it is, she’ll either have to wait until my 20-year probationary period ends (on Juneteenth of this year), or complete a rigorous exam that includes full memorization and one-woman performance of The Wiz.

4. She don’t know karate…

Actually, I have no idea if this is true. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kendra does know some serious karate moves, and is just keeping them under wraps until such time as she is called to bust ‘em out—like if she should happen upon someone in the midst of a ritual puppy-kicking, or catch a mofo purposely using an apostrophe to denote plurality (actually, this grammatical atrocity may not have the same effect on her as it does on me (in short, it makes me want to rip out the nearest six sets of eyeballs—and if it’s on a billboard, television, or some other display that I know will result in at least a thousand people seeing that business and perhaps beginning to believe in their hearts that it’s OK (it is SO NOT OK), then also a few uvulas to boot), but I would like to think that in the name of grammar pedants everywhere, she’d have my back on this one). Because she’s bad-ass, I tell ya. She does Cross-Fit. You don’t want to jack with her. She will sit, all calm and Zen, through whatever petty tyranny you think you’re gangster enough to dish out—but then, like Mr. Miyagi, she will bust out some surprise black-eye-makin’ moves on your ass without even ruffling her mustache. Or she would. If she knew karate. However, for the purposes of this blog, post, she doesn’t…

5. …but she knows ka-RA-zy (yes, she does).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think crazy—except when it borders on the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer or Fred Phelps—is a good thing. Frankly, I kinda have to feel that way, because crazy people love me. Seriously. LOVE MY ASS. When I lived in the Bay Area, California (which is replete with all kinds of insanity), my friends would marvel, as we walked together to the BART station, at the (apparently invisible) come-hither beacon that drew every left-of center being within a two-block radius straight to my bosom. Guy who’d peed on himself in the grocery store? Hither he came, in response to my silent siren call, to engage in a lengthy conversation about the hoisin sauce he spotted in my cart. Dude who spent his days hunched gutterside in his special-issue FBI suit (which, according to him, kept his body absolutely pristine for top-secret missions; “Check out my hands,” he said, floating them near my face, “they’ve been in the pockets.”)? Ran straight to my side daily to protect me from aliens on the way to the BART station. Doughnut shop clerk who changed his name weekly to evade government flunkies who’d been dispatched to dispose of him and his classified knowledge about the Great Microwave Conspiracy? Dropped to his knees before me and offered me free doughnuts, in recognition of me as the Queen of his people.

OK, that last one is an exaggeration; I did get the free doughnuts, but I was never officially crowned. Point is, I got no problem with crazy, as long as it’s accompanied by kind. That said, I have one crazy family. So far no FBI consorts with rampant incontinence—but we’re still pretty far left of center ourselves. And Kendra has squished in among us nutballs like it ain’t no thang—as evidenced by the $1.5984 check she actually wrote, signed, and mailed—which is all the more reason to love her crazy ass (as if being cooler than James Brown weren’t enough).

 

 

Breaking (Bread With) Amish

It starts on a Monday, and there is no mercy for six more days. Every year, at the end of January, comes the day when I pile into a van with a gaggle of my coworkers and head to the heart of the Ozarks for my company’s annual convention, armed with a week’s worth of underwear and muttering a fervent prayer for survival (and for a cooperative gastrointestinal system, because not only do corporate employees double up in hotel rooms, but our roommates are chosen FOR us—which means there’s always the possibility that I’ll get a roommate with whom the last thing I want to share is what my bowels are up to).

It’s a BIIIIIIIIIIIG production put on by a small staff (and a small production company), so it’s a 90-hour work week1 that runs from 8 am on Monday (when we hit the road to get there) thru about 2 pm on Sunday, which is when we arrive home, exhausted to the point of hallucination, collapse gratefully onto our partners and kids and dogs and sofas and piles of dirty Ozark-scented laundry, and try like hell to stop dreaming about people in bonnets.

Oh, didn’t I mention? The majority of our sales force consists of people of the Amish and Mennonite faiths. So the whole shindig is a sea of bonnets, suspenders, bowl cuts, and beards. Different communities, of course, so the attire varies—and there comes a point in the week when you’re starting to get so tired that you find yourself trying to decide which attire you’d rather wear. For example, I find myself partial to these bonnets:

 

 

 

 

. . . over these:

 

 

 

 

. . . and definitely over this look:

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, I have discovered that the latter headwear is often worn by women who have a little more latitude in their sartorial options; for example, this year, one such woman rocked a (long, loose-cut) green glitter dress, a cute cardigan, low heels, and light makeup to the big-deal formal banquet that wraps up the whole event. On the other hand, the women who get what in my opinion is the best headwear usually have the least-flattering dresses and shoes. So I wonder: can one mix and match? Because I would want to mix and match. Like maybe a long jean skirt (like some of the women wear) with a more “old school” bonnet . . .  SEE what I mean? You’re not careful, you can lose yourself in these kinds of thoughts.

And in the babies. Ohhhh, the babies with their little bonnets and rounded collars and little pink cheeks! So stinkin’ cute. But I digress.

Point is, it’s a long, hard, crazy week, and every year, there is (emphasis on the capital S) Something.

The first year I went, I grabbed an Amish man’s b’doobies2.

The second year I went, I captured a butt-load of conference attendee testimonials on video (a job I hated with the fire of a thousand fart-lighting Satans; contrary to what most people believe about me, I’m an introvert, dammit, and the worst thing you can do to someone like me (besides POOFing me into a set of conjoined octuplets) is force me to spend an entire week chasing down people who would rather eat glass than talk on camera (WHICH I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND) and trying to coax them into recording a video about why they love our company) . . .

. . . and over half of them wound up being unusable for one reason or another.

This year . . . nothing happened. Well, OK—that’s not to say that everything went perfectly; the first general session of the conference was a skin-of-our-teeth adventure in dancing disaster backstage3 (although nobody on the flip side of the stage seemed any the wiser), and the Friday night entertainment was a ventriloquist who apparently didn’t catch on to the caliber of his audience, and started telling some, er . . questionable jokes (meanwhile, there I was backstage, sitting right next to Howdy-Dirty’s wife, and hoping like hell that I had suddenly and miraculously developed a convincing poker face, or that she had suddenly and miraculously been stricken blind and deaf, because I’m pretty sure I gasped and clutched my pearls a couple of times).

And then there was the culminating event—a fancy-schmancy awards banquet that lasts four hours and parades more coin across the stage than Flava Flav rockin’ his priciest grill. Usually, corporate employees have a designated table at the event (some of us, anyway; others elect to ditch the hose and heels in favor of jeans and sweats and spend the evening packing everything up for the move back home); this year, however, because of a dramatic increase in conference attendance, the employee table was forfeited at the last minute, and we were told we’d have to just mingle amongst the conference guests and find seats where we could.

What resulted from this occurrence will forever go down in my personal history as One of Those Moments When Dammit, I Should Have Followed My Instincts. Oh, it won’t be alone in that particular kitty, that moment. Pretty much every damn day I have such a moment. But the moment that I (after learning that employees would have to share tables with conference guests) eschewed my original plan to just eat my dinner backstage with the production guys in favor of banding together with a handful of my coworkers and trying to find seats together amongst the conference attendees is not one I’m likely to forget, because Y’ALL. We wound up at a table with a man who had such shocking body odor it was damn near visible. As we all sat there blinking in the funk fog and trying to make polite conversation with our table mates for the evening (without opening our mouths too wide for fear we’d get a taste of that business), the coworker next to me fought valiantly to hold down her lunch. Eventually, I found saving grace in the fact that I was due backstage just as dessert was being served—I grabbed my plate of exotic chocolate debauchery and hightailed it away from the Stanky Stud as fast as my four-inch heels could carry me.

And, finally, there was my roommate, who spent the week slowly dying in her hotel bed. On the drive to the convention, she and I were both complaining of sore throats. Because she had not been sick at all during the previous two years (for which she credits a daily regimen of apple cider vinegar shots), she tried in vain to convince herself that she was not *really* sick; instead, she explained, her obsessive worry about getting sick had caused her psyche to create symptoms of illness. But sick? No. Not her.

Meanwhile, InstaPrincess-cum-Insta-Drama-Queen woke up that same morning with a sore throat, and immediately commenced maudlin predictions of my imminent gloom, despair, and agony. I whined to anyone who’d listen that I was going down, and that nothing, but NOTHING (save the resurrection of Tupac) could prevent my impending death.

By two days later, however, I wasn’t feeling sick at all, and my roommate spent every day dizzy with chills and exhaustion, every night hacking up a lung (which I guess means she has six of them), and every moment looking like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in one of those Faces of Meth billboard ad campaigns. It was painful to watch, so I can only imagine how much it sucked to live through.

Despite all that, though, I have to say that this was my least traumatic convention so far. Enjoyable? That’s pushing it. In fact, despite the lack of abject trauma, this year’s convention was still enough of an ordeal to result—as they all do—in the development, deep within my soul, of profound appreciation for Pretty Bad Dad: for how well he takes care of me when I’m in physical or emotional distress; for how safe he makes me feel; for his consistent willingness to make me macaroni and cheese; for the comfort of his freckled hand flung across my shoulders in bed.

And my kid? The smell of the back of his head? His gappy little mischief grin when he farts in the bathtub? His chunky little Barney Rubble feet grazing the edge of the couch when he watches TV? Pure glory.

By the time I get back from this gig every year, I’m so in love with my little family I think I might puke if they don’t ask me to prom. And that—for the week or so that it lasts—somehow makes it all worthwhile.

FOOTNOTES

1. OK, 90 hours is a slight exaggeration. On the way home from the most recent convention, my coworkers and I tallied our work hours, and discovered that each of us had actually only worked 88 hours that week.

2. Yes. That’s right. I molested a man of God.

Because it was my first experience with the company convention, my boss wanted me to get as much exposure (yuk yuk) to as many facets of the event as possible. Therefore, I was asked to assist with several breakout sessions during the conference: distribute handouts, make sure the room temperatures were adjusted properly, run like the wind to find help if the A/V equipment imploded, etc. The final breakout session for which I played flunky turned out to be standing room only, so rather than cuddle-up wallflower-style with a bunch of bearded and bowl-cut fellas (although it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?), I chose to stand outside the room and periodically peek in to make sure everything was going OK.

Which it was, until the end of breakout period drew nigh. Knowing that I would be required to hand out evaluation forms at the end of the session, I decided to go ahead and sneak back into the room for the duration. I opened the door, tiptoed into the room, and stretched my hand backwards, just behind my butt, in an effort to catch the door behind me and prevent it from slamming at my back. Within seconds, my hand cupped something soft. “Hmmmm,” I thought numbly, fully encased as I was in my scratched plexi-glass bubble of exhaustion. “That’s not a door.”

I shoved my hand further into it, still mentally adrift, yet somewhat fascinated by the mystery of what spongy surprise now rested in my palm. A tiny, fabric-encased newborn kitten? A pastry-filled pillowcase? A handkerchief full of moldy cheese curds?  By the time my cerebral capacity kicked all the way in and slapped me awake with a HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I AM TOUCHING TESTICLES, I’d say I’d been groping the globes for a good three to four seconds (which doesn’t seem like a lot, but child—get a stopwatch, time it out, and imagine YOU’RE touching a stranger’s goodies that entire time; it becomes a tragic eternity). In sheer horror, I turned, face aflame, to the elderly bearded gentleman with whom I’d just publicly shared a moment typically reserved for truck stop restrooms, and uttered a shaky, lightning-speed apology before squeezing past him back out the door, sprinting back to my hotel room (evaluation forms be damned!) and collapsing face-down onto my bed. There I remained, hiding, until it was time for the big, fancy evening banquet where, as luck would have it, out of over 100 tables in the giant banquet hall, Grab-it Gramps and I were seated at tables right next to each other. For FOUR HOURS. Talk about a tragic eternity.

3. This was my third year at the convention, but my inaugural year performing backstage functions. In years past, I have served as a stage assist for the general sessions, which basically means seeing to it that folks ascending to the stage to accept awards (and subsequently descending with gorgeous, heavy chunks of credenza candy) don’t wipe out and go pantied-ass-up on the stairs.

And I thought THAT was nerve-wracking.

But this year, it became my duty to make sure the correct PowerPoint slide appeared for the enjoyment of the crowd at precisely the right moment during each general session. I also wound up running teleprompter slides for big-wig company execs during their speeches—including one particular executive who is well-known for crippling stage fright which causes her to freak out and ping around between her talking points like the errant toothpaste cap that boings around the bathroom, laughing at you (you know it’s true) as you try desperately to catch it  before it plunks into the open toilet.

So yeah. Little more stressful.

But all in all, despite some cringe-worthy “oops” moments, the whole thing didn’t go too badly—I even got hugs of thanks from Stage Fright Sally after two of her spotlight moments onstage! And it was still better than doing those damn video testimonials again.

 

Damn the Cubbies.

Happy New Year! And yeah, I know it’s not really new anymore, but I’ve been busy, y’all. And really, the only thing I have to show for it is a little extra nugget of (in?)sanity, because as of yesterday, I have an official plan for my little dude’s birthday. Which is in March (but what can I say? I love birthdays, and Pretty Bad Dad never wants anybody to do anything for his, so I get a little . . . exuberant . . . when the kid’s birthday nears).

And yes. A person’s sanity (or lack thereof) absolutely CAN ride on something like that.

But the truth is, it’s my fault. Remember how I said that when I was a brand-new, shell-shocked, questionably-groomed parent, I started a club (if not, click here and skip to Item #2 in the EPILOGUE)? Well, let’s just say that foresight has never been my strong suit, because now that those families are firmly implanted on my Friends list, social calendar (we get together not only for birthdays, but also for holidays, playdates, and impromptu field trips), and official list of Favorites, my kid (who will turn 5 in a couple of months) has decided to make new friends.

What the heck is that about? Isn’t it enough that he no longer lets me choose his outfits—now he has to go all Fight the Power with his friends list, too?

So the upshot is that while PBD and I were busy making kiddo birthday party plans involving the usual suspects (totaling 16 kids and 22 parents), our boy was making his own birthday party plans involving his entire preschool class (which is 10 more kids). “I’m going to put an invitation in each cubby!” he informed us with glee-clenched fists and an ear-to-ear grin. Damn those cubbies.

And it does seem like we’ve reached the age of “school friend” parties, because he has been invited to three of them within the last month and a half. So PBD and I were faced with a few choices:

1. Continue with our party plans, and screw the school kids (hey, it’s important to get all options out on the table—even the mean ones).

2. Try to find a party venue that would allow us to invite 26 kids without ponying up the cost of a new Cadillac (which is harder than you’d think; many places set incredibly low guest limits (like, 10) and then “generously” offer you the opportunity to pay six months’ salary for each “additional” guest—while still others make you count parents as guests, too, which really drives up your guest count!1)

3. Continue with our party plans and take treats to school so that our kid could celebrate with his school friends there. (This was actually my vote; mostly because I despaired of ever finding a good venue for 26 kids, but also because I had the most kick-ass theme idea for the party at school! Well, OK, “most kick-ass” if you ask me; “hella em-effin dorky” if you ask PBD, or any of my coworkers, or that guy who sleeps under the bench at the bus stop. But don’t listen to them. Listen to me.2)

4. Ditch our usual party friends and just invite the kid’s classmates (Yeah, RIGHT, like that would happen! What, you thought this party was about the KID? InstaPrincess Rule #32: The party is NEVER about the kid.)

5. Ask the kid to choose just a couple of his classmates to invite to the party. (Other parents have done this; I know, because when we go to these school-friend parties, I always manage to corner one of the birthday kid’s parents and casually ask, “So did you invite the whole class, or what?” And two out of three parents have told us that no, they didn’t—their kid handpicked only a handful of guests from school. However, PBD and I don’t really trust the discretion skills of a bunch of four- and five-year-olds, owing in part to our own foot-in-mouth party invite indiscretions as adults. Plus, the kid is really into that whole damn “invitation in every cubby” idea.)

6. Disappear to the Canadian wilderness, learn to make our own flour from tree bark, and start over.

In the end, and after copious internet research peppered with a few inquisitive phone calls, we were actually able to pull off Option 2, thanks to a local community center that offers birthday party packages for up to 25 kids. Hallelujah! (Hallelujah, that is, assuming we have at least one kid who can’t make it.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this the problem with kids these days? That parents bend over backwards to give Wittle Pwecious Schmoopie Face anything his or her (wittle) heart desires?

And I can’t disagree with you. I mean, when I was a kid, many of my “birthday parties” included my family only. When I turned five, my mom considered it a milestone birthday, and so invited about eight kids who belonged to families we knew. (I’m still good friends with one of those kids, and at one point, a couple of decades later, he and I looked back at the one Polaroid still remaining from that day (or perhaps the only one that was taken) and realized that every kid therein was either his cousin or mine. But I digress.) Otherwise, aside from a slumber party in middle school, my birthdays pretty much consisted– at their most elaborate– of having a couple of friends over for ice cream and cake.

So when did kids’ birthday parties become a whole, thriving industry involving giant inflatables and even bigger senses of entitlement on the part of the pee wees? When did the notion of celebrating a kid’s existence on the planet become contingent on a theme, a $100-per-hour booking fee and an RSVP list ten times as long as the number of years the kid’s been around? Honestly, that’s research I’d love to do—and write about—but I have a big-ass birthday party to plan. (In the meantime, we’ll try to keep the kid’s ego in check in other ways: stocking his dresser with highwater pants; feeding him nothing but cold beans for two weeks straight; pointing and laughing at him while he’s on the toilet. The usual stuff.)

And yeah. This is the kind of stuff that passes for blog-worthy news in my life. Well, that and the fact that I spent the other night in the Emergency Room, most likely due to some highly adversarial ham and beans, which managed to convince me that I was developing heart problems. I suppose it’s not fair to blame the ham and beans entirely; I mean, I probably would not have felt so panicked had I not lost my dad, brother, and sister to heart attacks over the last two decades. My sister was 52. My brother was 42. I am now 42. Perhaps now you understand why I had a little moment of “Oh, shit!”

So I had just embarked upon the long (40-mile) commute home from work, and was tooling down the highway when I was hit with some mild pain in my chest (a tiny bit left of center) and on the underside of my left arm (from armpit to elbow).

It was the arm thing that got me freaked out.

Or, rather, got me periodically freaked out; the pain would occasionally ebb, during which time I’d calm down and think, “yeah, probably just indigestion (which also runs in my family, but I have never been a sufferer), jeez, calm down, Bessie.” (Sometimes I call myself Bessie. Other times Raquel. Because if I don’t, who will?) Then the pain (which, again, was only strong enough to be moderately annoying; it was never stop-you-in-your-tracks pain) would return, and I’d start freaking out and bawling. Mind you, I was not for one second convinced that my last sight on this earth would be the rear end of a Toyota Tacoma embellished with a “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker. Mostly, I just feared that this was going to turn out to be some sort of new Condition (note the capital C) that would somehow prevent me from living the way I want to (and heck—my income bracket already prevents me from living the way I want to, so who needs a health factor tying me down even more?)—and I had juuuuuust gotten back to being able to exercise after The Accident That Set the Tone for Sucktober.

So yeah. Intermittent crying all the way home. When I finally got home, I was no longer feeling the pain, so I was back to the Indigestion Theory, and had made up my mind that I would just take some Pepto and lie down for awhile. Unfortunately, I’d already told PBD earlier in the day that I wanted to go to the gym, so when I got home, he was dressed and ready. I’m not particularly good at lying, so when he wondered why I was no longer interested, I spat out the truth. Then I told him that no, I did NOT want to go to the hospital, because I didn’t want to force all of us to spend what was bound to be our entire evening in the ER—nor did I want to spend what was bound to be the cost of live His and Hers camels from a Neiman-Marcus catalog in medical bills—just to find out that nothing was wrong with me.

Which is pretty much what we did. (“With YOUR family history,” said PBD, “you betta get your ass in the car.” Or something like that. So I did.) The EKG, the chest X-ray, and what seemed like 17,932 blood tests due to my fear and loathing of needles(but was really more like two) all came up clear, and after another romantic ER evening (during which our son kept his face buried in an iPad, and PBD entertained me by looking up angina symptoms on his phone, and reading aloud to me from his findings), I was sent home.

Theories as to what caused the pain (which came back briefly on the next morning’s commute, but hasn’t returned since) range from the ham and beans to my recent return to the gym (I told the doc I’d done some chest presses on the weight machine, and he said that the last remnants of the resulting muscle soreness could have manifested as “heart” pain). Anyway, yeah. That’s pretty much all I have for news so far this year . . .

. . . except, of course, for what happened the other morning, which was basically a groggy 4-year-old shuffling into the bathroom (where I was doing my hair for work) with a sleep-smashed frown and asking, “Who was making those noises I heard last night? They were coming from you and Daddy’s room . . . ” and then proceeding to demonstrate said noises.

But I’m not quite ready to talk about that.

Psyche totally scarred.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. So far, we’re still at the point where most of the birthday parties to which our kid gets invited are also attended by at least one, but usually both, of each kid’s parents (who are just as likely to be seen flooshing down the giant inflatable slide, or battling to the death with an inflatable Light Saber, as any of the kids). And frankly, I’m not ready yet for it to be any other way. But I think it’s coming; less than a month ago, our boy was invited a 6th birthday party. The birthday kid’s dad is a childhood friend of PBD, and we have hung out with him and his wife on several occasions. So when we arrived for their kid’s birthday party (which was at their home), it never occurred to us to do anything but stick around. We like them, and besides—it’s how we roll.

Imagine my surprise, then, when other parents escorted their kids to the front door, introduced themselves, and left. Only one other parent actually stayed for the party; I assumed, therefore, that she must be friends with the birthday parents, too. Turned out, though, that she’d never met them before, which brings up an interesting irony: When our kid is invited to a birthday party by a family we count among our friends, we stay because we know and love the parents (and the kid(s)); and when he’s invited to a birthday party by the family of one of our kid’s classmates, we stay because we don’t know those people! Why the heck would we just leave our kid with them?

2. Y’all. Seriously, does it get better than an Around the World theme? It just sort of built itself; I was putzing around online, and came across some cardboard favor boxes shaped like little suitcases. I liked them, so I started hunting for party favors that would go along with that idea. I found some little “Passports” (complete with stickers) that were cute, some beach-ball-sized inflatable globes, some foil-wrapped chocolate candies made to look like little globes, and some international flag stickers. By then, I was completely enamored with myself and everything else (I love it when a party theme comes together), and set off in (cyber-) search for planes, trains, and automobiles to use as cupcake toppers. That’s when I found these!

I mean, come on, how perfect is that? Obviously, I’d have to weed a couple of those out, because I don’t think the Pyramids, for example, would work on a cupcake, but the Eiffel Tower? That summa bitch was MADE to be a cupcake topper!

Oh, I was so excited about this plan—even, as I said, when my coworkers laughed at me, and begged me to let my kid just have a SpongeBob theme like other kids. Then PBD called, and I eagerly shared my plan. Even as I (practically) heard him shaking his head on the other end of the line, I remained devoted. But he said he really wanted to try to give the kid his wish to invite his classmates to his actual birthday party. These are, he pointed out, the kids he sees every day, and he’s so excited about putting invites in the cubbies (again: damn the cubbies!) . . . .

And while he was right, that pretty much precluded my precious Around the World theme (because pulling it off for 25 kids, as opposed to just 10, would be a little cost prohibitive). Perhaps, said PBD helpfully, I could keep the theme in my back pocket for now, and then use it the next time I host an ADULT gathering?

Honey, don’t think I won’t.