Welcome to Thunderdome

When I was in high school, I read “Lord of the Flies.” Good book, I thought. But totally unrealistic. 

Kids aren’t like that. 

And then…well, then I had a child. 

Worse yet, after having that child, I decided to have another child. Meaning I now had children. Plural. More than one. Creating, blindly, siblings. Because in my baby fever, I was so obsessed with if I could, I never stopped to think if I should. 

And now every day of my life is spent pulling apart two feral creatures who are trying to rip each other to shreds. Of all the things I was woefully unprepared for as a parent (and there are a lot), the savage sibling fights is the one that perplexes me the most. 

Part of this might be because I spent most of my early life as an only child. My mom had me when she was young so it was only after 17 years that I finally got a sibling. By that point, I was more like the fun auntie than any kind of sister. My role was to roll out of bed, play with him for a little bit and then run off with my friends to hang out in a cornfield and definitely not illegally drink bad, warm beer.  

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So I never got the traditional sibling upbringing. And, sure, I also grew up with a lot of cousins. There was plenty of fighting there. But it was different. With cousins, there’s more of an involuntary manslaughter vibe. With siblings, it’s premeditated.  

Were they born mortal enemies? I do remember on the day my daughter was born, my son’s little toddler fingers immediately found the soft spot on her skull and he tried pushing it in. That should have been a pretty big red flag of what was to come. 

It’s not like I favor one over the other. I ignore them both equally. Is it the age difference? Everyone told me, oh, two years apart is the perfect space between ages. I can only assume now they meant the perfect ages to inflict similar wounds on each other. 

And, trust me, they can turn anything into a weapon against the other. This one time my son nibbled on a Dorito until it became a neon orange shiv and then he stabbed his sister with it. She, being a bit more old-fashioned, once threw a giant rock at his head. He pushed her into a pool last summer. Last Thanksgiving, she jumped off the couch and landed directly on his face. 

As for reasons why they fight? Well, breathing is a popular one. He got the purple sippy cup. Her leg accidentally touched his. They both got the EXACT same numbers of M&M’s. One day they both punched each other in the face because they got into an argument about goats. 

I’ve seen barroom fights in dive bars that were more civilized than the fights that break out at the dinner table night after night. 

Truly, we don’t give kids enough credit. We treat them with such gentle hands, talk about how innocent and loving they are. But I’m pretty convinced my kids would straight up slaughter each other if only they could figure out how. Thank god they have awful hand-eye coordination and hardly any upper body strength. 

Because nothing stops these fights. I’ve tried intervening. I’ve tried bribery. I’ve tried distraction. I’ve tried “let’s sit down and talk about our tiny murderous feelings.” No matter what, five minutes later, one is chasing the other with a hammer (where the hell did she get a hammer?) because he called her stuffed kitty cat stupid. 

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It’s exhausting. Which is why I’m currently trying the benign neglect method of our ancestors, just pretending I don’t hear the screams of attempted bloody murder, but making sure I’m close enough should I need to rush anyone to the emergency room. 

Say what you will about the parenting methods of the 70’s and 80’s, but I now know why they always sent us outside. 

Plausible deniability. 

 

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A Review of my Son’s Imaginary Restaurant

It’s a tired old trope and yet still remains a true one. When it comes to so many ventures, it’s all about location, location, location. 

Which is the one thing my 5-year-old son’s recently opened restaurant has going for it. Situated conveniently right in the heart of my living room, this one-couch eatery specializes in unique dishes that are as creative as they are inedible. 

Aptly, or perhaps ironically, named Restaurant, the place has what can only be described as a homey vibe with a shabby chic aesthetic, heavy on the shabby. On entry, you are greeted by a riot of colors and smells, none of which are food related. The cleanliness also left something to be desired for this particular reviewer but the other patron, an elderly canine named Buffy, didn’t seem to mind. 

The owner and head chef (and host and server) Riker revealed to me that he had only recently taken an interest in the culinary arts. Prior to opening Restaurant, he had his sights set on becoming a ninja astronaut. Alas, the lack of experience and passion showed. The service alone was, to say the least, wanting. 

“What do you want to drink?” he demanded soon after I sat down. 

“How about a Diet Coke?”

“We don’t have Diet Coke.”

“You don’t have Diet Coke at this imaginary restaurant?”

“Nope.”

“OK, what do you have?”

“Um…coffee or tea.”

“I’ll take coffee.”

“Actually, we don’t have coffee. Do you want tea?”

Deciding to try my luck instead with their wine list, I summoned the sommelier, who happened to be the owner’s younger sister. At only 3-years-old, she was on the younger side of wine experts and it quickly became evident she had only gotten the job because of family connections. 

“Could you recommend a red, miss?”

“Red what?”

“Red wine.”

“Can I have some?”

“No.”

“Can I have pink wine then?”

The conversation quickly went off the rails from there. Resigning myself to the fact that I would just be thirsty throughout this entire meal, I was surprised, and somewhat wary, when the chef eventually presented me with a pink teacup that sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” incessantly. 

“Here’s your coffee.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have coffee. Also, this is empty.”

“OK, it’s root beer.”

Restaurant’s signature dish is pizza. (Although entree options are subject to change with little to no warning). With no menu in sight, I decided that would likely be my best bet. Even bad pizza is still pizza. Or, at least, it had been up until now. 

“I’d like to order a pizza, please,” I informed the chef. 

“Oh yes, pizza. Pizza has sauce and cheese. And crust. And…um…do you want mushrooms on it?”

“No.”

“Well, you have to have mushrooms on it.”

“Pretty sure that’s not how this works.”

“It is.”

“Oh.”

The kitchen, a converted bedroom in the back of the house, came alive with the sounds of clanging toy pots and pans and what definitely better not be my expensive William Sonoma kitchen utensils stolen from a certain drawer. Luckily, I didn’t have time to ruminate on this long since my dish arrived quickly (under two minutes, in fact, by my count). On the down side, it resembled nothing even vaguely pizza-like. The crust looked like a slab of cardboard (mostly because it was cardboard). The sauce looked suspiciously like Play-Doh covered in dog hair but at least it was red. I was informed by the chef that the “cheese” on my pizza was definitely cheese and not a blank piece of paper. And yes, there were mushrooms as well. Plastic mushrooms. Plucked straight from the toy aisle years ago in the Kmart region of the Northeast. 

“Here’s your pizza!” Chef Riker announced while delicately placing the dish down on my crissed-crossed lap.

“Oh…wow.”

“Take a bite!”

Wanting to retain a fragment of my professionalism, I did as I was told.

“Mmm…this is…interesting.”

But the chef had already disappeared, pitter-pattering off to do more important chef stuff one can only assume. Or perhaps to scold the improper behavior of his sommelier, who was at this point crawling around on the floor meowing and yelling “Momma! Look! I’m a kitty cat!” 

Unsure what to do next, I sat there uncomfortably while my fellow patron at Restaurant started barking and making quite the ruckus. Likely because his pizza didn’t turn out as he expected either. 

To my relief, Riker soon returned with a towering stack of Legos.

“I forgot your dessert.” he apologized. “Here you go. It’s ice cream!”

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the ice cream was as unpalatable as everything else had been. 

“So, what do you think of my restaurant?” Riker asked, standing there with hope in his eyes and a stolen whisk in his hand.

“Best meal I ever had, chef.”

Buffy.

I’m writing this now, ahead of time. Before we know. I felt it would be easier this way. That I would be more level-headed, less emotional this way. Although I’m already crying so that pretty much backfired. 

Then again, is it ever possible to write about your dog without tearing up? 

The vet said we should start with a chest x-ray, which is scheduled a few days from now. To see if it has spread. There’s a small chance that the tumor on the roof of his mouth is benign but I know that even if it is, this is still probably the beginning of the end. He’s almost 14. The average lifespan of a dog is 10-13 years. We’re already living on borrowed time. 

Whatever the diagnosis, I’m a bit at a loss of what to do. Soon there will be decisions to make. Hard decisions. 

And yet, just like he always has, he trusts me. 

The thing that haunts me the most in this awful limbo between knowing and not knowing is an equally awful question. Did I give him a good enough life? It’s only now, as we head toward the inevitable end, that I’m fully realizing the nature of our relationship meant he depended on me and my family for everything. We were his world. But just like the world at large, we were a bit of a dumpster fire.

All the mistakes. There were so many. I didn’t socialize him enough as a puppy. I fed him the cheap stuff. I wasn’t consistent on training. There should have been more fetch and less binge-watching Netflix while sneaking him french fries. 

I took him on a thousand walks. It should have been two thousand.

And yet, in spite of it all, he loves me. 

I was 24 when my roommate showed me a recently rescued bedraggled ball of fluff that smelled like hot garbage. 

“You did say you wanted to get a dog.” the roommate said. 

I picked the ball up and looked in its terrified brown eyes. Sold. Instantly. I kissed the top of its furry stinky head. Regretted it. Instantly. 

“It’s a boy, you say?”

“Yeah,” he replied. 

“Remember when I said if we get a dog I’m naming it Buffy?”

The roommate smiled. 

“Buffy it is then.”

(And that is also the story of how the roommate eventually became my husband). 

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It was this male dog named Buffy who forced me to grow up. He was so smart. Part border collie. He was constantly outwitting me. He was also anxious. Fearful. Edgy. Understandably so. He had been dumped in a field in late fall. And we suspect he’d been abused before then. 

But that also made him fiercely loyal and loving. 

He even eventually forgave me for leaving him for days and then returning home with a baby in tow. And then managed to forgive me again, a few years later, when I did it all over again. I spent months ignoring him while trying to keep these tiny interlopers alive. Months yelling “stop licking the baby!” and “drop it, that’s the baby’s toy!”

And yet, he patiently waited to be noticed again, sneaking onto my lap on those rare chances when it was free. 

It’s often said that we don’t deserve dogs. That they’re too good for us. For this world. But what I find amazing about dogs is that they keep inspiring us to try. Even though we humans are basically giant bags of meat and flaws, we keep trying to deserve them. That’s how strong a dog’s love is. Strong enough to make selfish and self-destructive humans look in the mirror and say quietly to themselves “today I’m going to be the person my dog thinks I am.” 

And even though we fail in this, over and over and over again, whenever we look into their eyes we vow to try again the next day. 

My hope is that some day, some beautiful, bright day, we will finally learn all they are trying to teach us. But until then I want to say thank you, Buffy. For all the lessons. I was a horrible student. And yet, through it all, you never gave up on me. 

I’ll be damned if I give up on you now. No matter what the future holds. 

And when we finally do know what that future holds, I promise to be there until the very end, my friend. 

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Absolutely.

It was a tradition we had started a few years back. Whenever someone in our family had a birthday coming up, they got to choose whether they wanted gifts or an adventure. Since I had just reached Level 38 in the game of life, I felt an adventure was in order. I have stuff. A ridiculous amount. I wanted memories. 

We didn’t go far. Adventures don’t always require distance. My husband and I Googled our little hearts out and found an idyllic seaside town not even an hour away. It had all the requirements.

1. A beach. 

2. A place close to the beach that sold alcohol.  

Better yet, we found a quirky little inn that still had rooms available. An inn that was the perfect blend of charming and yet definitely haunted, but haunted by the ghost of Lorelai Gilmore. I immediately fell in love. 

It was everything a small getaway should be. Even the constant sibling fighting added an air of authentic vacation whimsy. 

“Ah, we’re going to miss this when they get older.” I sighed to my husband as we sat on the beach and watched our daughter throw sand directly into her brother’s eyes.

“Yes, these moments when they’re still small enough to lack the strength to actually murder each other are truly magical,” replied my husband as we then watched our son retaliate by hitting his sister over the head with some driftwood. 

Alas, all good things must come to an end. As we were packing up to leave the following morning on our second night there, the whining started. Right on time. 

“But MOM! We don’t WANT to go HOME.” my 5-year-old wailed, splayed dramatically on the bed. 

“MOMMA! Can we live here now?” my almost 3-year-old helpfully chimed in as she mimicked her brother’s splaying.

“Guys, you know we have to leave tomorrow.”

Simultaneous groans. The only thing they had agreed on the entire time. 

“Can we stay just one more night?” 

“Yeah, can we?”

Pffft. Who did these kids think they were dealing with? Not in the mood to argue about this for the next 45 minutes, I decided to throw the hammer down, saying the two words universally known to decimate the hopes of youths everywhere. The verbal nuclear option, if you will. 

“Absolutely not.” 

And that was that. 

Until it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all. Because out of nowhere, my husband whipped out a homemade missile defense system built out of only three words.

“Are you sure?”

Was I sure? WAS I SURE? Who did this guy think he’d knocked up on multiple occasions? Of course I was sure. We couldn’t possibly stay one more night. We had to get home and…do things. Like…important things. Important things like…THE DOG. Yeah. We have a dog and there is no way…

“I mean, we could see if the dog sitter can stay one more night.”

But…

“And the owner mentioned to me earlier that he doesn’t have the room booked again until next week.”

But…

“And I know what you’re thinking, but we can afford it. I worked all that overtime last month.”

But…

“What do you think?”

What did I think? What did I THINK? I think the mom part of me was holding up a giant banner over my brain that said “ABSOLUTELY NOT.” As she so often did. Because the mom part of me is inundated with 300 ridiculous requests a day. Can I jump off the roof? What if I wear a cape? Can we have candy for breakfast? Can we put makeup on the dog? Can we lick this old gum on the sidewalk?

So, “absolutely not” was the only possible answer to all of these. It was a survival technique really. But, because of this, how many times did I say no to things just out of sheer habit?

And that’s when I heard her. The non-mom part of me. The part of me that was slowly being smothered underneath the pile of unfolded laundry in my soul. She was straining to be heard as she whispered “what if you said yes?”

Meanwhile, while my brain was short-circuiting, the three of them were standing there, staring at me expectantly.  

“Well, I guess there’s no harm in seeing if the dog sitter can stay one more night,” I finally sputtered out. 

She could. 

“But I doubt the owner will just let us stay another night at the last minute.”

He did. 

Again, six eyes stared expectantly at me. 

“So can we, mom?”

“Yeah, can we?”

Can we? What would one more day mean? One more trip to the beach. One more dinner at a place where the wine paired perfectly with deep fried everything. One more day to make memories I will probably forget but Instagram will remember forever. 

“Honey?”

I stared back at them. I smiled. And I decided then and there to drop my bad habit like a bad habit. 

“Absolutely.”

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38 Things I’ve Learned in 38 Years

Well, it’s my birthday. Again. And it’s a big one. The Big 3-8. I am now as old as Homer Simpson (at least in season 8). No, I’m not crying. You’re crying. SOMEONE BRING ME A BEER AND A DONUT. 

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If I’m being honest, though, I don’t really mind aging. I’ve learned so many things this past year. Wise things. Sensible things. And so, so many useless things.

All things I would now like to generously share with you…

The easiest way to deal with grass stains on your children’s clothing is to not care that your children’s clothing have grass stains.

If someone says “hey, smell this!” do not, under any circumstances, smell it.

I know there are people out there who don’t drink wine. I don’t understand them but I do think we should still try to love them.

Speaking of love, if you truly love someone, show it. By texting instead of calling.

Preschool teachers do not get paid nearly enough.

Growing older makes you realize what the truly important things are in life. I’d pay way more money for an uninterrupted nap than I would for diamonds or gold.

Never punch down. In comedy or life.

Take photos and videos of your kids when they are at their worst. Then look at these every time your ovaries start whispering “hey, there’s still time to have one more baby.”

I’m young enough to still hate the taste of martinis.

I’m old enough to now like the taste of gross stinky cheese.

In that brief moment when all your laundry is done AND put away, all things are possible. Revel in this moment before it ends.

We should all jump on the saving-the-planet bandwagon. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? We succeed and our grandchildren don’t have to live in a dystopian hellscape?

It’s ok to look your age. Looking young is not an accomplishment. It’s a result of genes or lots of money or an extremely boring life. Or all three.

Hating pop culture is not an acceptable substitute for an actual personality. Shut up and let people like stuff.

No means no, stop means stop, let Mommy finish her coffee means LET MOMMY FINISH HER COFFEE. 

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Most people have no idea what they’re doing. Don’t let their confidence fool you.

The good thing about exercising is that if you do it for so long, you become addicted to it. The bad thing about exercising is that if you do it for so long, you become addicted to it.

It’s ok to laugh uncomfortably at funerals. Unless it’s your funeral.

It’s a small world. It’s an infinite universe.

You’re never too old to wear a tutu.

You’re also never too old to climb trees. (You will, however, be sore for days afterwards).

I’d rather be strong than skinny.

I’d rather be happy than rich.

I’d rather be immortal than dead.

It’s not important to love the same things your partner does. But it is important to hate the same things.

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The last thing all pets should see before they die is your tear-streaked face. We owe it to them to be there until the very end.

One of the best things you can do for your sanity as a parent is to teach your kids how to swing on the swings all by themselves.

Fruit doesn’t belong on pizza or burgers.

No one likes the person who points out that tomatoes are a fruit.

Spiderman should always be played by an actual teenager.

You will regret not being in the photos.

You can never have too much sunscreen on hand.

Admitting you’re wrong isn’t a weakness.

Take pride in your unread emails. It beats panicking. (1,300 and counting!)

Smile at little kids, have a conversation with a lonely elderly neighbor, invite the mom sitting alone at the playground to have a nip from your flask. We could all use more positive human interaction.

Teach your children to be the kind of people who love the smell of old books.

You don’t have to be good at something to pursue it. If you love it, do it. Take it from an extremely mediocre photographer.

Speaking of things people aren’t good at, I am not good at math. Here’s to hoping this is the 38th thing. Because I am out of useless wisdom to impart. Did I mention cheese yet? Cheese is good.

I’mma let you finish this preschool graduation, but first let me say…

Ladies and gentlemen, parents and loved ones, distinguished guests and, especially, educators just white-knuckling it until you’re finally free for the summer…welcome. And thank you for that wonderful introduction. Granted, I realize no one technically introduced me since I just hopped up here and grabbed the mic, but hey, no one has full-body tackled me yet and I’m having some Big Feelings right now, so I’mma go with it.

I am truly honored to be here today. So honored, in fact, I even put on my good leggings. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Riker’s mom. That’s him. Right there. The most adorable little boy in the world. Wave hi to everyone, Riker. Oh my god, will you just look at those red curls of his? You know he had a full set of those red curls when he emerged from my womb? Even the doctor was impressed. He was so little back then…and perfect…and time went by so fast…*sob*…no, no, I’m fine *sniffle*.

Now, I’ll admit, before I had children, I thought the idea of a preschool graduation was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Like, congratulations on learning what a triangle is, kid. Here’s a diploma for blowing your nose correctly. But then I became a mom. And soon realized the dumbest thing I ever heard was the theme song to the children’s show “PJ Masks.”  

More importantly, however, I realized how wonderful the idea of this graduation ceremony really is. And not just so I can take 500 photos of my kid standing on a stage picking his nose. But also so I can then share all those photos on social media and shove them down the throats of people I barely know in real life.

I MEAN JUST LOOK HOW GORGEOUS HE IS.

In fact, you all look gorgeous today. With your tiny dresses and your little button-up shirts…and…oh, look at that one, she has a flower in her hair…I just can’t…*sob*...oh no, I’ll be alright, Mrs. Ferris. Sit down. No, really. I’m not done yet. I said SIT DOWN.  

I want to tell all you children how proud we are of you. You’ve come so far. Remember the first day of school? All that crying and clinging and whimpering? And you kids were pretty upset too.

Look at you now though. So much more mature. So much more independent. So many new curse words in your vocabulary (sorry, other parents, that’s…that’s mostly on me).

Even though you guys are just starting out on your life’s journey, it’s important to remember on this special day that the road to success is filled with no parking signs. And permit parking only signs. And those indecipherable signs that say you can only park here on Tuesday from 1 a.m.-5 a.m. Which reminds me, if anyone sees a 2004 red Hyundai with a gray hood being towed, please let me know. We are definitely parked illegally out front because for some reason this school has the world’s smallest parking lot.

But no matter where the road takes you, dear graduates, my advice is to follow your passion. Unless that passion is to pick your nose. Knock that crap off. RIKER! I mean it, mister! And as you prepare to enter the real world, a world where there is only one snack break and no longer two snack breaks, remember this: there will always be more snacks over the horizon. Be patient. The world is full of snacks. And should you ever find yourself in an unbearable snackless situation, look for the nearest grandparent. They will immediately find you a snack. They don’t even have to be your grandparent.

And so, in conclusion, let me just end with this quote from the inimitable Dr. Seuss: Do not hop on pop. Or mom. Seriously. Stop it. It hurts our backs.

Oh, and one more thing. I know it’s only 8:30 in the morning but the next time you guys have one of these things, maybe put in an open bar or something because some of us are having a LOT of emotions right now and a Bloody Mary or three would really help ease the…oh, and it appears my husband is now trying to pull me off the stage…hang on, honey, I’m almost done…I just…*sniffle*…you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Riker…you and your little sister, who I lost track of like 20 minutes ago and…HANG ON, RYAN…and …I know you’re going to do wonderful things and…WAIT, WAIT, STOP PULLING…oh, just look at Riker’s little horrified face! I made that face with my lady parts…OK, OK, I’M LEAVING…

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What’s Wrong With Me Now!?

Hello, everyone! And welcome to America’s newest show, “What’s Wrong With Me Now!?” The only quiz show game devoted solely to all the weird and awful medical maladies that start afflicting you once you hit the age of 35 and beyond.

Yes, your body is now beginning its slow decline toward death via a dirty bomb of disease and undiagnosed ailments. So, what’s wrong with you now? Let’s find out!

You wake up on Sunday morning and suddenly discover you can’t turn your head to the left. What is wrong with you?

  1. You slept on your pillow wrong.
  2. The fact that your mattress is 17-years-old is finally catching up with you.
  3. Now that you think about it, a hazy memory emerges of you attempting a cartwheel after that third glass of wine last night in a futile attempt to prove you’re still young.
  4. Neck cancer.

Despite having not worked out in a decade, your left knee has become sore and swollen. What is wrong with you?

  1. You have gout. Like an old-timey king.
  2. It’s about to start raining. Which you will always know now. Because congratulations, you have arthritis.
  3. You made the mistake of playing with your kids on the ground for 12 minutes yesterday.
  4. Knee cancer.

A red, itchy, painful rash has developed on your face for no reason whatsoever. What’s wrong with you?

  1. Heat rash. Because you can now be defeated by the sun.
  2. Mystery disease from one of your son’s preschool classmates. Probably the one who sneezed into your eyeball last week at pick-up.
  3. At least five of your Facebook friends think it’s your thyroid.
  4. Face cancer? Is that a thing?

When you go to the bathroom, it’s either constipation or diarrhea. There is no in-between. What is wrong with you?

  1. Nothing. This is your life now.
  2. Your diet. Which is awful. And which you will not be changing.
  3. So help you if you’re pregnant again. You’d murder your husband, ‘ol Mr. I’ll Get A Vasectomy Soon I Promise, if you didn’t so desperately need his help raising all these feral children.
  4. Colon cancer.

You can’t chew on the right side of your face anymore without excruciating pain. What is wrong with you?

  1. You need a root canal. Because all those times you told the dentist you were flossing you were lying through your disgusting unflossed teeth.
  2. TMJ. You don’t even know what that is. But you definitely have it now.
  3. It doesn’t matter because you hate the dentist and will die before going to one.
  4. Jaw cancer.

You feel bad. Just a general badness. All over. What is wrong with you?

  1. Indigestion from your breakfast nachos.
  2. Heart attack.
  3. Panic attack.
  4. All three…plus cancer!

You’ve had a dry cough for six-months now. What is wrong with you?

  1. Chronic bronchitis.
  2. Nothing some essential oils can’t fix, which luckily 14 of your former classmates sell.
  3. Allergies. Or asthma. Or acid reflux. All the A’s, pretty much.  
  4. Lung cancer. From that one cigarette you smoked in 1996 to impress Todd Peterson.

Well, looks like that’s the buzzer. As usual, there are no winners in this game. But you’ll all be going home with some consolation prizes from our sponsors. Tell them what they’ve won, Johnny.

From the makers of Advil, comes Purse Advil. Purse Advil: Like Advil but for your purse because you never not need it now.

And say hello to your very own treadmill! This beauty from NordicTrack has a smart response motor, a 10-inch interactive screen and plenty of places to hang up those clothes you’ve already worn but aren’t quite dirty yet so you don’t want to throw them in the hamper.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow when we try to figure out if that mole on your shoulder has changed shape and/or color and what is the best remedy for acne in your 40’s!

Goodnight, America!