Category Archives: Pop Culture

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the kitchen

It never ceases to amaze me how similar talking about raising kids sounds to the plotlines of horror movies.

“I woke up, disoriented, only to discover his face was mere inches from mine, his milky breath washing over me. I screamed while his face twisted into an evil smile.”

“I slammed shut the bathroom door but when I looked down I saw two pairs of sticky hands slowly reaching out for me from underneath.”

“It was a dark and stormy night. I grasped for a diaper but my hand met with nothing but air. With dawning horror, I realized we were out. My terrified eyes met hers and that’s when she unleashed hell from below.”

“The restaurant only had white milk, no chocolate, and there, right before our very eyes, they transformed. Their bodies and faces contorting into inhuman angles and expressions. Where once small children had been were now hideous monsters, their banshee screams filling the night air.”

But that’s the devil’s bargain you make when you create life. In exchange for building a creature of pure adorableness, that adorableness is wrapped around the brain of a psychopath.

This is also why, once you reproduce, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide anymore. They will FIND you. Thinking of having kids? Forget reading parenting books. Start with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Homegirl tried to warn us.

Just like in any good horror movie, among the nooks and crannies of my own haunted house, there is now only one small corner I can retreat to when the monsters get too terrifying. Thanks to a heavily fortified baby gate, the kids are barred from entering the kitchen. However, from the vantage point of the baby gate, they can see pretty much the entire kitchen. Which is why, of course, they hang out right there by said baby gate, moaning and growling and straining to get in like zombies if zombies wore duck-covered footie pajamas.

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But there’s that ONE corner in the kitchen. It’s dark and dingy and usually dirty BUT they can’t see me.

The first time I discovered the power of this secret corner, I was trying to make dinner. The kids were tired and cranky and out for blood. I was at the end of my rope but couldn’t escape. Or so it seemed.

I reached for something in the fridge, their high-pitched cries making the blood in my veins turn to ice, when one of them shouted “Momma! Where are you? I can’t see you!”

I crouched down and froze. They can’t see me, I thought to myself. Holy crap, they can’t see me. Maybe they’ll stop hunting me if I ignore them long enough. Stop breathing so hard, you idiot! They’ll hear you. Just don’t move. Don’t blink. Don’t exist.

And IT WORKED. Soon enough they got bored and actually started playing with their toys, their devious plans to drive me insane momentarily forgotten. 

Because that’s the thing with kids. Or at least my kids. Out of sight, out of mind. If they can’t see me, they start to function like actual humans, able to do things without my immediate presence or assistance. However, if I am in the room, they magically forget how to do even the most basic of things, like operate a blanket and stack blocks on top of each other and hold a book.

Better yet, if I hide out in my dirty little kitchen nook long enough, they’ll eventually get bored enough that they’ll attempt to interact…WITH EACH OTHER.

Which is why I now leave a book or magazine in my corner. I also leave small adults-only snacks back there, like the secret expensive chocolate and Doritos, because Doritos are only for people who can eat ketchup without getting it in their hair. I’m also thinking of having my husband build me a little wet bar back there. I know a recliner won’t fit but maybe a small chaise lounge or something.

Who says horror stories can’t have happy endings?

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There will be blood

Welcome to my very first guest post! This week my hilarious and wildly talented writer friend, Melissa McCue-McGrath, has taken over and shares her experience of all the super fun shenanigans that can ensue when you’re a woman just casually bleeding in a field. 

The most woman-thing-to-ever-woman happen to me happened at the “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” taping at Tanglewood a few weeks ago. For the uninitiated, “Wait Wait” is NPR’s weekly news quiz and, as of 2016, a necessary spoonful of sugar to help the news-medicine go down.

My husband and I were enjoying a date night, our first in nearly a full year. We were planning on going out for drinks with some friends after the show taping and then go home to take advantage of the whole kid-is-sleeping-over-at-a-friends-house situation. We were very much looking forward to the entire evening until I went to the bathroom and discovered that my period started a week early. This wasn’t a uterus version of, “Knock-knock, is anyone home?” with a little light spotting. This was Kramer from “Seinfeld” bursting through the door. It was go-time. This was not a drill.

Instead of going to the bar to meet up with some friends and hopefully run into the panelists, including Mo Rocca and his amazing mom (girl can rock a pair of cat eye glasses like WOAH!), we had to first find a way to a 24-hour anything so I could handle my bleed-mergency.  There is no cell service or WiFi out in Lenox, MA, which made it impossible to know which direction to drive for supplies. None of this mattered yet, however, because we first needed to locate the car in one of several field parking lots.

I was doing the “play it cool but try not to bleed everywhere” shuffle. Ladies, you know this doesn’t work. Men, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. We don’t have control over how this works. It’s basically a faucet that once is switched on, you wait 5-7 days until someone in maintenance hits the menstruate switch to off.

Thank you to whatever Gods are in charge of keeping Meghna Chakrabarti’s voice on point (pun intended) and Terry Gross’s line of questioning unparalleled, we found the car in the second multi-acre field we looked.

Still shuffling in the direction of our car, I noticed a group of women giggling near a blue all-wheel-drive Subaru, the official car of every New England state (and Wisconsin). I instructed my beloved to stay put, which he did.

With a hushed voice, a lowered head, and a lot of stiff gesticulations, I uttered the only thing I could: “Um, I need a little help.”

One woman grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the center of the circle.  They all circled around, laser beam eyes at my husband, and dropped their voices.   Woman #1 asked, quite seriously, “Do you need help?”

“No – he’s good.”

It was at this point, the curtain dropped, and we all laughed. The woman still holding my wrist from pulling me into the sacred coven pointed to the woman directly across from me and said, “Oh, Michelle can help.”

Michelle then pulled out her Sherpani purse, opened it like one of Howie Mandel’s boxes from “Deal or No Deal,”  and casually blurted out, “I have them all, sweetie. What kind? Super? Plus? Regular? Do you prefer a pad or a tampon? Pink or yellow?”

“Give me the biggest one you got. We have a long ride home.”

“Here, Hon. Take two.”

My eyes had finally adjusted to the greyish-black that can only occur when the night sky is blanketed with a light cloud cover. I looked around and saw five women…

…and a dude. His eyes were as big as saucers.

I then rewound the tape in my brain. From his perspective, he saw a woman briskly walking away from a quiet, small-framed blonde man, asking for help, communicating, “No, I’m not getting murdered” and his friend opening a purse with a million feminine products. That purse must of looked like the Weasley’s car in Harry Potter – much bigger on the inside than on the outside because the only explanation all those products could fit is wizard magic.

He was so quiet, so dumbfounded, so in awe of what goes on behind the curtain of womanhood. There were no questions asked, no actual language about my “condition” – it just happened. We must be telekinetic! Women can just speak with their minds.

Because here’s the reality about being a woman in 2018. If a woman walks up to a group of women she doesn’t know in the middle of the night, there is a 50% chance that she thinks she is in serious trouble and needs you to call the police NOW. There is also a 50% chance she needs a tampon. There is a zero percent chance of any other option.

Since it was so dark, I couldn’t see if his face turned as red as…well, let’s leave that analogy alone. I could only assume it did. I then did what I would do in any situation when meeting someone first time and it’s uncomfortable: Immediately make it worse for the other party.

I grabbed his hand and said, “I’m Melissa.”

“Greg.”

“Hi, Greg. Yes, I got my period tonight. It sucks. So very nice to meet you.”

It’s not on me to be uncomfortable for getting my period. It happens. Monthly. It’s supposed to. So, if he’s uncomfortable, fine. He’s around literally five other women. Hell, because of me, they all likely started to instantly cycle. His night was going to get a lot more descriptive. As a woman, we have to protect our own, and find a way to be powerful, and not be ashamed of our actual bodies. It starts here. In a field parking lot after an NPR news quiz.

This must look quite strange to a dude in the circle, the coven, but there’s nothing like telling your husband, “Yes, dear, they wanted to call the cops on you. Once it was clear we didn’t have a code blue but literally a code red, you were no longer on their shit list. They thought you were cute, once they realized you weren’t trying anything illegal or unconsented.”

Both these men got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a woman in 2018. My husband totally understood it, but poor Greg. He must think women are inSANE for jumping to the immediate conclusion that the other dude was perhaps going to cause great harm, but I, for one, am glad they did. I’m glad women will often take care of their own in exactly the way we are trained to, that we’ve learned to, that we sadly still have to. Because once the onus is on men to not rape instead of the woman to not dress in a way that’s theoretically “asking for it,” or once men can hear the word “period” or “vagina” without feeling taboo, then we’ll be in much better shape. In order to get there, we women have to handle our shit, use our language, and let men see all of it. Maybe they’ll see why we jump to the very real conclusions we must to stay safe and powder fresh.

Maybe next time I’ll get to meet Mo, Faith or Alonzo. Until then, I’ll keep a few extra supplies in my bag in case a woman approaches me. I’ll keep one hand on the emergency call button on her behalf, one on the Tampax Super Fit. I’m ready to help her whenever she needs it.

Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA is a certified professional dog trainer living outside of Boston. In addition to dog training and writing books about living with urban dogs (Considerations for the City Dog, 2015), Melissa keeps a blog, Letters to Little, where she writes letters to her daughter, Aislyn, with the intention to share it in 20 years. It starts off with a lot of poo, (as these things often do) and wades into deeper waters including inadvertently introducing her Kindergartener to The Mariner’s Revenge Song (a dark and grisly revenge-murder song on the high seas), school lockdowns, and explaining the song Get Lucky as a song about watching a meteor shower instead of staying up all night getting stoned and boned.

Everything can be found at melissamccuemcgrath.com.

 

Meatballs for breakfast

One day, not long ago, my daughter went down a slide and rammed right into the back of an older child who had gone down the slide before her. It really hurt, the boy was quick to tell me, and my daughter should probably apologize for it. I agreed and turned to her, saying “Mae, can you say you’re sorry?”

Her response? To stare defiantly at both of us. She stared so long, in fact, that it got down right uncomfortable. So, feeling the need to avoid confrontation at all costs like the good born-and-bred midwesterner that I am, I told the boy, “she’s pretty young, she probably doesn’t understand, but I’m sure she’s very sorry.”

The incident was soon forgotten by the kids and they went back to playing because, ah, youth. But it stayed with me. This wasn’t the first time she had reacted this way when asked to apologize for something. It was then that I realized my 2-year-old daughter refuses to say she’s sorry. For anything.

And part of me doesn’t want that to change.

Last week for dinner, we had spaghetti and meatballs. Every morning since then, whenever I ask her what she wants for breakfast, she yells “meatballs!”

“Meatballs? Really?” I respond.

“MEATBALLS!”

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I don’t want this to change either.

Now that my kids are two and four, life has pretty much devolved into one long WWE match occasionally interrupted by baths and trips to the library. When her brother hits her, my daughter does a feral growl and hits him right back. When they argue, she doesn’t back down. When he gets angry, she doesn’t demur or try to smooth over the volatile situation. If someone is pushing her or pulling her or tickling her in a way she doesn’t like, she loudly screams “NO!” and “STOP!”

Minus the hitting, I hope to God none of that ever changes.

At 2-years-old, she cares nothing for your opinion. Or mine. At 2-years-old, there is no piece of furniture, no piece of playground equipment, no object in nature (including large, slow-moving animals) that is too high to climb and conquer and then jump off of. If it were up to her, she’d be naked all the time. Because at 2-years-old, her body is her own wonderland.

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As her mother, this is all pretty exhausting to deal with on a day-to-day basis. As a woman, however, it’s exhilarating to watch.

All too soon, despite my best interventions, the world is likely to teach her that she needs to change these things about herself. That she should apologize for taking up space. For getting angry. For even daring to have an opinion.

The world will start whispering to her that her body is not her own anymore. That those mountains are not hers to climb and conquer anymore. That being pretty and nice is better than being loud and fearless and strong and curious.

That yogurt is an acceptable breakfast. Not huge chunks of meat.  

Then again, maybe not. Because I’m watching. I’m taking notes. My young daughter is teaching me how to be a female in this world, the kind of female I want to be. And my hope is that I learn enough so that I can return the favor. That when she’s a young woman and the world is trying to crush her into some shape, some role, she doesn’t fit into, I’ll be there to remind her who she really is.  

And then when some poor soul makes the mistake of telling her “stop being so bossy” or “hey, smile!” or “you know, you could be prettier if only you’d…” she laughs so hard in their face that she almost chokes on her breakfast meatball hoagie.

Because this Facebook post is going to save America

I’ve been reading a lot of Mark Twain this summer. In fact, a few weeks ago, I dramatically declared to my husband that “this is The Summer of Twain!” while wearing a straw hat and holding a fishin’ pole (because everything is more fun when you can annoy your spouse with it).

It started out that I simply wanted to re-read the adventures of Tom and Huck on long, hot, lazy afternoons. But then, while searching for my copies of these books, I found seven other Twain books languishing on my shelves. Challenge accepted! I thought to myself as I instantly started searching for fishin’ poles on Amazon so I could properly break the news to my husband.

I’m happy to report that so far it’s turning out to be one of my better life decisions (much better than my decision last summer to sign my toddler up for soccer). It’s also having some unexpected patriotic side effects.

I was halfway through “Tom Sawyer,” for example, when a flood of memories from my semi-feral childhood in rural Ohio crashed into my brain. The next thing I know I’m asking my kids if they want to go down to the “crick” and have a picnic (to which they responded by staring at me with professional-grade disdain).

I was only one chapter into “Life on the Mississippi” before I found myself doing CPR on my ancient, wheezing junior high plans to visit every state in the Union.

And then there’s the quotes. Oh, those quotes. The man would just spit out viral-ready gems like “Loyalty to the nation all the time, loyalty to the government when it deserves it” long before the Internet was even a twinkle in Al Gore’s great-grandpa’s eye.

It’s that last one I blame for convincing me it was a good idea to write a political post on Facebook even though previous experience has taught me that there is only one way that ends, which is with all parties involved concluding this world can only be cleansed by fire.

I knew better. You reading this know better. My dog, who has his own Twitter account, knows better. Yet, there I was, romanticizing in my head how Twain brilliantly shed light on our faults as a country and why can’t I do that? I mean, I know words and stuff. Sometimes even BIG words. And with that fail-safe logic, I quickly assured myself that this Facebook political post would be different.

Not only that but it would MAKE all the difference.

It will be well-thought out, says I, clever even, a bit funny, yet poignant, a chastising that morphs into a rallying cry but with a sprinkling of self-deprecation so as to make the medicine go down easier. I mean, I’m not such a Pollyanna that I think a cheesy little paragraph on social media could truly solve anything (I’m only a quarter Pollyanna on my mother’s side). But, on the other hand, these four sentences could be the wisest and most courageous thing the Internet has ever seen.

I won’t know until I try, right?

So I type it out on my phone while pacing the dining room floor, my fingers flying over the tiny keyboard. I’m excited. Nervous almost. So much so it takes a while because I keep making typos. I reread it. Erase that part. Think it over. Put it back in. NO, SWEETIE, MOMMA CAN’T HELP YOU WITH YOUR UNDERWEAR. SHE’S BUSY SAVING AMERICA. Change the wording here. Is that how you spell “tyranny”? I don’t want to get ahead of myself but can you win awards for these kinds of thing? SO GO NAKED THEN. I’LL HELP WHEN I’M DONE BEING AN AMAZING PATRIOT.

I quickly post it. Before I lose my nerve. But already regret has started to set in. I take a deep breathe and remind myself it will all be fine. I just need to remember not to respond to any comments. I already said what I had to say. Let everyone else sling mud at each other down in the gutters.

And I firmly stick by that. For all of three minutes. It’s just this one guy, you know? He’s so smug. So I gently point out how he’s wrong. And three exchanges later, I gently point out how he can suck it. I’m outraged and also nauseous that anyone could believe the things this random person I now hate believes. But I can’t stop. I can’t just WALK AWAY. I have to win this fight. I have to make them see how stupid they are. Win the online fight, win AMERICA.

Except no one wins. Except maybe Facebook.

Hours, sometimes days, later, it’s all over and I feel vaguely dirty and vow to never, ever discuss politics ever again.

But I will. Because this country has been very good to me and I love it for that. So I’m going to keep fighting to make it good for everybody.

And because I may just be another idiot arguing on the Internet but I refuse to let those other idiots have the last word.

Important brain thoughts from an exhausted parent

I have a confession. I’m supposed to be writing right now. Which, yes, “technically” I am. I am “technically” stringing together letters into words and those words into sentences.  

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t really want to be writing right now. My brain is mush. Just a mushy, mushy, leaky puddle of its former self. This has been a particularly trying week and my children have sunk their adorable tiny little teeth into my skull and sucked out all the good bits. All that’s left is the part that instinctively knows when they are trying to climb up the unsecured bookcase and the part that knows the theme song to “Golden Girls.”

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In fact, I’m starting to suspect that part of the deal when you become a parent is that you help your children’s brains grow by sacrificing your own.

And so today, well, today I just don’t have it in me to write a coherent 800 words on some amusing and absurd aspect of life. I barely had it in me to brush my teeth this morning.

Which is why the bulk of this column is just going to be unrelated random musings because that’s all the poor, overworked, single brain cell left functioning in my head can handle right now.

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So…*drums nails on keyboard*…y’all want to talk about coffee? So good, right? I lost count but I’m on something like my seventh cup. I wonder who was the first person who looked at a coffee bean plant and said “How would it taste if we burned the crap out of this and poured hot water over it?” Whoever it is, they deserve a holiday and a fancy parade. Screw Columbus. Let’s have Coffee Inventor Day.

You know what else is awesome? “Jessica Jones” on Netflix.

I don’t have a follow-up to that. Just that it’s awesome.

How come you never see wild hamsters? Unrelated but equally important, what is nougat? I mean, it’s in candy bars, but what IS it?

Here are some important geographical observations:

Everyone in the Northeast eats a lot of ice cream in the winter.

There hasn’t been an official vote, but I’m pretty sure Mountain Dew is the official drink of my home state of Ohio.

If you want to start a fight in the South, try casually suggesting that sweet tea is gross. (And start running the second you see someone’s grandma taking off her earrings).

By my count, 80’s fashion has come back no less than four times since the actual 1980’s.

Does everyone hate the substitute meteorologist who occasionally fills in for the regular meteorologist on their morning TV news show or am I just being ridiculously unfair to Barry and his stupid face?

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The other day I overheard two young women talking. The one was telling the other “I, like, literally, and this wasn’t my choice at all, but I literally watched him play video games all night. And at one point he told me, ‘you seem bored.’ Like, yeah, I’m bored.” And it took every ounce of willpower I had not to whip out my best Tina Fey impression and yell “that’s a dealbreaker, ladies!”

Then, after I walked away, I almost turned around to do my best “he’s just not that into you” Miranda Hobbes impression but managed to stop myself again. Because I’m a grown-up.

God, I hope she doesn’t marry him.

And lastly, I recently found out that Madeleine L’Engle, the famous author of the “A Wrinkle in Time” series, had three kids, had her manuscript rejected 30 times before it was published and had almost given up writing on her 40th birthday because she was still not pulling her own weight financially even after all the hours she spent writing.  

So there is some tiny sliver of hope for all of us hardworking creative souls out there who are drowning in parenting responsibility but are desperately still pursuing our own passions while wading those choppy waters every day. It’s hard giving up nights, weekends, whatever meager free time we have. But we keep going. Even on the mushy brain weeks. For a very important reason.

That I can’t think of right now.

But probably because your heart is true and you’re a pal and confidant.

 

To Whom It May Concern (yes, you)

I didn’t want it to have to come to this. No one ever does. Love means never having to hire a lawyer. Or at least it should.

But, alas, here we are. It is indeed regrettable but unfortunately necessary at this point.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you, dear children, that you are in violation of our prenatal agreement.

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Actually, you’ve both been in violation of various parts of it for quite some time now. Remember Section 1, Subsection C, Paragraph 2? Thou shall not give the mother stretch marks?

(Note: I don’t really know much legal jargon so I just mixed in a bunch of Biblical vocabulary to make it sound more official. Also I was getting high on cheeseburgers every day during the drafting of the original document so I can’t really be held responsible for my state of mind at the time).

Well, I do have stretch marks. Lots of them. My hips look like they’ve been mauled by a cranky tiger.

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But since you both kept up your end of the Principal Birth Accord and came out healthy and with the appropriate amount of digits, I’m willing to waive the Stretch Mark Clause. Especially in light of the fact that you have both remained healthy and have kept all the aforementioned digits in excellent condition. (Although I do feel it pertinent to remind you at this juncture that Section 5, Paragraph 6 forbids those digits from coming within three inches of the nasal area).

However, I need you both to immediately cease and desist with any and all public tantrums. A fetus is able to hear inside the womb starting at around 16 weeks, so I know you heard me when I said “you are never allowed to flop on the floor, kicking and screaming, while occupying space on public property.” This is what’s known as a verbal agreement, kids. Which is legally binding.

Probably.

Which means that last week, when the two of you threw a simultaneous tantrum inside the grocery store because you both got the exact same number of stickers from the cashier, which made Defendant No. 1 mad because, and I quote, “I wanted more stickers than her,” and made Defendant No. 2 mad because, and I quote “MORE ‘DICKERS, MOMMA,” you were in violation of Section 8, Subsection K, Paragraph 2, AND Paragraph 7 (the latter of which specifies that any and all tantrums may not be about something ridiculous and/or dumb).

And did you or did you not kick my bladder in acquiescence when I asked you to agree that thou shalt never complain about what I cooked for dinner? Let me refresh your memory: You both did. Hard. In fact, one of you agreed so heartily that I peed myself a little.

And yet, almost every meal that is not composed of just a giant bowl of ketchup is met with a resounding chorus of whining and various other dramatic theatrics. Meaning you are in violation of Section 10, Paragraph 37, also known as the “Shut Up And Eat It” stipulation.

And I think we can all agree that last night’s flagrant disregard of Section 17, Paragraph 1, commonly referred to as the “No Pooping in the Tub” restriction, was highly regrettable and caused no small amount of distress, both mentally and physically, for all involved.    

As is noted in great detail in Section 26, Subsection F, Paragraph 3 through 119 of the Prenatal Agreement, I love you both very much. Which is why, despite these unpleasant legal matters, I am still willing to act as your Maternal Unit with the priviso that you reread and reacquaint yourself with the particularities of Section 45, also known as the “Knock It Off” contingency, and Section 48, also known as the “So Help Me” eventuality.

Cordially Yours,

Momma