My Thanksgiving sucked more than yours

Perhaps you had a rough Thanksgiving this year. Maybe you disagreed with your family over the outcome of the election, or you sat in slow-moving traffic for hours with whining children, or Aunt Brenda overcooked the damn turkey again.

Well guess what? My kids got hand, foot and frickin’ mouth disease (actual medical name: “hand, foot and f*&king mouth disease) and we spent the holiday in the hospital.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me. I did plenty of that while eating my Thanksgiving feast of Tic Tacs in the ER. If anyone deserves pity it’s my kids, who spent several days looking like syphilitic sailors from another century.

No, the point of sharing this is more along the lines of: ain’t life just a series of kicks to the nads? I mean, you either laugh or turn into a bitter, whiny jackass. I’m still laughing.

I’ve long held that my children are like used cars a week past their warranty: anything that can go wrong with them will. Over the years they’ve been treated by geneticists, neurologists, oncologists, gastrointestinal specialists, opthalmologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, developmental pediatricians, dermatologists and, of course, speech, physical and feeding therapists. They’ve been on the receiving end of MRIs, MIBG scans, and one colonoscopy, and had surgeries to remove adenoids and insert ear tubes.

The original purpose of this website was to rate the waiting rooms of pediatric specialists in the greater Charlotte area.

My poor daughter has endured the brunt of this medical treatment, and has a frightening knack of not only picking up every virus going around, but getting a monstrous version of it.

Most kids with hand, foot and mouth disease will develop spots and a mild temperature and recover over several days of rest and pushing fluids. My kid came down with a 104-degree fever, vomiting and tremors. She was admitted to the hospital and pumped full of IV fluids and acetaminophen to bring down her fever.

A doctor explained to me that some kids can develop encephalitis, even meningitis from this. Luckily, she didn’t.

Perhaps the hardest part of all this is that we weren’t at home. In a bid to bring some magic to my children’s lives, I took them for a short trip to Disney World. Although not a fan of the rides, they love meeting the characters and the general “Holy crap, it’s Disney World!” atmosphere of the park.

My husband stayed home to work. He says Disney World is fake and plastic-y and for some reason doesn’t like that. Missing out on the holiday is no biggie for him as he is British.

On Thanksgiving morning, my children were going strong in the parks, riding the carousel, exploring the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and hugging Ariel in her grotto, when quite suddenly my daughter ground to a halt. Usually energetic and talkative, she went quiet and lethargic and felt warm to the touch.

I took her to the first aid center in the Magic Kingdom, where the RNs on duty are well schooled in the art of Not Getting Sued. No doubt for liability reasons, they avoid treatment for anything other than scrapes, instead offering to arrange transportation to a hospital or delivery from a pharmacy, if “that’s what you want.”

As someone firmly in the “You’re the medical professional, tell me if I should be panicking” camp, it was frustrating, although I get it. After my daughter rested I opted to take her to the doctor and the rest is medical history.

That night was frightening and long. My son camped out with us in the hospital, as even though my parents were staying at our hotel, he didn’t want to be separated from me.

I finally drifted off to sleep sometime in the early morning, an arm resting on my daughter, the beeps from her monitors ringing in my ears. A few hours must have passed, because I awoke with a start to hear a tiny voice singing a song from the movie Trolls:

I’m not giving up today

There’s nothing getting in my way

And if you knock knock me over

I will get back up again

My daughter sat, hair sticking straight up, lips dry and peeling, looking at me. When she saw I was awake she grinned and croaked “Can I go swimming?”

She was discharged later that day. Her fever came back. We made it home to North Carolina the next day, and then my son came down with a fever. They’re both recovering nicely, pink spots like child acne dotting their faces.

I guess you could say we missed out on the holiday, although that’s no heartbreak for my kids since they hate eating and Thanksgiving is, for the most part, about food. It does leave me worried for the upcoming holiday.

See, all bad things come in threes and my daughter has a terrible track record. For Easter she got bronchitis. At Thanksgiving it was hand, foot and mouth disease. What’s next for Christmas? She’ll explode?

Hell sounds a lot like Chuggington

So, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked to publish my next blog post, which is frickin’ awesome. Since they own the rights to it for the next 30 days, if you want to read it please visit their site: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20161127_CHUGG-ing-TON_.html20161127_CHUGG-ing-TON_.html

It’s about how this November marks five years since doctors discovered the tumors in Charlie’s skull and how little I can remember about those early days.

Words to live by

 

There is a question doing the rounds on Facebook: What movie quote best describes your life?

At first glance, that seems a tough one to answer. Do they mean my life right now? Or are they talking about childhood, the awkward teen years, the misspent youth, the dawning of middle age?

If I narrow it down to the present, then the choice is obvious and automatic. It comes from one of the few films that captures the chaotic, frightening and exhilarating moments of parenthood.

I’m talking, of course, about Jaws.

In my opinion, no truer words about parenting exist than those uttered by Chief Brody when he comes face to face with the behemoth shark he has set out to kill and he realizes he has set himself a task way beyond his capabilities:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Aw, hell, yeah.

Because as much as you think you’re prepared to be a parent, you’re not. You may have hired an expert fisherman, brought a marine biologist on board and prepared to stay out till the job was done, but eventually you will be forced to admit that your child is a 2-meter-long great white shark with a taste for human flesh and a personal vendetta against the good people of Amityville.

Ha-ha. Kidding. Maybe.

To be fair, there are people who don’t feel overwhelmed by parenthood. I met one once. The memory is hazy, since it was a few weeks after my first child was born and I was anemic and exhausted. In a breastfeeding support group, an impeccably dressed woman without a scrap of vomit sticking to her told me motherhood wasn’t challenging at all.

“It’s just such a privilege to be a mother,” she said, as she nursed her infant and her toddler played contentedly at her feet.

Unsure what kind of support she was meant to be providing in a support group, I went back to “nursing,” which meant squeezing back tears as my son flattened and abraded a part of my body that deserves much greater kindness than an infant can give. (Why, oh why, can’t breast milk issue forth from a less sensitive part of the body, say, the callused soles of our feet?)

We were interrupted by Little Miss Privilege hrieking because her toddler had walked into a door knob. Flying across the room, infant still at one breast, she dropped to the floor and lifted her shirt so the older child could latch on to the other breast.

“She finds it comforting,” she told me, as her toddler stood and nursed with tears streaming down her face.

Holy hell, I thought to myself. If she thinks that’s easy, I’m am 100 percent f—ked.

But for the most part, people I have encountered find parenthood as daunting as I do. Because you can love your children to pieces, they can be something you wanted all your life, and they can still be your most formidable challenge.

Believe it or not, the physical part is the easy part. You can get by on little sleep, lowered standards of hygiene and scraps of food caught on the fly and survive. By my count, for eight years.

It’s the psychological aspect that can make you want to give up. When my son was an infant and cried, I was convinced he was in terrible pain. When he went on walks strapped to my husband’s chest, I was convinced he would catch the plague. (To be fair, we lived in London.) When his nose became clogged from a cold I was convinced he would stop breathing.

The first night my son slept by my side, I was wide awake and breathless in terror, constantly reaching over to check that he was still alive. It was then that I realized I would never sleep soundly again. Even though the delicate newborn years wouldn’t last forever, there would always be something to worry about. From nightmares to bullies to broken hearts and brutal life lessons, he would have to suffer and there WOULDN’T BE A DAMN THING I COULD DO ABOUT IT.

Damn straight I needed a bigger boat. Or a shot of Jaegermeister.

Of course, I’ve relaxed a bit. It’s impossible to operate at that frequency for  long without imploding and when the universe throws the degree-of-difficulty crap it has flung at my family, you just gotta sack up and deal.

But if there were ever any words that gave me more comfort in my “Oh s**t!” moments of parenting, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” tops the list.

That and “Sweep the leg” from The Karate Kid. I mean, right???

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This image perfectly sums up my feelings about parenthood. It’s also an accurate depiction of mealtimes in my house.

Halloween rush

Halloween barreled through my house with the subtlety of Ethel Merman on a steamroller.

Perhaps it was because for the first time ever we celebrated the holiday in a neighborhood with children, meaning the houses were decorated and excitement was in the air. It could be because we discovered an incredibly bizarre man lives down the street. Maybe it was because during an election year, there are so many signs lining the road that it feels like you’re getting shouted at.

But most likely it’s because the whole thing was so rushed. From the minute we got home from school it felt like a race against the clock to cram the usual activities and the frickin’ magic of the holiday in before bedtime. I wasn’t about to let my kids stay up late or get out of chores or daily reading or piano practice. That’s not because I’m a good mother but because routine is the only thing that sustains a semblance of sanity in this house. If I vary timing or activities too much, disorientation, tears and tantrums ensue. And that’s just from me.

For once my kids were motivated to get everything done because — holy crap! — it was Halloween and they were going trick-or-treating. Even dinner went smoothly, which is saying something since my children approach food with the enthusiasm of the severely catatonic.

When my husband got home at 5:30, he scrambled upstairs to change clothes and make with the pumpkin carving. This is a duty he took on after our first Halloween with children, when we discovered his artistic genius. On that fateful day I had just finished cutting out the triangle eyes and jagged grin on my pumpkin when I glanced over and saw he had covered his with a series of pin pricks and gouges that, when lit from within, showed a witch flying her broomstick past a crescent moon.

“Wow,” was my response.

He claimed it was easy, because growing up in Scotland he’d carved turnips. I can’t even imagine trying to etch a design into something so tiny. The best part, he claims, is when you put a candle in the turnip and smelled it roasting. Yeah. That would make up for 14 hours of work.

But this year he wasn’t going to have much time to get the job done. He had barely made his first incision when my friend and her son arrived to go trick-or-treating.

“Go on without me!” he called out nobly. “I’ll catch up.”

I had high hopes for the evening. Trick-or-treating in our old neighborhood had always been a non-event, as our neighbors had been retirees and couples without children who seemed to forget the holiday existed. One year a woman down the street handed my kids protein bars because she hadn’t bought candy.

This year, everything got off to a great start: people were generous with the loot and kind to the children. We did have one elderly lady flee her lawn chair in alarm when she saw us coming and then refuse to answer the door, but that’s no big deal. The way I look at it, given what people pay in taxes these days they’re under no obligation to give my kids free s—t.

We’d barely reached the end of the block when the children knocked on a door and were greeted by a werewolf. The man who lived there had dressed in a shaggy grey costume and answered the front door on all fours. Bless his heart. (That’s a southern expression that has many meanings, in this case, “What the f—k??”)

It was cute until it got weird.

“Have some candy,” he growled.

The kids helped themselves.

“Do you see my spooky bats?” he growled.

The kids nodded.

“Come inside,” he growled.

“Ok,” my son said cheerfully. Stranger danger my a—.

“No!” my friend and I both shouted.

“Come back and check out my giant spider!” he said as the kids retreated down the driveway.

For the love of everything law-abiding, he’d better have been talking about a decoration.

A few doors down a woman admired the kids’ outfits and then asked if they were out alone.

“No, those are our moms,” my friend’s son said, pointing at us.

The woman’s face brightened.

“Well, that is just fine by me!” she nodded enthusiastically.

Judging from the political candidate signs occupying every square inch of her front lawn, this woman not only thought we were a couple but heartily approved.

As we headed to the next house, my friend said, “I’m wearing pants and you’re in a skirt, so I guess I’m the husband.”

“That’s kind of how I see us,” I said.*

The next 40 minutes were pretty uneventful. My husband did a rush job on the pumpkins and caught up with us to enjoy the magic. We took a candy break, which consisted of my children doubtfully licking at their fun-size Snickers. (The upside of them hating food is that candy holds no appeal.)

We called it a night shortly before 7 and started heading home. As we turned the corner to our street, I noticed a figure crouching on a utility box nearby. It was the werewolf man. Bless his heart. (Same meaning as before.)

When we passed by he climbed down and ran at the children, growling. My daughter shrieked. Trying to keep her from getting even more freaked out, I said:

“Ha-ha! That silly werewolf is trying to scare you guys but you’re not scared, right?”

“I’m not scared,” my daughter said, with the same lack of conviction employed by Kevin Costner in his movies.

Werewolf guy grabbed at her candy bag.

“I think he would like a treat,” I said, and began digging through her stash. “What’s your favorite kind of candy, Werewolf?”

“Kids,” he growled.

“Okay, time to go,” I said.

Wouldn’t you know it, that lunatic scampered after us for about half a block before turning back to his house, presumably to scare the daylights out of another group of children while disturbing the crap out of their parents.

Bless. His. Heart.

It’s possible he just really gets into Halloween. It’s also possible that he has a neurological condition or a mental illness. He was wearing mom jeans, after all. Whatever his issues are, he topped off a particularly manic Halloween for us.

Now that the costumes have been put away, the decorations stored and the candy completely ignored, a calm has settled back over our house.

Which gives me the time I need to check the sex offender registry for our zip code. Gotta run.

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Not my husband’s best work. Still a million times better than what I can do.

*I understand that’s not how same-sex relationships work. My friend and I were just being jacka–ses.

Diary of a road trip

There’s really no way around it: traveling with kids sucks. From all the preparation and planning to the schlepping and supervising, you could compare making a road trip with children to organizing a military campaign. That said, it’s hard to imagine any of history’s great generals — Agrippa, Charlemagne, Bolivar — calling off an advance every five minutes so their soldiers could pee.

After several torturous days on the road over the summer, I vowed not to make any trips with the children for a long time. But my sister recently moved to North Carolina, and I figured a short drive to her place in the mountains would be easy enough to handle.

So. Frickin’. Stupid.

You see, I trusted my GPS, which by now I should know not to do. This device informed me the drive would take one hour and 55 minutes, which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of optimism.

It didn’t turn out as planned:

9:01 a.m.: We pull out of the driveway and head towards the highway. The kids have proclaimed KidzBop lame, which is awesome, so the regular pop station plays.

9:07: A sweet voice from the backseat murmurs something about needing the bathroom. I pretend not to hear it.

9:11: We pull on to Interstate 85, an 8-lane highway I call “Thunderdome” because it is driven exclusively by blindfolded people who believe speed limits are suggestions.

9:13: My son asks me to change the radio station. I tell him I’m not taking my eyes off the road for even a second, so he’d better learn to like easy listening. (I’m sorry, DJs, but you can’t claim to play “only the best music” if your lineup includes “Break My Stride.”)

9:20: My daughter calls from the back seat that she really needs the bathroom.

“Son of a b—ch!” I blurt out as some complete waste of space swerves across the road toward the exit, causing four separate cars to slam on their brakes. My kids erupt in laughter. For the next five minutes they take turns yelling, “Son of a b—ch!” before exploding in delighted giggles all over again.

9:25: My daughter announces she has laughed so hard she has peed a little. Sigh.

9:33: We pull off the highway to use the bathroom, and my daughter changes into one of the many backup outfits I packed for her.

9:50: Back on I-85 I almost miss our exit trying to come up with a plausible interpretation for my son of the song, “Talk Dirty to Me,” one of the better brag-rap-with-a-klezmer-interlude hits on the radio these days.

In the grand tradition of parents everywhere, I lie with abandon.

“He wants to talk about dirt,” I explain to my son.

He is completely comfortable with that explanation.

10:01: My daughter needs to use the restroom — again — so we pull over — again — at a gas station. A line of moms and kids waiting for the bathroom snakes out to the pork rind display. I think I recognize a few from our last stop, but I can’t be sure.

When the guy using the men’s room emerges, my son bolts toward the open door.

“Hey!” I shout, but before I can tell him to check the entitlement, the women in line tell me it’s fine. I am incredulous, as it’s one of those individual restrooms. There would be no men in there. There are no men in line. There is no discernible reason why they wouldn’t make use of it, instead of standing in line for the women’s restroom. I practically shout, “Suckers!” as I drag my daughter in after my son and shut the door.

10:15: Back on the road we encounter a traffic jam and my children learn a new word: “clusterf—k.”

My son asks after the meaning of the song “Hotline Bling.”

“They’re such great friends she can call him up anytime,” I answer. “Even late at night. When she’s all alone. And wants him to come over. And, like, watch TV.”

10:31: The kids settle in to watch movies on their iPads, headphones firmly in place. I slip a book-on-CD — a biography of Al Capone I’ve been desperate to read/hear — into the car stereo.

10:42: My son leans forward and asks me what a “hit” is. Seems he never attached his headphones to his iPad and has been listening along. I switch off the stereo.

10:43: We pull over to use a bathroom. We are now definitely out in the country. The towns are farther apart, each consisting of a depressing and sterile main drag built by the 1980s in brown glass and brick.

I wonder what it would be like to grow up in such a remote place. Would it feel like a refuge or a cage? Would you have an anxious need to escape to the larger world or a desperate desire to hide from it and cling to the familiar?

“Is this a booger?”

My son is thrusting his finger in my face. I squint.

“Yes,” I answer. “Yes it is.”

“Cool,” he says, and PROCEEDS TO TUCK IT BACK IN HIS NOSTRIL.

“What the hell is wrong with you????” I ask.

Inside, the gas station doubles as a general store, selling boiled peanuts, pickled peaches and refrigerator magnets printed with the Lord’s Prayer. You know, in case you want to get your God on while making a sandwich.

11:01: At a traffic light a man in a Nissan Altima chatting on his phone pulls abruptly in front of me, causing me to hit the brakes. My kids’ heads tumble forward and back like overfilled water balloons. A bumper sticker on his car informs me he is a carbon-neutral commuter. I wonder if he’ll work on his d—khead-neutral certification anytime soon.

Another sticker on his car commands me to “Buy Local Art.”

He’s absolutely right. It’s really gauche of the people living in the double wide trailers that line the highway to enrich their collections exclusively on buying jaunts to Paris.

My kids learn another new word: “a—hat.”

11:09: My children ask me to put on their favorite CD, an album by an outrageously talented country music duo named Maddie and Tae. I’m grateful to get away from the radio. As I listen to their songs, I am struck by how brilliant these young women are. They write like bards, play like maestros and sing like angels.

12:15 p.m.: We have now listened to the CD three times. I hate this CD. I want this CD to die.

12:17: We stop to use the bathroom.

Back on the road we switch on the radio and my son asks what “Take Me to Church,” an alterna-emo hit by some Irishman who likely didn’t date much in high school, is about.

“Sweetie, not even the guy who wrote it knows,” I answer.

12:50: We arrive at my sister’s house, just in time to use the bathroom.

And this is where technology once again fails parents. If GPS designers really wanted to be helpful, they would allow you to enter both your destination, plus the number of children you are traveling with and their ages, figuring in bathroom breaks accordingly.

They could call it a G-Pee-S. I would snatch that device up in a heartbeat.

 

road-trip

My little girl done gone country on me at the general store.

SAHMs Club

At a recent dentist appointment, the receptionist smiled kindly when she discovered I was a stay-at-home mom.

“I could never do that,” she said. “I just couldn’t sit around all day.”

The irony that she was, in fact, sitting was apparently lost on her. As was the fact that for a SAHM, getting your teeth scraped is like a fricking trip to the spa.

But I get it. Before I became a member of SAHMs (Stay-At-Home Moms) Club, I too thought life without paid employment would be a breeze.

No more monster bosses or psychotic co-workers. No office politics, boring meetings, deadlines or demanding clients.

Instead, as a mom I would sit at home with my children all day in a euphoric maternal bliss, reading books, sharing cuddles and occasionally baking s—t.

And don’t get me wrong: SAHMhood has those moments. But they tend to be lumped in between unclogging toilets, killing silverfish, sniffing various pieces of furniture  to pinpoint the source of the urine smell and attempting to fix appliances my daughter thought would run better with the help of glue sticks.

I’m not complaining. This was my choice and an option I am lucky to have. Although this idea that all working mothers would be SAHMs if they could afford it is ridiculous. I know many moms who flat out knew they didn’t want to do the stay-at-home thing and more power to them.

I’m only a SAHM because my kids need me to drive them places. Once they hit 16, I’m thinking of getting my own place.

As for this, “It’s the hardest job in the world” riff, I don’t know. Being a parent is hard, full stop. Staying at home with your kids doesn’t somehow up the ante. The most challenging parts of having kids — the sleepless nights, the constant concern, the anxiety over whether you’re getting it wrong — are there whether you escape to an office every day or not.

And “escape” is probably the wrong word. It’s not really escaping if you’re heading to a job. Unless you are whooping it up with three-martini lunches. In that case I want in.

But just as working parents are actually working, so are SAHMs. I laugh at the term “ladies who lunch” because I hardly ever eat sitting down, let alone in a restaurant. (Also because it sounds vaguely dirty. Amiright?) If you have the time to take a mid-day meal that lasts long enough to become a verb, then you are obviously one of those SAHMs who gets a lot of help around the house, so, you know, f—k you.

Even if most people get that taking care of kids is work, they assume that the days when they are in school are somehow days “off.” I’m not sure why, as I get a grand total of four hours between dropping off the second kid and picking up the first.

I know what working parents are thinking: DO YOU KNOW WHAT I COULD GET DONE WITH FOUR HOURS? The answer is yes, because that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The SAHM of school-age children is like a well-oiled machine, primed to attack a list of chores with the speed and determination of a puma, racing against the clock because she knows there’s no way she’ll be able to scrub cat poop off the shower tiles once her kids get home because she’ll be too busy refereeing a fight over a crayon that’s really not about the crayon but about her offspring’s need for reassurance that she loves them equally even though she has at various times considered listing them both on eBay.

Occasionally I have an abbreviated lunch with a friend. I diligently go to the gym every month. But for the most part my day is spent checking off a to-do list that includes scraping boogers off the couch and killing the roach I promised my son I would capture and rehabilitate so he could keep it as a pet and call it “Cocky.” (“Cocky already had a family,” I’ll explain later, having flushed the f—ker down the toilet.)

And while it’s not easy, I think it’s easier than having to get all those things done and handling the stress of paid employment. Maybe when I’m less sleep deprived the challenge of holding down the home front and dealing with a crazy boss won’t seem so difficult. I doubt it.

What I don’t get is why people think it is such a glamorous position. I never once went the office with peanut butter on my clothes, something I can’t say about my life as a SAHM.

But I’ve decided not to fight the stereotype of the pampered SAHM. Instead I’m going to play up to it, making loud announcements in public such as “I’ve been sleeping until noon every single day and I’m still tired!” or “Now that I get my bon-bons delivered, I no longer have to DVR ‘Days of Our Lives’ while I run to the store!”

Ha-ha! If only. The cat just puked. Gotta go.

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What people think my life as a SAHM looks like. (Photo by Rebekah LaCount, http://www.rebekahlacountphotography.com.)
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What my life as a SAHM actually looks like: the ill-fated Cocky. (Crappy photo by me.)

Like white on ice

Until recently we haven’t been able to make the sort of outings most families take for granted. Dietary restrictions have made eating out impractical, and sensory overload has ruled out activities such as bowling or fairs.

So when we made our first successful trip to the movies over the summer, I almost cried. This was in part because my children could finally enjoy a normal pleasure of modern childhood and in part because the movie was just awful. The way people rave about children’s movies, I assumed they were all really great. As I sat in the darkened theater watching cartoon characters try to out-hyper each other for laughs, I realized reviewers must have been speaking comparatively. As in, “Wow, unlike that severely irritating piece of crap I went to see last month, ‘Finding Dory’ was good enough that I didn’t want to blind myself with a plastic straw!

It was also interesting to find out that a local church holds its services at that movie theater, a revelation that prompted so many questions. Do they keep the concession stands open? Does the pastor say things like, “If you can feel Jesus in this climate-controlled, stadium-style theater, raise your delicious 64-ounce beverage in the air and say, ‘Amen!’”?

When I found out Disney on Ice was coming to Charlotte, I thought this would be a chance for us to try another fun, “normal” outing. My children were excited because anything Disney makes them happy, although they didn’t understand how a story could be told through skating. (They weren’t wrong.)

So we left our little suburban enclave and headed into the city, where the lobby of the sports arena had been transformed into a copyright extravaganza. Everywhere vendors hawked Disney dolls, shirts, light up wands, glow sticks and — I kid you not — $15 snow cones. We settled for the cheapest item on offer, popcorn, which was so salty I could only eat an entire box.

The show itself was just, well, bizarre.

It started with a group of manic-looking, fresh-scrubbed young skaters warming up the crowd, wearing what I suppose would be considered hip hop clothes, dancing hip hop moves, striking hip hop poses. We’re urban and super cool! seemed to be the message. In a completely non-threatening way!

Next a cheerleading squad skated onto the ice, their costumes garish, their hair styles exaggerated. The one African American skater in the cast wore an enormous afro wig.

This led into a skit about a little girl who played hockey or something, I wasn’t really paying attention because I was trying to shake the last of the popcorn out of my box. There was something about how the little girl might let down her team, which logically led into a brief reenactment of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Okay.

“This is boring,” my daughter proclaimed.

She was right and wrong. I mean, there was no plot whatsoever, and the segues between scenes were patchy, but ice shows have really upped their entertainment ante. Ariel went arial, spinning high above the ice, and Merida let fly a pyrotechnic arrow, which pleased my Scottish husband no end.

I spent the whole first half trying to sell the show to my daughter (“Holy crap, it’s Cinderella!”), but it was no use. Following the Dadaesque first act finale, during which the hockey girl suddenly reappeared and scored a goal while the Disney princesses skated to “We Could Be Heroes,” we made the group decision to leave.

Shedding the layers that had kept us warm in the arena, we emerged into the 87-degree Carolina sunshine. My children love being in the city. Even though we live only a few minutes from downtown, we are worlds away from the bustling crowds and buildings that reach to the sky.

We took our time walking back to the car, my son naming all the hotel brands (his latest obsession) we passed.

“That’s the Hyatt,” he said, “and there’s a Hampton Inn. The Embassy Suites is new.”

Not a block from the arena we came upon the boarded up doors and windows of a building. We had seen a bit of this on the drive into the city, damage left over from the riots that had erupted in Charlotte the week before, when police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, an African American man.

Although news outlets from around the world had descended on Charlotte to cover both the peaceful protests and the violent outbursts that followed, to us, the events seemed remote. When relatives called asking about the riots, I would glance out my window at blue skies and green lawns, the loudest sound made by the weed whacker of a neighbor’s lawn guy.

As I stood in front of the boarded facade, I was mesmerized by the murals someone, or more likely, a group of people, had painted. There were mini black-and-white portraits, and a life-sized weeping angel. Messages such as “Show up for peace” and “Vision without action is merely a dream” were painted across bright backgrounds.

On the corner by the murals, a police officer on a motorcycle blocked off one of the city’s main roads. The motorcade of someone important was about to pass, so we waited in the hot sunshine along with lines of cars on either side of the road.

“Who is it?” my son asked.

“Someone famous,” I answered.

“Taylor Swift???” he asked and his sister gasped.

A quick smartphone search revealed it was Hillary Clinton, making good on a campaign stop she had postponed the weekend before at the request of Charlotte’s mayor because of the riots.

Presidential candidates don’t travel light, and we watched as black SUV followed black SUV down the road, tailed by white staff vans. Once they had passed, the police officers rode off on their motorcycles, motorists started their cars, and we started walking back toward the parking garage.

The show was over.

I wish this piece offered some sort of resolution about the police shooting here in Charlotte. It doesn’t. It’s merely an observation about the many worlds we live in in this country. I’m sharing photos I took of the murals because I found them powerful and compelling:

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Why DWP (Driving While a Parent) should be, like, a thing

Don’t text and drive. Don’t drink and drive. Hell, in some places they warn you having a cold can affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Why, then, is it legal to drive as a parent?

You want to talk impaired state of judgment? I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since 2008. I ate half a granola bar and slammed a Diet Coke for breakfast. While driving. My wits are so dull I often can’t pick the correct “mouseketool” on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. (“Could a glue stick help us reach the highest shelf?” HOW THE F–K SHOULD I KNOW, MICKEY? Do I look like a, um, you know, an astro-physical engineer to you?)

You want to talk distraction? I have two champion talkers in the back seat. The questions, taunting and arguments would throw Earnhardt off his game. Think it’s easy trying to navigate rush hour on the highway with one child belting “Let It Go” in your ear while screaming at the other one, “Put your penis away NOW!!!”?

I may not talk on the phone or text while driving. But I have done everything short of prepare a three-course meal while piloting that two-ton death machine. I can pour juice into cups clutched between my knees, shoot the correct lunch to each child over my shoulder and dutifully accept handfuls of chewed food that have been returned to sender, all while making a three-point turn and digging for change because a toll is coming up.

The fact that I am chauffeuring around the two most precious beings in my entire existence makes me, shall we say, hyper aware of how crappily some people choose to operate their cars.

This doesn’t make me a safer driver, just a really angry one. I have such bad road rage my children think our car is voice activated. Now that they’re old enough to repeat after me, I have the added distraction of trying to mumble my expletives instead of shouting them at the top of my lungs.

Not that it works.

“Did you see another dipshit, Mommy?” my son innocently asked the other day, after I quietly cursed a flaming scrotal sack who had just cut across three lanes of traffic to keep an urgent appointment at the Kwik-E-Mart.

Of course, DWP will never become a prosecutable offense. Like it or not, parents have to get places and if we had to wait for the day they were well-rested and recharged enough to operate a motor vehicle, it would never come.

This doesn’t mean I’m not tempted some days to flag down a cop and beg her/him to take me in. Because I hear they have beds in jail. But no children.

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No, that Star Wars stuff doesn’t belong to my husband

Another day, another visitor to the house asking, “Is your husband a big Star Wars fan?”

Nope. The “May the Force Be With You” throw pillows, Darth Vader soap dispenser and framed print of Calvin and Hobbes dressed as Han and Chewbacca are all mine, baby.

Not that I blame people for thinking I “let” my husband put “his things” around the house. Although females seem well into the Star Wars franchise these days, people tend to think of the die-hard fans of yesteryear being male.

To an extent, I get it. There were hardly any women in the originals, and the fight scenes did involve men waving giant phallic symbols at each other.

But the original Star Wars movies also had everything a girl growing up in the 70s/80s could want.

Imagine, if you can, how it felt for a child (me) who’d only seen women in TV and the movies look hot and acquiesce, watch Princess Leia blast a hole in the wall and shout “Somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy!”

Holy f*&$#@g crap DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?

Apart from Daisy Duke, who, let’s face it, was T and A with a CB handle, and Jem, who was truly outrageous, the women I saw on TV and in the movies were heavily made up b-words who spent more time fighting each other than the actual evil in their midst.

Not Leia. She went toe-to-toe with the frickin’ Darth, a guy so huge he could have crushed her like an empty Capri Sun pouch. While Joan Collins and Linda Evans were flinging actual mud at each other on Dynasty, Leia was trading jabs with Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin  (“I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board” — hell yeah, girl!).

She was more like the women I knew in real life: fierce, tough and not dripping spackle from her face. She also always maintained her composure. (Well, except for when she told Tarkin the rebel base was on Dantooine and that snarky SOB still demonstrated the Death Star’s might by blowing Alderaan to pieces. But her reaction was completely understandable. I mean, it was her home planet and that explosion caused such a disturbance in the Force, what with all the millions of voices crying out in terror and then suddenly getting silenced and everything, who wouldn’t have lost their s—t? I mean, come on.)

But Leia wasn’t the only character to love. How could you not warm to Luke, the whiny little blue-milk-drinking dork who ended up getting wise and jacked and saving the whole freaking universe. Or Chewbacca, so tough and hairy on the outside yet so tender and generous on the inside. Yeah, Obi Wan was kind of a kill joy and Han could be such an a-hole at times, but you eventually came to love them.

And it’s not just the characters. Those films featured some of the best music ever written, some of the most exciting story lines ever conceived, and hands down the best shots of an exploding space station ever recorded.

You didn’t watch those films, you lived in them. From the minute the opening track played you were transported to a world beyond the stars where, even if things weren’t always fair, they made sense.

You didn’t have to feel guilty for hating the bad guys, they didn’t even have faces. Or they were British.

The underdogs were actual dogs. Or bears. Or whatever the hell the Ewoks were supposed to be.

Princesses were spies, farm boys were warriors. You went from the breathtaking vistas of the desert in the first film, to a snowy tundra in the second, to a redwood forest in the third.

Why would any of this appeal only to boys?

I think the stereotype of a nerdy man reliving his childhood fantasies through his action figure collection is a handy one for people to throw around. For me, having a touch of a galaxy far, far away around me is a comfort, and a bit of harmless fun.

My husband, not so much. He’s never seen Star Wars. He thinks the movies look dumb and feels I’m tremendously lame for loving them so much. That’s okay, because he watches UFC, which is, by actual laws of the universe, lame, because it features grown men sticking their heads in each other’s groins and crying.

So, next time you are tempted to think of Star Wars as a “boys’ toys” franchise, keep in mind that, as three of the most incredible films ever made, they have something for everyone, even the ladies.* Especially the ladies when you consider the good looks and smooth lines of Lando Calrissian, a CCAILF (Cloud City Administrator I’d Like To, um, Friend) if there ever was one.

*Yes, three. The prequels are an abomination. The Forces Awakens is okay.

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The other “c” word

Sometimes, it can be really helpful to talk about your problems.

My husband recently discussed our daughter’s cancer with the gas company and wouldn’t you know it, the next day a crew came out and fixed the gaping hole they had left in our yard a year ago. Never mind that they should have fixed it anyway or that they had been promising to for months. Tragedy got the ball rolling when nothing else worked.

Although effective, his strategy did cause some confusion when I asked how he had changed the company rep’s mind.

“I used the ‘c’ word,” he said.

I stared at him.

“You called her a c—-t?” I asked.

His eyes went wide.

“I told her our daughter has cancer.”

Oh, yeah. That “c” word.

Three years ago, our daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 18 months. A type of pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma either grows aggressively or just lingers, sometimes taking years before it dies off on its own. The doctors are hopeful our Charlie has the latter. Already she has endured 12 rounds of intensive chemotherapy, six rounds of less intensive chemo and six surgeries. She is now off treatment and the tumors aren’t growing. As a family we’ll be holding our breath for a few years but as far as having your child get cancer goes, we are the lucky ones. (Don’t tell the gas company, though. They owe us.)

Please understand, I am not trying to make light of this disease or anyone’s struggle with it. It’s just that I’ve had a long time to deal with this, and crying inconsolably on the floor curled in a fetal position gets old after a few weeks. I’m also aware that any time I talk about Charlie’s cancer, I’m really only telling part of the story. She is the one who has been fighting this and one day she’ll be able to tell the story herself, no doubt much better than I can. But for right now, I’m the one who can type and the only perspective I can share is my own.

In the beginning, I didn’t want to talk about it. Talking about it made it real and I didn’t want it to be real. It was easier to tell a few friends and family members and have them relay the news to those who needed to know.

Once she started treatment, her condition was obvious to all but the criminally stupid. She lost her hair and was painfully skinny. Of course, logic is no impediment to some, such as the old man smoking a cigarette in front of her doctor’s office who reprimanded me for her appearance.

“Why would you shave that poor child’s head?” he demanded.

I looked pointedly at the sign behind his head that read “Pediatric Oncology and Hematology.” Nothing. Tempted to say, “She lost a bet,” I instead explained in small words what should have been obvious. (Why, you might ask, would anyone smoke in front of a children’s cancer clinic? Sadly, her doctors share a building with cardiothoracic surgeons, so it’s not unusual for the pediatric patients to run a gauntlet of carcinogenic smoke to get to treatment. Whoever came up with that brilliant office sharing arrangement should be shot.)

But if I was out without her and saw people who didn’t already know, I wouldn’t tell them. It just seemed like an awkward thing to bring up in, say, the aisles of the Food Lion. (“Jack just started transitional kindergarten and Charlie is battling cancer. OMG, is that the new Hamburger Helper?”) The few times I did share the news were — bad. People got upset, understandably, and I felt lousy for ruining their day. Also, once people know they feel inconsiderate talking to you about anything else. Trust me, sometimes you really want to talk about something else. Anything else.

But once she was through the worst of her treatment and the tumors had stopped growing, it became easier to talk about her condition. Perhaps it was because I didn’t feel the need to escape it as much myself, and it’s easier to share good news than it is to punch people in the gut with tragedy.

Also, I am proud of her.

I shy away from the term “cancer survivor.” For one thing, she’s not in remission, but also it seems like an insult to those who have passed away from the disease. There were many amazing children she met during her treatment — Gabby, Carter, Pieter, Miranda — who were just as fierce in their struggle and endured more in their tender years than any human being should in a lifetime. They didn’t lose their fight against cancer. The treatment stopped working. The cancer found a new way to grow. Unfortunately, cancer is a powerful, indiscriminate dick — it wouldn’t pick on children otherwise — and has an enormous capacity to change the rules and overcome whatever is thrown at it. These children didn’t lose their struggle any more than Charlie won hers. She simply got lucky.

And yet…

…and yet that child put up the fight of a lifetime. Before she could even take her first steps she had been pumped full of poison and poked with needles and sliced open in three different places. She endured weeks of confinement to a hospital bed when she should have been learning to walk, vomited for hours when she should have been figuring out her favorite foods.There were times when I looked at her and felt like saying, “It’s okay if you want to give up. I don’t want you to, but I would understand.” But this baby, this child in diapers who slept with her fingers entwined in my hair every night and cried when the end credits rolled on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” found some way to keep going.

You better be damn straight I am proud of her.

Sharing her condition also helps explain her developmental delays. Although she has recovered physically from the chemo and is the size of a strapping 5-year-old, developmentally she is somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3. Or, in the words of a little turd at her ballet school, “She talks funny. She’s wearing a diaper!” (“You talk funny!” I wanted to shout. “And your mother is an alcoholic whore!” Instead I chirped, “She’s just catching up!”)

There are times when I would like to talk about it even more. For example, those instances when she’s throwing a tantrum on the floor at Target — she is mentally a 2-year-old, after all, and 2-year-olds excel at tantrums — and I get the stink eye from some old bat who forgets what it’s like to be a parent. In those moments I would love nothing more than to shout: “She has cancer! What’s your excuse for being socially awkward?” And then maybe spit on the floor. I don’t know, that feels inappropriate. I could probably get over it, though.

But it was only recently that I discovered the best use for sharing her story.

Even though I can be private about some things — say, my child getting treated for cancer — for some reason complete strangers feel free to tell me things they really, really shouldn’t.

“I always wanted kids,” said the cashier at the Container Store to me one day, for no apparent reason. “But my first husband didn’t want them and then my second husband, well we tried and tried and then it turned out he was sterile.”

Um, I’ll just take my receipt. Please?

I am convinced it has to do with my red hair. When you are a redhead, you always remind people of someone they know. (Ugh, and it’s always the ex-wives. Ginger ladies, please, stop getting divorced so much, I’m begging you.) As a result, they are always taking small talk to places it just doesn’t belong when you are around.

But now I have a wonderfully powerful weapon against that, which I only realized on a recent outing to TCBY with Charlie.

We had barely taken our seats when the bearded youngster behind the counter started talking.

“I almost didn’t make it to work today,” he said.

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“Yeah, it was really bad,” he continued. “It was, like, emergency bad.”

I cringed.

“My girlfriend was bleeding everywhere?”

Stop.

“And we thought she might be having a miscarriage?”

It.

“We had to go to the hospital and everything.”

Right.

“We really want this baby, which surprises everyone because we are so young.”

Now.

“I’m really sorry,” I said and don’t get me wrong, I was sorry. It just seemed like there might have been someone more appropriate for him to talk to about this. Someone who knew his first name, for example.

He nodded.

“We won’t find out until Monday whether she lost the baby.”

And then it hit me: fire with fire.

I turned to him and pointed at Charlie.

“She has cancer.”

He stared. Silence ensued. A cricket rode past on a tumbleweed  and I went back to eating frozen yogurt with my daughter.

Yes, talking about your problems can be pretty helpful indeed.

 

This post originally ran a year ago. I am rerunning it now to mark the one-year anniversary of my attempts at blogging. Many thanks for everyone’s kindness and support.

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