Storm clouds are female.

Nothing is fair when you’re seven and everyone else has things better than you. At least, that’s what our resident 7 year old [Spunky] would claim is true. I don’t know at what point her life became so unbearable, but somewhere along the line, life yanked her pig-tails, kicked her shins and swiped her cookies.

It isn’t uncommon to witness her sporadic crying. Her eyes will be red and swollen and her face will get scrunched up like a withering fig. Strong emotions have siezed her petite body and are now present at every part of our lives. One moment she may be happily playing with Legos or Barbies and at the very next interaction with a sibling, she comes nearly unglued.

“Nobody (hiccup) is giving me any love todaaay,” she sobs. In a torrent of misery, tears slide down her cheeks in a mix of dirt and dejection.

Life is filled with all sorts of injustice when you’re seven.
Being seven is just…the worst.

Most often, strong emotions come flooding into Spunky’s tiny frame when accompanied by what she considers to be Bad News. In Spunky’s world, “Bad News” would include things like bedtime, mustard, a lost puzzle piece, or Huevos Rancheros.

Without warning, we can be subjected to the doleful sounds of crying and high-pitched sniveling. “Nobody will play with me,” her sad voice says frequently. Or at other times, “Somebody put mustard on my sandwich ON PURPOSE. Everyone KNOWS I hate mustard.” This is followed by quivering lip-whimpers as her hot tears trickle down to her folded arms.

I may not claim to know much about parenting, but I do know this: after a girl turns five, her body is hijacked by an emotional rollercoaster that she will keep riding for the rest of her life. Forever. The End.

In contrast to the extreme emotional “lows” that come with the travesty of being served a dinner of fried tortillas topped with meat and eggs, there’s a large amount of happy squealing that erupts from Spunky’s emotional volcano. The bountiful happy moments are filled with her giggling laughter; a melodious sound that flits across the room with fairies and silver bells.

The next moment is filled with weeping because it’s time to brush her hair.

Being a woman myself, I should be somewhat used to weathering the storms of emotional onslaught, but as far as I know, I have yet to cry over the wrong brand of peanut butter, or whether or not I can find my shoes. This week anyway.

Apparently having a large personality crammed into such a tiny body causes some leaks, and some of that feisty personality oozes out. Seven-year-old angst appears at very random moments.

Nearly every night we get to see some of that spirited persona as Spunky treks down to the living room long after bedtime and loudly announces that she’s most certainly not tired.

“Ooooh, You’re watching House Hunters? Why would you watch that without me?” She asks.

“We watch tv every night without you,” I say to her, “and it’s a tradition we believe in keeping. Back to bed.” 

Her eyes flit over to the bowl of “Chex Mix” Mr.Diaz and I are snacking on. Of course we wouldn’t dream of offering any to her because

1) after 8pm, I turn into the meanest mother alive and

2) Couch Eating in the dark of night without children is another tradition we believe in keeping.

“Don’t worry mom, I’m not hungry, so I won’t ask you for any,” she says while staring longingly at the bowl. This is followed by a demure and innocent smile.

“Ok good, because you can’t have any,” responds Mr. Diaz. “Back up to bed.” 

With a sigh of disappointment and a crestfallen face, poor Spunky slumps over and plods back up the stairs to her room and her unwanted mattress. Thump, thump, thump, her small feet slowly and loudly hit the stairs.

I can’t blame her for her reaction. When you’re seven, bedtime is the most undeserved penalty of all, especially when you’re denied a delicious and highly processed pretzel mix at 10pm.

Despite the blustering gales that blow the emotional pendulum from side to side, having Spunky around makes my life zesty. In fact, she’s my favorite. Without a fiery seven year old around, life would be rather boring.

Then the pitiful sounds of soft singing drift down the stairs, “I never get ANYTHING…” and her father and I exchange looks. It’s time to take cover.

A storm is brewing.

 

This post is also located at: http://www.momresource.com/mom-blogs-party-week-10/ 

Crap Fairy Tales

Spring cleaning is downright frightening around here despite the superpowers of my alter ego, Crap Fairy. Frankly, I’d rather avoid it, but no matter how I slice it, the deep cleaning must be done.

During cleaning season, Crap Fairy sets aside the regular Modus Operandi of sneaking around secretly in the dead of night to commit grim acts of junk-removal and instead, starts viciously attacking crap in broad daylight. This is a dangerous move, I will admit, and I make sure Crap Fairy works hard not to get caught. Because getting caught mid-crap-theft by a preschooler leads to nothing but a fresh form of Perdition that I’d rather not discuss.

Realizing it couldn’t be put off any longer, last week Crap Fairy donned her wings and summoned up her partner in grime. Mr. Diaz acquired some rubber gloves along with multiple garbage bags and we headed out to conquer the large piles of crud that had built up in hidden places of the house over the winter.

You never can tell what has been hiding in the black hole under large pieces of furniture. It could be nothing. Or it could be noxious gas from a half-eaten jelly donut stuffed into a sweat sock that, once unearthed, lets off a smell that could dropkick a llama. We went in prepared for either. With gloves, goggles, brooms and makeshift hazmat suits, we took our stance and readied for battle.

And so it began.

The crusade against crap.

Protectively, Mr. Diaz gripped the broom and pushed me behind him. He slowly got down on hands and knees to peer into the deadly black chasm known as “beneath the couch.” Methodically he swept several piles into the middle of the floor, where we stood back to gawk at them.

“Death on a wheel,” He cried, “What is all this crap?” He had to take off his gas mask to ask this, or he would have sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Whaan-wan-wha-whan-wahnnn-whan.

We had dislodged several dissected Lego people -brutally dismembered by the pudgy hands of a toddler- a broken stapler, a semi-dried apple that bore a remarkable resemblance to a shrunken head and 3 sippy cups ROLLING ON THEIR OWN from chemical gases caused by bacteria-laden fermented juice.

There were multiple discolored plastic balls, an entire petrified waffle that had to be carefully excavated and examined by a team of archaeologists, 4 mismatched batteries, chewed-up popsicle sticks, a manila envelope filled with toilet paper and lettuce, along with half a pound of dirt.

We unearthed a bottle of dried Tabasco sauce, an unopened box of camouflaged bandaids, OJ’s black leather glove and enough hair to weave a Bieber-inspired toupee for Bruce Willis. Not that Bruce would ever want a second-hand wig weaved from crud infested hair. But if he does, I could hook him up.

Several Sunday school name tags stuck to the back of the loveseat silently proclaiming ownership of a stash of stolen goods. There was a busted Wii remote, the crusted guts of a cantaloupe rotting in a dixie cup, 2 paper dollars of Monopoly money, a few half eaten UNO cards, disfigured paper clips, a red poker chip, 4 dice, a roulette wheel and a small black book containing betting records and code names of an illegal toddler gambling ring.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve always thought my children were bright. But clearly it’s less than brilliant to slap your own Sunday school name tag across the black notepad being used to record unlawful betting as an infant bookie.

The entire morning went like this as we delved deep into the belly buttons of the house, sleuthing for prime Crap Fairy plunder and excavating stacks of dusty rubbish.

Crud. Crust. Carburetors. Crepes.

Trash bags were filled and the furniture repositioned. Young children stood locked-out on the back porch foaming and frothing at the mouth, wailing about their hoard of treasures being discovered and discarded. We smiled and waved and kept shoveling.

By the afternoon we moved on to the garage where we ransacked our own space from floor to ceiling the way gang members dismantle a loaded hot-rod. All our junk was hauled out and piled disorderly into the driveway, like a giant Red-nex-ican Garage Fail.

Neighbors pointed and sneered. Dog-walkers snickered. The mailman hid his eyes.

“Look Marty, the Diazes are having a garage sale for all of their trash!” Bertha said loudly to her Chinese crested rat dog as she walked to the mailbox.

Right. If a garage sale was hosted by vandals in hazmat suits.

We worked tirelessly through the day. The junk was sorted and hauled to Crap Fairy Land. Everything was wiped clean and reorganized. The house and garage were once again breathable and fresh. I snapped off my rubber gloves and goggles and looked around at our hard work. Mr. Diaz breathed a sigh of relief, which also happened to be his first deep breath since removing his gas mask.

And that brings us to the end of this story.

This Crap Fairy Tale has a particularly good ending, monetarily speaking, because I opened an Etsy account to sell Bieber-inspired wigs laboriously crocheted from davenport hairballs.

And business is good.

 

This post is also located at: Mom Resource Blog Party

The day we brought a circus to Ikea

Every two years we load up the van, hit the road and trek an hour away to our closest Ikea store. We do this for two reasons:

Number one, we can only afford to shop there every other year because it’s easy to drop $800 in one shot. Two, it’s not exactly a quick trip to get there, especially with loading and unloading a family of nine. Three, (I lied, there are actually three reasons) every other year “Crap Fairy” runs out of crap to haul out to the dumpster in the dead of night, so we head down to buy more cheap junk. This keeps Crap Fairy in business, and in this economy, I believe I deserve credit from Obama for creating jobs.

But this year we had an entirely different motivation. We needed mattresses.

After the recent bout of flu that hit us, it was the final push to purge the crummy mattresses we owned and replace them with new ones. This wasn’t hard to do, since the mattresses my kids have been using were hand-me-downs and over the years have encountered multiple nighttime accidents, various blood and guts and recently, several gallons of vomit.

We also needed another bunk-bed for the two youngest boys who are moving out of babyhood and into big-boy-beds.

So with all those reasons, Crap Fairy wrote a list of future crap she wanted to toss out and we headed south.

We unloaded the family and spent 20 minutes schlepping children on and off the public toilets and scrubbing everyone’s hands to death with soapy water. Then we lined everyone up at the starting gates. Arriving a bit early, we were roped into a small space among several European bedroom displays, along with 36 other people who were waiting for the store to officially open. We stood with our three shopping carts full of miniature humans, plus one stroller, while 72 eyeballs sneakily stared at us. Everyone stood quietly. Which was perfect, because our 12 year old daughter (who happened to be manning the stroller) took those quiet moments to loudly say things like “Oooh, that bedroom is soooo prettyyyyy! And clean! Oh, wow! Ohhhh! Look over there at that room, mom. It’s sooooo clean,” because apparently she’s never seen a clean, well designed room of any sort in all twelve years of her life.

She was nearly giddy- “Dad, LOOK at that bedroom! Wouldn’t you like a bedroom just like that? Imagine if you had NO KIDS! If you had NO KIDS you and mom would actually have a reaaaally nice house. Just imagine, Mom, you could relax in a beautiful bedroom and all your stuff would be super nice and organized. You and dad would be totally alone!  Nobody would ever bother you!” – which was followed by a few choking-coughs and quiet guffaws from fellow sardines packed in next to us.

Because who doesn’t love hearing the oldest daughter of seven asking her bedraggled parents to imagine life with no kids.

Finally the Angel of Mercy came and opened the small yellow chain that held back the Ikea cattle/shoppers and let us onto the store path.

Our first stop was MATTRESSES, where each child became permeated with desire to try out every single bed in sight. But I forbade them to leave their respective carts or strollers and they sat there hollering out pre-school curse words over the injustice.

Mr. Diaz wasn’t entirely convinced about the comfort of the thin Ikea bunk-bed mattresses, so he took it upon himself to remove mattresses from the display beds, throw them on the middle of the floor and force each of the older children to lay on them. Which wasn’t Red-nex-ican at all. Nah. It was entirely classy, and nobody stared at us while pointing and snickering. And if you can believe that, I have a Red-nex-ican bridge to sell you.

Eventually we strolled our loud, mobile carnival over to the Ikea cafeteria where we gave the overworked college student behind the prison buffet glass quite a shock when we announced we’d be needing 7 FREE Swedish-meatball-meals, plus two regular ones. Kids eat free on Tuesdays, which almost makes up for the $800 we spend on knick-knacks and gasoline, and we are certainly going to take advantage of those 2,450 FREE calories.

A lady with just one baby tried not to gawk as we seated our family around a jumbo cafeteria table. I caught her sneak-staring at us, and I’m fairly certain she pretended to text with her phone while actually taking photos of us. Right off I noticed she was well put-together; with make-up done nicely, a cute outfit, stylish hair cut and ONE sweet baby who was dressed immaculately. I’ve been there. Back when I only had one child to manage. Back when I only had one child to manage and the very thought of having more than one cherub was enough to make me sweat blood. I’m sure we were more than mildly amusing, and I figure all the attention is just preparing us for our future reality TV show. I would have offered to sign an autograph but I was too busy wiping small faces and trying to convince several young boys that free meatballs aren’t billiard balls and that forks aren’t pool cues.

Fifty-six minutes and half a mile later, it was on to the warehouse portion of the store where you collect all the larger items you wish to purchase. We stacked up six mattresses, a disassembled metal bunk-bed frame and various other things onto a flat dolly cart that nobody seemed able to manage. This is the exact same cart that the petite seven year old insisted she could push on her own, with zero interference. “It’s not workinggggg,” she whined loudly down the aisle, “I can’t control the wheeeeeeels. The front keeps spinning. NO, GO AWAY! DON’T HELP ME! I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” I caught the astonished looks of passerbys as we maneuvered our (now very loud) family of nine  -complete with 5 overloaded contraptions on wheels- through the remainder of the store, in and out of the check-out desk and off toward the loading zone.

Of course, as luck would have it, we strolled past a “last chance” food stand where Ikea expertly markets ice cream cones to weary parents and screaming pre-schoolers. This cruel marketing ploy meant we had to buy 8 soft serve ice-cream cones just to get out of the store. One man stopped mid-lick of his cone and stared at us as we passed through the exit doors. I’d like to think it was because we are just so sweet and good looking. But my better sense tells me that it was because one kid was flop-tantruming over the side of the cart while wailing at the top of his lungs. He did the wailing flop because Mr. Diaz, realizing the 4 year old could never finish an entire ice cream cone before entering the van, bent over and devoured half of it in one fell swoop. Apparently, said 4 year old was scarred for life and now has a reason to see a therapist as an adult.

After skillfully packing all the new purchases and 9 people into our giant party wagon, we were off toward home while youngsters drowsily slipped into sugar comas; vanilla ice-cream drool drying on their chins like slug trails.

All said and done, we made it home with 6 bed mattresses, a bunk bed, 2 pop-out circus tents, a clock, 2 “road” play mats, several rolls of craft paper, batteries, dish rags, a large candle lantern, 3 wicker baskets, colored drinking straws, fluorescent plastic silverware, a green spatula and several chocolate milk stains.

I didn’t end up signing any autographs. (Unless, of course, you include the receipt I signed for an amount that could rival the commerce of a small nation.) And since I realize I’m not likely to get a reality TV show, I’d better just stick to keeping Crap Fairy employed, which is easier now that the kids are sleeping peacefully in brand new beds.

Crap fairy is on the move.

 

*This post has been featured on For Every Mom

 

 

That ain’t a puddle you want to jump in.

The entire career of Motherhood is broken down into two parts. 75% of motherhood is yelling instructions to children through a closed bathroom door. The other 25% is exchanging bodily-fluid horror stories with anyone else who has ever parented for more than 45  minutes.

Dealing with disgusting bodily functions quickly becomes a topic of interest wherever more than one mother is gathered. In fact, it becomes a BADGE OF HONOR, when you win the gags and open mouthed stares of other moms after exchanging fluid-filled horror stories. Every mom knows this. It’s a competition.

You would not believe what came out in Everly’s diaper,” comments Jessica at her park date. “I found a small pinecone, a medium-sized stuffed buffalo, a jade earring and a zipper.”

“Oh, you don’t even want to KNOW what happened when Lilith and Crispin had the flu last week,” responds Amanda. “Let’s just say that we are replacing the carpet and the wallpaper in the entire second story of our house. And then we had to pour gasoline on an armchair and ignite it on the lawn.” 

“I can top that,” says Lauren. “Brighton had a bloody nose, diarrhea, vomit, snot, and pee, and then he took off his diaper and finger-painted with all of it on the dining room floor. During dinner. While my husband’s boss was visiting.”

In light of that disgusting revelation, with gawks and stares and solemn looks, the moms concede defeat and pass Lauren the blue ribbon. A moment of silence follows while the ‘losers’ silently thank God they haven’t had the privilege of the same experience. Yet.

That’s the way it works. Motherhood is the quiet proclamation of everything that has ever been disgusting. And here is where I will make my own quiet proclamation. I deserve the blue ribbon for awhile, folks.

One moment, I was sleeping peacefully in my warm bed, the next moment I was schlepping sheets, bedding and pajamas down to the wash after my toddler’s entire load of guts exploded in his crib. All day long he continued to vomit, much to my dismay and silent cries of protest.

The next day I was praying that maybe, just maybe, this illness wouldn’t spread. It was not meant to be. Not long afterward, while I was knee deep in the baby’s diarrhea, my oldest son sprinted into the room and excitedly informed me that the 7 year old was actively spewing her stomach contents all over her bed. “It’s all over her hair mom!” He said with excited amusement, “And she just keeps going!”  I’m sad to say he wasn’t lying. There she was, sprawled out on her top bunk, covered in sickness, less than a foot away from the garbage bag she was instructed to use.

This is probably the perfect place to mention that there were no sheets on her bed. No mattress pad. Just a craptastic puddle of vomit in the middle of a bare naked mattress, which soaked up every bit of fluid like a sponge. The lone pillow that had been on her bed, was gathered into the (dry) garbage bag and hauled out to the dumpster.

By the next night, I was flat out exhausted. The laundry had been piled high, the dirty dishes were having secret rendezvous and breeding on the counter-tops and the house was a general wreck. I drank  two cups of chamomile tea, moved the baby to her very own room for the night and remarked that I was so happy to go to bed and get a full night’s sleep.

As I was blissfully dreaming about dark chocolate cupcakes, bubble baths and library books, Oldest entered my room at 1:47 am, hovered over my relaxed body and said, “Mom. MOM, [Tough Guy] just threw up all over his bed.” 

Of course he did.

Inebriated from the effects of strong chamomile and sleep deprivation, I staggered in the darkness down the hall and managed to clean-up the pathetic, puking dude and move him onto a pile of towels on my floor next to my bed. It wasn’t long before he was at it again.

I held his small shaking body as he horked up two vacuum cleaners, a cotton gin, lavender sweat socks, three broken kazoos, a smoke alarm and a rubber boot. Then, coughing, he finally laid back down on his towel and fell asleep.

For exactly an hour.

And then we repeated the entire process all over again, all night long.

Despite the torment of the week, there are still several pieces of good news:
This particular tummy virus only lasted around 24 hours per person, which is still nine long days of perdition, but better than a virus that lasts several days.
My husband slept soundly in a warm bed through all the bouts of nighttime illness, and I didn’t hurt him for that.
And lastly, he and I succumbed to the virus, but on different days, so our kids still had one parent who was able to yell the word “NO” repeatedly.

The bad news is that one of us didn’t make it. My daughter’s mattress died. She’s been camping on her bedroom floor until we buy a new mattress next week. We hauled the mattress out back and put it down, like Old Yeller.

And the fact that I had to kill a ‘Beauty Rest’ mattress might just make me the temporary holder of the blue ribbon.

 

*This post has been featured on BonBon Break

If you’re going to surf in toilet water, make sure you’re naked.

We live with one of the roughest, toughest  five-year-old guys you could ever hope to meet. Since the day he could walk, he’s been tearing apart everything he comes in contact with. It isn’t uncommon for him to enter a room and 3.2 minutes later leave that same room with nothing but a light fixture barely hanging on by its electrical wires and a trail of devastation looming behind. He’s one Tough Guy.

This kid is built like a Mack truck and charged with enough energy to light up half the houses on the Eastern seaboard. We frequently yell his middle name in conjunction with his first name, and I’m not sure that’s ever a good sign. Tough Guy makes us all laugh. Hysterically. Usually right as punishment needs to be doled out.

“Look at me,” I say, in a stern voice. And he looks. Then opens his eyes as wide as they can go before bugging-out and popping out of his face. We have a stare down. I see his fuzzy brown head and his dark chocolate eyes jump out of their sockets while the rest of his face remains perfectly still. I force myself to keep a straight face. I speak slowly.

“Listen to me, you canno-

“Whooooooooooooooooooooooooo!,” he tips his head back and howls loudly at the ceiling. I bite my lips to keep from smiling.

His head lowers back down into the stare-down.

“I’m…a…train,” he enunciates in a soft, low, serious voice. He stares back again with a poker face. He sees me breaking. He knows I’m going to lose it, and he wields his power over me. It comes down to a battle of wills. I’m the loser.

In case you are the one person on this planet who has never held a conversation with a five year old boy, let me tell you something: five-year-old boys have no concept of reality, which is why they are so amusing. They also seem to lack any concept of time, which is why they have zero inhibitions about parading into your bedroom at the crack of 0:dark-30 to announce that someone has unjustly mistreated them in some various way. Tough Guy recently entered our room before dawn and woke us from a deep, glorious sleep to offer such information.

“Mom” he whined loudly from the foot of my bed, “[Humdinger] punched me in the faaaaaaace.  Can I have cereal?”

Tough Guy never fails to catch us off guard. The other day he came downstairs after bedtime and said from the stairway, “My lamp broke.”

“Oh?” I asked. “You mean the light bulb?”

“Glass can break.” He said with a defensive, informative tone, as if I had never heard such a thing. I walked upstairs and found the broken bulb and all it’s pieces piled neatly right outside my bedroom door.

Now, pause here and insert into your memory the scene from “Home Alone” where the burglar walks barefooted across broken glass bulbs. That was nearly me- howling, hopping and holding back a string of expletives as foam spewed forth from my mouth. There’s a pretty picture.

Mr. Diaz and I have these moments; moments when we are blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that Tough Guy is involved in just several yards away. Moments where we are sitting happily on the sofa in a cocoon of lovely ignorance, knocking back dark chocolate and peanut butter and pretending, that for a moment, the kids are accounted for and nobody is sneaking outside to burn a petrified raccoon carcass in the backyard.

We had one of those moments not long ago.

There we were, watching television after a long hard day. We were tired. We were happy. We were oblivious.

Tough Guy casually strolled into the living room without a single stitch of clothing, looked straight at us, and announced sincerely “I’d rather use a clean bathroom.” He padded off up the stairs. A second later we heard toilet water rushing down the hallway at light speed right toward us. Tough Guy had stuffed an entire roll of toilet paper down the pot, flushed multiple times, then tried to clean up on his own by throwing all the clean laundry he could find onto the rushing river of pee water. He even took off his own clothes and body surfed.

I’ve lamented to my friends over these short years about Tough Guy’s brilliance, his antics and his ability to escape from any locked area. “How will I survive?” I’ve cried, “I can’t keep him anywhere! He always escapes!”
“Don’t worry,” my friends have comforted, “God can use his abilities one day for something positive…like escaping from an overseas prison.” Fabulous. Good to know the lock-picking and computer hacking may pay off for all of us one day.

I sure don’t love the wreckage Tough Guy makes. I don’t love doing CPR on a squirrel after he’s pelted it with a football. I don’t love finding my favorite book floating like a raft in the bathroom sink.  I don’t love learning that there’s a ham sandwich and yesterday’s underpants shoved down the air-vent hole.

But I really do love my very Tough Guy. He’s my favorite.

Tough Guy provides this household with bountiful amounts of comedic relief, which almost makes up for the catastrophes he unwittingly creates. Plus, he’s simply off the charts on the adorable-o-meter.

And that is why he’s still allowed to live here.

 

I might take the Vodka.

It’s been with absolute dismay that I peer into the mirror and see small silvery hairs growing out of barren places on my scalp. These minuscule hairs are growing in where strong, vibrant, dark hair used to be, but is no longer. My luscious, thick hair began falling out by the handful a few months ago after hormone fluctuations from being postpartum.

Gray hair is now growing on my very sparse head in small batches of light colored fuzz.

I should be happy about the gray fuzz, because the alternative is complete baldness, and nobody wants that. Unless it’s baldness on my legs, and if that’s an option, show me where to sign up.

See this?!” I whine to Mr. Diaz as I part my bangs back and lean my head down toward him. “You can see my scalp! I’m BALDING! My beauty is ending and I’m in agony, because I’m far too young to have a head like a buzzard!”

My husband spends a whole half-of-a nanosecond looking me over and says he has no idea what I’m talking about. He declares I’m not bald(ish), nor do I have a small army of grays invading my head. Well, I don’t believe him for a second. I’ve seen the evidence. I know that he’s lying so I’ll shut up and he can go back to watching football.

You never can tell how you’ll react to certain situations until you’re in them. I admit that the thought of losing my hair has me desiring to hide in a closet and eat even more dark chocolate than normal.

Every night, with as much hope as NASA has of discovering life on Mars, I investigate my head using an extra-zoom mirror, super-slow motion, and gently comb through the existing hair in search of new growth. Honestly, I never thought I’d be in a position where I would suddenly care immensely about hair follicles. I’ve even found myself praying, of all the ridiculous things; actually pleading, “Please God, PULEEZEE help my hair grow back up here…” As if God doesn’t have far more important things to do than pay attention to my vanity and my glabrous buzzard head.

I’ve been searching out solutions on my own. It never ceases to amaze me what I can learn from Google. Just yesterday I Googled, “How to treat a bald spot,” and I was overwhelmed by the amount of recommended information:

Waxes. Scalp massages. Egg concoctions that soak into the scalp. Hanging upside down. Slapping the head. Essential oils. Olive oils. Coconut oils. Enough oils and grease to incite the permanent look of a vagrant. Salt scrubs. Sugar scrubs. Even Vodka. Though, I’m not sure Vodka is for a rub as much as it’s for drinking ahead of time to gain the courage to slap a dozen eggs across your head and wear a plastic bag around for 48 hours.

You wouldn’t believe the “recommended treatment” lists I’ve sorted through of absurd growth-stimulating suggestions. It has been the education I never wanted. I read through editorials with snickers, sighs and even outright bewilderment. “Where’s the punch line?” I ask as I scroll down through preposterous yet detailed instructions.

My mind flashes back to Ricky Ricardo with tinfoil on his scalp. Rob Petrie with his oil and vinegar salad-dressing-soaked head. Suddenly every character I’ve ever seen on TV, trying to cure baldness, sails through my memory.

But my personal favorite was the Googled suggestion of a cayenne pepper scalp concoction that I promise will indeed solve anyone’s baldness complex. Because it’s guaranteed to blind you after it drips into your eyes and you’ll never have to see your own balding head again. Problem solved. The End.

All this to say, I’m cutting off a large amount of (what’s left of) my hair this coming Monday. Hopefully the little grey baby hairs won’t be so intimidated and will work to catch up to the rest of their comrades. I’m not entirely certain of the road I will take to stimulate hair growth and resuscitate the hibernating follicles that are sitting up-top sneering at me. The harsh reality is that I may end up hoping for Rogaine in my stocking. If I really get desperate enough, I may try some oils and even a sugar scrub.

Or, I could just end up getting the Vodka. At least that one serves a dual purpose.

It just might be worth a shot.

I survived my childhood Thanksgivings, but Red Death still haunts me

Write what you know the old adage goes.

That is good advice, and as I do know a few things, here is where I will write about them. For instance, I know that raisins are an utter disappointment for anyone who was expecting chocolate chips. I know that a budding clarinet player has the unique ability to call down wild geese right out of the sky. And I know that the morning you finally decide to water your dying lawn, it will rain all afternoon and evening, even though it hasn’t rained a drop for an entire three week stretch.

But I also know this:

If a certain type of Thanksgiving Jello-salad has earned itself a nickname, then it’s best to not eat it.

Before I explain this, let me give you some background on my childhood Thanksgivings. Thanksgiving was a huge affair in our family. It wasn’t very often we gathered the extended kinsfolk together. Relatives drove for multiple hours, all to meet up in the elite and affluent neighborhood where my Aunt and Uncle lived.

The entire lot of us arrived in formal attire and invaded their house for the full length of the day. We ate appetizers off silver trays and exotic nuts out of crystal bowls that were strategically placed throughout the house. Adults laughed and sipped Bloody Marys and knocked-back expensive beers while the wine chilled outside in ice buckets.

To this day I cannot smell any beer without thinking of my uncles with their khaki pants and sweater vests, warm smiles and Heineken bottles.

The cousins and I would remove our dress shoes and run and slide down the long wooden hallway in our socks and tights. We girls twirled in our long dresses, while the boys played Foosball and tugged at their ties.

Although blood related, this entire side of the family outclassed us in nearly every sense. It was not uncommon for my aunt to rent linens, silverware and table accessories that might have come directly from Martha Stewart’s own house. Large tables were set up in the “library” and placed atop a dazzling white fur rug. My aunt threatened to cut off our heads if we spilled even a drop of cranberry sauce, so the children sat at the end of the room, further away from the adults and all the interesting conversation.

Not only was the turkey roasted and carved in grand splendor, fancy dishes were passed down the table while soft candlelight flickered in the dim room and our food gleamed on top of our china plates. Everything was delectable. The tables carried every available food accessory down to the last detail; gherkins, olives, butters and giblet gravy, sauces of all kinds, cloth napkins and fresh rolls. Grown ups chatted and laughed and sipped their wine while a fire roared quietly in the lovely brick fireplace behind the table. Cider popped and fizzled from the bottles. Cousins giggled and told jokes. It was enough grandeur for the royal family.

Except for one thing.

Next to each place setting, was a perfectly square piece of jello salad. It was a layer of shiny, thick, translucent gelatin (probably dyed red from the blood of naked mole rats), with a bottom layer of chunky maggot paste and toenails masquerading as whipped cream and nuts. This was all cheerfully served atop a romaine lettuce leaf on a small fine-china plate.

Red Death.

Even the adults called it that and still do.

Year after year the cousins and I sat and wondered who would be the first to cave in and eat the Red Death, in order to be excused from the table and earn dessert. It was a death match. Kids vs the jello salad from Hell. And Hell won each and every time.

One year in particular, a pact was made, as we sat at the end of the kid table, buttering our rolls and pretending we didn’t just smudge Martha’s table linen with cranberry sauce. With quiet whispers we all agreed that nobody would eat the Red Death, no matter what the threat. The parents sitting up yonder, sopping up gravy and knocking back Budweisers, could just deal with the fact that when dinner ended, Red Death would remain next to each of our plates, untouched. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, fools. It was a brilliant plan and we soared through the first rounds of competition with ease.

Time passed and eventually we were outwitted by my Aunt, who shrewdly and loudly announced “I’ll pay $5 to anyone who eats their enire jello salad.”

My brother (Uncle Fun) and I exchanged solemn looks. Was she serious? Five whole dollars just for a brief encounter with the Red Death? Now there’s a deal. After all, we only had to eat it once a year. Being that Uncle Fun and I were broke, rednecky children, anytime cold hard cash was offered for something as mediocre as food bribery, we were sure to take it.

So we caved.

On that cold dark Thanksgiving night, as candles flickered and sparkling cider gleamed in our goblets; as we endured jaw-dropping glares from our fellow comrades, we broke the unified resolve in the war against poison. Bite by bite, with the last shreds of our dignity and determination fading, we solemnly collected that money with outstretched hands and upset stomachs.

There are fond memories that spring to my mind as I think back to my childhood, especially after flipping through old family photographs that have been worn around the corners and grayed over the decades; the family photos that were taken in front of my aunt’s fireplace as we stood in 1980’s formal wear. To this day I want to breathe into a bag when I look back at how horrifically my bangs were cut and how I wore a plaid pleated skirt with a red sweater covered in 100 white sheep, and one black one. We stood together and smiled while a friendly uncle snapped multiple photographs for our album.

I know a few things. 

I know I will never cut my daughters’ bangs myself. I know cannot possibly duplicate the giblet gravy, because I’m convinced even the cooks themselves didn’t fully realize what went in there. And I know I will never be able to replicate the elegance and splendor that Thanksgiving brought each and every year.

And I know this:

Thanksgiving runs just fine without serving jello salad.

 

 

 

Swim-goggles and Ork bodies; The truth about the pumpkin patch

Over the years our family has trekked out to various farms and pumpkin-picking locations, but no matter where we go, the basic experience remains the same. If you’ve never hauled your brood off to a farm for family bonding let me explain what fun you’ve been missing. Ready? It will go something like this:

Your young child will wake you up before a sliver of daylight has appeared in the sky. He has figured out that it’s Pumpkin Patch Day.

It’s your fault he knows this, because you have the day circled in red pen on your calendar. Forget the fact that your cherub can’t even read, or that you wrote on the calendar using indecipherable Enigma Code, which required the best military minds of WWII to crack.

You thought writing on the calendar in code would be clever. Nah.

Your 3 year old will crack that code in a nanosecond, knock back whipped cream straight from the can and do a ninja dance on top of your oven. Naked. Then he’ll parade through the house waking up every single sibling shouting  “We’re going to the pumpkin patch todaaaaaay!” Every child can understand this announcement with perfect clarity although your tot can barely speak English.

Now you’re up at the crack of dawn, whether you like it or not. You give each child explicit instructions on how to dress and point them to where their pre-assembled outfits hang freshly pressed and labeled with their name. Socks, underwear, pants, shirt, sweater, shoes and coat. You’ve aimed for clothing colors that are coordinated, in hope of that ONE magical photo that you can use on a Christmas card to send to your ungrateful relatives who don’t even like you.

Despite your simple, direct instructions and well-thought preparations, be assured that one kid will come down in a Cinderella ballgown, pink rubber gloves, swim goggles and a tiara. You have a better chance of field-dressing a Sasquatch than getting that perfect and illusive family photo. The sooner you accept this, the better. Chug some coffee and get over it.

Into the van go three different name-brand baby carriers and a sling. For the baby you load a puffy orange pumpkin costume because your unrealistically optimistic mind can’t let go of a “Baby’s First Autumn” photo to place on your mantle so your Thanksgiving dinner guests can ooh-and-aah while choking down their yams. Also into the van go 8 old towels and 10 plastic garbage bags, because you learned from last year.

Outside it’s dark. It’s dumping buckets of rain, and the air is colder than Jack Frost’s snot. Everyone is bundled in attire perfect for skiing and yet you know by the time you arrive at the pumpkin farm everyone will be sweating in sunny 85 degree weather. The sweat will make them itchy and miserable, so you load 14 more shirt combinations to accommodate various weather outcomes, just in case. Everything is color coordinated, of course, except for your daughter’s light blue Cinderella ballgown and swim goggles. You’re basically screwed with that one. It’s best to load everyone in and move on.

Upon your late arrival to the farm, the kids will pour out and immediately want to run 13 different directions at the exact same moment. Force everyone to freeze and choose your optimum baby-wearing device. Now’s not the time to lose your wits. Keep it together, man.

Steer your brood into the line for the next hayride out to the Pumpkin Field. Dad will go into the barn-turned-produce-stand-and-farm-boutique and buy tickets to the corn maze because it sounds so fun at the time. The little kids spot a distant tractor that pulls miniature train cars painted like drunk cows and want a ride. You have to convince them that the time will come and that first they need to pick out their pumpkins.

Nobody gives a crud about pumpkins anymore because they are doped up on dreams of riding the tractor-cow-train and getting high off the smell of kettle corn, which is layered between the odors of wet hay and cow dung. Ignore their whining and point out the hay wagon that’s coming in your direction. It’s their turn to pick out pumpkins down in the field across the way.

Wait.

Is that a field? It looks like the stinking marshes that Hobbits trek through on the way to Mordor.

At a distance, you notice the “field” is covered in thick mud and shimmering with water from the morning rainfall. See those orange specks bobbing up and down…way…over…there…? Those are your pumpkins. Betcha didn’t know pumpkins can swim. That kid with the swim goggles on? Way smarter than you are. Apparently she learned from last year too.

Load into the hay wagon and hang on for dear life. You don’t want to know the details about this ride, so I’m leaving them out.

After exiting, one of the small kids will spot a Honey-Bucket nearby and become entirely obsessed with needing to pee. This will be a totally new experience and they will not leave you alone until they have peed while standing in a portable blue sardine can. Ironically, this will be the same child who is ENTIRELY UNMOTIVATED to use the toilet at home, for any reason.

Join the rest of the family and prepare to make the best memories ever. Choosing everyone’s pumpkins will be slightly uneventful…Unless you count the 80 minutes it takes to wade past all the dead Ork bodies in the stinking marshes and the wheelbarrow that won’t quite float or move no matter how strong Dad is. Not to mention the three kids who have slipped and fallen face-first into the mud, or the 4 year old who wants a different pumpkin about every 6 minutes. *REMINDER: Don’t leave all your ski coats out here in the field. You will have several of them laying in the mud at this point and you’ll need to carry them all from this point on. After all, it’s 85 degrees now.*

Pay the $139.76 for the pumpkins and head into the corn maze. Because it is incredibly fun dragging muddy, wet children and toddlers down a smelly path lined with rows and rows of dead corn stalks, for about an hour. Or is it three days? Nobody knows. Hopefully you can get everyone back out before the vultures circle.

Now that the baby is screaming, try and breastfeed holding her with one arm while simultaneously holding onto a Flop Tantruming preschooler who refuses to walk and is sitting criss-cross-applesauce in a puddle. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and nurse while leaning over and trying to yank him back up. I’m sure Google Earth won’t be photographing this day.

After emerging from the corn maze, it will be time for the tractor-cow-train, which is what your young children have really wanted all along. You never can tell how a small person will cope with sitting inside a barrel that’s being towed behind a John Deere tractor driven by a fat man in overalls. If your kiddies start screaming and crying as they go zooming past you, just smile and wave and pretend you don’t hear them. After all, you paid $11 bucks a piece to have this experience, so let them live it and love it. If they vomit, just pretend it was already there when they got in.

You spot a perfect photo op, so line up the muddy, dazed, motion-sick kids and force them to stick their faces into wooden cut-outs of sheep, cows, Indians and pilgrims. It’s nearly a perfect picture, except for the one screaming and foaming at the mouth. Never mind. You can scratch this from your Instagram album.

Last stop is at the barn-turned-produce-stand-and-farm-boutique, where you spend $85 on a home baked apple pie and a jar of apple butter. Control your impulses here because it’s very tempting to go overboard. Like on those LEAVES that are being labeled and sold as festive seasonal decor. Take it from me; don’t spend your money on yard waste. You’ll need that money later to buy wine.

Don’t even consider buying that charming, hand-sewn, red apron that says ‘I Love Autumn’ because it will cost you a kidney, and you need both kidneys to process all the wine you’re about to drink when you get home.

Dad will lay down towels and load the pumpkins into the van. Chilled and muddy kids will begin stripping off their pants in preparation to sit on plastic garbage bags in their seats. Despite all the extra shirts and all the previous years of experiences, you still made a classic blunder and forgot to pack extra pants. Don’t panic. Towels are perfect makeshift skirts. Load everyone in, buckle up, pull up Yanni on Pandora and try to lull the little cherubs to sleep with soft instrumentals and a snack.

Distribute kettle corn onto paper napkins on everyone’s lap and try not to think about the fact that your kids are consuming lap-food with no pants on. Haul everyone home, wake them all up and carry them off to baths and bed.

Next time you see a family of Jack’O’ lanterns gracing the porches of your neighborhood, pause and have a moment of silence for all they went through to get them…unless they cheated, and bought pumpkins at the local Walmart.

The Pumpkin Patch is the perfect place to experience memory-making adventures. Plus it gives you extra reasons to buy a truck-load of dark chocolate and wine; not to mention giving your children plenty of stories to tell their grandchildren. Or their therapists.