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So about two years ago I thought I would jump-start my mostly-dead blog by answering The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. Not for any reasons related to love, but because I needed writing prompts, and usually I enjoy answering questions about myself. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed many of the Questions That Lead to Love. This may explain why I have historically had difficulty getting people to fall in love with me. It’s okay because I really only needed one person to fall in love with me, and he did it without me having to answer any of these pesky questions, but now I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Oh, yes. I felt like jump-starting the blog again–really, this is getting ridiculous, but I’m slowly making peace with the fact that I’m a ridiculous person–so I looked up where I left off on the 36 Questions, and I’m on #15:

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Of all the questions I have hated, I may hate this question the most. Actually, the question I hate the most is “What’s for dinner?” Something about that question just sends me into a rage spiral. I can’t explain it. Why does anyone need to know what’s for dinner? Why can’t we treat it like Christmas or your birthday? Why spoil the surprise? Do you have alternate plans? Have you received other offers? But I’m getting off topic again. Aside from “What’s for dinner?” the question I hate the most is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Is it really fair to ask this question before one is on one’s death bed? Do I really have to contemplate at the tender age of almost-45 how puny and pathetic my accomplishments thusfar have been?

I think it’s not so bad to have to answer this question at, say, 25 (or almost-25). A 25-year-old isn’t expected to have too many accomplishments. You could say, “I graduated college” or “I got a job,” and that’d be fine. You’re just starting out in life, after all. You have plenty of time to look forward to greater accomplishments. At almost-45, your life is, let’s face it, probably more than half over. (Obviously, your life could be more than half over at any age, since death is usually unpredictable, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume most of us will live until 70- or 80-something, at the most.) (Of course, I may well live to be 90-something. It seems to be how the ladies in my family tree roll, with the obvious exception of my mother, who only made it to 52 1/2. If I’m not destined to put up more years than my mother, I’m certainly on my last legs here, but just this once we’ll go with a more optimistic estimate.) (Someday I will tire of parenthetical asides, but today is not that day!) This is not the best time to do an assessment. It is both too early and too late. Too early to say, “Oh, well, I did my best,” and too late to say, “Dude, I really need to get going on those accomplishments!” because at 45 (or almost), you are busy with a lot of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and far too busy to re-think your grand scheme strategy.

At church, the ladies’ auxiliary has been doing a weekly spotlight on individual ladies, to help us get to know each other better, and one of the questions, regrettably, is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Almost everyone says, “My children” or “my family.” I think that there is nothing wrong with that answer. It just isn’t the right answer for me. For one thing, I don’t feel that I have “accomplished” my family. I mean, I gave birth to four people. That’s a thing. I don’t disparage that thing. On the other hand, pregnancies have a natural tendency to end in birth, requiring no special skills on my part. But more to the point, aside from giving birth to them and taking care of them, which is not a small thing–I don’t mean to suggest that it is small–a) they’re not finished yet, and b) even if they were, I can’t take credit for what they are. I mean, I refuse to take credit for it. (Especially since I don’t even know what they’ll end up being yet. You can’t pin this thing on me! I won’t have it!) So I can’t say that my family is my greatest accomplishment. That doesn’t mean anything to me. To say my family is my greatest joy is something different. I could say that, probably, without laughing. (Not sure I could say it without my family laughing at me, but that’s a separate issue.) Greatest “accomplishment,” no.

But what have I accomplished? In 45 years of living, what have I accomplished? I graduated from college. I got a job (that was in no way related to my college education). I gave birth to four people. I learned to tap dance. Learning to tap dance may have been my greatest accomplishment. I’m not sure what that says about me, considering that I’m not a great tap dancer. I mean, I’m fine. I’m as good as one can expect to be when one takes up tap dancing at 33 and also isn’t terribly coordinated. I enjoy my ability to tap dance. What does it mean to me that I’ve learned to tap dance? What does it mean that I’ve learned to tap dance and yet it isn’t enough?

I guess this question just seems especially cruel after Question #14: “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” I answered that question in November. The answer hasn’t gotten less depressing. I give some version of this answer every time someone asks me if I’m “still writing.” Really, that question ought to be right up there with “Are you still married?” If you don’t know, don’t ask! It just brings up painful feelings!

It’s mainly that I had great hopes for my accomplishments, back when I was 15, 25, 35, and even as late as 40 or 41. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve thought I should probably make a new game plan for accomplishing stuff. I should go back to college, but this time major in something useful, and get a job that will be useful and that I will be good at. I’m not about to waste tens of thousands of dollars more on educating myself, though, until I know what it is that I would be good at that would also be useful. So far I’ve got nothing. I really have a very limited skill set. For one thing, my people skills are terrible. You’d be surprised at how many careers this eliminates right off the bat. And yes, it is too late for me to become a doctor.

I spent far too many years expecting my greatest accomplishments to be in the writing arena, but it turns out I’m not nearly as good at writing as I am at reading. I tell myself that I would be better at writing if I read less and wrote more, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Do you know how many hours I spent reading Don Quixote last month? I didn’t even enjoy it all that much (although I have an intellectual appreciation for it). The only reason I read Don Quixote instead of writing was that I knew that if I kept reading, I would eventually finish Don Quixote. I know how to keep reading. I don’t know how to keep writing, and I haven’t finished writing anything apart from posts on this blog for about five years. (I think. I don’t know. It depresses me to count. Although I know how to count. I’m just afraid to keep counting.)

At this point I am waiting for someone to say, “Don’t you see, Mad? Your greatest accomplishment is this blog!” Followed immediately by “WHICH YOU ALLOWED TO DIE!!!”

Just remember, I said it first.

 

I’m not actually excited to be on spring break, although I do enjoy not having to wake up and make lunches and drive people to school. That’s always cool.

What would be cooler is if I were no longer on this low-carb diet. I’ve sort of gotten used to it, in a way. Except for the part where I am always full and never satisfied. Who knew that bread was so important to me? Well, I did, actually. I did know that bread was very important to me. Hence my instinctive recoil when my husband first suggested this low-carb diet. But I guess some things just have to be experienced despite the fact that we don’t need to learn our lesson. What’s the lesson here, really? That high protein and low carbs make me hate everyone? Apparently so.

It’s not as bad as when I was recovering from the jaw surgery and I was always hungry yet had lost the will to eat. That was incredibly depressing. This is less depressing (although still depressing) and more…I don’t know. It’s just this pervasive sense of discontent. I am irritable. And lonely. I mean, I was lonely before, but before, I at least had peanut butter sandwiches to keep me company. I haven’t had a peanut butter sandwich since February. It’s like being in Japan, only with much less rice.

Today, in my ongoing quest to eschew carbs, I ate tofu spaghetti for dinner. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Well, the texture is revolting (albeit very Japanese). But mind over matter, the taste is not bad. It’s not much of anything, really. It’s like eating rice noodles, only with a crap-ton of protein and no carbs. It’s like 15 calories a serving or something. The amusing thing is that on the packaging it says that the noodles have a “mild, earthy aroma” that goes away after you rinse them. Indeed. Well, I didn’t notice, frankly (although I did rinse them, of course). I was less concerned about that than the possibility that they would touch my tongue and my gag reflex would kick in. And I’ll have you know that I like tofu. I just like actual pasta that much more. But whatever. As I said, it wasn’t bad. Plus, there were meatballs.

There has been a lot of meat on this diet. I downloaded a calorie counting app mainly for the purpose of making sure that I would actually lose weight on this diet–and also so that I would know how much wiggle room I had in the event that I snapped and found myself eating a cheeseburger out of pure instinct. The calorie counting app is both very useful and very annoying. It tells me that in order to meet my weight loss goal, I need to take in no more than 1,400 net calories per day, and also that 20% of the calories should be from protein, 30% from fats, and 50% from carbs. Well, if 50% of my calories were from carbs, I would be hungry all day long. I exceed my protein goal every single day. I also exceed my fat goal (pretty much) every day. And my sodium goal. All of those things are off the charts. I’ve never thought of myself as a high-sodium-diet type of gal, but apparently sodium lurks in the most unexpected places. The calorie app will pick the oddest moments to chastise me. Like, I eat a banana and it tells me to watch my sodium intake. I don’t know if bananas actually have sodium in them, but I can’t remember the exact (fresh, unadulterated) fruit or vegetable I was eating when it reminded me of my goal to stay under (some obnoxiously low number) grams of sodium.

Conversely, when I record eating a snack food that is obviously a substitute for something more unhealthy (because no one in their right mind would eat it for fun), it extolls said diet food for being rich in niacin or whatever. (I’m just picking nutrients at random. As long as the calorie app is full of crap, I feel like I can be too.) This is another part of being on a diet that is affecting my lifestyle. I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in grocery stores looking for low-carb snacks that will distract me from my actual cravings. Needless to say, this is time spent in vain.

The one pleasant discovery I have made is that Dannon’s Triple Zero yogurt is both low in carbs and totally worth eating. In fact, I prefer it to regular yogurt because regular yogurt is really too sweet for my taste. I will continue to eat Triple Zero yogurt even after I’ve given up on not (eventually) becoming fat because I like it. Either I have forgotten what real food tastes like, or it is a miracle of science. Another possibility: it is secretly giving me cancer. But it’s the only thing making this diet bearable, so I don’t really care at this point.

I’ve had a couple days where the calorie app tells me I’m not eating enough, and it’s not going to cooperate with me until I stop making like I have an eating disorder. The trouble is that it’s so easy to go from 999 calories to 1,700. Really, all you have to do is eat a slice of pizza and a couple wings. That’s what’s so aggravating about calories. They’re so easy to consume and so difficult to burn. I could do 60 minutes of high-impact aerobics and only burn the equivalent of, like, 10 french fries. It’s not remotely just or right. Mother Nature really is a bitch.

I’ve never believed the old slogan “nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” I can think of 1,000 things off the top of my head that taste infinitely better than thin feels. Now, I imagine that nothing tastes as good as not having heart disease feels, or as good as being able to tie your own shoes feels, but merely being thin does not actually feel that good. I’ve been thin. I mean, I would describe my figure now as “relatively slender” (everything being relative, of course), but I am not currently what I would call objectively “thin.” I have been thin before, though–it was right after I weaned Mister Bubby and before I got pregnant with Elvis. It was the thinnest I had been since before puberty, probably, but a) I didn’t look good, and b) I did not feel good. Well, I might have looked good in clothes, but when I stepped out of the shower and saw myself in the mirror, I would think, “Ugh. That’s not okay.” And it was during a time of my life when I was very unhappy, so I have no fond memories of being thin. I have fond memories of when I was 24 and my breasts were still firm, but that is another story. All I can tell you is that a whole lot of things taste better than being thin feels. And I would love to be eating any of them right now.

The good news (I guess) is that the diet has worked. In the sense that I have met my weight loss goal. I would take more satisfaction in that if a) most of the weight hadn’t come from my (already small) bosom, and b) I didn’t know that I am destined to gain it all back as soon as I start eating peanut butter sandwiches again. I mean, I’m 45 years old. (Very close to it, anyway.) Menopause grows ever closer. I will never be able to eat like a pro wrestler with impunity again. And I really don’t want to spend what’s left of my life never having the super nachos. (Especially if this delicious low carb yogurt is giving me cancer.) So yes, I think it is just a matter of time before I gain it all back. And probably not a matter of all that much time.

The other good news is that this summer we’ll be in Japan for four weeks, and I will probably be able to lose it all over again. But that’s another blog post for another day. Gentle readers, adieu.

I know I promise fiction tomorrow (which is today, so in other words, I promised fiction today), but two days ago I said I’d talk about my stupid low-carb diet and that’s what I’m in the mood to talk about today, so that’s what I’m doing.

I know I said, after my restrictive jaw surgery recovery diet was finally over, that I would never go on another diet again as long as I lived, that I would rather be fat, but I changed my mind. Not that I’m fat (yet). That’s the problem. It’s not that I’m fat (unless you’re looking for a runway model, in which case, sure, I’m a whale); it’s that I have a fear of becoming fat. Which sounds very fat-shaming, now that I actually type it out loud. I don’t think I have unrealistic expectations for how my body should look. I know I’m 45 years old and I will never have tight abs (or any abs) and my butt will always be big. I know I’m not going to be 130 lbs. again in this lifetime, and that’s okay. I had four kids, my husband still finds me attractive, and I’m not planning to have a second career in Hollywood. But I have put on about ten pounds in the last year (which is my net gain–not my Bridget Jones losing-and-gaining-back gain), which is not a big deal, except that the last time I weighed this much, I was pregnant (which was ten years ago), and I don’t want to gain ten pounds every year. That means if I live another 20 years, I will gain 200 more pounds, which will put me at a weight I’ve never been, even while pregnant. Unacceptable!

I think you are probably starting to see now what I’m about. It isn’t rational to fear that because one is four pounds over the most she said she would ever allow herself to weigh, one must necessarily be on track to gain 200 pounds in 20 years. In fact, my metabolism is probably overdue for slowing down. Aforementioned metabolism was pretty darn awesome for the first 35 years of life, which encouraged some unfortunate dietary habits, which have continued unabated even as the metabolism has decided that it’s had enough of the rat race and will now retire to a beach in Tahiti where it will lie in the sun and drink the drinks with the little umbrellas in them, now and forever. If only my body could enjoy my metabolism’s retirement, which sounds pretty dreamy, if you like the beach, but also very fattening. My metabolism doesn’t have to buy new clothes, because it’s not literally an anthropomorphic entity literally residing on a beach, which is probably clothing-optional anyway because why not? The metaphor itself is probably what needs to be retired at this point.

So, yes, it is normal to put on weight at my age, and I am not obese, despite what the BMI charts expect me to believe. I have eyes; I can see I am not obese. I can also see that there are lots of women out there who weigh at least as much as I do and look just fine, feel just fine, and lead happy and productive lives. Perhaps if I led a happy and productive life, I would not feel the need to weigh less than a particular number. I can still wear most of my clothes. The only clothes I can’t wear anymore are clothes I’ve had since my early twenties, and yes, I probably should just get rid of them, but I have a sentimental attachment to my plaid skirt and cannot face the possibility–strikeout–reality that I will never wear it again. Especially since I’ve never seen another plaid skirt of its kind in my size. Maybe when I do, I will let go of the dream and allow some other, thinner person at the Goodwill to know the joy of this particular garment. I can see Marie Kondo shaking her head and rolling her eyes at me, but you know what? Until Marie Kondo figures out a way I can get everyone else in my household to toss the items that don’t spark my joy, I am keeping my too-small-but-fabulous plaid skirt and she can kiss my big toe. (A humorous reference to my considerable butt was too obvious.)

Have I spent all this time trying to justify going on a diet or trying to justify going off my diet? This is only day 5 of the diet, mind you. I’m not starving. It’s not a stupid diet. It’s a very reasonable diet and will probably make me healthier. I want to be healthier because that is the main reason I don’t want to get fat. I am not a fit person. I’ve been tap dancing and clogging for more than a decade, and I still can’t run up the stairs inside my own house without my legs screaming at me afterwards. I can’t run on level ground for more than probably 30 seconds without stopping to catch my breath–and then I can’t start again. I’m old and everything hurts, and all I can think is that the more I weigh, the harder it will be to do all the things I really shouldn’t have this much trouble doing. I hurt my back in December and finally went to the doctor a couple weeks ago. She sent me to the physical therapist, who has assigned me some simple, very low-impact core-strengthening exercises. I used to joke that my abdominal muscles just disappeared with my last pregnancy, but I’m beginning to think that is actually what happened because these simple, very low-impact core-strengthening exercises are murdering me. I feel like I should get an x-ray or something and see if the abdominal muscles are really still there and make sure they haven’t become empty husks or something. I can still suck in my gut, so in theory I must have some abdominal muscles, yes? I just don’t get it.

I just want a peanut butter sandwich. I want a peanut butter sandwich because I’m sad and I’m more sad that I can’t have a peanut butter sandwich. I wouldn’t even need jelly, just peanut butter. I wouldn’t even need two slices of bread, just one. And a glass of milk. Not skim milk, real milk. But that would be one-third of my allotted calories for the day and the calorie-counting app I downloaded for my phone would scold me in red letters about my fat intake. It just isn’t worth it. (I hate being scolded, especially in red letters! It’s a pretty useful app otherwise, if you like that sort of thing.) And I need to get off my butt and exercise now if I want to be in the black at the end of the day, so I will quit typing now, as typing doesn’t burn calories (unfortunately).

You know what else ought to burn calories but doesn’t? Making salads. What a time suck. But I digress. Gentle readers, adieu.

So it’s January. Crazy, huh? 2016. The year my oldest child graduates from high school (knock on wood). Hard to believe, especially considering that when I was her age, I thought for sure the world would have come to an end before now. Funny how life works.

I believe that when last we spoke—I use the term “spoke” loosely—I had just come from an appointment with the doctor who had bloodied my toe and prescribed me an antibiotic that I had to take for three months to kill a fungal infection in said toe (and wherever else it might lurk). Three months is actually a rather long time. I’m on the third month now. I was supposed to get my liver function checked once a month while I was on this antibiotic. Guess how many times I’ve had it checked. That’s right, zero. I would probably know if my liver were failing, wouldn’t I? I mean, by now I certainly would. If it were failing. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe on the day I take my last pill, I will just keel over from liver failure. I suppose that’s not the worst way I could go. But I reckon that won’t happen. I really enjoy not having a fungal infection. At least I hope the fungal infection’s gone. My toenail hasn’t really grown back yet, or really grown at all, frankly, but the doctor did say it would take about a year. In the meantime I have a somewhat awkward pedicure. Good thing I do my own pedicuring.

Anyway, that was November. Let me tell you what happened in December. First I got my braces off. No, I’m not kidding. It actually happened. That makes my time in braces a mere 4 years and 10 months, rather than the 576 I was afraid it was going to be. It was a Christmas surprise. I went in for an adjustment and my orthodontist said, “Well, you still have this one millimeter space that hasn’t closed yet. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but I can keep trying, if it’s bothering you.” I said, “Of course a one millimeter space bothers me. How could it not? It’s a whole FREAKING MILLIMETER. What the hell am I paying you for?” Just kidding, I didn’t say that at all. I told him the truth, which was that I wouldn’t know a one millimeter space from a half-millimeter space, and in fact I had not noticed this gaping chasm at all. So in that case, he said, we could go ahead and take the brackets off and make my retainer that very day. America!

I was hoping I’d look different when the braces came off, but it turns out I don’t really. I look pretty much the same. That’s okay. Better than looking worse, I guess.

Well, the second thing that happened in December was I got in a car accident. That’s neither here nor there except that it means we had to get a new minivan. Yes, I totaled another car, but I swear it wasn’t on purpose. Of course, if I’d known what a nice minivan my husband was going to buy… Just kidding. I totally wouldn’t have totaled the car on purpose. Car accidents are horrible. I’m beginning to feel like I just shouldn’t drive anymore. I’m sure my insurance company agrees. On the other hand, if I have to drive—which I do—I don’t mind doing it in a new minivan. (Except for that crippling paranoia I feel every time I go out on the road.) It’s much fancier than our old minivan. For one thing, the windows roll up and down, and all the doors open. Not only do the doors open, but they are automatic doors. I even have one of those fancy key fobs that will open the doors remotely. Of course, I am constantly opening the wrong side of the car because I can never remember which simple diagram represents what, but I figure I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

The bad news is that the check engine light went on about a week and a half ago. The good news is that the car’s still under warranty. The bad news is that the part that has to be replaced is hard to find, so the car’s been in the shop since Monday and will probably stay there for a while. In the meantime, we are making do with Sugar Daddy’s car, which, I have to say, does not seem nearly so fancy anymore next to the new minivan. It does have heated seats, though, which the fancy new minivan does not. SD’s always depriving me of these little things so I don’t get too spoiled. Speaking of spoiled, we are not really making do with just SD’s car, but we are relying heavily on my mother-in-law being willing to drive him to and from work. Proximity has its privileges, that is fo shizzle.

I said “fo shizzle” the other day and Princess Zurg thought it was really lame. Well, duh. Of course it’s lame. I’m 44 years old, obviously I am saying it IRONICALLY. Also, because it’s kind of fun. Because I’m 44 years old and I don’t give a crap anymore about sounding lame.

Or being lame, for that matter. You might say that I have finally embraced lameness as a way of life. I wouldn’t say that I endorse lameness as a way of life, but I probably could fool a lot of people into thinking I do, what with how intimate an embrace lameness and I are currently entangled in. So maybe the “fo shizzle” isn’t ironic. Maybe it’s whatever it has to be.

Currently, I feel like a day has been a success if I didn’t take a nap during it. By that standard, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday have all been successes. I think. I don’t remember taking a nap yesterday. If I don’t remember it, it probably didn’t happen. No, I’m sure it didn’t. So, yes. Unmitigated successes, all three days. Can I make it four? Only tomorrow will tell.

I used to feel like a day was a success if I’d a) not taken a nap, b) exercised, c) did enough housework to make myself upset, and d) taken a shower. Showering can seem like such a burden sometimes, although in the end I’m always glad I did it. I have never regretted taking a shower, as far as I can remember. I have oft regretted the shower not taken. Let this be a lesson to you, kids: there is no substitute for personal hygiene. This paragraph has inspired me to slightly raise the bar for a successful day: a) no nap and b) at least one shower. Actually, (b) can compensate for want of (a) in a pinch, as far as I’m concerned. But by this standard, two of the last three days have been double successes.

It occurred to me the other day that I am probably depressed. I’m not sure what to do about it. My depression is sort of like my teeth—it used to be horrible and untreated. Now it is treated, but there’s still this one millimeter space I can’t seem to close no matter what I do. Actually, it’s more like a three or four millimeter space because I do notice it. I notice that I don’t write anymore, and I don’t have aspirations or plans, and I don’t have any close friends. If I wanted to be social, who would I call? If something wonderful happened to me, who would I tell?

I don’t like to complain about these things because it seems pretty douche-like to have a comfortable lifestyle and a minivan I don’t deserve and say that it’s not enough. I’m sure 95 percent of the world would like to be as unhappy as I am. There’s an old Far Side cartoon where two cows are in a sitting room or parlor or whatever; Mr. Cow is reading the newspaper and Mrs. Cow (wearing pearls, as I recall) is holding a martini and she says, “Wendell, I’m not content.” That is me. That has always been me, actually. I used to expect more from myself—or rather, I expected that eventually I would produce more, or contribute more—to my family, to my community, to humanity in general. But I seem to lack a certain essential quality—the quality that causes people to accomplish things.

I’ve tried to look at myself in a more charitable light. My mother, for example, was not a person of great accomplishments—I mean, most people aren’t, when you come right down to it—but you wouldn’t call her life a failure because what really matters in life, I think, is relationships, and she was a people person. I am not a people person. Even when it comes to my kids, whom I love—and who I think love me, most of the time—I feel like I don’t measure up. I mean, I’m not a failure as a mother. I’m not ridiculous enough to think that. Although I might be a failure on some level—I’m afraid I haven’t instilled the value of work in them, and it’s probably too late to make a difference on that front now. My credibility is completely shot. The ladies at my church have a book group, and every year they get together and pick the books they want to read that year, and there are always tons of suggestions in the self-help genre. This is where I differ from most Mormon women, I think. Self-help books don’t inspire me, they just depress me. Really, is there any hope for a woman who is depressed by good advice?

Well, this blog took a turn for the dark at some point, didn’t it? It’s a good thing I don’t have anything to prove. That I have embraced my lameness, as it were, because this post is lame. On the other hand, I did not have to take a nap in the middle of it, so SUCCESS.

I’ve decided that September is a good time to make resolutions, rather than New Year’s, because it’s when the kids all leave the house for a few hours a day and I have some space to think about how I might make life improvements. Also, it’s nearing the end of the year, and if my September resolutions fail, there’s always New Year’s just around the corner.

This decision comes after months of procrastinating–no, make that years. Years of procrastinating getting on with my life now that I’m no longer changing diapers and breastfeeding and cutting up people’s food all my waking hours. Well, I sometimes still cut up people’s food. But not as much as I used to. Technically, I’ve made this decision about a billion times since my youngest started first grade, but it’s the implementation that I’ve procrastinated. Of course, the resolutions are always changing. One day they’re modest, the next unrealistic, the next somewhere in between. The problem is that I can’t seem to accomplish anything, regardless of how small the as-yet-hypothetical accomplishment may seem.

Which means that while I started this post with the intention of talking about resolutions, writing that last paragraph pretty much talked me out of ever trying to do anything ever again.

So if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to since I got jaw surgery and fell off the face of the (virtual) earth (or, you might say I virtually fell of the face of the actual earth, I don’t know), that’s pretty much it. When I’m not numbing my pain with frivolous, non-productive activities or the reassuring routine of laundry and dishes, I am more or less losing hope of contributing meaningfully to society ever again.

Since my family is supposed to be more important than anything else I have to do with, hopefully my children will do better with their lives than my own example has taught them. (That was meant to be a sardonic comment, although I do hope my children engage life more successfully than I have. Fortunately, only one of them seems to have inherited my mental instability so far. So, you know, #hopeisalive.)

I’m afraid they’re all going to turn out to be crappy housekeepers. Let me give you a quick update on our experiment with firing the housekeepers: All of my worst fears have come true. I’ve known for the last several years that the main argument for keeping the housekeepers rather than doing the housekeeping myself was the enforced schedule. I knew I could never maintain a schedule on my own. I would need the support of everyone else in the family, and since that support did not seem to be forthcoming, I kept paying professionals to come clean my house even though they sometimes didn’t do such a great job and preparing for their visits was causing me to have mini-nervous breakdowns fortnightly. When the kids took over the bulk of the chores that the housekeepers once did, it seemed to work out pretty well for the first five months. I was astonished, actually, at how well it was working out, and I was so much less stressed than I was when I had the housekeepers.

Then in June I had the jaw surgery, and that was the week I stopped vacuuming regularly. I was absolutely unable to vacuum that week because I was unable to do just about anything but drink things through a straw and lie in bed and be miserable. That was okay. Anyone can afford to skip vacuuming for a couple weeks. Unfortunately, two weeks later I was physically able to vacuum but still very tired and psychologically depressed because I was still in pain, not sleeping well, and the only thing I had to look forward to was drinking chocolate protein shakes. HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY. So vacuuming was not on my list of things to do because basically nothing was on my list of things to do, including the tidying that should have preceded the vacuuming, including the nagging and threatening of the children that could have substituted for doing all the tidying. If I were a good parent, instead of a hopeless one, I would have insisted that children could not do x (desirable task) before doing y (undesirable task). The trouble was, it was summer, and the kids were always around, and the only thing I wanted more than for them to do their (and my) chores was for them to get out of my face for a while. So if they got invitations to go with friends somewhere, off they went, even if they hadn’t done their chores, because I was too tired and unhappy and hungry to listen to them whine and complain about anything, let alone EVERYTHING.

Eventually, after what felt like the longest six weeks of my life that didn’t include high school P.E., I was able to eat real food again, and that’s when things should have gotten better, since at least I was no longer hungry. If you have enough to eat, you should have enough energy to do whatever needs to be done. Unfortunately, by that time the house was in so much disarray and the constant presence of other people was driving me so crazy that I didn’t even know where or how to start getting everything under control again. The thing about dependent children is that they always need things (hence the term dependent). Every time I thought about cleaning the kitchen (or whatever), I’d think about how I would start doing something and someone would inevitably need me to drive them somewhere or make them a sandwich or play Monopoly with them or explain the meaning of life or whatever, and that would disrupt my flow and everyone’s-just-going-to-mess-it-up-anyway-so-why-bother–and I just wouldn’t begin. Well, there’s no surer way to accomplish nothing than by not beginning in the first place, so you see where I went wrong. I’m not making excuses. I’m explaining myself.

The solutions to my problems are obvious. Even I can see them. It’s the execution that’s elusive. Probably because I’m deliberately avoiding it.

The thing I hate about housework is not the cleaning and scrubbing. (Well, except for the shower and the bathtub. I freaking hate cleaning the shower and the bathtub. I’d rather scrub a million toilets.) Cleaning and scrubbing feel like actual accomplishments. It’s the management of possessions that overwhelms me. Six people live in this house, and I’m in charge of managing all of their possessions. I can already read the comments: “You should not be in charge of managing all of their possessions. Everyone should be responsible for managing their own possessions.” Yes, but you’re describing the world that ought to be, and I’m describing the world that is, so bear with me.

Earlier this year–or maybe it was last year–I read somewhere about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and I got it into my head that I should read it because maybe, unlike every other book about organizing and changing your life, this one would actually be magical. I don’t know what hallucinatory drug I was under at the time–aside from the fact that books about organizing rarely tell me anything I don’t already know, I learned from actually visiting Japan that I don’t have a culturally-Japanese bone in my body–but whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too debilitating because I didn’t actually buy the book, but I put myself on the three-mile-long waiting list at the library because let’s face it, the odds were against it being actually magical. You might say I left it to fate. By the time it was my turn to borrow this allegedly-magical book, I was already completely free of my delusion. In fact, I’d considered taking myself off the waiting list several times, but for some reason I didn’t, and because I actually had the maybe-magic book in my possession now, it seemed foolish not to actually read it.

Well, I read it, and let me tell you, this woman has a lot of great ideas for decluttering and organizing your life if you live alone. I can see it working perfectly for someone who only has to manage her own possessions. It is completely unworkable for someone who has to manage (to at least some extent) six different people’s possessions and whose management style of her own possessions is partially dependent on the fact that she has five other people’s management lifestyles to compensate for. The guiding principle seems profound and life-changing, initially: Don’t keep anything in your life that does not spark joy. Well, sure. Why would you want anything in your life that doesn’t spark joy? Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have a choice about keeping things in your life that don’t spark joy. She acknowledges this, I think, at some point. I would hate to mischaracterize her writings or her philosophy. I think she accounts for things like toilet paper by reasoning backwards that a life without toilet paper would be significantly less joyful. Not that she actually writes about toilet paper. I’m just giving you an idea of how she might have dealt with such mundane essentials. Unfortunately, there are things other than mundane essentials that must stay in one’s life despite their failure to spark joy and despite their tendency to provoke actual sorrow. Here’s what’s on my living room floor right now:

A socket wrench–does not spark joy, but I assume my husband would be very upset if I just tossed it. I have no idea if my husband is responsible or not for it being on the floor, but there it is.

A three-hole punch–does not spark joy, but my joy is significantly dampened when I find myself, from time to time, needing a three-hole punch and being unable to find one. Up until looking down at the floor just this minute, I had been wondering where this particular three-hole punch had gotten off to. There isn’t a particularly good place for storing it because it’s kind of bulky and doesn’t fit in any drawers because there’s too much other crap in my drawers. I don’t know who left this three-hole punch on the floor, but I would be curious to know where they found it.

A USB cord–does not spark joy because I don’t recognize it as a USB cord to one of the devices that I use. I assume it belongs to one of my husband’s devices, but I don’t know which and I also don’t know why it’s on the floor, unattached to any device.

Princess Zurg’s jacket–sparks joy for Princess Zurg, but often gets left on the floor because it’s too much trouble to put away in the actual coat closet, which is jam chocky full of jackets and coats that spark varying levels of joy among different household members.

A Scooby-Doo Monopoly game and a Duckopoly game–spark joy for Elvis, who loves Monopoly in all its forms. Does not spark joy for me personally, as I dislike Monopoly more than almost any other game on earth, but I assume it’s on the floor because there is not enough room in the game cabinets (yes, we have more than one) to fit all of the Monopoly games we own, let alone all of the other board games we own. Some games are just always going to live on the floor, until we get rid of some games or get rid of some bath towels and bed sheets and convert the linen closet into a game cabinet.

Mister Bubby’s leather portfolio–does not spark joy for me; used to spark joy for Mister Bubby, even though the zipper broke on it about a year or so ago, but he had to switch to an ordinary three-ring binder because the Organizational Nazis at his high school have decreed that everyone needs to have the same organizational system regardless of personality or preference. Granted, this new organizational systems is probably better than his previous organizational system (stuff everything in the leather portfolio until it gets too full and then cull and start over again, looking classy all the while because it’s leather and doesn’t fall apart like your traditional three-ring binder, except for the zipper thing)–but MB has always been very sentimental and doesn’t like to let things go, even after they are no longer of use to him. He also doesn’t like to put things away.

A children’s magazine–does not spark joy for me, but sparks some joy for Girlfriend, who actually reads it. Unfortunately, she likes to keep all of her magazines rather than recycle them (unless she’s actually outgrown them, like with her Thomas the Tank Engine magazine–I tossed a bunch of them last spring, it was awesome). In her defense, she does actually re-read them. However, there is not enough space in this house to store all the reading material any one of us might re-read someday. This is the number one reason I bought a Kindle. Actual books used to spark joy for me, before I started drowning in my own (and everyone else’s) possessions. My Kindle is probably the one thing standing between me and literal suffocation. (Yes, literal. I was an English major. It’s been good for one thing.) It is the one area in which I have been able to stem the tide of material acquisition.

Princess Zurg’s old tap shoes–have always sparked joy for me because they’re cute and remind me of why I took up dancing late in life, but I should probably get over it because Girlfriend’s feet finally got too big to wear them (and theoretically learn to tap dance) and they’re just taking up space on the floor because there isn’t room in our shoe shelves to hold all the shoes we actually wear, let alone the shoes no one can wear. So here is the one object I have named thusfar that actually sparks joy for me, and it is the one object I have decided I should actually get rid of.

I see that this post is now over 2,400 words. If it were hard copy, it would be sucking the joy right the hell out of me.

 

One week from today I have my jaw surgery. I’ve been planning this surgery for so long that I forget it isn’t common knowledge among everyone I know that I’m getting it, and I will make some casual reference to having surgery June 10 and people be like WHAT SURGERY!! and when I explain, they all look and/or sound horrified, like they can’t believe I’m about to do something so grotesque. I have always said that I’m looking forward to it being done, not to doing it, but the closer I get to actually doing it, the more nervous I am. And it doesn’t help that everyone around me is horrified at the prospect and it’s not even their jaw in question.

I’ve never had surgery before. I’ve never been under general anesthesia. Now that I’m about to have surgery, I am starting to be scared. Well, last week I was starting. This week I am pretty firmly in the Scared category. Who knows what kind of basket case I’ll be next week. It’s not like I think I’m going to die. Usually I have to be under water before I start considering death as a possibility. Good thing the surgery isn’t going to be performed at sea, I guess. I’m mostly worried that I’m going to have the surgery and regret it later. What if it’s a Monkey’s Paw surgery? It’s supposed to correct my bite and relieve my TMJ symptoms, but what if it doesn’t help? What if it feels weird? What if I look weird? What if my lower jaw randomly comes unhinged at some point in the future? I admit that last one is a long shot. I’m just throwing fears out there. I already know it’s going to hurt like a melon farmer for about a week, but what if it hurts longer? How many weeks before I can chew again? I know what the doctor told me, but I always take what doctors say in terms of recovery and multiply it by at least one and a half. (My orthodontist said I’d be in braces for about two years. That was four years and four months ago, so you see why I have trust issues.) When am I really going to be able to chew again? What if I break my newly-rearranged jaw the first time I eat steak? Worse, what if I break it eating a protein bar, before I’m able to eat steak? What if I have to re-learn how to chew? My lower jaw has never been properly aligned with my upper jaw—how am I supposed to know how that works?

People are surprised to learn that my lower jaw needs to move forward about a centimeter because I don’t have a weak chin. My profile looks normal. Not that people with weak chins—is there a more scientific, PC term for that? I feel like there must be, but as I get older, I’m losing more and more of my words and I have less and less patience for Googling—have abnormal profiles. But if you look at me from the side, you can’t tell that my lower jaw is a centimeter behind where it should be. Which makes me wonder how it will look when it is where it should be. I move my jaw to line up my lower teeth with my upper teeth—which does NOT feel remotely normal, by the way—and I can’t really see a difference, so hopefully I will not end up looking like Jay Leno or something. My dears, I have enough problems.

I am feeling very unattractive as of late, for reasons having nothing to do with my jaw. It has mostly to do with age. I have not aged well. I saw my before pictures at the orthodontist yesterday—that was only four years ago, and I looked so much younger. Not young, not by a long shot, but so much younger. Now I look old, and the frown lines I’ve had since I was five have all gotten more pronounced. I’ve never had a super-great face, but for a long time I did think it looked okay. I would say even at 35-36 it was looking all right. Now I look in the mirror and think, “Who is that hag?” RHETORICAL QUESTION BECAUSE I KNOW. Part of me is holding out hope that somehow, miraculously, I might look better after my surgery. I mean, the insurance company is treating it like the dental equivalent of a boob job, so I feel like I should get some cosmetic benefit. But I don’t imagine I will. Maybe getting rid of the braces will help. I’ve been told that will eventually happen someday too, hopefully before I turn 50.

It is hard to look at Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair and not feel like that bitch needs to keep her makeover to herself.

The problem with not being young is that whatever you can do to make yourself look better takes a lot more effort than you have the energy for. And probably professional help. I would probably have to go back to school to learn how to be pretty at this point. I’m only focusing on my outward appearance because my soul is empty, just so you know.

But enough of those superficialities. Let’s talk about how the orthodontist has ruined my last week of eating normally for who-knows-how-long by putting new hooks on my braces. I presume they are there for surgery-related purposes. Isn’t it funny how un-curious I was when they were doing this to me at the office yesterday, and it’s only now I can’t eat without feeling like I’ve got razor wire in my mouth that I wonder what the crap this is for? This is why I haven’t made more of my life, you know. A profound lack of curiosity when it matters most. But I digress. Tomorrow I have to see the oral surgeon for a records and x-rays or whatever appointment. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me then. Hopefully nothing horrible. I’m sort of counting on the horrible stuff not starting until next Wednesday. Who wants to take me out for lunch?

Two days after my surgery, school lets out for the summer. Whee! This is where having a mother-in-law who lives half a mile away comes in handy. In case you were wondering, this summer is scheduled to suck. THROUGH A STRAW, FOR ABOUT SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS.

So we are now five months into our No Housekeepers experiment, and I have to say that it is looking less promising than initial data suggested. The bathrooms are starting to get a film. I had to buy a new vacuum cleaner because the Kenmore died RIGHT AFTER I bought new bags for it. Yes, that’s how old our vacuum was—it actually used bags. Now I have a Shark Rocket or something, and I admit, it’s pretty awesome. For a vacuum, I mean. I reckon it can’t help being awesome compared to a fifteen-year-old Kenmore. It makes me feel really old, getting excited about how easily it maneuvers around and under my furniture. I’m like George H.W. Bush marveling at the supermarket scanner. What won’t they think of next. So yes, the floors still look great, because I’m doing them. Actually, they look better because I’m doing them. The stuff the kids are doing, on the other hand, is not quite up to snuff. It’s not cutting the mustard, if you prefer a different outdated phrase. And now that I don’t have complete strangers coming into my home fortnightly to judge me, I’ve sort of let some other things go. Like, I don’t really care if the coffee table gets cleared off because as soon as I clear it off, everyone dumps more crap on it, so screw it. No one ever visits us anyway.

Well, I’d like to think I’ll talk to you gentle readers again before my surgery, but considering this is my first post in about a month, I advise against holding your breath. Who knows when we shall meet again? But I promise you that if I end up with a freakshow jaw, I will blog about it. Never you fear. My friends, adieu.

One of the problems that I’ve had with blogging over the last year or three is that I sit down and don’t really have anything to say. That didn’t used to be a problem. I used to sit down and not have anything to say and end up saying something anyway. What has changed? Have I gotten duller, or did I exhaust my capacity for saying useless crap? That last one seems to be a stretch, so perhaps I’m going to have to admit I’ve gotten duller. I mean, I’ve had this blog more than ten years now. How many times have you read about my house being a cesspool? Well, zero, if you’re here for the first time, but I don’t think you are here for the first time. By the way, if you are here for the first time, let me know. Unless you’re a spambot, which in that case I want you to leave and never come back (no offense). Or you can come back, I guess, as long as you never let me know you were here. I’d be okay with a spamlurker, if such a thing existed. I’d be okay with unicorns too, just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, the other day I saw this article that refers to a study that used 36 questions to try to spur people to intimacy. And I thought, you know, I’m not good at coming up with original ideas, but one thing I am usually good at is filling out questionnaires. I’m not looking for love, really. I mean, I have love (I think) in my real life. I’m just looking for stuff to write about. So I thought I would use these 36 questions to get back into the habit of blogging regularly.

If you end up falling in love with me, I’m sorry.

Today’s question is the first question on the list: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

This is actually a terrible question for me to start with because given the choice of anyone in the world, I’m not sure I would like to have anyone over for dinner. First of all, do I have to make dinner for this person? Will I have to clean the house first? These are important variables, but not, I think, the sort of thing the question-framer(s) had in mind. Let’s assume my house is already clean and someone else has already made dinner, and all I need to do is ask someone to come eat with me. That brings to mind another question, though–is it just me and this other person having dinner? Because that could be awkward. I’m really not good at making conversation. Even my own husband has to drag stuff out of me half of the time. Maybe more than half. I don’t know. Maybe less than half. Maybe my husband is getting just as much information out of me as he wants. Maybe he’s getting more than he wants. Maybe he’d like me to shut up sometimes, on those rare occasions I have something to say. Which is it, honey? Wait, do I want to know? Maybe we’ll revisit this another time, over dinner.

My husband has a skill that my mother also had, which is the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, with complete strangers when necessary. My mother used to strike up conversations with everybody, and she seemed to do this effortlessly. Well, she was an extrovert, and I am not, but she was also socially adept, which I am also not. Being introverted is not the same as being shy. I don’t actually like to think of myself as “shy.” I have always hated to be called shy, even when I was a kid and was certainly, objectively speaking, shy. People used to make allowances for me, like, “Oh, don’t mind Mad, she’s just shy,” but they’d say it like, “Oh, don’t mind Mad, she’s just incontinent.” It’s funny how quickly we perceive that “shy” is pejorative. I don’t see why it should be, and yet here I am getting bent out of shape over the idea that I should be described as “shy” rather than “quietly badass.” Surely I don’t have such a high opinion of myself that I should be embarrassed to admit to genuine shyness. Indeed, no one as self-aware as I am should shrink from calling herself what she is, regardless of how unflattering it may seem.

But I’m not sure “shy” is really the right word in my case. Shyness may be one of my problems, but it’s tangential to the core problem, which is that I am just really bad at talking to people. I should be more specific: I’m really bad at talking, period. I know I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s been years (probably), so I will just do a quick recap. As soon as I start speaking, my mouth unplugs from my brain, so to speak, and it’s just running on what little information was downloaded to my tongue before speaking again. That is rarely enough to complete a thought, and I won’t have access to all the stuff I know and think in my brain again until I shut up. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage during an argument, which is the main reason why I’m usually so agreeable.

I’m like this with everyone, but less so with people I know well, with whom I don’t need to make small talk, which, after nearly 44 years on earth, I still haven’t learned how to do. I reckon that this question was probably meant to ascertain which well-known person I would want to have dinner with, but I don’t think I’d want to have dinner with any well-known people. Talk about social anxiety! So I guess if I had my choice of anyone on earth, the person I would want to have as a dinner guest would be someone I knew well enough that I wouldn’t have to make any small talk with them, and they would understand when I needed to stop and reboot my brain every ten seconds. Alternatively, I would want them to be a really good talker, so all I would have to do is listen. I still think I would rather have dinner with someone I know, so I think my choice would be one of my two best friends that I have had in my past, neither of whom is on the internet, so there’s no point in telling you who they are.

What about you, gentle readers? Who would be your choice of dinner guest?

I am trying to get myself in the mood for Christmas by listening to Christmas music. I like Christmas music, but only when it’s Christmas time. When they start playing Christmas music in October, I want to punch someone in the head. I don’t know why I have such a violent reaction to it. I guess, as I get older, that I’m very aware of the passage of time, and I don’t like people rushing me into Christmas and the end of the year before it’s time. Let me enjoy autumn, people! Of course, one could also argue that life is too short not to listen to Christmas music any time you feel like it. I’ll buy that. But only so long as you listen to your Christmas music in the privacy of your own home or car or earbuds and are not inflicting your out-of-season musical choices on others. Not everyone likes to rock around the Christmas tree on Labor Day weekend.

Personally, I don’t like to rock around the Christmas tree even when it’s Christmas. I also do not like to jingle-bell rock any time of year. Basically, I eschew all Christmas-themed rocking. Unless it’s Christopher Lee’s metal Christmas album, which I feel compelled to respect on principle.

A regular heavy-metal Christmas album, okay. Maybe I’d like it, maybe I wouldn’t. But heavy metal + Christopher Lee? What’s the point of living in the twenty-first century if you don’t take advantage of these modern innovations?

Do you know that Christopher Lee is 92 years old? That’s about eight years older than I thought he was. Amazing.

Anyway, back to my original topic. I’m trying to get into the Christmas spirit because Christmas is, in fact, my favorite holiday, except for all the stress. Even when I was growing up, I hated the stress of Christmas because I absorbed my mother’s stress. But I also loved Christmas, so what could I do? As an adult, though, I feel like I can’t enjoy the Christmas season until I am prepared for Christmas. Because that’s what everyone is talking about at Christmastime: have you done all your shopping? are you ready? I hate listening to other people talk about their Christmas shopping–because usually people who talk about their Christmas shopping are the kind who get it done early and like to brag about it. Frankly, I might brag too, if I had it together enough to finish Christmas shopping before December even starts. But hearing about how much farther ahead of me everyone else is just adds to my stress. Not that it’s a competition or anything, but it just reminds me there are only so many shopping days until Christmas, especially if you don’t want to end up wandering aimlessly around the mall on Dec. 23.

One thing that is easing my stress this year is that my mother-in-law will be visiting one of her other sons on Christmas. Not that I don’t enjoy my mother-in-law’s company, but the Christmas shopping deadline is more flexible because we won’t give her any gifts until she gets back. So at least I don’t have to worry about that.

The worrisome gift recipients this year are Mister Bubby and Elvis. They both really like football, but you can only give someone so many footballs. You can only give them so many Ducks jerseys. You can only give them so many DVDs of the 2012 Rose Bowl. You kind of want to encourage their other interests, if they have any. Elvis really doesn’t. Mister Bubby is very into trombone and jazz (especially as it relates to the trombone), but you can only give your son so many trombones. When he wants to listen to music, he turns on YouTube while he plays Elder Scrolls, or whatever. He likes clever t-shirts, so while I was surfing the web looking for clever t-shirts related to his geek interests, I looked for trombone-themed shirts. Let me tell you, the trombone-themed t-shirt market is about what you’d expect. There’s not much clever that doesn’t involve puns on boning and doing it in seven positions. I may be the woman who stood idly by while her husband bought their eleven-year-old son a “Get Porked at Billy’s” shirt at the barbecue place, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, last Christmas was dubbed “Year of the Clothes” by MB, so we’re trying not to repeat that error.

On the plus side, the Christmas tree is up and decorated. It looks pretty, which is good since it will be there until February.

In non-Christmas news, I made a hair appointment for Monday at 11:30. I have clogging until 10:30, and the dance studio is on the way to the hair salon, which would be convenient except that I’d really rather have a shower before going to the salon, so I will have to rush home, take a shower, and rush to the hair appointment. I probably should have made an appointment for another day, but I just accepted the first date she offered me because I guess I didn’t want to seem hard to please. In retrospect I have no idea why I didn’t ask for a different date. It took all of my psychological strength to overcome my fear of making telephone calls to make the telephone call, so once I was in the telephone call, I had nothing left for negotiations.

I’m going to quit writing now because I’ve been on this computer forever, trying to do all my Christmas shopping online because the thought of going to an actual store fills me with dread.

Carpooling

Madhousewife (to neighbor boy): L, quit kicking my seat.

L: [continues kicking seat as though nothing has been said]

Mad: Seriously, dude, quit kicking my seat or I swear I will stop this car, go back there and tie your legs together.

L: Ha ha! You’re so funny. (to Girlfriend) She’s making a joke, right?

Girlfriend: I don’t know.

L’s sister: I think she might not be.

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Mad: L!

L: What?

Mad: Quit kicking my seat.

L: Sorry. Hey, guess what?

Mad: What?

L: Chicken butt!

Mad: Ha ha! Never gets old…

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Mad: Don’t kick my seat, L.

L: Sorry. I’m just so used to doing it.

Mad: Well, you need to get used to not doing it.

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They used to sing “The Hokey Pokey” every morning. I wish they’d go back to doing that.

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Christmas songs I never want to hear again as long as I live

1. “Santa Baby”–any version, but especially Madonna’s

2. “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer” — It was only funny the first time. And then only because you weren’t used to hearing whimsical songs about grandmothers dying.

3. “Little Drummer Boy” — I know, I know–Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth,” but that doesn’t count because it isn’t “Little Drummer Boy.” It’s “Peace on Earth” with a soupcon of “Little Drummer Boy.” That’s the thing about “Little Drummer Boy.” It only works as a seasoning, and probably only in this one instance. You wouldn’t pour a cup of allspice down your throat, would you? (If you would, shut up.) Then don’t subject me to a whole song of unadulterated “Little Drummer Boy.”

4. “Twelve Days of Christmas” –No, not even the Muppet version. No version! Except maybe this version, but only after skipping the first two minutes.

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Fortunately, people hardly ever sing “Twelve Days of Christmas” anymore because everyone seems to understand how obnoxious it is. Except for those few obnoxious people who didn’t get the memo. For that reason, it needs to stay on the list until it is completely eradicated from the earth.*

* (Except maybe for limited use in warfare.)

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Mister Bubby was complaining this morning that elementary school kids have it better because they get to have parties on the last day of school before winter break, and all they’re doing in middle school is reading aloud “A Christmas Carol” in one of his classes. I asked him if he was going to read it in Mr. Magoo’s voice. MB remarked that Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is actually the most faithful of all the adaptations and that it most effectively shows the transformation of Mr. Magoo’s character over time. I tend to agree. I like most adaptations of “A Christmas Carol,” but Mr. Magoo’s is still my favorite. Little Ebeneezer gets me every time.

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I actually love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, despite the fact that it’s also the most stressful. I’m very bad at gifts, you see. I like to give gifts, I want to give gifts, but I have a hard time choosing gifts. You know how some people are really good at giving special, thoughtful gifts? I’m not those people. I like to think it’s not because I’m not thoughtful. I just don’t have any thoughts that translate into gifts. Once in a blue moon I think of something that somebody would really like and I’m actually correct and that’s awesome, but that’s not the rule with me. Most of the time when I try to think of what gift someone would like, I come up with nothing. Which is how I end up giving gift cards so much of the time.

Personally, I like gift cards. Getting them, I mean. Obviously, I love giving them because there’s no thought required. Not that I’m thoughtless, but I like giving them for the same reason I like playing games of chance: there’s no strategy required, so I don’t have to feel bad about getting it wrong. Except I know some people find gift cards impersonal. Well, they are impersonal. But some people are offended by impersonal gifts. Personally, I am not offended by impersonal gifts, even though personal gifts are also nice. I don’t actually have a preference between the two. If my husband got me a gift card for my birthday, I would not be offended, but he might be offended that I was not offended. A gift card would basically boil down to his explicit permission to spend more of his money that I’m already spending without permission (or rather, with implicit permission coexisting with the implicit understanding that I won’t ruin him financially). When you look at it that way, it seems kind of lame, but I wouldn’t mind. What kind of monster am I? I don’t know.

I almost always give my husband a gift card to Jamba Juice for his birthday and for Christmas because he loves Jamba Juice, and it’s not like I can wrap up a week’s worth of smoothies and put them under the tree, is it? Of course, that’s not the only thing I give him. I’m not that much of a monster. But at least I know he’ll use it. But then, he’ll get Jamba Juice even if I don’t give him a gift card. But he’ll feel guilty about it if he gets too many of them. The Jamba Juice that he buys with a gift card is his guilt-free Jamba Juice. I think a card that absolves its holder guilt, even if it’s only the retail variety, is not so impersonal after all. But maybe that’s just me.

But I’ve digressed. But not really because my husband is a good segue to what I meant to talk about here. My husband is a reasonably thoughtful gift giver. I say this mainly because he starts thinking about birthdays and Christmas way before I do. He’ll make me sit down with him and discuss what we ought to give the kids for Christmas, starting in, like, September. (He’s not one of those people who have all their shopping done in July or anything horrible like that. He’s just organized.) I don’t often have something to contribute to these discussions. My most meaningful contributions are “That’s a good idea” and “We should do that.” It’s not that I don’t know my children or what they like. I just can’t think of what they’d like when I really need to. (My husband, on the other hand, thinks very well under stress. I’ve never considered this in light of things like Christmas, but maybe it has a lot to do with why he’s better at it than I am.) Once in a blue moon I have a good idea that isn’t his first. It makes me feel like less of a monster. But it’s a rare feeling.

Now that our children are older, we are moving out of the toy stage of life. Girlfriend is technically still young enough for toys, but she already has a million. We have been trying desperately not to add to the millions of toys that are already in our house. We have been trying desperately not to add to the billions of things we already have in our house, but those efforts have been mostly in vain. Here’s where I have to beg people not to share stories about how they give their kids the gift of working in a soup kitchen every Christmas or buying a cow for someone in Rwanda or whatever. Just don’t even go there. If you do, I swear I will not rinse this ketchup bottle out and recycle it. (That ought to give at least half of you pause.) We don’t have a problem with spending money. We don’t even have a problem with spending money frivolously. (Well, not a very large problem, anyway.) We just don’t want to acquire more crap that we have to thereafter manage. We’ve thought about giving experience or destination gifts, but nothing really comes to mind. Also, not having something to unwrap Christmas morning kind of sucks. I think every kid who isn’t working in a soup kitchen or buying Rwandan cows knows this. Do they even have cows in Rwanda? I’m sure they must, but how much does your average Rwandan need a cow? This is what I don’t know and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it. I don’t know why I chose Rwanda out of thin air. I think I just like the name “Rwanda.”

One of the thoughtful things my husband thought to do this year is to (finally) compile a photo album of baby photos for Girlfriend. Baby photos of her, that is. She is, sadly, the only child (of ours) who doesn’t have one. Even Elvis has one, although his is rather thin and stops at around four months of age. I would have to double check on that, but I’m afraid if I did I would discover it actually stops at eight weeks of age, and I don’t want to know that. My husband thought of it, but I was put in charge of executing it–which was fine, because it gave me the opportunity to do something thoughtful, so even if I didn’t think of it originally, I can sort of get credit for it. So I have been spending the last few weeks desperately searching for baby pictures of Girlfriend. And you know what? It turns out there aren’t many. Not of that first year, anyway. Which has actually been very depressing. I mean, I knew there weren’t s many of her as there were of the older children, but…wow, I really had no idea how scant the photographic evidence of her babyhood is. Thank God I still had it enough together at the advanced age of 35 to take her in for professional portraits every three months that first year, or who would know what she looked like at six months? No one, that’s who. NO ONE. It is making me sad just thinking about it. But what can I do? WELL, NOTHING ANYMORE, THOSE MOMENTS ARE GONE FOREVER CATS IN THE CRADLE AND THE SILVER SPOON ET CETERA.

She will just have to remember for the rest of her life that I was still carrying her around the house when she was eight years old because she didn’t have any younger siblings with whom I could compare her weight. (She’s actually sixty-seven pounds, but it doesn’t seem that way because she’s my baby. Eventually, this relative lightness is going to end. It probably should have ended a couple years ago, but at least I’m not still breastfeeding her.)

One good thing that has come out of this experience is that I’ve learned that Walgreens will develop my 35mm film. I’ve been looking for someone to do that for ages. Well, not continuously or diligently, of course, or I probably would have discovered the Walgreens photo lab a couple years ago, even though I hardly ever go to Walgreens. I will be going to Walgreens a lot more often now, believe you me, simply because I’m so grateful to them for developing my 35mm film less than a mile from my house. I feel like I owe it to them. Even though I no longer have any more 35mm film to develop. (That I know of. Twenty years from now we could find several canisters that house Girlfriend: The Lost Months.) But I will use them for all my photographic print needs from now on. And also for buying things like Tylenol, maybe.

Talking of which, I have to take a shower and go to Walgreens and pick up the prints I had made from the CD I had made of the 35mm film I had developed, only about six exposures of which involved Girlfriend in some way, Actually, only a few more than that involved any people in some way. Apparently my children started doing experimental photography before we officially entered the digital age. That makes me glad I waited until we were firmly entrenched in the upper-middle class before developing these rolls of film, or I might have been more upset about spending all this money to see blurry shots of someone’s arm.

Only three more hours until winter break begins, and I have to spend twenty minutes showering and getting dressed. What a rip-off. (No, I don’t know why it takes me that long. Considering how I end up looking, it should take me no more than seven minutes, tops. But my universe is a mysterious place.)

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Actually, I don’t especially mind “Little Drummer Boy” when Grace Jones sings it in Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special, but that’s mainly because I’m so mesmerized by the bizarre visuals of the performance that I don’t notice the audio so much.

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So now I have survived two traumatic experiences this summer. Back in June I was in a four-car smash-up, and yesterday I went white water rafting. If you know me at all, I know what you’re thinking: “Madhousewife, why were you white water rafting?” I am not fond of the outdoors. I don’t like to have fun. Therefore, it makes little sense that I should have been white water rafting. Except that my husband wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, so naturally that is why I was white water rafting. When my husband says he wants to do something that I’m not particularly interested in doing, my response is to murmur indifferently and hope that he will eventually forget about it. To say I’d rather not do something he’s decided would be fun to do is to invite criticism of my well-established hatred of fun. In addition to fun and the outdoors, criticism of my fundamental personality traits is something I don’t enjoy. I only invite personal criticism when it’s really important. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. Maybe I will get back to that later.

Anyway, my husband went white water rafting with his co-workers as a team-building activity last summer, and for his birthday the white water rafting company sent him a gift certificate for a free white water rafting trip for an individual. This reminded him that he wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, and it wasn’t like he could not take advantage of one of us being free—hence, he booked us on a white water rafting trip. I was not excited to go, but I was willing to go because despite my hatred of fun and my apparent willingness to own it, I am clearly not willing to fully own it because I still occasionally feel guilty about it and doubt my own judgment when it comes to outright rejecting activities that I have no desire to participate in. I have no desire to spend three days at amusement and water parks at the end of this month, but I am uncomfortable saying, “I will not do that,” because a) it just seems rude to tell my family I won’t go on vacation with them, b) what would I suggest instead? I’m not a fun person, and c) even if they left me at the hotel to read a book, which I would enjoy, I would feel like I was missing something because the rest of my family is off having fun and—for want of a less cringe-inducing phrase—making memories without me. I have to go to the amusement park and the water park, or otherwise I am not part of the family. I would sooner excommunicate myself from the church (and I’m not aiming to do that any time soon).

When it comes to things I’ve never done before, there is also the remote possibility that I will end up enjoying it. It isn’t likely, given my nature, but how do I know unless I’ve tried it? I like to think that there are many things I’ll agree to do once. I once agreed to eat tripe. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. But now I know, and now when I’m confronted with the opportunity to eat tripe or not eat tripe, I can make an informed decision, with or without guilt. Well, in the case of tripe, it’s without guilt because there are several people in the family who won’t eat tripe. I don’t have to feel like I’m letting them all down by not eating it. Also, maybe I feel like some tripe today. I don’t know. I also don’t feel guilty about refusing to eat olives. This only affects my family when it’s time to order pizza. I guess this is one of those examples of when inviting personal criticism is worth the risk. I really hate olives. I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Thanks to experience, I also know that I really hate raw baby squids—eating them, not so much their existence—and I have no qualms about refusing to eat those, even if it means offending the entire nation of Japan, should I ever find myself in a remote fishing village there again.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Until yesterday, I had never been white water rafting. Maybe I would like it, maybe I wouldn’t. How would I know unless I tried it? I wasn’t excited to try it, but I was willing to try it, for the aforementioned reasons I have already explained, despite the fact that it involved the outdoors (which I’m not fond of) and also involved water, with which I have a complicated relationship. (I’m not sure it’s worth going into the history.) Despite the fact that I am generally terrified of drowning (part of my complicated relationship with water), my anxiety over the trip was not so much over the (distinct) (but at the same time statistically unlikely) possibility of drowning but the certainty that I was going to have to spend several hours in a wet suit, which didn’t sound comfortable (what if I get an itch I can’t scratch?) and that I would need to exert myself physically (physical exertion being another thing I have a complicated relationship with) in a manner that might require coordination (coordination also not being one of my strengths). So yes, I was anxious, but I wasn’t scared anxious.

That was before I got to the white water rafting place. The wetsuit actually wasn’t that bad. I got an itch. I was able to scratch it. It was unbearably hot, but they told me I’d be grateful for the insulation once I was in the 40 degree water, and I believed them. I still had my doubts about the physical exertion/coordination thing, but they were not overwhelming. What was overwhelming was when they started talking about what I’d need to do if I fell out of the raft or the raft turned over and everyone, including me, fell into the river. Obviously, I knew all along this was a possibility—falling out of the raft and into the river—but I didn’t know-know it until they were giving me instructions on how to deal with this scenario and I realized that I would never in a million years remember all of this stuff. I could remember some of it—Number One rule, for example, “Don’t Panic!” Easy to remember. Not so easy to follow, which brings me to my second overwhelming experience, the realization that I would, in the event of falling into a river, definitely not remember anything I was supposed to do except not panic, and therefore I would definitely panic. I’m sorry, but what is the alternative when you can’t remember how not to drown? I can’t think of one. At the same time, I can’t think of a better way to drown than to panic while underwater, so you see why my anxiety increased exponentially at this point. I really had no choice but to stay in the raft, and being ill-coordinated and inexperienced (at white water rafting), I was not 100 percent confident of my ability to do so. Did I mention that I was now rationally anxious, as opposed to just silly-anxious? Seriously, an itch I couldn’t scratch? How could that ever have bothered me? I’m some kind of idiot, that’s how.

Anyway, back to my story and my determined resolve not to fall out of the raft, since I had already forgotten 85 percent of what they’d told me to do in that event—possibly 90, I couldn’t really tell since I’d forgotten so much. I got in the raft. The raft was in the water. Because we booked the trip late, our family had to split up and be in two separate rafts. Sugar Daddy and Princess Zurg were rafting with some outdoorsy, fun-loving young adults (or maybe they were middle-aged adults, I couldn’t really tell since I was focused mostly on the drowning thing), and Mister Bubby and I were rafting with a family of four—outdoorsy, fun-loving parents and their game-looking teenage daughters, one of whom had been rafting before but not at this level of rapids. I forgot to mention that this trip included level-2 and level 3- and level-4 rapids and also a level-5 waterfall thingy at the end. None of these levels meant anything to me before this trip; frankly, they don’t mean much to me now, except I now know that level-2 is about where my comfort level stops. But back to my story. I was getting off topic. We were in the raft. The raft was in the water. SD was in another raft. He said he was actually kind of glad he was in a separate raft because then he could better watch me as I was having my rafting experience. Forget the logic of this statement. What you need to know is that my husband has admitted that he enjoys witnessing my discomfort, to the extent that it’s important to him to get a good seat. I’m going to leave that for now and come back to it later, or we’ll never get past the part where I’m in the raft.

We’re in the raft, the raft is in the water, and we’re rowing. Or paddling. I guess you paddle in a raft. They taught us how to paddle. It made sense.  I am executing the paddling motion. Am I awesome at it? No. Am I better at it than the girl in front of me? Yes. Is that saying much? No, but I don’t have any other reference. We are paddling in the raft, in the water, and we’re coming up on some rapids. What do they call these rapids? I forget. They all have cute names. One is “Maytag.” I do not like that name, but that is not the name of these rapids. I think these were “The Staircase” or something. Honestly, none of the names appeals to me, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re coming up on some rapids, maybe The Staircase, maybe something else fraught with devastating possibilities, and our guide—whom I like very much; he sounds a lot like the Crush the turtle in Finding Nemo, and I feel comfortable with him—tells us to paddle forward two, but I notice there’s a big rock where my paddle would go, and then the next thing I know, the raft is tipping and, despite my determination, I am falling out of it. I am telling this in slow motion. This is how it really went down: we’re paddling, everything’s cool, and then BOOM! I’m in the water and I’m drowning. I knew this would happen!

So I’m in the water, drowning. I don’t know what anyone else is doing because all I can think is, “Don’t panic,” and also, “Panic!” This is the conversation my brain is having with itself: “Don’t panic!” “I’m panicking!” “I said don’t panic!” “I know! I’m drowning!” “You can’t panic when you’re drowning!” “But I’m DROWNING!” “Okay, let’s think, what was that thing they said about recirculating? We don’t want to do that—“ “I AM F***ING DROWNING HERE!” “SHUT UP, I’M TRYING TO THINK!” “I’M PANICKING!” “What you don’t want to do is put your feet down, they told you not to put your feet down—“ “IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT THAT I GET SOME AIR RIGHT NOW” “I’M THINKING!” “Okay, I am breathing air now, but I can’t see anything and I can’t hear anything and the important things is that I’M STILL IN THE WATER AND NOT THE BOAT AND WHERE IS THE WATERFALL AM I GOING TO DIE” and on and on like that until finally I heard SD’s voice and the guide in his raft pulled me out of the water, and then I wanted to cry but I didn’t because the trip had just started and I had already almost f***ing drowned. If I cried at this point, what would I have left to do the next time I almost drowned? Do not be misled by my reluctance to type the F-word in public; I assure you that my private thoughts contained no asterisks. I’m sorry, I’m going to need a minute here.

It was terrifying. Also, cold, but at the time I didn’t mind the cold so much—frankly, it was rather refreshing—but the terror really put a damper on my mood for the rest of the trip. It turned out that the whole raft tipped over, so all six of us went in the river. Mister Bubby actually swam toward the raft. I learned to swim at an appropriate age, but apparently I can only access the skill if I’m not in a life-or-death situation, which, to me, pretty much misses the point of learning how to swim. But I don’t have time to dwell on that epiphany. All six of us eventually ended up back in our right-side-up raft and continued on our way as if we hadn’t just had a near-death experience.

Seriously, wet suits and itching. What was I thinking?

Actually, one of the previously game-looking teenage daughters now appeared to be even more traumatized than I was. She couldn’t stop crying. I knew how she felt. I would have been crying too, if I hadn’t been determined not to embarrass my son, who had made it clear before we got on the raft that he was not thrilled to be paired with me because I was so potentially embarrassing. So I was being strong, for him (not that he appreciated it), but my sympathy was with this poor girl, who—I believe I mentioned—could not stop crying. We kept paddling, she kept crying. We got to a part of the river where we had to get out and hike what seemed like a mile but probably wasn’t nearly a mile of rugged terrain, and she was crying the whole way. Eventually she and the mother just had to walk out, which left only four of us in our party, but that was okay. At least none of us was crying. Yet.

We got to the point where it was time to get back into the rafts, which were already in the water (having been zip-lined past the stretch that was apparently unnavigable), and our choices were to jump off a cliff into the water (about a 20-foot drop), or hike a more roundabout route to the place where the rafts were waiting. The jump was highly recommended by several, but I knew about this part of the trip from the outset, and I knew from the outset that I would not be jumping off any cliff for any reason, with any inducement. I don’t jump off of cliffs. I don’t jump off of anything. SD jumped off the cliff, but that was no biggy, he’d done it before. Also, he liked jumping off of things. Like diving boards and crap. MB and PZ also jumped off the cliff. I took the long road, along with half a dozen or so of my fellow catapedaphobic rafters. I can’t say the descent down the side of the cliff was a stroll in the park either, but there were ropes. I made it. I watched my children plunge into the river, on purpose. Then we continued on our merry way.

Really, there is not much for me to say about the rest of the trip. As I told MB and SD later, it might have been different had I not fallen into the river very first thing. Perhaps I might have enjoyed some of the gentler rapids. SD pointed out to me that I basically body-surfed a level-4 rapid on my back, which should have been awesome, but I really could have done without the experience. I spent the rest of the time just being afraid that I was going to fall in again. It is hard to forget that you just almost-drowned when your ears and stomach are still full of river water and your mouth is still full of the taste of fear. As we got closer to the end of the trip—the part where we were supposed to go over the waterfallOn the bus ride down to the starting point of the trip, I told MB—who was so bummed that he was with the embarrassing, fun-hating parent—that while I was definitely not jumping off a cliff, I did intend to go off the waterfall (which, like the cliff-jumping, was optional). I mean, why wouldn’t I? It was the climax of the trip, and after all, I’d never done it before, had I? And I couldn’t disappoint my son when I was the only parent he had in the raft with him, could I? So I said I’d go over the waterfall, but that was before I fully grasped the concept of “level 5.” As we got closer and closer to the waterfall, and they went over all the safety procedures for going over the waterfall, and they reiterated the stuff they said earlier in the day about the risk of “recirculating” (which I definitely didn’t want to do), I became increasingly certain that without a frontal lobotomy, I would not be able to enjoy going over a level-5 waterfall. And no matter how much I wanted to do it, i.e. not disappoint my son and miss the climax of the trip, even if I hated it, I could not make myself do it.

It turns out that I am only so much of a good sport about drowning.

It also turned out that of the four of us left in the raft (besides the guide), MB was the only one willing to go over the waterfall. That made me extra upset about not being able to make myself do it, because 12-year-olds shouldn’t have to go over waterfalls without their mothers. Right? I mean, it seemed that way to me. I can’t describe the guilt that went along with this decision, which I absolutely knew was the only decision I could possibly make because the flesh was weak and the spirit was also weak. It made it very difficult to enjoy the relief I felt over not having to go over a waterfall, which I now think was really unfair, but at the time all I felt was regret–and an overwhelming fear of drowning, of course, but that goes without saying.

So I got out of the raft and walked with my fellow waterfall-phobic rafters to the bridge where you watch fun-loving people go over a waterfall in a raft and possibly fall out and get sucked into a whirlpool thingy and “recirculate” and meet their watery demise, and my anxiety level went up again. Here I was, safe on the bridge, and there were my children in the river, about to go over a freaking waterfall. I wasn’t worried about SD—he’d done it before and not died, so I was reasonably confident he could do it again—but neither of my children had ever navigated a waterfall before, successfully or otherwise. PZ was even less good at rafting than I was, and MB was all alone in the raft with a dude who talked like the sea turtle in Finding Nemo (not that he wasn’t a consummate professional). I almost didn’t want to watch, but I did.

They survived. Nobody fell out. And the fun was finally over!

SD said it was very sad to watch me getting knocked around by the rapids, clearly terrified, but I can’t help noticing that while SD always says it’s sad for him to see me scared, he also can’t seem to keep from laughing about it. Perhaps it’s a nervous reaction and he doesn’t actually enjoy my fear, but it’s just that he keeps pulling me into situations where I will be very afraid. Situations like roller coasters and haunted houses and big water slides and white water rapids. And he seems to enjoy reminiscing about those experiences. I don’t mean to invite you to judge him too harshly, gentle readers. I’m sure he’s only able to laugh because he (unlike I) knew all along that I wasn’t going to die. I’m sure he wouldn’t laugh at my fear if he ever thought I was in actual danger. I think.

MB: You didn’t enjoy the rest of the trip because you almost fell in the river.

Mad: There was no almost about it! I did fall in!

MB: I mean you almost fell in again. You only stayed in the raft the second time because you grabbed onto that 12-year-old girl.

Mad: Yes. And thank God she was there.

That’s all I have to say about white water rafting. Except that wet suits smell like feet. But that’s another post for another day.

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