Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Thin Line

Today as I was driving to pick up the kids I saw a jeep with a cracked windshield on the side of the road. I could see a woman and a teenage girl inside. As I passed them and looked in my rearview mirror, I could see them slapping and grabbing each other. I pulled over, reached for my cell phone and walked back to their car. I’m not sure what kind of accident they were in. It didn’t look like a collision, b/c there was no other car around. Did someone’s head hit the windshield?

When I got to their car, there was no blood in sight. They were both crying, breathing heavily, spent. I asked them if they were all right. The mom said “No, but the police are on the way.” I asked if they thought it was safe for me to leave the two of them together, and they both said yes and thanked me, so I reluctantly went back to my car. I did not call 911.

I don’t know what happened the moments before I got there, but I imagine the anger and frustration they were experiencing went way beyond a broken windshield and that terrible moment. I didn’t judge or lecture, just tried to make sure the violence had stopped, and then I drove away. On my way back home, about 10 minutes later, they were still in their car, apparently calm.

I think back to my days as a high school teacher. I was young, just a few years older than the students themselves, and I thought I knew it all. I grew up in a home free of any violence or even corporal punishment, and I couldn’t imagine why a parent would ever lash out at a child or vice versa. I mean, I lashed out at my parents, but it consisted only of snipey comments, theatrical tears and much door slamming.

So, as a young teacher, I was setting up my classroom early one morning when I heard arguing in the hall. A mom and daughter were there, having just come from a teacher conference of some sort. The mom reached out and slapped the girl, Christy, right across the face. It was the first time in my 25 short years that I had ever seen a real live slap. I was aghast.

I knew Christy, and knew that she was a pill. She was an adorable “golden child,” with lots of potential who had started hanging around a new group of kids. She started talking tough. Her grades were slipping, she was dirty, and her attitude stunk. I was appalled that her mom would slap her, and I wondered if I should call Child Protective Services. I knew spanking was allowed by law, but what about slapping? I tried hard to imagine what could lead to such a rift between mother and child, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

As a mom, it’s easier for me to understand these situations. I have never even spanked either of my kids, but I have experienced a scary, white-hot anger flare up in me as a mother that I had never experienced before.

I think of the tired, end of my rope anger of almost 8 years ago when my baby would not sleep. I felt hopeless and couldn’t imagine ever sleeping more than 2 hours straight for the rest of my life. I remember leaving my baby safely on the bed but picking up her car seat and throwing it against the wall. Hard.

I remember how I felt as my son rode his bike in the cul de sac, showing off, deliberately not looking both ways. A car came to a halt. I was furious at him and became even more so as the other moms stepped in to let me know that he was being a poor role model for the younger kids.

I was angrier about his stubbornness and the damage to my image as a mother than I was about his almost being hit by slow moving car. Back in the house I gripped his arm way too tightly as I yelled at him. I cried, and he cried. If I had been a hitter, I know I would have done it then.

I think of my daughter, only a preschooler at the time, refusing to stay in time-out after numerous offenses. It looked like a "before"scene out of Super Nanny. She raged and screamed at me, spitting, pulling the door open with a strength that belied her age, as I pulled equally hard to keep it shut.

If she had managed to get it open, what would I have done? Would my anger have stretched beyond that one difficult day? Would I have lashed out against her while really furious at the grueling relentlessness of stay-at-home mothering?

So, I think about this afternoon, and wonder if I should have done more. Should I have come back after pick-up with my kids and waited until the police came? Probably. If this is an abusive situation, the mom and daughter won’t mention it to the police, and I could have done that. I recently read a poignant post about a teacher alerting CPS about a parent. One of the readers commented how she wished someone had done the same for her many years before, instead of idly standing by.

But, if this is a case of a relationship hanging by a thread, torn apart by the unhealthy confluence of teenage rebellion and menopause, coupled with the financial reality that a car repair bill just wasn’t in the plan this month…

If this is the angry realization of a mother that her daughter is flunking school or having sex or dropping the f-bomb or just generally not turning out the way she envisioned as she held her newborn 17 years ago…

If the mom is shell-shocked, wondering how her little girl is brazen enough to beat her own mother in public at 3 in the afternoon.

If the daughter is wondering if this is the time she has finally gone too far and pushed her mother beyond the limits of love…

Then I wonder whether getting the authorities involved would help at all or rip the tenuous thread that still hung there between them as they sat weeping in the car, their anger spent.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh Anna, Where Art Thou?

Today I am honored to be guest posting over at my friend Kate's site, The Big Piece of Cake. Please go over there and check out my post so Kate won't think she made a mistake inviting me.

Thanks a bunch!

I'm With Stupid

Girls’ t-shirts I saw for sale at the thrift store today that I will NOT be buying my 7 year old daughter:


“I’m not opinionated. I’m just always right.”

“Grandpa’s Little Princess”

“Miss Attitude”

“I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl”


“1. I want it.
2. You buy it for me.
3. Any Questions?”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Snip Snip

Molly was working on a craft and needed some yarn. I sent her down to the pit of disaster that is the unfinished part of our basement to find some. I told her she would find a clear plastic tub on the top of one of the shelves that had yarn in it. I knew this would keep her busy for a while, trying to navigate through piles of crap.

30 minutes later she came back, bearing some colorful string that didn’t look familiar to me. She was very proud of herself. Later, we were in the basement again and she showed me where she got the “yarn.”

Ooops. She had chopped off the end of my hammock, saved from my mid-80’s mission trips to Mexico. She was mortified. Oh well. If I haven’t found a place to hang it in the past 25 years, I don’t think I’ll be needing it any time soon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Did We Get Here from There?

I spent a good portion of last weekend wondering how we got “here” from “there.” Having come off of some pretty horrendous Valentine’s Days, the kind that leave you shaking your head and quaking in your shoes wondering about the next 50 years-- the “But it’s just a Hallmark Holiday” and “But we don’t DO Valentine’s Day” kind of Valentine’s Days--this year was completely different.

Tom surprised me with a trip to the exact spot where we met 17.5 years ago and where we got engaged 13 years ago. He arranged for my sister to keep the kids and we drove to our college town in North Carolina. We stayed in a humongous Tudor-style estate built in the 1930’s. This picture shows me at the exact spot where he popped the question.

He had planned a whole trip down memory lane which helped us remember some really wonderful times. We drove around to all of my old apartments, his old apartments, and even my former place of business, Blockbuster.

We walked around campus, realizing we probably looked like parents of prospective students, and we pigged out at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

We were comfortable enough with ourselves to choose to go to a Hollywood hit rather than some artsy-fartsy campus play that we most certainly would have watched in my English major/ripped jeans days. We realized all we really wanted was a huge vat of popcorn and a little of Liam Neeson's butt-kicking.

When I discovered there was a huge NCAA basketball game with Tom’s absolute favorite team playing, here in his college town, I asked it he wanted to see them play live for the first time in more than a decade.

This is what came out of Tom’s mouth: “We can go to a game another time; why don’t we drive around those neighborhoods where you used to walk and look at all the big houses?” Wow. Wow. Wow.

And, when I divulged that I was besieged by cramps (see possible tie-in with huge cheek zit), rather than act as if I had deliberately planned my cycle in a vicious attempt to ruin his fun and possibly his life, he said, “Oh well, why don’t we go check out the free Ice Cream Room down the hall?”

I may have landed in a parallel universe, but I love it here.

Hey Tom, you rock!

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Photo Today

Sorry for the blog silence. I’ve been occupied with a little science experiment over here. About 10 days ago I got a medium-sized zit right in the middle of my cheek.

I’d like to believe my breakout days are over now that I’m pushing 40, but no such luck. Anyway, in the decades in which I’ve been dealing with zits, I have NEVER been able to just leave one alone. Sooooo, when this thing showed up in the middle of my face, I thought, “What the heck? Why not do what all the magazines advise, and just let nature run its course?”

No poking, no prodding and certainly no picking. I mean, I’m not looking to meet someone special, so no problems there. I work in a church, so I was hopeful people would be kind as my little buddy and I made the rounds.

So, I left it alone. For 10 days. It went on my big weekend trip with me (more details on that another day) and my sister said it was barely noticeable. Tom withheld all comment; I mean what’s the safe thing for a husband to say when his wife is sporting a whitehead for upwards of a week? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Good man.

I think the zit was relatively unobtrusive, but I did wonder if people knew that I knew it was there. I mean I’ve definitely had the secret urge to inform someone if there’s a zit on her face just ripe for the picking, as if she doesn’t realize it. But this time, I was the one w/ the elephant in the room, or on my face, that no one was talking about. The zit was on the other cheek, I suppose.

Anyway, after 10 days of delicate cleansing, toning, and absolutely leaving it alone, my zit showed no signs of budging. It was small, round and innocuous, but it wasn’t going anywhere.

Until this afternoon when I couldn’t take it one second longer. I mean, 10 days? 10 days! There are limits, people.

Now I’m having popper’s remorse.

What promised to be a quick little intervention deteriorated into major excavation. Relief did not come. There was blood. The left side of my face is swollen and red. Little lines of swollen-ness inch down toward my mouth. Bare Minerals ain’t covering this sucker up now. I wonder what Tom is going to say when he gets home.

If he’s lucky: nothing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Frugal Friday

I’ve written several posts about my penchant for dumpster diving and thrift shopping. These are two things I enjoy doing, but if they don’t float your boat, I understand completely. Personally, I don’t like going to yard sales (too early in the morning; I don’t like seeing the people associated with the stuff), and I’m not a coupon clipper (they fester in my purse until I realize they are expired and throw them out), so I realize we all have different shopping habits.

I thought it would be fun, however, to compile a short guide for those of you who may not have much experience in the dumpster diving/ thrift shopping arena. If this isn’t your thing, I’ll see you next time!

There are certain items you never have to buy new, because they pop up regularly at thrift shops and curbside. These are items that someone feels the need to Get.Rid.Of.Immediately. because they can’t stand having them in the house one minute longer.

Think: Seasonal, Bulky, Short span of use.

Many items fit in all three categories.

Here of some of the things I see frequently:


Artificial Christmas trees, Christmas tree stands, lawn decorations (such as reindeer covered w/ white lights), ping pong tables, those seed/fertilizer spreader things for the lawn, hose handlers (plastic boxes that you wrap your hose up in), turkey roasting pans and croquet sets. Croquet sets? I guess they seem like a quaint idea at the time of purchase but they must not get much use. I am convinced the sets I’ve seen curbside around town are all the same one, passed from family to family.

With seasonal items, when the season is over, people don’t seem to want to store them. Oh, and if the idea of buying an artificial tree doesn’t thrill you, particularly one that might seem a little Charlie Brown-ish, you can do what I do: real downstairs, fake in an upstairs hallway to hold all of the kids’ treasures and the Disney and professional baseball related items from the in-laws.

Baby Items:

If you are a first time mom, you might cringe at the thought of using someone else’s cast-offs. You’ve done the research, registered for presents, and are probably all set. I myself had a $40 nursing stool to position my feet at the exact right angle while nursing my firstborn.

But let’s say you find yourself pregnant with number 3, you’re pushing 40 and you gave away your baby stuff a few years ago; there is no need to purchase anything new.

Baby items fit the bulky and short span of use criteria and include: exersaucers, bouncy seats, high chairs, strollers, baby gates and big, bulky plastic toys such as doll houses, work benches, and slides. Baby bathtubs? I saw 23 the last time I went to the thrift shop. Baby stuff lasts forever, and glad is the mom who gets rid of it and sees her house grow larger instantly. You may want to avoid thrifting cribs and car seats b/c of safety concerns, but they are widely available if you are interested.

Pet Items:

Aquariums, hamster cages and Habitrails pop up curbside and in thrift shops all the time! Sure, you may have to wash them, but free is free. With the small pet deathwatch finally over, eager moms get rid of these items as fast as they can, both to ease their children’s pain and sadness, and to ensure the family is not properly equipped to take in any new rodents in the near future. Empty promises of “I’ll clean the cage every week!” hold no more value in in these households. Sometimes moms will bundle together aquarium rocks, fish food, and pet toys so you’ll be set.

Generally Bulky:

You’ll find a lot of kitchen items in this category, particularly small appliances that only have one use. Bread machines, crock pots, ice cream makers, turkey roasting pans, crab pots, George Foreman grills, coffee machines, iced tea machines (my favorite!), and toaster ovens. The shelves of my thrift store are LINED with these items every day.

The nice thing about free or cheap is that you don’t have to feel guilty when you, too, decide after a few uses that something is taking up too much space in your kitchen and you donate it to the next person. Other items that aren’t big but present storage issues are ice buckets, wine glasses, pitchers and serving platters.

Well, this list is by no means exhaustive, but I’m now exhausted. This will either make you want to check out a thrift store or dumpster today, or in my case, go clean the basement and see what you can purge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wake up in Anger / Delusions in Nude

Do you ever have a dream in which someone you know does something so obnoxious or deplorable that you wake up feeling angry at him or her? This has happened with my husband several times. We’ll have a fight in a dream and I wake up seriously peeved. Of course, as a man, he usually can’t figure out why I’m mad at him even when I have good reason, so a little irrational dream-related anger doesn’t throw him off too much.

The past two nights, I’ve had weird dreams involving friends. In one, a friend went down to our basement, saw brown skinned baby dolls (which, by the way, we don’t have since my kids are too old for dolls) and came upstairs and made a racist remark. I was pissed, and we got in a huge fight. When I see her, will I think she’s a racist? Did I subconsciously already think she was a racist, even though I’ve had no evidence of it whatsoever?

And what about last night’s dream? My husband, who wasn’t my husband but he really was, was standing with me in our bedroom, which wasn’t our bedroom but you know what I mean, when another friend, we’ll call her Jane, pranced into the room wearing nothing but a smile! I found it highly inappropriate. I was impressed with her perfect physique, which I’ve never seen in the altogether before since we usually see each other IN CHURCH, but still.

I awoke annoyed at her for her lack of judgment and self control, and I gave my husband a little kick under the covers for good measure. After all, he had been there, right?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Product Shout Out: Bananagrams

Bananagrams is like Scrabble, but it has no board. In a race against your partner, you keep building words and taking tiles until all of your tiles are gone. The first one to use up all of his or her tiles wins. If, like me, you get bored easily and need a game that’s faster paced than regular Scrabble, you will love it!

Word to the Wise:

If, after the kids are in bed, you ask your husband if he wants to play “The Banana Game,” he may misinterpret your question.

Either way, I’m sure you’ll have fun.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What Would Anna Do?

…if she woke up and saw there was just this much milk left in the jug?

And she feels grumpy, off, and a little bit crazy if she doesn’t follow her routine of tea, newspaper, and two big bowls of Special K Red Berries? And her son's equally rigid ritual includes having ample milk in which to bathe his 6 at a time, yes exactly 6, Frosted Mini Wheats?

She’s alone in the kitchen.

She ponders, bargains with herself, justifies her position, takes this picture and…

shares it equally with him even though she knows it won’t entirely coat her first bowl, let alone her second.

She does not comment when he still has milk left in the bowl when he’s finished. But she does notice.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Oh Self Control, Where Art Thou?

What’s the deal with Cadbury Creme Eggs being in the stores before Valetine’s Day? Because it’s totally messing with my candy schedule. I’m slated to finish the kids’ Halloween Candy right before V Day, and now this? Annoying.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fashion Faux Pas?

I know I have a reputation for being thrifty when it comes to clothes, but all the money I save shopping at the thrift store is really just to make up for the stuff I buy but barely ever wear. The clothes that I really, really wanted but now me cringe when I think about them. I am NOT talking about the heavily shoulder padded boxy blazers or the flannel shirts of the 80’s or our well-loved stonewashed jeans. We looked HOT in those and you know it.

I’m talking about those articles of clothing that are perfectly fine, but that we wear once and realize they just don’t work for us. Have you ever been caught in an outfit that is suddenly so emphatically, undeniably WRONG, that you wonder whether being naked would be better than keeping it on one second longer? This usually happens to me in a public place w/ no mode of escape.

This happened to me last week at a school fundraiser. I wore a satin retro-50’s June Cleaver cocktail dress. I had bare legs and high heels. It was 13 degrees outside and not much warmer in the building. I had forced myself out of my cozy sweatpants only moments before, knowing that this was a pretty formal affair.

My ankles still had sock indentations on them. I was freezing, but ready to suffer for fashion. All the other women wore fitted wool skirts, tall boots and sophisticated and WARM sweaters. I wanted to rip the cozy little scarves off their necks and fashion a poncho for myself out of them.

Great dress, wrong occasion.

Other times, I’ve tried to wear things that just weren’t me. A Target tube top, for instance. While I’d never be accused of wearing "mom jeans," and I WAS the first person in my high school to get a 1986 asymmetrical haircut (check it out!), any attempts to be on the cutting edge of fashion leave me feeling self conscious and uncomfortable.

When I think of cringe-worthy outfits, the very worst was when I tried too hard to look cool. I was in grad school and was headed back to my old college for homecoming. I had super long hair, had shed the college 15 and I was looking pretty darn good.

My outfit of choice? A velvety pseudo-gothic tunic, black tights, chunky shoes, and ripped jean SHORTS over top. Eeek. In my defense, I was an English major, I took women’s studies, and I felt slightly artsy. I wavered slightly about my choice when my brother-in-law asked, “You’re going to wear THAT?” but what did he know?

I dismissed him and forged ahead. It wasn’t until I walked down the crowded stairs into a frat party that I realized my outfit stunk. I couldn’t pull it off. A snooty girl from another sorority looked me up and down and her eyes settled on my velvet tunic. “I never thought these parties were FORMAL!” she laughed.

Most recently, I wore a nearly floor length sweater found at the thrift shop with the tags still on it. I should have taken that as a clue that it would take a mighty strong woman to pull off this sweater. Seeing as I am neither Stevie Nicks nor Elvira, I don’t think I’m that woman. Halfway down the hallway at church I’d had so many positive comments I wanted to crawl in a hole.

You see, it is my personal belief that when an inordinate number of people feel compelled to comment on any one article of clothing, it is a bad sign. I came to this understanding after witnessing far too many compliments of nightmare haircuts and fashion trainwrecks. I realized that people feel like they have to acknowledge some outfits, even if it’s with a bogus compliment. They may even think they are being sincere.

These are the same people who say, “Oh, have you lost weight?” every time you look good. They don’t seem to realize this implies they thought you looked like a lard butt before. You may have just gotten a nice new pair of earrings, but they just have to play the weight card.

So, for all of my money saving, I must admit I’ve wasted a chunk of change on clothes that simply don’t work for me. I’d LOVE to hear what similar bombs are in your closet. I’m not alone in this, am I?

And, for the first An Inch of Gray Giveaway, I have a lovely floor length black sweater to mail to that lucky someone. Must be at least 5’3” to enter!