Say ‘What?’ Again

Tonight I’m pondering one of my favorite scenes from one of my dearly loved pre-mom movies, Samuel L. Jackson’s rant in “Pulp Fiction” right before poor Brett meets his bloody doom.

What he said.

What he said.

I used to watch movies like that all the time. I think I saw that particular flick nine times in the theater. It’s still an epic film, but I haven’t seen it in the last decade. I’m shocked to see the movie is 20 years old this year, because that makes me old as hell.

Still, I clearly remember that scene because I know exactly how Jules feels as he dares a stammering white kid caught in a crime to “Say ‘What?’ again!” and other much more colorful suggestions.

Any time my children look at me with blank expressions and utter the w-word as I bust them, I want to strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger straight from my own fake Bible verse (McGinziel 2:16).

It’s even worse when Honey Bunny and Pumpkin team up on a heist. Like Jules in that restaurant booth, I want to help. I want to talk them out of their bad decisions, retrieve my wallet (mine just says “BAD MOTHER” on it) and deal with the dead body in my trunk while they run off together for more wacky hijinks.

Tonight they each managed to separately invoke the wrath of each parent, which is unusual. My husband is the more mellow, Vincentesque of the two of us, but I just heard the Wee Man ascend the stairs at a bawl. The Roo got her marching orders from me earlier tonight.

I try to keep us from ever getting to that point. I made a nice meal tonight, to include homemade semi-healthy, gluten-free brownies with hidden beets. No, not the delicious, soul- and body-killing stuff my mom would’ve made, but it was still my attempt at a good evening and a little extra love.

It didn’t quite go the way I planned, but it wasn’t a total loss. I got a hit of my drug of choice — the beet treats are nothing if not VERY chocolatey (Now that is a TASTY brownie!). I’m about to step away from this computer and head upstairs to chat with each of them about what happened and how to feel better before they go to sleep.

I used to bend over backwards to keep the peace. It’s a self-imposed duty like Butch’s determination to retrieve his father’s gold watch. But I’ve realized it’s not my job to make people happy — that’s impossible. I can’t make anyone feel anything. If I could, I’d make my kids feel like they’d consumed another plant-based brownie all the time so they’d be far less inclined to fight or kill my own sugar high.

But conflict isn’t inherently bad. It’s an impetus for growth. Anger isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes it’s even justified. And if I deal with my anger in a healthy way, my kids learn a lot from that, too.

So I’ll take a deep breath, listen to their outraged victim stories and gently remind them what they did to end up in their rooms. I’ll suggest ways to make amends and avoid similar trouble in the future. I’ll remind them they’re exactly who they should be and encourage them to be who they are. I’ll tell them how thankful I am to be their mom, how much I love them and wish them a good night.

And then I’ll come downstairs, hit the brownies again and decide this wasn’t such a bad night after all.

photo credit: <a href=””>Profound Whatever</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


All I Really Need to Know About Relationships I Learned in Kindergarten

“I bwaked up with Sawah,” the Wee Man announced with appropriate drama.

“What?! Why?!” I could not imagine what a darling 5-year-old could’ve done to deserve dumping.

“She picked her nose in the hall,” he told me.

“Are you sure? Honey, I just don’t think she’s that kind of girl.”

But he was adamant. And he’s got a real prejudice against nose-pickers. He recently declared a favorite playmate “obviously evil” because of the friend’s compunction to pick his nose and eat the findings. So I know this is a relationship deal breaker.

More questions: Does he feel sad? Are they still friends? How did she react?

His answers: No, he’s not sad. Nose-picking is “gwoss.” Of course they’re still friends, he just doesn’t like her as a girlfriend now. And she didn’t react at all because he didn’t actually tell her.

Turns out she doesn’t know she’s his girlfriend.

So my son has spun up a fake romance, a perceived fatal flaw, a damning judgment and a stormy end to the fake romance. All this about a sweet little playmate who’s so shy her mom had to help her recite her nursery rhyme on Mother Goose Day. It’s a kindergarten version of what too often happens in my adult relationships.

How often do we make snap judgments based on limited information and write a whole crazy drama in our minds about the whats, hows and whys? I see it all the time with people I love — myself included. One person says or does something that strikes someone else as rude (or funny, sweet, pathetic — fill in the reaction), and it’s completely opposite of the intended effect. Person B then has a strong reaction, Person A is confused or oblivious and miscommunication/angst/hilarity/whatever ensues.

For some reason, we seem to prefer to make up stories rather than ask for clarification. Why are we so quick to over-react or get emotional? Maybe that person who just cut you off in traffic is rushing to save someone’s life. Maybe he really has to pee. Odds are, what he did has absolutely nothing to do with who you are as a person or a desire to adversely affect your life.

So if you’re going to make up stories, make up happy ones. You mom didn’t love your sister more than you. She just appreciated your independence and trusted you to make good decisions without her input. Your husband didn’t leave his dirty clothes piled up on the floor to give you more crap to pick up. He’s just preparing a nest for the winter.

So I advised Wee Man to reconsider. Was he really sure Sarah picked her nose? Could he possibly be mistaken?

Thankfully, he came up with a new story. In this one, she didn’t pick her nose, so he can like her again. It gets better: He made her a very sweet card asking her for a (play) date. He hopes she’ll want to be his girlfriend in real life now.


I’m so proud he’s not too proud to change his mind. I keep telling my kids they get to decide how they feel and what they think, so if they don’t like how they’re feeling they should change their thoughts.

It’s sound advice. I hope I follow it, too.

Cuckoos and Flu-ids Still Flying

Yesterday, I fell for it. Wee Man was so much better — happy, making fart jokes, picking fights with his sister — things were back to normal but for the occasional hack.

These two and I were all smiles yesterday for Wee Man's followup after a night of albuterol and very little sleep. But then darkness fell...

These two and I were all smiles yesterday for Wee Man’s followup after a night of Albuterol and very little sleep. But then darkness fell…

This was after a night of breathing treatments every two hours, which was after a night of many trips up and down the stairs as he was getting sick. And this was after two nights of the same with his sister.

My cognitive functions were well below their usual below average on that first trip to the doc Thursday. Usually when a doctor tells me my child needs a medicine he or she has never had before, I do a little research. My smart phone has Google on speed dial. But I was short-circuited. When I was told my son needed Tamiflu to cover all our bases, I should’ve let my fingers do the walking. But I could barely lift my head at that point, much less use it.

And following two extremely painful, simultaneous shots of powerful antibiotic, Wee Man made a dramatic recovery in 24 hours. No more sneezing. No complaints of nausea. Nary a hint of barf. Breathing treatments were suddenly few and far between.

So when Dr. Igettogohomewherenoonewillspewonmeallnight told me Tamiflu “won’t hurt him,” I should’ve realized he was talking about himself in the third person. He suffered no damage whatsoever last night, as far as I know. Dillon was the one up from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. barfing, and I was up catching it. We did manage almost three hours of sleep before the explosive diarrhea kicked in around 5 a.m.

Dare I type it? That may have stopped in the last five minutes.

But the Tamiflu is definitely on the way out. Turns out vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects, which I would’ve appreciated knowing and typically would’ve asked about had all the cylinders been firing. One study showed more than half the kids taking the drug suffered from nasty digestive distress.

I guess it’s unfair to blame Tamiflu for Dillon now being almost as miserable as when he was diagnosed with pneumonia/possible flu two days ago. He did start Zithromax last night. But he’s taken that before with no such gastrointestinal terror.

Oh, wait. Dillon’s back in the bathroom again. Scratch that line two graphs up. Back shortly.

On the upside, the new washer/dryer set that arrived yesterday got a helluva workout. The fourth load since midnight is in the dryer now, and everything’s coming out looking nice. Plus, it has this cute little chime that sounds like Willy Wonka summoning the Oompa Loompas. It was mildly soothing as Dillon and I raced back and forth to the toilet all night.

Loco is playing the part of a therapy cat this morning. If Dillon drifts off, I'm hauling that cat to the couch and handing him a notebook and pen for my session.

Loco is playing the part of a therapy cat this morning. He looks more than a little concerned about what may come shooting out of Wee Man from one end or the other. If Dillon drifts off, I’m hauling that cat to the couch and handing him a notebook and pen for my session.

So this morning we’ve got cartoons cranked and Pediapops slowly melting their way into the Wee Man’s tortured tummy. I’m trying to maintain my caffeine-free lifestyle and half-marathon delusions, but I think both will have to stay on hold one more day.

But that’s OK. The runs to the bathrooms must end at some point. That will be a sweet, sweet victory indeed. Wish us luck.

One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

It’s been a rough week in McGinleyville. Thing 1 missed two days of school before rallying Wednesday, which of course was the day Thing 2 started to spew snot. By yesterday, Wee Man was miserable and we were in the doctor’s office.

I gave the rundown of symptoms plus the sick sister background. Congestion, complaints of nausea, breathing treatments — fairly standard stuff for my boy who should’ve spent his early years in a plastic bubble. This is the kid who arrived early and kept us in the clinic drive-through for the first three years of his life.

Yes, I know we’ve got a flu epidemic rocking the country. But after my trip to the doc’s, I can’t help but wonder how accurate all those numbers are. Especially because even though no one in my family has any of the major flu symptoms, Wee Man was diagnosed with a possible case because “not everyone presents all the symptoms.”

OK, fair enough. But our patient has a history of allergies, asthma and pneumonia. The doc didn’t swab anything or draw anything, but he used the f-word based on the fact that there’s a nationwide epidemic and our man’s symptoms include snot, sneezing and difficulty breathing (which he can have after walking through a barn or when the temps drop).

Strikes me as a little crazy. Yes, I have killer aim with my rock arm off the balcony of my glass house.

I’m not a doctor, but I play one on the internet. I’ve also watched a lot of “House.” So like the team at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, my initial diagnosis was sarcoidosis. And like my TV dream team, my first diagnosis is always wrong. But then I found this handy list of symptoms, which further convinces me none of us has the flu.

We’re all praying this epidemic passes. I pulled in the big guns. Love this shot by Mike Licht.

I also know what goes into nationwide fear-mongering. I’ve been on that side of the news desk. I’ve covered scary stories about missing bubonic plague, home invasions involving hookers and sex toys, fake penises used to circumvent pesky drug tests (OK, probably more funny than scary. But I love to share that link.) and more.

So I know fear drives both media producers and consumers, and I have a very high resistance to the mind viruses we can pick up through what we read or see on the news.

If only our healthcare professionals were similarly immune.

I know each of us is doing the best with what we know at all points of the day. And that I’m not really a doctor. But I just wish we could all let go of a little bit of fear and focus more on what’s going right.

photo credit: <a href=””>Mike Licht,</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Church Chat

I try to not project my insecurities, prejudices and general psychoses on my children. I really do. But I often fail.

So when the Roo asked if we could go to church, I sent a quick SOS heavenward.

“Why do you want to go?” I asked.

“Because all my friends do,” she replied.

So I wasn’t thrilled that the request was prompted by pack mentality, but at least it wasn’t because she’d realized what sinners we are and we must immediately go cleanse our souls before Tio Diablo shows up to call us home. And the more we talked, the more I realized she has a genuine curiosity about that aspect of her friends’ lives rather than a compulsion to follow the herd.

I have a Protestant hangover that won’t quit. I attended a private church school throughout elementary. My family did the church thing while we were younger, then it faded to the background. In high school I usually attended on my own, often with real hangovers. While there were good times in the light of the stained glass windows, church rarely moved my soul or inspired me to new spiritual heights.

As an adult, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with organized religion because so many seem to use it as a weapon or reason to deny love to others. I want my kids to ask their own questions and make up their own minds about the bigger picture. I don’t want that to be programmed into their impressionable young minds. As the Roo once so eloquently told her devout Catholic friend’s entire family, “We don’t go to church because we don’t like people telling us what to think.”

Is there an echo in here?

So I had a very quick, intense chat with myself before wrapping up our talk.

Me to myself: Oh crap. This is what happens when you live so close to Focus on the Family. She’s been infected with the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in Her Heart. How do I keep her from going crazy cracker Christian on me?

Myself to me: Easy there, St. Prejudicia. Don’t teach your kid to discriminate against people who don’t think the same way you do. You and Jesus still love each other very much, you’ve just agreed to see other people. Fortunately he’s secure enough to not feel threatened by your attraction to Buddha.

Me to myself: But what if she likes it? What if she wants to go every Sunday and I have to give up my time in the Church of the Open Saddle?

Myself to me: If she likes it, that means she’s happy. Isn’t that our entire reason for being? And you’ll find other ways to sneak out to the barn and get your equine therapy. You may even like it, too.

So I took a deep breath and told her we’d hit the pew on Sunday. As a compromise to myself, we visited the local gay church. They were kind, welcoming and put on a pretty good show. The singers were amazing, the piano player was FAB-u-lous and the drummer was way too much.

Riley loved it.

bible boa

As for me, myself and I, it was a bit too traditional for our taste. I was a little disappointed that nobody stepped up to the mic with a feather boa and a Bible. But I’m willing to give it another try. And if somebody knows where I can get the sheet music to the gospel version of “It’s Raining Men,” please post a link in the comments section.

Giving Thanks Because I Suck

This year I’m most thankful for my Colossal Failure.

Yes, of course I’m grateful for healthy kids, friends, yadda yadda yadda. But just today I learned that the project I’ve been working on for the past 11 months and dreaming about since the third grade is just another unanswered email.

Of course I had that initial disappointment, that sense of loss for the Colossal Failure, that big break that would’ve catapulted my professional and personal dreams forward at warp speed. But that was not the gift I received this Thanksgiving week.

This year’s greatest gift is rejection. Not even rejection, really, but a complete lack of acknowledgement that my dream even matters or that my talent exists.

No, I’m not being sarcastic for once. The upside of all this is my challenge to find the upside in all of this. It’s easy to get to a place of gratitude and joy when things are going the way I want them to. But when I can suck it up over the fact that I suck, when I can flex my gratitude muscle after an emotional sucker-punch, then I know I’m really, finally starting to get it.

Every day I preach to my kids that happiness is a choice, that we’re the luckiest people we know, that if they don’t like the way they feel, they can change their minds so they feel good again. All day I’ve been running those tapes through my head and holding myself back from my self-help book shelf and leftover Halloween candy.

I haven’t even told anyone about the Colossal Failure. The simple fact that I’m not indulging my ego in a pity-party is huge. I have a phone full of fabulous girlfriends (yes, thankful for them, too) who’d do their best to raise my spirits with encouraging words and love. I appreciate the fact that I can fall back on that. 

But instead I’m turning inward. I’m looking to myself to make it all better, because when it comes down to it, I’m the only one who can. 

So I’m profoundly grateful for this shattered dream. It’s a chance to really think about who I want to be when I grow up, what matters most to me and model all that for my kids.

What a gift. Thank you.

Smile, Goddammit!

This is my family photo. I’m the one who looks pissed.

Misery loves company. Way to set the tone, Dad.

I somehow stumbled across the Weekly Writing Challenge  from WordPress. I don’t know if I was surfing tweets, sifting through LinkedIn people I should know or deleting Farmville 2 invitations on Facebook, but I’m glad I found it.

I have no idea who these people actually are, but their sour faces are certainly familiar. The assignment for the challenge is to write a story about this picture — any story. The tale at the top of my mind is last night’s chat with The Roo about how we need to get along better.

Not that we’re cat-dog fighting, but I often feel frustrated with her at a faster pace and with less provocation than I do with her younger brother. I’m sure my therapist has a file full of good stuff to fill in the blanks on why, but I think it boils down to the fact that she is my blonde, 7-year-old clone. So we naturally butt heads.

I hate that. I want us to enjoy each other for the hilarious chicks we really are. But all too often, tempers and nostrils flare simultaneously. It’s like an estrogen smack-down around here over trivial things — far too often, I can’t even recall the trigger.

Earlier this week in a rare flash of genius, I came up with a new rule: If you can make me laugh, you’re not in trouble.

Anger is infectious. But so is laughter. If one of us manages to turn the mood around, we all feel better. And it’s my job to look for reasons to feel good about my kids so they feel good about themselves.

A few years ago, the elementary school my siblings and I attended asked my mom for  school photos of my brother, sister and me to feature in an ad. She couldn’t find a single one in which any of us were smiling.

At least we don’t have that problem.

Here’s our real family photo. This is what happens when you ask Wee Man to smile for the camera.

Hopefully the new rule will keep us camera-ready and out of trouble.