farts and therapy go well together

This afternoon I took Jesse in for her weekly meeting with her psychologist, Dr. Abrams. In the past few sessions she’s crossed over to a new level of engagement with him. When I leave her alone with him in the office she doesn’t have a fit anymore, and it seems like they’re able to have more constructive conversations about things that are going on.

Dr. Abrams seems to have embraced a sort of uber-positive approach with Jesse. Recognizing how critical she is of herself, he finds every opportunity to highlight and praise encounters and behaviors she can feel good about, no matter how small. He says things like, “I’m proud of you but I’m not surprised, because I know you can do it.” I think he’s also modeling for me, to gently remind me to keep my eye on the up side of things. Jesse usually leaves his office acting and apparently feeling a lot better. This evening as we walked out to the car, she announced, “I think I’m a caring person, aren’t I.” She was very matter-of-fact, but this is no small statement for her. Most days she tells me the very opposite about herself at least a couple times, like a litany, “I’m a horrible bad person and I do everything wrong and I ruin everything and you hate me.” I’ve heard it so much that I don’t even feel all that bad anymore; it’s just how Jesse is. Hearing her acknowledge the alternative truth? That’s a rare something.

I can see why today’s meeting helped her feel better. At the end of a session, Dr. Abrams fills me in on anything he thinks is important for me to know, usually no more than brushstrokes about topics that were on Jesse’s mind. Today Dr. Abrams let me know that Jesse told him Anthony has very smelly gas. I readily acknowledged this fact of life. Dr. Abrams looked a little skeptical or worried as he added, “she says sometimes daddy farts ON her?”

My mouth opened before I could stop it. Oh yeah we do! In my world, if you’ve got one loaded at the right moment, you weaponize that fart. It’s a very effective way to get even and to get some alone time. I even demonstrated my delivery method (though no ammo was available) on Nick, who was peacefully playing with an electronic device. Nick took no notice, but Dr. Abrams’ facial expression had me mildly concerned, so I asked him, don’t you fart on your kids? “Actually, no. I don’t.”

Mmmm. I anticipate that this will at least help Dr. Abrams have a better sense of the conditions in which Jesse is growing up. Maybe just being able to tell someone that her daddy farts on her is enough to improve Jesse’s outlook. I know that venting always makes me feel better, regardless of which end it’s from.

grumpy about new Year’s resolutions

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. If I’m going to pine for unrealistic changes in my life, I prefer to do it at times I’m feeling down, and not on cheerful, celebratory occasions. Plus resolutions are such a bitter reminder that there is nothing new under the sun, and not one stinking fresh idea in my brain, because how many different ways can human beings say lose-weight-eat-better-exercise-more-be-happier-be-nicer-read-more-books?

My childhood memories of the New Year involve no resolutions. On New Year’s Day my mom liked to play yut (sort of rhymes with loot, but Korean-style vowel). There’s a board and some counters and four sticks you toss in the air, and in the right circumstances you yell “YUT!!” and cavort. I was going to explain the game here a little, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a lucid Wikipedia entry about the subject where you can learn all about yut. Who knew? The important thing for me was I got to play an actual game with my mom, which was rare, and she was very silly and happy about it, which was equally rare.

Instead of food reduction resolutions, in my home there was great Korean party food on the New Year, like chap chae, mandu, dok, and bulgogi.

The last item is a wonderful marinated beef, and decidedly not the existential “bulging I” that autocorrect just suggested. Why would autocorrect do that? in what iteration of the English language would anyone put the two words, “bulging I”, together like that? Is autocorrect saying something rude about my weight? Or making a snide pun about the size of my irises? Is autocorrect watching me through the little camera lens on this device I’m typing on? I can tell from the number of questions I’m asking that I’m indeed having an existential crisis, my mind bulging as I try to wrap it around the bulging I.

Best set that aside for now. So we played games and ate good food, and when I was really little and we were still in Korea, there was the kowtow tour. We visited all the available elders — grandparents, uncles and aunts — and got down on our knees and made deep bows, and then they gave us money. That. Was. AWESOME. We got money! Also we received important blessings for happiness and success in the coming year, but as I recall that was all in fuddy-duddy talk I couldn’t really understand.

Did I mention that the grown ups gave us MONEY just for bowing??

On New Year’s Day 2014 I plan to wallow in gratitude for making it to another year in one piece. I’ll try to make some food. I’ll call family. I’m going to do the kowtow/blessing/money thing with the kids. And I hope I don’t waste a single moment setting myself up for failure by imposing any obligations of any kind on myself. No New Year’s resolutions for me, thank you very much.

I went to the Breast Biopsy Spa

I had an excellent Friday, thanks to a 3 pm breast biopsy. Anthony and I were utterly incapable of hiding our nerves from the kids, so late in the morning I just went ahead and explained to them exactly what was going to be done to my boob. The technical details helped, but still, by early afternoon we were all in a veritable frenzy of anxiety, each expressing it in unique ways.

Nick bounced around the house making jokes about how little pieces of my booby were going to come out, hahaha that’s so silly, mommy! Jesse hovered so I could revel in her freaky nervous squawking and ululating — okay, wait. I’m just being mean now. She stuck close because, like any decent person, she was having trouble letting a beloved person drive off alone to some unimaginably awful procedure. She just expressed it badly. Anthony had an irritability breakdown as he tried to get the kids ready to go swimming. He was so unhinged that I went over to squeeze him and encouraged him to stay up-beat because everything would be okay. Like you might imagine someone doing for, say… ME, since I was the one having the biopsy. But I’m his life mate, and I truly understand that his anxiety is as bad as mine about this, probably worse. As for me, I kept calm by ignoring the seething mass of humanity around me and doing several extreme dot-to-dot pictures (animals!), which Santa left on the hearth for the kids. Very soothing, especially the possum family drawn out of 1700 dots.

I finally got out of the house and drove on up to the Grafton Aurora hospital complex, which is brand spankin’ new and as fancy as a Four Seasons. I was sent to the 4th floor breast imaging suite, which was empty but warmly decorated — nice carpet, pretty wood, and a telephone on the unstaffed receptionist counter, with a sign next to it giving me a number to call if I needed help. What a nice human touch, I thought.

A tech showed up quickly and we went about the usual meet-greet-pee-strip routine. “Did you come alone?” she asked, in a tone that added, “doesn’t anybody love you?” She let me know the surgeon was running late. I wasn’t surprised by this; I brought the iPad for just such a situation. Games games games. But no, Stephanie the mammo-tech sat with me as we waited for the doc. She was obviously in desperate need of help staying calm. I was happy to oblige her by chattering about where we grew up and such. It also gave me a chance to interrogate her about worst-cases, which I’m fond of exploring. I had a practical question: if the result is positive for cancer, do I need to cancel my trip to California in early January?

Extracting worst-case hypothetical information from medical professionals is like… Oh, come up with your own witty simile, I’m too grumpy. It’s almost impossible is what it is, and I really don’t get it. I understand not volunteering downer options, but if a patient asks directly and rationally, why balk? It makes me get my dogged lawyer back on. I asked several different ways. Stephanie held out. I played dirty. I described my travel plans and dates. I showed her pics of my kids. I told her about Jesse’s anxiety, tics and OCD (we had a lot of time on our hands as we waited for the surgeon). I circled back to it when she tried to change the topic. I asked over and over. Finally, in total exasperation, she admitted that even if I have cancer, they like to wait for the boob to heal completely from the biopsy before they take a run at a lumpectomy or more. So there’s no realistic probability of scheduling a cancer-removal procedure before mid-January anyway. This was excellent news for my schedule. Why was that so hard to tell me?

Finally we received word: the surgeon was on his way. I had been doing okay until then, thanks to my companion, but I started to unravel a bit. We Penningtons tend to go jokey when we’re nervous, and not in a low-key way but with endless strings of one-liners. It’s not pretty, and I’m not funny. The surgeon’s imminent arrival was my friendly tech’s cue to go over risks, including the risk of “bleeding.” I was having surprising difficulty getting clarity on what the bleeding risk consisted of, which is when one-liners started leaking out. “What, I might blow like a hose and bleed to death?” This rhetorical question led to real information. The risk is they might hit a blood vessel, I’d leak all over the floor, they give me stitches, no big deal, done. Good, good.

We bustled into the biopsy room. There was a table for me to lie face down on, the boob hole in plain view. It looked big enough for my head to go through. My breasts felt so inadequate. I snickered and blurted, “you don’t need a hole THAT big for MY breast.” B’dum, bum. I wouldn’t really call myself petite anymore with my middle-age plump, but I’m still short and not so wide from shoulder to shoulder — and I kid you not, when I first laid down on the table, BOTH my boobs fell through the hole. The flaccidity of 7 years’ nursing didn’t help. “I guess this table is made for WISCONSIN size ladies.” B’dum, bum.

I do feel that women here in Wisconsin are taller on average than anywhere else I’ve lived. On height charts in America, I rate the 5th percentile. Here in Wisconsin, I think I’m somewhere in the zero’th percentile. If you put me on an Asian scale (I’m loosely qualified since I’m half Korean), I’m right at the 50th percentile, but this does nothing for me in North America, where every product from airplane seats to exercise equipment is made too big for someone who’s 5-foot-1. Don’t even get me started on weight machines, which I can’t use because it seems like their minimum human size is about 5-foot-4, unless you’re born with monkey-length, knuckle-dragging arms. I guess I should count my blessings.

Right. So the biopsy table had this boob hole in the middle of it, but even worse, that hole was in a sort of broad depression about 2 feet long and maybe 6 inches deep, so a patient lies down for the procedure with a reverse-curved spine. MADE FOR COMFORT. If I was just a few inches taller, at least my head could have laid flat. Instead, my head didn’t make it out of the depression and rested at a miserable angle, with my arms splayed out awkwardly. I stared at the wall, my head turned to the left and my cheek pressed onto a tiny, useless pillow. There was a poster-size photo of a field of black-eyed susans. Country-style muzak played in the background. Stephanie asked if the music was okay. “Yeah it’s fine, except I feel like I’m in a meadow love scene in a bad western.” B’dum, bum. They turned the music down.

“is it okay if I laugh or will that make the boob jiggle?”
Try not to laugh, the doctor answered a little too dryly.

They squashed and clamped my breast 3 different ways, but the computer kept telling them it was wrong for triangulating the biopsy needles or something like that. Finally they gave it a good hard twist to one side, and the squash/clamp was a success. Stephanie asked if I felt okay. “Oh yes, that’s much better when you twist it that way. My son does that to me too.”

They injected a painkiller of some kind, which stung quite a bit. “Yes, I feel that, but it’s okay. It hurt more when I pushed my son out.”

Then they started in on the biopsy proper with many expressions of comfort and concern. Stephanie rubbed my back because I was whining that my neck was uncomfortable (never mind the squashed breast with a metal tube stuck in it). “You guys are being so sweet to me. This is better than a spa. Are you gonna give me a pedicure when we’re done?”

I was told to expect some feeling of “pressure” but it was more like… pain. Very unpleasant. I probably could and should have asked for more painkiller, but I didn’t want anything to slow down this process, so instead I took a couple deep Bradley breaths, like when I was in labor. I come from tough stock. They explained that I’d be hearing some noises. “Hey, that sounds just like my power drill. I like power tools. Are you just drilling out bits of flesh?”

They inserted a permanent titanium splinter to mark the biopsy spot. “I’ve got a bionic boob!”

The doctor finished up and promptly left. I was still clamped in so I just saw his head for about 15 seconds as he told me he’d have results by next week. As he walked out, I chortled, “I guess he’s a busy man. Nip and run!”

On and on I went, blathering stupidly. I was so embarrassed by my mouth. The process went on and on too. They did something with ice, they put bandaids on, they marched me over to another room for a regular mammogram, I don’t know why. They showed me an x-ray of the tissue samples and offered to show me the actual samples. “What does it look like, little pieces of raw flesh?” Yup. They gave me forms and exit instructions. They helped me dress and gave me ice packs and tied my boobs up in a massive ace bandage. I felt like Violet or Viola, whatever her name was, from Shakespeare in Love.

The staff were actually spectacularly nice and helpful. I walked out with a firm step like I’d just had a haircut, except the scissors slipped and landed in my boob. Anthony was shopping for groceries with the kids and taking them out to dinner, so I swung by Noodles and Company for takeout and ate dinner by myself at home. I don’t ever remember being able to do that since Jesse was born. I relaxed. When my family got home, Anthony took care of everything while I lolled in bed. He even brought me an expensive bottle of wine.

This morning, I’ve been treated to breakfast in bed, and everyone is being really nice to me. No one has slapped, kicked, or head-butted me, spilled anything on me, or asked me to do anything for them. I don’t believe this has ever happened before. Jesse is being especially solicitous and sweet. Anthony has adventures planned with the kids, and I hear him coming up the stairs right now with a fresh cup of coffee. I’m going to spend the day alone at home, hunkered down in bed having a movie marathon. My boob doesn’t even hurt that much.

This is awesome. The breast biopsy wasn’t so bad after all.

Grumpy about laundry

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day for my in-laws, but for me it’s simply the day I face a bitter truth: I haven’t done laundry for at least a week because I’ve been busy pretending I’m Santa. We’re still okay because my kids each have at least 25 pairs of underwear, which I hope to teach them should never, ever be recycled out of the dirty laundry. But I need to bear down.

Last week Anthony showed me an ad. Costco sells emergency food supplies. I didn’t know! I can buy an Emergency Cube that provides a year of total nutrition for 4 people. 30,144 total servings of delicious freeze-dried food — brownies too — for less than 4000 dollars ($3,999.99 in case you’re wondering). Just add water.


But then, not really. I do believe if I ever needed that Emergency Cube, I’d be facing a pretty grim reality that not even mouth-watering rehydrated brownies could fix, assuming I could find a water supply that’s not poisoned or radioactive. What WOULD make me reach for my debit card today is an emergency cube containing a 365-day supply of freeze-dried clothing, total coverage for all seasons and extra kids’ underwear for their messy days. Until Costco decides to sell a useful bulk product like that, I guess I’m stuck doing laundry. I better get started. Happy Boxing Day!

Christmas is my miss-my-dad holiday

This year we delayed the onslaught of Christmas in my home, in an effort to shorten the time of heightened anxiety for Jesse. It turns out it also thankfully shortened the amount of time I spend around this time of year missing my dad.

Dad was the King of Grumpy, but when it came to Christmas, I really have only fond and cheerful memories from my childhood. Dad loved Christmas kitsch, and in hindsight I see that he lifted my mom’s spirits with it. The house used to vibrate with the cacophony of noise-making Christmas gadgets–trains, snoring santas, musical clocks, a weird Mickey Mouse singing thing, music boxes, stuffed animals that sing when you punch them. As a child, my Christmas mornings were the stuff of Hollywood movies, full of plenty and laughter. Dad had serious Santa mojo.

As I got older, Christmas got even better because I didn’t get grumbled out of the kitchen anymore. Instead, Dad and I did a lot of cooking together. I have early memories of him giving me some pie crust scraps and, with a twinkle in his eye, wasting precious time to make cinnamon sugar so I could sprinkle it on the crust and bake “cookies.” We didn’t share them with anyone else. I helped with the stuffing the night before, I peeled potatoes, I washed dishes (mostly so that I didn’t have to listen to Mom complain about the mess) — little things. He shared his tricks with me. Over the years he entrusted me with more, including stuffing and pies, and then at some point in his waning, on the rare years I was home for Christmas, I just did the whole meal for him. And really, in my heart it was for him and not for the rest of the family.

These days I think Dad and I spent Christmas time together in the kitchen because we were both loners and lonely. We were each lonely because we needed some more human connection; but we were loners even more. Faced with the messy reality of what human connection entailed, I think we each prefered to avoid it most of the time. With each other, we didn’t need to try very hard, and the kitchen got us away from the scrum of humanity in the living room. We could potter about quietly, chatter about memories and music and family stories, and not worry. Somehow, we could laugh together most of the time even when things went wrong in the meal. I even liked his pineapple cottage cheese lime jello mold. This is no small thing, because it also contained horseradish.

Dad loved to watch White Christmas around the holidays. He adored Bing Crosby and he loved the story in the movie. It’s only recently that I begin to understand how much the story resonated with him — about an elderly, forgotten man wasting away in a pretty corner of the world, too proud to ask for help and largely unaware that anyone cared about him. And of course the music is delightful. Many years after Dad died, I finally got Anthony to sit down to the movie, and it turns out he loves it too. We try to watch it every year. I don’t know why that’s so dear and painful to me. I suppose I wish Anthony and I could have sat down with Dad to watch it together.

In fact, I just wish I could share another Christmas with my Dad, one where my kids are there. I missed so many Christmases with him through the years, for all sorts of lame reasons, mostly involving my self-absorption and pride. Every Christmas season, for each of the 12 years since he died, I’ve spent hours and hours grieving and weeping for those lost chances, those lost days I should have spent with him. I can barely type this for the wretchedness that’s pouring out of me on this Christmas Eve. It’s pathetic.

All I can do is make it up to him in this living world. So I’ve spent the better part of my free time for the last month getting ready for Christmas morning to happen for my kids, who weren’t born until after my father died. As I go through this process every year, I imagine that Dad’s Christmas spirit watches over my shoulder and guides my hand. He would have valued my kids’ insanity. He would have forgiven Jesse her challenging personality and behaviors, without reservation. He would have chuckled away at Nick’s loud silliness on Christmas mornings. He would have been proud of me for giving my kids a splendid, magical Christmas, even if they act like jackasses. But I wish he was really here, so that I wouldn’t have to just imagine it.

And now to bed. I have to wake up in about 5 hours, find my happy place, and deal with two kids experiencing maximum sensory overload. I can’t wait. If they’re crazy enough, I won’t miss my Dad as much.


Holiday eating guide

Recently I’ve been feeling accosted by peeps who are very intense about their new-trend diets. Apparently if I do the things their diet lifestyles ask of me, I will be cured in general, and I can skip purgatory. If I don’t, I am bad and my body will disintegrate within a matter of days into zombie flesh. It doesn’t sound quite right, but maybe I’ve been unfair in my skepticism and, I admit, occasional hostility. I’ve decided to give a range of new and old diet approaches a try over winter break, one day at a time as follows:

Day 1. Raw. We will sprout things in jars and eat lukewarm gruels. Also flower petals.

Day 2. Vegan. We’ll eat seitan roast and pretend we like it, and also try to say its name in a way that doesn’t make us think of the master of evil, while having deep insights about why vegans seem to feel such a desperate need to make their not-meat look like meat.

Day 3. Real Paleo. Not the trendsetting modern approach but hard core, I.e. no cultivated foods and only wild kill beasts. For this day I will send the kids out back with a sharp multi tool they can use to pull up random vegetable matter (using their paleo caveman sixth sense to avoid poisonous things) or to kill small game. I think the squirrels look healthy this winter. Bonus: no toilet paper.

Day 4. Supermodel. No food. One hungry day. Because skinny is the new skinny.

Day 5. GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome). We each get the giblet sac from a whole (grass fed organic free range) turkey’s ass and some cracked beef ribs so we can suck out the marrows. Also sauerkraut.

Day 6. Atkins. During which I will give each of us salad greens, microscopic portions of fish, and a stick of butter on a stick.

Day 7. Carbo-Load, aka the 80’s runners diet. This is the one I’m most familiar with. Fill our 18-gallon tin tub with noodles. Dessert: bagels.

Day 8. Gluten-Free. I guess I could call this “the rice flour day,” but to honor American G-frees we’ll also eat really bad-tasting cookies made out of spelt and quinoa.

Day 9. Dessicant. Really? You haven’t heard of this one? It’s pretty new. Only dried foods. Meat jerkies and dried fruits.

Day 10. Weightwatchers. This may be especially hard for the kids. Eat whatever you want, but you better be able to spell it or draw it, because you’re gonna journal it, dammit!

Day 11. Buddy the Elf. All 4 food groups (Candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup). Because Christmas. Bonus points if you get your Iggy on and spend the day shirtless, wiggling strangely while you croon

Candy candy candy
I can’t let you gooo
All my life you’ve haunted me
I love you soooo…

On the 12th day we’ll rediscover our humanity, end the charade, and eat an old-fashioned Korean feast, which is to say REAL food, rich in tradition and spice and vegetables; well-rounded and inclusive but reflecting moderation, especially with respect to animal flesh; and just plain tasty. AND good for days of leftovers. You can’t beat that.

Grumpy about the naughty list

We’ve had a tough few weeks in the Pennington-Cross household. It’s been so bad that I was reduced to the Naughty/Nice Threat this morning.

Nick, who’s 4, could give demonstrational seminars on how to effect ADHD on steroids. His decibel levels would put Metallica to shame. Most of his noises aren’t even human. He is exhausting me.  Meanwhile, Jesse is stressed about everything, everything, everything. Her “I hate…” Tourette’s tic is in full force.  It makes me want to head-butt her and send her to her room for a month with a chamber pot, hot pot, 10 gallons of water and some freeze-dried foods.  She could drop her waste out the window to me every day via a bucket pulley.

Instead, I take deep breaths and wonder if I could learn to act like the animal trainer from the Shedd Aquarium who proudly declares that his trainees will never hear the word “No.”  Well goody goody for you, Mr. Awesome Trainer, I’m so glad your animals live in La -La Land where no one says “no” and they’re trapped their entire lives in watery cages dreaming of a day when they’re free of their never-say-no captors.  Just sayin’.

Living day-to-day with Jesse is like Chinese water torture.  The struggle is in the details, and they’re too boring and repetitive for words, which is also what makes them so awful at times.  In particular, I’ve got some sort of post-trauma reaction going on when it’s time to get ready for school and head out the door.  Jesse has TRANSITION ISSUES.  Around this time of year, after almost 4 months in school, I’ve lost the fight.  I feel in turns morose, blank, and enraged as I search my mind for new and not-too-negative ways to persuade her to get a move on.  Once in a while it backfires in the worst way, like last week when I left her inside by herself and waited in the car with Nick.  It took her 15 minutes to come out.  She was in tears.  “Why didn’t you come when I called, Mommy?  I called and I called, like this, MOMMMEEEEE MOMMMEEEE!  I had a messy poop and needed your help to clean it!”


This morning I slumped on the sofa with a cup of coffee, watching Jesse and Nick cheerfully run around doing their thing – sneaking the iPad and kindle, moving dinosaur figurines here and there.  I asked Jesse politely for the 5th time to go upstairs and get dressed, because we needed to leave for school in 10 minutes.  She ignored me for the 5th time and went on about her sassy-pants business.  The words came out my mouth glumly, before I could stop them.  Jesse.  It’s Christmas next week.  Do you want more presents or less?  Do you really think you’re inspiring me to go shopping for you by not listening?

Jesse deflated on cue and marched upstairs to get dressed.  She was really great this morning.  She went off to school promptly and with a smile.  Unfortunately, I’m almost certain she’s faking it.

If history serves, she’s going to spend the next 7 days until Christmas in an emotional tailspin, struggling with self-loathing and exacting her revenge on me with increasingly erratic behavior — word tics, screaming, stalling, mewling and keening, being extra mean to Nick, physically attacking her parents and the dog, sleeping even worse than usual, and so on.  Jesse doesn’t perform well under pressure.  And I should have known better than to use the naughty/nice threat.  Jesse has pitifully low self-esteem, especially around Christmas time.  Like all decent, compassionate people waiting to happen, she’s extremely critical and judges herself unworthy of generosity.

When Jesse was 4 or 5, and when we were still just beginning to wrap our heads around what ails her, we went to Little Grandma’s house for Christmas.  (Little Grandma is my mom, so dubbed poetically by Jesse years ago because she’s very petite as compared with Big Grandma, Anthony’s statuesque English mother.)  Christmas morning came.  Jesse wouldn’t leave the bedroom.  Anthony and I encouraged her to go on out to the hearth to see what Santa brought.  She refused and acted very anxious, but finally she left.  Uncle Mark observed the rest.  Jesse tiptoed into the living room and saw that Santa had indeed come and left toys.  Instead of yelping for joy and running to them, she paused and sighed in relief.  “This means I HAVE been good…”

I was wretched when Mark told me.  I hid in the bathroom and wept to think of my wee child struggling under such duress.  I decided to stop talking about Santa’s naughty/nice list except in the most optimistic terms. Now when Jesse worries aloud about it, we ask rhetorical questions like, “Is it really possible for any child to be sooo naughty that Santa won’t bring her anything?”  “Has Santa ever really met a naughty child?”  Jesse responds dutifully, “Noooo,” but you can see that her head is spinning out the alternative answer.  I think she may also just be creeped out by Santa, like lots of kids.  A couple years ago, the Target checkout lady asked Jesse if she likes movies about Santa.  Jesse thought a moment and answered, very seriously, “I don’t like chubby men.”  I get it.  This particular red-clothed chubby man watches her from afar, exempted for some reason from stranger-danger rules, evaluating her actions according to a code of conduct that hasn’t been made clear to her, planning his supernatural entry into her home and sanctuary, his judgment weighing on her mind more and more as Christmas approaches, like the executioner approaching the gallows.  He’s a menace.

Hence my disappointment in myself for making the Naughty/Nice Threat this morning. Jesse can’t handle it at all.  In my defense, I didn’t refer explicitly to Santa or to any list, but Jesse’s a smart cat and will easily move from my words to Santa’s list.  I blew it.  Add me to the naughty list.  I’ll take myself off it later today after I perk up, get my cheerful grumpy back on, and think of a way to help Jesse feel better about the threat of Christmas giving.

Am I beautiful or not?

I married a no-nonsense, straight-talking man. We met as sophomores in college and, other than a year off for good behavior after we graduated, we’ve been together ever since.

Over the years, Anthony has done things and laid lines on me that would have sent many women running, especially when we were in college. He had trouble remembering my name for at least a year. When in doubt he would call me by his dog’s name, Dusty. He’d defend himself: “I love Dusty a LOT, so it’s actually a compliment.” He used to follow me into the restrooms in the dorm, wait until I was peeing, and then splash ice cold water from the sink on me over the stall door. He thought that was hilarious. This may be an apocryphal memory, but I’m pretty sure the first time he told me he loved me was after just such an incident, when I came out of the stall cursing him. He laughed as he announced, “I love you!” Years later he told me he actually meant it, but at the time I assumed he was mocking me. “Fuck you,” I shot back as I marched out.

Before I learned better, I occasionally asked Anthony if he thought I was beautiful. He would answer every time, “I think you’re really really good looking.” At first I would push back. But don’t you think I’m beautiful? How can you love me if you don’t think I’m beautiful? Unphased, he would reply, “I think you’re really really good looking, AND I love you.” I once asked him which part of my body he loved best. He looked at me appraisingly and answered with a straight face, “your calves.” He would tell me I had long legs. For a short person. He once explained to me that, although other women might be better looking than me from far away, I was better looking up close. He disliked most of my haircuts. He hated my eyeglasses so much that one weekend he and a good friend hijacked me to the mall and basically forced me to get new glasses. For years, Anthony’s endearing nickname for me was Dumbelina. He would say, “how can someone as smart as you be so stupid?”

And yet we never dumped each other.

I used to have trouble understanding how I could so love a man who wasn’t willing to see me more perfectly. As far as I was concerned, I embodied mediocrity in Anthony’s eyes. So it was even harder for me to understand why he claimed to love me, when I was far from any ideal. I felt like the ugly woman in Shakespeare’s sonnet #130, except my man spoke in short sentences that didn’t rhyme. It puzzled and frustrated me.

I understand better now the muddled expressions on Anthony’s face when he was forced to engage with me on what he must have perceived as such shallow and vain interrogations. The questions I asked Anthony about my body were STUPID. I was basically encouraging him to objectify me, to dumb down his love for me into a 2-dimensional code of alleged-beauty — especially lame because I was such a consummate slob. Like a fish in water, and like so many American women, I couldn’t see the way this demented culture made me value my visual body more than the rest of me, even as I educated and empowered my mind and embraced core feminist ideals. I was fortunate that Anthony never let me drag him down that path.

Having children at 38 and 42 has done a real number on my physical self-image. I’m overweight; I’m headed toward 50 and I don’t get enough exercise or plastic surgery; my belly has that post-childbirth LOOK, sort of squinchy and blobby. As for the belly bit, I was whining ad nauseum about it one evening. Anthony interrupted. He told me gently, sweetly, that it doesn’t look ugly, it just looks like motherhood. He patted my gut, the way you might pat a good dog’s head. It was a deep expression of love, Anthony style. After 28 years together, I knew that right away.

But come on. That didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes in disgust, grunting something rude in return, and waddling out of the bathroom to go put some pants on.

The weather was worse than the kids

We survived a long drive yesterday. Jesse and Nick were horrid for the first hour and then settled down. As I often say, they were really well-behaved, except when they weren’t.

The final 4 driving hours were spent in snowy, barely-adequate road conditions, skidding down the narrow, barely-plowed roads in the gloom of rural northern Wisconsin at 20 to 30 miles an hour. Anthony was very lucky to have me sitting next to him, because I was able to give him helpful pointers and ask useful questions about road conditions as he gripped the wheel. I also gave him distance-to-destination updates about every quarter mile for the last couple hours, which lightened the mood measurably.

The good news is, we made it safely and enjoyed a delightful evening catching up with Kevin in his home on the shores of Lake Superior. Now we’re ready to get outside and play in the snow. It’s a balmy 1 degree outside with a sub-teens windchill. Absolutely spectacular monotonic conditions.

If I could figure out how, I would post a picture for you from my phone. Some day when I manage to pull my head out of my…

Road trip

We’re driving to Cornucopia, WI as I type (LOVE that I can do this with my thumbs on my phone) to visit our dear friend Kevin who lives on Lake Superior. What a great way to celebrate the end of Anthony’s teaching semester. it’s a beautiful morning outside, snowing but not so much that we have to cancel. It feels very holiday.

Kevin’s a monk-style bachelor so we have to bring all the food we’re going to eat. Unfortunately, we have to bring the kids too.

In order to facilitate the morning packing, we let the kids watch TV. They watched several episodes of Kung Fu Panda Legends (AWESOMENESS). It’s always a mistake to let my kids watch TV, ever, but it’s especially a mistake in the mornings. It does something to their personalities, like what the Bad People’s experiments in Firefly did to the Reavers.

You want to be in this car with me right now. 7 hours to go.