Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Most of my fears are legitimate. I hate snakes, big hairy spiders. I also hate roller coasters. They are typical in nature: it terrifies me when my son thinks he’s a goat and has to stand on everything higher than two feet tall.

I have also been so scared, my bowels ceased to function properly when I mortgaged my home to start a business. I got the same physical reaction when I signed a death waiver the first time I did the Tough Mudder race back in ’10.

These situations, I’d like to think, would scare the average Joe.

But sometimes my fears don’t make a lot of sense. And I am about to share one of them so go easy on me. Please refrain from the kitty cat comments. Do me that favor.

On a vacation to Maui recently, my husband talked my son and me into taking a snorkeling trip. I had only attempted the "sport" once in my life and was so clumsy that before I even entered the water, I snagged my ankle on some coral which bled like a sieve and that was the end of me. The trail of blood could have brought on some unwanted ocean predators. That was back in 2005 and I was fine sitting on the shoreline with my warm Corona Lite watching my friends – or so I thought they were my friends. I couldn’t tell who was who with the tubes sticking out of the water and their butts in the air.

Up until our recent trip, snorkeling never crossed my mind. Scuba diving has, only because I have a friend who travels all over the world going on scuba trips. She is a certified dive instructor, meaning she could probably save people. She also claims she has been eyeball to eyeball with eels, sting rays, dolphins, even sharks. I am raptured hearing about her underwater adventures, but have no desire to join her. Just the thought of being out there in that underwater jungle with no quick exit gives me the heebs. I love hearing about her dives, though - the complex nature of her equipment, what could go wrong if you aren't careful, the creatures she has seen and touched. She seems so brave and I swoon over her stories.

She interprets my interest in her stories as interest in the sport. She has even offered to come over and show me how it’s done in my pool. Fine, I say, but can you guarantee there won’t be any coral or creatures or slimy fish when we do it for real? She can’t.

I placed this little thought of panic into the very back file cabinet of my brain as we set off to snorkel in what Greg the Maui Activities Coordinator said was some of the best snorkeling on the island. I mean, really. My five year old was thrilled. What was my problem?

Yack and Pants were first to get in the warm Pacific ocean. The waves were calm and warm, inviting me in. I remembered my little equipment lesson from Clayton at Boss Frogs and synched up my mask by sucking in a deep breath through my nose. The mask was so tight, my eyes felt like they were coming out of their sockets. And I made the very uncool mistake of talking which caused my son to convulse in fits of laughter. Apparently, I sounded like Goofy and looked like him too.

First lesson in snorkeling: once the flippers are on, walk backwards. I learned this the hard way, doing a face plant in the sand while Yack and Pants laughed at me. Another way of putting on the flippers is waiting until you get in the water. Plain common sense – eluded. Oh, and don't call them flippers. Apparently, these clown shoes are called fins.

After three false starts and four mask adjustments, I was ready. Pants and Yack were already out about 15 yards, leaving me and my anxiety behind.

While submerged, I noticed my noisy, labored breathing. I also noticed the way I felt: like a Cro-Magnon heaving air through my mouth while biting furiously on my nozzle. The only time I find myself in this state is when I am sweating at the gym, running from bad guys, or engaging in other activities that shall not be divulged here.

As the adrenaline coursed through my veins, I told myself to keep calm, to enjoy this. When you’re under the sea, checking things out, your peripheral vision is shot because of the mask, so you can’t know what creepy crawly things are beside you, or worse, behind you.

The biggest challenge for me was avoiding the coral. The pain I felt the last time I nearly decapitated my foot at the ankle came back as a vivid memory and spazzing through the giant coral reefs became the norm. Not to mention, the further the tide carried me out to sea, the bigger the sea creatures became. I saw a purple and red fish the size of my head. He stared at me, daring me to float closer. I could have sworn I saw teeth the size of chiclets on that one. I also experienced a school of smaller yellow fish following me, nipping at my toes that peeked out of my fins. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eel-snake-like green thing swimming below me with antenna and a whipping tail.

I closed my eyes, tried to calm myself and swam further from shore. Pants advised me that I would see some spectacular sights if I just make it to the reef about 100 yards off shore. So, I trudged on.

Up ahead of me was a very large shadow. It was hovering between two big pieces of coral that just about touched the surface. I stopped swimming but the tide swept me closer towards it. Reality hit me: I was five feet from a sea turtle the size of a beanbag chair. It inched it’s neck my way, lifted its fin and swam out of the coral wedge right towards me.

After I urinated in the water in the hopes to set off a warning signal, I whipped around and swam like hell back to shore, grabbing on to any piece of coral in front of me to leverage my speed back to terra firma. The theme song to Jaws began playing in my head as the door knocks of my breathing pounded my ears.

I stood up in knee high water and began running for shore, forgetting I was wearing fins and took a nose dive in front of my family.

Pants asked if I was okay. I told him I was a little shaken up, but that’s to be expected when you are being hunted down by a giant sea turtle.

Pants then put on his snorkel gear and headed out into the abyss for a glimpse of the terrorist. He found his friendlier brother – probably the one who played Crush in Nemo - and followed him for ten minutes out past the reef.

When Pants returned, he was enveloped with adrenaline, but not the kind I was experiencing. His adrenaline made him want to go back out again the next day and have lots of beers and talk about how great our trip was.

My adrenaline made me wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare I had where attack fish were biting my legs. As it turned out, it was Yack who had crawled in bed with me at 4 a.m. and was rubbing his untrimmed daggers we call his toenails against my shins.
I didn’t fall back asleep after that. Nor did I snorkel the next day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nimble Thoughts From a Step Mother

The eight year old is the boy. The eleven year old is the girl. They like my dogs. That’s about the only thing they like of mine.

The girl is a little bit of a challenge, but I get the attitude. I am dating her father. At least she’s not outright rude aside from the occasional eye roll coupled with a hushed, “whatever.” She’s a pre-teen dealing with another non-family related alpha female in her life. And she’s handling it better that I would if I were eleven. I would have hated me. I would have put dog crap in the woman's shoes who was dating my father.

And the boy, what a sponge. I have to be careful what I say around him or it will be regurgitated either to his classmates or more dicey, his mother. Using the profanity laden speech to express my inner self has to be curbed. I also can’t leave my clothes lying around. That will conjure up a sit down at the dining room table about why my tank top or bathing suit is hanging from the shower curtain. Oh, and teaching him to pump my gas is not a life lesson every eight year old should know. It’s child labor and it’s wrong.

I also have to be strategic in what I cook. Nothing too “vegetable-y”. Nothing too wholesome or organic. Nothing too healthy or high in fiber or low in fat. And dinner conversation has to be engaging, but not too personal. Discussing our funniest moment of the week is acceptable, discussing who we have the hots for is not. I must always go first. Must break the ice. Make it lively, set the tone. But be careful not to over share.

I have to watch my alcohol intake. No more than a glass or two of wine. Can’t let these kids thinking I am a lush. And I should probably let them slide a little on dishes, but not on cleaning their rooms and making their beds before they leave to go back home. I can’t let them treat me as though I am a pushover maid type.

I can’t play favorites even though hanging out with the boy is less stressful. I mustn’t over compensate because hanging out with the girl is a mild struggle. Tears may ensue. Doors may slam.

When teaching something new, like snowboarding, I must provide enough guidance and pedagogical feedback, but not so much that they want to throw their boots at my head.

I must be generous in gift giving, but not blatantly over the top so I don’t appear as though I am sucking up.

I have to be aware of their body language if I go in for a hug or a kiss, especially in public. I can’t discipline them for sneaking out of the house or lying or fighting with each other. The punishment comes from their parents. I should feel free to offer up my keen observations to their father as to the type of discipline that should be administered seeing as though I have parenting skills and all.

I shall express my love for them on a gradual scale, knowing their love for me is not unconditional, nor mine for them.

I must provide the right amount of sunlight, carbon dioxide, soil, water and oxygen to enable our budding relationships to flourish..

Lastly, I must sit back, keep my pie hole shut and hope for the best.

The balance beam which was my life 10 years ago has turned into an effervescent, buoyant trampoline. My love for those two is unwavering. My actions, not so strategic. There’s nothing to prove. They are my step children, my family, and I beam with pride.

The girl is turning 21 next month. She just ventured out of her comfort zone and took a solo trip to Chicago for six days to “see if it’s a place I want to live after college.” Anxious, trepidatious and full of excitement, she hopped on the plane to a city of art museums, theater productions and deep dish pizza. She got stuck in a thunderstorm, her plane was struck with lightening. She stayed with a stranger in Colorado after being stranded overnight. She came back ready to take a head dive into her next big adventure. She’s changed – a bit more confident, a lot more hopeful. I put a new rug in her old room, hoping it would make her want to come home every once in awhile and visit her toads.

The boy turned 18 back in December. He’s leaving for Wake Forest University in North Carolina in approximately 14 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes. Despite his step mother’s undo influence, he managed a 4.4 GPA, an 1900 on his SAT, was a varsity basketball, soccer and track and field player. To boot, he enjoyed a robust social life outside of normal business hours. He is his own worst critic. I don’t see him having any academic challenges in NC, nor challenges in other areas of traditional college life. Toga, Toga, Toga..

I have committed to working until I am 85 to help pay for his and his sister's college education without any complaining or apprehension. It’s non negotiable. It’s all a part of the plan.

I am lucky. Not many can say they inherited a couple of kids they would be privileged to call their own.
And now as they become acquainted with adulthood, I must sit back, keep my pie hole shut and hope they know their evil step monster loves them unconditionally.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Little Red Purse

The Brown men in my family don’t do well with macho. They are more your garden variety feelings type – talk about it, hug it out.. especially my brother. Growing up, that kid could cry over a sad song, a ripped shirt, a mild pinch in the arm to establish territory. I am convinced he learned this soft demeanor from my father, who cried quite a bit too. And so it seemed the touchy feely self expression was a prerequisite for being a Brown male. Sweet, huh? Most of the time it was, but every once in awhile, that sensitivity came with price.

 “What the hell is your son doing?” 

Mr. Shiteed nudged my father in the side after seeing my brother with a purse swung around his shoulder.  Mr. Shiteed was a family friend by default.  My folks loved his wonderful wife, but Mr. Shiteed was the purulent sore that stuck to wifey’s cheek. He was unavoidable. 

"Love me, love my husband,” she once told my mother over coffee and cigarettes after the subject surfaced of her verbally abusive counterpart who launched assaults at her young children, who by the way were not his own.
Mr. Shiteed was a brazen, mouthy, hells angel who couldn’t help but throw in a cuss word to describe his hot piece of meat wife, which he felt compelled to share - along with their sex life - on a regular basis.  We all hated him.  He drooled, yelled and shot death stares at young children right there in the open public. 

Us Browns had a way of sucking in all the tolerance as if holding our breath when he was around, especially my dad, the 6 foot 4, 250 pound softy that he was.. Bottom line, we truly loved everyone in the family with that one menacing exception.

My parents agreed to meet the Shiteed family for pizza at a very neutral location with the intention of eating and leaving on their time, not Mr. Shiteed’s. Left up to him, the entire crowd would be subject to countless alcohol soaked hours of loud stories about his time in ‘Nam. 

On this night, my mother enticed us kids by offering up the treat that is the rare visit to Luigi’s Pizza.
My brother asked if he could take his purse. My folks, being the self expressionist hippie parents they were, said of course. JimBo stuffed his “action figures” aka dolls into the little red vinyl purse which donned three yellow daisies on the front. It was cute, especially slung over my brother’s shoulder.

The little red purse used to be mine but I had since outgrown it and had moved on to a hot wheels carrying case. The little red purse went to someone who appreciated its versatility. I, however, yearned for a modern, hardened look. I was so over convenience.

By the time we were buckled in and half way down the block, my folks mentioned as a side note that we were meeting the Shiteeds. I asked for clarification: was Mr. Shiteed gracing us with his presence? 

“We have to accept people for who they are,” which meant 'yes' coming from my sensitive and diplomatic father.

“Turn the car around!” JimBo and I screeched from the backseat.

Thoughts of Mr. Shiteed shouting at our friends and picking his teeth with his straw plagued our young minds.

My brother clutched onto his little red purse in fear. He was at that stage where his purse went with him everywhere and the thought of Mr. Shiteed poking fun at him was paralyzing. But he wouldn’t have pizza without it. The purse was his security blanket.  It carried life.  Aside from his “action figures”, the purse carried his candy, baseball cards and his Merlin game. He couldn’t very well leave it behind. Thus, we all felt the anxiety of that purse in the presence of Mr. Shiteed, including my father.

The Shiteed family was already outside, waiting impatiently for us. As my folks stopped to greet them with hugs for wifey, head nods for Mr. Shiteed, JimBo and I darted for the door without acknowledging the daunting clutches of Mr. Shiteed’s wisecracks.

“What do you mean, what is he doing?” My father corralled Mr. Shiteed to an outside ashtray for a pre dinner smoke, and an attempt to shuffle him outside of JimBo’s earshot.

My father tried to quell Mr. Shiteed’s judgment by explaining it was just a bag to hold JimBo’s toys. “And as his dad, I don’t mind.” 

“Yeah, if you don’t mind your kid growing up to be a fairy.”

My father warned Mr. Shiteed that if he so much as looked at his son funny, they were going to take it outside and have a nice long chat. What my father meant was they were going to have a discussion about acceptance and tolerance and subsequently have a meeting of the minds on the subject. What Mr. Shiteed heard was that my mammoth ex semi-pro football playing father would pull the stuffing out of his abdomen with his bare hands.

During dinner, Mr. Shiteed didn’t even so much as glance towards my brother or his little red purse.

That was the last time we ever saw Mr. Shiteed. My mother made it very clear that if wifey and kids wanted to continue to have a relationship with the Browns, they had to ditch the machismo.

And so, Mr. Shiteed disappeared, never to be heard from again.  

But the little red purse? That’s another story. It’s securely tucked away in the attic with a couple of JimBo’s Pittsburgh Pirate baseball cards in the side pocket. I think I remember seeing an old Andy Van Slyke card in there when I was going through some old photos and happened upon the vinyl gem. I bet it’s worth something – the card and the purse.

I hope JimBo digs it out of storage and let’s his son tote it around someday. It's good for sensitivity training for the Brown pedigree.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Little Swimmers

I have a secret – a surreptitious, Fort Knox-type of secret. Frankly, it shouldn’t be, but because of our ridiculous little culture and our need to keep tragedy at bay, we bury this secret deep in the bowels of our psyche.. that is until someone else has that same secret. Then, of course, it’s okay to share.

I am referring to the two painful, devastating miscarriages I had before Yack was conceived.

What I have since learned is that miscarriages are a normal part of the conceiving process. I know several women who have had just as many as I and more. The list is long and the information, short. So is the conversation. It simply isn’t discussed.

What pisses me off the most is that somehow our deep pain and shame over not being able to stay pregnant makes us women clam up, ignore this intense loss, act as if we simply had the flu. And we return to our daily routine trying desperately to hide the grief we feel from the people in our community. “Sorry, I had a stomach bug these past couple of days, and yes, that’s why my eyes are bloodshot and puffy.”

It’s total b.s.

We women go so far as to hide our joy from the world when we do find out we are pregnant until we are at least twelve weeks along or see a heartbeat on an ultrasound, or both. What is slated to be the most thrilling times in our lives (if planned) starts off as an impossible secret.

Don’t get me wrong.. I get why we keep those first couple of months to ourselves. First off, if it doesn’t turn out to be a viable pregnancy we have to notify 586 of our closest friends that our greatest joy was a false alarm. Secondly, since we women care so deeply about not putting people in uncomfortable situations, we spare our friends the need to respond.

But here’s a thought. What if we didn’t? What if we talked openly about the anguish and heartache we feel when something like that happens? I can’t speak for all women who have had miscarriages, but I know this much – it would have been comforting to be privy to so many women in my same situation before I found myself in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.

Four months after Pants and I got married, we decided to “pull the goalie”. We were driving home from a weekend away, and it was just brought up in casual car trip conversation. "Hey, have you eaten at that roadside restuarant, and what do you think of having a child?"

We didn’t waste any time.

That same night I became pregnant. You don’t believe me? Two days later I was up at 4 a.m. eating egg and salsa sandwiches. Ask Pants. It’s true.

Ten days and four hours later, I took a test and although it indicated the faintest of lines -we had to adjust it to the light as we squinted until our eyes were almost shut, we were knocked up. We confirmed it by subsequently purchasing $120 worth of additional pregnancy tests until that line looked like a geometric y axis.

I then got on the horn and told only my closest friends and family. It was not until my forty-seventh phone call that one of my male friends, no less, told me I had better shut my trap until I was in the clear. What a sexist. What does he know about being pregnant?

Of course, I didn’t listen. I was preggo and I had stuff to plan.

Being a new parent was so stressful. I had to open a 529 college account, I had to get a crib, we had to come up with a name – both a boy and a girl, just in case. I had to get my hair cut - I heard that infants have a brutal Palmer grasp. Oh, and I had to learn to swaddle. All in nine months. I was a head case.

While busy planning my baby shower at week seven point five, I started experiencing severe cramping. I’ll spare the details, but I ended up on the bathroom floor for two hours from sheer despair. Side note: why is it that cool bathroom tile on the face is the only thing to combat utter dread?

During that time, I learned that four of my girlfriends had experienced miscarriages similar to mine. I asked why they spared me the info prior to my own. Here were their answers:

“I didn’t want to burden you with that information. I knew you were going to start trying and didn’t want to be the wet blanket.”

“I was so hurt at the time, but in retrospect, it wasn’t that much of a big deal.”

“I just looked at it this way.. at least I can get pregnant.”

More b.s. shoveled my way. First off, burden me. It would have provided a smidge of solace during my midnight crying jags. Second, it IS a big deal. And third, what good is getting pregnant if you can’t stay pregnant?

I needed answers.

I paid a visit to my gyno, who told me that yes, what I have heard is true, that miscarriages are normal. He then told me in a very thick Chinese accent that I couldn’t get pregnant for three months.

Translation: I shouldn’t get pregnant for three months. But since I took his words literally, I absorbed that information into thinking it was impossible.

A month later, on a trip to Mexico, Pants knocked me up again.

I was elated and began planning with the fervor I had during my first pregnancy. That kind of bad luck doesn't strike twice.

I kicked down a cool grand on baby books, bigger bras – a girl can dream, can’t she? – and fashionable maternity clothes. My pants were already beginning to feel tighter and no, it couldn’t have been the extra egg salsa sandwiches I was back to eating in the middle of the night.

This time, I got wise and went to see my gyno the minute I read that positive pregnancy test.

But he sent me home.

He said that an ultrasound wouldn’t show anything until I was at least 10 weeks along. At that time, we would see the heartbeat and start to talk about lifestyle changes for the next nine months. What?! No sushi or cold cut meats? No beer? No coffee?

Three weeks was so long to wait so I occupied my time by trying on my new maternity clothes with pillows tucked into my new extra large undies. I didn't look so bad, just as long as I didn’t get pregnant in my jowls and underarms.

Pants accompanied me to the gyno’s four weeks later - we waited an extra week just to make sure. We were thrilled to be seeing our child’s heartbeat.

Except there wasn’t one. It looked like a little seahorse just floating in my uterus.

I didn't want to give birth to a frigging seahorse.

My sweet doctor gave me a choice. I could either have the miscarriage naturally at home, which would happen in about two weeks, I could take medicine to induce the miscarriage, or I could go into the hospital for a D and C.. a dilation and curettage. Scan to the next paragraph if you don’t want the details. Basically, the doctor opens the cervix and surgically removes the lining of the uterus by scraping and scooping.

I opted for the D and C for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to go through that horrid ordeal in my bathroom again, and second, they told me that they would have to knock me out and give me some mind numbing pain meds. You don’t have to ask me twice.

Pants and I arrived at the hospital and were swept up by the kindest nurse team I have ever met. Since I had never been admitted to a hospital, this was the only nurse team I have ever met. Are they usually that nurturing and accommodating? They put me on a gurney and gave me a hot water bottle along with socks that felt like they had been warmed in a microwave. Their sweet disposition (and the fact that I was getting a D and C) made me cry in chest heaving spurts.

A nurse approached my bedside as I was being wheeled into the operating room and told me the following: “I have five children. I had two miscarriages before my first and one after my third. It’s all a part of the conceiving process. You will be a mom, dear.”

Talk about water works.

I woke up in the recovery room to Pants reading me the book Marley and Me. He was at the part where Marley dies.

Pants misses the mark sometimes on "appropriate conduct under the circumstance" but he sure means well.

When I got home, I ate enough sushi for five people and downed two beers. Then I went to bed and cried for three more weeks.

During a post-D and C checkup, I asked my gyno to test me. I wanted to know if something was wrong with my insides, or worse, Pants’. He advised against it. Told me it would be a waste of time and money since insurance wouldn’t cover it.

“We only recommend testing couples when they have had three consecutive miscarriages.”

More b.s. as I see it.

I know I could have probably lived through another miscarriage, but it would likely have done something to my brain permanently.

After three months to the day, Pants and I pulled the goalie and this time, I was pregnant with Yack, but not without its problems. I began bleeding at 14 weeks. I was put on bed rest, I was put on petosin. I was miserable and scared.

But then Yack was born and I had a whole new batch of crap to worry about.

Since those dark days, Pants has wanted to tell people about our experience. In fact, a nice couple was visiting for dinner one evening. They had just announced they were pregnant and very excited.

Pants felt obligated to tell them about our story and ended it by saying, “Just make sure you don’t count the chickens before they hatch.”

Never a time has that idiotic saying made more sense.

Two weeks later, that couple experienced a miscarriage.

Now, arguably, Pants needs to work on his delivery, but his heart is always in the right place.

When I called my friend to express my condolences, I told her that I felt her pain. I told her that I know she will be a great mother. I also told her to be good to one another because even though it physically happened to her, he might be feeling the same loss.

I did not tell her not to worry, or that at least she can get pregnant, or that this is the universe’s way of making sure your baby is not a seahorse.. or the worst - that it’s totally common and in no time at all she will be pregnant and happy again.

Because all of that is b.s.

It feels like a death. It is a death. And it’s painful and horrendous and totally unfair.

And you are not alone.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Something's Missing

I turn 40 today. The biggie.. although, I am not approaching it in the way my old bag friends who are much older than me approached theirs. I am not complaining. I don't feel old, and relatively speaking, I think I have my crap in order, or so I'd like to think. From what I have learned, balance is key. Work hard, play hard.

It hasn't always been that way. I had to learn balance.

Around the time I turned 30, I was expressing what those in the therapy business call abnormal behavior, anxiety, self distruction, attachment issues, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, codependency, communication problems, conditioned stimulus, dementia, fear thoughts, hoarding, impulse control disorder, internal conflict, interpersonal conflict, negative reinforcement, obsessive compulsive disorder, pavlov classical conditioning, personality disorder, psychosis, radical behaviorism, self confidence issues, self esteem challenges, sleep disorder, and thinking disorder.

Happy to report that 10 years later, I am cured of all of the aforementioned illnesses, with the possible exception of dementia and maybe impulse control disorder.

But today is about reflection for me. And 10 years ago, albeit a free wheeling time in my life, had its challenges. And my partner in crime to help fuel that bad behavior was my buddy, McFet.

I recall a particular incident where I had just apologized to a Senator for perhaps inappropriately hand gesturing to show my disdain for his unpleasant response to my testimony in a hearing. It was a bad day for all involved.

After I walked out "of the principal's office", I called McFet.

Within five minutes, he was outside of the capitol waiting for me in his pickup truck to take me to have a little download, which meant a Chadonney over ice at a local bar.

While driving to said bar, we happened upon a van at a stop light. Behind the drivers seat was a clown. That happy clown with his bright nose and brighter outlook on life royally pissed me off.

I might have shocked the clown with similar gestures from earlier that day. I can't quite recall, since it's been 10 years.. (dementia).

McFet almost drove off the road as his spazzing laugh made it impossible to control a vehicle.

And during my 30th birthday party three days later, McFet surprised me with a clown. And if I am not mistaken, it might have been the same one in that van because he seemed apprehensive and scared of me when he showed up at the party.

These types of shenanigans continued throughout the decade. Let's see.. there was the time McFet got frustrated over who the hell knows and almost pulled a newly planted city tree out by it's roots.

Or when he was overly cautious driving home after dinner and wine at my house because of the cop parked a block away for 60 straight days. He thought it was a sting operation on him and him alone. I noticed while driving by couple of months later, there sat a nice looking dummy behind the drivers seat. Hat askew, blank plastic stare into oblivion.

And then there was the time we went camping and mountain biking up in Mendocino and caught two men in the bushes in a very intimate situation during one of our downhill rides. McFet lost control of his bike and bloddied up both knees right in front of them. He also blew out his front tire and had to hobble out of there on foot.

Today I should be celebrating all of our "accomplishments" with McFet over a healthy meal, a bottle of wine and a couple of hard laughs.

He would likely tell me that I need to slow down and start acting like an adult. I would probably respond with something snarky like, "yeah, if you're any role model, I'll be acting like an irresponsible teenager until I'm 70."

Saturday, March 31, 2012


My son, Yack, watched Bambi several weeks ago and has since become obsessed with the term, “twitterpated.” Of course, when Spring hits and Bambi shuns springtime love when he learns it from the wise owl, Yack wants to pause the movie and have a full discussion about what’s transpiring here.

And P.S. Yack is four years old.

This is how I explain the situation, knowing that I will have this same conversation in about two years when he asks where babies come from. Thanks, Disney. He’s four.
Did I mention that?

“Yack, twitterpated means when you are in love, when your heart beats fast, when you are excited about being with someone.”

He asks, “Are you and daddy twitterpated?”

Yeah, I guess so.

He then wants me to rewind. Seven times. I am drinking wine at the time so I comply. Frankly, I like that scene when spring starts to bubble up under Bambi's legs. It reminds me of what's to come.. the smells outside start to change. The days are longer. The farmers market is more robust. It’s the little things that bring me joy now. Flowers, the threat of allergies, the farmers market, wine and my kid asking me what it means to be twitterpated.

A couple of days pass. I am in the kitchen making breakfast frantically before work and Pants approaches me, gives me a little pinch on my backside and kisses my cheek – a morning ritual.

Yack giggles like Thumper, with his hands to his mouth. “You guys are twitterpated.”

Yes, son, I guess we are. How about that, Pants? We are twitterpated after 10 years. You annoy me when you breathe sometimes, when you lose your wallet on a weekly basis, and you never do laundry, you get mad when I steal your work socks, but we are still twitterpated.

It took our kid to remind us.

Then the twitterpated conversation took a different, almost uncomfortable turn. After his ninth viewing of Bambi (incessant video watching can't be that bad, no?), Yack came into my bedroom and declared that he was twitterpated too.

This should be interesting.

With who, I ask?

“With you, mommy.”

After my heart turned to warm milk chocolate, I thanked him but tried (and failed) to explain to him that being twitterpated meant that you were smitten, that you had feelings of excitement, anticipation, high hopes.

“Mommy, what are high hopes?”

Don’t worry about it, Yack, I am twitterpated with you too.

Yack waited for Pants to get home from work that night to tell him about his revelation – that he was, in fact, twitterpated with Daddy too.

Pants looked at me for answers.. I motioned to play along.

“Son, I am twitterpated with you too.”

Hoping this little obsession of his would find a more wholesome replacement, Yack and I stepped away from the electronics and went for a hike near our home. He was fascinated with the budding poppies, the smell of jasmine in the air, the cherry blossoms. Typically, he is itching to get back home and pop in that Bambi DVD so I relish in this moment of peace and agreement.

He stopped along the trail, picked a flower and handed it to me, declaring that it was springtime, and that meant he, along with the animals, and birds was twitterpated.

This might have been the best damn day of my life. I hugged my little man and reciprocated the expression.

Several days later, Yack woke up to an inviting sun. He couldn’t wait to get outside and play in the bright green grass amidst the maple tree that was starting to bud. I stood outside watching him kick a soccer ball with my fresh out of bed mop head, my creased morning face, donning flannel pj’s and Pants oversized slippers, and loudly slurping my excruciatingly hot tea… watching my boy. Twitterpated with life.

He then caught a glimpse of me watching him. He put a foot on the ball, smiled and declared, “Mommy, you’re sexy.”

And that’s when the springtime betrayed me like Benedict Arnold.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Misadventures of McFet

I had to say good bye to my best pal this month. Hardest dang thing I ever had to do. He died in his sleep on February 4th blindsiding me with a two by four. I don’t plan on feeling this way again anytime soon, so for those of you reading this, eat your veggies, don’t text and drive, avoid microwaving plastic containers, wear a helmet when you’re skiing, and blow out your candles before going to bed. I don’t want to lose anyone else.. at least for another five years. After that, you turkeys are on your own.

The fact that my bestie was 33 years older than me may have had something to do with the statistical viability that he would go first. We certainly talked about it. I just didn’t think it was going to happen so soon, and without warning. But really, who am I fooling? I would probably be saying the same thing 20 years from now if he were 92 and kicked the bucket in his sleep after some wine and an ambien.

Death, no matter what shape it takes, is something for which one cannot be fully prepared. And it was certainly the case with the ol’ guy. I have quickly learned that the two items in the recipe for feeling half way normal again after a loved one poops out are time and memories. Nothing else helps. So, since it will be awhile before I can’t think of him without wailing like a two year old, why not share some stuff the old man did to make me laugh?

I met Jerry McFetridge in 2001 on the heels of a nasty and painful breakup. I had a lot of useless and anxious time on my hands and needed a buddy. I found him… in a bar. We were both attending a birthday party of a mutual friend and we sparked up a conversation. He was hard of hearing and so I remember shouting (and accidentally spitting) at his head. He kept wiping my spittle off of his face and laughing, which is something I like to do, so I teased him about being deaf and we sat there with our drinks – mine, a draft beer, his, a Chardonnay over ice (which I also teased him about) and he quickly became my kindred spirit.

From that day forward, McFet and I spent nearly every damn day together. A couple of years after we met, I started dating Pants who would become my future husband. McFet had a front row seat of the courting process. I recall Pants asking me out to dinner or a movie or drinks and my response was always, “Sounds great. I’ll call McFet.” On the third date, it was getting obvious that I came as a package deal.

I am convinced Pants married me because of that deal.

Over the years, McFet and I have had some moments. He called me his dark cloud. I called him my acerbic spaz. Now, you have to understand something; McFet averted trouble by a nose hair, not on purpose, mind you. All of his "close calls" were by accident. Call it stubbornness, ignorance or subconsciously wanting a good story to tell the next day; the truth was he always seemed to get into the thick of it, with me by his side. Another thing before we get into the details: McFet wouldn’t listen, couldn’t hear, and ignored the subtle teachings of common sense that made for uncontrollable full body fits of laughter. His laugh required movement of every major muscle in the body, starting with his shoulders, down to his feet. Think of Elaine’s dance on Seinfeld and you would have a good visual of this guy’s guffaw. It was hereditary too so he came by it honestly. I see that grand mal laugh in his kids sometimes.

McFet was a prickly pear. Sharp, sacrastic, biting at times. But soft, sensitive and so loyal on the inside. If you needed anything – someone to tell you to wise up and act straight when you were an emotional mess, he was there. Someone to fix your flat bike tire only to have it poop out of you 12 miles in, he’d do it. Someone to meet you on a Saturday afternoon for a death hike, he’d reluctantly go after being called a pussy a few times, he would be huffin and puffin right behind you with his REI walking stick. Someone who would share a bottle of wine and a laugh over the most humiliating day you’ve had, because nine times out of ten, he had those days too. Or someone who would not only lend you his truck, but help you pile it high and deep and drive it to the dump several times.

Being Jerry’s friend meant you were never alone or lonely. His friendship encompassed the full spectrum, the total package, even blow ups, and boy, did we have our share of doozies.

I remember a particularly tense situation where we were having dinner, and probably too much wine. The subject of pension reform came up. In no time, that intellectual debate ended with him calling me a hypocrite and me telling him to shut his stinky pie hole. He stormed out of my house mad as hell.

Ten minutes later, I received the following email:

“U have always been against pension reform. Wasn't that the gist of the many conversations we've had on this sensitive subject. In fact you've castigated me soundly for my position on the basis that I've had both hands and feet in the public trough.”

To which I replied, “You’re a grade A asshole.”

To which he replied: “Does that mean you’re not feeding me dinner at six tomorrow night?”

Another truly notable instance: We decided that instead of hiring a floor guy, we would retile Pants’ kitchen while he was away on a guy’s only trip to Mexico (yeah, I let him go, but not without destroying his house). It appeared to be a relatively small project – about 750 square feet.

We found ourselves in line to check out at Home Depot and a really tall and scary looking dude cut right in front of us. I, of course, said, “back of the line, bub.”

The guy responded by pointing out the fact that I shouldn’t even be in Home Depot, that instead, I should be at home, barefoot in my kitchen cooking muffins for my husband.

McFet, who has an abnormally red face due to his Irish heritage, turned seven shades redder, walked up to the guy, eye level to his chest and said the following, “You better step off, buddy or I am going nuclear on your ass.”

The guy took one look at this 70 year old Irish firecracker and went to the back of the line.

McFet was also known as an illusionist. He had an impeccable way of convincing his friends and family that they didn’t need to hire a contractor or a plumber or a sprinkler installer or painter. All you need was $200 and a weekend. I learned that he was full of crap after painting my house took three and a half months and $3 grand.

In fact, he built his own house by hand without a general contractor - only a handful of workers and suckers he called friends (you're lookin' at her). It took him 10 years to do it and not without incident. He had exactly sixteen injuries ranging but not limited to a busted thumb, a cracked tooth, broken glasses, almost falling off of the roof in a wind storm, a near miss to the head by a sledge hammer, a split lip, glass stuck in his foot. But he finished. In fact, his last project was complete two weeks before he died – an outdoor shower.

McFet was otherwise known as a spaz. He had an unhealthy aversion to tying items down in his truck. Things that have fallen out include: a ladder, which had him cited (anonymously until now) in the Sacramento Bee after a near 12 car pile up; a couple of mountain bikes – mine was a disc break, full suspension Trek that looked like an accordion once the highway patrol pulled it off Interstate 80 (incidentally, McFet said he could fix it easily); some nice new bookshelves that he quickly returned to the store because they were “defective”, a rented Home Depot dolly, and a high chair he gave to his grandson.

McFet was also known as hard of hearing. One time, Pants had given him a little blue pill when he went to Italy two years ago in the hopes that the old guy might get lucky. He thought it was an ambien and took it on the plane.

When the book “Shit My Father Says” came out, he received it as a gift from one of his children and brought it over one night to read. We shared a bottle of wine and read it cover to cover. McFet said, “This a-hole sounds a lot like me.”

That got me thinking. Maybe I will start a book of Jerryisms. So, on the five nights a week he was with us, I began writing them down. Here are some of my favorites:

On the Republican presidential races:
"I just found out watching the Rep debate tonight that Ron Paul and I were drafted in the same year: 1962. None of the other warmongering morons running ever served."

I replied: "That's 10 years before I was born. I could give two shits."

He replied: "Age is relative when you're a warrior, fight on."

On the Vagina Monologues:
“when did this bubble up? I thought the woman’s movement was petering out?”

On Facebook:
"This is the true epitome of narcissism with you ex genners."

On a ZZ Top Concert:
"Now that would be a good concert. That will bring out the meth heads and the pot smokers. That will be a pretty good crowd. I’ll get us tickets."

On making it in the wine industry after having two not-so-successful years growing grapes:
"Say, you know how you make your first million dollars? Start with two."

On bringing a 2 month old baby into a bar for a final final:
“Oh come on, barkeep, it may be a bad idea, but it’s not against the law."

On turning 75 years old:
"A roast on my 75th birthday? Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. So does a trip to Italy, you a-hole."

On women:
"Come on, what do you want now, equal rights?"

On the threat of posting his quotes on my blog:
“Knock it off, Brown, that’s just candy mouth talk between us friends."

McFet told us on many occasions that the way he wanted to go was with a good heat on , gow eyed and grunt brained he would say. Go to bed and just not wake up.

I end with this: Jerry loved his family, especially his grandkids. He talked about them incessantly, wanted a better life for them than any of us could have. And he set out to do it in his signature crotchety way... he also loved his friends, telling stories upon stories about the good old days, which incidentally, he was still carrying out until his last day.

I hope that by sharing some of our stories as best buds, it will invoke the importance of friendships elsewhere. I hope we can gather together and be closer as a community because of people like McFet. May his memory, his humor, and intelligence live forever.

And may McFet's friends find peace in his memories down to the last one. He left life the way he left most social occasions, right in the middle of your conversation, with a pounding on the table, a grunt, and a “Catch you later, kid.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Public Service Announcement: New Way To Combat Teen Pregnancy

Along with everything else we hear about combating teen pregnancy through education, proper contraception, abstinence, perhaps something like this might be added to the list.

I was fifteen and three-quarters years old and a Sophomore in high school. I was asked on a date by a 16 year old Junior with good looks and more importantly, a car. The family rule was I couldn’t date until I hit the sweet 16 mark, so I did what came naturally when faced with a quandary like this. I begged. I also bargained.

Let me go out with Stud Muffin and I will keep my room clean for a month.

I will get home by 11:00 and will call every hour.

I will fold laundry for two weeks.

I will walk on your back for 30 minutes every evening for 10 business days.

This last one seemed to work with my mother. But not without the two hour sermon from the parental units on “parameters and guidelines.” Here is a relatively small sample of those I actually remember:

The mother and the father have to meet him first. I can’t go “parking”. I have to have a destination.

Approved sights included: movies, high school sporting events, our living room with parents present – no thanks. Racquetball – yes, really. Bowling.

Unapproved sights included: the backseat of any car. The front seat of any car if not moving for more than 10 minutes. The vineyards up Morse Road. The ally behind Longs and Millers Outpost. His house. His front yard. His backyard. His garage. His trampoline. His friends’ houses. Any house. Fast food restaurants just because they are unhealthy and may give you unwanted methane bubbles to build up in the lower intestines. Any and all bedrooms or other closed spaces, including bathrooms. The creek. The path next to the creek. The benches along the path next to the creek. The church parking lot. Any parking lot, especially the parking lot at the mall. Anywhere outside a 15 mile radius. The dugouts at the baseball field.

I also had to go easy on the eye makeup. That was important as I did not want to give Stud Muffin the wrong impression. Lastly, I had to be home by 11:00 p.m.

I second guessed why I wanted to go. How could one person remember all of those “parameters?” I was bound to slip. But I charged ahead.

The night Stud Muffin came to pick me up, I was filled with so much anxiety, I could barely light a match to heat my eye liner.

An entire two hours were wasted with me going through every piece of clothing in my closet, my mother's closet, my dirty clothes pile, and wringing my hands over the thought of my toads meeting SM. I was reluctant to inform them of my “parameters and guidelines” for them. I had a few I wanted to talk about, you know. But I didn't bring them up in fear that they would conduct themselves in direct contrast to my demands as I planned to do with theirs.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. As my mother and I sat at the kitchen table waiting for SM’s arrival, I politely asked her to dispose her cigarette. “It makes my clothes and hair stink.”

She exhaled a big puff of nicotine in my general direction before discarding it.

I kept mum on the rest of my demands..

As soon as I heard SM’s car pull up and his footsteps traipse up the front porch, my mother let out some methane of her own, mimicking a fog horn. I was convinced that the neighbors were sure to have heard this one. My dad at least heard it from the end of the hall. “Nice out, Cath.”

Good grief, so this is how it was going to be.

I opened the door to greet SM with a red facial glow that already added to my thick foundation. He gave me a look to suggest, "What did I just hear bellowing through the streets?"

Poor SM hesitantly entered the twilight zone known as my humble abode.

As SM and I walked into the kitchen, my mother was gone.

Sweet. This might just turn out alright after all even if SM thought that the sound came from me.

I asked him to wait there so I could get my parents, do the obligatory hello, how are you, and then flee like escapees.

When SM sat down at the kitchen table, his leg bumped up against my mother’s arm. I lowered my head slowly and met her eyeball to eyeball. She was in the duck and cover position under our kitchen table. Then, that horrible human being spoke:

“Oh my goodness, I am so embarrassed! You didn’t hear that, did you SM? Well, it certainly wasn’t my daughter. I am not going to throw her under the bus on that one, especially during her first date.”

At this point in time, I was desperately praying for a natural disaster to cause that table to plunge atop my mother’s head.

SM was a good sport. While laughing, he offered his hand to her under the table so she could crawl back out. She placed her hand in his like a princess. I was going to be sick.

So, there we were. The three of us. Sitting at the table. Me, mortified while SM and mother talked about the basketball game we were going to see that night.

When SM excused himself to use the restroom, I lept across the table, grabbed my mother’s shirt, balled it up in my fist and with gritted teeth, whispered, “if you don't start acting straight, I will kill you in your sleep.”

To which she replied with feigned sincerity, “I’m trying to behave, but I had an upset stomach. I am fine now, though.”

And just when I thought the worst was behind me, a loud police-alarm-type siren came piercing from the bathroom. I recognized that sound. It was a novelty item we picked up at one of those magic shops in San Francisco during one of our family nights out. It had a latch to fasten to a toilet seat. When someone moves the seat, it sets off that ear piercing alarm. I recall the precise moment when my mother decided to purchase it.

“I know just what to do with this thing.” Cut to her maniacal giggle..

Ah, hindsight. If only my narcissistic teenage brain was quick enough to ask a follow up question or two that evening.

SM darted out of the bathroom quickly and back into the kitchen. Before he could ask what just happened, my mother apologized. “I keep forgetting to take that thing off.”

At this point in the date, if one could call it a date, I felt for the first time a sense of connection with SM for we both donned the same bright crimson shade on our horrified faces. And when it couldn’t get worse, it got worse.

Enter stage right, my father. My six foot 4 inch 260 pound father. His boots along the long hardwood floor sounded like Fe Fi Fo Fum. Making a run for it was out of the question. If SM didn’t meet my dad, I wasn’t leaving the house.

And there he was, my overbearing father blocking sunlight. He stood there, like a giant, hands on his hips. We gazed up at the giant with fear in our wide eyes like trapped mice under a broom.

Finally, after peering at us for some time, he reached for Sam’s shoulder with a sturdy death grip which made SM jump.

The giant spoke: “SM, it’s a pleasure to meet you. The only way it won’t be a pleasure is if you don’t bring my daughter home by 11 p.m. If you happen to bring my daughter home a minute after 11 p.m., I will proceed to remove your testicles with a dull knife.” The difference between my dad and others, is that I have seen that dull knife. He keeps it on the tool shelf in the garage.

Sam squeaked “Yes, sir,” and we were out of there.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about the actual date other than SM dropping me off at 10:30 and speeding off before I could lean my head into his car window to bid him adieu and hope for a good night kiss.

And no, I never dated SM again. After the story got around about my parents, I didn’t really date all that much until I got my drivers’ license and even then my dates would have to come over and meet my folks.

One time, they strategically placed a fake pile of doggie doo on the kitchen floor and told me to pick up after myself before I leave. That left SM #2 in stitches and a subsequent bonding with my folks.

These guys may have been one hit wonders with me, but they certainly made themselves right at home with my parents. I remember returning home from college one summer and seeing SM #1 and my parents sharing a moment in the backyard over iced tea. They looked to be enjoying themselves. I left them alone and went to my room to unpack.