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Category: Pen Name Jane

Pen Name Jane was a weekly parenting column started by Katherine Shirer and Chris Sansbury.

Spice of Life Paperback Version

 

I have been working on a paperback version of my book Mother’s Death caused by Spice of Life. Here are some of the cover versions. I am waiting for my 3rd proof to arrive in the mail.

This is the first cover.
This is the first cover.
Things got way worse on the second version. I hated this one.
Things got way worse on the second version. I hated this one.
I'm still waiting to see how this will look on the real book but my brain is already making changes.
I’m still waiting to see how this will look on the real book (not sure why the jpeg isn’t showing the black background on the upload) but my brain is already making changes.

 

The glass-mostly-empty part of me is embarrassed by what surely will be a silly amateur cover when I look back on it later.

 

 

 

 

 

I am forcing myself to keep on and trying to enjoy learning and attempting something new.

Put Your Pants on Hippocampus

forgetIt’s a biological fact. The human brain never admits to mistakes.

Due to my unfortunate experiences with antidepressants as a teenager, I have a bit of an (un)natural distrust for the “good ideas” that my brain pushes on me.

Like millions of other teenagers, I was prescribed these little black-magic pills before it was “discovered” that antidepressants can actually increase suicidal thoughts and actions.

(“Eureka, Dr. Holmes! It seems that if you look at the empirical data that we deleted to get Prozac passed by the FDA, the suicide rate actually increases with use as compared to the placebo or even doing nothing at all.”  “My God, Dr. Watson! I’d say that means it’s time we start working on Abilify.”)

My brain, even antidepressant free, is sneaky, sneaky, always seeming to try to build up my trust for it. Of course you won’t forget the special place you put your passport. Or, I’ll remind you the parking break is on. Or, I’m sure caffeine won’t keep you up all night this time. My brain is like a badly run government agency trying to cover its tracks and reassure the public. The levies won’t break, people, the levies won’t break.

It’s a biological fact. The human brain never admits to mistakes. It’s why people with schizophrenia continually quit their medicine. Their brain tells them that they haven’t had any symptoms for weeks and they must be cured. But you need to take your medicine.

The brain’s stubbornness can also be seen in the paranoia associated with dementia. Even as the part of the brain that is thought to be involved in memory forming, the hippocampus, is eaten away by Alzheimer’s, it will never concede that it just may have forgotten something:

Frontal Lobe: “Message to hippocampus, message to hippocampus, where is the toothbrush?”

Hippocampus (roused from sleep): “Hmm?” Blinking and wiping his glasses. “Hmm, what was the question?”

Frontal Lobe: “WHERE is the toothbrush? You were supposed to transfer that to her long term memory yesterday.”

Hippocampus: “Well, yes I did do that, and it should be in the medicine cabinet.

Frontal Lobe: “It is not in the medicine cabinet. We already looked twice.”

Hippocampus: “Well if it is not there, then … it must have been stolen.”

Frontal Lobe: “STOLEN??? Who would want to steal a 95-year-old woman’s 10-year-old toothbrush?”

Hippocampus: “Are you trying to suggest that I forgot? I am the hippocampus. I said it has been stolen, so it has been stolen.”

Frontal Lobe: “Fine. Fine. OK. Send it on to the nervous system. Red alert everybody. Queue the adrenaline. It has been stolen.”  Frontal lobe pauses, listening and then continues. “Amygdala is saying we should hide more stuff to prevent further stealing. Hippocampus, will you remember where the stuff is put?”

Hippocampus: “ZZZZZZ”

Frontal Lobe: “HIPPOCAMPUS!!!”

Hippocampus: “Yes. Yes, I always remember.” Hippocampus stands and stretches.

Frontal Lobe: Holy Brain Stem, Hippocampus! Put some pants on for Oxygen’s sake.”

I think my hippocampus has a few holes in it also, because I have a horrible memory. But I thought I had finally accepted it: as much as my brain tells me I’ll remember, I won’t. So I have to write everything down. A few weeks ago I started keeping lists, using Google Calendar, doing things as soon as I think of them. I was taking my medicine, so to speak.

Then yesterday I was going to the store and my brain said, You don’t need to make a list, you haven’t forgotten anything in weeks.

And I hadn’t forgotten anything in weeks! I was so proud. I do have a good memory. See I told you.

So I went to the store without a list. I only needed two things from the store, and I came home with seven.

Then this morning my husband had to break up a fight between me and my brain as I was trying to strangle it to death because I realized I hadn’t gotten either of the things I needed.

So take your medicine. (Unless it is antidepressants and you are a teenager.)

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Finding Dead Uncles at Family Reunions

gottatellya

If you want to guarantee that you screw up your child’s hood, just like your parents screwed up yours, then do the exact opposite of what your parents did.

My parents, I guess in some loving and demented way, thought it was best to never share with my brothers and me the tragedies that occurred while we were kids. As an adult I believe that they thought we were too young to understand, or they desired to protect us from pain. But as a child you can still comprehend that something is going on and you feel crazy being lied to.

Now, as an adult, I hate secrets and I don’t keep them well. Telling me a secret is like handing me a set of chattering teeth. I try to hold them tight in my hand, hide them behind my back, stuff them in a pocket, but I can hear them chatter like the Tell-Tale Heart.  Chatta, chatta, chatta, Gottatellya, Gottatellya, Gottatellya.

I am still surprised when my friends tell me secrets. Haven’t you been burned by this before? Because if you think I have learned my lesson, then you should know that I’m wondering if you haven’t learned yours. As George W. Bush so eloquently misstated, “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me, well you can’t get fooled again.”

As parents, we often think the opposite of wrong is right, but actually the opposite of wrong is … still wrong. In fact sometimes the two opposites can create the very same effect. An article in the July 2010 issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs entitled “Parenting Style, Religiosity, Peers, and Adolescent Heavy Drinking” found the highest rates of heavy drinking among teenagers whose parents were extremely strict and among the opposite, parents who were extremely lax. Two extremes equal the same result.

I always joke that if you keep secrets from your kids they grow up to be writers. In reaction to my parents, I tell everything in public, with pictures. I’ve gone to the other extreme and it can’t be good for my kids. I can see my son in 8 years, “Mom, I hate you. I can’t believe you published a story about walking in on me kissing my pillow.” Although if he could read today, he would probably be mad because I already walked in on him kissing a girl. He is 4! I asked him, “Did you kiss on the lips?”  “Yes.” Then I asked, “Did you kiss anywhere else?” His reply: “Yes … in the chair.” Whew.

My kids will probably become the most secretive humans alive. And of course, then all their children will be writers.

So even though I know better, I still find myself saying that my parents did this so I am going to do the exact opposite. My parents never let me paint my room black and hang up posters of Madonna gyrating in a wedding dress. They didn’t let me tattoo my first boyfriend Richard’s nickname on my neck. My parents never let me make any decisions causing me to feel controlled and untrustworthy, so I’m going to let my kids make all their own decisions causing them to feel unloved and neglected.

When we are parenting from a state where we are fixating on old wounds, we are actually thinking like our child-self. Reactionary parenting is parenting with the emotional intelligence of a child. If you don’t believe me, please eavesdrop on my screeching brain:

I’m going to tell my kids everything. I will never keep any secrets from them. I want to make them insane from too much information. So there!

And if you feel the urge to bite me so I’ll stop talking, that might be a good indicator too.

So what should we do?

Come closer. I’ll whisper in your ear. Here’s the secret:

Whenever you start to think, “my parents did this so I am going to do that,” stop yourself and contemplate what a normal healthy, not-deranged person would do. Envision sane parents, place yourself in the middle of the road and move on from there.

At first, imagining healthy behavior can seem foreign and impossible, but it becomes easier as you practice. Normal well-functioning adults, if they exist, don’t keep everything from their kids, nor do they expose all. If your parents had hideous fights in front of you as a child, then never fighting is not the answer. Show them that loving couples can have conflicts and make up. If you grew up poor and toy-less, then giving your children everything only makes them ungrateful. Making your children occasionally work for things they want helps them appreciate what they have.

The resolution to our past is not parenting in reaction but, it appears,  in starting to follow the clichéd path of moderation.

My parents didn’t even let me know Facebook existed when I was a kid, help me catch up by clicking “like” on Pen Name Jane’s page.

I Say, Only Spank When You’re Angry

spank

I was talking to a friend – a childless friend – and she was saying that spanking kids was child abuse. My body bristled at her words. I had never had someone inadvertently imply that I was a child abuser before, so I sarcastically replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in spanking,” and I paused for effect, “except when you’re angry.”

My friend was aghast. She went on a long spiel: “No that is exactly when you shouldn’t because you will only hit harder and blah, blah, blah.” I rolled my eyes and wondered if my friend had no sense of humor, or was hitting children really not funny? [i]

I tried to explain why I said what I said. “I’ve only spanked two times and it was when I was extremely overtired, overwhelmed and out of my mind.”

“Well, that’s child abuse” my friend reiterated.

Then call DCF, because I’m guilty.

Like my friend, before I had kids, I said I would never spank. Not that there is anything wrong with it. I was spanked. I never felt abused[ii].  My parents thought they were being easy on me because they didn’t use a switch or a belt (just a wooden spoon). And their parents thought they were being easy on them because they never sold them to a child labor camp.[iii]

Punishment is a personal choice. It should be discussed before you have kids. Then re-evaluated when your sweet baby turns into a demonic 2-year-old, because seriously, some kids only listen to spankings. If you do choose to spank, the one thing that they always say is: Never Spank in Anger. Of course, I see the reason that they say this, but I could literally never conceive of hitting my child at any other time.

The first time I spanked my oldest son, he was 1½, and we were out of town. My youngest son was 2 months old and was freaked out about being away. He wouldn’t nap. He wouldn’t let anyone hold him. He stayed awake until 10 o’clock every night, and then he would wake up every hour to feed.

I    w a s   l o s i n g    m y    m i n d.

I was tired and hysterical and trapped. Finally, on the third day, I got my baby to nap. All three of us, my oldest, the baby and I, were in the bed, but my oldest was still crawling around. The baby was sleeping in my arms, so I was afraid if I moved I would wake him. Instead I whisper-screamed, “Get over here. Come lay down. Please lay down. I am so tired. I need you to nap. Please.” Then he found the TV remote. “No! Don’t touch that! Get back here.” Then he turned the TV on — full blast. And woke the baby.

My eyes turned red, my head spun around, and Beelzebub screamed, “You lay down right now!” I grabbed him and spanked him hard on the back of the thigh.

I’ll never forget the horrific look of surprise in his eyes. My son lay in my arms and cried. I held him and cried. The baby cried, too. And nobody slept, the darkness of my actions swirling over us, slick like a thunderstorm. Never hit in anger.

A few weeks later when we were at my pediatrician office, she asked how things were at home. “We are surviving,” I guiltily joked, “but there’s some screaming.”

She looked at me with no judgment and said, “It is OK to make mistakes with your children. One of the most important lessons we can teach them is that it’s OK to mess up and how to ask for forgiveness. Use your bad behavior as an opportunity to sit down with your child and explain to him that you did something wrong and ask him to forgive you.”

But I hate to admit I am wrong, I wanted to whine. I spend my free time inventing reasons why everything I do is right. Yet, if I took my doctor’s advice, I could take a wrong and make it a right. Right? And then I would keep my flawless reputation of perfection. “Well son, I only make mistakes to teach you humility.”

Since that day in the doctor’s office, I try to practice her advice. Each time I suck down my pride, admit to being wrong, and ask for forgiveness, I tell myself I’m demonstrating a valuable skill. And while I do hope that my children are able to easily forgive me of my mistakes, more importantly, I want them to be accepting of their own faults and that asking for forgiveness will become a lifelong habit.[iv]

 


[i] (My sense of humor lies pitch-perfectly between raunchy and lame, so it had to be the former.)

[ii] (lie)

[iii] Admit it. There are some teenagers out there that you really want to slap. A literal reality slap.

[iv] Boys, if it’s 2032 and you are reading this after discovering an ancient portal to the fossilized Internet, please know this is all fiction. … (No. That is a lie. I’m sorry I lied. Please forgive me.)

 

My Letter of Complaint to the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny’s hideous job this year has driven this mother to mail in a list of grievances.

easterHoliday Character Complaint Department
Easter Island and N. Pole Corp.
Bentonville, AR 72716

RE: Easter Bunny Performance

Dear HCCD,

I’m writing this letter because of the unsatisfactory experience I recently had with your employee, the Easter Bunny. When I awoke on Easter morning I initially didn’t notice that anything was wrong. My children’s Easter baskets were nestled outside their bedroom doors, filled with treats, as expected. In that regard the Bunny’s work was timely and discreet.

It was only when my children started opening their candy-filled eggs that I discovered three problems, specifically with the choice of candy, a discrepancy in quantity and lastly a more delicate issue that I will go into later.

Before I explain what went wrong with the candy, I feel like I should note that I do appreciate the hard work that the Bunny does. And it may sound ungrateful to complain about her choices, but she brought my kids spiced jelly beans. Now, I’m not sure if she knows this, but kids will eat almost anything with sugar in it … except spiced jelly beans.

If it had only been the yucky beans, I may have been able to overlook her performance, but she also gave my kids two very different amounts of candy. She filled one child’s basket with three bean-filled eggs and the other with only one. (Luckily, she slighted my 3-year-old, and he isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box. In fact, he counted his one egg and said, “One, three, four. Hey Mama, I know my letters.”)  Also, because the jelly beans were so atrocious, my oldest son was more than willing to share.

My third concern, as I mentioned before, is of a more delicate matter. After the children dug into their baskets, I looked over and in my kitchen I noticed a half drunk … well, more like 3/4 drunk … Fine. I don’t know why I’m covering for her — an empty bottle of cheap Carrot Wine on the counter. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and maybe the Bunny shared it with friends, but was her poor choice in candy and her inability to count caused by inebriation? It was highly upsetting to think that the Bunny may have been drinking and delivering.

In conclusion, I am willing to overlook this if it was an isolated incident, and I sincerely hope that next year the Bunny will have her act together. On the other hand, if many other families had similar experiences then I suggest that you consider looking further into this matter.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Chris Sansbury, mother of M and O.

P.S.  Is the Easter Bunny also supposed to hide eggs for the kids? If so, do I leave her a note asking her to? My children thought that she should have hidden some, and I was at a loss for words on how to answer.

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Talking to Strangers Isn’t Always Dangerous

The truth about how to really make your kids safe from kidnappings.

matty the perv

The evening after McGruff the Crime Hound came to my son’s pre-school — while I was cleaning up the living room and my son and my husband were on the couch, both enthralled with their tiny (wait for it …) hand-held devices (still sounds bad) — I asked my son if McGruff told him to never talk to strangers.

I continued folding blankets, having bitter thoughts of the male species and their inability to hear the specific range of decibels that contain the female voice, when my husband put down the newspaper (read: Blackberry) and looked over at my son and said, “No. McGruff teaches how to prevent forest fires, right?” Was my husband listening to me talk? I was impressed.

“No, that’s Smokey the Grizzly,” I replied.

“Bear,” my son corrected, also apparently listening. Maybe men only listen for mistakes.

No matter what animal was doing what, I was still left wanting to know if McGruff had inoculated my son against getting kidnapped by a leery-eyed stranger with a shaggy 1970s beard, offering candy, a puppy, and a ride in his windowless van.

These “Sterotypical Kidnappings,” as they are called by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are the ones of our vivid imaginations and our deepest fears. They make our hearts pound when our children are out of our sight for a second at the grocery store, or even alone in the front yards of our very own houses in our very safe neighborhoods. We imagine the world like a police training simulation video: Behind every bush or car there may be a bad guy waiting to pounce. Did McGruff give my son the armor to survive in the wild streets of America? (That he has never been allowed to roam.)

After a little Internet research, I believe McGruff talked more about bullying than not talking to strangers, possibly because the chances of being kidnapped are so much smaller than being bullied. In fact, the likelihood of your kid being the victim of a “stereotypical kidnapping” is so infinitesimally small that you would have to leave your kid outside (buckled into his car seat and out of direct sunlight) for 750,000 years before he would be taken. At least, that is according to the math of Warwick Cairns, author of “How to Live Dangerously: The Hazards of Helmets, the Benefits of Bacteria, and the Risks of Living Too Safe.” (In Florida, the statistics may be more like 300,000 years, but still …)

I know you must not think that is true because of the thousands of pictures of missing kids at the entrance of every Walmart, but the majority of those kids are runaways or were kidnapped by a parent or a relative in a custody dispute.

And while these statistics may help the rational side of our brains feel better, the other half, using the same thought process that sends millions of us out to buy lottery tickets each week, thinks:but it could happen to me.

So what do we tell our kids to keep them safe and to calm our worried minds? My best friend told me she told her kid, “Never talk to strangers, unless you need help, and then find a mom and ask her to help you.”

Never talk to strangers unless…

It was better than just never talk to strangers, but not the perfect solution. I do want my kids to be able to call out to a stranger if they need help. Most strangers are good. Plus it is annoying when you are trying to introduce your child to someone and they refuse to talk to them because they are a stranger. Trying to explain to your kid when a stranger is a stranger, and when they are not is pretty confusing.

Then I read a great solution in the book “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy. The book, for those of us who lean toward anxiety brain, is a sweet mantra of, “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.” I could feel the tension that I have held since the day my first son was born run out of my shoulder and neck as I read. I have been clenching my teeth for five years wanting to know, in our dangerous world, will my kids survive? Well, Skenazy says, statistically speaking, “Yes!”

In the book, psychotherapist Michelle Maidenberg said, tell your kids to NEVER GO OFF WITH STRANGERS. They can talk to strangers, and they can ask for help if they need it, but don’t ever go anywhere with a stranger. One of the other points that Skenazy emphasized in the book was to tell your children that adults will generally not go up to a kid and ask for help.Normal adults don’t need assistance to find their dog, or help smoking their candy cigarettes.

Oh, and one other thing, tell them: It is OK to run.

Finally, I have my own plan on how to teach my son to be safe, and that is good since it is apparent that I will never know if Smokey the Crime Dog did his job or not.

Now, I just have to figure out how to make my son listen.

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Is My Poker Face Sagging?

poker

(And I don’t even mention Lady Gaga.) But seriously, you shouldn’t gamble with your mental health

The first step to coping with a mental illness is to admit that you have a problem, and today I am taking that scary first step. I hope you will be supportive of my decision to go public with my disease. It has taken great courage to write this, and it will be a shocking confession for my friends and family.

I suffer from a severe case of RBDD (Reverse Body-Dysmorphic Disorder). This disease makes me believe that I am much younger and more attractive than I actually am.

I can handle it on most days, as long as I avoid mirrors or photographs, but as soon as I catch a glimpse of myself, the disease kicks in: who is that 30-something mother with a soft tummy that sticks out further than her boobs?

Like most RBDD sufferers, I see myself differently than others:

“You look great for your age,” people say.

“Do you know any other 20-year-olds with lines like this?” I ask them, pointing to a recent picture of myself.

“But you’re 35,” they say, “not 20.”

“I don’t think so. I just graduated college a couple of years ago so I can’t be older than 23, maybe 24.”

“You need help,” they say, rolling their eyes.

It must be a genetic disease, because my mother suffers from RBDD also. Recently she emailed me to say that she was waiting in line at a fast food place and two octogenarians (a really annoying way of saying 80-year-olds) were standing in front of her:

I was waiting in a long line at Wendy’s, there were six teenagers ahead of two old men, then me.  I was busy watching the kids, girls with abdomens exposed, boys with low pants, underwear poking out. Then my attention shifted to the two old men. I was trying to surmise what they were thinking of the teenagers; you know your grandfather’s generation didn’t approve of sloppy dress and messy hair, or anything that wasn’t “proper.”  As I was lost in thought, one of the men whispered to the other, “Yea, remember when we could get beer in the backroom at Joe’s when we were only 16.”  The other man said, “Man, that was great, and I used to smoke pot out back.”  What a SHOCK! These men were not your grandfather’s generation; they were mine. To add insult to injury, the young man behind the counter gave me a 10 percent senior discount without even asking me.

I decided that I needed help to cope with my RBDD, and I went to the most reliable source in the universe: Google. I found a helpful website for regular ole body-dysmorphic disorder, bddcentral.com, that recommended I try cognitive behavior therapy. This therapy would help me get back to my regular life of traveling and gambling. Gambling?

I’ll quote:

…the patient learns to tackle anxiety-provoking situations with a healthier outlook by analyzing her thinking process. She recognizes irrational thoughts…and can challenge them with rational, positive self-talk. She is then able to continue with her day, whether that means working, studying, playing online poker, traveling or spending time with family and friends, in a calm and upbeat fashion.

Seriously, playing online poker??? And the link connects me directly to an online website.

I’m no psychotherapist, but if you’re addicted to thinking about your face, then I don’t think it is healthy to be encouraged to enjoy alternate addictive activities. Why not also tell them alcohol can lessen anxiety and that cocaine can help shed a few pounds?

I can see the marketing people at partypoker.com: Our perfect clients are people who don’t want to leave the house and have addictive personalities, so let’s advertise on websites for agoraphobia, OCD, BDD, NA and AA.

In unrelated news, this is probably going to be my last column, so I wanted to say goodbye. I’ve found a new hobby, and I know any day now it is going to pay off big. I’ve got that lucky feeling. I did have to sell all the kids’ toys in order to buy back in, but it doesn’t matter, because I will be able to get them even better toys when I win.

All in!

In order to get permission from my mother to print her story I had to promise to let everyone know that she is not in her eighties, or even her seventies. She is … let me do some math … I’m 23 and when she had me she must have also been 23 so she is … 24?

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A Drama Queen Cries (Loudly) For Help

Drama Queen Spanish copyOne of the surprising things about being a parent is that sometimes you have a kid who acts just like you. And you never knew how annoying you were.

I wonder how I have any friends at all.

“I don’t want to play with you anymore!” my son and I yell simultaneously at each other and run off to our rooms, each slamming our respective door. We are two little mirrors, my son and I.

So after much family prompting and many tears (mine) I have decided to join DQO — Drama Queen Onymous. (Because we want people to know.)

A week later, I head to my first meeting. It is held in the one and only basement in Florida.

I’m dressed in my biggest wig and have painted my eyebrows out. For some reason I might have gotten it in my head that I was going to Drag Queen Onymous. (I blame this delusion on that fact that since I’ve had kids I’ve racked my brain so many times that it looks like a partially unloaded dishwasher.) In any event, I am sorely underdressed.

I walk into a room with nine other boa-wearing, wine-sipping humans and meekly take a seat. After some announcements we are each given a sheet of paper printed with The Twelve Steps of Drama Queen Onymous and we read them out loud together.

1. We admit that we are powerless over drama — that our lives have more twists than a Brazilian telenovela.

2. We have come to believe that a Director greater than ourselves could restore us to fame and power.

3. We have made a decision to turn our backs against the wall and only show our good sides. (Announce your good side now.)

4. We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our shoes.

5. We have admitted to God, to the universe, and to a crowd of human beings in a slurred and boisterous voice the exact nature of the wrongs committed against us.

6. We are entirely ready to have God (or whatever name you call your plastic surgeon) remove all these defects of body.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortness.

8. We’ve made a list of all persons whose eyes, ears or brains had been permanently scarred by our charades.

9. We’ve made direct amends with such people whenever there was a possibility that they might be willing to sponsor a reality TV show featuring us.

10. We will continue to take personal clothing inventory, and when we’ve been wronged we promptly announce it.

11. We have sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with fame, as we understand it, praying only for knowledge of a long-term, multimillion-dollar modeling contract and for the body to carry that out.

12. Having had zero spiritual awakenings as the result of these Steps, we try and sabotage all other DQOs while practicing principle and vice principle affairs.

After we chant our 12 steps, we sit back down in our chairs and look at one another. It is quiet.

Then…I POUNCE OUT OF MY CHAIR, SCREAM “¡DONDE ESTÁ LA BIBLIOTECA!”, CLAW OUT THE EYES OF THE ONYMOUS DIRECTOR, KISS HIS WIFE AND SLAM THE DOOR.

Next week, step two.

The Lady Who Does Not Eat Ice Cream

Ice cream

It was a beautiful sunny Florida winter day and my husband and I had taken the kids downtown forice cream: vanilla for my youngest, strawberry for my oldest, and chocolate for my husband. None for me thank you. I’m being good.

Good, but no fun.

We all sat outside in the warm sun, and they ate their ice cream. I closed my eyes and tried to absorb the sunlight. Then I snuck a peek at them enjoying their ice cream. I thought, who would want to hang out with me? I won’t bring myself to eat some ice cream? I realized what a grump I had been all weekend. I was pouting over some obscure disappointment that I couldn’t readily recall. (It may have had something to do with the dissatisfaction that comes from getting exactly what I wanted.)

I tried to hold onto the idea that I was not having ice cream because I was being good, trying to believe that I wasn’t a big lump of moodiness being dragged along as an obligation. No. I was being responsible; I was avoiding too much sugar.

Somehow I could tell that the sweetness in the ice cream was what I lacked in myself. I had no sugar, no honey, no agave nectar toward life that weekend. My sugar-free self was as cranky as an eggplant.

By taking the high road, was I missing the journey with everyone else? Was I deluding myself that it was the high road anyway? I’m just sitting alone here with my principles.

This year a friend of mine wrote that her New Year’s resolution was to have more fun. I was flabbergasted. I lowered my librarian glasses and looked down at her. Are we allowed to do that? I am pretty sure that we — the royal We — do not like fun.

I thought that I was so smart by having no New Year’s resolutions because they just lead to disappointment, but my friend took it to a whole other level. I was preventing disappointment. She was creating joy. What a concept!

I thought I was supposed to be headed toward a healthier, wealthier, rigid, and more scheduled life. I feel like I have a panel of experts (Angry Dr. Oz?) in my head judging what gets done every day. Is the laundry done? Are the floors mopped? Do I have at least three types of organic vegetables rotting in the fridge? The panel does not put joy as a high priority. It made the studious side of me uncomfortable that someone can come along and want to have fun.

Do I have to start forcing myself to have more fun too? Oh drudgery. Should I add Bozo the Clown to the panel of experts? (Or was it Pogo the Clown?) Do I need to add fun to the list of things I am not accomplishing?

But who wants to hang out with the lady who does not eat ice cream?

I know, I know. I can’t force myself to have fun. But fun seems like pressure. MORE FUN. Is this fun? I’m the first one to admit that I can ruin a fun time by trying to make it fun: WE ARE TRYING TO HAVE FUN HERE, SO HURRY UP AND ENJOY YOURSELF!

I don’t think fun is for me. I put back on my librarian glasses and pull on my blue wig. I bobble my head around a bit. Maybe if I call it silly then I can wrap my head around it. I can have more silly. I can have more laughs. I can fire the panel of experts. I can eat ice cream.

In Defense of a Little Ignorance

38 (2)

“All I know is that I don’t (want to) know” — misquote of Socrates, or possibly Operation Ivy

Before Conan O’Brien took over “The Tonight Show,” there was this guy named Jay Leno who hosted. … wait, my husband is trying to tell me something. … apparently, he says, Jay Leno is still hosting “The Tonight Show” and Conan O’Brien is … somewhere else.

Anyway, back to my point. Jay Leno had (has?) a bit on his show called “Jaywalking” where interns would go out to the streets of Los Angeles with portraits of government officials and other people who run the world. The interns show these photos to random pedestrians who hilariously can’t recognize pictures of the vice president or the secretary of state, but they can recognize a Kardashian (which, from what I understand, is a new Muppet).

Me, that’s who.

And you know what? It’s by choice.

A choice that started one day when I was driving home from work. I was getting myself worked up about an issue discussed on NPR, like people wanting to give fetuses the right to bear arms or something. (This was confusing because fetuses are usually born with arms already, but NPR explained it was about guns.Who would give a fetus a gun? I know, I agree. But in the other side’s defense, they said that fetuses could protect themselves against unwanted abortions. Pro-Baby Choicers.) My point is, listening to the fiery debate was making me upset.

And then, it hit me like a bat to the skull: I DO NOTHING. I do nothing to help these problems except know about them. I don’t contact my Congressman, Congresswoman, or Congress-others. I don’t picket, I don’t write letters. I don’t even virtually sign online petitions. I think I should. I think I might. I feel guilty for not. I hope I’ll do something tomorrow. But even though all that thinking and guilt-ing feels like I am doing A LOT, in actuality, I had to admit, I was doing nothing at all.

On that particular day, I had enough stuff in my real life to stress me out, so I couldn’t comprehend why I would add stress for no other reason than so I could feel informed.

I was in my first year as a high school math teacher, which can be pretty scary all by itself, but I was teaching at a transitional school for teens getting out of juvenile detention. This means I dealt with a group of kids who were often poor, abused, addicted and sometimes homeless. Kids who could break your heart in one second and terrify you the next. Kids who — as I realized when one of my sweet, chubby, smart students told me he was awaiting trial for armed robbery — were the faces that haunted someone else’s PTSD nightmares.

To make things worse my husband’s high-paying job — which we moved to Florida for, and on which we based our decision to buy a very expensive house — turned out to run by a con artist.

Then our car blew up.

I found out I was pregnant the fourth day of school by vomiting on the 5 a.m. drive to work. Something I would do every day for the next 11 weeks.

My mother-in-law, at age 62, was elated at the knowledge that she was finally going to become a grandmother. In order to ensure a long healthy life in which to enjoy her grandchild, she quit smoking. She died just eight days later.

In a matter of days we had gone from: double income, no kids, two cars, nice house, to: one income, kid on the way, one car, house poor and my husband, a 32-year-old orphan.

If all of this wasn’t enough to cause worry overload, six months prior, I had evilly taken a physiology class, in which I spent two weeks learning the 500,000 birth defects that are believed to be caused by maternal stress. At the time — knowing that I eventually wanted children and totally freaked out by the class — I asked my professor what advice he had for women who are thinking about having a baby. He replied, “Never take this class.”Great, now you tell me.

Never being one not to panic, I would imagine how my child’s DNA was unfolding in an acid bath of adrenaline. “This kid is growing in a rolling boil of cortisol!” I hyperventilated/screamed/cried to my husband. “Do you know what that can do to a fetus?”

Was my professor right? Was it better not to know all the possible dangers that could happen? I couldn’t unlearn the physiology, but I could choose to not know anything more. That day sitting in the car coming home from work I had an epiphany: I don’t need to know all this stuff. It is OK to not be informed.

And the truth is I don’t miss the important stuff. If it’s vital, someone tells me about it. What I do miss is all the stuff that never goes away, that stuff that never gets better and the stuff that doesn’t matter.

I felt pretty guilty about my ignorance for a long time (notice how guilt always stays, but its object changes). I couldn’t verbalize to others why I chose to be oblivious, but I knew it felt good not knowing. For a while I told myself I would go back to current events once my baby was born, but not knowing the murder report and the newest pedophile case brought a simple peace to my everyday life. I knew I was happier and less stressed. I knew it was the right thing to do. And I don’t want to go back.

There are a lot of other people out there who are passionate about politics and community, and I’m putting my country in their hands. Right now, in this part of my life, knowing is not my concern. In exchange, I am focusing on doing my job which is to raising two intelligent, kind boys who have been loved by their parents. My job is to provide a childhood with as much bliss, naivety and playfulness as possible.

Five years after that day in the car, I now feel very possessive over my emotions. I don’t want to feel sorry, or sad, or mad for people who I don’t know personally. It doesn’t help them. Those are my emotions to be used only when I need the energy to help people that I do know. I think we, as a society, feel so overwhelmed with the problems of the world that we can’t help the needy right in front of us.

So I choose not to know any details about Case E. Anthony (or whatever horrific event is currently occupying America’s interest) because my knowing about it doesn’t change what happened. And I would be proud to say I couldn’t pick Joe Biden out of a lineup, because I’ve realized that me knowing what he looks like doesn’t make him better at his job.

Knowing every issue and every danger doesn’t give us control over the world even though we want it to. Even if you read every article on the causes of accidental deaths in children from window blinds, or pools or sunflowers seeds, and even if you wrap your kids in bubble wrap when they skateboard, your son can still slip on a spoon in your kitchen right in front of you and break his leg.

For now I’m happy not being aware of current events. And if the world is going to end on Leap Day of the year 2012 like the Mayans, the Incas, or the Santa Marias predicted, then at least I’ll be blissfully unaware until it happens.

So keep me in the dark.