Archive | March 2013

How To Make Holidays Suck: My 3-Phase Process

I’m starting to think it’s my approach to holidays is that makes me say such charming things as “holidays suck.”  Like most things that I deem sucky, I eventually come to understand that what actually sucks is (1) my process, (2) my attitude, and (3) my failure to shop strategically.

And because Christmas baggage has more layers than a yule log, it’s easier for me to see how these principles operate to ruin a perfectly nice holiday like Easter.

24 hours til the hunt (that I registered late for)

24 hours til the hunt (that I registered late for)

Here’s my 3-phase process.

Phase 1: Denial.  These are the days leading up to the holiday when I am busy acting “above it all” and living my lofty “life of the mind.” I am too beleaguered by daily life to make any preparations or think about how (or why) I might want to celebrate.  While everyone else is ordering smocking dresses off Zulilly or ordering a free-range hams, I am swaddling myself in my denial blanket. “Oh, we don’t really celebrate that,” I say when asked about my plans.  Too much money, too much hassle, too consumer.  I lob hard balls at any notion that the holiday might actually belong to me or bring me joy.

Phase 2: “Keeping it low key.”  Underneath all that denial is a little seed of desire that cannot be suffocated no matter how many blankets I throw on its head.  It’s that sapling of desire that peeks out in this phase.  This phase occurs usually two business days before the actual holiday, so there is still time to put something together, but it’s just late enough that I feel like I have to scramble.  As I make my way to Target, I profess that we have decided to “keep it simple” this year with just a few “memory making” items.  Most of what I say in this phase is a lie, but they are smaller and cuter than the ones in Phase 1.

Phase 3: Balls Out In Target.  This phase begins the minute I see a full-blown store display of Easter stuff.  As I round the corner with my big red cart, I can see what looks like an explosion of pastel goodies. It’s like Sasquatch pooped out a bunch of spring-themed items that suddenly become my “must haves.”  Here’s where I lament my procrastination as I spy empty spots on the shelves where items have already been picked over. “But Easter is still two days away. Why are the egg-shaped sushi plates already gone?”  All my days of denial catch up with me, and I start grabbing anything that isn’t nailed down.

  • Pastel versions of candy I don’t even like in the original primary colors? Hell yes.
  • Table cloth and runner? Of course, it’s Easter!
  • Easter bunny boxer shorts? Yes, my Jewish husband has always wanted Easter boxers.

Having denied myself for all but 48 hours of the holiday preparation, I cannot contain myself. I’m like Tammy Faye Baker in front of a free make-up counter.

Several thousand hundred dollars later, my wallet is depleted, my back aches from loading the 6-foot Easter bunny into my car, and my adrenaline is pumping as I perseverate over how we can possibly have time to make cake pops and the macrome spring fling scene by Sunday.

There’s got to be a better way.  Right?  I should just admit I like holidays and give in to the celebration. So what if it’s not as glorious as my heart’s desire? So what if it’s not Pinteresting?

Most importantly, maybe if I started earlier, I might have gotten those sushi plates.


Dated a D-Bag? Then You’re Ready To Parent A Three-Year Old

I writing a self-help book. It’s going to be huge.  I’m calling it “”If You’ve Had A Psycho Ex-Lover, You’re Ready to Parent A Three-Year Old”

Or perhaps, “Dating A Dick? You’ll Be One Step Ahead When Your Preschooler Treats You Like Dirt At The Bowling Alley”

Here are my first two paragraphs:

“Remember that really bad boyfriend you used to have? He was so nice to you when you were alone (eating food that you paid for), but out in public, he would pretend he didn’t know you.  I’m talking about guys like Jon Hamm’s character in Bridesmaids, who want to take take take and expect you to be there no matter how they treat you.  Did you ever ask yourself why you had to endure that agony?

Here’s the reason: One day you were going to grow up and parent a 3-year-old child who was going to make your bad boyfriend look like the Dalai Lama.”

My intended audience is young women in the dating world who are trying to find a silver lining for time they wasted (or are still wasting) with a boyfriend who’s stingy with love and praise, can’t clean up after himself and won’t pay for anything.

My book is going to have everything that a good self-help book should have.

Like bullet points:

Skills to survive the bad boyfriend that will come in handy when you have children–

  • Establishing a good support system so you don’t crumble under the stress
  • Practicing good self-care like napping, eating well, regularly exercising, and ingesting copious amounts of prescription drugs.  Remember: Dealing with crazy people is stressful
  • Keeping snacks around because mean people are dangerous when their blood sugar plummets. When they come at you screaming and yelling, offer some salty starches and it may take some venom out of the attack.

I’ll also have testimonials from other mothers who draw upon previous bad romances when parenting their children.

“I remember in college when Thad used to beg me to come to his jai alai matches only to ignore me while I was there.  Worse, he would flirt with other women.  Now, when my little Sophia-Caitlyn ignores me at soccer practice and wants to go home with one of her friend’s mothers because she hates me, I know I will survive those crushing blows to my heart.”  — Wendy P., age 37, Peoria, Illinois

“When my son Braden-Caden first started throwing stuff on the floor during meal time, I was all why does this seem so familiar?  As I was cleaning up organic tofu loaf I had marinated in free-trade lotus root juice, I remembered my ex, Cal, who used to throw his crap everywhere, and I thought to myself I got this.”  — Charlotte, age 29, West Glenview Hills, CA

There will be a quiz to take and a list of resources.  Then, I will detail my 5-point plan for how to use those bad romances to build strong parenting muscles.

The back cover will be a picture of me with my own testimonial:

The author, no stranger to one-sided relationships, saw the value of those dead-ends when she found herself sobbing in her mini-van because her three-year old ditched her in the middle of play group.  She’s endured countless rounds of “I want Daddy, NOT Mommy” during bedtime, mealtime and, really, all the time.  Each time her children treat her like her ex-boyfriends used to, she draws herself up and reminds herself to be strong for THIS TOO SHALL PASS.  She no longer bases her self-esteem on her children’s moods.

“What Other People Think Of You Is None Of Your Business”: Something Stupid My Therapist Says

“What people think of you is none of your business,” he said, and I waited for the punchline.  Because surely he was joking.  If people are thinking about me, how is that not my business?

He didn’t laugh.  He didn’t proceed with a witty joke and it wasn’t the beginning of one of his tongue & cheek Jewish morality tales he is so fond of.  

I mulled over the words.  None. Of. My. Business

I decided I had three choices: (1) get a new therapist that wasn’t smoking crack before my appointments, (2) attack his premise with my incisive logic (the result of which led me straight to his office, desperate and alone), or (3) consider if maybe he was on to something.

I didn’t feel like finding a new therapist, because that would entail a call to my insurance company, and who has time to wait on hold for 77 minutes only to be told to check the list of providers on the website– nevermind that the only three who fit my plan were no longer taking new patients.

Fighting back didn’t appeal to me either.  He was smarter than I was– after all, I was paying him a bazillion dollars to have these conversations.  So I surrendered my weapons (defensiveness, whining, and complaining about the “patriarchy”).

“None of my business what other people think of me?” I asked, hoping I’d heard him wrong.

“Right. It’s none of your business.  Like other people’s sex lives or how they save for retirement.”

I couldn’t find a loophole.  If only he hadn’t mentioned sex and money, then maybe I could have scaled the wall of his audacious statement. 

I sat with it.  Actually, I’ve been sitting with it for over ten years.  It’s become a mantra. Those words are filled with freedom– they are the parachute I use when I am in the flaming plane of someone else’s opinion of me.

  • When Outlaw Mama’s Facebook page number drops, I panic and wonder What’d I do wrong? Why do they hate me? Then, I remember: it’s none of my business.
  •  When someone replies to a comment I left on a Huffington Post article by attacking my intelligence and my morality, I feel like I might throw up.  Honestly, I want to track down my attackers to let them know that I actually am a good person with a heart and brain (and too much time on my hands).  But I don’t because what anyone thinks (or writes about me) is none of my business. (FN1)
  • Does my boss think I’m stupid? Does that stylish lady like my shoes? Does the homeless man believe me that I have no money on me? Does the clerk at the drugstore like me even though I am annoyed I had to wait 1.5 hours for antibiotics? What does my yoga teacher think about my crappy posture and haphazard commitment to her class?

I’m slowly getting it.  What you think of my blog, my writing, my children, my hair, my cooking, and my preference of big box retailers — all of it belongs under that gigantic umbrella labeled None Of My Business.

It’s freedom, and it’s a parachute I always forget I have strapped to my back.

* * *

FN1: Unless of course you commit libel or slander, in which case I will sue your ass.

Mama’s Ready For The No-Frump Pumps

There’s something about a pair of red shoes. Heels.  The right pair sends a message.  I’m not scared of being seen.  I am alive.  Sometimes, I actually have sex.

I have the perfect pair.  I fell in love with them in 2008 when I bought them.  I wore them exactly once: on November 28, 2008, I slipped them on, shimmied into a new BCBG dress, and floated through  my rehearsal dinner on a cloud of love, wonder, and first-trimester pregnancy hormones.

Seven months later I became a mother, and I lost track of my red shoes.  What do I need with shoes like that anyway?  Sure they were versatile, but they wouldn’t work at the park or Gymboree.

Eventually, another  member of my household co-opted them, crystallizing my feeling that they were no longer “me.”

Someone was enjoying them.

At least someone has been enjoying them.

One day I’ll get back to those I promised myself.  One day I’ll be a woman who wears red heels.

But there was always a reason to shove them to the back of the closet and find a nice staid pair of black shoes. Something stylish, but infinitely more sensible in case there was ice or gravel or the need to break into a full-speed sprint. It’s Chicago, so you never know.

I always knew they were there, though.  They emitted a secret heat, radiating from the back of my closet.  As I sifted through my clothes, I’d sometimes catch a glimpse of their satiny sheen.  What are you waiting for? they questioned.

But the time was never right. I wanted to wait– until I found the perfect jeans or had a fancy wedding to go to or my bangs grew out or we solved global warming.  I was waiting for my weight to fall, my fortunes to rise and the weather to turn.

But the longer I waited for my Gap “loungewear” to make me feel that certain sparkly specialness, the farther away I felt.  I had bought a one-way ticket to frumpdom and couldn’t seem to escape.

What’s it gonna take? I wondered.

My mind alighted on those shoes. Maybe on Saturday night for Jeff’s birthday dinner.  No! Immediately, a series excuses flashed through my mind.

You need a pedicure.

It’s too cold.

The restaurant is too casual.

You’re too old.

You’ll look like a character from Mama’s Family– that white trash Naomi.

I let each excuse make a case for “NO” but slipped my feet in anyway.  I ignored my raggedy toe nails and pretended my jeans were the perfect length for 3-inch heels.

It's mama's turn

It’s mama’s turn

I made it down the flight of stairs where Jeff was waiting for me.  As we strolled to the restaurant hand-in-hand, I ignored the fact that we would have dinner while the sun was still up and we’d be back in time to put our kids to bed.

This counted as a night on the town, and I was wearing my red shoes.  The wait was over.

I’m Not In 7th Grade Anymore: Time to Say Goodbye To Whitney Houston

You good people made amazing suggestions (here) for me in my quest to spruce up my musical taste.  I have dipped my toe into the warm pool of your favorites, and I’m liking what I am hearing.  A lot.

But I had an unfinished piece of business.  I’d done my work around Michael Jackson– I’d made peace with the Man In The Mirror and the Smooth Criminal.  It was hard work– deep work– but I needed to close that chapter before I could move on.

When I found myself resisting new music, I looked deeper.  In a quiet corner of my soul I saw the image of Whitney Houston– her memory was begging to be released.  She wanted me to move on.  But how?  Her death felt like Fate had jammed its fat hand into my jam box, ripped out  my favorite Whitney mix tape, and smashed it to smithereens on my parents’ linoleum floor.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Outlaw Mama’s coming of age soundtrack Image credit: Wikipedia

But it’s been almost 14 months since her death, and it was time. I downloaded her entire collection and started listening. I spent the weekend in a somewhat regressed state, her music having transported me back to 7th grade when her debut album exploded on the scene.  How many hours did I sit on my bed listening to her soulful ballads and praying that my braces would come off before high school?

It wasn’t easy to listen to music on repeat in the mid-80’s.  I had to get up off the bed, go over to my portable radio and rewind the tape. Manually.  That’s commitment, kids.

Didn’t We Almost Have It All? was my song for the young man who didn’t appear to know that asking me to borrow a pencil in 7th grade math would lead me to believe that he and I came so close— I mean, we almost had it all.  Once you share a pencil in math class, you’re practically ready for joint tenancy and a standing date night.

I know she had gigantic hits, but I favored the B sides.  They were sadder. More codependent.  I loved lines like “I have nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING, if I don’t have you.”  That line of thinking was my middle grade self’s bread and butter. I loved the black & whiteness of the chorus.

Many an hour I spent listening to Whitney and Jermaine Jackson singing If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful, thinking about all the wonderful middle school guys who would definitely sing that with me, if only they would look deep into my chocolate-colored eyes.  I could cry on command– what more could a teenage boy want?

The only reason I watched the 1988 Olympics was because of her song One Moment in Time.

I was fully saturated in her discography for several years.

I know what you are thinking. Where were her parents? Who let’s a 12-year old dive into love-sick ballads unsupervised? Don’t judge them, they did they best they could.  Back then, we didn’t know the effect of super-sappy music on the young female psyche.

I still love Whitney, and I’ll always love her (though I will forever prefer Dolly Parton’s version of the hit that line recalls).  I hope she’s found peace at last– far away from Bobby Brown and whatever other demons she tried to snort away.

But, honestly it’s ok with me if my kids gravitate to music that’s infused with a little more self-esteem.  They probably won’t find music from a greater talent, but maybe something with a touch less I’m-a-broken-shell-of-nothingness-without-your-love.

Guess that means I have to take country music off the shelf.

Spring Cleaning Kicks Up My Shizz

There are two terrible things about this time of year:  (1) The awful PSAs warning us that giving children baby bunnies and chicks for Easter is a way to enlist children in committing the murder of baby bunnies and chicks, and (2) the call for Spring Cleaning.

I’ve already come across several check lists and almost a dozen articles about the healthy ritual of cleaning your shit out as it gets warmer.

Listen, Women’s Magazines, I get it.  If I clean out my junk drawers and my sorry-ass lingerie corner in my “delicates” drawer, I will have more creativity, better sex, and improved relationships with everyone on the planet.  If I don’t do it now, soon it will be summer and I will have missed my window of opportunity to clean during the proper season.

But you know what? Every time I attack an area of my house, I have to deal with the emotional side of my detritus.  Those old legal papers? Wait, if I throw those out, I have to confront my shifty (and shifting) relationship to the legal world.  Maybe I’m just not up for all that when I finally get 10 minutes to myself.

And don’t even get me started on the truly emotional stuff.  Take maternity clothes.  Hey, Martha Stewart, you think it’s easy to box up those panel pants and give them to someone else who might actually grow a baby in her womb?  It’s not.  Giving that pile of stuff away may free up precious ounces of mental and physical space, but also? It means I am admitting to myself and to the Salvation Army that I am no longer accepting applications for boarders in my body.  Please excuse me if I avoid this a little longer even though it violates the Spring Cleaning mandate.

The kids’ toys? Same issue.  When I get rid of those baby board books, to you, Real Simple, it looks like creating flow and space. It will give me room to craft and preserve artisanal pickles for my neighbors.  To me, however, it means that there are no longer babies chewing up books in my house.  My years of mothering babies who never seem to remember what the Brown Bear saw are over.


Maybe I need a personal organizer with also has a psychology degree. Better yet, one with a medical degree so she can dispense medication straight into my bloodstream as I pack up my son’s overalls (size 9 mos) or my daughter’s 46 baby blankets.

Still, I’ve been casting around for something I would be willing to clean/remove/declutter.  I am willing to make a start and to wade into those murky emotional waters and stir up the pot of nostalgia.

So, I’m starting with email.  As you can see, that I’m a bit of an email hoarder:

The email inbox of someone who can't. let. go.

The email inbox of someone who can’t. let. go.

I just deleted it all.  My new inbox:

Zero emails.  Someone hold me.  Better yet-- send me an email.

Zero emails. Someone hold me. Better yet– send me an email.

Now, if you will excuse me I am going to apply a cold compress to my head and try not to think about the hundreds of emails from Zappos, J.Crew, Facebook, and Twitter that I just flushed into oblivion.  I can hear my therapist’s voice in my head asking me how I feel about this. 

Quick, who’s got a great synonym for EMPTY?

I Listened To Myself And Heard Myself Say Stupid Things

For the love of all that is uttered, why do I say some of the things I say?

It’s one thing to say stupid stuff to my kids like “we don’t pick our noses,” which is a bold-face lie and stupid, because what do you think I do in the car the second I get a moment to myself? Yes, I’m a picker; we can discuss that later.

I also told my husband that I love his cream-colored Henley from circa 1990. Again, a bold-face lie and stupid, because I am the one who’s going to have to stare at it until the next time he purges his closet.

But yesterday I found myself saying something to someone that was not true, helpful, or entertaining.  My friend is going through a break-up– the kind that requires her to move out and furnish a new apartment on her own.  Even self-centered old me can imagine that is a daunting and emotional task.  When I asked her how it was going, she told me how she is focusing on the bright side and that she’s excited about her new furniture.

Here’s one stupid-weird I said: “God, I can’t wait until the day I can furnish a place by myself.”

Um, what?  What does that mean exactly? I can’t wait until I go through a break up?  I can’t wait to cut Jeff out of the process of furniture buying? I can’t wait to be alone?

As those words came out of my mouth I felt like I was saying, “I am so jealous of your break-up. You’re so lucky.

Back the hell up, Outlaw Mama.  I wanted to be there for my friend. I wanted her to know I had her back. I wanted to say something encouraging about how proud I am of her and about how much (many?) emotional cojones she has.  Somehow that all got twisted up in my brain and came out as me saying something like I can’t wait to have another slice of break-up cobbler.

When I heard myself say that I decided to listen a little more to myself.

Turns out I say stupid shizz all the time–mostly because I can’t handle silence or the prospect of not having something sage and ameliorative to say to people I love who are in tough spots.  When I catch myself saying something like this, it reminds me of all the other times I said things that were wildly inappropriate.  Such as:

  • The time I told my thesis advisor that when she asked us to read her work in class, I thought it was a real “Norman Mailer move.”  Ya’ll, not every lesbian cultural & queen studies scholar wants to hear that she’s like the arch-misogynist, Normal Mailer.
  • The afternoon told my super religious Southern Baptist Grandma that I wasn’t sure that I had fully taken Jesus into my heart.
  • When I told my friend who was hot that “maybe it was menopause,” even though she was only 45, but extremely touchy about her age. (It turned out to be flu, so I should have kept my mouth shut.)
  • When my 44-year old boss showed me his wedding pictures, I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “I guess if you can find love, anyone can.”

Luckily, most of the people I’ve said stupid stuff to have been graceful and gracious, except for my Grandma who marched me to the Forreston Baptist Church to discuss my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Other than that, people seem to be extraordinarily forgiving of my mouth, which runs without my permission.

Still, it would be nice if I didn’t have to depend on other people’s social skills since my own are still so . . . weak.