Entries categorized "Single Parenting"

Met My Old Lover in the Grocery Store

Remember that old Dan Fogelberg song? When he runs into his old girlfriend on Christmas Eve? 

Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling, Christmas Eve.

This just happened to me. Well, sort of.

Granted, it wasn't Christmas Eve. I wasn't in the frozen food section and we didn't share a six-pack in my car.

BUT, the rest was just like the song.

Not long ago, completely out of the blue, I received an email from an old boyfriend. It's true that right after my divorce I may or may not have tried to find him in the usual places: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I might have even Googled him. Oh come on. Don't judge. You've done it with your exes, too.

Anyway, back to the email. For once, his timing was impeccable.

Twenty-six years ago, in May of 1990, I had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in English. As I waited for the job offers to pour in (who doesn't want to employ a girl who can read a good book like a biatch?), I spent the summer waitressing at an old-fashioned summer resort and fell in love.

And I had the time of my life.

*cue Dirty Dancing music*

He was like Patrick Swayze (without those stretchy dancer pants they try to pass off as regular pants but you can totally tell they're dancy-pants) with a million dollar smile, great hair, and an Australian accent. He was a race car engineer. I didn't even know what that was, but his accent was so dreamy that when he talked about Midnight Oil, even though I knew nothing about cars, I could listen to him all night.  


FullSizeRender (25)By August, I had packed my belongings and moved with him to San Francisco. I was high on romance, and a trek across America was the ultimate trip. I was ready for adventure. What girl didn't want to move to California with an Australian instead of get a regular job? I had big hair, bigger shoulder pads, and a red Cabriolet filled with mix tapes.

And although motorsports was an exciting lifestyle, it turned out to be quite stressful and unpredictable as well. After a couple years, I began to crave routine and security. My friends were marrying accountants and buying starter homes. We were long on love, yet short on money, maturity and wisdom. Good mix tapes only get you so far.

If we had met three years later, we may have had a chance. A darn good chance. But as he traveled and I went back to school, our dreams conflicted. He needed to be on the road. I needed to be in class. Love wasn’t enough, and eventually, through a lot of tears and hugs, we parted ways. That was over twenty years ago.

In his email, he explained he'd be in town for one night on business and invited me to dinner. Before saying yes, feelings of insecurity plagued me.

Would he still like my smile? My laugh? And the way I talk with my hands?

Would he hear resilience in my voice?

Would he see the extra weight I carry as armor against my loneliness?

Would my laugh lines remind him of my humor and not my age?

Would he see that under my tough exterior and crutch of humor there is still a great deal of pain from a hurtful marriage? 

Seriously, I went on overthinking the whole thing for a good hour, asking myself these ridiculous questions, because before I do anything, I've got to complicate the shit out of it. In the end, I channelled my inner Stuart Smalley and said, "Yes." 

The minute I walked through the door, I saw the same 20-year old with whom I fell in love. He wasn’t looking at my thighs or examining my wrinkles. He flashed that same toothy grin and I immediately felt decades younger. My heart warmed with relief as we hugged. 

I told him about my boys, my writing, and my xxxxx, xxxxxxxx marriage (phrase redacted per wise divorce attorney). He was visibly surprised and concerned. Pouring out my heart to him was different than sharing with a long, lost girlfriend. Here was a man who had loved me very differently than my husband. Being in his presence again reminded me that I am worthy of goodness and that I can be a good judge of character. Not everyone is xxxxx, xxxxxx, xxxxxx (yep, she made me remove that part, too).

I listened as he told me about his mum, who I remembered fondly. He showed me pictures of his beautiful daughter and wife. It turns out he did find success as an engineer for a racing team and also became a world champion jet ski racer. (Seriously! Right!?!) He told me about the life he had built for himself. It all came together for him and I could not have been more happy for him. He was clearly content and fulfilled.

We reminisced for hours. We laughed about how I couldn’t figure out how to turn on our first vacuum cleaner and that time some pervert stole my underwear from the laundry room of our apartment complex. We lamented that the pay phone from which he used to call me had been taken down. 

I hadn’t expected to reconnect so easily. The longer we talked, the fewer years seemed to have passed. For a moment, I could have walked right back into that life.

But that’s what love does. In my head I knew that chapter in my life was closed. He has a wife and I have… Well, I have my sons and they need me.

I fell into a funk in the days that passed. My loneliness seemed magnified and harder to manage. It had felt so good to sit across the table from someone who had loved me so much. Someone who could finish my sentences. Someone who didn’t take so much work. Someone who made me a better person. I had forgotten what that felt like.

I was teary, and before we parted he said, “You look exactly the same, except without the big shoulder pads.” And from that moment on, I knew I'd love him forever. 

Just for a moment I was back at school,

And felt that old familiar pain 

 And as I turned my way back home, The snow turned into rain.

 

 

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Parents: Start Laboring Now for a Seemingly Labor-less Labor Day


DSC08554Labor Day weekend, the last glimpse of summer, is right around the corner. For control freaks like me, Labor Day weekend actually requires a great deal of labor to appear labor-less for the broods we love. It's an iconic American holiday marking the end of summer, so there’s serious pressure to have the most family fun EVER. I’m talking idyllic, Norman-Rockwell-painting-fun. Kennedy-Camelot-football-tossing-fun. Corn-on-the-cob-lobster-salad-and-peach-pie-buffets-appearing-out-of-thin-air-fun. You get the picture.

This very minute, tightly-wired moms are maneuvering grocery carts at dangerously high speeds and ticking items off their iPhone list faster than the average man could read it. Coolers, koozies and kites are loaded for their final summer outing, while school shoes and soccer cleats rest quietly in the corner 'til Tuesday.

Concerned not enough fun is planned for the weekend, or worried too many Uno cards are missing from the deck, anxious parents scurry to purchase last minute Mad Libs and Bananagrams for the road trips, and insanely fork out cash for that unsightly PVC pipe game involving nunchuck golf balls.

True perfectionists desperately Google Martha Stewart articles regarding not only how to pack the perfect picnic, but how to embellish it as well, because nothing says family fun like a blingy, decoupaged, origami picnic basket.

On a previous Labor Day getaway to Chicago as a single parent, I left nothing to chance. I created a detailed itinerary to maximize fun for my three sons: the John Hancock Building, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, Chicago-style pizza, Nike on Michigan Avenue, a steakhouse, shopping at 900 Michigan and tickets to Mary Poppins.

IMG_0055Sure, my boys thought some initial sights were interesting, but beyond the bullet-proof divider in an old taxi, they weren’t wowed. I began to think they were a tough crowd to please. However, just when I thought the trip was a fail, they began to show enthusiasm for the magic of the city.

On the quaint carriage ride back to our hotel after Mary Poppins, the boys oohed and ahhed over the horse’s steamy dump. Ten minutes before, Mary Poppins had flown over our heads in a twinkling starlit theater. I mean, she seriously flew, umbrella in hand, and all. The boys gave flying Mary Poppins a raised eyebrow and nod. Splattered horse shit on a city street received a standing ovation, an obnoxious “Yeah, baby” and a “We love you, Chicago!”

In the Nike store I lost all three. Filled with panic, I hoped I’d see them, around each corner, arms heavy with merchandise. Instead, I spotted my boys two stories up, riding the escalators. “Hey-“ I shouted, “if you guys aren’t gonna try on any shoes, let’s move on to the next thing on my list.” Only to hear in response, “Mom! Escalators! We’re on an escalator! This is awesome! Can we ride a little longer?” I quietly mumbled, "Yeah, we don't git to the city often" and covered my “Appalachia is for Families” t-shirt. 

At the top of the John Hancock Tower, my youngest son announced, “You guys GOTTA check out the urinals in this bathroom. Come on!” They admired the Chicago skyline for three minutes and the public restrooms for ten.

Mary PoppinsThe pricey steakhouse did impress. “Mom, you picked a great place. The restroom is awesome. Huge peppermints are floating in the urinals. Did you know you can even pay a guy to watch you pee here? Seriously. They have combs you can keep.” Yes, well, along with the free matches, that’s why the guidebook recommended it, boys.

To parents who want to provide a memorable Labor Day weekend for your children, I wish you well. After you vacuum the minivan, drop the dog at the kennel, and hunt down one damn DVD that isn’t scratched to death, you might want to toss out your laminated itinerary, bedazzle your noise-reducing headphones and prepare for Plan B. 

In the meantime, I’ll be at home charting our next family vacation: the Public Restroom Tour of America. 

 

 

Liesl Testwuide, publisher of the website Hairpin Turns Ahead, uses humor and humility to write about navigating life’s twists, turns, and inevitable changes.  A divorced mom of three, she has come to accept that even though her white-picket-fence life blew up in her face, it was the best thing to happen to her.  Follow Liesl on FacebookPinterest,and Twitter.


Liberty For All

American-flag-2a

It's a gift to wake up each day as a woman in America, sweet land of liberty. 

Right now in Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving cars, going to the movies, and traveling unaccompanied by a male. 

As a divorced, single mom, I just drove 1600 miles on a road trip with my children. Movies ran non-stop in the DVD player; and I happily asked for directions twice, which never would've been allowed if I'd been accompanied by a male. 

Saudi-women-saidaonlineIn Yemen, girls as young as eight are forced to marry. 

At eight, I was focused on Girl Scouts, Barbies, and Scooby-Doo. 

In Nepal, if a girl is not married by the time she is 12, she is commonly sold to a sex trafficking ring.

When I was 12, my 10-speed bike was king, and I thought The Love Boat was too mushy.

Every year honor killings, dowry killings, and sanctioned rape are the cause of death for millions of women from Asia to Africa.

American girls will perform in parades across the country today. Wearing sparkly short skirts, belly-baring tops and carrying pom-pons, they'll worry about keeping the beat, not getting a beating.

In Afghanistan only 12% of women can read. 

Sister Noreen taught me to read in first grade. At the time I had no idea she had given me the key to unlocking infinite doors.

Today in Egypt, almost 95% of women ages 19- 49 have experienced female genital mutilation. At the very least, their clitoris has been sliced off. 

I'm grateful to have the ability to enjoy fireworks all year long.

I hope American women continue to fight for causes which benefit women worldwide. We must use our freedom to free others from their suffering. In doing so, we honor those who have fought and sacrificed for our country.

Happy Independence Day!


Even Goo-Be-Gone Can't Destroy This Bond: Happy Mother's Day!

Mom and Mrs. BeasleyMy mother and I were born opposites. She's a Felix and I'm an Oscar. She's OCD. I'm ADD. Her passport is filed under "P" and mine...well, mine is around here somewhere.

Growing up, I'd purposely do the opposite of what Mom suggested. If she said, "Boy Liesl, your natural hair color is so pretty," I'd dye it darker and darker. If Mom said, "You know, Liesl, you so look nice with long hair,"  I'd cut it short. And then even shorter. I went way too far with the asymmetrical cut in the 80's.  

When Mom would mention, "Skirts are so flattering," I'd wear the Guess jeans with pockets up and down each leg. I could fit 9 beers in those jeans. And when Mom said, "Liesl, if you'd wear a bit of a heel, it'll give you a nice, long, slimming leg,"  I'd put on my coveted hiking boots with the bright red laces. 

As the female Felix Unger, she speaks a language that is foreign to me. Recently smiling, she said the words, "Just for fun, why don't you and I wash all the crystal in the dining room." I have no idea what that sentence means.  

Hiking bootsAlthough I give her a hard time, Mom has been quite a role model for being organized and keeping a clean house. Every piece of paper brought into her home is filed within a minimum of 90 seconds. She regularly bleaches the cleaning rags. She's on her 17th label maker. The last one died while labeling the light bulb cabinet shelves. It made a fizzing sound and broke into seven pieces just as she was starting on the 30-70-100 watt three-ways. 

I didn't inherit that clean gene.  

When Mother visited me in San Francisco, she asked where I kept the scissors in my apartment.

Without blinking I said in a tone, like duh, "Under the sofa." 

"How can you possibly be my daughter?" she said. "Most people keep a scissors in the kitchen or maybe in an office or laundry room."

"Yup, but I keep mine right under the couch. That way you don't even have to get up."

On the same visit, I accidentally dropped a bag of flour on the carpet. 

"No problem," said Mom. "Just get the vacuum. It'll take two minutes to clean up."

"Right...the vacuum cleaner," I said casually.

Mom, Liesl and boysPanicked, I scoured four closets until I found the damn thing. Out of breath, I plugged the machine into the walI. Like a hawk, Mom watched my every move as if she doubted my vacuuming prowess. I nonchalantly kicked my foot around the sides and corners of the thing with no luck. Then I patted my hands along the handle but nothing happened. I unzipped and then rezipped the bag part. I unplugged and replugged the machine.


About to pull out her hair and transform into Mr. Clean right before my very eyes, Mother Unger exclaimed,
"Oh my God! You don't know how to turn on your vacuum cleaner, do you, Liesl Margaret?"

"Yeah, um...well, no. I usually just get out a lint roller."

But at 27 when my boyfriend dumped me while the rest of my friends were tying the knot like a row of dominoes, I called my mom.

When I woke up July 21, 2004 and needed help with my drinking problem, I called my mom.

When I knew my spirit was dying and it was time to file for divorce, I called Mom. 

Gaga Augie meSo although I give my mom a tough time for being the clean freak she is, I'm also very grateful. I've come to her with plenty of messes and she's always helped me put the pieces of my life back together. She doesn't shy away from the debris of a storm. She's like a human SOS pad. Trust me, she will view that as a compliment.

It took me almost 40 years, but these days I listen to my mom. My hair is long. I wear heels and a skirt every chance I get. My scissors are stored safely in a kitchen drawer. It's a messy drawer, but it's progress, not perfection, right?

My mom and I look like an odd couple on the surface. She never has a hair out of place. I'm usually covered in dog hair. She plans ahead. I know I am typing this sentence at this very moment. She's 5'2", barely 100 pounds and always has my back. I'm 5'6" and weigh dis-girl-don't-shop-petite-section and lean on her heavily. Yep, an odd couple connected by the most amazing bond there is: unconditional love. Even Goo-Be-Gone can't destroy that shit.**

Not so long ago, when I became a single mother, who'd been out of the workforce for 15 years, I called my mom.  

She said, "You have a gift. Keep writing. Follow your dream. Oh, and here are some extra vacuum cleaner bags."  

Thank you, Mom. I love you! Happy Mother's Day! 

 

**Mom, sorry I swore in the Mother's Day post. I don't know where I learned such language!

 

 

 




10 Reasons the Gym Denied My New Year's Resolution Application

Woman with alarm clockI had good intentions for my New Year's resolution. Really good intentions. As a single mom, four years post-divorce, it's time to get back on the proverbial horse. Call it a horse, a rooster or whatever you choose, but it's time for me to get on something.

I decided to get back in shape to avoid being alone for the next decade, so I filled out the membership paperwork at a fancy, schmancy fitness club and awaited their response. In the meantime, I was so serious about this resolution, I shopped online and almost bought a 17-hook-and-eye sports bra made of steel. Turns out I'm not only off the hook; there likely won't be any eyes on me, either. The following arrived in the mail today:

Fitness app 2


A Boy's Life: Talk About The Pits!

When I noticed the incoming call from our elementary school, I knew I had to take it. 

But I never have the guts to answer on the first ring when school calls. I immediately have to take several deep breaths and then mentally run through worst case scenarios. 

"Your son has #4 pencils. We require they each have at least one #2." That wouldn't be bad. I could have some fun with that.

"Your child shouted, 'Beast-mode' at the top of his lungs, ran to the boys' bathroom and announced 'Evacuation imminent' while a family touring the school was in the hall. For safety reasons, ma'am, kids must walk in our hallways."  I could handle that, too. It probably happens in everyone's house. Well, almost everyone's.

"Your child thought his math compass measured circumference and therefore shoved it-- Well, Ms. Testwuide, maybe you should come to the office so we can discuss this." Probably happens all the time. Or, at least a couple times. For sure once.

In the movie, We Bought a Zoo, based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, the main character tells his son, "You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it."  

I remember getting a little teary at that point in the movie. I was moved by the father/son inspirational discussion. However, in real life, it's total bullshit. Mr. Mee may have bought a zoo, but he never met our principal. 20 seconds of courage would never be enough. 

I ducked out of the New Parents' Tea at my oldest son's boarding school to take the call.

When my ringer sounded, "Oh, it's nothing," I mouthed to the three women having a conversation next to me, but not with me, about monogram fonts. I continued, basically telling no one, "I'm sure it's nothing...probably just my decorator," and I chuckled at my own snarky joke as I stepped away from the ladies on the terrace for some privacy.

"Hello, this is Liesl." 

"Yes, hello. I hope I'm not catching you at an awkward time, Liesl. I know you're out of town, but we're having a problem here at school. It's kind of embarrassing, but your son is terribly stinky."

"Excuse me? I've got a bad connection. I'm in the Berkshires. Kinky? As in...well, as in kinky?" The other mothers suddenly noticed me and strained their necks my direction. "Did you say my son is terribly kinky?" I repeated.

I hadn't been prepared for that one. My future worse case scenario repertoire was just about to super-size. 

"No, not kinky, Liesl. He's not kinky," she emphasized like I was some freak. "Well, not that I'm aware of anyway. But he's stinky. Really stinky."


Stinky post 2"Ohhhh, he's stinky!" I laughed nervously. "WelI, I suppose at this age stinky beats kinky, right?" The principal didn't laugh. I turned toward the eavesdropping, perfectly-coiffed New England mothers, and did one of those nod-smile-I'll-be-just-another-minute moves with my pointer finger.  

"I know you're traveling in Connecticut, Liesl, but you must get your son deoderant before school Monday. He needs it. He needs it baaaaad."

When I came home, I explained that at this age, bodies go through changes. Boys need to use products. I bought the deoderant, the shower gel, the hair gel, the mouthwash, the you-name-it-I-bought-it-hygiene-product, but honestly, they don't get much use. My boys think maple syrup is a perfecty good substitute for hair gel, so God only knows what they're putting on their arm pits. 

Truth be told, being smelly is kind of a badge of honor around my house.

"Dude, smell my pits."

"You gotta come in here and smell this."

"No, no, Mom. Keep the windows up, it's totally nasty. Awesome."

"I played soccer in the rain, so I don't need a shower. Water's water."

 

Stinky postAbout a week later my son came home and said, 

"Mom, do you know that a lizard can grow another tail if its breaks off?"

"Nope, didn't know that."

"Yeah, it's pretty cool. We learned it in science. It's called asexual regurgitation."

I said, "Honey, I think you mean reproduction. Asexual re-pro-duc-tion."

"Reproduction. Regurgitation. Pretty much the same thing. Whatever."

"Well," I said, "while we're on the subject, do you know what sexual reproduction is?"

He thought for a second and then said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with poverty."

"Poverty? Really? Where'd you hear that?"

"You know, Mom, poverty:  when you get all hairy, smelly, sleep really late, eat junk food, and then wanna do stuff to have lots of babies."

"Um, I think you mean puberty. Pu-ber-ty. Not poverty."

He quickly changed the subject. Thank God.

"Mom, can I have $15 to go to the movies with some friends? I'm broke."

"Fine," I said, "if you pull out those weeds, I'll give you money for the movies. After that, you need to shower because you're really stinky." 

As he walked away, over his shoulder he said, "See, Mom? Pov-er-ty. Pu-ber-ty. Same thing."

 


Let's Share the Love on Mother's Day

As Mother's Day approaches, I can't help but think back to all the interesting gifts I've received from my three sons throughout the years. I fondly recall getting a bean plant in a Dixie cup. One fragile, hopeful stalk, reinforced (suffocated) by Scotch tape. A Hugo and mom drawingcouple years later, I was treated to a Dixie cup just full of dirt. But man, I loved that dirt.

Another year one son surprised me with a beautiful type-written poem. It began, When I saw you across the room and our eyes first met, I knew it was love at first sight... Turns out the poem wasn't actually a poem. It wasn't beautiful, either. The second line began, Or maybe it was pure lust? And that's when I knew I wanted you to.... We had a brief talk about internet safety and then went to brunch.

Mothers worldwide dream of receiving painted rocks, handmade cards, extension cords (boys, I especially loved the green 8-footer, so thoughtful), and pots of marigolds along with breakfast-in-bed. Those years fly by. So bring on the macaroni, glitter and glue projects. We cherish them.

Eventually our children get older and we receive books, tickets to the symphony, or a lovely scarf. All nice gifts, but nothing quite compares to an overflowing cup of dirt that's been watered too much, carried with both hands over the white carpet, down the hallway to our bedroom at 5:30 am. We honestly don't care if that marigold ever sprouts. We just like watching our kids enjoy a moment of giving. 

And nothing beats a handwritten card mom can save to read at a college graduation or rehearsal dinner years later. This is one of my treasures:

Mother's day card

Yet for some, Mother's Day is tough, even painful. We look around, but don't always know who is suffering. Some faces are well-practiced at hiding the pain. But there are too many wonderful women in the world who won't get marigolds on Sunday.

Some wanted to be moms but were unable.

Some are estranged from their children and live with regret.

Military moms pray daily for their kids serving our country.

Some moms are in hospitals, comforting their sick children, content to get a smile, a nod, or just another day together.

Some mothers may feel sharper pains of grief on Sunday for the children they've to mourn prematurely. 

As a mom, I'm only as happy as my most unhappy child. No matter the age of my kids, when they hurt, I hurt right along with them. So although Mother's Day is a joyous occasion for so many, let's remember and comfort the women who ache for babies who were never born, have children who are sick, hurt, lost, addicted, missing, in pain, struggling, or have passed on. Their pain is our pain. 

For those of us blessed to celebrate this Mother's Day, let's be generous with our smiles, hugs, phone calls, and even our marigolds. It's the little things that make the big difference.

 


Alone for the Holiday? You're Not Alone

As a divorced parent, I dread the holidays my children spend with their dad. When other families are going to church, gathering around the table and sharing stories, my loneliness is indescribable. Even if I'm a welcome guest at a gathering, I'm lonely. It’s painful to watch other families be together and not know what my children are doing.

A couple years ago there was a billboard in town that read: “Divorce is contagious. Don’t catch it.” Driving past one day, my 9 year-old asked, “Is that true, Mom? You caught the divorce?”

“Yep, that’s why I tell you to never sit on public toilet seats,” I said. 

The ridiculous message “Divorce is contagious” is akin to telling my kids our family was unlucky – like getting stuck next to the kid with the gooey eye in reading group, or being sent home from school with lice after sharing a piano bench with Bedbug Barry in music.   

Our divorce, on the other hand, was no accident. It didn’t happen because we had a compromised immune system and ate at a Sizzler. Quite the contrary, our divorce was a decision I made after years of sober consideration, thousands of dollars spent on marriage counseling and two years of sleepless nights on the couch.

Unintentionally people make ridiculous comments: “That’s kinda nice to have every other weekend to yourself.” I think, you're not divorced. You can't fathom the empty feelings I get walking past clean bedrooms, living in deafening silence and not tripping over soccer balls. I’m a parent. I chose to have children because I wanted to raise them. I didn't check the part-time parenting box. So when a billboard looms overhead like a black cloud and sends the message to my kids, that if only their mom had used her high heel to flush the toilet at the Kwikie Mart, this all could have been avoided, I get kind of upset.


Mr-bean-turkeyIn 2010, James H. Fowler released a study called “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too” which claimed divorce is contagious.  What a turkey!  Although the study received a lot of hype and media attention upon release, (Fowler sat on the couch at the Today show and Good Morning, America) all the hoopla was premature. The truth is, it was only hoopla, as Fowler’s study remains unproven. The study still hasn't passed the peer review process, has never been published in a scientific journal, and has since come under increased criticism and attacks from colleagues.  M
aybe I'll erect a billboard that announces, "Being a self-righteous asshole is contagious."  I'd sure love to sit on the couch with Hoda and Savannah.

Sleeping feetWhen children are involved, divorce is rarely an easy decision, but rather, one that is toiled over for months and possibly years. Having to live apart from one's children for any length of time is devastating. Not being together for birthdays or holidays physically hurts. Unless you've been through it, it's hard to fathom.  

I get it. I feel your pain. A couple days ago I ironed my boys' shirts, packed their fancy shoes and belts, so they'd look nice for the holiday with their dad and his family. I'm not there to make sure their shirts are tucked in or to smooth their hair with my spit. And sometimes the loss feels like it will tear me in two.

However, I will make it through the day. It's just 24 hours, like any other day. Besides, it's the one day emotional eating gets a get-out-of-jail-free card.

So if you're not with the ones you love today, please know you're not alone. 

 Besides words of comfort, I offer these coping tips*:

  1. Wear sweatpants. You might as well be comfortable while your family whispers in the kitchen about your poor choices. 
  2. Think of others. Call someone else who may be alone today. Although you don't feel like doing a good deed, it will make you feel better. I promise.
  3. If you're around people, be generous with the hugs. They're cheap medicine. 

                    

*Liesl Testwuide is not a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or board certified in any field for that matter.  However, she sometimes wears glasses which make her look smart, and, like a doctor, she has poor penmanship. 


Every Dog Has His Day

(This post was written for Week #1 of Blogger Idol in 2013. The challenge:  Introduce yourself to the Blogger Idol audience by writing your own eulogy. )

 

Hey folks-

Big Ben with remote control
I'm so depressed after Liesl's death, I don't even want my own reality TV series anymore.

I never imagined I’d stand before you at Liesl’s funeral. Since I’m a 150-pound St. Bernard, you likely never expected it either. By the way, sorry for sniffing your crotches as you arrived. My OCD (odoriferous crotch disorder) acts up in a crowd.

Liesl’s three sons asked me, Big Ben, her long-time companion, to remember her on their behalf. It's true I'm just a dog, but I knew her better than most and loved her dearly.

I found Liesl, a.k.a. Sleazel (the 80s), That Mess In a Dress (pre-sobriety), or Hurricane Liesl, with her hand still clutching a Diet Coke, dead on her office floor. She drowned beneath a raging sea of divorce lawyer bills. Although I attempted CPR, my excessive drool made matters worse, so I licked her face, and laid beside her.

Liesl may have been Wisconsin’s only lactose intolerant, recovering alcoholic resident. Rumor has it she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a complete blackout for seven years and still graduated with an English degree, but that was way before my time. On a recent trip to Madison, the boys told me Liesl said, "I'm not really sure where the library is..." as they walked past the library.

After college, Liesl followed the Australian boyfriend she had known all of three weeks to San Francisco. Always up for adventure, she applied to the San Francisco Fashion Design School. No doubt her Bob Mackie-sized shoulder pads made a good first impression in her interview. However, the two forgotten Clairol rollers, still tightly secured to the back of her head, may have her hurt her chances. I can hear her now: "Oh Christ! Details! I hate 'em!"

Despite her disdain for other people’s children, Liesl became a high school English teacher and worked in Milwaukee area schools. She married and blah, blah, blah, history, schmistory, let's just fast forward... divorced in 2011. For most folks, I hear divorce is devastating. In Liesl's case, it led to freedom, rebirth, and self-discovery. Was that too over-the-top? I'm a St. Bernard. We tend to like drama.

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The last family photo. Liesl sure knew how to put the fun in dysfunction.

Liesl and I both struggled with our weight and despised exercise. We were really good at sitting on the couch. Liesl concocted crazy diets. The I'll-Eat-As-Much-Cherry-Pie-As-I-Want-Since-I'm-Getting-Divorced-You-Skinny-Bitch diet was a favorite. We rarely went for walks. I preferred sleep and Liesl believed that wearing her 1979 Dr. Scholl’s - the Original Exercise Sandals- counted as a work out.

I remember when one of Liesl’s friends bugged her to come to an aerobics class she taught. Finally Liesl acquiesced, and arrived in her signature pink bathrobe, with two-dozen doughnuts and a lawn chair. No slacker, Liesl stayed and smoked her Marlboros and drank Diet Coke until the very end of class.

 

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Photo credit: Boutique Photographer

Liesl’s motto was "go big or go home," and no doubt I'm a testament to that. In fact, when I spoke to some of you to prepare for today, many mentioned Liesl’s big smile, big hair, big parties, and big heart. One thing is certain, she had an infectious spirit and sense of humor. In my darkest days, when the snow had melted and there were no more rolling pins to eat, Liesl could still make me laugh. I bet she had the same affect on you.

Although she liked to do things BIG, the private Liesl liked the little things in life. She insisted hugs with her boys be a minimum of 6 seconds. She said it had to do with releasing oxycontin or something like that. She loved to tuck the boys in at night and say their prayers. She often added an extra Hail Mary for yelling “Holy F*#k!” after stepping on Legos in bare feet.

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Liesl drove the boys to South Dakota to see "Rount Mushmore."

After her divorce, she fought loneliness and hoped to find love again, but she put her needs on the back burner to focus on her boys. She figured she'd have time for herself when they went to college. She was their rock, even though she sucked at story problems.

Liesl loved to be a bit naughty. We'd drive the boys to school and, not being a morning person, she'd wear nothing but a trench coat. If a student's father gave her a compliment on her coat, she'd reply, “You should see my sheared beaver," and peel out of the parking lot laughing.  It sounds kind of pervy now, but it wasn't. She was right. Her sheared beaver coat is gorgeous.

Just like her parents taught her, she instilled a sense of individuality in her boys. Liesl wanted them to do their own thing, not follow the crowd. If there was a road less traveled, Liesl took it. She planned quirky road trips, started strange traditions, and made the boys try new foods at teeny-tiny diners. They'd say, "Where are we again?" And she'd answer, "We're in Appalachia. Be grateful for what you have." Or, "We're in Kentucky. Try those grits." Or, "We're in South Dakota. It's called an antelope, not a cantaloupe." Then she'd finish with:  "Let's just take in this awesome moment of togetherness. This is what it's all about. I love you guys."

She loved us deeply and reminded us often. No better legacy exists.


Our Labor Day Vacation: Public Restroom Tour of America


Horn urinals 9gagwww.9gag.com
The last push of summer, Labor Day weekend, has sadly arrived. For control freak parents like me, Labor Day requires a great deal of labor to appear labor-less for the brood you love.  Marking the end of summer, it's an iconic American holiday, so there's serious pressure to have the most family fun EVER. I’m talking Norman-Rockwell-painting family fun. Kennedy-Camelot-football-tossing-fun. You get the picture.

Today, tightly wired moms are maneuvering grocery carts at dangerously high speeds, ticking items off their iPhone lists faster than the average man can read it. Washers and dryers are working overtime, duffle bags are being packed, and school supplies are sitting patiently in the corner until Tuesday. 

Concerned not enough fun is planned for the weekend, or worried too many Uno cards are missing from the deck, anxious parents are scurrying to purchase last minute kites, Bananagrams, and forking out cash for that odd PVC pipe game involving golf ball numchucks.

True perfectionists are desperately googling Martha Stewart articles regarding not only how to pack the perfect picnic basket, but also how to embellish it… because

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Wonder WoMom

My every move is monitored these days. I'm under complete surveillance- my tone of voice, my eating habits, how I like my eggs, the way I load my dishwasher, my Tide-stick-from-handbag reflex, and my half-naked, tippy-toe trips to the laundry room. I know what you're thinking: my mom moved in. Nope.

Think global. Potential international relations implications:  I'm hosting a foreign exchange student. And during the wee hours of the night, under the cover of darkness, reports detailing my actions and habits are relayed via Skype to Frau X. And Frau X, like any other mother, loves her baby, and wants to be sure he is in good hands. 

There are certain requirements one must meet for hosting a foreign student. I must provide wi-fi, a private sleeping area, a decent selection of video games, unlimited mini-corn dogs, Pop Rocks, a skateboard, CNN, and toilet paper. But that only scratches the

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Letters From Camp

The following piece, Letters from Camp, was featured on the Today Show, Chelsea Lately, MSN, the Huffington Post, London's Daily Mail, Perez Hilton, E!, and many more websites. Enjoy! It has been shared on the internet via various websites well over two million times.

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Camp photo

Last year my eight year-old son went to summer camp. It was the first time he had been away from home for more than a night. An hour after he left, I missed him.  By the time I went to bed, I found myself wandering into his bedroom, just to feel close to him. As the days passed, I wrote to him daily. Each hour dragged as I'd wait for the mailman, hoping and praying for just one letter from him. By that point I missed him so much, I began to imagine what he might write to me. I fantasized I'd receive a letter something like this:

Dear Mom,

Thank you so much for letting me go to camp. I have learned so many cool things, like how to take a fish off the hook, tie sailing knots, and even how to groom a horse. Thanks for packing the sun screen. I've been out on the lake a lot, so it has really come in handy. You sure think of everything! Since it's been so hot, I've been drinking tons of water! See? I really listen to all your good advice.

The other boys here are really smart and nice. I'm making some lifelong friends I will cherish forever. We've had fun learning camp songs, playing cards, and catching frogs in our free time. During quiet time, I read the book you sent along. What a great selection! And just because you're my mom, I made a special gift for you in arts and crafts!

I'm trying a lot of new foods, just like you suggested. You were right, the oatmeal at breakfast really isn't bad when I add raisins. And don't worry, Mom, I've been using all the manners you've taught me over the years.

We are camping under the stars tonight. I am hoping to see some fireflies.

I love you,

W

xxoo

P.S. Tell my brothers I miss them!

 

Yesterday I received a letter from him! It's just slightly different from what I imagined:

 

Camp letter p 1

 
Camp letter p 2
Camp letter p 3
This year I'm sending an enitre book of stamps with him. Can't wait to see what he writes!


Videos Released: Drum Roll, Please!

 

Sure, my boys get a bit embarrassed having a writer as their mom, but I think they secretly like creating great material for me. Trust me, they keep it comin'. And when I recently did a live reading of my favorite piece, "I've Got Something In My Pocket" about boys and their underwear, in Ann Imig's 2013 Listen To Your Mother production in

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Notes From The Road

Busch stadium

Earlier this week, I set out on a road trip with my sons.  Our destination:  Kansas City for the 2013 VisionWalk. Since I rarely do things the simple way, we traveled en route St. Louis and southern Missouri. Here are some musings from the road.

Favorite t-shirt spotted:  Ain't Nuttin' Like Kentucky

Just in case you were lookin' fer Jerky Heaven, we found it: 

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My Dad Led Me Out On A Limb


Dad and me little
My dad and me in 1968.

My dad likes to live on the edge, and he raised me to feel comfortable out on a limb, too.

 My dad always says, "Rules are meant to be broken."  It drove my mom a little crazy, but I know what he meant. If someone tells you no, find another way.  Think out of the box. Don't let others tell you something can't be done. 

My dad always says, "C students rule the world." That didn't go over well with my mom either, but I know what he meant. Be a well-rounded person who can carry herself in the real world. Meet people. Know people. Don't spend your life in a carrel at the library studying theories. Get out there, experience life and do stuff.

My dad always says, "Do your own thing. Don't follow the crowd." That was a hard one for me. I wish I woud have followed this advice earlier in my life. But I wanted to fit in, while my dad urged me to stand out. Thankfully as an adult, I have come around and found it's a lot more exhilarating and fulfilling to forge a fresh path.

My dad always says, "The early bird gets the worm."  I still tune that one out. I don't want a worm - not even laced with tequila. 

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Fill 'er Up and Hit the Road*

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Although I consider myself an expert in many areas of parenting, like how to maximize the longevity of boxer shorts, using a double dose of cough syrup for any ailment, and how to clean kids' fingernails with the tip of a paperclip while driving to school, I feel I have exceptional authority on long-distance travel with boys. As summer has finally arrived and many families will load up the SUVs for a trip, I thought I'd share some of my road-tested tips which will keep the adults sane and the kids happy on your journey.

 There is no doubt satellite radio, a cooler on wheels, a DVD player with headphones, and a couple audio-books are all good bets to make a family road trip more comfortable. But the stakes are just a bit higher when traveling with boys in a small, confined space for hours while simultaneously operating a large motor vehicle on

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Bark Less, Wag More


Ben near bath

It's a bad sign when I'm on a date and I miss my dog.  If I look forward to drooly, droopy jowls, rather than Mr. Comb-over's kiss, it's time to call a cab. Don't get me wrong, I love men. It's just that in a lot of cases, I love my dog more.

This wasn't always the situation. I was a confirmed cat person for years. However, heading for divorce and in need of some serious extra credit to get into Catholic Heaven, I promised my sons they could have a dog. After researching breeds with the shortest life span, 6-8 years max. (I had no intention of living with another mistake for 15

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Highlight Reel of Motherhood 2012/2013

It's been quite a year as a mom.  I could get all mushy, but that's really not my style.  I could discuss how much I've learned or lament how fast time flies.  I could talk about how many lunches I've packed, loads of laundry I've done, or Band-Aids I've affixed. But those things happen every year.

Instead, I've created a highlight reel of favorite quotes from my children to celebrate my mom experience over the last twelve months. I wasn't born with a great deal of patience, so thank goodness the most important things I've learned I need to be a good

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Don't Dis My Kid

Recently my sons and I waited patiently in a restaurant.  Let me clarify. Patiently = the boys made pyramids with creamers on their heads, had sword fights with knives and said at least 39 times,

“Mom, I’m starrrrrving.”                                                           

“Mom, I’m dying here."

“Mom, totally parched... need wa - t e r..."

Servers buzzed by. Didn’t notice the wielding knives, incredible cranium creamer buildings or the “hi-yaaa” karate-chop sound effects. Eventually patience turned to impatience.  My oldest wrote S.O.S. on his placemat, made a paper airplane, and launched it toward the sky. My youngest fake stabbed himself, fell to the floor and proclaimed, "There...is...another...Sky...walk...er."  

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Jesus, Jammies, and Norman Rockwell

As a divorced, single mother, I feel the need to create new traditions for our reconfigured family.  It's a last ditch effort to provide my sons with some happy-normal-we-all-get-along memories of their childhoods.  Some traditions, like decorating Christmas cookies together, have been a hit.  And some, like the Elf on the Shelf, have been a bust.

JesusA few years ago, I felt our Easter weekend traditions were weak. Sunday was full. Every year we hunted for Easter baskets, went to church, and then had a ham dinner at my aunt and uncles's home. but Friday and Saturday were thin.

However, Friday and Saturday were a little thin. Therefore, one day in the checkout line at Office Max, everyone's go-to place for hit movies, I picked up Jesus starring Jeremy Sisto. My Norman Rockwell Easter weekend began to take shape. On Good Friday, I envisioned us curled up on the sofa in our jammies, bellies full of perch, completely engrossed in Jesus, the movie. No arguing. No name-calling. No electronic devices. Just peace, quiet, and Jesus. In fact, because my fantasy seemed so ideal, I had already decided that Jesus from Office Max would be a Good Friday family tradition for years to come.  

On Friday, after threatening to take away the XBOX and ban them from Minecraft for eternity, I finally bribed them with popcorn to gather on the sofas in their jammies to watch Jesus. My Norman Rockwell fantasy sons were a tad bit more excited about the movie.

My fantasy sons said:

Wait for me!

C'mon, Mom, we'll make the popcorn for you. Just put your feet up. 

I know we haven't even watched this movie yet, but I hope we can watch it every year. Can we, Mom? Can we?"


Stop playing video gamesMy actual sons took a different approach:

“Seriously, Mom, if there are talking vegetables in this movie, I'm outta here."  

“Indiana Jones suffers and has a whip. Why can't we just watch that?"

"They pooped in pails back then, right?"

Eventualy we settled in to watch Jesus. And as Jesus was brutally whipped by the Romans, one by one, they snuggled a little closer.

“I don’t want Jesus to die.”

“Why are people just standing there?"

"Don't they see he's a good guy?”

In silence, they watched a struggling, bloody Jesus carry his cross through the crowd and up the hill. As nails were driven through his hands, I noticed a few tears in the boys' eyes. As Jesus hung on the cross, clearly in pain, more tears streamed.

They demanded answers:

“Why won’t God save his son?”

“Why won't someone do something?”

And not unexpected, "He's totally in pain. What if he's got to go to the bathroom up there? That'd be awkward.”

I had originally envisioned my Norman Rockwell fantasy sons moved and touched by the movie, but certainly not as moved and touched as my actual sons had become. I was unprepared for their strong reactions. Had this been a mistake? Would they have nightmares for weeks? They sobbed as Jesus suffered on the cross. I thought, how long is this death scene going to last? My kids are sobbing for Christ's sake. Geezus, Jeremy-Sisto-playing-Jesus, just die already to save my sons.

And that's exactly what he did. 

Augie in jammiesAt the end, we moved to the kitchen. His mouth stuffed with banana cake, my middle son asked, “Mom, do they make Jesus jammies? I want some. Jesus was tough.”

I, too, was stirred by the movie, but even more from the reactions of my children. My oldest looked at me thoughtfully and quietly said, “Jesus’s friends were lucky. They got to see him after he rose from the dead. We just have to believe.”  

My youngest was unsure, “I think we might be luckier than Jesus’s friends. We've got toilets.”

Yep. It’s a keeper.


Yep, You Should Probably Listen To Your Mother, Too

Mom and LieslMy mother and I were born opposites. She's a Felix and I'm an Oscar.

Growing up, I'd consciously do the exact opposite of what she suggested. If she said, "Boy Liesl, your natural hair color is so pretty," I'd dye it darker and darker. If she said, "You know, Liesl, you'd look nice with long hair,"  I'd cut it short. My experimental asymmetrical look almost sent her over the edge. When she'd mention, "Skirts are so flattering on you," I'd wear my Guess jeans with pockets up and down each leg (I could fit 9 beers in those jeans). And when she said, "Liesl, if you'd wear a bit of a heel, it'll give you a nice long, slimming leg,"  I'd put on my hiking boots with the bright red laces. 

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Alone for Christmas?

In about an hour I'm heading to Christmas mass alone.  I'll see families gather, little girls in their holiday dresses, little boys with wet hair, trying to keep a stubborn cowlick down. I admit, it's hard to watch. My little boys are in a different city with their father.  It will be this way every Christmas Eve so I need to learn to accept this new normal. God, I hope he wet down their hair.

Lonely woman at christmasDespite the holiday ads, TV music specials and festive decorations, the holidays can be the loneliest time of year for many. The pressure to be happy and excited can be overwhelming! If I think about past years or the way I imagined the holidays would be I get emotional. I get all wound up in what I thought life would be and that precludes me from the ability to just stay in the moment and be grateful for what I do have. 

If you are alone this holiday, without friends or family, the good news is that like any other day, Christmas is just 24 hours. When I break things down into 24 hour increments and remind myself to stay in the moment -- not focus on how I want the moment to be, or how it used to be, I can make it through. Admittedly, sometimes I need to break it down further and focus on getting through hour by hour. Nevertheless, knowing the day will pass in 24 hours, just like all the other days that have come before it, helps me weather emotional holidays. 

If you are feeling alone, just know that you are one of many feeling that way today. It's normal. No, I'm not a psychiatrist, but I'm human and therefore speak from experience. It's ok not to dance around with scissors and scotch tape singing, "Fa-la-la-la-la..."  In fact, that's just plain weird. This time of year, I believe it's most important to take good care of myself, so when those happy moments come my way, I'll be healthy and ready to enjoy them, thus no scissors-dancing.  

 Hey-- Merry Christmas. Hang in there.  And remember: you are not alone.

 

 


God Bless Our Mess on the Anniversary of Sandy Hook

Crazy boys

Written December 14, 2012 following the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  Reposted December 14, 2019 for the fifth anniversary. My heart continues to be heavy: for those who will forever mourn, for the gratitude I have for time with my children, and with frustration that so many more continue to lose their lives as a result of gun violence.

 

 

The last couple days my sons were with their father and the house was quiet.  I found myself repeatedly walking in and out of their bedrooms, just to feel close to them.

There were underwear, socks, shoes, Lego figures, Webkinz, jeans, shin guards, and sheet music strewn about their bedroom floors. Clean and folded laundry, yet to be put away the previous week, was gathering dust. I found pistachio shells, an empty juice box carton, and Popsicle sticks under one bed. Under another, I discovered a crumpled blue sport coat, two overdue library books and my missing phone charger.

In the bathroom, the floor was nearly covered. Underwear. One damp towel. A Hardy Boys mystery. A massive hamper sat less than an arm’s length away. Toothpaste streaked the countertop. Dixie cups arranged in a pyramid and dental floss wrapped intricately around the empty toilet paper holder were clear signs they needed a magazine rack. The spatters on the mirror made me smile. I knew they were a result of laughter as they brushed their teeth. 

No doubt it was a bit of a mess, but I loved it. I savored it. In that moment, I took pleasure being surrounded by the messiness of childhood humanity. I walked back in the room of my youngest child, just 8, crawled under his covers, bruised my butt on a light saber and closed my eyes. I prayed for all the families in Newtown, CT, and humbly gave thanks for receiving the gift of more time on this earth to relish the disarray of being the mother of three boys.

Bring on the chaos

 

 


I Bet You're On Fire, Too

Over the years I've chosen theme songs for my life.   Everyone does this, right?  I mean, I can't be the only one who imagines walking in the door of any party, meeting, interview or parent-teacher conference carrying a boom box blaring my personal theme song to drown out my self-doubt and your critical eye. Thankfully Apple has made this scenario a lot less awkward with the invention of iPods and ear buds.

PlatformsWhen I filed for divorce, it's no surprise my theme song was "I Will Survive." Gloria Gaynor knocks it out of the park.  I went to the vintage store, purchased platformed disco shoes and bedazzled the crap out of them.  Not only do they lift my spirits, but man, they look good.

When the boys and I moved out of the long-time marital residence, my song was definitely from The Mary Tyler Moore Show: "You're gonna make it after all...." Can't you hear it now?  "Who can turn the world on with her smile..."

After putting on my screens at the new house, I was so impressed with myself, I couldn't resist doing an MTM (standard move of mine - throw hat in air, smile MTMand spin.)  Without a doubt, my sons thought I was nuts.  But in my head, I was feeling Mary-Tyler-Moore-screw-you-Mr.-Grant-take-no-sh*t-conquer-the-world-on-my-own vibes. And who can't use a little dose of that every day?

Unfortunately, self-destructive thoughts creep in my brain and camp out.  After receiving negative messages from a spouse for well over a decade, I believed them to be true. Even worse, it became natural to think that way.  If only I was prettier, thinner, smarter, richer.... Oh, you're right, sorry to bother you with my ridiculous thoughts, you've had a long day at a real job... Absolutely, you know best. What do I know?  You get the picture - and it's not a pretty one.

As a rational person (and after a lot of therapy) I know those negative messages are false. My opinions matter. I am smart. Changing my hair color, whitening my teeth or having bigger boobs won't make me more worthy of love. I'm already worthy.

But here's the kicker:  even though my brain knows those messages are false, my body operates on instinct.  When reminded of a past negative message like, "Do not call me, text me or email me at work;  I have paying clients that are way more important than you," my body automatically has a visceral reaction. I physically feel anxiety, loss of breath, and the sensation of being punched in my gut.  

The worst part is, instincts are hard to retrain.  After having the habit of being on the defensive for so long, I am amazingly skilled at interpreting things negatively and not feeling worthy of others' time.  And then what happens?  The old tapes in my head start to play: If only I were... You are right, that was a ridiculous idea...I am sorry I bothered you.

In summer I saw the movie, We Bought a Zoo, in which a father gives his son some words of advice and inspiration. He says:  "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."  

You might wonder, how do we muster that twenty seconds of insane courage?  Get yourself a theme song. 

When I've got my theme song playing loudly in my head, it overrides the self-doubt, negativity and fear.  I get a I-don't-give-a-rat's-ass-that-I've-got-a-run-in-my-tights-and-screw-the-man-I-like-who-doesn't-feel-the-same-toward-me-and-yes-dammit-I-do-look-good-with-dog-drool-on-my-boob attitude. I don't have a glamorous life. I don't have a full social calendar. My jeans are too tight. I have fines at the public library. I'm lonely. I spend way too much time at Kwik Trip.

But with Alicia Keys in my head, there is no room for negativity and self-doubt.   As seen in my music video below, her words and music have the power to bring out the positive from deep within.   My overly-sensitive-average-single-mom-life makes me feel like a "Girl on Fire."  Just click the play button and enjoy.  I bet you've got some fire in you, too!

 

 

 


Road-Tested Travel Tips To Keep Parents Sane

Although I consider myself an expert in many areas of parenting, like how to maximize the longevity of boxers, using a double dose of cough syrup for any ailment, and how to clean fingernails with the tip of a paperclip while driving to school, I feel I have exceptional authority on long-distance travel with boys. As many schools begin their fall breaks later this week, I thought I'd share some of my road-tested tips in the event your family is heading out for a few days. 

There is no doubt satellite radio, a cooler on wheels, a DVD player with headphones, and a couple audio-books are all good bets to make a family road trip a bit more comfortable. But the stakes are just a bit higher when traveling with boys in a small, confined space for hours while simultaneously operating a large motor vehicle on unfamiliar roads at speeds of 75 mph.  Parental sanity, not comfort, tends to be the priority.

Tip Number 6:  Rolling Backpacks

Cornhead
Dude, we're from Wisconsin. We wear cheese. Besides, that cob won't fit in your backpack.

Rolling backpacks allow kids to haul their own stuff, even if it's heavy.  No more: "It's too hea-----vy. Can you puh-lease just carry it?" Each boy needs his own rolling backpack for his electronic game systems, chargers, books, games, blankie, and stuffed animals.  Any purchased souvenirs must fit in the rolling backpack which makes saying "no" to rifles, cone-heads and large rocks pretty easy. Pulling a rolling backpack inhibits kids from running too far ahead allowing you to keep up, and your blood pressure can stay down. In addition, unlike traditional backpacks, rolling backpacks are on the ground so they cannot easily be used as weapons against one another when standing in boring lines or crowded elevators. 


Tip Number 5:  Jobs for All

Hugo the Recorder
The Recorder keeping track of our s'more intake, crucial information.

As a single mom, I can't do it all, so every boy chooses a job for the trip.  My youngest is the Lookout.  He looks for bad guys, lightning, curves in the road, and booby traps. His job requires binoculars and a much needed diagram indicating his "left" and "right."

My middle son is the Recorder. He records unusual sightings like a bear peeing or a running cantaloupe (turned out to be an antelope.) He is responsible for writing down shopping lists, fast food orders, and game scores. His tallies of buffalo poop piles and creative abbreviations like "J.C." (just ketchup) keep us laughing.  

My oldest is the Navigator which requires attention to detail and excellent computer skills. Who needs Siri when I have my own Go-to-Guy? Before I can spit out the question, he's got the answer:  "Got it, Mom!  Check it out in 3-D."  Sketch Artist, DVD Master, Fart-Counter, Snack Man, and Mr. Muscles are some additional jobs to help a family trip run a little smoother. 

Tip Number 4:  Scooters or Ripsticks

RipsticksBoys feel the need for speed.  They are physically incapable of being restrained and confined for hours at a time.  And as a parent, unless I have some strong happy pills, I, too, am incapable of being confined for a lengthy period of time with them.  Don't fight nature.  Accept it. Although a stop at a park to swing or climb on a jungle gym is a nice respite, ten laps at full speed on a scooter or Ripstick around an empty church parking lot provides a faster and more satisfying energy release. Park the car. Turn up the tunes. Let 'em ride.  Not sold?  Scooters and Ripsticks never get flat tires or lose a chain. Pack the scooters, rent your bikes at the destination. 

Luggage carts
I love the anonymity of travel. I have no idea who these kids are.
Tip Number 3:  Luggage Carts

 Upon arrival, a group of luggage carts in a hotel lobby is a welcome sight for my sore eyes.  Kids are so wired to get out of the car, I let them each have a luggage cart as I pretend to completely not know them as I check-in at the front desk.  

Let them unload the car, one item at a time, in order to make as many elevator trips as possible.  Let them use luggage carts as over-sized skateboards, jungle gyms and bumper cars.  Hey, I figure, the longer you can put off going to that gross, under-chlorinated hotel pool full of strangers, the better. Right? I have used the luggage cart technique on many trips and have yet to be asked to leave a hotel.

Tip Number 2:  Gum

Get your butt to Costco and load up on gum - lots and lots of gum.  Hubba-Bubba, Bubblicious, Bazooka, with sugar, without sugar--- any kind will do!  

DSC09398
A quiet, happy traveler.
It is a fact that cars become quieter when kids chew gum. Boys do not yell or shout with multiple pieces of bubble gum in their mouths. They chew the gum.  They add more gum.  They talk about their gum. They compare gum. They inquire about others' gum. They blow bubbles. They add more gum and then they repeat the process.

Chewing gum is an activity in and of itself that lasts longer than coloring, Tic-Tac-Toe, or I Spy. So moms, don't be stingy with the gum! Don't be tempted to save the gum for a meltdown or moment of desperation. Leverage their love of gum.  Gum is your friend.  

In my experience, kids never, ever tire of gum. After chewing gum all day, when presented with the dessert tray in a restaurant, my youngest politely asked, "Do you have any gums?  I'll just have a gum." 

And My Top Traveling Tip:  Gatorade 

Eli w Gatorade
Gatorade: don't leave home without it.
Large, plastic bottles of Gatorade are the number one must-have for any long trip with boys.  Gatorade containers are so big, kids never ask for more! No one complains of thirst or fights over the last one. When the first boy finishes his Gatorade, the discarded, wide-mouthed jug conveniently becomes the communal urinal.  Peeing in the car results in hours of fun and conversation for boys:  "Mom, want some Gatorade?"  "I think I'm stuck."  

When a jug of Gatorade is in the car, the driver can relax knowing there will be no pressure to find a bathroom "Now!!!  Not five minutes, Mom, now!"  Your car now has a fully functioning urinal.

Say goodbye to finding crumpled, 6-ounce juice boxes and cellophane straw wrappers all over the back seats. Say hello to reducing your family's carbon footprint by bringing Gatorade on your next family road trip with boys.  Warning:  this tip could be disastrous with girls.  

 

DSC09404Yep, it can be frustrating, exhausting and down-right crazy when a family takes to the road together.  All the planning in the world will still result in some sort of not-the-end-of-the-world disaster.  But there are few things better in life than sharing an adventure with the ones we love!  

 

Happy Trails to you!

 

 

  



I've Got Something in My Pocket

As a young girl,  I dreamed I’d someday be the mother of two demure daughters.  I'd dress them in pink Polly Flinders dresses, white tights and black patent leather shoes. Quietly they'd play for hours, my two little angels, with Dressy Bessy and Mrs. Beasley. In my fantasy, we'd shop for the Barbie Townhouse, sell Girl Scout cookies, discuss Nancy Drew mysteries and debate which Hardy boy, Frank or Joe, was the cutest. 

 But then I gave birth to three boys. 

I'll be honest, my romantic childhood fantasies of motherhood never included:

buying Shout, Gatorade, and Goober by the case. 

falling into the toilet bowl...repeatedly.

washing urine off the walls, seriously guys, still?

stepping on piles of seemingly innocuous, yet unimaginably painful teeny, tiny Lego pieces.

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Soccer Mom on Steroids

Soccer sidelinesI’ve never thought of myself as a competitor. I’m not athletically inclined. On the 9th grade basketball team, I sat with my legs crossed on the bench, daydreaming of becoming Carol Burnett.  My disgusted coach would shout at the highest decibel level her manly, stout, body could exhort:  “Testwuide, this ain’t a Christmas tea, sit like a man.  Pay attention.”  What-ever… just puh-lease don’t put me in that game.

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Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Kids?

Recently I had "the talk" with my kids. I had put it off too long, which was truly irresponsible. Although my children are still relatively young, it's best to have certain discussions before they know everything and I'm just another embarrassing mom.  

I knew the subject matter of our discussion would be uncomfortable. Some could argue that not drinking, not smoking or not having sex are far more pressing topics.  But with three boys, I've got to pick my battles.  My gravestone and final resting place are far more important than teenage pregnancy or drug addiction.  

Instructions at graveAs single mom, I ponder what my final resting place will be like.  Walking through the cemetery, I panicked to realize I might land in the bumpy last row of our family plot, next to old Augusta Bach. A distant cousin, Augusta was a pathetic case who had no husband. My great-grandma begrudgingly agreed to toss her in the back for eternity. 

When I filed for divorce, I felt relief in being alone.  In fact, my epitaph might have read:  Beware of Dog.  However, now that time has passed, I can't deny I fear being alone forever.  I secretly yearn to have the words, "Beloved and super hot wife of...." engraved on my stone for all my posterity to see. 

The fear of being alone causes me to have unusual reactions around happily
married folks. When I witness couples holding hands at the grocery store, I want to smack that happiness right off their faces. Permanently dressed in a black turtleneck and yoga pants, like a middle-aged ninja, although lacking any sort of stealth, I fantasize about nailing three perfect flips at warp speed down the baking ingredient aisle and karate-chopping their hands apart.  Swish, swish, swish, hi-yahhhh!!  In my fantasy, at the last minute a bag of flour drops off the shelf providing a smokey veil into which my cart and I would vanish.
 

As a result of hating the happily mairrieds, I don't want to be stuck next to those annoying, well-adjusted couples for the next 200 years. Therefore I took the boys to the cemetery for a simple "do and don't" session.  Don't get me wrong, they don't need to go overboard.  I don't need a "statement" grave.  

I don't have issues about the size of a penis.

Boys at penis grave

Nor do I have a Napoleon complex. 

Napoleon complex FS

I don't need to pay homage to a lost testicle.

Indirect kick

But after walking the cemetery, surrounded by so many unique symbols of love,  I've decided not to give up on finding true love, the sequel.  And in the event I do get that second shot, all of eternity will know. The boys have strict instructions to order a hot pink, grossly bedazzled gravestone which reads:  "She's Goin' Down."

 




Amish Paradise

School has been in session for about a month and I have already driven kids back and forth to 22 soccer practices, 15 play rehearsals, 9 swim lessons, 4 guitar lessons, 5 piano lessons, made 60 brown bag lunches, folded 47 loads of laundry, tied 88 soccer cleats and spent $847 at Costco.

I’m running away to Amish Country.

Eight years ago, driving back from Cleveland, OH, after spending Thanksgiving with relatives, the DVD player in the car was broken and the kids were hyped to the max on candy corn.  By the time we reached Indiana, I was clawing at the door.  I had to get out.  I had recently quit drinking and the nail polish remover in my cosmetic bag was seriously tempting. It was dire. 

We pulled off the freeway, found a hotel, and splurged for the biggest suite in the place.  Upon arrival in our oddly homey accommodations was a sign that read:  

No alcohol or tobacco products permitted on site.  However, we have 29 kinds of pie. Welcome to Amish Country.

 

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72 Hours to Get Ready For a Date? Yep, at Age 45.

Since I am recently divorced, my friends have nudged me to get back out there and date. Out where? I ask.  I mean, there is not a strong market for the 45-year-old-non-drinking-stay-at-home-mother-of-three-sons demographic – or as I like to call it, “the three penis package deal,” but I have been willing to give it a try.

Friends suggested I try Match.com, eHarmony or HookUpsForMoms. I’ve given a couple of these sites a shot, but to be honest, I just don’t have the energy. In fact, I almost fell asleep on my last date.  Don’t get me wrong, the date was hardly boring; he was an engineer, funny, handsome, grown children – the total package.

The problem is that at 45, it takes me 72 hours to get ready for a date.  By the time he picks me up, I’m ready for a good night kiss.  The days of preparing for a date by adding a second pair of shoulder pads, a half can of Shaper hairspray and my ID are long gone.

72 hours. Can you fathom how long 72 hours is?  It’s twice as long as my kids are in school for a whole week and longer than one of Britney Spears’s marriages. In other words, one little date is a serious time investment all designed to look like it took no time at all! 

 

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I Pledge a Redux to my Sags

Over the last few weeks, just like you, I have spent hundreds of dollars buying school supplies I never needed as a kid.  Strange things like hand sanitizer, entire reams (500 sheets!) of paper and $100 calculators.  I've ordered the Lands' End school uniforms and in a moment of weakness purchased trendy, expensive shoes that will likely not fit any of my sons in six weeks.  

The fridge has been organized.  The take-out containers have been tossed.  Single- Best back to school pic everserving, processed foods I can launch into lunch bags in a fury are stacked high. Each son has received his "back to school" haircut and we have had another lesson on the importance of deodorant.

In addiiton, I've washed my pink, fuzzy bathrobe so I will look presentable driving the kids to school.  It would be beyond embarrassing to have a car accident in a robe covered in chocolate ice cream stains and Cheeto-finger swipes. All in all, I'm feeling pretty prepared for the new school year.

The annual ritual of getting kids ready for school always sparks a desire within me to become more organized, more productive and just get my act  together all around.  The sight of glossy folders, the quick huff off a Sharpie, and the perfectly tipped crayons make me want to label stuff.  But just for a fleeting second.  I ponder properly filing things. I could fish my passport out of the filmy make up drawer and glide it smoothly into a crisp file folder marked "travel" or maybe just "P."  But that feeling passes too, content knowing my passport is safely tucked next to a jar of wax. And since I probably won't need either for a while, why mess up a system that works?

In the past years of experiencing the turmoil of divorce, even armed with the best of intentions, already by the Thursday after Labor Day, my urge to organize, lose weight, and get a bit of exercise, seems to die as easily as slow flies in August.  

But this school year is going to be different.   Not only are my kids going to learn all kinds of math stuff I won't even be able to fake understand, I, too, am going to make forward progress. Newly divorced, I'm no longer in a holding pattern, wondering if I should stay or go.  The tough stuff is behind me and the living is ahead. 

Therefore, on this first day of school, as all students across America will recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I, too shall make a pledge to get my divorce-comfort-food-cherry-pie-very-large-ass off the sofa to declare my goal for the school year.  If you've been "on hold" and let yourself go, come on, get up and say it with me:

"I pledge a redux to my sags and the bloated state of Abdomenia.  And to my stomach... that bitch which expands:  deflation, smaller bod, irresistible with dignity.... til the jugs start to fall."