Welcome to the Rough House

Not long ago I heard a piercing scream of "Mooooooom!" ... followed by gasps and hysterical laughter. Then here came my first-grader, grinning through a macabre mouthful of blood, to gleefully present me with the treasure balanced on his outstretched palm: his tooth.

The tooth that his brother had just kicked right out of his mouth while they were wrestling. It was a baby tooth, thank goodness, but it hadn't even been loose.

I mean ... what?

A couple of kids ago, I'd have freaked out. But now I'm the seasoned mother of four boys, with the nerves - and stomach - of steel that raising a gaggle of dudes tends to provide. I just shook my head (mostly to clear the haunting visions of dentist bills) and said, "Go rinse your mouth out before you get blood on the carpet, and then save that tooth for the Tooth Fairy."*

*Who may or may not have forgotten to come, but hey.

I'd have tacked on the obligatory motherly addition of, "... and be more careful," but by this point I have learned that such a phrase is a pointless waste of breath. Boys are rough. They just are.



I once read an article that I absolutely loved: A Plea for Boyhood and Rough Play. It spoke to me so deeply. The author, Celeste Brinson, put into words so eloquently what I see in my boys every single day: the innate need to climb and tackle and tumble and wallop. They're not being bad. They're being boys.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely. There are always exceptions, to just about everything. Some girls are rough, and some boys are not. But the people who do have the exceptions got so rude in the comment section of Celeste's post - saying that it's a learned behavior, that if her parenting were different (or, let's be real, better) that her son wouldn't be such a hooligan.

There are few things I consider myself an expert on - I mean, I have to Google "how to hard-boil an egg" every time I do it. But I've had an all-boy household for the last decade. I have been immersed in boyhood for that long; literally, twenty-four hours a day, I'm with one or more little boys. And let me tell y'all something, loud and clear:

BOYS ARE LIKE THIS. Trust me. If yours isn't, have another - or two more - and then see. Maybe it's something about a group of them. A boy who's an only child, or perhaps one with a more mild-mannered sister, may not be as rough or at least not as demonstrative of that quality. But in most cases - and especially when you have more than one boy - this is what you're in for. The stereotype of "all boy" exists for a reason - yet, judging by people's reactions to that post, that really ruffles some feathers. I don't understand why. It is what it is.


Before I had kids, or even when I only had one, I'd have poo-poohed the notion that any of this behavior was inherently "boyish." My oldest, my firstborn son, isn't as physical as his little brothers. He's into computers, not wrestling or sports, and recently requested piano lessons. He wasn't a particularly rough kid, especially not when he was by himself - and had he been the only boy, I imagine I'd still be one of those people who insists this behavior is learned because "my son isn't like that." But then his three male siblings came along, one right after the other, and they are all rough-and-tumble in varying degrees. And now, even my "non-physical" oldest son joins right in (and, okay, sometimes instigates) ... because when you live with a pack of boys, that's what happens. They act like boys. Want proof? Ask any mom of more than one male - and especially moms of three or more. Or just watch this.


video


Boys will be boys. It's true.

Does that mean boys will be brats? Of course not. My sons know that there is a time and a place for roughhousing. They're obviously not going to do it, say, in the middle of dinner at a restaurant or during church or whatever. I don't care if it is in their nature, it's expected - nay, demanded - that they also control their impulses when they're in a public place, and they're very much aware of this.

Also, there's a clear distinction between playing rough and hurting or antagonizing or bullying. I'm not talking about aggression, and YES, there is a (very big) difference. I think that's a concept that people who are unfamiliar with the nature of boys don't grasp. They seem to think that the only purpose of roughness is to hurt someone.


But dudes just wrestle and pounce and leap for the sake of wrestling and pouncing and leaping. Because it's what dudes do. They will literally be standing there one second, watching TV or something, and next thing you know someone takes a flying leap out of nowhere and then they're rolling across the floor. It's an attack, but without malice - and I guess that's kind of odd if you're not used to it. Ever seen puppies play together? Or a cat sneak up on another cat? It's pretty much the same. It's just that sometimes, there are busted-out teeth involved.

Luckily, when you're proud of your new toothless gap, you've got a good story to tell your friends - and you use your Tooth Fairy money to buy your brother some candy, so you can show there's no hard feelings.

Don't let their antics fool you. Boys may be rough, but they're also soft.

Mon(Wednes)day

There are lots of things I wouldn't mind waking up to. Like Ryan Reynolds the smell of bacon. Or the beautiful sunlight sparkling through the window. Or the blissful chirping of frolicking birds.

But a toddler saying, "There's poop on the floor and I stepped in it," isn't on the list.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what jolted me into (harsh) reality first thing this morning. We have two dogs, and it couldn't be the small delicate turds of our pug - oh, no. The dumping culprit was our lab, who weighs more than my kids and poops like a triceratops. I was pretty pissed off as I scrubbed the carpet. I had a morning to-do list as long as my arm, and children to get ready and schlep off to school, and dealing with a crappy surprise wasn't exactly on my agenda.

By the time I finished, I was running behind schedule. I dashed downstairs to grab the kids' clothes from the dryer - not to mention two pairs of shoes which had gotten muddy in the creek. Here's the thing about boys' wardrobes: they're small. My kids go through jeans so fast that they literally only have one decent pair, maybe two, at any given time - which is why every night, I do laundry and throw it in the dryer before I go to bed. And those two pairs of shoes are my first-grader Coby's ONLY footwear.

So you can imagine my dismay when I realized that our dryer had quit working after I had gone to bed, and was heaped with a load of wet clothing and shoes that my kids were supposed to wear to school in like twenty minutes.

I scrambled around and found two decent pairs of school jeans, and put my second-grader in the least holey-and-grass-stained pair of play jeans I could find. As for the shoes, Coby had to wear them to school damp, and I was sure to throw in a motherly lecture about how "if you wouldn't have worn them in the creek like you weren't supposed to, you wouldn't be in this situation."

While the kids were getting dressed, I was rushing like a madwoman to get my own clothes on because a.) I had to drop them off at school, and I like to be dressed lest something like this happen again, and b.) I had a morning Zumba class to teach. I grabbed my favorite pair of workout pants - the ones I always wear - and pulled them on. That's when I realized the waistband was damp.

Startled, I snatched them off and hesitantly lifted them to my nose.

Freaking cat pee. Vanessa the Terrible had struck again. (Guess who never did make her an appointment to get spayed?) I washed them, but here I was, dryer-less. I wore paint-stained yoga pants to school drop-off in hopes that my Zumba pants would be dry by the time I got home - but no. They were still wet when I put them on.

Getting ready to walk out the door for Zumba, I decided to fix my three-year-old's hair before leaving. But when I sprinkled a little water in it to make it lay down? It foamed. This is what happens when you combine an independent toddler who wants to do everything by himself and a dad who happens to be supervising bathtime and is more than happy to let him. So I had to wash Corbin's hair in the sink. And as if that didn't make me late enough, my "low tire" light came on while I was driving to the gym so I had to stop and air it up. Only it didn't specify which one was low and they all looked fine to me, so I put air in all of them.

Today might be Wednesday, but it was like Monday. On steroids.

It wasn't the kind of morning I'd wish to have. But then I got on Facebook - and I read an article about a woman who was burying her three children and her father, all of whom were killed by a drunk driver. Then I scrolled down and watched a video of a Haitian community literally eating patties made of dirt just to fill their stomachs.

It gave me a very humbling and much-needed dose of perspective. And it helped me to know that - broken dryer and pain-in-the-ass pets and toddlers and low tires and all - I have it made. So very, very made.

... Even on a Monday-ish Wednesday.


Dear Weather ...


Dear Weather,

I think I can safely speak for people in fickle climates everywhere when I say this: make up your damn mind.

It's mid-October right now, and you apparently can't decide whether to be balmy and summer-like or breezy and crisp. Because one day it's like eighty degrees, and the next day I'm in boots and a sweater with a hankering for chili. And on the occasions when I've been browsing Pinterest and have found a fun new way to tie a scarf so maybe I'll finally look fashionable? You throw a kink in my plans like, "Nope! It's tank top weather, bitch."

Don't even get me started on the indoor temperature, Weather. In the morning I need the heat on. In the afternoon I need the air conditioner. When I think, "I'll cool the house off by sleeping with the windows cracked," it's practically Arctic in here by 6 a.m. and I wake up with a sore throat. WTF.

And how can I (appear to) be a good mom when I have no idea how to dress my kids in a weather-appropriate manner? Between the summer shorts and the long sleeves and jeans, my laundry basket overfloweth. I JUST WANT TO PUT AWAY THE SUMMER CLOTHES, OKAY?! I'm tired of dipping into storage totes to retrieve clothing I thought my kids would no longer need.

If we were in a relationship, Weather, we'd be one of those couples who fights publicly on Facebook and then unfriends each other and changes their profile to "Single" and makes their status something like "Good riddance to that dead weight!" and then a few hours later it's updated to "Engaged" with a picture of us kissing, #blessed and #soinlove.

I'm tired of the ups and downs.

Bottom line, Weather, I'm gonna need you to stop being a capricious asshole and commit already. You're really getting in the way of my wardrobe of comfortable, fat-roll-disguising hoodies.

Sincerely,

Denture-vention

My husband has a problem. And it's this.


Or maybe I should say I have the problem, since I have to live with him. AND HIS HORRIBLE FAKE TEETH THAT HE WEARS FOR THE MOST RANDOM OCCASIONS.

It's been just about a year since I wrote this post about how the teeth came into our lives. Let me say that again: a year. And yet ... the above photo? Was taken last week.

Let's ignore for a moment that they're probably crawling with, like, flesh-eating bacteria by now. We'll focus on the fact that it has been a full year, and what I thought (hoped?) would be a phase is clearly more of a ... psychological issue quirk. I figure he'd wear them for a week or two and then lose them in various places the way he does with, you know, his wedding ring.

But no. The man may misplace the very symbol of our marriage, but he damn well knows where his rotten-ass plastic dentures are at all times.

Here's a photo of him wearing them in the Dairy Queen drive-through over the summer:

The cashier did a serious double-take.

Fun fact: he tried to order with them in, but they couldn't understand him so he had to take them out and repeat himself.

Or how about this picture from when we went - wait for it - Christmas shopping?


Because nothing says "holiday magic" like obnoxious fake teeth.

He recently flew to the east coast for work and as he was leaving I joked, "Do you want your teeth?" and the man actually hesitated as though he were seriously considering packing the teeth for a damn business trip.

I'd surreptitiously pitch them in the trash while he's gone one day, but I'm afraid that would be grounds for divorce. He would definitely notice their absence. Besides, he usually keeps them at the ready in the console of the car, because you never know when you're going to need disgusting false teeth at a moment's notice. *eye roll*


I'm thinking I need to stage a denture-vention here.

... Or at least buy him a clean set.


No Mo' Naked

Last week, I had an anniversary of sorts.

It wasn't the anniversary of the day I got married, or became a homeowner, or had children.

It was the anniversary of when I finally reached a professional goal: to be published on The Huffington Post, with an article I had first published here on my blog (with little fanfare), called "Why I Want My Sons to See Me Naked."


It was the anniversary of a week when, every single day, perfect strangers sought out my email address to tell me that I was a terrible mother, that someone should call child protective services and take my kids away. The week when people in countless comment sections lambasted me as a pervert, a monster, a child molester, someone whose children were unsafe and unloved. The week when they said I was "turning my sons gay" and that I was "the reason society is crumbling." The week when an article was written about me by a "conservative news source" touting me as "the worst mother of 2014." The week when these opinions spread like wildfire, share after share after share, until I felt like the cowering target of some kind of horrible Internet witch hunt.

It probably wasn't that bad. After all, there were a lot of supportive comments mixed in. But when it's you people are talking about, and your family, the hate sticks out like a sore thumb. Those comments carry more weight somehow, even though you know they shouldn't.

As more and more people actually read the article instead of commenting based on the headline alone, they realized that - despite the inflammatory title - I wasn't being perverted or deranged. I was making a point about body image. And slowly, the tide shifted and the comments were overwhelmingly positive. And now, when the article is shared (because it still pops up somewhere every month or so - it actually went viral in India a few months ago), there's not nearly the amount of vitriol directed at me that there used to be. Thank goodness.

The title was my fault. I had been trying for months - months - to get HuffPost to publish something of mine, to no avail. I even offered them "Ten Boy-Mom Musts" just after it went crazy on my site. Piece after piece I submitted, with nothing from them but radio silence. It was frustrating. So one day, I decided to submit the piece I had originally (and boringly) entitled "The Naked Truth." Only I thought, Maybe if I change the title to something more provocative, they'll take notice. So I emailed them the newly-renamed "Why I Want My Sons to See Me Naked."

I had an acceptance response in less than an hour.

I was ecstatic, until the piece ran. And then I just felt like someone opened up the sky and took a Godzilla-sized dump on me. It was, like, this overwhelming deluge of WTF-ness that just kept unfolding.

HuffPost Live asked me to come on their show and explain my stance (watch it here; I still cringe). I was asked to call in to a radio show out of Detroit (I said I'd only do it if they weren't going to bash my parenting, and they never called me back). I was contacted by the producer of The Doctors TV show - but when I explained myself, that I wasn't some sort of crazy mother who forces my naked body upon my children (ick), they deemed it not controversial enough. It was all so surreal.

I wrote this post in an effort to further explain myself - my attempt at gasping for air in the midst of this giant shitstorm I had inadvertently created.

The madness eventually died down, of course. And I know it's cliche, but I did emerge on the other side of it with a much much thicker skin. It's funny what a trial by fire will do to a person.

Throughout the whole thing, I received one question more often than any other: so when are you going to stop letting your kids see you naked? I never had a specific answer, other than, "Whenever they start to feel uncomfortable with it, I guess." Or, you know, until they remember to freaking knock.

So last week - the one year anniversary of the post - I was getting ready to take a shower when my oldest son walked into my bathroom. He just turned ten in June. At that point I was still fully clothed, laying out my towel and my deodorant and stuff. He was blathering on about something computer-related, and I was doling out my usual "mm-hmmms" as I began to remove my shirt.

He yelped like I'd pinched him and ran out of the room.

"Colin?" I called after him, frowning. "What's wrong, buddy?"

"You're naked!" he shouted from the distance. "Ew!"

I couldn't help but laugh. To everybody who has ever asked me when it's going to stop ... there's your answer. The moment they think it's gross.

My boys are normal after all. Take that, haters.


Something Squirrely

There's something squirrel-y going on around here ... literally. But it doesn't involve cuteness. Or nuts.

( ... That's what she said. Heh heh.)

Anyway.

We have a creek running through our yard. And even though it's technically on our property, it's owned by the city, so people treat it like a public park. They're drawn to it. I have considered, more than once, constructing a huge "GET OFF MY LAWN" sign. (I'm gonna make such a fabulous old lady.) It kind of irks me when people hang out there, especially when they leave trash, but whatever. Aside from a few minor annoyances (and one seriously strange incident that freaks me out to this day), I love it. It's a beautiful, tranquil place, and the kids have spent many summertime hours splashing happily in its shallow waters and playing on its banks.

The other morning I was taking our two dogs out to pee and decided to walk down by the creek. Josie, our lab, kept her nose to the ground, sniffing intently. I didn't think anything of it - the area is full of deer, squirrels, raccoons, possums, birds, all kinds of good wildlife for a dog to smell. But then she stopped short at one of the trees. And when I looked, I saw something weird lying there.

A black squirrel ... wrapped in paper.

Was it sleeping? I nudged it with my toe. It felt soft, not stiff. I reached down and gingerly peeled back part of the paper to look at its body (when I did, the paper - which was damp with dew - ripped a little bit, like you see in the picture below).


I took the dogs inside (much to Josie's dismay) and returned with my rubber gloves on. Because I take care of my yard, y'all, and the last thing I want is a stinking squirrel corpse rotting away right where I mow.

I examined it a little more closely. I'm not easily grossed out, and my curiosity was getting the best of me. The poor squirrel had been fully wrapped up in the paper - like, deliberately. The paper was clean and intact (except for where I'd ripped it), not like a random piece of trash it had gotten tangled up in. The squirrel itself was still pliable, which meant it hadn't been dead for long, and the bugs hadn't even started in on it. I picked it up and looked at the underside. There was no bloating, no swelling, no visible trauma whatsoever. It looked like a perfectly healthy, normal squirrel.

Until I looked at its face and realized ...

... both of its eyes were completely gone.

That's when the creepy factor increased from "ew" to "NOPE" and I squealed like a sissy and threw it across the creek and into the woods.

So to recap: freshly dead black squirrel, wrapped in clean paper, laid beside a tree in my yard, looking normal except for the fact that it was EYELESS.

Pardon my language here, folks, but I think the only appropriate thing to say about this is what the actual fuck?

I have literally zero plausible explanations as to why this scenario occurred. Did the squirrel pluck out its own eyeballs, wrap itself up and lay down at the base of the tree in protest of forest politics? Is there some weird squirrel-sacrificing cult practicing their dark magic in my back yard? Either way: it's more than a bit unnerving.

Any ideas, you guys? Because I'm at a loss.

Just to end this post on a brighter note, I've made a memorial photo. It may not be of THE squirrel, but it's one of the many who hang out on our deck, so who knows? It could be him. In happier days, when he, like, still had eyes and wasn't dead and stuff.


Yeah, that's better.

You So Six-y

Six years ago this very moment (edited: this very moment yesterday, because I am a slacker who apparently cannot publish a timely blog post), I was watching The Golden Girls in a backless gown, hooked up to monitors signaling my contraction strength. Little did I know that the "little" guy I was about to deliver would end up being my biggest baby: nine-plus pounds of heftiness that charged boldly through my nether-regions like a linebacker.

I also blogged about it - because at that time, my blog was relatively new and I had never written a post while not pregnant.

This burly baby was Coby, who is turning six now OMG where does the time go?

He looks soooo much like I did at his age. Like, exactly. And if you tell him that, he will smile in an embarrassed manner - because apparently at this age it's cooler to look like Dad.


See? Change the hair color a bit, give him a sweet mullet like my first-grade self, and we're practically twins. It kind of trips me out to see what I'd have looked like as a boy, so I'm kind of anxious for him to grow so I can see what I'd have looked like as a man.

Anyway.

Coby has a sweet and easygoing disposition, a genuinely big heart, and is always the first one jumping up to lend a helping hand. While he's still holding fast to his mysterious country-boy roots, he has discovered a deep love for physical fitness - you can find him lifting my ten-pound hand weights (a pretty impressive feat when you consider he only weighs less than fifty pounds himself) and doing push-ups and burpees. And he has always been inclined to eat healthy - this is the kid that goes to the pizza buffet and loads up his plate with veggies. (This is something he most definitely did not inherit from his mother. I buy butter in bulk if that tells you anything.) The amount of strength in that little body is absolutely amazing, but what's more amazing is his total dedication to improving it. He's about to start karate lessons, and he loves skateboarding. Always on the go, this boy.

He's our "easy" one. While he has his moments, we can always count on him to be generally more even-tempered and agreeable than his brothers. His teachers gush about what a joy he is to have in class. He's had a few cringe-worthy incidents - like this one - but so far he hasn't cost us thousands of dollars in emergency room bills (like some of our kids ... coughCorbincough) or elicited calls from the school. So I'm actually pretty grateful for his disposition.

I've made a slideshow for his birthday. I mean, I didn't make slideshows for ... let's see ... any of the three other birthdays we've celebrated this year, but hey. Better one than none, right? I'll be more on the ball next year.

... Yeah, next year.


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Grownup Gross-Out

If there's one goal I have in this life, it's to raise my boys to be good men. Good boyfriends, good husbands, good fathers, good workers, good people in general. I want them to be compassionate and philanthropic, sensitive and strong, and to put the damn seat down after they pee.

I know I'm not alone in this. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can speak for all parents when I say that nobody looks at their sweet children and thinks, "Man, I hope they turn out to be huge selfish jerks that no one can stand."

So parents. PARENTS. Let me pose a question: where are we going wrong when the people we're raising can't even handle the most basic of common courtesies?

I work at a gym. And gyms can be dirty places full of bodily fluids, but our staff works really hard to keep the place clean and they do an extremely good job. However, they might not have to work so diligently at it if there weren't the need for signs like this, which is actually hanging over the water fountain:


I only teach classes there, which means I do not have to do any cleaning other than the two-second tidying up of my class space once in a while, thank the Lawd. But the poor souls who are forced to clean up after the general gym-going public, day in and day out, actually have to deal with stuff like this. And more. There have been people who pee in the trash can in the tanning room. Let that sink in: THEY PISS. IN A TRASH CAN. And not even a big full-sized trash can with a lid - it's more like one of those little wastebaskets you'd have beside your desk. Who does that?! The bathrooms are literally like two doors down!

And speaking of the bathrooms - you don't even want to know the horror stories I've heard about what people do in there. Women and men both. Let's just say that next time you see someone who cleans a public place, you should consider giving them a very big tip or at least an appreciative pat on the back. Because damn.

I just would really like to know who the hell is doing all this. What kind of actual adult thinks it's okay to urinate or defecate or wipe whatever is coming out of their bodies on walls or floors or in drinking fountains? Would their mothers be horrified? Because years down the road, if I ever heard that one of my grown sons was that disgusting, I would slap him upside his head so hard he'd have trouble remembering his name. I'M NOT RAISING A NASTY INCONSIDERATE D-BAG AND I'D LIKE TO KNOW WHO IS.

This is why I spend approximately 85% of my time lecturing my kids about why they should not wipe boogers on walls and the importance of hitting the water when they pee. Kids are gross. KIDS are gross. But adults? Adults should know better than to be gross. And if you are a gross adult then your parents have failed you and somebody should be ashamed of themselves.

As an employee of the gym, I think I should make some new signs.


... That's better.


Cat-astrophe


My ten-year-old son is not what you'd call easygoing.

Sometimes, depending on what mood you catch him in, he's more tolerant of things. But when he's grumpy to begin with? Watch out. It's like living with an old man whose pudding is too lumpy. The complaints start rolling in. My socks are itchy. This tag in my shirt is scratchy. The air conditioner is too cold. My nose is stuffy. Yesterday, he griped because one of his brothers held eye contact with him for .0275 seconds too long.

Don't get me wrong - he's not a sourpuss all the time. But it happens enough for us to be accustomed to it. And because we're so used to hearing him kvetch about random (mostly minor, often ridiculous) issues, we tend to tune it out sometimes.

So when he came home complaining that his brand-new backpack smelled like pee, it didn't even register at first.

"Smell it!" he insisted. "Right here!" Jab, jab, jab with a finger at the offending spot.

To appease him, I sniffed. It had a burnt-rubberish smell. "That's just the smell of the foam rubber padding inside," I said. "They put it in there to make it more comfortable against your back."

"IT'S PEE," he huffed stubbornly. I rolled my eyes and hung his backpack on its hook. End of conversation.

The next morning before school, I caught him trying to persuade his first-grade brother to trade backpacks - even though Coby's is camouflage, not at all Colin's style.

"Colin. Use your own backpack."

"But it smells like pee!" he argued.

I gave him "the look." He took his own backpack to school.

That afternoon, when he walked through the door, he started immediately harping on the pee smell. His backpack was gross, he couldn't stand the smell of pee, he just wanted to throw it away and use his backpack from last year. And I lost it.

"Colin!" I snapped, irritable. "We just paid good money for that nice new backpack. You are going to use it and you are going to like it. That smell is not pee. It's just the foam rubber padding. It will go away. Now stop complaining about it!"

"Well my teacher thought it smelled," said Colin. "And so did my guidance counselor."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This child! "You ... went to the guidance counselor because your backpack smells like urine?"

He shrugged. "I wanted another opinion."

Good. Lawd.

At that point, I just couldn't even. I held up my hand to let him know that the argument was over, and walked down the hallway.

As I neared the end of the hall, I noticed that my second-grader, Cameron, had thrown his backpack on the floor. His is the same brand and style as Colin's - just a different color. And I noticed that our cat, Vanessa, had just been standing on it.

Oh no. No no no no no.

I snatched up the backpack, squinting, and sure enough - there was a small wet spot. Right on the foam padding.

I sniffed. Burnt rubber.

The same smell that was on Colin's backpack.

... Oops.

And then it all came together. Nessa isn't spayed, and she's currently in heat. And when she's in heat, she tends to pee in weird places - never on the carpet, thank goodness, but in my potted plant or the dustpan or someplace crazy like that. Or, you know, on a backpack.

Being wrong when you've insisted you're right is bad enough. Being wrong when it's your kid who's right is even worse. But, I had to eat crow. So I apologized to Colin - who, because he's a good kid, didn't even gloat - then cleaned up the backpacks.

Next on my to-do list: call the vet to get Nessa's "girl problems" taken care of once and for all.

Damn cat.

Thirty. Freaking. Five.

Over the weekend, I turned thirty-five years old.

Thirtyfreakingfive.

I can no longer say I'm in my early thirties (not that I ever really did, but at least I had the option to). I'm firmly in the middle, and a mere five years away from being forty. Sigh.

I woke up the day before my birthday with a fever of 103.5, so I stayed in bed all day while the boys did their own thing and left the house a disaster, as boys tend to do. But I felt well enough by evening time to go to my brother and sister-in-law's house for an amazing birthday feast of home-cooked Thai food. Because nothing motivates me more than a good meal, y'all. I could have been on my deathbed and I still would have managed to stuff my face.


And my mom bought me an ice cream cake!


I don't normally get birthday presents (I'm 35, not 13) but for some reason this year I was totally spoiled. I got a new griddle that cooks like eight hundred pancakes at once, and some super-cushiony mats for my kitchen floor. Methinks my family is angling for a Labor Day breakfast at my place.

And then my husband gave me this artfully wrapped parcel. Whatever could it be?


Yes, that is seriously how Curtis "wraps." A Walmart sack and paper towels.

But it didn't matter how it looked, because inside there was ...


... incentive to walk off the Thai food and ice cream cake! Awwww yeeeeahhh.

On my actual birthday I still had a fever, but it was lower, so I popped a handful of ibuprofen and put my big-girl panties on because I had stuff to do, damn it. Curtis and I went to our friend Bobby's farm for some good old-fashioned manual labor. We hauled brush and cleared out a fenceline, and then put up the actual fence.

Believe it or not, I couldn't have enjoyed myself much more; I actually love hard work in the outdoors. (You can take the girl out of rural Missouri, but you can't take the rural Missouri out of the girl.) There's just something about sweat and sun and fresh air and effort and results - ironically enough, it's cleansing, a feeling I can't get anywhere else. I tried to take a selfie to show how dirty my clothes were, but I pretty much just managed to highlight how much my excessive crotch sweat made me look like I had pissed myself.


All in all, I had the best birthday I've had in years - despite being kind of sick, and waking up with a zit the size of Mt. Everest on my cheek. Because my body was like, "You may be inching closer to forty, but your face is gonna look fourteen! ... Oh, except for those wrinkles. Welcome to thirty-five."


What Did You Call Me?!

The other day my ten-year-old son called me something so shocking that it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't even say anything, just stared at him with my mouth agape as he walked toward his room.

He called me ...

...MOM.

This is a kid who I naively thought would call us "Mommy" and "Daddy" for the rest of his life. While my younger boys waver back and forth between Mommy and Mom - in fact, my five-year-old has called me "Mom" almost since he started saying it - my oldest has always been steadfastly in the "Mommy" camp. He has literally never called me Mom in his entire life ... that is, until the other day.

"Thanks, Mom," he said, sounding startlingly grown-up, in a voice that was too deep to have possibly come from my baby. I watched him retreat casually toward his room, like he hadn't just said something that shook his poor mother to her very core.

He's in his last year of elementary school now. And although he's still small for his age, his shape is changing; he's getting that gangly-limbed look, like an awkward colt - which seems impossible given the massive quantities of food he puts away. He still likes to play with his brothers, but his interests are gradually diverging. Here and there, he's starting to exhibit the huffs, the slumps, the eye-rolls, those preferred means of teenage communication that I'm sure will get worse before they get better.

I know it's inevitable, this growing up thing, but ... wasn't he just this sweet little toddler? Wasn't that only, like, a few months ago?


Motherhood has tested me in a lot of ways, and throughout a decade of mommying four little boys, I've become a pro at changing diapers and diffusing toddler meltdowns and wiping butts and predicting when someone is going to throw up before they spew all over the floor. I'm confident in my abilities to raise little kids.

But nobody has ever matured on me before. Not quite like this. And I know I'm only at the beginning of the roller coaster ride. Funny how the simple, unassuming utterance of the word "Mom" could set off so many shockwaves of emotion. The surprise of realization. The awe, the wonder, at how fast the time has gone - tinged with the grief of letting it go. And the gnawing feeling that I have very little idea of what I'm in for, because this is a threshold we've never before had to cross. You can't see around the next corner, but you have to keep going anyway because that's how life works.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go snuggle my three-year-old. Otherwise I'll blink and he'll be gone, too.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (?)


I haven't been able to hear myself think for, oh, basically the entire summer break - which is the main reason my blog has been gathering dust. When four boys are boy-ing all over the place, it's a cacophony of thumps, laughs, farts, and yells, punctuated by the blips and bleeps of video games. Concentration is hard to come by in that environment.

But right now, I can hear myself type, and it sounds almost foreign to my ears. Because today, three of the four went back to school: their first day of fifth, second, and first grades. The toddler is still asleep, and the only thing I can hear right now are some birds outside the kitchen window and the sound of my refrigerator running. MY REFRIGERATOR, y'all. It makes a sound. Who knew?

That's how quiet it is in here.

I fully anticipated doing the happiest happy-dance ever. Like maybe a mashup of the Roger Rabbit and the Cabbage Patch and the Nae Nae. (Okay, I'm lying, I can't do the Nae Nae.) Because it has been a long, hard summer. My boys get along, generally speaking, but so much togetherness just wears on everybody and I had started to feel more like a referee. Like I needed to just redo my wardrobe in black and white stripes and get myself a whistle. There have been times over the past few months where I literally felt like ripping handfuls of hair from my head, running for the hills, screaming like a banshee.

And this morning. Good Lord. Even though they all claimed to be excited, the boys were none too happy about being woken up. One griped about his shorts. One griped about his shoes. One griped about the breakfast. I'm cold. I'm hot. This tag is scratching me. I don't like my hair this way. I checked the clock obsessively as I ushered my dawdling herd toward the main goal of getting out the door on time. I gritted my teeth and willed myself to have patience as they bickered and danced around and acted like ten- and seven- and almost-six-year-old boys.

Only a few more minutes until the moment you've been waiting for all summer! I reminded myself.

I dropped them off at school. I watched them walk in. I drove home. And then?

I sat in my garage and cried because I miss them.

Damn kids.


10 Things Your ZUMBA Instructor Wants You to Know

This month marks my fourth year of being a licensed Zumba® Fitness Instructor. See how happy (and, all right, slightly crazed) I looked on the day it became official?


The truth is, I'm still that happy. (Although not nearly that tan any more, but tanning isn't good for you, mmkay?

I've come a long way from my very first class, during which I was in a total haze because I'd been too nervous to sleep the night before. I've taught through pregnancy and colds and unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions. I've met tons of new, wonderful, amazing people, and made lifelong friendships with people who have been with me from the beginning. And I was thinking the other day about the things I don't really tell them. I know a lot of fellow Zumba® instructors - and a lot of group fitness instructors in general, since I work at a gym - who feel the same way. So I put together a little list of the stuff we may not necessarily tell you ... or at least not often enough. :)  




We definitely recognize you, even if we don’t remember your name. We make it a point to try and remember the names of as many people as we can – our entire classes, if possible – but with the volume of people that come in and out over time, it’s super-difficult. So if we mess up your name, please don’t think we’re huge, self-important jerks. We try … sincerely. 

We like requests. Sometimes it’s hard for us to gauge which songs people are still crazy about, and which ones need to be retired for a while. When you request a certain song, it lets us know what you enjoy, and we’re all about making our classes happy! Similarly, don’t be afraid to tell us if there’s a song you don’t like. We can’t promise you’ll never hear it again, but at least we’ll know not to play it as much when you come to class. Constructive feedback is always welcomed.

We look to you when we forget stuff. Our brains are valuable databases where we store our routines – but sometimes there’s a glitch and we straight-up forget what comes next. Luckily, there’s always someone in the class who's got their stuff together better than we do (at least momentarily), and you remind us of the next move - so thanks! 

We want you to make noise! If you’ve been to any group fitness classes, you know that some days are high-energy and some days aren’t. The secret to those high-energy days? NOISE. Enthusiasm. We’re having fun! It’s totally fine (welcomed and appreciated, even!) to throw in a “wooo!” or a “yeah!” or whatever exclamation comes to the surface. Those whoops and hollers let us know that you’re enjoying yourself, which in turn bolsters our confidence and energy levels. We all feed off of each other’s energy, so don’t hold back – because others will follow suit, and it’ll be a better class overall!

We’re genuinely glad to see you. We love a packed house. We love that, of all the things you could be doing, you chose to spend an hour with us. We love to see that you like our classes so much, you’ve brought someone along to share in the fun. We love that our classes foster friendships.

We appreciate good etiquette. As instructors, there’s little more frustrating than needing to make an announcement and feeling like you’re yelling into an abyss where nobody can hear you. It makes us happy when you’re comfortable enough to chat with each other before class, but – much like your teachers in school – we wish you’d give us your ears when we start talking.

We’re not critiquing your performance (and neither is anyone else!). There are two main goals in each Zumba® class: have fun, and keep moving. If you do those two things, who cares what you look like while doing them?! Besides, nobody’s even watching anyway – we’re all too focused on our own moves (instructors included!) to pay much attention to anybody else’s.

… But we do notice your progress. One of the great pleasures of being an instructor is seeing our “regulars” blossom. Maybe you started in the back of the room and have slowly gained the confidence to move up to the front row. Or maybe you’ve dropped some weight, or you’ve gone from shy, shrinking violet to the life of the party. We notice! And though we may not say anything, we’re so proud of your progress, and so happy to be a part of it.

We really don’t mind if you modify! Sometimes your hips just won’t move like your instructor’s do, or your knees protest when you squat. Or maybe you need a little extra “oomph” and want to make things a little more challenging. And that’s fine! Seriously, if there’s a move you can’t do, or don’t like, then don’t do it. Do something else instead, as long as it keeps your heart rate up. Don't worry about offending us by changing our moves. Because …

We’re inspired by you. Once in a while we’ll notice someone putting their own spin on a move and think, “That’s brilliant!” You come up with modifications that we’ve never thought of, and sometimes they’re better than the original choreography! 

Bottom line: you make our lives better, and we benefit from your presence just as much as you benefit from ours! It's sooooo much more than just a good workout.

... But you already knew that, right?


Bird's the Word

I am losing. My ever. Loving. Mind.

A friend of mine just posted on Facebook about how she was sad that school was going to be starting, and I felt like complete shit because I myself am on the verge of packing my kids some sandwiches and a few changes of clothes and dropping them off at the elementary school "a little early."

... Like, you know, a couple of weeks.

What?? I'll leave them a tarp or something in case it rains.

It's just a classic case of too much togetherness. I can tune out a certain amount of bickering, but not when I'm marinating in it 24-7. We will all love one another much more effectively when we can, like, do our own thing for a while.

But for now, I have four boys who are "bored" no matter how much bike riding, roughhousing, video game playing, book reading, and imagining they do. (Just like they're "hungry" five minutes after finishing every meal.) The ten-year-old wants to be left alone, the seven- and five-year-olds want to play with him but not with each other, and the three year old wants to do everything his brothers do, which never goes over well. Plus, he (the threenager) is in this horrible screaming phase in which everything - and I do mean eeeeeverything - elicits a high-pitched shriek capable of waking the dead. Seriously, if zombies start lurching ominously around town, you know who to blame.

Sometimes though, when you're feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown, the universe throws you a bone in the form of something funny. A couple of days ago, I was in the kitchen drowning in some mundane task like unloading the dishwasher when I heard hysterical cackling from the living room.

"Mommy!" Coby shouted, barely able to talk between gasps of laughter. "You've got to see this!" He prodded my Terrible Three toward the kitchen. "Now Corbin, show Mommy your Spider-Man fingers," he prompted.

And then this happened:


Despite the fact that it looks like the biggest, gnarliest, most impassioned "eff you" ever, this is actually a photo of a three-year-old who thinks he is imitating Spider-Man's web shooting gesture. But I kind of think it's the most hilarious photo I've ever taken (well, except for maybe this one. Hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here.)

His face looks like that because he was making a hissing noise through his teeth, but doesn't it look like he just gives zero shits?! BAHAHAHAHA. It just goes perfectly with the finger.

Right after this, his brothers (thankfully) showed him the proper Spider-Man finger configuration. I've got to admit, I was a little disappointed. But at least I have photographic evidence.

And at least he didn't do it in public.

(Child) Labor Pains


When I was a kid and my mom would ask me to do the dishes or something, I'd slump my way to the sink, griping with each step: "The only reason you had kids was so you'd have somebody else to do the dishes!"

Now that I'm a mom, I realize how silly that was. Of course people don't have kids so they'll do the dishes.

People have kids so they'll do the dishes and the laundry and the yard work and all the other crap. I mean ... free labor! Less work! More time to devote to other valuable adult pursuits such as, I don't know, watching funny cat videos on the Internet. Dishes? Pssssh. That's the tip of the iceberg. It takes a lot of work to run a household, and I've made a decision: if my kids are going to ravage the contents of the fridge, poop in our toilet, and lounge around watching the TV and using the Internet, then they're damn well going to pitch in.

They've had it relatively easy up until this point. They've had chores, but mostly related to taking care of their personal messes: cleaning up their rooms, clearing the table after a meal, stuff like that. But here we are, with less than a month of summer left, and I am sick to death of the constant cleanup I've had to do with the kids home all-day-erry-day for what seems like eons. (Seriously, shouldn't they be going off to college or something by now?) I feel like all I get done is following them around picking up crumbs and washing mountains of laundry and disposing of wrappers that they've blithely tossed around the room because apparently the trash can is all the way in the kitchen.

Hmmph.

So now I've decided that the little ingrates children are going to help me with my chores. Although there's a bit of a problem: they're careless young boys who are immune to squalor, and I'm a control freak.

Up until now, I've done things myself because it's easier. (Well, sort of.) I mean - I've got this joint running like a well-oiled machine. I could do my regular household maintenance routine in my sleep. I've been doing this for so long that I've mastered the most efficient way to do, well, just about everything around here.

But.

I'm not doing myself, or my kids (or their future spouses), any favors by shouldering the bulk of the responsibilities. Because if I don't allow them to learn to do this stuff by themselves, or expect them to, they'll figure it's not their job. AND THEY'LL BE WRONG. And I'll be stuck with a houseful of teenagers who expect Mom to clean up after them ... who will then grow into men who expect their significant others to clean up after them.

I'm not allowing my sons to develop into unhelpful douchebag man-children. NO SIR. So, for the sake of everyone involved, I'm sucking it up and trying my best to put aside my perfectionistic ways while my boys bumble through things I could get done in two minutes learn how to do things around here.

And it's driving me crazy.

I stand by and supervise - just in case - while they do this stuff, biting my lip to keep my mouth clamped shut. But my inner dialogue is raging. When my seven-year-old is scooping out the cats' litter box, for example ...

Okay. There's a turd. Get that one. NO! Don't try to get all the clumps at once! Ewwww you're getting it all over your hands. Now. Shake the scoop so the excess grains of litter fall back into the box. SHAKE! THE SCOOP! You're getting litter all over the floor! No. Don't pretend you're a grizzled old prospector panning for gold. Just DO THE JOB. Gaaahhhhh! You dropped a turd on the floor! NO! DON'T PICK IT UP WITH YOUR FINGERS!

... And so on. When they're pouring a little too much detergent into the washer, I envision my laundry room filling with bubbles. When they're cleaning the toilet, I cringe at how many pee-crusted nooks and crannies they miss. It's kind of like how they want to brush only the fronts of their teeth and call it good: it's my job to correct them, but they have to learn to do it properly themselves.

And the only way for that to happen is if I stand back, loosen the reins, and let it happen.

Yuck.

Lube is for Pubes

I've never had what you'd call shampoo-commercial hair. It's a frizzy nightmare, which means deep conditioner and a hair dryer and a flat iron and smoothing serum any time I want it to look like nice, regular hair. Otherwise it looks like somebody put a bunch of chest hair in the wrong place, and it's desperately trying to get back to where it belongs.

Oh, hair. Y U no cooperate?

Maybe some actually managed to migrate successfully and that's why I have a beard?

Living with a poofy puff like mine has made me seriously consider pursuing a religion where it's covered all the time. I mean, at least my eyelashes are decent.

Anyway, since our air conditioner took a crap, it's been hot up in here. For me, sweating even an ounce is a one-way ticket to Frizz City, population: Rita. Needless to say, I have been locked in a frustrating struggle between letting my 'fro flag fly without giving a shit, and trying to look like I haven't been dragged through a bush backwards. The other day, vanity won out, and I was attempting to wrangle my strands into smooth submission when I realized I had run out of smoothing serum.

For you lucky non-frizzy peeps who may not be familiar with smoothing serum (I hate you), allow me to enlighten. It's a clear liquid, kind of silky and slippery, almost like an oil but a little thicker. I like this kind (← that is an Amazon affiliate link by the way, in case you want to getcha some). You can use it on either damp or dry hair; I usually put about a nickel-sized amount in my hair while it's still a little wet, and I find that it looks less like a Brillo pad when it's dry. Unfortunately, my bottle was as empty as Donald Trump's soul.

If I had hair like, say, Kate Middleton's, I would have just skipped the serum and gone on my merry, bouncy-coiffed way. But - here's a little known fact - the one and only reason I am not the current Duchess of Cambridge is because Wills is kind of a hair man and when it came down to deciding between Kate and myself, well, you can see who won out.

Ahem.

Anyway, since foregoing the serum is not an option when your hair puts sheep to shame, I began rummaging through my arsenal of toiletries to find a suitable replacement. Lotion? Nah ... I've tried that before. It doesn't last too long. Coconut oil? Possibly, but the last time I overdid it and ended up looking like I hadn't washed my hair in years.

And then? My eyes fell on a little bottle in my medicine cabinet.

Sensual Lubricant, it said. (Yes. THAT kind.)

The wheels in my head started turning. Hmmm. It's a clear liquid. Kind of silky and slippery. Almost like an oil but a little thicker.

I did a hallelujah jig in the middle of the bathroom. I was saved! Who needs fancy-schmancy smoothing serum when you've got lube, right?! It's practically the same thing, isn't it?! And it's not like I'm using it for anything else. (Which is a topic for another blog post entirely. Advance apologies to my husband.) I mean, sure, it's made for vaginas, but like ... that's a minor detail, yes??

So, like any re-purposing genius, I slathered my damp hair with lube and envisioned my gorgeous, frizz-free 'do - all the while congratulating myself on my ingenuity. I'm totally going to pin this on my Pinterest boards, I thought. LIFE HACKS BY RITA. No smoothing serum? USE LUBE. This is amazing. People will be like, "Where has this chick and her revolutionary tips BEEN all my life?!"

But as my hair dried, my confidence waned. Because as it turns out, vaginas are not hairdos (and if they are, please consider a little personal grooming). And vagina products do not work on hair, even if they do seem almost identical in texture. I was painfully reminded of why hair product companies and sexual lubricant companies hire, like, scientists to formulate things, and why I am wiping butts and writing words instead of be-goggled and lab-coated with a beaker somewhere.

Note to self and to everyone else in the world: lube is not an acceptable substitute for smoothing serum. Your hair will not be frizzy, but that will be because it is stiff and greasy-looking. (Picture the "hair gel" scene from There's Something About Mary, only all over - not just the bangs.) Do yourself a favor - either invest in some actual smoothing serum, or just let the whole thing air dry and hope that this is the day that big '80s hair finally comes back into style.

Not a Fan


Sometimes, something happens that makes you learn a lot about who you are as a person.

For me, that epiphany came late Friday afternoon, when our air conditioner was all like, "I'm tired of keeping your house at a comfortable seventy-two degrees. See how well you do without me, suckas!"

It was (of course) one of the hottest days we've had yet this summer, and I had just finished mowing. So at first I thought maybe it was just me thinking that the air coming out of the blower felt more like somebody's breath than an icy blast of Arctic air conditioning. But when I checked my thermostat, my fears were confirmed: it was eighty degrees in my house. My AC had said A-C-ya.

My husband has a background in this type of stuff and so he did some troubleshooting and determined that he can fix it himself. (Insert skeptical-wife raised eyebrow here.) The problem is, he needs a specific part, and it was after-hours on a weekend.

"I'll just wait until Monday," he said casually, as if my face melting off was no big deal. Apparently he is used to being without cool air at his job, and is also unfazed by anyone saying, "But my thighs are chafing!"

... Jerk.

Long story short, we've been without air conditioning for the entire weekend. It is now Monday and if my husband does not get this show on the road with the "fixing the AC" thing, I am going to go off the deep end because y'all? I am NOT good at doing without my fancy machine-cooled air in the middle of July. I fantasize that I'm this tough, hardy chick from sturdy Midwestern stock, but THERE IS NO AIR CONDITIONING AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF.

It has definitely been a learning experience, though. Here are a few tidbits I've gleaned from spending a weekend in a normally-seventy-two-degree house that has gradually heated up to, at its highest point, ninety-two degrees:

Heat makes me lazy. You know what I did over the weekend? NOTHING. The most strenuous thing I did was rummage in a tote full of clothes to find a skirt so I could get more air circulating around my sweaty inner thighs. I slumped in a lawn chair in my driveway, sweaty, with a beer in my hand. Like a fat guy. I just could not muster up any motivation.

I desperately need new carpet, or fewer pets and children. As my house started to get warmer, my carpet started releasing its demons. Air conditioning apparently goes a long way in keeping things fresh, because once it got hot up in here, the Ghost of PeePee Past starting rising up from the fibers. And we just had it cleaned two weeks ago. So now my home is not only sweltering, but it smells like a barn. Which brings us to my next realization ...

Heat makes me cranky. If there's anything I can't stand, it's a stinky house. I am super-paranoid about this. So the fact that my house now smells like a barn, and no amount of Febreze will combat it, makes me more than a little irritable. Heat also makes my children cranky, and four cranky children make me even more cranky, so ... yeah. It's been a barrel of laughs* around here this weekend.

*More like "bucket of assholes."

A sock can do amazing things. I had this old knee-length sock in my drawer. Brown with gold polka-dots. (Don't be jealous of my fashion sense.) So I filled it up with rice, tied it in a tight knot at the open end, popped it in the freezer for a while, and voila - it's an all-purpose cooler-down-er.


I have used this thing a bazillion times in the past few days. The rice stays cool for a long time after you take it out of the freezer. I've draped it around my neck, across my panting dog, across the keyboard of my laptop when it sounded like the fan was running too hard, and threatened to beat my children with it (I said threatened).

Convenience creates heat. I am usually blissfully unaware of how much heat is generated by our various appliances and electronics. But try running your dishwasher - or your dryer - or using your stove - when your house is above ninety degrees, and you will quickly realize that holy hell, these things are hot. This is why we grilled out every night, and why yesterday's dishes are still piled in my sink, no doubt contributing to the lovely smell in here (because hand-washing would involve me immersing parts of myself in hot water, and no). The bright side: I could honestly tell my toddler it was "too hot to watch Caillou." TVs generate mad heat, too.

I'm a "fan" of my neighbors. Cheesy pun notwithstanding, our entire neighborhood is awesome. They loaned us box fans and window fans and oscillating fans and offered their air-conditioned homes and gave my kids popsicles and sat with us in our driveway as we tried to keep from melting (and/or killing each other).

All in all, it hasn't been an entirely terrible experience. We've been making the best of it ... like camping. But if my husband does not stay true to his word and get this air conditioner fixed today, the situation may turn ugly. Like my hair in this humidity.

Stay tuned. And please - stay cool. Do it for those of us who can't.

Car-be-cue

During the fall and winter, I start packing on the pounds like a hibernating bear. I swear - as soon as as the weather gets cooler, I migrate to the kitchen and start whipping up comfort foods and baked goods as though they're going out of style. (Like, have you tried my French onion soup recipe yet? DELICIOUSNESS.)

But this means that during the spring and summer, I have to take off said pounds. Which involves a lot less eating. Which makes me very unhappy, because I am a woman with the appetite of a man.

Okay ... a fat man.

Okay ... a ravenously hungry fat man.

Okay ... a ravenously hungry fat man who has the munchies at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't know why I'm such an eater, but I've been this way for pretty much as long as I can remember. I know what I need to do - I once lost more than 100 pounds and have kept it off except for these pesky 20 pounds or so (check out the before and after, if you wanna) - but it's actually getting started doing it that sucks. So when I have to cut back, my body goes through, like, withdrawals. It's all, "Hey! Where are my cupcakes? ... Well can't you at least send some butter down?"

Mmmmm .... cupcakes and butterrrrrr.

Anyway, that's where I'm at lately: trying to eat sensibly. So I'm kind of like an obsessed dope fiend, attempting to keep my mind off of my "drug of choice." Which is why, when I started smelling delicious barbecue every time I sat in my van, I thought I was hallucinating or something. Every time I'd slide into the driver's seat, there it was: a smoky whiff of hickory. I even tried to cover it up by chewing some strong peppermint gum, but it just ended up smelling like someone threw some mint into a smoker.

I contemplated telling my husband that I was going crazy, but figured he would probably just agree.

This morning, though, I discovered that I might not be as crazy as I suspected. (Okay, maybe I am, just not because of the barbecue-fragranced hallucinations.) Because when I opened up the console in the center of my van, I found this:

Buy it at Colgin.com if perhaps you, too, would like your vehicle to smell like a brisket.

Then it dawned on me. Like a week ago, my mom asked if I had any liquid smoke to use in a recipe, so I had taken it to her house. I don't remember putting it into the console for its return trip home, which is apparently why I forgot to take it out. It had toppled over and leaked, thereby converting my relatively unscented console into a haven of hickory essence.

It might be pretty delicious if it wasn't IN MY CAR.

I mean, it's a minivan. It almost always smells somewhat of stale French fries and Goldfish crackers and whatever else my kids squirrel away in the back floorboards, but hickory smoke? I half-expect a lumberjack to be sitting in my passenger seat, in all his bearded glory, holding a hearty rack of ribs.

... Which would actually be okay if ribs were on my diet.

... Mmmmm, riiiiiibs.

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