In The Kitchen With Aunt Becky

One of those things that I always figured I’d do when I was bored and had scads of free time, which, you know, I’m just swimming in with my three kids and houseful of pets, was to learn to decorate cakes.

I somehow forgot when I was hatching my Great Plan, that I have absolutely no eye for detail and have about as much fine motor skill as my poo-eating dog. But yes, in my head, I was going to be the next star baker.

Just like I was going to be the next Rembrandt, Britney Spears, and uh, Martha Stewart, because all of those plans were SO SUCCESSFUL.

But when I saw that I could buy something that fit my “I never got an EZ Bake Oven” fix AND test my prowess as a Master Cake Baker, I was all over it. (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go here)(then come back)(and you should know that I do love me some Pioneer Woman)

Cake Wrecks 1

Really, I didn’t see how I could go wrong. Except that a 29-year-old woman with a full kitchen of her own had bought a toy cake bakery. That seems all kinds of wrong when you put it THAT way.

But let’s not dwell on the negative here, Internet!

Cake Wrecks 2

Microwaving, AWWW YEAH!

Now, see, THAT is the kind of cooking I can do. Short and sweet. None of those wonky STEPS that I can misconstrue or FORGET because I’ve accidentally wandered off to see what happens when I put the cat in a box.

Cake Wrecks 3

While I don’t know why someone would want a pamphlet of “DUFF” inside a box clearly marketed for children, I suppose that is neither here nor there. He seems a little, uh, CREEPY and vapid, doesn’t he? (I know he’s on the Ace of Cakes)

No accounting for taste, I guess. Which is why you read my blog.

Cake Wrecks 5

While shit, man, that’s waaaay too many instructions. I don’t need to read instructions. Those are for sissies.

Cake Wrecks 6

Why, isn’t that perfectly darling? A wee cake decorating set! I can’t figure out what most of the doo-hickies are for, but, you know, I AM READY TO LEARN. Providing I don’t have to READ WORDS and FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.

Cake Wrecks 7

Well, THAT is fancy-pants. It’s either a toothbrush holder…or a sex toy. Kind of advanced for children.

Huh.

If parents can get outraged by the Fresh Beat Band, why not providing our children SEX TOYS!!1!! OH THE HUMANITY!!

Guess you know what I’ll wander off to do.

….

BRUSH MY TEETH, YOU PERVERTS.

Cake Wrecks 8

Here we go, with some mother-humping yellow cake. That’s wicked yellow and I stirred it approximately 4.3 times before it was mixed thoroughly. Because that is the way I make cake, bitches.

Cake Wrecks 9

Well, now, here I have expertly poured two thimbles of cake into the microwave pan where I shall bake it for exactly 30 seconds. How can this be bad?

(cue ominous music)

Cake Wrecks 10

Well. That…uh, looks appetizing. It’s really a shame that I can’t make this blog post scratch and sniff, because this smells like burning hair.

nom nom nom SOYLENT GREEN nom nom nom.

Cake Wrecks 11

The Soylent Green patties are, I should note, about the size that one might expect to feed a wee field mouse. I am holding my lens cap up for perspective.

Cue the old joke… “the food was so bad….And there was so little of it!”

Cake Wrecks 12

In an effort to cover up the horrible yellow color of the cake, I have chosen blue as my fondant color. Note my expert mixing technique. I should probably get a medal from the Mixing Olympics.

Cake Wrecks 13

This fondant looks like a pile of, well, blue…poo.

I’m certain that I can roll it out and make it look better.

Cake Wrecks 15

Oh. Well. Um.

Maybe I should have read the directions.

I know, I’ll read them now!

Cake Wrecks 14

Okay, that looks NOTHING like what I’ve got.

Uh. Well. I KNOW. NEXT STEP.

Cake Wrecks 16

Icing. I can cover this with icing. THAT’S ALL. I bet it’ll look as good as new in NO TIME.

Cake Wrecks 17

That looks a lot like we’re about to artificially inseminate something. WICKED.

Cake Wrecks 18

My pre-iced cake on it’s pretty little platform. Doesn’t it look like, well, someone with no thumbs decorated it?

Scratch that. People without thumbs could do better. BLIND people without thumbs could do better.

Cake Wrecks 19

Aunt Becky’s Weapon of Mass Destruction. The ICING GUN. Prepare to meet your MAKER.

Cake Wrecks 20

Uh. WHOOPS.

I genuinely do not know what I did wrong here. It appears as though my icing gun misfired.

(cue inappropriate jokes)

Cake Wrecks 21

UGLY CAKE, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR MAKER, uh, PART II.

Cake Wrecks 22

Awww! Lookit my whimsical, drippy heart! With some balls thrown on it for good measure. Because everything is made better with colorful balls and icing.

(go ahead)(make your jokes, people)

Cake Wrecks 23

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the reason that you do not want me to cook when you come to my house. THIS is the reason that I order takeout.

Because while this appears to have been done for comedic value, it actually was not. This was genuinely the best that I could do.

I’m pretty sure my poo eating dog could have done better.

Another Year Over

On my eighth birthday, I remember slogging ass out of bed and down to the kitchen for a bit of toast before beginning the day’s activities. A late riser as well, my father happened to be sitting at the counter as I toasted my bread.

Always one to poke fun at what a she-beast I am when I first wake up, my father boomed a loud, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, REBECCA! PUT ON SOME GODDAMNED PANTS!

Because I was eight, I rolled my eyes at him and grunted a monosyllabic “thanks” under my breath, hoping he’d shutthefuckup until I’d been awake for longer than 30 seconds.

“How’s it feel to be THE BIG EIGHT?” he twinkled, obviously enjoying my annoyance.

I thought about it while I gnawed on my toast. Did I feel any differently? Were things different today than they were last night when I went to bed? Have I developed boobs and gotten my first apartment? Did Vanilla Ice finally get all the fanmail I’d sent? Will he finally show up in his wicked ride to pick me up from school? Did I win the Nobel Prize in Awesomeness for sleeping?

No. I was, give or take the bleariness I tried desperately to wipe out of my eyes, the exact same person I was 12 hours before. I shook my head no and scuttled back upstairs to put on some pants.

The “goddamned” was implied.

I feel the same about New Year’s. I understand the need that some people feel to celebrate the ending of one year and the coming of the next the same way that I recognize that a monthly purge of my house makes me happy in the pants. I get it – it feels good to be rid of the baggage of the last year, or, erms, well, actual baggage.

If only it worked that way.

December 2012 was a dark, dark time for me. I don’t mean that as a pithy country song, I mean it was so damn dark I couldn’t tell my ass from my head. Days would pass before I’d speak to another person. I continued the job hunt that had consumed my life since July without any real hope I’d find something. Turns out, trying to eke out a career path after being out of work for so long isn’t as simple as throwing together a resume and watching the offer letters pile up on my desk as I sat back and evaluated which Fortune 500 company I’d opt to become president of. I’d been making ends meet by freelancing and selling off any of my possessions that had value, but my nerves were shot each month as I cobbled together enough money to keep the electricity on.

(PSA time!)

Hey kids! All of that bullshit your parents spewed in your general direction about learning to manage a household? Turns out – you kinda need to know it. And I’d made the cardinal mistake most married couples do – Dave and I had decided to divide and conquer. All of the things that he’d done for us? I never learned to do. And the converse.

I’d been managing for a few months, still sorta in that daze between what-fuck-just-happened? and this-is-my-fucking-life and once reality hit, I started to take stock of whether or not I actually needed to grace the earth with my presence. I’d try and come up with reasons that I should stick around for another year and usually came up short. Only reason I’m here typing this to you now, Pranksters, is because I knew that my kids needed me. And the thought that it would be days or weeks before anyone found me had my stomach heaving well before I’d realized that my cats would probably quite literally eat off part of my face before I was discovered as departed. No one wants to put that burden on another person.

I woke up January 1, 2013 and nothing had changed. Sure, I could’ve gone to bed and said, “Self, tomorrow, everything will be different! You won’t wake up in a jolt of anxiety like your no-no square had just been tasered! You’ll be gainfully employed! You’ll be happy! All because YOU resolved to do it!”

I’ve been around this planet long enough to know one divine truth: The Universe has far bigger things to worry about than my resolutions.

But things did begin to turn around – slowly. By February 1, I was gainfully employed in a job I really enjoyed. I couldn’t call myself happy, but I was too busy to notice the sad bits. The anxiety got worse before it got better. I quit that job and took another. And another.

And now I find myself gainfully employed at a job I love working downtown in the best city in the world (apologies, New York). I no longer wake with that squirming ball of anxiety rolling around my gut like the world’s nastiest bowling ball – most days. I’ve learned how to keep the electricity on and my phone bill paid – most months. I no longer worry about someone discovering my half-eaten body. While I’m not always bouncing off the walls with glee (which is, quite frankly, a good thing – it’d be more likely than not to get me institutionalized), I can say that I’m happy.

That can all change tomorrow. I may go into work and find that my job has been given to someone overseas or find that my office has been converted into fancy lofts in Lincoln Park. I may have to go without food or electricity for a spell. Depression may rear its ugly, lying head and tell me what a total piece of shit I am for thinking happiness could happen to someone like me.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings any more than the meteorologist on Fox News know what the weather will be like. Educated guesses. Life is a series of educated guesses.

Tonight, I can resolve to lose 395 pounds or wake up an heiress and still wake as, well, me – Your Aunt Becky. Life isn’t about empty promises or a guarantee of a happier tomorrow. Good shit happens to bad people. Bad shit happens to good people. Shit happens, usually on some idle Tuesday in the middle of the month when you least expect it. You can rage against it all you want, but I’d surmise that nailing Jello to the wall would be easier.

Instead, I will go to bed tonight knowing that while I may not know what will happen tomorrow, it’s another chance for me to make messes, get dirty, and have fun.

And that (NOT the Hokey Pokey) Pranksters, is what life is all about.

Exxxxtreme…Couponing?

Somehow, when my middle son, Alex was a wee fetus tap-dancing on my bladder, I was signed up with all of the formula companies to receive formula checks. These puppies were worth upwards of twenty bucks!

Considering I’d planned – and subsequently did – nurse the kid for a year, I was totally baffled by the coupons. It’s not like I’m particularly pro or anti formula feeding – I wouldn’t pull a PETA and throw balloons full of breastmilk at women who were formula feeding or anything – I’m neither that passionate about it nor would I have wasted the precious pumped milk I kept carefully stored in the fridge, then the deep freezer, because the kid ate. A LOT.

Anyway, those coupons (like the  got me a little hot and bothered in the same way finding an awesome new shower curtain) (mental note: find shower curtain) marked down 75% off does – I was saving MONEY on something I NEVER BOUGHT and oh EM GEE, the glory of it all!

I decided then that I would learn how to correctly cut coupons (like these awesome Vistaprint Coupons).

I’d always assumed that coupons were sort of a scam – I mean, I’d find myself cutting them, using them, only to realize I’d bought 76 bars of that soap that removes all oil from your skin and leaves you looking like a tree. I learned back then that there were a whole host of folks out there who did this coupon thing so hardcore that it made me and my piddly formula coupons look like child’s play.

I was going to BE! A! SMART! SHOPPER! I COULD TOTALLY DO THIS, I thought, AND PUT THEM ALL TO SHAME. But first, I need some kicky supplies. Off to The Target I went, armed with the notion that the next time I was there, they’d be PAYING me for my company and awesome couponing! I’d be a PRO at this shit! I mean, so what if I hadn’t slept in 95 days? I COULD BE A SAVVY SHOPPER.

I began going to my parents house under the guise of “visiting” so I could raid their Sunday papers and snitch the coupons. I mean, SAVING money by NOT buying a paper! I was winning at this ALREADY.

Carefully, with my new fancy scissors and my rad coupon binder, I began to cut out coupons for things I figured I’d need… eventually. I mean, EVERYONE needs thirty five bins of cornstarch! THICKENING STUFFS FOR THE WIN! I didn’t, of course, take into account that I used one tablespoon of cornstarch once every three months. I HAD A COUPON FOR A DOLLAR OFF TWO THINGIES OF CORNSTARCH!

And how could I forget the dog food? I could get a whole dollar off if I bought a completely different brand of food! So WHAT if that meant he’d decide to evacuate his bowels on my white (white!) carpet? A DOLLAR OFF! That was totally worth the piles of dog poo!

Except that half of the time I’d go up to the register, my cart full of crap I didn’t actually need, the coupons were expired and shit, the baby was screaming (again) and I didn’t want to be THAT person who demanded to remove all the items that were supposedly couponed.

Coupons: 1

Aunt Becky: 0

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t cut out (har-dee-har-har) to be a couponer. Not only was I too tired to be organized, the time I spent scouring the Internets for coupons I didn’t have the capacity to print could’ve been better spent, well, watching paint dry or grass grow. It’s not that I needed more practice, it’s that I SUCKED at trying to keep it all organized. I’d blame that on the squalling baby, but really, it was my problem.

Any way I cut it, I was NOT destined to be an extreme couponer.

With all of the things going on in my life, I realized that it was probably time to start really learning how to use coupons again. Half the reason I put that widget on my blog was to remind myself to actually learn to properly use coupons to save money. Without a dog to poo on my new white (white!) carpets or a squalling baby to keep me all night, every night, I anticipate that I can (probably) do a little better this time around.

Which is why I’m asking for your help, Pranksters. YES YOU.

Any advice or suggestions for about extreme couponing? What do I need to know? Where are my pants? Do you have a coupon for my pants?

————–

I’m going to combine what I learn over here, on my Life on the Frugal Side blog, where I keep tips and deals for living more frugally (mostly for myself since I lose stuff all the time).

If’n you have a good idea and want to write a guest post for the Frugal Side, don’t hesitate to email me becky.harks@gmail.com.

P.S. Sorry my site is so janked up – I’m trying some different stuff to see what looks good and apparently, I am NOT someone who should be doing that. Kinda like couponing. EXCEPT I WILL LEARN YOU, COUPONS.

I’m Starting To Believe Comcast Doesn’t ACTUALLY Care About Me

One of the weirdest things I was stressed out about was not my decided lack of coffee mugs or my inability to properly assemble furniture, but the idea that I’d have to somehow get Teh Internetz into my new place. It’s not that I can’t make phone calls or decisions – if I ruled the world, I’d make texting illegal, and not just while driving, though it baffles me that people actually DO that, but because text conversations remind me of the notes I passed in high school, sitting in the back row with the Metal Heads. I’d prefer a phone call most days.

Anyway.

I was terrified of dealing with Comcast in the same way I loathe dealing with Jiffy Lube. Because I’m not smart enough properly know whether or not my air filter needs changing, for example, I’ll listen to them, have it done, and then realize that I’ve just dropped 40 bucks on some bullshit thing I don’t actually need, only to Rage Against (not, I should clarify, LOUNGE Against) The Machine, because being duped by the Jiffy Lube guys makes me want to taco punch both Captain and Tennile (which, frankly, is the way I feel most of the time) AT THE SAME TIME.

I figured that dealing with Comcast would be similar, our phone call something like:

Becky: “Hi, I need to set up new internet in my apartment.”

Comcast: “For that you’re going to need the Linux box modem coupled with Windows 92, plus a router box made by a Scandinavian company that starts with the letter C.”

Becky: “I just want the email box to make emails for me.”

Comcast (smelling a sucker): “Well, if I upgrade you, at a cost of 92,748,272 dollars a month, your “email box” will work.”

Becky: “Um.”

Comcast: “I’ll set you up with an appointment for next Tuesday between 1AM and 8PM.”

Becky: “Um, oooookay.”

comcast

I fretted awhile before I called them, first because I’d just gotten another NEW apartment number and wanted my keys to ensure I’d actually be living in aforementioned apartment rather than kindly hooking up the cable for another tenant, but by Tuesday of last week, I realized it was time – I’d be moving and I need an email box to do “work,” and Comcast, well, after my inability to make OR receive phone calls using AT&T’s network, was the best option, which made me die a little inside.

Besides, Comcast SAYS they care about me. ME!

I was delighted to see that I’d be able to do the whole thing online. Because while texting is bullshit, being able to take care of shit without the pressure salesperson is like a lil slice of heaven. I even managed to get all the way to the point where I was to chat with an online representative without needing a nap to continue.

Comcast Robot: “So you want to have XYZ set up in your new apartment at (address).”

Becky: “Yeppers.”

Comcast Robot: “You can’t.”

Becky: “…”

Comcast Robot: “The former tenant put his account on hold so he could keep his email address. We can’t hook up two lines to the same apartment.”

Becky: “Wait – he wants a COMCAST email? What about GMAIL? It’s FREE! Shit, I’ll give him one of my zillion addresses.”

Comcast Robot: “You’re going to have to go to the business office and show them a copy of the lease proving you live there now.”

Becky: “Um. Why can’t I scan it and email it to you?”

Comcast Robot: “Good Day.”

I closed the chat window, fuming. I still had a boatload of packing, not to mention a couple of saved videos of cats playing the piano to watch. I decidedly did NOT need to be driving an hour to show Comcast that I, in fact, was the new tenant. Instead of throwing things around or kicking the box fan, I put on my “fuck shit up” pants and drove over to the apartment complex.

When I informed the lady at the desk that I was, in fact, going to need thirty-seven types of proof that I’d be living here, she goggled at me, which was approximately the same response I got whenever from the rest of the world. “Woah,” she said. “That’s nuts. I’ve worked here 7 years and NEVER seen anything like it.”

I nodded, unhappily, clutching a ream of papers on official letterheads that all claimed that I was, in fact, going to be moving into the apartment on October 1.

Driving out to Comcast’s business center was fine, excepting the whole, “this road is closed” thing going on in front of their business office. I ignored all signs, crossed my fingers and drove on it anyway – I needed my email box to work. The woman behind the counter was nice enough, I guess, although she said maybe ten words to me the entire time, including the fateful, “do you want me to set this up for you?”

“Nope,” I replied breezily. “I’ll do it online.”

And like that, I sealed my fate.

Back home an hour later, I tried, once again, to order Comcast online. The conversation was identical to the first, and ended with, “let me look into this and call you back,” which, of course, never happened. Robots, man, they’re unreliable.

The following day, between packing and trying to find my keys, I decided it was time to put an end to the bullshit and call Comcast for the 8,373 time, hoping this time I’d actually manage to find the one person who had more than two brain cells knocking around their skull.

A funny thing happened.

I did.

After dealing with Comcast for three days, I finally found someone with properly firing synapses. Quickly she disconnected the previous account and set me up with my own account, even managing to get me an install on Saturday, the day I’d rented the U-Haul and planned to finish moving. She was so kind that I actually began crying on the phone with her, which got HER crying, and we both ended up a soupy mess, which these days, not as uncommon as I’d like.

And now, I have a working email box.

Those damn cat videos have been waiting.

—————

I haz a guest poster here talking about making your own cleaning products. Which, of course, scares the shitnuts out of me.

Three In The Bed And The Little One Said…

go sleep on the couch, Mommy.

I’ve never been a big proponent of the family bed.

Before you get all THINK OF THE CHILDREN, don’t mistake my meaning: It’s not that I don’t love my babies or anything, it’s that I like my sleep more. And adding two babies to my bed means that I spend half the night being kicked in the kidneys by a toddler who prefers to sleep horizontally because sleeping vertically is, apparently, full of the lame. I’d thought we’d gotten past the whole “kicking my internal organs” thing once I popped her out of my body, but I was wrong.

Adding to my bed another child – Alex – who’s five, means that he worms his way across his sleeping sister so that he can poke my eyeballs and stick his fingers up my sleeping nose, giggling uproariously until he’s sleepy enough to drift back into the land of nod.

By the time the sun peeks through the bedroom window, I’m staring glassy-eyed at the fug green of my walls and wondering how the sun got to be so damn bright at 7AM. Shouldn’t there be a law against that? I feel like their should be. Maybe I should sue the sun.

I’m starting to feel like it might be time to start shopping for kids bunk beds. Not for me, because, as someone who once broke a toe making a sandwich THAT WASN’T EVEN FOR ME, I’m about as able to sleep on a top bunk without breaking something as I am to eat a jar of mayo. I’ll do a lot for a bet, but that doesn’t come close.

Part of the reason I’d dig a bunk bed for the Littles is because, as the last born with a sibling ten years my senior, I’d always thought the idea of having a special cozy bunk bed would be full of the awesome. I mean – a bed. With a sibling on top of me. The thought of that makes me nostalgic for my childhood, in the same way a Bob Seger song does – nostalgia without a hint of experience.

See? You listen to that and you’re all, OMG HE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A MUSICIAN JUST LIKE ME – I’M A MUSICIAN ON TOUR, TOO. Until you realize you can’t even play the triangle without a stunt double.

I’m probably wrong. I have to imagine that if I did, in fact, manage to get a bunk bed for the Littles, they’d still want to

a) Sleep in my bed

2) Have ME sleep in their bunk bed with them, a situation that would NOT work out well.

So for the time being, I’m going to guess that I’ll just “wake up” each morning with a couple of kids poking me and sticking their fingers in my mouth, laughing uproariously.

three in the bed and the little one said

I won’t lie. I like seeing the tiny Muppets curled up in my bed. My kidneys, though, they tell another story.

sponsored post

————–

Do you do the family bed thing, Pranksters? Have you used bunk beds before? Where are my pants?

Words With Friends.

Her: “Morning slore.”

Me: “Hey Girl.”

Her: “Hahahaha!. You just went all Ryan Gosling on me.”

ryan gosling

Me: “Hey giirrrll – I’ll be the cheese to YOUR macaroni.”

(Pauses several seconds)

Me: “Ugh. Just grossed myself out. What are you up to?”

Her: “Oh Em Gee. I have the WORST headache.”

Me: “Dude. Headaches blow.”

Her: “YEAH they do.”

Me: “Sucks, man.”

Her: “Yup.”

Me: “Bet Ryan Gosling could help you with that shit.”

Her: “Doubt it.”

Me: “Shit. I just spilled scalding coffee on my nipple.”

Her: “Did you like it?”

Me: “Kinda.”

Her: “You’re a freak.”

Me: “Eh, Ryan Gosling wouldn’t think so. He’d make that shit into a lampshade.”

(uncomfortable silence)

Her: “Why are we friends?”

(pauses several seconds)

Me: “I have NO idea.”

————

I wrote this. Apparently? I need help. No, not that kind of help. I HAVE a therapist.

Losses And Gains

losses and gains“Losses can be real or perceived,” my perky psych nursing teacher told the class. While the rest of the class dutifully scribbled that statement down in their notebooks, I simply looked up from the back row, where I was playing my game of Bejeweled, shocked.

I’d never thought about losses like that before.

To me, losses implied the death of a person or animal or something was once living and now 6 feet under.

I’d never bothered to consider losses in any other manner.

That statement has been playing on my lips a lot lately, along with my I Hate Artichokes mantra, as I think about the new chapters I’m to write after this particularly dreary chapter of my life ends.

If I don’t like this ending, the story is far from over (and I decidedly do NOT like this ending). I must continue moving forward so that I can write the next chapter of my life.

I knew that with every major life change – birth, death, weddings – came a series of losses and gains. While I’d known that this was likely going to happen with the dissolution of my union, I was unprepared for the types of things that happen when one gets an “internet” divorce.

The rampant gossip and speculation about why my marriage was ending. The certainty that when a marriage ends, someone must be to blame. The friends, who once stood at my back, promising they’d catch me if I fell, turning their backs. The guilt of losing my home. The shame in asking for help. The loss of a dream. The shame that I somehow failed.

With the losses, though, I’ve found so much more than I’d have expected. I have several boxes that you, my Pranksters, have lovingly sent me, of items I can use in my new home, for my new life, because you know that starting over, that dissolving a nearly 9-year union, that comes with a lot of pain. And every little thing, every email, every comment, they all matter so much.

For every friend I’ve lost, I’ve gained two new friends who know me and love me anyway. For everything I must leave behind, I have something else to take – words, love, encouragement – to remind me I’m not alone. In the darkest of dark moments, when I honestly don’t know how I’ll survive – if I should bother trying – the next three seconds, there have been whole minutes in which I can see clearly that I’ll be able to thrive. Maybe not today or tomorrow, or even next week, but someday.

And that is enough to carry me through.

So thank you, my friends, who have steadfastly answered the phone when I call sobbing. Who don’t pass judgement because I do sometimes need help, and know I loathe asking for it. Who text me to make sure I’m okay, and stay up until all hours, driving around with me in silence, just to feel like I’m not alone in the world. Who have been so kind, so thoughtful as to send me things. Who have loved me in spite of me.

You’ve carried me through.

And I don’t know how to repay that kindness.

—————

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Mockingbird

Dear Benjamin Maxwell,

Today you are 11.

The day you were born, August 20, 2001, I remember thinking, as the doctor held you up for inspection, “wow, that baby has a lot of hair – do they have baby toupees?”

(I was, darling boy, in tremendous pain)

That boy, you, I named Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” I’m certain it has a Biblical quality, but I chose that name, Benjamin, because I wanted you, my first born, the great love of my life, to inherit my better qualities; the son of my right side. I wanted so much for your life, which at eight pounds, seemed tiny, but really, it was the beginning of everything.

As I looked at you, that tiny baby in my arms, I wanted you to know love, to feel the love that surrounds you, even as you lay your head on the pillow each night, your eyes full of sleep. I wanted you to grow to hold your head high, to smile at the small things – a faint smile at the way the light catches the dining room window just-so as the sun sets – a distant, fiery, honey-colored orb leaving our side of the world as we get into bed, on its journey to peep through the windows and hark the morning your Australian relatives.

I hoped that you would one day grow to speak to me of your life, to confess your hopes and fears, to let me kick the ass of the first girl that hurt your heart and turn the other cheek when I left a flaming bag of poo on the front porch of the first person that dared give MY SON a black eye. I wanted march to the beat of your own drum – hell, I wanted you to MAKE that beat and make others march to the beat of your drum. I wanted to protect you from the hurts and whirls of life; to give you the very best and more. I wanted all of this and more for you – just as every parent does.

Benjamin: Son of My Right Side; my GOOD side. And so you were. And so you are.

I woke up in the hospital that day, August 20, 2001, as the sun was setting in the sky, the world, for once, quiet, and gingerly, the doctor placed you into my arms. I held you, gazing into your dark eyes for a spell until your doctor, a man who had said five words to me while I was pregnant with you, one of them being, “PUSH!” stood back, looking between you and I and back again. Finally, he remarked, – for the first, but not last time during our stay – a thin smile playing upon his lips as he watched the two of us interact, “Wow, you certainly love that baby.”

I did not, as you might expect of your mother now, pull him close to my face, and say menacingly, “You bet your fucking ass I love that baby. What the hell else would you expect? ‘That baby’ is MY baby and I am going to make him PROUD of me if it kills me.” Instead, I was too enchanted by your tiny feet and long hands, so similar to my own, that I could do nothing more than nod an acknowledgement. I whispered into your year that day, and again, many times over, “I’m going to make you proud.”

I knew I was a youngish mother for this day and age, and I knew that meant I’d be facing an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a mother. But I didn’t care – I had my baby and I was going to do right by him.

In this way, the day you were born, my life changed. You, Son of my Right Side, changed my life by being born.

I don’t mean “you changed my life” the corny way they do in movies, a great montage set to some eye-ball wrenching music, no. I didn’t immediately go and breastfeed baby Alpacas or head up a non-for-profit organization that aimed to reduce the stigmas of mental illness, trauma, rape and other horrors – no, that came later. Well, not the baby Alpacas part.

Life isn’t a Lifetime Original Series or I’d be Tori Spelling in a wig and we’d drive better cars.

No, life doesn’t work that way, Boy of my Right Side – life isn’t about fancy cars or Tori Spelling, or assured happily ever afters. If it were, I wouldn’t be here alone, sitting in my empty house, writing you this letter eleven years after the day you were born. You see things differently than the rest of us.

Life, you see, isn’t black and white, right and wrong, Roe Vs. Wade.

No.

Life is about the beautiful, swirling colors that fall somewhere in between. Life is dragonflies who try to race you in the car, their wings shimmering, glinting in the sun. Life is twirling around in the lush grass, holding hands with your brother, until you get so dizzy you wobble until you fall down, clutching your stomach, laughter spilling out of your mouth. Life is about finding the absurdities in the mundane and finding Your Happy wherever you can.

Life is, as you’re finding out far too early, also about choices.

After you were born, I saw that I had a series of choices ahead of me in order to give my son, you, Son of my Right Side, the life that I wanted for you; for us. I’d been given the tremendous challenge of raising a boy, and I would go on to do my best to give that boy – you, a young man now – the very best. To allow him a childhood in which he could drink from the hose on a hot summer day; to laugh as the water sloshed around inside him, as though his GI tract were a life-sized water balloon. To give him siblings to teach the little things in life. To show them that in the morning, as if to say “hello, world, so wonderful to see you again,” tulips open,  stretching their beautiful petals to the sky, and in the evening, they bid us adieu, closing their petals again until the sun, once again, beckoned them awake. To look at the world as a blank slate of possibilities to be filled with lemonade stands and washing the car with dish soap.

To be able to look at your mother, now three times over, and say (even if it’s never aloud), “I’m proud of what she’s done.”

I don’t think I did that. I’d like to think I’ve tried.

I’ve tried, Son of my Right Side, to do right by you, just as I promised that tiny baby I would, but today, as we are separated on the day that I became a mother; the day I became a mother to you, the day the world knew your name, I feel I’ve done you wrong.

I’m so, so sorry. I’d hoped that you’d have had some more time to see life as a series of Good Guys versus Bad Guys. Cops and Robbers. Batman and The Joker. The separation between your mother and the man you’ve known as Dad for as long as you can recall hit you hard – harder than any of us, I think – and I wish more than anything I could explain to you that while things are hard right now – and they are – now isn’t forever.

There will be more good days, more laughter and forgetting, more sunshine and lemonade stands.

I’ve wanted more than anything to continue making memories, memories encapsulated in beautiful bubbles of multicolored glass, so that when I am an old lady and you are an adult, we can sit on a porch and talk about “that time you got to go into a bouncy house and laughed and laughed and laughed as you were tossed to and fro,” or tease your sister, reminding her that you once changed her diapers. Because by then, she will have done more than any of us could’ve imagined. The idea of her in diapers will, by then, be comical. We’d laugh, sitting there on those rocking chairs, creaking back and forth, recalling the days your little brother, who will not be so little any longer, used to roll around with you on the floor, entangled like a couple of puppies.

I hope, son of mine, the one who forever altered my path, that some day, we’ll look back on this, long after our scars have healed, and return to live our lives together. I wish that it had been happily ever after for us all, but this wild card, well, it’s part of what will define our history and take us on new adventures.

mockingbird

Until then, my sweet son, know that I love you more than the moon and the stars and every one of Jupiter’s moons COMBINED.

I’ll be here, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to make new memories together. Because our story, Ben, it’s not over – life is not over, and we’ll both return from this rough patch better for it. Our lives; our stories, they’ve only just begun.

I couldn’t be more proud of the person you are becoming; the baby I once sang “Mockingbird” to as we both tried to relax for the night, forever choking up at the end, hoping that one day, I’d be able to give you all that you wanted.

Love Always,

Mommy

International Cat Day + Wordless Wednesday + Caturday!

So the Internet has this thing called “Caturday,” which is sorta (I think) like a day that cat people gather together to celebrate cats; and worship them. There are probably like, Cat Saints and shit, but I don’t know. I assume it’s a Cult of Caturday, but not entirely sure. Either way, I have four cats and no one has EVER invited me to participate in Caturday Events, which makes me feel like I’m not as special a snowflake as my Mom once told me I was.

There’s also: Wordless Wednesday, which is, from what I can tell, a really easy way to be all, “I posted shit” when really you just googled pictures and slapped ’em up. (please don’t lob things at me).

You wanted the best? YOU GOT THE BEST.

Caturday + Wordless Wednesday:

Caturday and Wordless Wednesday

GOLLY GEE WILLAKERS! Look at those fucking CATS getting MARRIED! How’d the cats get into those wee costumes? DID THEY HAVE WEDDING SEX?

ARE THESE THE CATS WE WORSHIP FOR CATURDAY?

caturday and wordless Wednesday
HAHAHAHAHA! Those fucking meerkats are getting married, motherfucker! HILARIOUS. And it has “kat” in the name, which I assume means that these mereCATS are a part of Caturday! Plus, this is a photo I found on Google, so it’s Wordless Wednesday TOO!

Wordless Wednesday and Caturday

Oh noes! Who let the dogs out? Was that me?

OF COURSE IT WAS, SILLY! Who DOESN’T think that dog weddings are awesome? (answer: people who love Hitler).

Maybe NOW I’ll get invited into the super sekret Caturday Society?

NashTucky: The Midnight Special

Saturday, July 14

Part I

Part II

Part III

The problem with sleeping in hotels is, for me, the lack of direct sunlight cuing my ass to get the fuck out of bed and start my damn day. Hotels, even like the one we stayed in in NashVegas, which boasted beautiful indoor gardens, which our balcony opened up to, are timeless to me. Sort of like hospitals – it can be 2AM or 2PM and it feels the damn same.

Dawn had, like the morning person she is, sat out on the balcony reading trashy magazines for like 8,272 hours waiting for my lazy ass to slog out of bed. When I did, she handed me a cup of coffee and then watched, befuddled as I went to the teeny coffee maker outside the bathroom and made myself a cup of coffee.

“Um,” she said. “You do know that we already have coffee, right?”

“Yeah,” I grunted. “But I’m double-fisting this motherfucker.”

She laughed before saying, “if we don’t go soon, we’re going to miss our tour.”

FUCK.

The TOUR.

We’d planned exactly two things for the trip, figuring the rest would just be organic (but not like ORGANIC) and we’d do the shit we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. EXCEPT for the two things we’d planned, which had very specific start times. Like the fucking tour.

Rushing downstairs, we got the car from the valet, who had, thoughtfully, left the driver’s side window open so that Dawn was, effectively, sitting on a slushy, squishy seat. Awesome. I offered her my ass, but somehow she didn’t think it would help. Crazy ass.

She plugged in the coordinates to the Country Music Hall of Fame and off we went. Quickly, we learned that, not unlike Chicago, NashTucky had a “construction season” rather than a “summer.” Grimly we followed the chipper-sounding GPS lady (who I felt like throat-punching, truthfully), to one “closed to construction” street after another.

Finally, we made our way into the bottom of the Hilton hotel in downtown NashVegas, where we parked, all but screaming “FUCK IT” as we watched our tour time tick steadily past. Trudging out of the underground lot, I noted one thing. We were right fucking next to the Country Music Hall of Fame. After all the twists and turns we’d done, that alone was a minor miracle.

We raced to the desk, barely stopping to notice the beautiful atrium, and begged the woman behind the counter to take the next tour.

“Well,” she drawled. “We got one startin’ at one with two seats left. Want ’em?”

“YES! Thank you, YES, thank you!” Dawn returned. “It’s her birthday and we don’t want to miss this.” I didn’t bother to correct her – my birthday was the following day, but really, we’d be heading back to Chicago by then, so for all intents and purposes? It was my birthday.

The lady behind the counter fiddled with some tickets and a printer that had probably been created well before I’d been born, as I basked in the sunlight like a cat, listening to the delicate strains of a guitar playing through the lobby of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

I only have this moment, I thought, as I was reminded of my hippie parents: the future is unwritten and the past is unchangeable. I took deep breath after deep breath, letting the light inside me. The woman behind the counter eventually handed Dawn the tickets with the instructions, “Get into that line over there and the tour guide will pick you up at one!” She beamed at us, both falling all over ourselves with thank you’s.

country-music-hall-of-fame

As I turned to walk away, she looked me in the eye and said, her voice dripping with genuine sweetness and light, “Happy Birthday, hon.”

A normal response would be to smile and thank her for the well wishes, which I did. Then, I promptly turned around, standing in one of the most beautiful atriums I’ve ever seen, listening to a guy play a lone guitar version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” and burst into tears. That happens a lot to me when shit gets real: instead of behaving like a normal person, I cry when people are kind to me. If she’d said, “you’re an ugly fat bitch,” I’d have responded with some fairly rude gestures, reported her to her manager and demand a discount on the already-purchased tickets.

But when people are kind like that? It gets me. Every. Fucking. Time.

I stepped outside to regroup, not entirely comfortable with an entire atrium staring at the crazy crying lady, because you know as well as I, the very moment someone near you begins to weep, you want to know why; comfort them, or (if you’re me) hug them, and then create some story in your mind as to WHY this person, standing in the middle of the lobby of a beautiful building is weeping. If’n I’d seen me, I’d have made up some wild tale about John C. Mayer stalking me, vying for my love, while I slowly turned into Lil Wayne.

What? I didn’t say it was PLAUSIBLE. Or did I?

Alas, I digress.

After I’d stopped sniffling like a whiny bitch, a perky chick with long blonde hair was ushering us into a van. Without checking her ID, I hoped we weren’t going off to have our internal organs sliced out (altho, anyone on The Twitter knows I have beautiful kidneys – organ harvesters should BE so lucky), but, I figured, “what the shit? Live a little, AB” as I hopped aboard.

The perky blonde jabbered on at us while we drove past all the places where the greats in country music gave us our roots.

You’d probably not know it, but I’m sorta a music person. Not in the LEMMIE SEE AS MANY CONCERTS AS POSSIBLE kind of way, but I was raised around music. Each Saturday night, my dad and I would stay up until midnight, listening to the Midnight Special, a show put out by our local radio station. It was there that I cut my teeth on the roots of modern rock-n-roll (if there is such a thing) bluegrass, country, folk, and the ubiquitous anti-war songs. Music may not define me, but it flows through these here *taps arm* veins.

We stepped into RCA Studio B, where so many greats had once recorded, and, in a brilliant twist, Roy Orbison’s, “Only The Lonely” cued up immediately. I’d much prefer Journey, Pantera or Styx to cue up when I enter a room, but you know – can’t have it all ways. I, once again, stood with my back to the group, facing the wall while I composed myself. Just what I’d needed – the world’s most depressing song to come on at THAT moment.

Then we saw this. I nearly got a lady-boner:

Studio B Microphone

After I touched the microphone, I wandered into the actual recording studio where The Greats had once stood.

Then I decided that even though I couldn’t play the piano, what I REALLY needed was a Honky Tonk Piano. I got busted trying to move this particular piano into my purse:

honky-tonk-blues

I thought it would do wonders for my mood.

They didn’t seem to see it that way.