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I’ve spent the better part of 10 years trying to figure out what I’ve wanted to do next. Skydiving? Climbing some obscure mountain? Going into space? All things I’d considered before deciding that I’d stay home with my wee germ factories and write; two events that I’d not foreseen coming. I knew this wasn’t going to be one of those THIS IS MY DREEEAMMM kind of things for me.

Initially, I wrote because I had no one to talk to and with a husband who (then) considered a sixty hour work week to be “a slow week,” which meant I was pretty lonesome. Kids, especially challenging tots like my Alex, who demanded that I hold him every second of his first year of life, don’t exactly allow you the freedom to go out and make! new! friends! nearly the same way you can when they’re older.

When I discovered that I did, in fact, like to write more than clinical research studies, I finally felt like I’d found that missing piece; I’d discovered what comes next, which was both intensely liberating and oddly arousing. Writing, though, especially on Teh Internetz, I knew was going to be something that lacked staying power, and while I love what I do more than I love butter, I’ve known for a long time that I had to find something more; something that truly completed me (and not in the stupid fucking Jerry What’s His Name movie).

For many moons, I thought it would be a book – I had agents, a proposal, and a wealth of unpublished essays I’d easily compile into a book (and have) – until the great crash of Aught Eight happened and the publishing industry became more shaky about publishing new authors than a Chihuahua at the vet.

I’d toyed with the idea of self-publishing for upwards of five seconds before dismissing it as something I’d never be proud of. I mean, sure, I could beg my Pranksters to help me promote my book, but honestly self-promotion like that makes my vagina hurt – and not in a “climbing ropes in gym class” way. Self-publishing is a good fit for some, I know this, but not me.

So I dropped the idea of finishing the book like a hot potato and founded Band Back Together instead. That, too, I knew wasn’t a forever thing for me. Sure, the site will always be there, but I knew then that I wanted, well, more from my life.

Since I’ve moved out, I’ve been struck both by an incredible case of The Lurgy and some pretty heavy shit to go through. Having to reinvent your whole life at 32 isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, no matter how necessary it may be (and it is). As I’ve sat on the couch, watching endless episodes of shitballs television, trying to work up the motivation to do things like “pee” or “brush my teeth,” I’ve been dipping my toes into the murky depths of my mind, trying, once again, to figure out what happens next.

As someone smarter than me once said, “if you don’t like the end of this chapter, it’s not the end.”

And it’s not.

Rather than dwell on the past, thinking on all of the ways I suck at life, the decision I’d been waiting for smacked me upside the head in the middle of a Law and Order: Don’t You Dare Bitch About Your Life.

It was time to go back to school.

Whaaaaa? I can hear you all asking the computer, wondering if the meds aren’t working properly AGAIN.

Let’s step into the wayback machine, Pranksters.

Many, many years ago, I lived in this very same apartment complex with my then-boyfriend as an act of both teenage rebellion and an inability to see what came next. I’d like to paint you a rosy picture of those days, but that’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Lost doesn’t begin to describe how I felt and try as I did, I couldn’t see a way out. I was working at the time, at a diner known for making things like “Macaroni Cheeseburgers” and milkshakes, getting miserably low tips because the cooks “hadn’t done the hashbrowns right” or other such nonsense. I took less than zero pride in my job or, to be fair, my life.

My then-boyfriend once remarked snarkily – after I’d fallen the eleventy-niner time that week in the ice cream cooler at work and was making love to a heating pad – “Wow, I make just as much as you do and I get to sit at a desk all day!” He laughed, meanly, and had my back not been on fire, I’d have popped out his eyeballs with an iced tea spoon. Instead, I sighed, waiting, once again, to see what came next.

Benjamin.

He’s what came next.

I discovered I was pregnant shortly after Christmas of 2000 at the not-so-scandalous age of twenty, moved home, and popped his enormous melon out of my poor girly bits. The path then was clear: fuck becoming a doctor and get a degree that allowed me to make more than 10 bucks an hour going through fecal samples (I was halfway toward my BS in Biology/Chemistry). I took another waitressing job, this time, one that I loved, and met Dave halfway through nursing school. We married shortly after I graduated and Ben turned four.

Okay, I said to myself, this is what comes next…

…until that old itch started back up again – I couldn’t stay at home with my kids without going insane, I loved to write, but it’s nearly impossible to make a living doing so and, quite frankly, it was time to figure out what I wanted to happen with my life now. I could sit and wallow, feeling sorry for myself, immensely sad about the way everything ended, or I could make a change and do something for me. Something that made me proud of myself. Something that would open doors where windows had been firmly bolted.

It was time to dust a dream I’d so carefully packed into a box 10 years prior and make it happen. It was up to me this time and I was going to do what I had to do to move on with my life.

It’s time to get my PhD in one of the hard sciences – micro, virology, immunology, forensics, genetics. I don’t know which one I’ll go for. Not yet. But I will.

It’s time – really time – to start over. Only this time, it’s going to be for me.

And for the first time in as long as I can remember, I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

While anyone who’s read my blog for longer than five minutes knows that I wear a YOU’RE NUMBER ONE finger for Christmas, there’s one party of this happy-crappy, shooting glitter out of your ass holiday I loathe.

Wrapping presents.

A lifetime ago, I’d been all, “Someday” *shakes fists at sky* “SOMEDAY I will hire someone to wrap presents for me and they’ll be beautiful and angels will burst into my living room singing the Seventh Heaven theme song.” Then I shook my fist for even more dramatic effect, even though I was alone in the house.

Well.

We all know what’s happened throughout the past year, and most days I’m pleased to have toilet paper. Apparently the Universe not only laughed at my marriage, but at my long-held desire to have Christmas presents wrapped by someone who actually has thumbs and the patience for all those bows and shit.

See, the thing is, Pranksters, I have a complex (stop gasping at the computer, I know how shocking this is for you) about gift-wrapping. I can blame it on one person; one single individual, who ruined Christmas wrapping forever.

(And no, it’s not Pinterest, which is also responsible for making me feel like an ass for not taking beautiful pictures of gilded fish you can make in four easy steps with common household ingredients because I’M NOT MOTHERFUCKING CRAFTY, PINTEREST, SO SHUT THE FUCK UP ALREADY).

Many, many years ago, my brother was married to a woman who I hated, and not just because we shared the same name, although I’ll admit that I *did* get sick of people calling me to speak to her, mostly because she was a raging asshole and mostly because I was a teenager. Two mostly’s make a whole, right?

Anyway.

My brother married someone who took not only my name, MY name, but also any shreds of dignity I had about the presents I’d hastily bought at Walgreens on Christmas Eve (we all know my mother LOVED the “Happy Birthday Grandson” figurine I’d bought her!), then wrapped in a mere ten minutes with paper I’d taken from my parents. They weren’t pretty packages, and while I’m dead certain everyone enjoyed (read: threw away) the candy canes filled with assorted jellies (lies), I was pretty proud of myself for being all last minute and thoughtful and shit.

(“thoughtful” here meaning “fuck, it’s already Christmas. I should probably buy all the peeing dolls I can find at Walgreens – people love those things! Especially adults because PEEING BABIES = AWESOMELY THOUGHTFUL and not at ALL POINTLESS!!)

While my packages were often wrapped in plastic drug store bags, proudly displaying not only WHERE the presents came from, but also REUSING which is part of the recycling tree or food pyramid or something (I don’t know. I was always the one in the back of the class playing Bejeweled on my phone all thug-life style), she and my brother, who then lived across town, would waltz into my parents house on Christmas Day with bags of carefully wrapped presents.

They’d place them neatly under the tree, effectively ensuring that mine now appeared to have been wrapped in burlap sacks and smeared with dog poo. She’d go all the fuck out for that shit. I’m talking $15 A SHEET wrapping paper, bows that were folded in such a fashion that even Martha Stewart would’ve been envious of – before she stole the idea and then sold it for a zillion dollars at that craft store of hers. Each package had a neatly inscribed label, probably embossed or some shit, and she even managed to get the wrapping paper to line up at the back of the package so that it looked like one fluid piece. Along with the monogrammed tags imported from Paris or one of those third world countries where child labor laws go something like, “you have arms? YOU HAVE THE JOB!” she’d always add a little extra something. A trinket or doo-dad or whoodilly or whatever.

When it came time to open her carefully wrapped presents, she’d always manage to find a thoughtful – yet tasteful – gift for each of us, but I always hated destroying what must’ve taken her hours to do. I cannot imagine how much time she’d spent on each gift, but damn, despite our “differences” that girl could motherfucking wrap. It didn’t help that it seemed to cause her excruciating pain to watch people open her gifts, which I could totally understand.

Years later, I still think of her each time I go to wrap presents because even when I try HARD to make a present look purdy, it still winds up looking as though an infant had done it. My edges don’t match. Nothing is ever straight. My bows aren’t hand-crafted with tears from Unicorns and ribbons made of Pegasus hair, they’re usually straight from the bulk bag of bows – always mangled and misshapen – I’d found at an after-Christmas sale the year prior because I’m a cheap ass who balks at paying more than two bucks a roll for wrapping paper.

I’d been intensely proud of myself for getting my gift-buying done before Christmas Eve. I’d begun trying to pat myself on the back until I got distracted when I learned that you really can’t lick your elbow, and then the packages began to arrive. And when they did, I realized I hadn’t done myself any favors. 650 square feet = no one has any secrets.

Off to Dave’s I trotted to collect some of the wrapping materials I’d bought in years past, having every intention of getting them wrapped and under my ridiculous tree before, well, Christmas. It’s going to be a hard Christmas, of that I have no doubt, and I wanted to make sure the kids didn’t remember this as “the Christmas That Sucked Balls,” because while it’s going to be hard for me, I’d rather spare them the pain.

I’ve been eying the packages, wrapping paper, and tape (that my Prankster Jolie sent me as a gift, along with an ornament for my tree, which is just awesome. The ornament, not the tree. The tree was manufactured by Satan) every day, all, “IMMA DO THIS SHIT” until I get down to it and realize that no matter how pretty the paper, no matter how nice the bows, I still loathe wrapping presents.

I’ve set my sights a lot lower than the whole I WILL SOMEDAY HIRE SOMEONE TO WRAP FOR ME RATHER THAN BRIBING MY MOTHER TO DO IT because, well, that seems prudent. Plus, that’s a huge waste of money.

This year, I’m simply hoping my presents don’t appear to have been wrapped by a blind squirrel without thumbs.

But, because I know me, I’m not holding my breath.

————

What about you, Pranksters? What’s the one thing about the holidays that makes you crazy (besides everything)(and if you say Christmas music, I will cut you because I LOVE that shit)?

I’d been carefully asleep in my bed, sweating to my dreams like Richard Simmons had made me his personal bitch, defeating a gigantic Michelin man wearing a Bret Michaels wig who had a voice like the chick from The Nanny (Fran someone-or-other?), dreaming he was made of a delicious white frosting and enjoying every second of eating him alive when…

…tap, tap, tap.

Followed by…

…slap, slap, slap.

I cracked my eyes open a second to see what was going on when I realized my young daughter was playing the bongos on my ass cheeks. Just in time, too, since she was going for my eyes next. Apparently, it was time to wake the fuck up, Mama.

I’d spent the week prior on the couch, bemoaning a scad of diagnoses that ran like the who’s who in the gossip mags of bad viruses, or the amuse bouche menu at the infectious disease cafe, wondering if I’d instead been afflicted by some ancient Mayan voodoo curse, occasionally typing out blog posts in my head:

Day 1: The work of some cruel master is afoot. Perhaps I’ve done something so severe, so unforgivable, that I must now pay for my sins with my life. GOD, I hate it when the voice in my head sounds like a bad Twilight chapter. ALAS, something must be done before I die at the hands of the hands of these cruel masters.

Then:

Day B: There is definitely tomfoolery and some of those other descriptive and bad-sounding things going on. It’s probably the bubonic plague. I hope that people come to my funeral and don’t bring filler flowers. Those are bullshit.

Still later:

Day Too Many To Count: I don’t much care any longer if I sound like a particularity bad romance novel, so long as I don’t have to have passionate sex with a hunky, well-groomed grounds-keeper or some shit. My vagina, like the rest of me, is broken. Death, too good for me, would be welcomed with open arms. Too bad my cat would be the only witness and probably eat my face before anyone found me.

That was until Friday, when my daughter had made up her mind that she would be having our night together WHETHER I WAS DYING OR NOT. Someone had to allow her to eat Pringles and play with makeup, dammit. I knew that if I didn’t just say, “okay, cool,” to her demands, she’d FIND her way to my apartment and lord knows what she’d do to me when she got there.

So Saturday morning I awoke to her playing bongos on my ass cheeks.

When she realized I was awake, she squealed, “Hi MAMA! Let’s go play!” Because she, too, is sick, it came out all Thelma from The Simpsons, “Hi *hack, wheeze* Mama, *blurt, glurt* LET’S PLAY.”

“Mimi,” I asked, trying to squeeze out a few blessed more moments of sleep before I had to get up do her bidding, “Did you take up smoking?”

“Nah,” she giggled, then burst into a coughing fit.

“Good,” I croaked. “No smoking ’til you’re twelve.”

She looked at me all serious-like, eyes watering, before blurping a goo of mucous onto my pillow. She looked at it as I levitated out of the bed to get a towel, and laughed.

“At least it didn’t go on your head, Mama,” she giggled.

I looked at the child-sized thing of goo lying right where my head had been and nodded.

“Could always be worse,” I replied.

“Now go get some pants on.”

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