Sunday, January 4, 2015

I hate writing this so much

I don’t want to write about Brian Kalla. Instead, I want to have some of the amazing pancakes he always made when our families had breakfast-for-dinner dates, or the spicy matzoh ball soup he would bring me because he knew how much I loved it.

I want to pour him a drink and tell him one more time how much it meant to us this past summer, when my husband Jim had a terrifying MRSA infection, and Brian came over and tended to him, brought him Medihoney and medical advice and comfort and friendship.

I don’t want to write about Brian Kalla. But I have to, so you’ll know how few real friends my husband has – how guarded and cautious and how very, typically male Jim is about letting anyone in. I have to tell you how I teased Jim about the unabashed bromance he and Brian had going.

“You totally love that guy,” I would say to Jim as he headed off to spend the afternoon building stuff or working on cars at Brian’s house, or when he invited Brian and the kids to come hang out at the pool, or called him up to see if he could borrow his pressure washer. Again.

Brian had this laugh that got me every time – it had a kind of a shout in the middle of it, and it cracked me up. He helped carve the turkey at our house this past Thanksgiving. He brought his much-adored family over for trick-or-treating this past Halloween – an annual tradition that has long served as a milestone in our years.

He was outspoken and irreverent and prickly and warm and sweet and absolutely funny as hell. He was one of four brothers, just like my husband, and Jim and Brian had a running joke about that. I would explain it here, but it’s really only funny to them. Lots of things were really only funny to them.

My husband loved Brian, and I loved him, and we had vivid pictures in our minds of the future Halloweens and Thanksgivings and breakfasts-for-dinner we’d all have together as we eased deep into middle age, as our amazing kids grew up, as the bromance I teased Jim and Brian about spun out for years and years.

I do not want at all to write about Brian Kalla. But now I will because we were robbed. His wife and kids, who adored and relied on him. His friends, who loved to hear him laugh. His patients and his colleagues, who counted on not just his expertise, but his humanity and his humor, his irreverence and his intellect.

Those pictures we all had in our heads of a long future that included Brian – that included his laugh and his warmth and his many sharp edges -- are erased. And we’re left to figure out how pictures of the future are supposed to look without those essential things.

Above all, I know this really would have pissed Brian off. I am sure of it. It certainly pisses me off. And I know the loss of our great friend is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of the loss his family will endure from now until always. So I guess I’m writing this thing I really don’t want to write about Brian Kalla for them.

Because Suzanne and Sadie and Joey, please know, please understand: We love him, and we love you. We know there’s nothing we can do, not really, but we’re standing with you and we always will.

We’ll always be among the people who can hear his laugh in our heads. He’ll always be part of us and of our family, and you will be, too. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for you.

And I'm just so damn sorry I had to write this about Brian Kalla.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I would really like to spend more time doing it all night long

Sleeping is what I'm talking about there, you guys. Sleeping. What did you think I meant, you freaking weirdos?

Today's column in the TFP is all about the ways my true love, my boyfriend Sleep, has both comforted and betrayed me throughout my life. Most recently, he has been viciously teasing me -- taking me in, letting me get all seduced and unconscious, then tossing me unceremoniously back into the horror that is wide-awake-at-2 a.m.-and-gotta-work-in-just-a-few-hours.

Is this a middle-age thing? I used to be like a pro sleeper. If there had been a Sleep Olympics, I would have been on every podium, pitying the competition as I slept standing up through the awards ceremony.

I don't know what's going on with Sleep, but that jerk better step right, and soon, or I'm going to…well, I might have to take a lot more naps, I guess.

Threesome. Hell, yeah.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Give him room, folks. He's got a plan.

Today's column in the TFP is about Ben the Builder. Because sometimes I get home at the end of the day and I can't walk into the living room.

"Do not move my city," Ben warns me as I step into the house. He's standing at the center of a complex of Legos and blocks and blankets held in place with clothespins and…is that a spatula propped up on a tissue box? 

"Well, I will not move your city right now," I sigh. "But eventually we will need the living room for, you know, living."

"I know, but I have all the cars parked under the coffee table. It's a garage."

Obviously it's a garage. What else would the coffee table be? Because it's Life with Ben, chapter eleventythousand.

The dining room -- don't touch it!

The living room -- don't touch it!

The beach -- don't touch it!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Maybe you should drive

Painful parenting truth: We start out knowing everything and telling them what to do; they end up knowing everything and telling us what to do.

It's a process that takes decades, but it begins (apparently) right around the time your older son turns 14 and begins to flex his superior sense of direction. So now that I'm grown really and truly all the way up, I'm learning another hard truth of adulthood:

When in doubt, do what the kid says.

Jack in a fancy car of some kind, practicing for life in the driver's seat (of a Honda CRV).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The dirty truth about my clean house

It has taken me several years to adjust to the idea that I pay someone to clean my house. But over time, I have evolved from vaguely self-conscious about it to unapologetically celebratory.
Every two weeks, I come through the door -- late, tired, hauling my laptop, my backpack, my gym bag -- and my house is clean. And it smells good. And everything is shiny and pretty. It's my absolute favorite day, every single time.
I spent a lot of years cleaning my house. For that matter, I grew up helping(ish) my mom clean our house because people who live in their houses keep them clean, right? Right.
And I hated it. Hated it when I was a kid, hated it as an adult. Because who doesn't hate it?
But I kept doing it, year after year, for all the usual reasons. Someone has to do it. And my husband will kind of do it, but he's terrible at it. And my sons will kind of do it, but they do it wrong. And really, I'm the one who deeply craves all this cleanliness and order, so I guess that means I'm the one who's gotta scrub and dust and scrape and mop and vacuum.
So I did and I did and I did, even after I became the full-time breadwinner for our family. Monday through Friday, I worked. Saturday and Sunday I cleaned.
Then my dad got me a treat. As a brilliant gift, he paid for the most incredible, wonderful woman on the planet to come deep-clean my house. She spent five hours doing her magic, and the clean that happened there that day was a whole new level of expert clean that I don't even have the vocabulary to describe.
And I had a revelation. "In addition to hating cleaning my house, I am terrible at cleaning my house," I told her. "I cannot live without you. Please don't leave me."
She laughed and laughed. She would not tell me the magical secrets of how she got all the things so clean (the tile! I have never gotten tile that clean!), but she was absolutely willing to come back and do it again. And it was amazing how quickly I managed to find the money in our budget for that.
"I'm being smart," I told my husband. "I'm outsourcing work to a contractor who has much deeper expertise in this area. It's ultimately a huge efficiency gain at a moderate cost."
"Cool," he said.
Unexpected bonus: Happier marriage. Because my husband and I never fight any more about cleaning the house. And I never spend my Saturday afternoon cleaning our bathroom and hating him because cleaning bathrooms makes me hate all men.
Now, about the yard...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raising kids like a lying, creepy weirdo

If you are the parent of a kid who's losing teeth, you are either a creepy, gross weirdo who saves those teeth or a soulless monster who heartlessly discards them. You can't win. There's no right answer. My column in today's TFP is all about our Tooth Fairy adventures and my life as a creepy, gross weirdo.

But while I'm at it, I have to mention that the older my kids get, the weirder it feels to lie my face off to them. Santa. Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods.

Why did I ever set this bear trap of deception? The big kid at my house is officially over it, and he rolls his eyes any time any of it comes up. (Well, except Tiger Woods. He may still believe in him a little bit.) But my littler kid is still teetering on the brink of belief/disbelief, and I can't seem to bring myself to shove him over.

"If I grow up and find out Santa isn't real, I'm going to be really mad at you," he warns me.

"Really? You'll be mad at me for wanting to give you a magical childhood full of wonder and joy and piles of awesome free stuff you got for NO REASON?"


"Fine. Be mad at me. You'll be super unique in being mad at your mother and thinking she did a crappy job raising you. No one else ever thinks that."

People, we can't win. Tell the lies, skip the magic, save the teeth, throw them away, make their grilled cheese sandwiches or stand by while they burn their hands on the stove. It's all a trap. That's why god made therapists, you guys. We're here to keep them in business. 

And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If Facebook wants to manipulate my mood, they are welcome to try. Good luck with that.

A lot of people are mad at Facebook because the site did a “psychological experiment” on users. Apparently, Facebook messed around with people’s newsfeeds to see how different types of posts (happy or sad) affected their inclination to post happy or sad stuff.

Then Facebook published the findings in a recent sciencey journal, and people got super mad all over the interwebs. Facebook was messing with their heads! Facebook was messing with their newsfeeds! Facebook is terribly bad and should be terribly ashamed!

Um, OK? Has everyone forgotten that marketing and advertising are things? They are things that bombard us all the time, everywhere we go, and they are designed to make us feel all kinds of feels and want all kinds of wants. They are absolutely messing with our heads at every moment of every day in an attempt to get us to part with our dollars in exchange for whatever it is they’re selling. It’s called capitalism. It’s pretty popular, as a rule, here in ‘Merica.

The only difference between that relentless everyday marketing and Facebook’s little experiment is that we can avoid Facebook. It’s easy. Don’t use it. The rest of that stuff is harder to avoid. Billboards, in particular, are an absolute plague of in-your-face, like-it-or-not, bikini-bodies-blown-up-to-the-size-of-a three-story-building marketing and advertising.

WAX YOUR WHOLE BODY OR YOU’RE NOT PRETTY ENOUGH, suggests the bikinied vixen on the billboard. (Which makes me wonder fleetingly if my grooming rituals are adequate.) My poor, battered psyche! But I don’t see anyone freaking out about that.

I use Facebook. I’m weirdly particular about who I’m friends with (as I am in real life), but I’m out there for some good reasons. For starters, they don’t charge me one thin dime for a service that allows me to communicate instantly with dear friends and family near and far, share my blog with those folks and offers me a fast, convenient platform for creating and distributing the annual invitation to our epic Halloween party.

But of course there’s a price for all that great stuff. And of course that price is privacy and information about me and my life and my friends and family. I get that. In fact, you know what? I like it.

Yes, marketing people, please make me the victim of your nefarious psychological experiments and send me coupons for things I like to buy. Please give me discounts on airfare for places I like to go. Yes, thank you for knowing that I do NOT want to see ads for golf clubs and I DO want to see ads for discount Calvin Klein bras. My fave!

Yes, I know Facebook is looking at my data, and at my friends’ data, and at the ways those data interact. Of course they are studying us and maybe even messing with us and responding accordingly. I mean, duh. Yes, I did notice that AS SOON as I started shopping for my son’s new soccer shoes online, all the ads I started seeing were for kids’ soccer shoes.

I know why that happened. I know they’re watching me. And I got a killer deal on soccer shoes because of it. GOOOAL!

If Facebook wants to mess around with my newsfeed and see if they can make me feel particular kinds of feels, that’s their right, I suppose. Their platform; their rules.

But if you’re that easily manipulated, you’ve probably got bigger problems than Facebook’s interest in your mood, anyway. I mean, I bet you bought a Snuggie, or stuck that weird sticker family or a monogram (why??) to the back of your minivan or clicked on the belly fat cure in those disturbing animated ads that make me feel queasy every time I see them.

Heck, you may have even given in to that billboard and gone for the wax. And no matter what Facebook is doing to your newsfeed, that experience has got to be a serious mood wrecker.