Sunday, March 8, 2015

The folks from back home

When she settled us in Chattanooga 26 years ago, my mother told me we're related to pretty much everyone in East Tennessee one way or another. For a long time, that information did not interest me at all. I suppose it's yet another sign of my official arrival in the land of middle age that I suddenly give a pretty significant damn about all these family connections.

Today's TFP column is about a weekend I spent with a bunch of people I'm related to and the people they're related to and well, you get the idea.

Lord, y'all, I'm turning into my mother. But hey, I could do a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Yeah, who else is loving the snowstorm-that-wasn't-but-was-instead-cold-rain-and-ice-and-my-kids-are-STILL-out-of-school? It's fun, right?

Just to make things funner, I took this week off work to indulge in a whole lot of nothing to celebrate my husband's birthday (Thursday) and my birthday (Friday) and decompress a little because, you guys, I could use to decompress a little.

Instead, I am home with Ben (10) and Jack (14) and their dad (58 on Thursday!) and I love them, yes I really really do, but gah, you guys, this was supposed to be the week of running and shopping and reading and writing and getting my hair did and going to yoga and running and shopping. Instead it is the week of trying to keep my kids from killing each other (Shut up, fart brain!) and then listening to them complain when I separate them (I want to play with Jack!) and then rinse and repeat repeat repeeeeeeeeeaaaat.

That's OK. It really is. Because I have the playroom. Last weekend, I published a column in the TFP about the playroom. I forgot to share it here then, but I am doing it today with a renewed sense of gratitude for that ratty, filthy, chaotic den of boy noise.

The playroom is serious, you guys.

Halloween in the playroom. Some of these children are mine. Most of
them are not. As long as they stay upstairs, I like them all just fine.

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...