Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blast from the past …

My Facebook is blinking. It's practically pulsating with a red alert that reveals someone has “tagged” me in some old picture they've posted to their wall. My stomach lurches into my chest before I even click on the link that will send me jettisoning who-knows-how-far back in time.

For an instant, I hesitate.

I know as soon as I see it the myth of myself will be shattered.

I can just imagine my expression, caught somewhere between a smile and a sneeze.

My round cheeks still chewing. My racoon-rimmed eyes either bulging or blinking.

The unfortunate perm I got one summer that made me look like Cher's Keebler-Elf cousin.

Inevitably, I will find a replica of my younger self, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of people I'll have trouble remembering by name, wearing a tight smile and an unflattering arrangement of clothes that I won't ever be able to forget.

Even now that I want to.

The lace-up, combat-style boots.

The boy-cut jeans.

Something with shoulder pads or bat wings or shiny buttons. Maybe all three.

The chunky sweater.

And the ever-present shearling coat that I refused to take off despite being indoors.

As if I'd just come in from the cold.

… With my tin cup full of pencils.

And my bottle of rot-gut.

I feel a little sick.

It's a kind of illness that sets upon a person suddenly, like the realization that you know virtually every REO Speedwagon song word-for-word or that you thought Milli Vanilli was “mint.”

I don't know why, exactly, but I always feel as if I'm looking at a stranger when I see myself in old pictures.

Yes, that was me. Dressed in thrift shop clothes that may have belonged to an elderly Wisconsin man, who likely met his maker while scraping ice from his driveway one winter during the previous two decades.

I'm also positive that if I were to dig deep into my dresser or wade to the back of my closet, I could find the entire unfortunate ensemble. Or worse.

Not that I will ever wear that I-Dream-Of-Genie jumpsuit again, I'm just hanging onto it for sentimental reasons.

Of course, the real horror of the trip down memory lane is that my wardrobe decisions haven't evolved.

Ten years from now I'll be clicking on a picture from last week and wondering just want I was thinking ...

The baggy jeans. The formless sweaters. The footwear that begs the question: Was I BLIND or just completely without judgement and taste?

I should be ashamed, and yet I still enjoy telling people how I paid next to nothing for the article they just complimented. … Or, even better, how I fished it from the trash.

“Oh this? Yeah, thanks. It's great isn't it? I found it one morning washed up on the beach. Thought it was a dead seal at first but when I poked it with a stick I realized it was a black hoodie. One swim through the wash, and it was good as new.”

Those, right there, are the words of a crazy person.

Because looking at the pictures, I am forced to realize such compliments are likely the result of polite small talk rather than genuine admiration.

A true blast from the past.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tick or treat?

I used to love ladybugs.

They seemed like bright red dots of happiness punctuating the garden, protecting it from the evil aphid marauders.

That was before the scarlet ladies visited in droves one Christmas. No matter how sweet a thing seems on its own, thousands of the tiny, uninvited, arthropods swarming around our heads as we tried to unwrap Santa's loot could have been the opening scene of a horror flick.

I can't help but think of it wistfully now as if the invasion were a charming cinematic feat of the lowest budget -- visible nylon strings an all -- and I didn't appreciate it while I had the chance.

Had I known the stream of horror shows that would follow – the flea infestation of 2011, the annual summer earwig convention in the master bathroom that is becoming as common as … well … the ants that parade around our kitchen counters come May through August – I would have cherished each moment of our “Ladybug Christmas.”

Perhaps I should just pretend each new seasonal plague is just a gaggle of ladybugs in disguise.

Maybe it's fitting that Halloween is just around the corner. It makes it easier to pretend these prehistoric-looking tortilla chips, which have been crawling through cracks in the sills and sticking to my curtains, are just ladybugs in costume.

But it's hard to suspend disbelief the moment the stink bugs startle at my gall – trying to sweep them back into the great outdoors from the warmth inside – and ooze their stench of putrid cilantro.

“Cilantro?” my husband scoffs.

“That's what they smell like, cilantro.”

See, I have that gene … the one that makes cilantro smell like soap and taste like mashed bugs. Not that I know what bugs taste like. But that's beside the point.

These agricultural pests are relatively harmless to people, but they are tenacious. They stick to textiles as if they were affixed with glue. They are slow moving when they aren't flying, yet they seem to appear out of nowhere.

Evidenced by the blood-curdling screams of my children when they are brushing their teeth and one of these shield-like bugs sneaks up behind them.

“What is that thing?”

It doesn't matter. If it's small, has a segmented body and spindly, jointed legs, I will be expected to drop everything, run to the scene of the disaster and take care of the relocation and remediation.

I've decided it helps to know what I'm dealing with.

Is this a biting thing? A disease-carrying thing? A harmless thing? Is it the kind of thing that will make me want to find new homes for the pets? Is this something I can crush with a shoe? Spray with hairspray? Trap under a glass and put into the basil patch?

What happens if I just throw it – damp bath towel it's clinging to and all – into the washing machine?

Will it come back to haunt me?

Probably walk right up the porch steps one night at ring the bell.

After all, how many trick-or-treaters have shown up at our door wearing red wings, black spots and antennae?

I figure it's only a matter of time before kids start dressing up as stink bugs.

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Identity crisis

The question left me momentarily speechless.

My shoes were off, my clothes were folded neatly on a chair and the woman reading off the bullet points on my chart had seen a big old blank next to “occupation.”

So she filled it in, I can only assume, by tearing a page out of the script for “Mad Men.”

“Sooooo …. You're a housewife?”

Housewife? Did she say HOUSEWIFE?

Honestly? She could have told me I'd sprouted a second head that required immediate amputation, and I'd have been less shocked.

The dictionary describes “housewife” in its first definition as a married woman who stays at home, does cleaning, cooking, childrearing, gardening, sewing, manages household accounts and generally refrains from paid employment outside the domicile.

That's not me.

OK … well it kind of is, since I do most of those things (excepting that last one).

In its second definition, the dictionary explains a “housewife” as a needle case or small sewing kit. Basically a thing you send your sailor off to sea with so he can mend his own darn socks.

Ugh! Another moment in life when a person's identity doesn't fit neatly in a four-inch gap in an application form.

So there I was, blood pressure cuff on, waiting to explode.

“You know … my husband puts “self employed” on his questionnaires and no one ever asks him if he's a househusband.”

Of course that term – Househusband – only came into being in the 1970s as a putdown describing a married, graduate student whose wife's skills and salary exceeded his own.

I know this is my own battle.

This isn't about a word use. It's about identity crisis.

My jobs are old-school in a new economy. They are part-time and flexible. They fit around the kids and dog and the personal needs of other people. They no longer supersede them.

I am a mom. A wife. A writer. An editor. A photographer. And I do all the same things at home now that I did and home when I worked in an office for someone else: I sweep floors, do laundry, accompany children to doctors' appointments and occasionally cook inedible meals.

And, it's true, I have picked up some new jobs out of necessity. For instance, I mow the front lawn and take out the trash. Duties that, I'm told, in a traditional household would be performed by the “breadwinner.”

Who's got time to wait?

She apologized for treading on my landmine.

I accepted her apology, but I didn't feel better.

It wasn't her fault. Salt in a wound ...

Thing is … I did feel a little better when my kids got out of school later in the day and gave me my just desserts as I met the bus.

Of course, my son pestered me for the 57th time to sign him up for the after-school program his sister attended when I worked full time. And as icing on the cake, my daughter asked if I liked being a “stay-at-home-mom.”

And then it occurs to me what's really bothered me.

“You know … I don't stay here when you're at school right?”

They were stunned …

They had the same vacant stare that glazes their faces when they see their teachers at the grocery store.

“What? You're not home!!!!”

I'm not a stay-at-home-mom, I'm a work-from-home freelance journalist who gets in twitter fights and burns water but who is reachable by cell phone.

What? It's a thing.

Go ahead, look it up.