What I Did This Summer: Spousal Unit Turned Sixty

IMG_3306My “Country Diary” tells me that today is the Autumnal Equinox. What my “Country Diary” does not tell me is that it’s still hot as Satan’s anus and that the Autumnal Equinox only means it’s time to break out the light therapy lamp before seasonal depression makes me a grumpier old fart than the Trump presidency already does.

I miss the demarcation of seasons. I miss summer lasting until Labor Day and after that particular holiday filled with hot dogs, homemade ice cream and my dad kvetching that he’s a-laborer-and-still-has-to-work-every-Labor-Day-and-why-did-bankers-get-to-have-the-day-off-that-celebrated-him, we packed our satchels with a new 64-pack of Crayolas and fresh notebooks, wore new Stride Rite shoes and traipsed our fannies to school.

After Labor Day. When there was just a hint of the autumn-to-come and the sweaters that came with our new school clothes outfits would be days away from necessity. But I’ve moved farther south, climate change is real and now school starts in the middle of the freaking summer.

Despite the muddiness of seasonal change, I am compelled to mark the end of one season and beginning of another by recalling one heckuva summer in the life of Familia de la Caldwell. Spousal Unit turned sixty; my brilliant, gorgeous niece graduated from high school; I got new knees; Man Child bought a house; Art School Student traveled; a really awesome friend passed away; there was a 40th class reunion; and this old married couple celebrated thirty years.

Spousal Unit Turned Sixty

Spousal Unit is one of those guys who has improved with age and it really pisses me off. For years, I’ve let him know that I would NOT have paid attention to him in high school. I was “that” girl and he was a nerd, lurking around the physics lab, partaking of various substances, with long stringy hair and a goofy grin. Karma really is a bitch because she mean-girled me right into overweight, splotchy-skinned, saggy-boobed middle age while HE got gray in all the right places, kept his chin line, much of his waistline and became “distinguished.” He still walks with a spring in his step, for the love of Pete.

These small victories of his needed to be celebrated, so I queried, “Do you want a party for your birthday? You’re gonna be sixty.” As if he weren’t aware.

“Nah,” he modestly replied. “I don’t need anything big.”

I scoffed. This man needs a crash cart, five-star catering and organ donators on stand-by when he gets a cold. Hell, he wants a party when he comes home from work each day. I didn’t believe he didn’t “need anything big” for one single solitary second.

“Okay, then, how about we take some time off and do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?” He brightened. The man do love him some bourbon. Then he seemed to take a moment to ponder. He loves bourbon when the bourbon comes to him. It seems more like work when he has to go to the bourbon.

Weeks passed and I finally gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse, “Do you want a *mother-friggin birthday party or NOT!?!”

Of course, a party isn’t a party without a theme, and because I was inspired by his advancing age, we would celebrate his turning “One year closer to Jesus” with an old fashioned dinner-on-the-lawn church potluck. The invitations included a picture of him as an Episcopalian acolyte. We ordered church fans with the acolyte pic on them. We provided church keys (bottle openers) as party favors.

Everything would be outside. Other people would cook. This was perfect.

Until it wasn’t. The forecast called for rain. LOTS of rain. Of course it was going to rain. It always rains the weekend of his birthday, which coincides with Mother’s Day and Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase. The only thing better than 25,000 people in sundresses and seersucker suits traipsing in mud is 25,000 drunk people in sundresses and seersucker suits traipsing in mud.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked Spousal Unit in a panic. It was four days before the party.

He looked at me with that look, the one that said, “You’re the one who insisted on a *mother-friggin’ birthday party for me” and announced, “It’ll be fine.”

Maybe the reason he is aging so well is because he says, “It’ll be fine” while I run around with elevated blood pressure making things be fine. It’s not like I hold grudges or anything, but there was that time he forgot to pack the train set – read that THE. TRAIN. SET. – when we traveled to West Virginia for Christmas. Granted, his dad was quite ill, hospitalized in fact – and we had left Nashville in a rush. However, I was getting over the flu and Santa’s numero uno gift for the five-year-old was en absentia. While Spousal Unit was at the hospital visiting his dad, I was in a flu-induced stupor driving all over the tri-state area trying to find THE. TRAIN. SET. Found it in Ohio. At Sam’s. His dad recuperated. It was fine.

This would not be fine, however. There was supposed to be gingham oil cloths on picnic tables, blankets spread on the grass, sounds of bluegrass wafting across the lawn, swea’tea in mason jars and hooch in **Bessie’s boot. ***Daisy would provide the backdrop for a fire pit, glider and swing area while Jello salads and fried chicken perched on the buffet table.

Most importantly, I was only going to clean the downstairs bathroom.

Three days before the party, I ordered a 15’ x 20’ tent to cover the patio between the utility room and the carport. Two days before the party, I cleaned the utility room, kitchen, breakfast room and den. One day before the party, we cleaned the rest of the downstairs and welcomed Spousal Unit’s sister and her granddaughter to help with the celebration. Sis-In-Law has the hostessing gene from their mother and kicked into gear immediately upon arrival.

The day of the party, we thanked eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus for Amazon and free delivery and erected the party tent in between downpours. We threw the keg in the trunk of the Packard that was backed into the carport, rearranged a few things in the house, threw gingham tablecloths on the breakfast table and put on our Sunday best.

Unbeknownst to Spousal Unit, the Art School Student finished final exams early and flew home, surprising Dad minutes before the party started. Birthday boy was verklempt. Guests trickled, then flooded in. Covered dishes landed on tables. Everybody obviously understood the gist of the party. One of Man Child’s friends bought a suit at a thrift store and I swear, he coulda been one of our preachers straight out of the 70s, ready to eat some fried chicken. One of my besties sported a rose-covered pillbox hat on her head and delicately pulled white gloves from her fingers before eating. Another good friend brought the calorie-filled chocolate pie that sat at EVERY dessert table EVER at a church potluck. Yet another brought the quintessential potluck dish: macaroni and cheese. There was a full crockpot, a tray of asparagus and a full-blown church supper-worthy tuna casserole.

Guests ranged from old neighbors from our DINK days to brand spanking new friends met on Facebook. There were schoolmates of the offspring and their parents, with whom we’d grown fond in the battlefield of raising kids and there were college buddies of Spousal Unit. Members of his kitchen-pickin’ band, “Old Dog, New Tricks” ate, drank and moved the living room furniture so they could do what they love: make music.

The rain stopped. The beer poured. My main squeeze turned 60 in the style to which he’d grown accustomed – surrounded by fun people who love him and want to celebrate him. Even the dog participated by grabbing a fleece blanket from one end of the house, dragging it to the other, fluffing it and plopping down upon it as if to say, “Well, it’s past my bedtime and if you people aren’t leaving, then Ima nap right here in the middle of things.”

I grinned like a fool throughout the entire party. The College Kid was home for the summer; Man Child and his gf were living with us; Spousal Unit had the celebration he deserved with people who know that he’s a pretty awesome dude; his sister and great-niece were with us; our house and hearts were full.

The summer of 2019 was off to a great start.

 

 

 

 

  • *My mom reads this blog
  • ** The ’49 Packard
  • *** The ’59 Canned Ham Camper
  • ****A burgundy dish towel and a serving spoon remain if you want to claim it.

Empty Nest Vacay: Soul Sistah

IMG_0288The trip thus far had been uneventful. We met Man Child and GF at their house; they took us to the airport; GF and I slobbered over Antoni Porowski’s cookbook during the drive; we checked in; I told security that I have new knees which caused zero problem, but Spousal Unit had a pocket knife with his mandolin-tuning equipment, so he got the stink eye from security and will need to buy a new pocket knife; we people watched in the airport; we rode in the big scary tube with fragile metal wings; we landed in Charleston, SC; we claimed our luggage and headed to the car rental counter.

And that was when time and space and reality and nightmare and a parallel universe merged into our Thrifty Car Rental Experience.

There WAS no car rental counter for Thrifty. I’d never used Thrifty, before, but I had a discount code through one of College Kid’s many horse associations. I was proud of having saved money. I would gladly give that money and a body part to get those two hours back from my life.

We stood, blocking ingress and egress from the airport, the automatic doors opening and closing each time we raised a palm to a forehead in confusion searching for the Thrifty counter.

“I’ll ask the cop,” proclaimed my knight in shining armor. I bit my lip, not retorting that he was probably on a watch list since he stupidly packed a stupid freaking pocketknife in his carry on. Cheeze Whiz. We have a horse named Isis, for Pete’s sakes. We have to watch ourselves in these situations. Don’t make jokes about shoe bombs and don’t bring weapons through security.

My lip bled; I repeated my trip mantra. Celebrating 30 years. Celebrating 30 years. Dear God I have Stockholm Syndrome. Celebrating 30 years.

He returned, unscathed and victoriously proclaiming that we had to go to where the Thrifty/Dollar shuttle would pick us up. “Oh. You mean, where I said we probably needed to go?” A girl can bite her lip only so much.

We trudged across three lanes of stop and go traffic to a concrete island in the middle of the confusion. We asked a woman in uniform. “The first shed,” she answered. We trudged down three sheds and saw that the first shed was for public transit into Charleston. The second shed was for smokers. We stood between it and the next shed. Ten minutes later a bus pulled up to a shed, two sheds up. Where we were when we asked the woman in uniform.

Dragging our luggage like they were housecats on leashes, we ran Quasimodo-style to the shuttle and threw ourselves on the bus driver, a striking and efficient woman who tossed our overweight suitcases into the back of the mini bus like she was playing a game of hot potato.

I hefted my ample self aboard the bus, claiming “new knees” to the lone passenger who watched me grunt. We became friends. By the time the Thrifty ordeal was over, we were naming our unborn grandchildren after one another.

When one is in a line with an interesting new friend, learning about her daughter’s medical challenges that brought her to Charleston to pack up her daughter and bring her home for the semester, one doesn’t comprehend the entirety of the movement of the sun, the changing of the shadows, the slow degeneration of other people’s posture as the line remains stagnant. Until one’s stomach begins its slow roiling complaint that eight grapes does not a breakfast make and one’s new knees whisper ever so slightly, “Like, we’re game for two hours in IKEA for the college kid and all, but this is asking a lot of us,” one does not consciously acknowledge that the hopes of an early lunch has joined the realm of becoming a dancer on Broadway and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Our friend was up to the counter when the clerk said, “After I take care of this person,” and he turned to a woman who had come in from the side and somehow earned a position in the front of the line. Ten minutes later, he had completed his task with her and told our friend. “This line is closed. You need to go over there.” To the Dollar counter. The “other” discount car rental.

Whuh?

Our new friend, from New Jersey, showed MUCH more southern gentility than I was at that moment, but after I sputtered a couple of times, I decided to follow her lead. After all, she had a child with a super unfun medical condition who she was pulling out of college in a 24-hour turnaround and if she could have a good attitude about it, then I could also.

We had lost our line status, so we continued to wait. And talk. Then Spousal Unit said, “This is SO much like that DMV scene in Zootopia.” I snorted and then gasped as the lone woman behind the counter left.

Gone.

We and seven of our closest friends turned around and looked at each other. “Where are the cameras?” I asked. “We are being Punkt.”

Eventually, our bus driver – she of super human strength – came into the building, assessed the situation like a secret service agent, got behind the counter, made a phone call, looked up at the unwashed, hangry masses and declared, “Next.”

Six minutes later we were in a Kia Soul that reeked of urinal cake air freshener weakly attempting to dilute the overpowering and unmistakably pungent smell of the Devil’s Lettuce. AKA Mary Jane. AKA weed. AKA I know where the disappearing Thrifty personnel spend their lunch breaks.

After an hour and a half of mind-numbing, patience-testing, social anxiety-inducing adventure, we found ourselves driving a Bonnaroo Porta Potty. Next time I’ll spend the extra eighty bucks and go with Enterprise. They pick you up.

 

Moving Day

IMG_1279

We’re moving the horses today. We don’t want to. We’ve considered sabotaging the current barn’s owners’ attempt to sell their magnificent farm. We’ve considered threatening the ire of our irritable mares in their general direction. We’ve considered voodoo. We’ve considered bribery. Blackmail. Extortion. Lying prostrate on their driveway in supplication. Chaining ourselves and our horses to their trees.

You see, this has been the best place our mare Isis has ever been. Some day, I’ll tell her whole story, but since the WHOLE story burns bridges, right now I’ll only tell the last ten months.

Ten months ago, our gorgeous, magnificent, German warmblood mare was broken. “She’s dangerous,” some people said. “She needs to be put down,” said others.

Then a couple of people said the right things that led to the right test that discovered she had an ovarian tumor. As the tumor was being removed, they had to cut a bigger hole into her side. It was that big. It was the size of a football.

“No wonder she behaved like that,” said the vet.

I set aside my frustration that Isis had been trying to tell us what was wrong for years and people much more knowledgeable than I had chosen not to listen. My job now was to find her a safe place to heal, to recover from surgery and trauma. I needed the perfect boarding facility.

Nobody wanted her. They’d heard the rumors. Word travels faster in the Middle Tennessee horse world than it does on the boulevards of Belle Meade. One voice spoke up.

“I’ll take her.”

One woman, a newish friend with whom I had crossed paths when our daughters used the same trainers and often “liked” the same Facebook posts answered my plea for help where others left only the sound of crickets.

“Oh. No. Laticia. You don’t want her.” Although knowledgeable, she was just like me. A horse mom. Who happened to own a ranch. But not a trainer. Not a “professional” horsewoman.

“We’ve got this.” My first lesson of Nobody Says No to Laticia.

“But.”

“Bring her. We’ll help her heal”

Bring her, we did.

And help her heal, they did.

They healed her body. Researching the right food that would bring the nutrients she needed during stall rest and as she started moving again. Getting their trainer to work with her, slowly, walking her, teaching her how to be gentle again, how to move without pain. They tended her wound, a slice down her side, covered in stitches. So many stitches.

They healed her soul. The trainer and Laticia’s gentle son-in-law, calming her, showing her that she could trust people again. Step by step teaching her that the old behavior wasn’t needed any more. She wasn’t in pain now. Her hormones weren’t raging.

They healed her owners. Like Isis, we learned to trust again. We learned to breathe. We learned that not every call from a barn manager or trainer is a tirade. We learned to trust our own instincts again. We learned that we had been right about this horse all along and wrong to listen to bad advice about her.

We learned to forgive ourselves for that.

I used to joke in our “barn family” group texts that there should be a viral hashtag, #TraceHavenHeals. During our nine months there, I saw many broken horses and humans healed at Trace Haven Ranch. Sadly, sometimes healing is gently guiding the passage of life into the next realm and providing a beautiful place for the beast to be laid to rest. Sometimes healing is as simple as our pony Callie coming back from yet another tumultuous trip to East Tennessee, moving into a pasture with Isis, and our two mares becoming besties.

Watching these horses’ friendship grow through the eyes and lens of Laticia has tickled my fancy, soothed my soul and given me hope as the world literally burns. When I see news of Amazon forests, hate crimes, broken national alliances and human suffering, my heart sinks into a depth of despair from which I often don’t know how to climb.

Serendipitously, as if she knows it’s a particularly bad time, Laticia will send a picture of Callie and Isis having their breakfast just yards from Laticia’s own breakfast window. I imagine the muffled crunching, the smell of their feed, and the flick of an ear. Their contentment of simply munching on brekkie in the dew of the morning becomes my contentment. Nothing is more complicated than swishing the occasional fly with a tail.

I shall miss these pictures and Laticia’s missives. The besties are going to move down the road today, to semi-retirement where the grass is plentiful and the accouterment bare. They’re going to live with the trainers who worked with Isis during her recovery, so healing will continue.

I suppose my healing will continue as well, as I continue to learn how to let go. Accept change. Move on. I’m bad at it and here I am facing more than one change right now. Laticia is selling her farm, the college kid is pretty much done with riding and we return said college kid to Chicago for the third year of art school this weekend.

I shall endeavor to quit clinging and let them all go, the sounds and smells of a college kid home for the summer, the healing and friendship of Trace Haven Ranch, and the anxiety-filled joy of watching my child soar over jumps astride a powerful animal whose will to live was mistaken for anger.

Two things I will never let go of are these mares. Callie and Isis are guaranteed good lives until their lives are over. One doesn’t cast aside animals that changed your child’s life. And one doesn’t let go of something that helped you heal in places you didn’t realize were broken.

 

 

The C Word

IMG_0044Man Child has moved back home after graduating “university,” and along with him, come a 1949 Packard, a dozen old bicycles waiting to be refurbished, four years of collegiate dirty laundry, a collection of depression era glass, an engine lift, the piquant odor of 70-year-old gasoline and grease, a hearty appetite, a 1940 Packard engine (that is NOT part of the 1949 Packard) and did I mention dirty laundry?

He also brought his energy. I could use summa that energy because mine seems to be taking an extended sabbatical. However, Man Child’s energy whips into a room, makes everybody laugh until either their sides ache, or their pants are wet and then whirls back out from whence it came, leaving the room feeling emptier than it was before he entered. Emptier and somehow trashed.

Spousal Unit and I remain amazed at his ability to leave a trail of destruction. It’s as if the items that were on tables see him coming and just go ahead and jump onto the floor, knowing it is their fate anyway. Maybe I read too many Grimm fairy tales to him as a child and he feels as if he must leave a trail of breadcrumbs wherever he goes. In his world, breadcrumbs become bolts, oil-soaked rags, screwdrivers, 3D printed phallic symbols and half-filled Tervis Tumblers.

Shortly after he moved back, he visited Daisy, who sat forlornly alone, waiting to be finished. I was really, REALLY close to getting her done, painting her counter tops eight million coats of shiny black because $400 for a sheet of retro Formica is more than I paid for the actual camper. I was kinda showing off to Man Child that I was finishing her by myself. She would be complete by spring.

He stepped inside and admired his handywork from four years ago and we reminisced about the time she caught on fire and when his dad needed six stitches from working on her. Then he reached across the counter top of many coats and pushed on her wall. It was soft. He pushed his entire hand through her plywood and pulled out the soft rotted pulp of a water-damaged 2 x 4 and fistful of pink insulation like an Aztec warrior pulling out the still-beating heart of his defeated foe.

I was the witness on a crowded street who says nothing, but watches the carnage with sick fascination. He continued to pull out rot and insulation. I gasped open-mouth like a fish on dry land. Daisy! Oh! God! Daisy! She hadn’t even been given anesthesia.

He mashed his fingers against the 2 x 4 until the wood quit giving way and he removed the plywood and the insulation to the spots where they were dry and solid. I found my voice. “So, you’re going until you find clear margins?” I squeaked, remembering the terminology from a friend’s lumpectomy.

“Yep.” He proclaimed. “Daisy’s got The Cancer.”

His bedside manner could stand some improvement. “What’s it going to take to make her well again?” I whispered, thinking maybe I should get her on our church’s prayer list. “Is it terminal?”

“Well, we need to find the cause of it. I think I’m going to have to take the metal off like we did the other side. I’m not sure where the leak started, but water is getting in here and….” He kept pushing in wood and pulling out guts.

I looked at the pile of gizzards on my shiny black counter top with four coats of shiny black paint and swallowed hard. “Well, I guess Daisy has always been about the journey and not the destination, eh?” I tried to quip gamely; it came out bitter, empty, like Kellyanne Conway faking that she enjoys her job.

Man Child dusted off his hands like Pontius Pilot, and I knew deep in my heart that this was going to be my problem. His work here was done. He’d made the diagnosis. He and his Tasmanian Devil energy hopped down from Daisy and flower pots on her little porch just went ahead and fell to the ground, succumbing to their inevitable fate.

Three months have passed and Daisy’s open wound remains sore and inflamed. It’s a beautiful spring day, the kind of day I want to be able to nestle within Daisy’s pretty pink walls and write. When I stepped into her today, knowing that writing next to her gaping puss-filled, cavernous void would be impossible, a beam of light filtered down from her ceiling vent and I became enlightened. I know how I can cure Daisy’s The Cancer.

Four years of dirty laundry will fill that hole nicely don’t you think?

Not By The…

TweezersI’m curled on the sofa, next to my beloved, scratching him behind the ears as he, Spousal Unit and I binge watch “Better Call Saul.” I absent-mindedly rub my chin and a piercing pain shoots through my finger. I bolt up and run for the bathroom.

I’m brushing my teeth, scowling into the mirror at the oversized woman with the bags under her eyes and compact fluorescent light catches an unmistakable glimmer. I drop my toothbrush, foaming from the mouth like Old Yeller and blindly reach for the weapon I know is close at hand.

I feel an ache, a pain that is familiar, particularly from my youth. I rub the underside of my thumb across it and my thumb crests the mound that holds a pimple. I grumble that pimples and wrinkles should not be on the same human at the same time. I tilt my head in front of a mirror to address the issue in the time-honored fashion my foremothers addressed theirs, push my two pointer fingers together and squeeze. Puss ejects, but something remains beneath the skin. Curled.

I curse and growl.

A pox upon you, chin hair!

Bette Davis might have believed that “Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” but the dame had people. Makeup artists. Managers. Sycophants. I don’t have people. There is nobody who will tell me that I’m growing a silver dagger out of my chin, or simply pluck the offender out whilst applying my war paint for Act 3; Scene 1. I have to be my own guardian of the galaxy for the silver constellation that rises from my skin faster than 45 can rage tweet before 6 a.m.

I don’t remember when the first chin hair erupted from my unblemished face, but for years, I’ve had one soft, curled lock twist away from my neck. When my children were young, I was lunching with them, my neighbor friend and her kids, al fresco on a sunny spring afternoon. We were yabbering away, restraining preschoolers from creating mayhem and solving ALL the world problems, when she furrowed her eyebrows and leaned toward me. She squinted, reach out her hand toward me and spellbound, I sat, unmoving. Unblinking. Her outreached fingers rubbed against my neck and suddenly, a sharp pain jolted through my throat and down my chest.

She victoriously pulled back, clutching something between her thumb and forefinger. “It was shining in the sun,” she proclaimed, proffering a blonde hair toward me like an offering. My eyes watered with pain and I felt like my voice box had been pulled through my skin like the still-beating heart of a Mayan sacrifice. She took my tearful speechlessness for gratitude.

Many years later, Man Child (Boy Child at the time, of course) was suffering the slings and arrows of puberty. His voice squeaked. He was as clumsy and leggy as a newborn deer and hair began sprouting in places he’d never had hair before. I told his dad he needed to explain about the hair thing and I’d deal with the rest. I had books. Spousal Unit handled it as he does most of my requests, by tilting his head, furrowing his eyebrows and walking off in a state of confusion. As a result, one of my favorite memories of that time is standing side by side with my pubescent son as we plucked the hair from our chin.

In my younger, fantasy-laden days, I had believed that by this point of my life, I would be either living on a horse farm in the rolling hills of Kentucky, or on a horse farm beneath the moss-covered oaks of the low country. I would stride about in jodhpurs and riding boots, the halls of my estate lined with framed covers of my best-selling novels and posters from the movies made from those best-selling novels.

I would wear my natural-blonde-only-tinged-with-gray hair in a loose bun at the nape of my neck and my wrinkles would be perfectly placed smile lines at the corners of my eyes. Makeup would only require some mascara for my thick blonde eyelashes and a dab of rose-colored Estee-Lauder lipstick on my smooth and unlined mouth.

I would begin each day with a sun salutation in my light-filled atrium followed by peaceful moments of meditative prayer, focusing on my breath and words – or a mantra — that bring me peace.

Instead, I am sitting in a supremely messy, (albeit pretty cool) house, clad in a literal muumuu (thank you Vermont Country Store), with a horse at somebody else’s awesome farm, (because dear God, do you have any idea how much WORK is involved in that?) dreading the detailing job that will be me getting ready for church.

I began this particular day by rolling over in bed, scratching my chin and slicing my finger on the katana springing from it. I waddled to the bathroom and grabbed the tweezers, my mantra as I breathe deeply in anticipation of the pain, “You m%$#@)*ing a$$*%e!”

 

Embracing the Buttmunch

IMG_9325Baby it’s cold outside and instead of some smooth-voiced crooner tempting me to stay the night by plying me with alcohol, I’m staring into my light therapy lamp while I pay bills and catch up on correspondence.

Why is my correspondence behind? Well, I’m glad you asked. My computer is ticked at me because I’ve allowed it to become more cluttered than a hoarder’s attic and I may have hit a button that made Outlook flip me the bird and wander off to somebody else’s laptop. I’m not entirely certain how computers work, but I do believe they’re spiteful and the programs within hold grudges worse than one of my cousins.

Because I’m passive aggressive and haven’t been to therapy in a while, I’m not dealing with this issue directly and am doing what most southern mamas do. Giving the troublemaker the cold shoulder and paying attention to the other kid.

It usually works, but as per usual, there’s a price to pay. For instance, Man Child has decided that he’s going to spend Christmas with his gf in Arkansas. I’m pretending to be okay with it, but I’m also planning to snub him ever so slightly. I will give his sister ALL the gifts. Girl Child will get tickets to the Fleetwood Mac concert, a flight to Phoenix to see bf, a sewing machine for fashion classes. And albums. So many albums. Man Child might get some new jeans. I plan to talk about ALL the food my mother will cook and rave about ALL the West Virginia adventures we will have. There will be satisfaction in making him feel left out. The price is that I will miss him with an ache the size of a strip mine.

With equal fervor, I recently decided to ignore Outlook and its bad attitude toward my emails. I recognize that ten thousand unread emails might be a lot, but for heavens’ sakes, being pissy and running that little arrow circle loop thing instead of opening up my email is just immature. I treated Outlook like I’m about to treat my firstborn, ignored it and ran my email through the provider’s website, Xfinity.

Because I had missed email correspondence for a couple of weeks, I had a lot of catching up to do, so one morning, I was huffing and puffing and blowing the little house of things-to-do down when I got a text from Spousal Unit.

“You do realize your emails say they’re from Buttmunches Caldwell, right?”

Um. No. No I don’t. My face got that flushed feeling one gets when one has sent a text fussing about a person to the person about whom one is fussing instead of the person with whom one wants to share the fussing. I quickly looked at who had received my morning emails.

Spousal Unit, of course. The horse vet. The neighborhood group email. Oh Lord. The neighborhood group email. A couple of those folk have been trying to figure out how to get me, my liberal bumper stickers and my little camper too sent to the Redneck Riviera for years. I continue to prove them right that I really don’t belong in that tony neighborhood, whether it’s Man Child’s loud motorized bicycle on the street, or my multi-cultural welcome sign in the front yard.

And now, Buttmunches Caldwell has sent the group an email. I might as well have planted marigolds in inside-out Goodyear tires and placed them next to the mailbox. I should set the washer and dryer on the front porch, if only I had a front porch.

I look at the Xfinity website. Sure enough. Right there in the top right hand corner where my name should be is “Buttmunches Caldwell.” Man Child has struck again. He set the account up for me. I knew that it said Buttmunches on it, but I didn’t know that emails sent from the provider would also say Buttmunches.

The kid is almost 24-years-old and a gnat’s ass away from a degree in Aerospace whatchamajigger, but he’s still twelve. When we asked him to help pressure wash a few things a couple of years ago, including Daisy, he wrote “butts” on our driveway with the pressure washer. Guests walk past it, read “butts,” tilt their heads and walk on. We leave it be because, I dunno. Isn’t that how Banksy got started?

I’ll probably leave Buttmunches on the Xfinity account as well. I will pretend it’s because I admire my son’s creativity and sneakiness. The truth is, I don’t know how to change it and because I’m giving him the cold shoulder over his not being with us over Christmas, it’s awkward to ask for a favor. Instead, I shall embrace my email nomenclature as I have embraced so many things that have come with parenting. Saggy boobs. C-section scars. Horses and their expenses. High blood pressure. I’m good with it all.

Just call me Buttmunches.

Mansplainin’

Version 2As if the world isn’t confusing enough, now there is gender neutrality. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that many folk have spent a lifetime feeling as if they were born into the wrong body or that they look in the mirror and see neither male, nor female. I don’t judge. After all, I had no issue with Caitlyn Jenner until I learned that she never paid the price for a DUI hit and run that he committed and that she is a Trump supporter. Really Caitlyn? You do know his stand on people like you, right?

And, well, okay, I have a HUGE issue with the non-gender-specific pronoun “they.” I have spent my life correcting bad grammar and fighting the uphill fight that is correct subject/verb usage. Not only do I wage this war against others, but also within myself. I was in college before I learned that “theirselves” wasn’t a word.

Still, with a daughter in a Chicago art school, it is my duty to stay hip to the kids these days and allow gender fluidity into my heart and into my sentence structure. Sometimes I wish that I could allow gender fluidity into my marriage. Why does Spousal Unit have to be such a MAN?

I just walked the back forty with the dog to oversee the destruction that was Spousal Unit’s version of weeding a couple of weeks ago. Dead piles of honeysuckle lay along the fence line. Did he think after he butchered all of the plants that the dead stuff would just disappear into the ground Harry Potter style? The ugly-assed chain-link fence leers at me like a drunk unable to stand straight. Honeysuckle used to hide the drunk uncle as well as its equally ugly-assed wife, the neighbors’ old wood fence. Now they stand, expecting a kiss and a hug from their long-lost niece.

I thought Spousal Unit and I had communicated. Apparently we didn’t. Sometimes I have imaginary marriage counselor meetings in my head. They go as such.

Me to MC: He asked how he could help in the yard. I told him the weeds in the side yard were out of control.

MC: So, did you ask him for what you need?

Me: Well, yeah. I asked him to weed the side yard.

MC: Did you ask that specifically?

Me: I’m not sure I used those exact words, but surely he knew what I meant.

Spousal Unit: You said the side was out of control. I hate honeysuckle.

Me: But we NEVER pay attention to that side of the back yard. I was talking about the chest-high weeds that are visible from satellite view alongside our driveway that EVERYBODY sees. In the FRONT yard.

MC: So appearances are important to you? Talk to me about your inability to set boundaries and your inability to ask for what you need.

Spousal Unit and Marriage Counselor look at me expectantly. Even in my imagination these things go south.

In a world where a word such as mansplaining exists, tell me why oh why oh why do we have to explain so much to a man. My mind can’t begin to jump to the conclusions his does. I can’t foresee that my mentioning that the weeds on the side yard (which is the term we have ALWAYS used for the patch alongside the driveway) house saber-tooth tigers will trigger his hatred of honeysuckle.

As I do in any situation that is unfathomable to me, I call my mother. Although she’s somewhat sympathetic, she can’t send much pity my way because she needs it all for herself. After all, she’s been married to my dad for more than sixty years.

My mother likes for things to be beautiful, aesthetically pleasing. It’s where Girl Child gets her artistic bent. She also likes for things to be clean. I’m assuming that gene is waiting for generations yet to be born. My mother still spring-cleans, bless her heart.

Several years ago, when my paternal grandfather was still alive, my mother had spent an entire week spring-cleaning the family room. In Nanna vernacular, spring-cleaning means washing curtains, dark-paneled walls, woodwork, light fixtures and knickknacks. Not dusting them, but washing them, carrying each knickknack, each piece of Blenko glass or collectable stein upstairs to the kitchen to a pan of warm ammonia water and washing it.

In recollecting the incident, she disassociated and continued her recitation of what entailed spring-cleaning in a monotone voice. “I clean the windows inside and out, even if it is fifteen degrees outside. Vacuum. I vacuum all the dust out of the upholstery. Vacuum the lampshades. There had to be hundreds of encyclopedias and books.” She grew quiet, but I remember what happened.

Shortly after this particularly energetic spring-cleaning, my dad and his dad decided that a long-awaited home improvement project was in order. He would install lovely French doors, replacing dated and unwieldy 1970s sliding doors that led from the family room to the patio.

They brought in lumber. They measured twice and cut once. They framed the doorway and installed the lovely French doors. A fine layer of sawdust settled upon everything. “Everything on the shelves in the family room turned a sudden whitish grey,” my mother recalls, speaking in the detached way a crime victim repeats his or her story.

That tragic day is etched into my memory banks forever. My mother cried. Literally. Real tears. Anguished tears. My dad and his dad were incensed. After all, didn’t she WANT those lovely French doors? What an ungrateful shrew to wail and gnash her teeth after they worked so hard to install something she’d wanted for so long.

She remembers another day when she arrived home from work to see her beautiful silver maple, her favorite sight from her kitchen window cut to less than half its previous height and roughly shaped like a truffela tree. She had made the mistake of mentioning that the tree needed trimmed. My dad and his dad had saved money by doing it themselves. They were proud. She was devastated. She asked my dad if they’d sat on lawn chairs and just sawed from where they were sitting.

It’s not just lawn care and home improvement projects where women risk great loss if they aren’t precise with their requests. When we were in the trenches of child-rearing, where I was fairly certain that the two beings who had sprung from my body were hell bent on destroying me, that they received their sustenance from eating my brain and sucking out my soul. Occasionally, I would realize my limitations and raise the white flag of surrender.

“Can you bring home dinner?” I would plead to the father of these beasts, believing that Taco Bell was the least he could do. “I don’t think cooking is gonna happen today.”

“Sure,” he would answer good-naturedly and I’d wonder if three o’clock was too early for wine.

He would arrive home, expecting his Father Knows Best moment of clean, adoring children reaching up to him for happy kisses and stories of adventurous days. Instead, there would be a mud-covered girl child screaming at her big brother to give it back while the equally muddy boy child told her he just needed it for a minute, for this one invention that would….”

I interrupted with my own scream. “WHAT IS THIS?”

“It’s dinner.”

I would paw through the bags of raw chicken, fresh vegetables and uncooked pasta.

“No, it’s not. It’s GROCERIES. Dinner is what is already cooked. Dinner is what you put on paper plates and throw away because if I have to wash another dish, human, toy, or wall that somebody smeared with mud, somebody is going to get hurt. I did not ask for GROCERIES. I asked for DINNER.”

His face looked much like my dad’s and grandfather’s after installing some lovely French doors. It is a sad and pitiful face and one I would feel sorry for if it didn’t remind me so much of a puppy who has just piddled on the floor. That face that makes me want to scream, “No!” at and smack it across the nose with a folded newspaper. (Please note that I smack neither puppy, nor spouse with a newspaper; I simply fantasize.)

Because I don’t want to deal with that pitiful face this evening, I shall not tell him that his lawn care attempts are as effective as a climate-change denier heading the EPA. Because I can’t explain to him what I meant when I said weed the side yard, without getting a nervous tic that simulates stabbing him with a dull knife, I shall remain mum.

I do think I’ll ask him to bring home dinner. Is three o’clock too early for a glass of wine?