Strangely enough, I still love pancakes.

I don’t quite understand it, but untitledmother wants nothing to do with this new house business. She doesn’t want to talk about it, she doesn’t want to hear about it. I’ve gently brought up the subject a few times, and she shuts down right away. It bothers her, us moving into this new house. She was much more comfortable with us ten years ago, when we were poor. She’d come for a visit, and treat us to breadbowl salads at Perkins. “My dad always took me out to eat when I was your age,” she’d say. It felt so good, having untitledmother mother me, even though I was 24 years old. More than the food, I needed to feel protected and cared for.

Back then, untitledhusband and I had just graduated from college, and we had moved to the big city, where we lived off of approximately $25,000 a year, if that. We had these mammoth student loans and stoopid college credit card debts to pay off. Whatever possessed me to buy a $350 mountain bike with a credit card? Here I was, still paying for it at 11 percent interest, and I didn’t even have it anymore. I ended up selling it to my roommate, so I could pay rent.

During those years, I learned that yes, it is possible to feed yourself on $15 a week (egg salad, pancake mix, ramen noodles and Kool Aid). We weren’t poor. We were po’. But we never asked for money from our parents. Every time we came back home, we were thinner than the last visit. I remember wondering “Is this what four years of college gets you? Will it always be this hard?”

Back then, we dreamed of one day buying a brand new Dodge Neon. That was as far as we would let our imaginations run. We had no health insurance, which was pretty scary when untitledhusband came down with mono. I thought he was dying — seriously — so I took him to the free clinic. I remember being amazed that the free clinic was actually free. No one had ever helped us out like that before.

For Christmas one year, we gave everyone a plate of homemade holiday cookies. We also signed up for a book club, so we could give all these free books as presents. My tactless sister-in-law still makes fun of us for that. We had one TV – a 13-inch jobby. There was a drug dealer down the hall, and an old lady above us that insisted we turn our TV volume down after 10 p.m. and use the close captioning. Somehow, she had convinced our landlord that we were rowdy kids. Fuck, we were too poor to be rowdy. That would’ve required a 12-pack of Red Dog and some shred of hope for the future – and we had neither.

Knowing this was not how we wanted to live, we made some life changes. I went back to grad school. We made strategic career decisions. I clearly remember talking with untitledhusband about refocusing his career to something web-related. He was in the bathtub, I was on the toilet. That moment, that decision, changed our lives.

Ten years later, here we sit, with jobs we kinda sorta like and paychecks we most definitely don’t deserve. So when I talk about this new house, please know where I’m coming from. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d set foot in, let alone live in, a house like we’re building. I just about shit myself when I think about it. Growing up, I remember eating government cheese. I remember my parents sitting me down and telling me “Christmas is going to be tight this year, kids.” I remember getting a pair of Lee jeans and a $25 Wal-Mart suitcase for my high school graduation. Building this house means that untitledson will never have to ask himself if we are poor. He’ll never have to spend his own money on clothes. And he will never, ever feel guilty for going farther and doing better than Mom and Dad.

Three. It’s a magic number.

People say that everyone has at least one story from their life that could be made into a movie. I’d like to tell you mine.

I’ve always had this theory that everyone has the same amount of pain to endure in their lifetime. For some, it drags on for 80 years. For others, they get it all out of the way in one moment. Me, I worked¬ mine out in three months.

It all¬ started off with my dad getting sick. After being woefully misdiagnosed by hack doctors who failed to give him the proper tests, he suffered unnecessary, irrepairable¬ brain damage — the kind that keeps you in bed,¬ wearing diapers, unable to eat. The saddest part was that every now and then, he’d have a day of clarity, where he realized he was in¬ laying in his own shit. And to me, that was the hardest part.

I’ve told you what untitledmother is like. untitledfather — well, he was much like me, only a little kookier. No one should ever have to go out like he did. He was the kind of man that would snow blow his neighbor’s driveway just for the hell of it. He was a staunch Democrat in a town of Republicans. He’d volunteer at the caucus, but wouldn’t dream of putting a campaign sign in his yard, lest it start an argument with a friend. When I was in college, he took his last $500 (he was laid off at the time) and bought me a car, so I wouldn’t have to walk to work late at night. Every Christmas, he tried so hard to buy untitledmother a gift she’d like. One year it was new bathroom towels. The next year it was cheesey jewelry. He tried so hard, but she was never pleased.

During this time, untitledhusband and I were having some pretty serious issues. He had decided all of a sudden that he did not want to have kids. He had recently experienced a depression, and had begun taking Prozac. It worked well — almost too well. It put him in a state where he was so in love with life, that he¬ thought he was¬ 19 years old again, going out drinking with friends, not doing bills, etc. I didn’t know who he was anymore, and I didn’t quite know what to do with him.

It was about this time when untitledhusband broke the news to me — he didn’t want to have kids. Ever. This¬ contradicted everything we had talked about for the past 10 years. I wanted a child with all my being. In fact, we had been trying to get pregnant for the past six months. Everything I knew was no longer so. We went through a period of separation, where we lived in the same house, yet miles apart from each other. He moved into the guest room, which ironically, ended up being untitledson’s nursery.

Somewhere in the middle of this, 9-11 hit.¬ I remember IMing untitledhusband at work, scared shitless that the world was coming to end. I asked him if he was safe, if he planned on going home early. I suggested we fill our cars up with gas, and buy some bottled water. He asked why, and I said I didn’t know. It just sounded like something we should do. Child or no child, I could not imagine¬ myself without him. We made a deal to try to work things out. And maybe, some day, we could continue the conversation about kids. Maybe.

So there we were, going through our shit, and then my dad died.¬ During his last year, he could not eat, walk or even carry on a normal conversation, due to the brain damage. The last time I saw him alive, near the end, I sat with him in the hospital, and we watched the “Beverly Hillbillies” together. It had always been one of his favorite shows. There were moments, sitting next to him, where I forgot we were in a hospital room. He laughed at all the things he would normally laugh at. I was happy he was smiling, yet sad, because it meant he had some idea of his situation.¬ He had always said,¬ “If I’m ever in diapers, pull the plug.” Goddamn, I wish there would’ve been a plug to pull.

I got a phone call at work about one month later from untitledmother. She said dad had died. My first words were, “Are you sure?” I don’t know why I said that. He’d actually been gone for some time. Now, he could move on. That’s how I saw it. Writing his obituary, that¬ was¬ hard.¬ As I typed the words, I felt like everything he had done in his life, every day of work, every hope, every sadness, was¬ there in my fingertips, trying to tell the story of his life in a few lousy paragraphs.¬ I’m sure I fell short, but I like to think he would’ve been quite pleased that I squeezed in a little something about his famous chili and¬ the¬ love he harbored for¬ his beleagured¬ Minnesota Vikings.

All this sorrow, yet the trifecta was not yet complete. One month after we buried my dad in the same suit he’d worn to my Catholic confirmation, high school graduation, and his mother’s funeral,¬ I was laid off from my job. It was my dream job, no less. Marital problems, dead dad, and then unemployment. I’ve heard that these three things are the biggest stressers a person can endure, and I experienced all of them in the course of three months. I learned that my capacity for sorrow was like a drinking glass. After my dad’s death, it was plum full. When the layoff came about, I simply could not feel pain anymore. Thank god for small mercies, I guess.

It’s funny how life works, though. As quickly as things can go bad, they can go good again. A few months later, I was hired by the Evil Empire. I remember stumbling through those first few weeks, my life was such a mess. That’s the thing about working in corporate America — you can slide by at half-power and no one notices. I was there for three months when I found out I was pregnant with untitledson. By this time, untitledhusband had come out of his Prozac-enduced fog. No one was happier about the pregnancy than him. Well, maybe I was, but that kind of thing is hard to measure. Many times, he has said to me, “For the rest of your life, I will make this up to you.” And he has, people. He has. There are still¬ moments when that time in my life will reach forward and clutch my heart. It¬ reminds me that regardless of the fact that¬ the button on my favorite¬ khakis has popped, or that untitledson has pooped his new Buzz Lightyear underwear,¬ today¬ was a good day. ¬ ¬ ¬

A little holiday mommadrama.

One week out from Christmas, and the flurry of cards is starting to come in. My personal favorites are the ones where they simply sign their name. What, no letter? No picture? People, seriously. Don’t even bother wasting good postage on that shit.

As verbose as I can be, it may come as a surprise that untitledmother is one such name-signer. Last year, she sent a Christmas card featuring nothing more than her name and a gold-embossed baby Jesus. Talk about the odd couple.

So there he was, a clearly Caucasian, clearly 6-month old baby lying naked in a bed of hay. I mean, let’s be honest. A baby with that kind of girth could never squeeze through a woman’s cooch, even if it belonged to one blessed virgin. Between this and the cradle of hay, it’s all the proof I need that the Bible is a sham. It would take all the Desitin in the world to un-chap baby Jesus’ ass. Unless, of course, being the son of God and all meant he would never be burdened with such mortal irritations. But then what about the nails in the hands and feet and that bloody crown of thorns? What were those, if not huge motherfucking mortal irritations? But I digress.

This year, she decided to give the Christ child a rest (a much-needed sabbatical, I might add) and pull some holiday ha-ha squarely out her ass:

What about me?  Where are my presents?  Sorry, you're ugly.

Now, from anyone else, this card would be hilarious. But coming from her, I immediately start looking for the hidden Satanic backmasking track. And then it came to me — this was a cry for help. She had been depressed lately, which wasn’t a huge surprise to me. Her weight had increased to 240 pounds, which is a lot for someone who is 4’11”. Her legs are sand-crab skinny, and although I have never measured it, I can confidently report that the circumference of her neck is more than likely greater than that of her head. Her proportions are such that she could dress up as a plumb bob for Halloween wearing nothing more than what’s already in her closet. To top it off, she teases her thinning bleach-blonde hair into this shell-like formation that hovers defiantly above her scalp. A few spins in a department store’s revolving door and I’d dare you to deny the resemblance to one of those troll dolls.

Now that you have a visual cemented in your brain, her Christmas card takes on new meaning, doesn’t it? Don’t you all of a sudden feel bad for her, as if she was that poor little man on the rooftop? I no sooner had pulled her card out of the envelope when I picked up the phone to call her. True, she has dumped a lot of shit on me in the past, but I wanted to make sure she was OK. I wanted her to know that even if she was one beanie shy of becoming Humpty Dumpty, by god her daughter would come through. When she answered, the first thing she said was, “Did you get my card?” I replied, “Yes, Mom, I did.” Before I could extend even a singular word of support, she blurts out, “Now I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings with that card. It was meant to be funny.” Oh snap!

All this goes to prove one point. Physically, my mom may be ugly. But her most ghastly feature is that which you cannot see.

The mother of all dilemmas.

I got a check in the mail yesterday for $2,000-some dollars. Made out to me. Holy shit, right? I was running up and down the hallway, waving my hands just like those ninnies on “The Price Is Right.” If all I had to do to cash that check was hop around on stage without a bra and rub up and down Bob Barker a few times, I would gladly do it. But it’s not that simple.

This check was sent to me, in my name, because my mother recently cashed out my life insurance policy. She had taken it out on me when I turned 18. Since I now have my own life insurance, there is no longer a need for it.

Technically, this money is unequivocally hers. But from a karma standpoint, she doesn’t DESERVE this money — and anyone who knows my mother would agree with this statement. Let me present the evidence:

  • She spends about $500 a month on clothes alone (she recently went four whole weeks without having to do a single load of laundry).
  • When she comes to visit, she doesn’t bring so much as a ball of lint for untitledson.
  • When she does buy the occasional outfit for untitledson, it is usually from the dollar store (not the luxury department stores she shops when buying for herself).
  • She rarely offers to pay for lunch when we’re together, and has even stiffed me a few times.
  • When I asked Mom if she would be interested in contributing to untitledson’s college fund, she said “no, that’s ok” (keep in mind she always told me the reason she didn’t pay for any of my college was that she never had the money).
  • When her granddaughter (my niece) was in the NICU for three months after birth and my brother and his wife were experiencing severe financial difficulties as a result, my mom told them all she could afford to give them was $50. (another relative — one who has always given my mother money when she needed it — generously stepped in to help them out)

This last incident disturbed me greatly. I am my father’s daughter (he was pretty giving), and I know he’d be turning in his grave over this one. The reason she has the money in the first place is because of his death. But it seems the more she has, the stingier she is. I mean, I would eat ramen noodles every day for lunch to be able to pay for art lessons for untitledson. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving to him. For most mothers and fathers, that’s the way it is.

So back to the dilemma — should I play karmic police and withhold the check? Should I cash it myself, perhaps put it in untitledson’s college fund? I’m almost positive she would never find out. In your heart of hearts, what would YOU do? Don’t tell me what you say you’d do — tell me what you’d really do. If you need further evidence to make your decision, click here and here.

Flapjacks.

My mother just called me — at work, no less — to inform me that she has gone up a bra size. She now wears a 48D. She is 5 feet tall, on her tippy toes, with hair fully-teased. Let’s all close our eyes and visualize this for a moment. Physics alone would dictate that this is a woman who, by all accounts, should not be able to stand up straight. A human Weeble-Wobble, if you will. Hold the syrup, Flo. The maternal flapjacks no longer qualify as a short-stack.