The Extreme Highs and Lows of Hamster Ownership

We’ve decided to expand our family.


Last week, Phaedra began campaigning hard for a pet bunny.  Rob and I countered with an offer of a hamster or guinea pig.  She chose a hamster.  I was pretty pumped, because there are soooooo many possibilities for funny names with a hamster.  However, despite trying to convince Phaedra that Doogie Hamster, M.D. and #YOLO were completely acceptable names for her new pet, she decided to go with Brownie Pancakes instead.  Except now her hamster sounds delicious and makes me want to make brownie pancakes whenever I talk about it, which by the way, did you know that brownie pancakes are an actual thing?  I am going to cook the fuck out of some brownie pancakes some day.

IMG_20141011_154320So we went to the pet store last Saturday to pick out our (duh) female hamster.  We picked out a cage, food, bedding, tiny plastic castle, chew treats, hamster ball, and miscellaneous cat toys for Surrey because she wouldn’t stop crying and they were the only thing that made her happy. I somehow wrangled three girls and a cart filled with $100 worth of pet accessories for the $15 hamster (on sale!) to the checkout counter, where the cashier was delighted by the girls and their enthusiasm for their new little friend.

(Side note: every time I take all three girls out in public, someone inevitably says to me, “You know, I was one of three sisters as well.”  Every time, without fail.  They’re always smiling when they say it.  I absolutely love it.  This time, it was the friendly cashier who smiled that special smile as she told us she was the baby sister of two older sisters.)

IMG_20141011_165027When we got home, I put together the cage (which, I have to admit, is way cooler than any animal cage I’ve ever owned), got all the accessories, food, and bedding in place, and then it was time for the big moment: time to introduce Brownie Pancakes to her new home.  We let her climb in, and she immediately began checking things out.  “She sniffed the food bowl!” “Look! She touched the wheel!” “OH SHIT LOOK SHE’S CLIMBING UP THAT TUBE!” (That last one might have been me.)  Rob came home from running errands, and we stood there with the girls, crowded around the cage, watching how delighted they were in their new little friend.  It was a genuinely nice moment.  “This is good for them,” Rob said.  I agreed.  Why had we waited so long?  We were riding high on new pet excitement and drunk on good parenting decisions.

At bedtime, Phaedra and I stood watching her nocturnal little friend busy herself with all the things one does when they move into a new place: check out all the rooms, rearrange things, have a few snacks.  We lifted up the lid on the little viewing pod on the roof of the cage and tried to pet her a few times before she dived back into her tube.  I said goodnight to Phaedra and commenced all the cool adult stuff that she thinks happens after she goes to bed, like eating Happy Meals and watching her TV shows.

When Rob came home from work late that night, I was still pretty high on a day of successful parenting.  He found me upstairs tucking one of the kids back in after a midnight trip to the bathroom.  “You should come see the hamster!  She’s really active right now, running around and stuff!”

I shined the light from my cell phone into the cage so he could see.  We both peered in.  Then we looked closer.  Then we looked at each other, and looked in the cage again.  “Uh, where is she?” Rob said.

“Uh, she’s right….” Not in the tube.  Not in the little plastic castle.  Not in the top viewing pod…with the unlocked lid.

Oh shit.  Shit shit shit shit shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

“Where is she?!”

“She must have gotten out of the viewing pod.”

“But how?  Did she chew her way out?”

“Well…I, uh, didn’t lock the lid.”

Why didn’t you lock the lid?!  Why would you do that?!”

“I didn’t think she could lift up the lid with her head!  She kept bumping her head against the lid and it didn’t move, so I thought she couldn’t get out.”


I fucking hate when he’s so blatantly right and I’m so blatantly wrong.

I started shining my cell phone flashlight around the room.  Brownie Pancakes is nowhere near her cage.  A few minutes into the search, Rob looks at me and says, “That’s it.  I mean, we’re never going to find this hamster in this house.  No way.  She could literally be anywhere.

“Rob,” I said, “we don’t have a choice.  We have to find that hamster before she wakes up.”

He knew I was right, but was really pissed about the fact that I was both right and wrong at the same time.  Since I’m not used to being wrong, this was a new feeling for me as well.  Not that we had time to think about it, because it was 1:00 a.m. and we had to find a hamster that already had a three hour head start on us.

Our house has three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and when I tell you that I tore those rooms apart, what I mean is I TORE THOSE ROOMS APART.  I looked underneath everything, moved every single toy away from the wall, emptied every single basket and drawer, removed every single toy and blanket from every single closet, all while three kids slept in the dark.  We eventually moved a sleeping Phaedra to our bed so we could look around her mattress and bedding.  My house was tore the fuck up, but the hamster was nowhere.  This went on for three hours.  We were exhausted.  We started doing that thing where you keep looking in the place the thing you’re looking for should be, in the hopes that you just overlooked it and it was sitting there all along.  I was wandering in circles, re-checking spots I’d already looked.  Finally, at 4:00 a.m., Rob and I sat down and ran through our options:

1. Tell Phaedra the truth in the morning: Brownie had escaped her cage somehow.  We would leave her cage door open, and hope that she wandered home in a few days for food and water (although honestly, the odds that she would return home for that bullshit hamster food when she had a five-star buffet on the floors of our house were pretty slim).

2.  Tell Phaedra that we had to take Brownie to the vet in the middle of the night, and she would be home that afternoon (after a quick pit-stop at another pet store…)

Phaedra was too smart to believe option #2, so at 4:30 a.m., we finally conceded defeat and decided to go to bed.  But I was so guilt-ridden over losing the hamster that I insisted on staying up and listening for the hamster, because when you lose your daughter’s pet hamster the first day she has it after listening to her tell you “Thank you so much, Mom!” and “I love Brownie Pancakes sooooo much!”, you will do anything, including sitting quietly in a darkened room listening for hamster footsteps when you’d much rather go to sleep, in order to avoid breaking your daughter’s heart.

So there I was, sitting on Phaedra’s bed, trying to see how quickly I could drain the battery of my phone, when I heard nibbling sounds coming from the SAME GODDAMN CLOSET I just completely emptied an hour earlier.  I got up and emptied everything but a big Rubbermaid tub from the closet.  I was kind of afraid to look behind the tub, because if there was nothing there, it would mean I was either crazy or the damn thing was in the walls.  But there she sat, staring back at me with the hamster equivalent of an “oh shit” look on her face.  After playing Keystone Kops with the damn thing around and around the tub, I finally grabbed her, plopped her into the viewing pod, locked the lid, and carried it triumphantly into my bedroom to wake up Rob and let him know that the Great Hamster Disaster of 2014 was finally over.

The next day, Phaedra asked me why the house was so messy, and why all the toys were out of her closet.  “Oh, I was looking for something while you were asleep last night.”

“What were you looking for?”

I told the truth.

“Just something I needed.  Nothing big.”

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in Brownie Pancakes, not doing that ever again | 4 Comments

Missed Connections

Please take the bracelet, Bella, just take the bracelet…

I watched as Phaedra, after making a heartfelt speech, slid the blue plastic bracelet across the mattress to Bella, who lay hiding underneath her blanket on the top bunk.  Even though I knew what would likely happen, I hoped against hope that Bella would recognize how important it was to Phaedra that she accept this small peace offering.  But Bella couldn’t see it, just like she couldn’t see why it was so hurtful to tell Phaedra to her face that she didn’t want to be her friend.  My heart sank as I watched the blue bracelet slide back across the mattress, then it broke as Phaedra ran out of the room, sobbing.


As the girls get older, it’s becoming increasingly clear that autism has a profound effect on the dynamics of these sisters’ relationships.  Being a middle child, it leaves both Phaedra and Surrey without a playmate close to their own age.  They each desperately want to play with Bella, since she is closest to their ages.  Bella, however, usually prefers to play by herself, creating carefully staged, look-but-do-not-touch scenes in her dollhouse or with her dinosaurs.  While Surrey and Phaedra can and do play together sometimes, it’s hard for a three-year-old and seven [going on seventeen]-year-old to find common ground.  Bella’s meltdowns, while nowhere near as frequent as they were in the past, affect the girls differently than when they were younger.  While I had hoped that age would bring Phaedra the wisdom and experience to understand and deal with Bella’s sudden rage, it has had the opposite effect.  Age has bestowed upon Phaedra even more complex emotions that help her to understand exactly how deeply her feelings are hurt when Bella screams in her face or throws a toy across the room.

Sometimes, as I watch their struggles to interact gradually self-destruct into shouting and tears, I marvel at how I, an intelligent woman who has read so much, talked with so many professionals, and lived with these children for so long, can feel so utterly ill-equipped to handle this.  I try to rationally referee their arguments, but when your feelings are hurt over and over again by someone you love, how can you listen to logic?  How can you hear your mother’s words when your emotions and anxiety are blaring full-blast in your head?

10562618_10152702615418086_2883445146137610006_oI take comfort in the good moments.  I take comfort in three little girls running around the house with ice cream cones in their hands during those fifteen golden minutes before bedtime, screaming and giggling over some silly game that they spontaneously created together.  I take comfort in the sincere hugs given before Phaedra goes into her classroom on the mornings we’re running too late to catch her class waiting outside.  I take comfort in Bella suddenly looking concerned before stepping into the shower and asking, “Where’s Baby Surrey?” while Surrey is away at dance class.

I know they love each other.  I just wish I could make them understand each other.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in autism, Bella, Debbie Downer, Phaedra, sister love, Surrey | 11 Comments

Reasons I Want to Punch Jen Mann in the Throat: A Crappy Review of a Damn Good Book

20140901_095559kDid you hear?  Jen Mann’s book, People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges, is finally out!  I was able to read an advance copy, because I’ve fooled someone along the way into thinking I’m kind of a big deal.  This, assuredly, is not the case, but I’m not saying shit, because I’m getting free books out of this misunderstanding.

For starters, the book came in the mail, which was very exciting, because I love mail.  So, this book already had that going for it.  Plus, the cover art is awesome.  As a librarian, I can tell you that you absolutely should judge a book by its cover.  If the cover art is boring, or poorly done, it means someone didn’t give enough of a shit about the book to hire a good graphic designer.  Plus, nobody wants to check out a book with a plain cover.  I don’t care if the book reveals the legit location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body with a coupon for free cupcakes for life — if it doesn’t have a nice color picture on the front, it’s not budging from the shelf.  Jen’s pretty cover art will have you thinking, “Mmmm cupcakes!  But wait! That cupcake fell on the ground.  I don’t like that.  Maybe I can read her book and find out why the hell she would waste a perfectly good cupcake like that.”  You can’t, though, because that’s not actually what the book is about.  You’ll just have to wonder forever whether or not she picked the cupcake up after the photo session and ate it (probably not, but real talk?  I would).

After I admired the cover, I started reading.  Then I kept reading after the first page, even though I swore I would stop because it was already 5:00 pm and that’s when I’m supposed to start cooking dinner, or else it throws off my entire nighttime schedule of dinner/baths/snack/bedtime.  But then I read one more page.  Then I read the next chapter.  Then I looked at the clock after the fourth chapter, and it was 6:00 pm and I hadn’t even started cooking dinner.  So I put some bullshit dinner together of PB&J and fruit and got baths started.  Which was good, because that meant I could finish a few more chapters while I “supervised” baths.

Mann - Punch in the Throat - final cover - 500First and foremost, the stories are just so goddamn funny.  There’s too many moments for me to count — finding out why she was so popular on AOL,  her coworker’s Fourth of July party that gave a whole new meaning to the term “networking”, lusting for a minivan of her own, and how to properly attend a sex toy party.  But really there’s moments in each chapter that I found myself re-reading a line over and over, resisting the urge (unsuccessfully) to text a line to a friend that I thought would appreciate it most.

This book is so good.  I mean, the kind of good that makes you jealous that you didn’t write it yourself.  Jen’s writing style makes you feel like you’re already a member of her inner circle: she can be straight with you about what she really thinks about things because you guys have already gotten past all the fake polite conversations, sent out the feelers to see if the other person’s cool or not, and decided to stop being polite and start being real.  It’s conversationally funny, not “I am here writing a funny essay about living in the suburbs” funny.  Jen’s telling you a hilarious story, and she swears sometimes because when you’re telling your friends a story, you swear sometimes.  But here’s the thing: that kind of writing style is deceptively difficult to pull off.  Most people who try writing in this style can’t do it well, and certainly can’t tell an entertaining story.  It reads like she simply typed out the story the way she would tell it at a backyard barbecue, but I’m here to tell you that it’s fucking hard to write in this style.  Jen does it and does it well.

So go ahead and treat yourself to one last thing before you start shopping for other people: buy People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges today.  I promise you that after you finish reading it, you’ll buy five more copies as gifts for your friends.  Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to, but instead just tell all your friends to buy it themselves, because I’m too broke to be buying my friends books just for fun.  Then you’ll get exasperated that they haven’t and buy it for them for Christmas.  THERE, dummy.  WHY DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU?

I might need to re-examine my ideas about gift-giving.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in book reviews, don't be jealous, fuck those moms at dance class, internet famous | 2 Comments

Hi, My Name is Janel, and I’m Asking For Your Vote.

Mommy Shorts Horrible Household Smells Contest

Okay, everybody, it’s time for some real talk.

I love Target.  I think you all know this.  We remember this thing, right?

So when I saw that the grand prize for the Method Horrible Household Smells contest on Mommy Shorts was a $1,000 TARGET GIFT CARD, I knew I had found my mission.

I need to win this gift card.

Can you even imagine all the bullshit I could buy with this?!  Here’s a short list of things I’ve already identified that I could buy if I win this gift card:10653392_712316535470994_3115962540765479998_n

1.  A portable karaoke machine so I can serenade Rob all over the house with his (least) favorite song of all time, This is How We Do It.

2.  A kid-sized Camaro that I can drive around the neighborhood to show my neighbors that they thought they knew how crazy I was, but in reality, they had no fucking clue until that very moment.10632577_712711998764781_7111998958092455311_n

3.  Just so nobody accused me of being selfish and leaving Rob out of this, I’d send him to Target so he could buy lube.  But not just any lube — specifically, Gun Oil, and not because we need lube, but because I can’t stop laughing about the idea of standing in line with a bottle of lube that looks like a bullet and is called GUN OIL.

4.  10612739_713086868727294_2800472426581736073_nI’ve never had the opportunity to do the whole “beat the pinata with a stick” thing.  Unless you count the time when I was nine and we made homemade pinatas at Vacation Bible School and I accidentally hit my brother in the head with a baseball bat after he blindfolded me and I just assumed he had moved out of the way.  I want a real pinata that will rain down candy and scratch-off lottery tickets on me.

1919654_713617765340871_2434116097297170692_n5.  A home epilator that I can use on Rob’s face while he sleeps.  This one is called the Emjoi, which is hysterical because they’re trying to make it sound like “enjoy”, which, judging by the reviews on the Target website, you very much will not enjoy using it.  Here’s a direct quote from one of the reviews: “First 3 times of use, oh did it hurt! The noise was terrifying. After a few more tries, I barely notice any pain.”  I’m guessing the “barely noticing the pain” part comes after you’ve become physically and emotionally numb to the trauma this thing inflicts on your body.  I’m also intrigued by the terrifying noise.  I bet Rob will also be intrigued when he hears it at 3am.

So, here’s where you come in: in order for me to buy these things, I need your help.  Please pop over to Mommy Shorts and vote for me in the Method Horrible Household Smells Contest.  I mean, I would prefer that you vote for me.  If you really see one that you like more than mine, well, I can’t stop you from following your heart.  But if you do vote for me, I would be forever grateful.

Here’s mine!

You can vote once a day here until September 17th.  It’s going to be a looooooong week for me, guys.  As a thank you for voting, though, here’s a nice picture of a cat!


Posted in bad ideas, being a judgmental hypocrite, lists, Target | 7 Comments



Surrey is a tough kid.  She purposely aggravates her sisters because she thinks it’s funny.  If something is in her way, she just plows right through it.  Do not get between her and a bowl of cereal that she wants.  In short, she will fuck you up if you can’t get with the program.

Except if you’re a farm animal.  She is absolutely terrified of you if you are a farm animal.

We found this out during our annual trip to the petting farm.  Phaedra, Bella, and I LOVE the petting farm.  We’ll pet and feed those animals all day long.  It’s all I can do to keep Bella out of the pig pen, and Phaedra would totes help me sneak one of the goats back to the car to take home.  We love animals.  They love us.


But Surrey?  She’s never never been an animal person.  As a baby, she would cry when dogs approached her, sniffed her, or just looked at her from across the room.  She doesn’t cry about them anymore, but she’s still not really interested in hanging out with them.  When we saw the demonstration from the wild animal guys at the school spring fair, Surrey was unimpressed by the live crocodile wandering around on the floor near our feet.  She wouldn’t even touch the chinchilla.  Who the hell can resist petting a chinchilla?  So naturally, I just assumed that she was over that whole “afraid of animals” thing.


We were so wrong.

We’ve taken Surrey with us every single year, but this is the first year she was allowed to roam freely instead of observing the animals from the comfort of the umbrella stroller that gets used exactly once a year, usually at this outing, when I park the car and think, “Oh shit!  Did I bring a stroller?”  The farm layout was a bit different this year, letting us walk past the alpaca pasture and feed them some of the Super Vitamin Carrots that I purchased for $20.  I assume they were special in some way, because I paid twenty fucking dollars for four trays of what looked suspiciously like regular old carrots.  We walked past a cranky alpaca who just sat and stared at us, ignoring our offers of Super Vitamin Carrots.  I did the visual headcount that a mother of three or more children does every thirty seconds when out in public with her children.  “Okay, there’s one, two… where’s Surrey?”  I looked behind me, and there was poor Surrey, standing just beyond the alpaca.  I noticed he was now standing up and staring at the small human who wasn’t holding Super Vitamin Carrots.  She looked from him, to me, and back at him, shifting her weight back and forth between her little feet and wringing her tiny hands.  “C’mon, Surrey!”  As if she was going anywhere near that asshole alpaca (that she believed to be a llama because The Emperor’s New Groove is on an almost constant loop at our house).


*(“Tared” = scared, Yama” = llama.)

And thus began what must have been for Surrey a jaunt through a house of horrors.  She was afraid of every single animal we encountered.  Pony?

By jumpinghooves and User:Jokes_Free4Me (self-made from File:Pony Laying 3.jpg) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



Photo courtesy of Flickr user Titanium22


Baby chicks?

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Hall

“Yeah, I yike dese baby chicks.  Wait, is that a rooster  I SO TARED OF DAT ROOSTERRRRRRRRRRR!!!!”

Phaedra and Bella had the time of their lives, but I spent mine trying to keep track of them while carrying a 35 lb hysterical preschooler on my hip.  She cried because we walked past the tawwy donkey.  Then she cried because it wasn’t her turn to ride the tawwy pony, and she really wanted to wear the helmet.  Then she cried because it was her turn to put on the helmet, and then she cried because I tried to put her on the tawwy pony (which she insisted that I do).  Then she cried because she didn’t get to ride the tawwy pony, and then cried again when I asked her if she wanted to get on the tawwy pony (while standing directly in front of it).

Thankfully, we made our way to the entrance because everyone had to go potty all at once.  On the way out of the front office, where the nice lady behind the counter issued a refund for Surrey’s pony ride, I asked Phaedra and Bella what their favorite part of the visit was.  “I liked riding the pony!” said Phaedra.

“I really love that pony, and the sheep!” said Bella.

“Yeah, and I WUV the pigs!” said Surrey.

I shit you not.

“Surrey, you loved the pigs?!” I asked her.

“Yeah! And the sheep!”

The fuck?

“Surrey, did you like the llamas?”

“No, I no like those tawwy yamas.”

“Should we come back next year?”


I was wondering what exactly she was going to talk about in therapy when she got older.  Mystery solved!

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in Debbie Downer, Surrey, things that don't make sense | 12 Comments

Tips and Advice from a Professional Flower Girl Wrangler


As a mother to three small adorable girls, I have certain duties and responsibilities.  I must make sure my daughters understand how their bodies work. I must be able to quickly execute at least two different types of braids.  I am expected to know the names of every Disney princess and their corresponding prince.  But there is one duty that, while not asked of me on a regular basis, is probably the most important duty of all:


I am the flower girl wrangler.

When your family is as big as ours, and nearly all of your siblings and cousins are in their twenties, your role in the family is to provide flower girl services for the next 5-7 years (until they graduate to junior bridesmaid age).  Since I recently had the pleasure of herding my children down the aisle for the second time, I feel like I’m a total expert on this subject.  Here’s a list of tips and things to expect:

The dress: It really depends on the bride as to how much input you should give.  The two brides I have worked with were absolutely darling and chose beautiful dresses (thank God).  For my own wedding, I didn’t give a shit what my flower girls wore.  Someone (my mother-in-law or one of the flower girls’ mothers, I don’t remember) found a cute dress at a retail bridal shop, found another one in the right size for the second flower girl, and I just rubber-stamped their choice.  However, I’m a weirdo.  Your bride will probably have an actual opinion and give you their dress choice.  Unless it is completely unreasonable (in terms of price or design), the correct answer when given this information is, “Looks great!  What’s the deadline to order it?”  If your bride asks for input on the dress, give your opinion, but remember, she is the one who needs to be happy with the dress.  You love what she loves.

The hair appointment: This is the part that stresses me out the most.  I’ve had it go awful and great, and there’s honestly no rhyme or reason to it.  When Phaedra was four, she was a flower girl in our dear cousin’s wedding.  At her hair appointment, we told Phaedra she would look like a princess when she was done.  But as she watched the hairdresser work on her hair in the mirror, Phaedra realized that she didn’t look like Aurora, but Cinderella.  This did not please Her Highness.

bad hair day

Shortly after the last picture, she yelled, “IT’S THE WRONG PRINCESS!”, swan-dived off the salon chair and landed face-first on the curling iron rack. They weren’t hot, but she did have an awesome scrape on her face for the ceremony.

So imagine my trepidation when tasked with getting all three girls to the hair salon.  But my children, as usual, continue to make absolutely no sense to me, because this is how they sat for the entire appointment:


It was amazing.  It was like watching three celebrities who are used to having their hair done while they go over their scripts.  So I guess my advice here would be a) don’t mention princesses AT ALL before the hair appointment, and b) bring books that have been sitting in your car for months for your kids to read while they sit in the stylist’s chair.

Also, after the hair appointment, be prepared to play amateur hairdresser for the next few hours.  I had to re-pin the bottom part of Bella and Surrey’s updo about an hour after we left the salon because they thought playing tag in the reception hall was a great idea.  You should also invest in a can of AquaNet or some equally cheap, cement-like brand of hairspray so you can lock down that hairdo.  I don’t care how much that stylist sprayed your kid’s hair, she didn’t spray it enough.  Make that shit crunchy.

Feed them: This sounds easier than it really is.  It’s going to be a busy day of running all over God’s green Earth with little time to do anything.  The last thing you want to do is to put hungry children in a high-stress situation where they are expected to behave.  It’s a recipe for disaster.  Hit the drive-thru and fill those bellies before the ceremony.  Keep snacks and candy with you, as well as a lunchbox thermos full of water to top them off once in a while.

Get them dressed: Do this at the very last second possible.  Believe me, the charm of wearing a fancy dress will wear off quickly.  Best to save most of the magic for the ceremony and pictures.  Also, less time wearing the dress means less opportunities for your little angels to rip/stain/otherwise destroy the dress.

Perks!  By virtue of being the flower girl wrangler, you get to have a front-row seat to the backstage magic.  I love getting to see everything come together — getting dressed, the final touches, the nervous anticipation, the father of the bride seeing his daughter.  You also get to take awesome pictures like this:


But then you start to imagine your daughter getting ready for her wedding someday and you have to shove those feelings way down because you just did your makeup and there’s no time to redo it because OMG THE CEREMONY IS ABOUT TO START HERE WE GO!!!

It doesn’t matter how they get down the aisle: I stress out about making sure the girls know exactly what to do and when to walk, but it really doesn’t matter.  Have you ever been to a wedding with a flower girl and thought, “Ugh, that flower girl is is ruining this ceremony with the way she’s dropping  those petals and spinning in the middle of the aisle”?  No matter what she does, it will be charming as all hell.  Whether she walks slowly or quickly, smiles or cries, drops the petals or keeps them all for herself, it makes no difference at all.  They can’t screw it up, so just enjoy it.

So many feels: You are not prepared for the feeling of watching your daughter(s) walk down the aisle.  You’re just not.  Not when they’re four, not when they’re twenty-four.  You’ll probably cry the ugly cry.  Go ahead, let it out.

STAY FOR PICTURES: Let me tell you the story of one of my top five all-time personal parenting fails, which cost a bride pictures of herself with the flower girl: So like I said, Phaedra’s first time around as a flower girl for our cousin was when she was four.

Photo credit: Picture This Photography and Design (Brimley, MI)

Phaedra was great: she posed for pictures before the ceremony, waited patiently for the ceremony to begin, and took her job as flower girl so seriously that she very carefully dropped each individual petal on the ground during the longest flower girl walk in the history of flower girl walks (which was completely and utterly precious).  Meanwhile, Rob was doing laps around the church with Bella, who was two and going through a period we refer to in our house as “The Dark Days”.  He missed the entire ceremony because Bella couldn’t sit long enough to watch it.

After the ceremony, I stood outside with all the guests, a cranky Phaedra, an aggravated Rob, a Bella in full Bella Mode, and a crying newborn Surrey who had just woke up hungry.  When I told Rob that we should stay in case they wanted Phaedra for pictures, a family member (I don’t remember exactly who) said, “I don’t think they’re doing pictures; I think they already did them.”  The fact that I didn’t bother to check on the validity of this statement I will attribute to the extreme stress of being a new mother of three and living in a hotel room with an autistic two-year-old who spent the entire weekend TURNT UP.  Phaedra and Bella fell asleep during the ten minute drive back to the hotel, and were sleeping on the hotel bed when we got the phone call from my mother-in-law, who was with the bridal party who were OF COURSE TAKING PICTURES BECAUSE DUH.  So please, for the love of all that is holy, heed my advice: find out what the picture situation is before you leave with the cutest member of the wedding party.

Well, that’s all the advice I can give.  So get on out there, all you new flower girl moms!  Buy those dresses!  Herd those kids down the aisle!  And when you see your baby sprinkling those petals and you start to feel your face start to scrunch up and your eyes water, well, just know that I’ve been there, sister.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in expert negotiation skills, girls | 14 Comments

KidzBop is Slowly Destroying My Soul

Every parent has a list of things that they swore they would never do when they had children.  At the top of my list, even above using pacifiers and buying cereal with marshmallows, was kid’s music – especially those garbage Kidz Bop CDs.  There was no way on this green holy Earth I was going to drive around in my car listening to such awful noise, exposing my kids to watered-down versions of good music.  They would grow up listening to the original recordings of classic songs.  I mean, kids can appreciate good music — I grew up listening to (and loving) Vince Neil and Brett Michaels singing about strippers and partying while my mom drove us to elementary school.  I didn’t need a chorus of pre-teens trying to tell me that Dr. Feelgood was some kind of motivational speaker.

Years passed, pacifiers were (thankfully) used, Lucky Charms were reluctantly purchased.  But somehow, I held firm to that last item on my list.  Rob and I made mix CDs of real music we thought the kids would like, which worked for awhile.  I’m willing to bet Phaedra is the only kid in her class who can identify Queen on the radio when she hears it and wishes she could meet Elton John.  I quietly congratulated myself on raising a child with quaintly retro taste in music.

I’m not sure what planted the seed in Phaedra’s head.  I think it might have been a combination of Nickelodeon and YouTube that showed Phaedra that Kidz Bop is a thing, and that she could listen to “today’s hits” (which she has never heard) being sung by KIDS!!!  She started asking me to buy it whenever the commercial came on, and I always gave one of the vague parent answers that you give whenever your kid asks for something, and you’re not going to buy it, but you don’t want to directly tell them “no”:

“Well, you can ask for it for your birthday…”

“I don’t know.  We’ll see…”

“You can save up your money if you want…”

Then I found myself in Target with Phaedra after The Crane Game Affair, with a copy of Kidz Bop 25 in my shopping cart and a frown on my face.  I tried telling her she could only listen to it in her room, but before I knew it, I was driving to the store and playing DJ in my car.  “Play number twelve, Mom!”  “Ooooh, number six, I love this song!”  After I listened to those asshole kids sing that “Royal” song about three hundred times, I figured that brain damage would settle in fairly soon, and that I had sunk about as low as I possibly could sink.

I was so, so wrong.

Here’s the insidious thing about Kidz Bop: you’ll notice when you listen to these songs that the kids enunciate when they sing.  A lot.  To the point where you can’t help but learn every single word to the songs.  That doesn’t sound that bad, and in some cases, it’s quite helpful — for example, now I know what the hell Lady Gaga is telling me to do in the chorus of “Applause”.  However, here’s the problem: you’ll learn the words to the most awful fucking songs, and then find yourself singing them when you hear the song and enjoying it.  I listened to “What Does the Fox Say?” about eighteen times during a thirty minute drive with Bella, and it was about the same time that my ears started bleeding that I realized that I knew every single word to that song, and that I was jamming OUT.

But oh, it gets worse.

Upon picking up my children from Grandma’s house after a weekend away, what to my wondering eyes did appear? KIDZ BOP PARTY!  It’s a mix of your favorite party traxx!  And OH SWEET BABY JESUS NO, “The Hampster Dance” is on this one!  Ooooooh! and “Gangnam Style”! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BUYING THIS FOR MY CHILDREN MOM.

So now, with two Kidz Bop CDs in heavy rotation in my car, I’ve become a case study in Stockholm Syndrome.  During the first few weeks, I actively hated it.  But something happened to my brain after listening to “Wrecking Ball” for the 105th time.  I noticed that it gradually took me longer and longer after dropping off my kids at school to turn off the CD.  Then Phaedra started trying to appease me by specifically asking for the songs she knew I liked.  “Mom, let’s turn on #6.  You love this song…”  She was right, I did really like that Bruno Mars song.  Except for when I told the twenty-somethings I work with how much I liked “Treasure”, and they shook their heads and laughed at me when I sang the sanitized Kidz Bop version, which made me look extra cool and young.

It’s alright, though, because I’m not really cool or young anymore.  I’ve learned to embrace my new Kidz Bop overlords, and I welcome the release of Kidz Bop 26.  I kind of wish they would do a Kidz Bop version of the new Eminem album so I could figure out what he’s saying.  I mean, I really like it, but he raps too fast.  Also, FYI, using the phrase “he raps too fast” is a sign that you have become too old to listen to rap.

I mean, look at me.  I SAW IRON MAIDEN LIVE IN CONCERT, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.  What the hell has happened to me?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Posted in don't be jealous, one of these girls better get rich and famous | 25 Comments

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of His Year

My kids are going camping this week with Grandma.  They’ll be gone from Tuesday until Sunday, which is a pretty long time to take three iPad-loving, GoGurt-chugging little girls into the Michigan wilderness (“wilderness” meaning “campground with a playground and a heated camper”).  My husband and I are not campers per se, so my wonderful mother-in-law whisks them away for all the outdoor adventuring that we can’t give them here in the suburbs.  They have an absolute blast and come home tan, happy, and very dirty, which is absolutely how it should be.

While my kids are Up North having fun, I’m left here alone with the empty cereal bowls and toys that stay where I put them when I put them away.  I can’t do the childless life anymore.  My brain has been rewired.  I’ve been Shawshanked — prison being a mom is all I know now.  I’m used to mothering a house full of kids every day, and when that gaggle of girls is suddenly gone, it creates a a huge disturbance in the Force.  I need someone (or something) to direct all my love and smothering towards.

Oh, look!


Shaft is our eleven-year-old Boston Terrier and our first baby.  We bought him when we were young and newly married and it didn’t matter if we blew our entire tax refund on a purebred dog.  When we filled out his AKC paperwork, we gave him one of those long dog show names.  After a list of ridiculous options that only two 22-year-old idiots could come up with, we decided on “Shaft’s Bad Mutha”.  But after sending in the paperwork, we received a response about two weeks later, informing us that the AKC will not accept names that are “offensive in nature”.  So we changed it to “Shaft’s Non-Offensive Name”.  They were either satisfied with this or tired of dealing with us, because it was approved, and Shaft got to keep his name.


This is what 2003 looked like.

It was just us and Shaft for a few years, until the kids came along.  It was little Shaftie that I walked around the neighborhood the day I went into labor with Phaedra, hoping all the walking would help move things along.  When I brought her home, he would cry when she did, which I think was more his way of grieving for his former life as a dog of leisure and less sympathy for the baby.  Shaft has always tolerated the kids, and even kind of likes them now that they’re older and leave real food at dog-level all over the house.  He made it through Bella’s weird “turn your head and cough” exam phase, and has learned not to get between Surrey and her food lest he be chased and screamed at in gibberish.  They’ve learned how to let him outside, which he likes.  They’ve also learned that Shaft gets a treat when he comes inside, and argue over who gets to give it to him, meaning he gets three treats (which he really likes).

So when the kids are gone, I aim my tractor beam of love at him and pull him in, like it or not.  I need someone to ride with me in the car and listen to Kidz Bop.  I need someone to lecture about going to bed, to yell at for making annoying noises, and someone to squeeze in at the last second between my husband and I when we go to bed at night.

I make him take selfies with me.


He gets snacks and love and hugs and cuddles and if he tells you he hates it, he’s a goddamn liar.


But believe me when I tell you that he’s just as happy to see the kids when they get home as I am.  There’s only so many snuggles a little dog can take.



Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

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My First Celebrity Interview!


Phaedra is a 27 year old woman trapped in a seven-year-old’s body.  She is far more mature than Rob and I.  When we make stupid jokes, she usually just stares at us for a few seconds, then continues with her conversation.  She doesn’t have time for our bullshit.  She is a diva.

One night, after the kids went to bed, Rob and I started trading funny kid stories back and forth.  We each had funny “I’m so done with you two idiots” stories from Phaedra that day.  Rob suggested that it would be funny to interview Phaedra using the Pivot Questionnaire made famous by “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.  Since she is a celebrity (in her own mind), I agreed.

Holy shit you guys, this kid is hilarious.  A few things I want to point out:

1.  She dressed herself.  The only guidance I gave was, “get dressed in something nice”.

2.  She is wearing the highly illegal colored lip gloss that my mom bought he when I was out of town and they were staying with he.

3.  My absolute favorite thing about this video is that she doesn’t look at me to answer the questions.  She looks straight ahead almost the entire time.  I feel like one of those junket reporters on Extra”!

4.  If she ever loses her baby lisp, I’ll just die.

When I turned off the camera, she said, “Mom, I wanted to say ‘bitch’ for my favorite bad word, but I was too embarrassed.”   I guarantee you that Bella will not have a hard time answering that question.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

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The Milk Challenge

So, I tried to spin this story as some sort of lesson, but let me just be honest with you from the beginning: this is a strictly a funny story about the time my friends and I tried to drink a gallon of milk in an hour.  That’s it.  We didn’t all hug and realize some deeper life-lesson after it was over.  What we realized was three grown-ass women temporarily lost their minds and tried to do something our bodies physically couldn’t do, simply because nobody could convince us otherwise.  Unfortunately, we did it in front of every single one of our friends, so that we could talk about it for the next few decades or so.

It’s late summer 2005. Rob and I had just moved into our house, and were planning a big housewarming party so our friends could come over and see how grown-up we were, with our fancy mortgage and responsibilities and shit. A few days before the party, Rob came home from an evening spent at our local Denny’s. “Dude, you’ll never believe what Muriel and Jenny said.”


“Okay, do you know what the milk challenge is?”

“Where you try to drink a gallon of milk in an hour?”

“Yeah. They both seriously said they could do it.” He instantly started cracking up.

“You know what? I think I could probably do it.  I mean, if they think they can do it, then I definitely can do it.”

He started laughing even harder, his face changing from do you believe this shit? to completely incredulous.  “You three are DUMB.  It can’t be done!  Like, physically, your body can’t  do it.”

“Well, why don’t we try it here?  They’re both coming over this weekend anyways.  I’ll buy three gallons of milk, and we’ll go head-to-head.”

He just shook his head.  “You guys are so stupid.  You’ll all end up puking.”

Whatever, I thought.  How dare he underestimate me.  I knew for sure that I could do it.  I was going to OWN this shit.  I couldn’t wait to impress everybody with my incredible milk-drinking abilities and sheer determination.  I wasn’t much of an athlete in high school or college or, actually, during any part of my life, but goddammit THIS was something I was going to excel in.  I pictured myself in my shining moment, with all my friends cheering for me.  They would be all, “Wow, I didn’t know Janel was that tough.”  My mom would be really proud.  Maybe I’d make it on the news.  Local Woman Does The Impossible, Shows  the World She’s a Total Badass.  Details at 11.

Dude, I… I know.

The day before the party, I went to the grocery store and bought three gallons of skim milk. [Note: Muriel would like me to point out that she did, unfortunately, drink cow's milk this particular evening.  It was before she saw the light and became a vegan and renounced all forms of dairy in favor of Our Lord and Savior Soy Milk.  In the event of a rematch, she would definitely bring her own gallon of Silk, in which case we would all call bullshit and insist that it doesn't count.]  I figured if you were going to try to ingest an entire gallon of milk, there was no room in your stomach for all that extra fat in whole or even 2% milk.

The next night, everyone showed up at our brand-new house.  We mingled, gave tours, and enjoyed our new status as “Most Likely to Store Your Shit in Our Garage”.  We were so winning this whole adulthood thing: college, jobs, marriage, house.  Feeling mature, feeling good.  Feeling so good, in fact, that I decided that now was the time to begin The Great Milk Challenge.

We gathered the entire house full of people into our brand-new backyard, around our brand-new deck and brand-new patio furniture.  The three of us sat down in front of everyone with our own brand-new gallon of milk.  A timekeeper was assigned.  A large amount of smack was talked by everyone.  Whatever.  They can talk, but I knew my role: I would be the underdog, the dark horse.  I’d come from behind and blow everybody’s mind.  Small but mighty, that’s me.

Then the drinking began.


The first fifteen minutes was absolutely fine.  Lots of laughing and joking around.  Every time I saw someone drink,


I would drink too.


This isn’t so bad!  I was right, I could totally do this!  Man, this is going to feel so good when everyone sees me finish this gallon!  They’re going to be so impressed, they’ll talk about it for years!  I couldn’t wait to finish my milk and end the evening on a high note.

Around the 25 minute mark is where things got not-so-fun.  I decided that I needed to go in the house to get my jacket because OH HEY, drinking a large quantity of cold milk in a short time span makes you feel a little chilly.  I also needed a rubber band to pull back my hair.  You know, no reason at all, just in case I wanted to do something that involved having my hair away from my face.  Nothing in particular.

When I sat back down, I thought, “Whoa.  I shouldn’t be up and moving around when there’s a 1/4 gallon of milk sloshing around in my stomach.”  Five minutes later, the pizza guy showed up.  I got up and walked to the door to pay the pizza guy, and brought the food into the house.  Again, when I sat back down, I thought, “Whoa.  I shouldn’t be smelling pizza when I have so much milk sitting in my stomach.”


At about 35 minutes, everyone looked pretty fucking bummed.  You could see in our faces that we had realized what a poor decision this had been.  It ceased to be a fun stunt and was now a pure test of willpower and estrogen-fueled stubbornness.  We knew drinking milk made us feel bad, but we also knew that drinking more milk was the only way out of this terrible, terrible situation we had gotten ourselves into.  I made it about an inch below the top of the jug handle before my brain received the signal that it was time to put an end to this ridiculous bullshit.  Whether or not that happened publicly in front of all of my friends was my decision, but stomach had made an executive decision about this fiasco, and it was decidedly not in my favor.

I bolted from my chair, ran into the house, down the basement stairs, and into the small bathroom by the laundry room.  Throwing up cold milk you only drank about twenty minutes prior to throwing it up isn’t that terrible of an experience, believe it or not.  In fact, after I puked, I felt so much better.


So great, in fact, that I returned to the stage to torment my fellow contestants.  I filled them in on how great I felt now that I had puked, and that I was going to enjoy some hot, cheesy pizza now.  About ten minutes later, Muriel made her trip to the bathroom, after making it slightly below the handle of the jug.  Finally, with ten minutes to spare, Jenny finally succumbed after drinking a little over 3/4 of a gallon of milk.


I wish I could tell you that I learned my lesson and refrain from stupid pissing contests like this.  I wish I could tell you that I didn’t go on to eat three pieces of ham and cheese pizza that night, too.  Sadly, I’d be lying if I sad either of those things happened.  Here’s what I learned that night:

1.  If you’re going to try to drink a gallon of milk, be sure to stay seated the entire time.

2.  That’s it.

I’m planning to try this every ten years, so I figure I have about a year to get ready.  I’ll let you know how it goes, but I’m calling it now: I really think I have this locked down.

Thanks to Jenny and Muriel for letting me talk about that night they puked in my basement bathroom for no good reason.  Do them a favor and check out Go Comedy! Improv Theater and Sasha Farm Sanctuary.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.  

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