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Be careful what associations you build into routines with your pets.  Be sure you’re comfortable doing them for the rest of your pet’s life.

Finley has not always been a good eater.  He was one to let his food languish in the bowl.  Back in 2004-5, when we rented a shitty twin that was overrun with mice, we were a little paranoid (or justified) about leaving food out, and this included pet food.  Our landlord went so far as to blame the infestation on the dog’s food, which was (and always has been) kept in a sealed Rubbermaid tub.  Nevertheless, we were loathe to leave Finley’s food out for such a time as he felt compelled to eat it. 

Growing up, my family’s dogs had always been grazers, eating their fill whenever they chose, and never having weight problems or mouse issues.  But Finley changed everything.  We were told he had some issues surrounding feeding time when he had lived with Mr. Apron’s sister, Bianca, and her other dog, a black lab named Corey.  We weren’t sure if he hoarded her food, or if she kept him from eating.  In our early years of Finley ownership, with his picky eating, we had assumed it was the latter. 

We coaxed, we cajoled, we laid down the law.  We tried picking up the food after a period of time, letting him understand that if he wanted to eat, now was The Time, and if he chose not to, he could wait for the next meal.  It works with children.  Unfortunately I think the issue of hunger operates differently in dogs.  I’ve heard of some who will eat until they burst, not having that sense of fullness humans (are supposed to) have.  So we tried all manner of topping.  After some early attempts at “garnishing” his food with broken dog biscuits, we made a discovery.  Some dog food company made a sort of gravy we would squirt on his food, and that worked well enough.  Through some accident (perhaps Mr. Apron’s father was taking care of Finley one day and got “creative”), we soon found that he loved ketchup and all tomato-based products, so we switched to that.  As we neared the end of a jar of pasta sauce, I’d fill it up with water, creating a vaguely tomato-scented gravy that worked well enough.  We’d slosh it on his food, and he’d immediately start licking it up.  We figured that a kibble or two accidently entered his mouth and reminded him, “Hey.  This is food.  You like it.  Eat it now.”  So he’d clean his bowl.

I’m not sure when the soy milk started, or why we even conceived that a dog would have a palate for it.  But I can’t remember a time now when I was permitted to finish my “sugar mik” at the bottom of my cereal bowl.  I feel like I’ve always poured that little bit on Finley’s food. 

And now, Molly’s.  She has a touch of the sibling rivalry, and whatever he gets (biscuit, ear medicine, tooth brushing, toweling off after a walk), she wants intensely.  So even though they are both now good eaters (it seems she has inspired Finley to eat quickly lest she steal his food), the milk persists.  Finley will now claw at his bowl (or hers; he’s not picky) to ask for his kibble or the milk.  This morning, as I absent-mindedly did a Sudoko puzzle at the kitchen table, I must have lingered too long over my empty cereal bowl.  Next thing I knew, Molly was sitting in the chair beside me, her plaintive eyes meeting mine, and she uttered a delicate whine. 

“Please Mommy, your milky?  Please? I can have it in my bowl?”

And now a ritual that began as a way to cajole our picky eater into consuming his food before the mice did has been passed onto the next generation.  We are cultivating a love of soy milk in our canines.

If they both live to be 20, and people ask us our secret, we won’t be talking about the raw meat we don’t give them, nor the 5-mile daily walks they don’t have.  We’ll just shrug, sheepishly and say, “It must be the soy milk.”

My mother is fond of saying she’s tired of doing things “the hard way”.  She usually says this as she’s about to take us out to dinner or purchase something disposable instead of reusable.  It’s as if her whole life she’s been needlessly complicating things and she’s ready to sit back, relax, and call a gardener.  Well, she’s only half right.

Maybe she has been doing things the hard way, but there’s no stopping her now.  Yesterday, for example, she and my father drove up to his brother’s house in a suburb of Boston to pick up my sister’s former vehicle, a 1990-ish Honda Del Sol.  It’s been sitting in my uncle’s garage since my sister realized the downfall of her teenage fantasy that she wouldn’t have to schlep anybody around if she had a convertible with no back seat; she now has to regularly schlep people around for her job as a case worker.  So her little car went to my uncle’s garage.  He never drove much – just to pick up groceries an cat litter, and doesn’t seem to drive anymore, so his garage was just waiting for a car my family had no use for, but couldn’t part with.  Last week, my parents stopped by my uncle’s house and checked on the car.  My dad thought its clutch was shot, and figured that if the disuse had done it harm, it might be time to sell the little car.  Mom called the insurance company, and found out that for about “a dollar a day,” they could add it to their policy.  They have no need for the Del Sol.  Mom already has 2 useless cars taking up space in their garage: a 1973 MGB, and my brother’s former car, a 1989 Honda Prelude.  My brother ditched his car when he became Metro and Urban, and discovered the MBTA.   So if they need a convertible, they’re covered.  And if they need ridiculous sound systems that eat up trunk space and make the car impossible to ride in (the amp takes up frivolous space where seat padding might have once been), they’re covered.  Why not bring home another useless car?

That strikes me as doing things “the hard way” – perseverating on keeping, insuring, and maintaining cars they have no use for, rather than selling them, banking $2K for each, and reclaiming garage space. 

While I try to eschew their kind of craziness and logically flawed stratagems, I also find myself undertaking ventures that, while noble in theory, end up needlessly complicating everyday tasks. 

Am I Handy?  Is Mr. Apron?  Then why do we attempt home improvement tasks, only to get frustrated with each other and dissatisfied with the results?  Though we successfully (with my father’s initiative and guidance) installed cork flooring in the kitchen, I see the flaws we left behind, and the unfinished trim we have yet to install.  We are not professionals, yet we undertake jobs better suited for guys named Bob or Frank wearing paint-stained coveralls. 

It’s not just grunt work I try to do myself.  It’s also crafts.  There’s a new spirit of DIY that is infiltrating the Interwebs and my generation.  It’s an amalgam of a new Arts & Crafts movement (a turn of the last century movement which sought to rebel against mass produced industrial labor) and a “recessionista” frugality brought on by the current economic woes.  Though I myself haven’t started doing any crafting specifically because the stock market tanked and unemployment exploded, it’s finally considered au courant to be thrifty.  People are embracing my mentality at last.  If only this had happened when I was in middle school, I might have stood a chance at being cool (Who am I kidding?  It would have taken a continental shift for me to be cool back then.). 

On craftster.org, a website and online community dedicated to do-it-yourself crafts and inspiration, you can often read posts beginning like this: “Well, I saw it in a store, and I thought, I could make that myself!”  So we go home and do it, often cheaper, often with higher quality materials, and often customized in a way that isn’t available commercially. 

But sometimes it’s not quite the same, because we don’t have access to commercial grommet machines or industrial sewing machines, or the right kind of stretch lace.  We’re not electricians, yet we insist on wiring light fixtures.  We’re not apprenticed wood-workers, yet we convince ourselves we can build shelves and cabinets.  We’re not pastry chefs, yet we try our hand at profiteroles and custards, and bacon-flavored Jell-O.  We try fondant and upholstering and tailoring and book-binding and silver-smithing, all in the name of craft and the DIY spirit. 

Where did this come from?  Where did the drive to turn our craft rooms into mini-factories originate?  Why aren’t we still tatting doilies for the dining room table and making needlepoint canvas tissue box covers with clever sayings by Jesus? 

For me, personally, the DIY spirit has many origins.  From a young age, I saw my mother sewing.  I saw she could make clothing unavailable in stores.  I loved the yearly birthday suits she would make me in my childhood, and it was only natural I learned to sew.  Both sets of my grandparents struggled through the Depression, and while it affected each of them in different ways, I believe I did not escape uninfluenced.  From my father’s parents, I inherited that noble value of home maintenance and being Handy.  My grandfather was a notorious skin flint, who would go miles out of his way to avoid the nickel toll on the Massachusetts Turnpike.  Their house was furnished simply, and there was nothing frivolous to be found.  My father, too, is cheap.  He’s an embarrassingly bad tipper at restaurants, and never met a project he couldn’t get into, from shelves to desks to bookcases to coat racks.  He’s not so much into details, having ADD, but he generally does good work (the bookcase he built me for my 8th birthday to house my paperbacks now hangs sturdily in our living room and hides our DVDs.).  He never cleans up the sawdust, but he’s definitely competent.  My mother’s parents, having survived the Depression, started collecting “valuables”: clocks, National Geographics, pianos, shoes, stuffed animals, dolls, you name it.  While I’m sure they had unearthed many unbelievable garage sale finds in their lifetimes, the result now is my attitude that I’ll make myself find a use for the extraneous crap in my life.  Mailing envelopes are reused until they disintegrate, take-out Tupperware finds myriad new lives storing food, sewing supplies, and seedlings.  While I’m not a hoarder, I do try to see a new life in many things others would throw away.

Now that we’re done blaming my family and the 1930s economy, we can address the difficulty with my insistence on doing things myself.  If I want to paint the bedroom, reupholster the dining room chairs, make new window coverings, wire a pendant lamp out of a colander, and sew new baby gifts for all my pregnant friends, it’s going to take longer than just going to the store, hiring an interior decorator, or calling a handyman.  With the glut of cheap products from China, it might end up actually costing more; it certainly costs more in my time and energy.  When I’m done, non-professional upholsterer/electrician/seamstress that I am, I see only the inevitable flaws that result from my hack-job.  Even if I am a fairly competent human, with the skills necessary to measure, design, and create, I have to balance the control I gain when I do something myself, with the predictable short comings that result from my inexperience or lack of expertise.   More than that, I’m realizing I have to balance my desire to have complete control over my home furnishings with my desire to have my home completely furnished.  If I wait for myself to conceive, create, and finish projects, it will be a long time till we can finally have a house-warming party.  Which of course I would insist on catering myself.

I would say microwave popcorn needs to come with a warning label on it, but it already does.  The problem is, at a school where kids have difficulty reading, navigating the complex instruction on a single-serve bag of popcorn is nearly impossible. 

My Google-fu has not returned a satisfying direct quote from a popcorn bag, but I shall paraphrase, from the brand that I usually buy.  Because microwaves vary, your popcorn may take more or less than 3 minutes.  Do not push the popcorn button on your microwave. (because it’s the smaller size bag, see?) To pop, set the microwave to 3 minutes.  Do not abandon your popcorn!!  Listen for the popping to slow to between 1-2 seconds per pop.  Take it out of the microwave at this time. 

Then, in addition to all the popping instructions, there are multitudes of other words to jumble in the brain.  Careful: hot steam.  Point away from face.  This end up.  This end down.  Pull opposite corners diagonally to open.  It must all meld together, and they ignore it all. 

These kids all probably have super-charged microwaves at home, and they’re used to pushing the 1-minute button and leaving it at that.  At school, however, we only have the underpowered “microfridge” of dorm-room fame.  Here’s what happened a few months ago.  A kid put in his popcorn, pushed 1-minute, and didn’t hear enough popping, or it wasn’t done.  So he pushed “popcorn” and let it go for probably another 3 minutes.  As I turned toward the microwave, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the microwave, a veritable mushroom cloud of burnt popcorn smell.  It dissipated into the ceiling of the gym, and kept rising, all the way up the stairwell to the 3rd floor, clinging to the nostrils of all who disturbed its progress. 

Today, another kid just put her popcorn in for too long and let it go.  She approached me, disappointed, as the tell-tale bag wavered sadly in her hand.  Then she prized off the slitted lid of the recycling bin and tried to dispose of it there.  “No,” I said, “You can’t recycle burnt popcorn.”  So she found a real trash can in the office.  It was then summarily removed to the bathroom, yet somehow the odious odor has again breached the third floor hallways. 

I like Orville Redenbacher’s idiot instructions on their “Smart Pop” bags, in that they are pictures.  Similar to the “kid-friendly” pictures on the side of the Kraft Mac & Cheese box,Orville has an image of the max time (3:00), then a graphic of a man intently listening for the magical 2-second pause, and finally a drawing of someone very safely opening the bag by pulling diagonally on the corners.  I assume he is pointing the steaming bag away from his face, of course.  

With all these pictures and direction and warnings, the bags still get burnt to a crisp.  What else could we do?  Put a button on the box that speaks the directions?  Include another button on the microwave for “single-serve” bags?  Put an “are you sure” command in the microwave?  Have the microwave automatically sense what kind of object is inside?  This could be the future of microwave cookery or maybe microwave popcorn is like cigarettes – no matter how many gruesome images and macabre warnings they plaster all over the packs, people still light up. 

At least we're not serving this for dinner anymore.

In my tutoring for SAT preparation, I have come across themes and variation on the essay questions.  One of the most common SAT essay questions is the topic of change and motivation.  In one phrasing or another, the SAT asks if we believe that change can come from external sources or if true change comes only from within.  Change, motivation, perception of reality – they are all cousins.

At Mr. Apron’s work in the psych hospital, he evaluates patients on their “stage of change” in order to gauge their insight into their condition.  The vast majority of the people he runs into are in “pre-contemplation”; they don’t know why they’re in the hospital at all.  They create wild confabulations about how the tortured cat deserved it, how they were framed, and how they’re being held against their will. He has others, however, who are more reality-based in their world view, who might begin to understand that they need help.  I’m no expert on stages of change, but I do know that the staff, try as they might, cannot move a patient from “pre-contemplation” to “contemplation”.  For all the delusional, psychotic, disorganized patients who hear voices, respond to those voices, and espouse rambling conspiracy theories about mind-control, insistence on government manipulation, and fears of staff defecating in the pancake mix, nothing the staff can say will “convince” them otherwise.  Much as it makes no difference to insist to someone with severe Alzheimer’s that the president is not Roosevelt (and to do it again every 2 minutes), it does little good to “correct” the continued delusions.  Even as Mr. Apron might try to “reorient” his patients to “reality” (or however he perceives it), it is a futile exercise until they have a greater awareness of their own condition or the world around them. 

When I was in 5th grade, first starting to play clarinet, I took great joy in playing and practicing.  Practicing was genuinely motivating because my dad had dusted off his old clarinet to play duets. Two of my best friends also played clarinet, and we would have duetting sessions at each other’s houses while our parents visited, until our respective bedtimes.  Playing was motivating, and while “practicing” as its own entity never quite caught on with me, music itself was enjoyable, and remained so throughout high school, where I was always able to find a clarinet or other woodwind buddy to duet with, sit next to, or compete against for solos. 

When I started playing bassoon, I was more alone.  I was the sole bassoonist in my school.  My dad played bassoon, but we only had the one instrument, so we were duetting less often.  In high school, my weekly lessons took me 90 miles away to the Twin Cities, where I took lessons with the venerable John Miller, of the Minnesota Orchestra.  I was completely intimidated by his mansion-like home, with its posh appointments and antiques.  I was completely in awe of his ability to effortless coax notes out of his instrument.  If external motivation ever stood a chance, it was John Miller’s influence on my musicianship.  Yet my willingness to practice my instrument was more out of fear of disappointing him or my parents.  It was more out of shame that I would drive an hour and a half on a Saturday morning with nothing to show for myself. 

As I continued to take lessons in college, my teacher came with a less impressive pedigree, but she was certainly skilled as a musician and an instructor.  Yet the frequency of my practice sessions dwindled.  I had excuses a plenty.  I’d practice more if it weren’t too late, if the music building weren’t so far away, if the practice rooms weren’t all occupied.  Out of guilt, I would rush to the music building the day before my lesson so I could honestly report to her the next day that yes, I had practiced this week.  I am a terrible liar; I had to cover my bases.  Mid-way in my sophomore year, she fired me from bassoon lessons.  Though I didn’t then fully understand her reasoning for “flunking” me out of lessons, I think now she must have known my heart wasn’t in it.  She quit me from what might have been my music major, yet it wasn’t as if my very soul was becoming loosed from its moorings.  It didn’t come as a tremendous shock to hear someone else tell me I wasn’t putting in enough effort; I already knew it.  After years of my half-assed practicing out of fear or guilt, she just finally called my bluff. 

I struggled for years in college wondering why my “motivation” was so low.  I have questioned why I procrastinate, why my mile-long to-do lists persist, why I just can’t keep up with all the things I want to do.  I have written recently about seeing all my “want to”s “have to”s “ought to”s on the other side of a glass wall, taunting me with their remote appeal.  I am only now coming to realize that my longing to do them, my distress at not being able or willing to begin them, is my internal motivation.

For years I berated myself, “If you were only motivated enough, you’d get off your ass and do X.”  Turns out that’s a false premise.  If I feel bad about no longer playing any musical instrument, I must not confuse that guilt or regret of having disappointed my parents with a lack of motivation.  If I feel bad about not being able to initiate something I do actually want to do, like invite our neighbors over, or plow through the pile of unfinished mending, that’s not about motivation.  There’s something else there, either fear or anxiety, or some unknown, unexplored entity that is inhibiting my initiative.  But not my motivation. 

While many people insist it took an external act (seeing a loved one die from lung cancer, a health scare, a near collision with a tractor-trailer, breaking up with a long-time boyfriend) to effect change in their behavior or belief structure, I still come down squarely on the side of internal motivation being the only true impetus for change.  It might take the loss of a family member to bring awareness of the impact of cigarette smoking, but it is the individual’s newly personal fear of dying or sickness that motivates them.  No number of PSAs or billboards over I-95 or high school health class scare tactics managed to budge the smoker’s pack from his pocket.  It was only the emotional reaction to watching a friend or family member die that was able to serve as a motivator, and moved the person into “contemplation”.  External forces may alter the landscape violently, but when an external factor finally manages to break through, where others have failed, it is only because the person is at last ready to listen, understand, and begin to change from within.

I have homework, and I really don’t want to do it.  I think I’ll put it off as long as possible.  It’s a familiar story, but I’m not in school.  There’s no grade, no lab report, no phone call home for missing work.  I’m accountable only to myself and my therapist.

I have to confront my sister-in-law.  No, not Bianca, the one whose very pseudonym causes bits of bile to rise, as I confront the impending doom of her arrival on my block.  She’s closing later this month on a house we can see from our living room window.  Not Bianca, whose misadventures cause the whole family to jump into action to swoop in and rescue her from her from herself. 

No, this time it’s Julia, my oldest sister-in-law.  It’s not even personal.  It’s more an issue of a habit Mr. Apron’s family has, and a behavior that makes me nuts.  Whereas my family beats around the bush, and usually adopts a don’t ask, don’t tell policy of extreme secrecy, prudishness, and shame, Mr. Apron’s family discusses things openly, to a point.  While no topics are truly off limits in general, many of them are safely discussed behind the backs of others, using as many middlemen as possible.  An issue between two family members may involve everyone in the family, plus in-laws. 

When it was suggested (by a 3rd party), that Bianca and her husband ought to go to counseling, to maybe save their marriage, or to learn how to behave like adults who have a child, they sort of agreed.  Somehow, though, I became involved.  Somehow, Mr. Apron became involved.  Somehow, Julia and my parents-in-law became involved.  I imagine it went something like this:  well, they really ought to go to counseling, and we don’t have the name of a therapist.  But Mrs. Apron, she sees someone!  I know: we’ll get Mr. Apron to call her therapist to ask her to recommend the name of a counselor for Bianca and her husband.   She will in turn recommend a name.  Unless, of course, she doesn’t know what their insurance will cover.  She said to print out a list of providers (from their insurance website), and Mrs. Apron can bring that list into her therapist, who will circle names she recommends.  Oh, but because Bianca can’t/won’t do this herself, Julia is again called into action to be the internet gopher.  Because she can only do this with Bianca’s cooperation, the entire strategic operation has stalled.  In the end, only Bianca can help herself, and if she won’t, no one else can. 

Luckily, my current “issue” with Julia is minor by comparison. It’s so minor, I’d rather just let it go, sweep it under the rug, and move on with my life.  But I need to start with something small, a baby step, in hopes that it leads to bigger things.   What happened was this: I asked Julia along on my doctor’s appointment 2 weeks ago.  She provided distraction and emotional support at the infertility doctor, as Mr. Apron could not be there, and I was out of my mind with frantic anxiety.  She did her job well; I was eternally grateful she was there. 

Last weekend, she asked Mr. Apron to come with her on one of their usual de-stressing sessions.  During this session, it was revealed that Julia had overheard 3 different couples/women with various complaints about the doctor to whom I was at that moment unloading my 18-month long voyage of non-pregnancy.  One complaint was from someone who was bitching about schedule procedures.  Someone was down here from the Lehigh Valley, grumbling about not being seen promptly, and when she was finally seen, she felt that the doctor had been brusque, rushing her, not listening.  Yet another woman bemoaned the fact that her insurance had not paid for some procedures.  I could take apart these complaints, one by one, in order to relieve my cognitive dissonance.  In fact, I shall.  I had found the doctor to be understanding of not only my medical history, but also my state of mind in pursuing treatment.  I had had to wait, yes, but that’s part of the pitfall of healthcare in general.  I’d rather she give me, and the person who came before me, the time we each need, then rush us all to be on time.  As for insurance coverage, after speaking with his sister, Mr. Apron begged me to call my insurance company to make sure they covered my upcoming blood work and procedures, something we never have done before.  It’s routine blood work, it’s an ultra-sound.  I’ve been through brain surgery, for fuck’s sake, and always known that my HMO would cover medically necessary procedures as long as I had the all-important referral or pre-authorization.  We have no idea if this was the woman’s 5th failed IVF, when her insurance only covered 4.  That’s an entirely different matter than just blood work and tests.  It’s an awful lot of conjecture to sour someone on a doctor they’ve never met.

But I won’t be concerning myself with her worries.  I can make an informed decision about my own doctor.  I’ve disliked doctors before.  I’ve sought out 2nd opinions and changed doctors, and reacted when I was displeased with their professionalism or medical advice.  What is most upsetting to me is that she could not/did not tell me herself.  She says (though my husband-interpreter) that she didn’t want to dampen my mood that day.  I had appeared to like the doctor, and I was rushing off to another appointment, anyway.  So she decided to pass along her burdensome worries to her brother. 

When he came home, I could sense his sullen mood.  Sometimes, post-family session, he has just borne witness to an intensive venting session about Bianca, or is depressed about his parents’ aging, or his own sadness.  This time, it was that Julia had unloaded all her worries about telling me her own doubts about my doctor, onto my husband.  And he got to be the messenger.  Not fair to him, not fair to me, not fair of Julia.

My homework this week is to talk to Julia.  No, not a full-out confrontation as I indicated, but a conversation between two (assumed) adults who hold jobs, pay bills, and are united in joint agony over Bianca’s child-rearing techniques.  I don’t have to refute the women in the waiting room; I don’t have to defend my good vibes about the doctor.  All I have to do is thank her for her concerns, and ask that, next time, she come talk to me about it. 

My therapist planted a metaphor in my mind, a very apt description of my internal state.  I have lists, masses, multitudes of things I want to do, need to do, ought to do.  They are insignificant, they are vital, they are dreadful, they are fun.  I want to try knitting again, to take a class this time.  I want to invite the neighbors over so I can start building my social circle.  I want to socialize with some of my coworkers.  I want to try out different synagogues and find one that fits, so I can rejoin the Jewish community.  I want to make a decision about window treatments and ditch the broken blinds.  I want to travel, I want to maintain our home.  I want to try to cook new things.  I am separated from all of these “want”s by a glass wall.  I can see them, I can want for them. But I cannot reach them. 

The hope is that by talking to Julia, I can make a small crack in this glass wall, and begin to break down the barrier to the want tos, need tos, ought tos.  

Like real dreaded homework, I am procrastinating.  Two days gone by, and all I have to show is mounting dread and anxiety.  All I have are excuses why I have not called her up, or scheduled a meeting, or gone over to my in-laws’ to get it over with.  I can’t do it Thursday because I’m tutoring.  I can’t do it Sunday because she volunteers at the museum.  I can’t do it Saturday because she watches my nephew.  I can’t do it over the phone because using the phone is one of the activities I dread the most.  I envision the conversation, I script my lines, I rehearse the script.  I sense it will go something like this: 

Me: Juliacanwetalk?

J: Um.  Sure?

Me:  UmokayIreallyappreciatethatyouwenttothedoctorwithmeokay

J: <blank stare>

Me: andumandumI’mreallygratefulthatyouwereconcernedwhatothepeoplewereuhuhuh

J: yeah?

Me: yeahwhattheyweresayingaboutthetdoctorso,um,so,nexttime…

J: yeah?

Me: couldyoujustImean,ifyoucouldjust,like,tellmedirectly,I’dappreciateityeah

J:okay

Me: <running away crying>

Or worse:

Me: Juliacanwetalk?

J: Sure.  Nothing is wrong, is it?

Me: No,notreally,okay,Ireallyappreciatethatyouwenttothedoctorwithmeokay?

J: What is this really about?

Me: andumandumI’mreallygratefulthatyouwereconcernedwhatothepeoplewereuhuhuh

J: Go on. Is there a point here? 

Me: yeahwhattheyweresayingaboutthetdoctorso,um,so,nexttime

J: Who?  Oh, the women in the waiting room? Yeah, they really reamed her out.  You’re not going back there, are you?  I mean, you can’t seriously think she’s a good doctor, can you?

Me: No,Imean,yeah,Imean,IcandecideformyselfandIlikedheranduh

J: I can’t believe you’re telling me this! 

Me: Seeit’sjustthatuh couldyoujustImean,ifyoucouldjust,like,tellmedirectlynexttime,I’dappreciateityeah

J: I’m never speaking to you again!

I’d rather write a 20-page paper on the Marxist tendencies of 17th century Norwegian peasant farmers with MLA documentation.  But we don’t get to choose our homework, do we?

My dreams the last two nights have been a mess.  I wake myself up in an anxiety-riddled panic, unable to go back to sleep for fear of jumping right back into the narrative I just left.  I roll over and grab my sleeping husband, hoping he’ll sense my fear and put reassuring, positive thoughts in my head, but I am too considerate of his sleep to wake him up. 

When I was a child, I had no such qualms.  My brother and I went through a period of regular night-time visitations to my parents’ bed.  It’s a wonder they got any sleep at all.  Mostly I think we just felt safe and secure there.  While I did have some night terrors (specifically a witch in my walk-in closet, and, the usual, dying), I just found myself able to fall asleep easier when between my parents.  (It’s also a wonder my sister was ever born.)  Mom theorized it was the foam egg-crate on their bed, so she bought me one.  It’s still not the same. 

But my current bed should be all right.  We just changed the sheets and have calculated minimal friction coefficients in the current sheets.  We had on the knit jersey kind that has become fashionable for its t-shirt-like softness.  Unfortunately, the sheets twist and turn with every movement, and the top sheet becomes a tangled mess around my legs or stuffed at the foot of the bed.  Flannel pajamas with flannel sheets = a nightmare waiting to happen.  I need to be able to climb into bed without the sheets adhering themselves to my body.  I can’t have my pant legs pushed up or twisted.  I can’t have the waistband too constrictive.  And for the love of all that is pure and chaste, my shirt cannot be riding up, scrunching and bunching around my midsection. 

I need those pajamas that kids used to wear pre-zip-up footies, where the top snapped into the bottoms so nothing fell down or rode up.  Too bad they went out in the 1950s. 

Last weekend, we changed the sheets, putting on crisp, clean ones.  Woven cotton only, none of this knit nonsense.  And still I slept fitfully, my unconscious feasting on terrors I can only begin to fathom. 

Two nights ago, my family was on their way home.  They decided to stay at a fictional hotel “right off route 59, the way Harold and Maude drove” near our house, near the entrance to an expressway that does actually exist.  Somehow it was waterfront (despite my living in a land-locked state with no lakes of any size nearby).  My family tried to check in.  The office was across a narrow bridge covered in sand, and could be accessed either via this bridge, or by going under it, and submerging the car in 12 feet of water.  Not sure why walking across wasn’t an option.  My family wisely chose to drive over the bridge to check in.  No sooner did they check in, than the tide began coming in, quickly and fiercely.  As we sat on a grassy/sandy knoll by the shore, the water began lapping closer and closer, and we watched in passive terror as the family’s PT Cruiser was taken out to sea.  It didn’t sink much as it was dragged further and further into the surf, so I surmised it must have been on a sand dune.  Yet no one attempted to swim out to it, so intimidating was the water.

Across the bay was a beautiful house, which had put out a distress flag.  It was a tiny blue flag with an upside-down yellow triangle in the middle of it.  The whole thing was strung across the front of the house, looking rather fussy and ineffectual. 

But back to the car.  The PT Cruiser is a vehicle my family once owned 2 of.  Mom reserved one as soon as they were available for pre-order, an automatic transmission, since she was told that was all that was available.  Two months later, they suddenly decided to make a manual transmission, so she ordered one of those, too.  Finally, in February of 2001, the first one came in.  Then in April, the 2nd one arrived.  They had planned to sell the first, since at the time the PT was a hot commodity, with wait lists and high resale value (really!).  Yet there were no takers.

Except me. I took the car as my graduation present and drove it out to Pittsburgh to start my new life as a grown up in 2002.  I never specifically wanted that car, but it was there, it was almost new, and who am I to look a gift car in the mouth?  I had been told growing up that I could have my choice (within reason) of a new(ish) car for my college graduation.  I pined after a new beetle in yellow or green.  But here this was; who was I to argue?

We finally ditched the PT Cruiser last year so Mr. Apron could have his choice of cars, a 2002 Volvo S40.  Neither of us loved the PT, and I barely drove it anymore, as the driving position had gradually become intolerable for my short-statured self.  By the time I cranked the seat high enough that I could see over the dashboard, my feet were dangling above the pedals.   My heels never had a chance to touch the floor, and I drove using my toes.  For almost 7 years. 

When I got my Honda Fit, we traded in Mr. Apron’s Ford Focus, as neither of us had any attachment to it (emotional or otherwise), and we still owed money on the Ford.  Because the PT was ours, we kept it.  I was a little sad to let it go, as I had affection for it in theory if not in drivability, but I am more in love with my new Fit than I ever was with the PT.  

As the PT Cruiser rode out to sea, we also noted my mother’s pink scarf adrift in the water.  She seemed more upset about losing the scarf.  With the loss of both, though, there was a sense of inevitability.  

Last night’s dream was far most disturbing, with a hazier narrative.  At one point Mr. Apron and I were visiting with our jeweler, who was showing us an antique toaster that was embossed and studded with diamonds.  He had picked it up as part of an estate; we oohed and aahed appropriately.  Later, I was at someone’s home daycare (not unlike my former job), and I recognized some children I had known previously.  They were apparently in the foster care system, and moved around frequently.  I felt an attachment to one little girl specifically.  The day care worker told me she was a bit undersized and underfed, but that she’d recently taken a shine to bagels, toasted and buttered.  I sat with her on my lap as I fed her bit after bite, bonding with the kiddo.  At one point, a cafeteria worker came in with the last of the food.  She said she was preparing to pitch the leftovers, unless we wanted anything else.  I asked for another bagel bit.  She mentioned something about leaving bagels out for the firefighters. 

It’s not so clear what happened next, but the firefighters were a link to some other scene.  Some other person and I were waiting for the firefighters to clear out of their lounge so we could rescue some injured girl.  We made ourselves invisible (one of my favorite superpowers), and lay in wait under what was a sort of stage with a curtained front.  We knew a maintenance man would come to mop the lounge, then leave, giving us our chance to save/find the girl.  Unfortunately, we realize that she was squirreled away with the mop, and that the maintenance man wouldn’t be able to do his job without it.  As he searched for the mop, someone (Him?  Someone else?) came into our hiding place.  Though we were invisible, he still stumbled around and found me by touch.  I clawed and struggled, though stopped short of actually trying to harm him.  He tried to undress me, pulling down my bra strap.  As he continued to feel around, he came to a hand, a dismembered hand, which could only have come from the girl who was now assumed to be dead.  As he couldn’t see, he must have assumed it was me.  

At this point, I think I made a break for it, and somehow was in a department store or a mall, reliving my most recurrent dream: the Chasing Dream.  My invisibility didn’t seem to work on my pursuers, all of whom seemed to be wearing enormous black t-shirts. 

I think I woke myself up, recognizing the Chasing Dream in situ. 

I’m trying to think of real-life stressors that could have prompted these dreams, events or fears in my waking life that could have contributed in some small way.  Mostly, though, I’m just stunned by the dreams themselves. 

I’m beginning to recognize myself as an anxious person.  While my anxieties are not as obvious as my husband’s are (to me), they’re definitely becoming clearer.  Usually I can “logic” them away.  Oh, I don’t like to be thrown off my morning routine (by a phone call, extra task, or a kink in the schedule) because I have so little time in the morning.  I can’t be late to work because it’s disrespectful.  I’m afraid of initiating contact with our neighbors to ask them to dinner because I’m afraid of rejection.  Or acceptance.  I’m socially awkward, so it’s only natural.  I don’t like making phone calls because I’m concerned people judge me when I hesitate, or don’t have answers.  I dislike that the visual component of communication is compromised, that people might be impatient with me, or misinterpret my words.  That I might say the wrong thing.  I constantly fear I’ve said the taboo thing when we’re at my in-laws’.  Never mind that there’s a rotating list of 47 topics that are currently off-limits.  Never mind that I’ve been a part of their son’s life for 8 years and they do accept and love me, and even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t matter.  I worry about my students. Try as I might to push them from my mind and “leave them at school”, the ones I identify with strongly follow me home. 

Are all these anxieties following me into my dreams?  I feel like I’m back in bed with flannel pajamas and flannel sheets, with the bedclothes twisting around my legs, over-heating me as I try to extricate myself and sort the sheets out so I can make some sense of it all.  The worries are all muddled, twisted up, and overwhelming.  I can’t get a decent look at it all from the middle of the mess.

Dear Food and Cosmetic Industry,

Thank you for elucidating specifically which foods are meant for which people.  I never would have known which yogurt to buy if it weren’t for your well targeted advertising on TV and your helpful product names. 

For example, now that my nephew is weaning off formula and incorporating more solid foods into his diet, it’s imperative that my in-laws know what kind of foods are specifically for him.  Since unlike any of his blood relatives, he likes yogurt, they would have no idea what to feed him if it weren’t for the “YoBaby” line of yogurts.  A reasonably well read consumer can’t be expected to integrate the knowledge that children under 2 should eat only full fat (whole milk) dairy products into their selection of a whole milk yogurt at the dairy case.  Thank you for making it painfully obvious. As I have just learned, “YoBaby is the only whole milk organic yogurt made especially for babies and toddlers.”

As my nephew matures and sheds the “baby” image, it’s also nice to know there’s a line of yogurts for the “toddler” segment as well.  What would it be but “YoToddler” of course!  And onward to the “YoKids” line, which, of course, is low-fat.  As long as you stay glued to the Stoneyfield Farm website, you’ll know exactly what to feed your kids.

But what about adults?!  How would we know what is suitable for men and women if it weren’t for the food industry, helpfully giving us hints all along?  Thankfully we have commercials to point out that yogurts in flavors like “key lime pie” and “Boston cream pie” are just for women.  You’ll only ever see a man in a Yoplait commercial if he’s being chastised for sneaking his wife’s yogurt in search of an aspartame fix. 

Yogurt’s not really a manly thing, anyway.  Now, soap, that’s manly.  How to tell, though, if soap is for men or women?  Mercifully, dark colored packaging and the recent inclusion of the word “MEN” on the label (as in Dove “Men + Care” body wash or the aptly named “Nivea for Men”) clears up that mystery.  Heaven forbid men use a product that smells like cucumber & green tea scent or nectarine and white ginger.  Or “unscented” or “original”.  Now I can tell just by glancing at a box whether a soap, body wash, razor, shampoo, or band-aid is right for my husband, or designed exclusively for me. 

Wasn’t there a Pepsi product that was supposed to be for men?  Ah, yes, the Pepsi Max was intended to be a diet soda for men. Men aren’t really supposed to like diet soda or light beer, but Pepsi knows there are guys who are Diabetties, or don’t want the extra calories.  What was a man to do? Thank you, PepsiCo, for leading the way with the man’s diet cola! 

Frozen foods?  Clearly, women are the ones who should be watching their calories and they can rely on frozen dinners to help them accomplish this.  Lean Cuisines are just right for that calorie-conscious woman on the go.  But men?  Men eat frozen dinners when they need to fill up their manly stomachs.  Poor things don’t have someone to cook them enough to satiation, so they need things like “Hungry Man”, and other foods that advertise their main selling points as the number of pounds and ounces of meat-like substances crammed in their paperboard containers.  Thank you for making it obvious.

But what to feed our kids?  Thanks to advertising, I now know that kids should only eat foods that come in lurid colors.  Ice cream in “bubble gum” and “tutti frutti” flavors, popsicles or string cheese that has added bonuses like jokes and cartoon characters on the box. We are guided to feed our kids frozen dinners in they can eat with their fingers (silly kids can’ t use utensils!).  And it’s all thanks to you, food industry.  You take care of our families.

Thank you, food industry, for telling us what to feed our family!  Thank you, cosmetics industry, for showing us which products are suitable for which gender. 

Yours,

A demographic