The Trouble with Mountain Dew

It has been two months since I went off the sauce. It was pretty easy, this time. I was taking strong painkillers for the miscarriage, anyway, so it seemed a propitious time. (Also the number on the scale at the doctor’s was sufficiently humbling.)

But now, two months later, I crave Dew’s lemon meringue-y chemical sweetness more than my lover’s arms. I wake up fantasizing about that first cold slip down the throat, the pop and hiss as you open a can or the still-slightly-illicit-thrill of making an unnecessary stop at the gas station, genuflecting at that holy miracle, the soda fountain machine, from which pours the heavenliest of nectars, unceasingly.

My tooth hurts, my voice is ravaged from swine flu (Dick says I should cut back to one pack a day. Of swine? I ask.) I have a few projects on deadline and I’m still sad about my weight (and my baby, though this would be what they call an unpropitious time to be pregnant.)

Mountain Dew is the ultimate comfort. The shangri of my la, the pot of gold, the beautiful oblivion from all cares and curses. Maybe if I promise to start running every morning I can afford just one taste of bliss each day. Or what if I stop yelling? Swearing? Complaining about the basketball-sweaty socks strewn about my bedroom? Surely there is some indulgence I can trade for the sin I covet.

(And before you suggest diet Mountain Dew, don’t. It’s spectacularly disgusting. And, anyway, it’s the caffeine too, as well as the sugar. I see myself as someone just crunchy enough to despise artificial stimulants while keeping well under the doesn’t-use-toilet-paper true-granola barrier.)

I am the voice inside her head

Two entries from Sally’s school journal:

this Halloween I’m going to be a enchantres. I have a dress that’s velvet and Gold triming. I will have magic powers and fly. my mom got me that dress and i Love it! she got it from the chepest place! Di! i wonder why anybody would give it to Di. it’s the Best dress ever!

today I woke up and had Breakfast. But when I poured my creal I found out I had magic powers! I ran upstairs and found my piggy bank and made more and more money and then Bought a scooter. then I turned my sisters into toads. But my mom made me turn them back. I was not very happy.


1. I’m glad Sally has given up the idea of being a vampire. She doesn’t even know what a vampire is, so I don’t know why she wanted to be one.

2. That dress really is awesome. I don’t know why anyone would give it to DI, either.

3. Having kids old enough to get their own breakfast is the first step on the path to parenting nirvana. Of course, it’ll be eclipsed in quality-of-life improvingness when she’s old enough to babysit, but for now, it’s a glimmer of hope.

4. I like that she went to her piggy bank to make money. Like an ancient alchemist or any Einstein-ian scientist. You can’t have matter from nothing, right?

5. Sally has been talking about a scooter for months, so we bought Susan and Spot scooters for their birthdays this month. By the time Sally’s birthday comes around it’ll be snowy. So really we should get her one now, but we didn’t. Cruel, I know.

6. Sally is so in touch with her feelings (not to mention personal choice, responsibility, and consequences) that I don’t think she’s going  to need very much therapy at all.

In Lieu of Flowers

We drove Mr. Bennet (I’ll call him something respectful just in case anything happens) to the airport this morning for his celebrity appearance in Texas. (“Celebrity appearance” is technical writer humor for “waste two vacations days and pay half your hotel fee for the dubious honor of speaking to your fellow technical writers.”)

On the way home, the tickle in my throat turned, in one slow-motion curve of the freeway, to throbbing temples and a full-body ache. Spot and I were the last holdouts against this cold, not the swine flu (which is what we are telling ourselves anyway so that Dick can go in all good conscience to contaminate the good people of Austin).

In times of sickness, any mother (especially any temporarily-single-mother) knows the most important thing is provisions: drugs, vitamins, food, liquid, tissues, barf bucket, cleaning supplies, movies, books, maybe a large shotgun in dire cases. (For self-inflicted wounds, stop worrying about my kids.)

So I planned to stop at the library (no one was coughing or feverish at this point, and we’d be really fast), the Walmart, and Little Ceasar’s pizza. But after I stocked up on Anne Stuart gothic novels and several books recommended by my friend Susan, I had no heart for stopping anywhere else.

In terms of the provisional heirarchy, a good book (and the movie Big Business I think my girls will like as much as Marcy and I did) is simply more important than Pumpkin Spice eggnog (though wouldn’t that have been throat-soothing?) and $5 hot-and-ready pizza.

Anyway, we’ve got fixins’ for hot chocolate in the pantry, and for lunch?

Seagull Fountain Ramen Noodle Special:

2 packages chicken top ramen w/ seasoning packets


2 handfuls classic coleslaw mix (shredded carrot and cabbage, for roughage)

1/2-1 cup home-canned chicken (for protein)

1 tsp curry (for spice)

1 (or three) tblsp heavy cream (for love)

I think I should submit this to the New York Times High-Low segment, though that’s usually fashion, and even the Low end of whatever ensemble they’re pimping is way out of my range. Kinda like this Ramen Noodle concoction. Not just anyone has this stuff available year-round, you know.

The Practical Season

My little sister Karin called Friday morning. I didn’t recognize her voice at first so I wondered why some chick’s opening line was “Are you at your computer?” especially since it’s not like I’m always in front of my computer. So I couldn’t look up Jay’s Treaty on the Wikipedia for her as she did a fast-trot across campus to the testing center.

She mentioned something about the XYZ affair, early 1800s, John Jay, and things started ringing a bell, but I was going seventy on the freeway so it really wasn’t an optimal time for historical conjecture.

I got to Mama’s house (I don’t ever call my mother “mama” but right now I wish I did) finally and we started bumbling our way through canning my forty pounds of $1.29/pound chicken from Macey’s. Mama can sew anything. Anything. But she’d never canned meat before, so we were both studying the directions and calling her friend who does it all the time.

I asked if she’d decided what she’ll study in school when she goes back in January. Mama has twenty-three college credits from thirty years ago, and now that my youngest brother Ryan is the fifth and last of us to trot across campus to the testing center, Mama is going back.

She’s scared. Even though she can do anything, fix anything, build a family, and bring the nurture so the Giving Tree looks like a selfish putz, Mama’s anxious about going back to school.

I am tickled for her. Maybe even more excited than when my Sally started school for the first time.

Oh, the places you’ll go! (Mama!)

We laughed over Karin’s frantic phone call (Mama got one too and was also in the car at the time. Karin got lucky with our sister, Marcy, who it’s also not like she’s always in front of her computer). Later, as my fingers turned numb from half-frozen raw chicken and my skin cracked from repeated hand-washings, Karin called again and told Mama she was jealous that we were canning stuff and that when she’d called Marcy for last-minute cramming she was reading a book while grinding wheat.

Mama says Karin, who has three more semesters of school, is feeling the pull of the domestic. (Her boyfriend returns from a two-year mission for our church in a couple of weeks). I’ve already told Karin she has to graduate before having kids — even though if Mama had done that I probably wouldn’t be here.

So what are you going to study, Mama, I asked? And Mama said she’s been rethinking her plan to do nursing. Now she’s probably going to study something in the humanities, maybe everything in the humanities, because she’s been doing practical things all her life.

Of course I think back to college and wish I’d been more practical. It’s nice to know where to place a comma and that Aphra Behn was a foremother of the modern romance novel, but sometimes I wish I’d picked up some tax-return fundamentals along the way.

But for Mama? I hope she absolutely revels in the impractical, now that her season has changed.

Actual Unretouched PR

See if you can spot all the problems in this pitch:

Hello Mari,

I wanted to tell you about a new month-long Bubbles and Bubbly Contest powered by Wisk High-Efficiency detergent, which your readers will surely enjoy. To enter to win, just answer a true or false question that tests your Bubble IQ and no matter if you get it right or wrong you are eligible for a grand prize drawing of a fabulous red HE washer & dryer.  And because we know that all HE machines require HE detergent, we’re also giving away one-year supplies of Wisk HE detergent to 5 lucky runners up. Also, each day 5 people will win a free bottle of Wisk HE.  You can enter up to once a day for a month for the chance to win, so do come back each day for a new question and another chance to win!

Please let me know if you have any questions and if you can help spread the word to your readers.




Done? Okay. Here’s what I came up with:

1. My name is not “Mari.” I’m happy to be called Shannon or Jane; even “MommyBlogger” would be preferable to a name that is not my name. Sally has been reading too much Calvin & Hobbes lately so she calls me “the Mom-Lady,” but she’s eight, you know?

2. “which your readers will surely enjoy.” Yeah, my dad is really interested in Wisk High-Efficiency detergent.

3. “Bubble IQ.” Really?

4. The statement I got upon visiting the site was “True or False: If you swallow bubble gum it will stay in your stomach for 7 years.” I asked Sally this question in case I was dismissing it too quickly. She gave me the look and said, “that’s impossible.” If your quiz doesn’t at least require my eight-year old to think for a minute, why would I enjoy it?

5. The contest entry requires that you submit both your street address and phone number. Uh, I don’t think so. And, maybe you could have mentioned that in this email. I can’t in good conscience encourage people to leave that kind of information on a site that has no visible encryption or privacy policy.

6. The results are the same whether I get the answer right or wrong? Why use words like “question” and “tests” and “IQ” if this is really one of those pinko feel-good non-contests where everyone is a winner (as long as they’re chosen randomly)? Kids gotta learn that not everyone can be the next American Idol.

7. Whatever you do, don’t say what brand the washer and dryer are (as long as it’s not Maytag — like the kind Dooce, oops, it is a Maytag.) But they’re red! (same kind as my laptop) and fabulous!

8. You just said that High-Efficiency detergent is only for those fancy HE machines, right? If you do a simple site search of my blog with the word “laundry,” the first result is this post, which has a picture of my old, ugly (yet reliable) machines. I know, your time is too valuable to pretend to do any research, even the most obvious and easy two-second search. You’re too important to waste time personalizing things for me. I get it. (thanks for the ego hit.)

9. Even if I did have nothing better to do than enter a quiz that isn’t a quiz every day for a month, you think I’d want to broadcast that fact?

I noticed this email (among all the other bad pitches I’ve gotten recently) because a guy I met at a blogging for business conference emailed me the other day asking for consultation about a pitch he’s working on. (SMART GUY.)

Seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to write a successful pitch, if you truly love a product and if you’ve ever written a letter to your mom. But of course PR people can’t expect to love every product they work with, and they probably don’t have mothers, either. Maybe if they could get into some sort of headspace where they believed in X product so much they simply HAD to write home to mother about it, the email boxes of mommybloggers across the land would be a much happier place.

Now I feel bad. I sent a link to this to Kathleen, and she responded so graciously. I’m a jerk. (But everything I said is still true. — I guess this is what they meant by cognitive dissonance.)

Also, Dick tells me they’re legally required to enter you in the contest whether you’re medically braindead or not. So, my bad.

Tender Mercies: Birthday party edition

Susan turned five on Saturday, but her party was the minimal style I’ve perfected over the years. Step 1: invite grandparents and cousins that morning. Step 2: shop for decorations at the Dollar Tree, ingredients at the Walmart, and then cook the birthday girl’s easy favorites. Step 3: Let Dick watch/listen to football in exchange for laundry folding and house vacuuming. (I cannot call someone who likes football and Ultimate Fighter “Mr. Bennet.”)

Sally had a friend’s birthday party to go to, but in the packing for and going on of our trip to Idaho this week, we lost the invitation. By “we” I mean probably Susan or Spot saw the pretty princess card and put it in a special place. But I neglected to email myself the details (the only way I can be sure to remember something).

Things like that I can’t shrug off easily. Neither can Dick. Sally was upset, quietly for once, eyes brimming with tears, bursts of anger at Susan who admitted to playing with the card. We looked everywhere, convincing Dick that some serious stuff-straightening was necessary.

We searched the church membership directory online, called information for Sally’s teacher’s name (I don’t know if she would’ve given us a phone number anyway).

I even stopped on my last-minute shopping trip at the house of a family with the last name of Sally’s friend. I asked if they were having a party today, and they said, do you want us to?

I drove on, knowing that at least we had done just about everything you could imagine. I wasn’t sorry much that Sally would miss a party, but I have enough entertaining anxiety memories to imagine the other little girl sad when no one showed up because all the girls had younger sisters with epistolary kleptomania.

I thought to myself: I wish I could pray about this. I wish this was something I could bother God about — I see myself holding a divining rod, eyes closed, led to the house with the birthday party. I have faith, if only this were the sort of thing you would pray about.

I stopped at our new Dollar Tree first. (I know, how awkward is my dollar-store enthusiasm?) In the book and puzzle aisle, before the fake flowers, I heard a mother behind me tell her daughter “You can pick three things for Anna’s present.” Head turning in what feels like slow motion, I apologize and promise I’m not a stalker, but is your daughter going to a party for a girl in Mrs. W’s third grade class? In Seagull Fountain? Today? What time is it at? And where, exactly?

Three hours later, I dropped Sally off at a house where the door opened and a happy birthday girl swooped down on her saying “Sally you made it! How come I haven’t seen you at school lately?” (I couldn’t make up this ladies-who-lunch dialogue — and Sally did miss three days last week for our trip.)

It’s an absurd story, of course. Over an unimportant event, coincidental, and, why would God answer this unspoken prayer and not those more deserving?

Except to say that He can, and does, even when the answer is no.


The kids are home from school today because there is no school (cruel travesty of the natural order of things). We cleaned up — they unloaded the dishwasher quickly so they could watch a show about horses, and then we went to DI, where we loaded up on books for less than I owe in late fines at the library.

With several grown-up books to choose from, I agreed to lunch at Carl’s Jr with the big play place. We should have driven to a play place in the next school district over, but I am blessed to block out almost anything while reading. Two mothers near me were breastfeeding their babies.

They were both modestly covered with hooter hiders.

Some women are a lot more reasonable about this than I am. I told Chrysanthemum that if women want to wear hooter hiders, why stop there? Why not go for a burqa or a niqab? Chrysanthemum says she’s comfortable, but wants to make sure other people are comfortable too. (Which is only thoughtful.)

caleb 013

Saturday night I held Chrysanthemum’s baby while she ate with the menfolk after the priesthood session. I burrito’d him and rocked him in the granny recliner my mom has in her living room. I had been dying to get my hands on him all day, but I couldn’t take his sweet weight drooping in sleep for long.

I promised Chrysanthemum that I really won’t kidnap him, mostly because she knows where I live anyway, but also because when he cries, I can’t comfort him if what he wants isn’t a bounce or a bundling or a burp. I am not equipped, right now, with what he needs.

I’ve never loved my body (has any woman?). Stupidly, even when I was in high school and thinner than I’ll ever be again, I was unhappy with this bulge and that blemish. I was also not happy to be growing breasts. They budded and blossomed, right on time; not too big, not too small, but the mere fact of them, the changing from child to woman was not welcome. I know most girls look forward to the bras and the makeup and the high heels as markers of maturity, but I did not.

I hated that I had to wear a bra. It felt like a betrayal, a shrouding of my ribcage, a constriction of my breathing, an infringement on my freedom and rights and autonomy. And no, I wasn’t melodramatic as a teenager at all, why do you ask?

I still hate wearing a bra, but I’ve resigned myself (in public). I sometimes feel frumpy and flubbery and (I don’t say “fat” around my daughters), and I don’t mind the religious obligation I have to cover up because I have no desire to show my thighs in a short skirt or my belly in a bikini.

But at some point I started appreciating what my body can do rather than what it looks like. Function superseding form, form respected for the function that follows. My hands can knead bread, my feet can peddle the bike that pulls Susan and Spot for a ride. My womb can grow a child. (It can also miscarry, but that is normal.)

And my breasts? They sag and stretch. (I even get a few wild hairs now and then. Don’t tell Mr. Bennet.) But my breasts can feed a child all she needs for the first year of her life.

Which is almost as miraculous as never once feeling self-conscious or unsatisfied with how my milk-swelled breasts looked. Even when a stranger glimpsed a patch of blue-veined flesh.


My mother says that every time you have a miscarriage you rethink things. She should know; she had three. I’ve only had two, and my second is just about over. In eleven years, five pregnancies and three children, I always thought that I had my fertility pretty well in hand. I got pregnant within a few months of wanting to be pregnant each time, and I never got pregnant accidentally, despite rather (I think now) scattershot birth control.

I thought I was in control. That my kids were coming, more or less, as I wanted them too.

Now I wonder. Mr. Bennet has a colleague with twelve children. I’ve never wanted or thought I could handle (emotionally, physically, mentally) that many kids, but I thought it was my choosing that kept our numbers down. I can choose whether to have sex or not, after all: I can choose to try to conceive, and I can choose to try not to.

But I think now I really wasn’t in charge all along. I think even if I had been trying to fill a preconceived quota, my body (my life) wasn’t actually made that way.

My sister can’t have any more than three kids right now because she no longer has a husband. My friend can’t ever have any more than three because she needed an emergency hysterectomy. My sister-in-law is hoping (still, faithfully) for a first.

Sometimes I feel panicky because my life isn’t shaping up as I once thought it would. That April birthday I thought would work so well, is not going to happen. And now I think I don’t know if there is another birthday to add to our family ever. It’s not that I’m ambivalent about whether we will try or not again, but that I feel more open to Someone else making the decision, having the final say.

Because I think that Someone else had the final say all along, I just didn’t realize it.