Maybe, Baby

The first time I held my niece Sarah, she pooped on me. I would have thought that it was kind of cute but her brother Henry did the same thing to me when he was an infant so I can’t help feeling that they’ve been coached.

Obviously, I don’t have kids. Don’t get me wrong – I think having children can be a wonderful thing. It’s just never held any interest for me. When I was a little girl, my friends would talk about how many kids they’d have someday, and what they’d name them, and I’d think, “We’re in the second grade. I can’t deal with that. Let me learn long division first and then we’ll discuss.” I dreamed about having good friends, a nice house, or maybe talking to Johnny Carson, but the idea of kids just wasn’t on the agenda.

Consequently, I’m not all that comfortable around babies. I think they’re adorable, but they make me a little nervous. They stare at you with those little eyes, like they know you haven’t called your mother recently, and frankly, they’re a tad disappointed in you. And they’re always a little sticky. Fresh out of the bath, smelling like powder, and…a little sticky. At some point I get the inevitable question: “Do you want to hold her?” If I’m not related, I usually decline. But with my niece and nephew, I had to give it a go. And it’s unbelievably awkward, which is weird because I know how to hold things, generally. But one little nine-pound baby, and I feel like I have two right hands and I just know that I’m doing it wrong. I’m positive that if I shift my weight one tiny bit to the right the baby will go springing out of my hands, making me feel like a nervous student on Day Two of a “How to Juggle Chainsaws” home-study course. So when I first held Henry I was as stiff as a board, and he gave me a look that said, “You have got to be kidding me.”

I know, I know. It’s just a baby. I need to get over myself and get comfortable with it. Or maybe people need to stop handing me their children. I don’t really like to pick up my cat, either.

Look, babies are adorable. I unabashedly love baby feet. I like picking out baby clothes. But I do not enjoy discussing the actual babies at length, much less the birthing stories. And it’s a tough situation, because most new mothers do. Not really having much to contribute to the inevitable conversation, I’m forced to continually stifle my inner monologue:

“And then the pains started shooting through my whole body…”

Please stop.

“Then they had to CUT (insert very personal body part here)…”

I don’t want to.

“There was blood and goo everywhere…”

For the love of Mike.

“I was afraid I was going to poop!”

We’ve just met.

“Breast pump…”


“The first time I used a rectal thermometer…”

I’m begging you.

“He spit up all over me. And I couldn’t figure out why it was green…”

Is he an alien? Just a theory.

“You want to hold him?”


And these exchanges always, always happen with women I don’t know very well. Why? Are they trying to get me to see what I’m missing? If so, rock on and message received. My actual friends don’t do this. My childless status is probably a bit of a relief to them, and I like to think that they know that they can call me at any time and I will never start the conversation with the words, “Can I call you back? I just got peed on.” A big problem here is that due to my lack of comfort around the wee ones, I tend to talk to them as if they were tiny adults. The first time I met my friend Isabelle’s baby, I actually tried to shake hands.

“Um, how do you do?” I said, stiffly. “Um, he appears to be leaking.”

“Oh, sorry about that. He’s teething. Here,” she said, handing me the baby. “Let me go get a bib.”

So there I stood, holding little Aaron in front of me like a bag of flour. Face to face, I felt the need to fill the awkward silence.

“So, how do you like the Sox this year?”

It doesn’t help when parents dress their children like tiny adults. Isabelle had a baby-sized corduroy jacket hanging in Aaron’s closet, and honest to God it actually had elbow patches on it. Give him a little briefcase and he’d be my Uncle Saul.

“It’s adorable,” I told her. “But where’s he going to wear it? Court?”

It doesn’t get easier when they get a little older. My nephew Henry is at the stage where he’s very opinionated and bossy, which I guess comes with the territory, but it’s a little off-putting taking orders from a four-year-old. The first time I went to David’s house to see Sarah after they brought her home from the hospital, Henry was very protective, like a bouncer at an exclusive club.

“You can’t touch the baby,” he insisted. “Only I can touch the baby.”

“Well,” I replied, sweetly, “Your daddy says I can touch her. It’s OK.”

“But I say just me.”

We seemed to be at an impasse.

“Maybe later, then,” I offered.


I jokingly threw up my hands. “OK, then!”

“Don’t worry,” David said. “Just wait until he’s busy with his toy parking garage. You can play with Sarah then.”

“As long as you’re sure it’s OK,” I replied. “I don’t want to get put on report or anything.” I paused for a moment. “Wait – Henry has a toy parking garage?”

“Yeah,” he said, “It makes five car horn sounds and has two different sirens. We haven’t slept in weeks.” He hung his head. “My mother-in-law bought it. I think she secretly hates me.”

One thing I have learned, by watching the parents around me, is that the parenting never stops. Even at my age, my Mom worries when I’m alone, and is convinced I’m not dressing warmly enough in winter. My Dad still checks on my car, and offers the odd bit of life advice. When David was four, for example, he wanted to be a fire truck. Not a fireman – an actual fire truck. Now, every so often, Dad will call him and ask how his former career plans are progressing.

“So, are you a fire truck yet?”

“No, Dad, not yet.”

“That’s all right, son. It’s all about setting goals.”

I have a feeling I’ll never be a “natural” with babies. And I’m totally fine with this. Rather than feeling like I’m missing something, I prefer to look at the childless life as its own kind of adventure, filled with sleeping seven or eight hours in a row, clothes free of spit-up, and the option of white furniture. It also gives me the chance to be the beloved aunt, the bearer of finger paint and fruit roll-ups. When Henry and Sarah get older, I will show up wearing sequined sneakers and a matching hat, and whisk them away to the zoo, where I will make up stuff about the animals. Then, when they’re tired and cranky, I will hand them back to their parents.

And then I’ll go home and most likely spill something on my white furniture, but I won’t tell them about that.



Joel McHale Is Terrifying

Ok, not really. It’s not like he has tentacles or body spikes (at least not that I could see). But I was able to sort-of meet him at his local book signing, and, judging by my reaction, he’s a bloody alarming fellow. (This is ALL ME, folks. My weirdness. For the record, Joel really couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious and welcoming to the fans who came to the book signing.)

I do not do well with famous people. While my experiences have been limited, it generally involves me rehearsing in my head something to say, not saying it, and being completely out-of-the-moment.

A number of years ago, I went to see Eddie Izzard in concert. He is, and was, brilliant, and would come out after the show and meet and take a photo with anyone who wanted one. I was with some friends, and we were one of the first people in line, and I just knew that if I could just come up with a winning line, he’d instantly see how fabulous I was and we’d be best friends. Should I talk about his movie work? Previous comedy shows? Make a bon mot about the state of European politics? (Never mind that all of this would have to be accomplished in less than 90 seconds. Details!) “No” on all those points. When my big moment came, what did I spew forth?

“How do you stand in these high heel boots? My feet are killing me!”

My friend Patti shot me a look, asked him about Shakespeare, and we took the picture.

Went to a book signing last spring with Nick Offerman, from “Parks & Recreation.” (Well, not WITH him. He was the featured author. It’s not like we hung out beforehand and went to Build-A-Bear.) He spoke first in front of the group, then we lined up for autographs in our newly-purchased books. He and I actually know some people in common through the Chicago theater community, so I had an “in.” But all that came out at the crucial moment was some sort of incoherent sentence about being a fellow thespian.

Well, fuck me.

He grunted, signed the book, and said “Thank you for coming.” I moved along, feeling very dopey, until I realized he probably didn’t actually hear a word I said. I felt slightly better.

Last Wednesday, I spotted Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity diet doctor, at my local Whole Foods. He was there promoting his new line of healthy popcorn. Nobody had really discovered him in the store yet, so I sauntered over.

“Excuse me,” I said gently, “Are you Dr. Ian Smith?”

He smiled shyly and said, “Yes, I am.”

“What a thrill. I’m an admirer of yours, and I’ve read a few of your books.”

So far, so good, right?

“Well, this is my new popcorn, mentioned in the books…” he began.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was The Woman Who Wouldn’t Leave, and I panicked. Would he see the box holding the pizza slice in my cart? Did I have obvious wax buildup coming out of my ear? WAS I BLOCKING THE WAY OF SOMEONE MUCH MORE POPCORN-WORTHY?

“Ha Ha, Ok, BYE!”

I smiled, pushed my card forward, and got the hell outta Dodge. I did manage to put together a much more coherent Tweet about the encounter, which Dr. Ian was very kind to respond to. I also can’t believe there was food involved and I totally missed the opportunity.

So, yeah. McHale. He’s got a new book out, “Thanks For The Money.” It’s got a green cover and pages in it, as well as words and illustrations. So, book. He spoke to a crowd of about 200 at the Naperville Marriott, and everyone had a good time. Then, we lined up to get our books signed and a picture. I tried not to plan conversation in my head pre-encounter, because, as I’ve mentioned, it tends to go slightly on the diagonal. I was actually more concerned with my purse. More specifically, the size of my purse and it’s proportion to my hips. I’m kinda pushing maximum density these days with my weight (that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post. Or seven.) so I was literally standing in line in Ballroom B of the Marriott, holding my wallet-sized bag, thinking, “Purse on? Purse off? Hold it under my arm?” and wondering how much bigger the stupid thing would make my hips look.

Then, it was my turn. (PS I held the purse like a clutch.) Joel asked my name, and gave me a hug, which surprised the hell out of me, and was kind of awkward as I’ve never actually mastered hugging. (WHERE DO THE ARMS GO???) Then he asked where I was from, and what I did in said town.

“I’m a writer,” I responded.

So far, so good. And I’m not sweating much.

“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book of essays, and I recently finished a novel.”

“What’s it called?”

Wow, he’s listening? Cool.

“Girls Who Wear Glasses. It’s kind of a rom-com.”

“How’s it doing?”

“Well, I’m shopping it around. It’s being considered by an indie publishing house.”

This is when things took a turn.

I turned to the nice lady from the bookstore.

“So maybe I’ll be having a book signing, too!”


“Just kidding!” I paused. “And I’ve taken classes at Second City!”

“You’ve gone up there to study?”

“I have…” It sounded more question than statement, as I hit the word “have” with just a little too much emphasis, then paused like I was going to add more but couldn’t quite manage.

Then it was time to pose for the picture. The sun was at just the wrong angle, so I had to awkwardly switch to his left side. He’s really quite handsome, more so in person, and I was very aware that my chin was blushing (yes, that’s a thing) and my purse felt even smaller in my hands, thereby widening my hips exponentially.


I knew I had to move on and let others have their turn. I turned and said, “I hope we get to work together professionally some day.”

“It’s will cost a lot of money,” he joked.

“Well, for you.” It was not the witticism I hoped for. I was going for dry wit; I think I landed in something snark-adjacent. My heart was pounding a little more than the situation probably called for.

Save it, save it, save it…

I looked up at him, smiled (I think) and said, “Thank you for doing this. I really enjoyed it.” I think he said “You’re welcome,” but I was pretty much checked out at that point.

Then I walked away. And let out a breath for the first time in about three minutes.

I do hope I figure this sort of thing out, because I’m getting to the point where I’m actually afraid of meeting another famous person. Like the next time I’ll just stand there holding my shoe in my hands or something. Or speak in some weird accent. It’s probably a lack of confidence in myself that causes all this, because I have dork episodes with “regular” people too. But with people I admire, it’s like I somehow want to stand out, to appear like I belong in some pseudo-rarified air. I think I want them to think, “I’d want to be friends with her,” and not, “Oh dear, she dropped her unusually small purse.”

Well, maybe next time. Unless I somehow run into Benedict Cumberbatch. In that case, all bets are off. I’d probably just stand there, humming.

And maybe he’d hum too. Stranger things, you know.

I’ve Got to Talk to Some Food About This

I’m not proud of the amount of pizza I just ate, but I’m pretty sure I can add it to my resume under “Additional Skills.”

Sunday I ate pretty much half my body weight in bacon. Apparently I’m training for the Bacolympics.

It has occurred to me that I may have some food issues. Moving on…

I’m doing well. And by “well” I mean I have only screamed twice at Donald Trump. When he was on the TV. We don’t hang out.

In fact, I’m going to give myself an award. I’ve nominated myself in several categories, and I like the odds. Awards I could win today:

“Didn’t punch anyone in the neck.”

“Ate only a slightly unreasonable amount of nachos.”

“Able to segue primal scream into chorus of ‘I Will Always Love You.'”

“Discovered I could fit under desk without measuring first.”

“Probably convinced liquor store guy I was actually having people over and not drinking in the dark with hand grasped tightly around abnormally large glass of Zinfandel.”

And to round out the completely random musings (yes, I just said “musings”) I have notes on sunflower seed butter, which I sort of accidentally bought today. Sunflower seed butter is disappointing. It’s like cheap wine or stale pizza: it gets the job done but for a little while your life has slightly less meaning and you start thinking that “Full House” reruns seem like a perfectly valid use of your time, then oh screw it youll just take a nap afterwards and hopefully won’t dream of Bob Saget. And you’ll start thinking that maybe you’ll read the “Twilight” books, or watch a Rob Schneider movie. The sky is a little less blue, the grass a little less green, and that stupid bird is ever so slightly out of tune.

Next time, I’ll buy almond butter. Life is for the living.

Commercial Fatigue

Just saw an ad that promised to remedy “fatigued skin.” What the hell is fatigued skin?

“Gee, Stan, I’d love to go out with you but my dermis is pooped ”

“I’m sorry I’m late. My skin overslept.”

“My skin is so fatigued. I need another cup of coffee…poured over my head.”

What’s next? Trite hair? Jejeune fingernails? Exasperated eyelashes?

On Loss…

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Joan Rivers. When I was younger, the only thing I wanted to be more than an actress was a stand-up comedian. Back then, there just weren’t very many females in the field, but leading that very small pack was Joan, busting balls and being as good (or better) than any of her male counterparts. Her work ethic was incredible, and she continued to be wickedly funny until the end. She was a huge influence on me and, although I never met her, I feel her loss acutely.

It’s been a sad three weeks, losing her along with Robin Williams, two icons of my personal comedy pantheon. I’ll keep working hard, Joan. I’ll try to keep writing the funny. I’ll try to make you proud.

Middle School Students and the Alternate Winter Dimension

In addition to my writing endeavors, I also teach middle school. I know. Pray for me.

Middle school students get weirder in the winter. Actually, they’re weird in the spring, summer and fall as well. Well, perhaps there is maybe one day in mid-March when they’re not completely nutters, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re permanent residents of some sort of pre-teen bizarro land.

My 6th period drama class. Kids are working on their puppet project. Suddenly, Jasmine* looks up and says, quite sincerely…

“Can we work outside?”

I’m thinking, “What — on the landscaping?”

Then I realize she means having class outside.

“No. It’s about 19 degrees outside!” I replied.

“It is???” The increased diameter of her eyes indicates her sincere surprise, despite the fact she probably trudged through the snow this morning on her trek to school.

“Uh, yeah.”


I thought the mere mention of the temperature was enough. Apparently I had to be less subtle.

“It will be cold!” I said.

“We can put on jackets.”

While I couldn’t argue with her unassailable logic, I just didn’t think I could swing having drama class in the parking lot. And I’m still not entirely clear why she thought this would be a good thing.

Kids and the cold are an interesting combination. I see so many kids across the economic spectrum refusing to wear warm garments, choosing instead to walk around wearing hoodies, hunched over with fists jammed in their pockets. Some leave the aforementioned hoodies unzipped. Can’t be bothered with a coat. Yes, trembling vigorously with visible ice crystals forming in your overly-gelled hair is cool. By the time they walk into school, they all seem to resemble the Snow Miser, but at least HE was wearing a scarf.

(I’m not kidding about the overuse of gel products in my school. Those hair spikes are intense. When I walk down the hall, I fear for my safety. I’m considering goggles.)

A few weeks ago, after school, Susan (the art teacher) and I were doing our outside supervision duty, keeping the parking lot safe from the forces of evil, armed only with our teacher I.D. badges. There were a few 8th grade boys in the P.E. field, playing pick-up football. Not only were they not wearing jackets in 15 degree weather, one kid didn’t even have a shirt on. Susan looked at him and said, “Maybe it’s the ‘mom’ in me, but I really want to go over there and tell him to put on his shirt.”

So we did. And he did.

Walking back, she said, “I know he’s running around, so he’s not cold and all…”

I said, “Yeah, but his skin doesn’t know that. It’s still exposed, and could freeze.”

“True,” Susan said. “And I bet he’d be really surprised when his nipples fell off.”

“Yeah, he’d probably miss them. We could just have Mrs. Benson sew them back on,” I replied, “But really, how would he explain that one in gym class?”

This is what teachers talk about when forced to roam the parking lot unsupervised. Now you know.

*All names changed.


Brush With Greatness

This evening I went to see David Sedaris perform at a local college. It was excellent, and I enjoyed it immensely. Beforehand, he was in the lobby signing books, and I managed to be second in line. Before I handed him my well-worn copy of “When You Are Engulfed In Flames,” I handed him a copy of MY book, as a “thank you for being such a big influence on my writing.”

Or at least I think that’s what I said.

I wanted so badly to be witty and charming, but I think I was closer to being that woman who talks too fast and laughs too loud. When I wasn’t babbling incoherently, that is.


He has a copy of my book. He’s seen the cover. Whether he actually reads it is another story, but hey, sometimes you have to take a chance. If nothing else, it’s motivated me to start writing again, an activity I’ve sadly neglected recently.

Plus, I’ve got a cool autograph in the book…


It’s a Little Chilly Here

It’s a bit nippy outside here in the Chicago area. As in, “Go outside for more than a minute and the cold will nip your nose clear off of your face.” I’m not going to make any great observations on the weather; it’s f**king cold. There’s really nowhere else to go with that. Except that during Saturday errands, as the snow really started coming down, I saw a lady walk out of the grocery store with one item. It’s like she thought, “Oh goodness, we’re going to have the coldest temperatures in 17 years – I need PITA CHIPS!”

Also, I’m wearing one of those blanket-with-sleeves things. Because sexy. And I do think they’re the most ridiculous, cheesy things in the world, and I want one in the leopard print.

I’m supposed to be working on my new book, but I’m having a bit of a focus issue. My mind keeps binging around, less like  a pinball game and more  like the first level of a game of “Pong,” admittedly. Still, I’ve had some random bits to chew on:

  • I’ve noticed that with microwave popcorn, there’s about 1.5 seconds that separates “gee, that smells good” and “ew, f**k!” I’m like a safecracker, trying to listen for just the right pattern of pops, before declaring, “Got it!” and totally impressing the hell out of George Clooney’s charming con man/thief movie character. Usually, though, I get momentarily distracted, miss the window, and wind up with the F**k Smell. I think that’s why popcorn comes three to a box.
  • Note to the makers of Stouffer’s frozen foods: Take it down a notch. You don’t need capital letters to write “REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING TRAY” in the cooking directions. You didn’t win the war of independence against the British, you figured out how to brown the crust of my microwave sandwich. Thank you.
  • One of my sixth-grade computer tech students thinks that the “www” in a web address stands for “welcome welcome welcome.” And two of his friends do too, because they copied off his paper. I have just recently removed my palm from my forehead.

Ok, enough for now. I am going to make myself a cup of tea and attempt to write some fiction. Although my cat has her doubts:

"I think it's time you got off Facebook, please."

“I think it’s time you got off Facebook, please.”