Blood Test

My family knows blood. Whether through accidents, falls or roughhousing, my loved ones spill their share of life-giving plasma on a regular basis.  Unlike my husband and kids, I manage to keep the majority of my precious Type O molecules where it belongs.

Unless I’m on jury duty. jury duty

In my lifetime, I’ve had two spontaneous nosebleeds and for reasons still unclear, both happened in county courthouses.

The first time, sitting in the jury box during voir dire, the much too sexy sounding term for our country’s mind-numbing jury selection process, I tried to stop the sudden surge of blood without drawing any attention to myself.

Scared I would unwittingly secure a spot on the jury by disrupting the proceedings, I sacrificed my favorite turquoise sweater to staunch the flow. A fellow potential juror offered a pocket pack of Kleenex, which I promptly filled to saturation. My fistful of blood streaked tissues may have persuaded the court to release me from jury service.

My second jury duty-induced nasal eruption, two years later, coincided with a lunch break. I’d spent the morning in a courtroom with a judge who didn’t allow any reading materials, counting the minutes until lunch. As I bit into a turkey on rye, I felt a cold drip from my nose. The sight of blood droplets speckling my coleslaw activated my startle response; I looked around to see if any others were spontaneously leaking bodily fluids.

Clutching my sole napkin to my nose, I hurried past the security screening where a guard helped me to the bathroom. As I leaned over the sink, my nose gushed blood, streams splattering the porcelain basin. Before long I’d attracted a small crowd of security guards, all eager to see Old Faithful gush on demand and to offer care and opinions.

“You’re losing a lot of blood there, honey. I think you better sit down and put your head back.”

“Sit tight and pinch your nostrils until the ambulance gets here.”

Although shocked at the amount of blood leaking from my body and the whiteness of my usually olive-colored skin, I had no intention of going anywhere in an ambulance. Who the hell calls an ambulance for a nosebleed? Apparently, the security guards at the Circuit Court of Cook County, that’s who. So much for being inconspicuous.

When three attractive, engagingly funny male paramedics arrived, I couldn’t believe my luck. I wished I was having a heart attack or suffering from a broken limb; anything but an unimaginative, messy nosebleed. Granted, I was married, but that level of male attention doesn’t come along often. Other than in romance novels and romantic comedies, that is.

Although I ultimately declined to go to a hospital and returned to jury duty that afternoon, I enjoyed every second of the paramedics’ sexy expert care. Taxpayers of Chicago, I thank you. Keep up the good work.

My next jury duty summons arrived in the mail yesterday. I’ll pack tissues, a change of clothes and some lipstick just in case. I can hardly wait.

Falling In Love With Boys

I haven’t spent much time with little boys. As one of three sisters with two nieces and two daughters, I’ve never even changed a boy’s diaper. So when I volunteered at my daughter’s preschool for Water Day, and the teachers assigned me to the boys’ group, I had no idea what to expect.

I have never seen so many penises in one place.

As I walked into the classroom, ten naked little boys jumped, whirled and rocketed across the colorful alphabet carpet like firecrackers exploding inside a box of Cracker Jack.

I didn’t know where to put my eyes.

Is it wrong to look at their little penises? I wondered, feeling as uncomfortable as if I’d wandered into a secret fraternity ritual.

I pretended to search for lip balm in my purse, digging like it was an oversized diaper bag instead of an envelope-sized clutch.

“Mary,” the teacher said. “Mary?”

I turned and registered the slight smirk on her face. “Just grab one and help him get his clothes on,” she said. Why was I waiting for her to add “Keep your eyes to yourself, perv?”

So I looked. Nine circumcised, one not.

What the hell is wrong with me? I wondered. First I don’t want to look at their penises, now I’m cataloging them for future reference. Talk about pervy!

But instead of feeling depraved, once I looked, I fell in love. Little boys are freaking adorable! Here were ten exuberant little people, so proud of their nakedness. So unwilling to get dressed. The glee and unfettered energy in that room could have powered the Northern Hemisphere for a week.

As I kneeled on the faded carpet, eye level with the sea of nakedness, a quiet, brown-eyed boy handed me his underwear in a plastic baggie marked “Henry” as two boys nearby danced a jig, their knees and naked bits keeping time with their giggles.

I held Henry’s tiny tightie-whities as he carefully stepped in, one foot then the other, his small hand resting on my head for balance. His and mine.

“I love water day,” one boy shouted, setting off a chorus of “I love” everything from popsicles to lightsabers.

“I love my penis!” a boy yelled, galloping around the room like a cowboy on crack.  The room devolved into happy chaos as I stared in awe, grateful I wasn’t in charge because all I could think to say was “May the force be with you.”

I could have sat there all day soaking up their contagious energy. Instead, I packed up the wet towels and swimsuits, feeling grateful for this glimpse inside a boy’s world.

That night, as I watched my husband undress for bed, I wondered what he must have been like as a little boy and if he ever wishes we could add a boy to our brood. I know I do.

Nine Clues that I’m Angry (Or Will Be Soon)

Anger. It’s an emotion at least as American as Fourth of July parades, cookouts and flag burnings. While some people are attuned to the twitches in their bodies that alert them to angry feelings, I need more concrete notifications. As a public service to my loved ones, I offer the following clues that Mr. Hyde is on the loose and should be avoided at all costs.

  1. Anyone other than me is whining.
  2. I’m rushing. And no one else is.
  3. My eyes are open. Moments earlier they were closed and enjoying a sexy dream starring me and Jason Bateman, but now a certain little person’s stuffed lamb fell off her bed and MUST be rescued immediately as evidenced by the screams emanating from her bedroom.
  4. The playroom that took two hours to clean and organize stayed neat for seven minutes instead of the usual 22.
  5. My shopping cart contains five pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby instead of the usual one. You know, for my husband.
  6. I need toilet paper stat and there’s none in the bathroom and no one home to blame.
  7. I can’t find the sales receipt for the oh so cute, oh so slightly expensive sandals I bought that fit at Macy’s but pinch like a horny Italian the minute I wear them outside.
  8. The tone of my voice is calm yet tight as I form the words, “Fine. Go. Have fun,” when my husband is invited to yet another last-minute sporting event.
  9. Our kitchen floor is clean. (The only time our kitchen floor gets washed is when I’m angry, so if you visit us and our floor is spotless, you’ll know my mood going in.)

Each of my nine “tells” belongs in the category of “sweating the small stuff.” They also guarantee that I will a) lose my shit within moments or b) act as if everything is fine, but silently seethe, shooting daggers at anyone within ten yards, including the lovely woman at the dentist’s office who didn’t say thank you when my five year old held the door open for her or the kind gentleman at the grocery store who advised me to “smile” as we passed each other. (Should any of my readers have access to the surveillance videos at either of these fine establishments, please note that I regret resorting to stealth middle finger salutes in both cases. I know. I know. Speaking up would have been classier, but the bird can be strangely satisfying.)

While I do save some of my anger for the serious social injustices in the world, mostly I’m angry when I don’t speak up for myself or don’t let others know what I want and need. And when I’m extra surly, mostly what I need is a hug, especially when I’m too stubborn or too far gone to ask for one.

Anger (640x483)

I’m participating in Yeah Write’s 31 Days to a Better Blog program. We started yesterday, but it’s not too late to join in! Today’s assignment is to write a List Post. And, yes, I’m open to feedback!

Yesterday’s assignment was to write an “elevator speech” to describe your blog. Check out what I came up with and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

Plastic Barbie Lunch Boxes: Use Only As Intended

Plastic Barbie lunch boxes should come with a disclaimer:  This item will not protect you in an emergency.

I walked home from elementary school past the same twenty seven houses every afternoon for months without incident, swinging my pink lunch box north to south as I counted the brick and wood-frame homes fronting Westover Avenue or skipped over the cracks snaking through the sidewalk, determined not to break my mother’s back by landing on one.

I’d just passed house number thirteen on my route and stopped to smell the lilacs dangling like purple snow cones from the bushes out front when I saw a blur of movement over my left shoulder and felt the sidewalk slip beneath my feet. The lilacs’ heady scent mixed with the hot, muddy smell of spit as I felt the sting of teeth on my arm and fell to the ground under the bushes. Before my brain registered pain, I saw the ash-colored face of a large greyhound run past me.

Terrified the beast would return for round two, I crouched in the bushes, clutching my scratched lunch box to my chest as a shield before sprinting home, determined not to stop, even for our neighbor who called after me as I ran by.

“Help,” I wailed as I ran up the stairs to the kitchen where my mom was filling homemade cream puffs. I could smell the rich lemon custard on her hands as she ran to me, unmasked horror and powdered sugar clouding her features.

After cleaning the small wound on my forearm where the dog’s teeth had punctured my skin, she sat me in front of the kitchen’s picture window with a bowl of custard and a blanket. I didn’t budge until I heard her talking to the police about rabies and heard the panic rising in her voice.

“We don’t know whose dog bit her. She’s never seen it before. How can we make sure it doesn’t have rabies?”

“Mom, what are rabies?” I said, tugging the telephone’s curly cord. “What are rabies?”

“Nothing you need to worry about,” Mom said. “Go sit down. Right now.”

Convinced I was about to die of some horrible dog disease, I soothed my fear with more custard and glanced out the window. Sitting among our lilac bushes, like a sphinx guarding its temple, my personal hellhound stared at our back door, his black eyes steady and unblinking.

Nearly identical to my hellhound! Photo courtesy of www.projectocova.net

This is not a photo of the actual dog that bit me. Photo courtesy of http://www.projectocova.net

A mouthful of custard muffled my scream, but my mom came running.

“That’s the dog?” she said. “Are you sure?”

I managed only a vigorous nod before bursting into tears and grabbing my lunch box for protection. Moments later, the dog was gone. And I never saw him again.

With the help of our neighbors, the police found the dog and determined he did not have rabies. But I slept with my Barbie lunch box on my chest every night for the next week.  Just in case.

Smells Like the Old Country

Have you ever traveled home from Europe with a carry-on full of pungent, homemade cheese? No?

Ever flown cross country with a Tupperware full of homemade fish salad nestled between your thighs? Never?

Are you willing to find out what you’ve been missing? If so, you too can be part of my family’s unofficial culinary exchange program.

I come from a large Italian family. My father was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in his early twenties. Several family members still live in the same port city in Italy’s Puglia region where he grew up.

Whenever a family member, distant relative or willing friend travels to Europe, he or she is asked to bring an extra suitcase full of items our relatives in Italy covet but don’t have easy access to. Our team of volunteer couriers has shuttled items ranging from aluminum foil to Ziploc bags and everything in between.

On the trip home things get really interesting. Those same suitcases are often returned full of our Italian relatives’ homemade culinary gifts, including such savory delicacies as dried salumi, blanched white almonds, grape must and aged ricotta cheese.

My family also dabbles in domestic food transactions. For years, every time I visited my sister on the East Coast I lugged a suitcase full of my mom’s delicious baked goods. Tins brimming with calzones, taralli, focaccia, biscotti – I’ve traveled with it all.

But I drew the line at schlepping fish salad after watching my mom navigate a flight carrying a large Tupperware of her delicious seafood stew. Without breaking a sweat or spilling a drop, my petite, plucky mother caught that container as it tumbled out of the overhead compartment and carried it between her legs the rest of the flight. My mom and her fish salad are the reasons flight attendants now remind passengers to use caution when removing items from overhead bins.

The latest Italian delicacy to traverse the globe is a ten pound package of homemade Italian cheese sent with love to my dad from his sister in Italy. After changing hands several times en route to Chicago, the aroma-challenged package now occupies my refrigerator awaiting its final destination.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

These culinary reminders of home fill my dad with joyful nostalgia and fill me with unease. I won’t eat anything that’s been out of a refrigerator for more than 37 seconds. My 83-year-old father prefers dairy products that have endured unrefrigerated transatlantic travel.

While many of you will no doubt see this food exchange as a charming, loving tradition, I’m beginning to wonder. Perhaps there is a good reason some of these food items are not readily available in the United States? Where are those pesky U.S. Customs officials when you need them?

Thankfully, our family’s gene pool has evolved to include iron-clad stomachs impervious to the foodborne illnesses known to level mere mortals. And, just in case, I’ve become an expert at dialing 9-1-1.

There Will Be Blood

Do any young girls react positively to the news that they’ll bleed for several days each month for the next forty-plus years?

When I recently explained the basics of menstruation to our daughter, Ava, she cringed and moaned in disbelief, throwing her hands up to cover her face before warning me that she might throw up.

I wanted Ava to hear the details from me, before she heard them from a stranger at school next week during a Health & Human Development seminar. Although Ava is unlikely to start menstruating for at least another year or two, a few girls in her fourth grade class have already begun. I’m grateful her school addresses the subject, but I knew my daughter would be devastated hearing these life-altering details for the first time during a class with her peers.

Although I was prepared to explain to Ava the blessings of a fully functioning female anatomy, the truth is I’ve always dreaded getting my period and hated its personalized accoutrements:  bloating, exhaustion and flash anger. It’s only recently, now that I’m galloping toward menopause, that I’m grateful to feel the pang of cramps every month. (My appreciation is momentary, only long enough to swallow enough ibuprofen to shock Lance Armstrong.)

And at least one of us is terrified of her growing up. In my mind, menstruation signals the loss of “little” in my little girl. I don’t know how to navigate the pain of this inevitable part of parenthood. Or how to help her celebrate this routine rite of passage.

Even with my reservations, I envisioned sitting with my daughter for a mother-daughter chat worthy of an Oprah magazine feature article. I even wore my favorite flannel Scooby-Doo pajamas to lighten the mood.

But as Ava freaked, I choked, unable to find any sugar with which to cloak the facts.

I tried focusing on the future baby angle, but Ava was too far gone.

“I’ll only bleed once, right, Mom?” she said, peeking out from behind trembling fingers.

I wanted to lie, to restore some semblance of order to her world, to reassure her that yes, a period is a one and done gig.

“Mom?”

“No, honey, you will bleed once a month,” I said, looking around the room for stray sharp objects.

I may as well have told Ava she will gouge her eyes out with a Sharpie twelve times a year. And who could blame her?

“What happens to boys?” she asked, once her breathing returned to ragged.

“Boy’s bodies go through lots of changes too,” I said. “They get hair on their chests, under their armpits and around their genitals just like girls do. Oh, and their voices get deeper.

Her face twisted in astonishment.

“That’s it? Are you telling me that girls get breasts and bleed and boys get sore throats? I’m going to throw up.”

Maybe I should have softened the news with Oreos. Or tequila. Remind me to bring both when we have the sex talk.

Our Tax Preparer is AWOL

Our tax guy is missing. Vanished. Without a word or a farewell tax tip.

Hector, a fixture of our family’s April finances for the past twelve years, hasn’t returned dozens of calls, emails and texts, forcing my husband and me to scramble to find a new tax guy this year. While income tax prep was a side business for Hector, our new preparer works on income taxes only. He’s found some mistakes Hector made on past returns – all in our favor, of course, or we’d be forced to hire someone else.

I’ll admit I don’t understand everything I should about our income taxes. Although I handle our family’s day-to-day finances, I was happy to let Hector take charge and hide my head in the sand until April 16 every year.

But I was never completely comfortable with Hector and questioned his decision to leave a corporate tax job a few years back and test his luck as a casino card dealer in Reno. Who does that? I mean other than someone with mob ties. But, hey, Hector was cheap and rather flexible interpreting tax code to our benefit.

Now I’m convinced he’s been convicted of tax fraud and is busy playing “duck, duck, goose” with Lucky and Dutch in Sing Sing. And we’re headed there to share a cell with them all.

How long would I last here?  Photo via Wikimedia Commons

How long would I last here?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I considered hiring a private detective to find Hector, but since he’s AWOL I can’t ask him if it would be deductible.

Instead, I’m putting my years of cheap detective mystery reading to good use scouring the Internet and America’s Most Wanted for clues to Hector’s whereabouts. The next logical step is to case his house and rummage through his garbage for information (or the suitcase full of money he likely ditched as the Feds closed in on him).

It’s conceivable our tax guy entered a witness protection program after singing like a canary to the Feds and is acting in porn to support himself while he hides from his old mob cronies.

Of course, Hector could be dead, which would be sad for him, but could ultimately throw the Feds off our trail. Let’s hope they don’t find him at the bottom of a river wearing concrete boots. So tacky.

Until I know for sure, I’ll have to assume he’s busy in prison doing the warden’s taxes, like Tim Robbins’ character in the movie, Shawshank Redemption. Too bad that movie’s already been made. But ours would be even better. I can see it now – we’ll get Johnny Depp to play Hector. And George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence would be dead ringers for my husband and me.

There could be simpler explanations for Hector’s disappearing act. He could have died a violent death at the hands of an enraged client or the husband of a secret mistress. Or been kidnapped by a south-of-the-border drug cartel and held for ransom.

If his kidnappers are reading this, please don’t bother calling. We’re broke and likely headed to Sing Sing soon.