Is it only me or does it seem like Angelina Jolie does not care one iota what we think of her? Just to be clear, I’ve never met Angelina Jolie. Nor do I suffer from one of those celebrity fantasies where I think if Angelina and I did meet, we’d become instant BFFs bonding over how much we both wear black. No. In fact, it’s the opposite. I think if Angelina met me, within five minutes she’d slap me hard across the face exclaiming, Stop caring about what everyone else thinks all the time!
This is a woman who gushed about being in love with her brother at the 2000 Academy Awards and kissed him on the lips. A woman who, in 2005, stole another woman’s husband. And before the moving van finished delivering Brad Pitt’s architecturally important furniture to their new manse, W magazine published a photo spread of the two of them with five children entitled “Domestic Bliss,” three months before Brad’s divorce to Jennifer Aniston would be finalized. No mere celebrity mortal could survive the whiff of adultery and incest but these things do not cling to the transcendent Ms. Jolie.
She does not spend her time shopping. She writes and directs. She flies planes and rides motorcycles. She gets her lover a tattoo while attending Davos. And of course, there’s her charitable activities, too varied and numerous to mention, like her children. And throughout all her life in the public eye, Angelina Jolie has never asked us to like her. She does not do cutesy self-deprecating shtick (my standard fallback). There have been no People magazine What I Learned cover stories, hinting if she could do it all again, she’d do it differently. She has never aspired to be the girl next door, your BFF—this makes her the coolest girl in school.
And I haven’t yet mentioned the cancer thing. She turned her double prophylactic mastectomy into a public call to women to take control of their health. How she managed to have the surgery in New York City without word leaking to the press shows sly and cunning worthy of Jason Bourne.
This former wild-child/cancer-avoider/humanitarian extraordinaire floats through the world’s airports with six kids and The Sexiest Man Alive circa 1995 and 2000, all holding hands as if in a game of Red Rover Red Rover, and I become a believer of the Church of Angelina Jolie.
Brad Pitt has suggested that being married to Jennifer Aniston was boring. Is that really fair? Breaking the sound barrier, naked, would be boring compared to Angelina Jolie. Even among the world’s most extraordinary people, she’s extraordinary.
I like to imagine Angelina at home calling the shots while Brad flakes out on the sofa, a joint in one hand, while watching SpongeBob with the twins. From now on, whenever I’m feelings doubtful, if I find myself obsessing whether I’ve said or done the right thing, I will ask myself: WWAD--What Would Angie Do? I will evoke it like a mantra, over and over, until she appears like her character Fox from the movie Wanted. She will brush her billowy lips against my ear and in a voice both husky and menacing say: you apologize too much. Then under her tutelage, I will blossom just like James McAvoy did in the movie.
I, for one, cannot wait to see Maleficent this weekend.
Like the mothers who forbid their children from playing violent video games or with toy guns, my mother did not want me to play with baby dolls for the same reason. She was afraid that if I pretended I was a mother, there was a risk I would engage in such behavior in real life. Baby dolls, toy cradles, and plastic kitchen sets were all off limits for the same reason. My mother, a proud feminist, wanted to ensure I avoided the mistakes she had made in her life, namely getting married and having children. “Do as I say, not as I do,” she’d tell me.
While mothering a pretend human infant was objectionable, mothering pretend baby animals were tolerated. I amassed a huge collection of stuffed mammals, reptiles, and arthropods. My older sister sewed a baby sling and coordinating outfit for my teddy bear in her junior high home ec class. For one year I carried that bear everywhere like a Kenyan bush mother.
Barbie dolls were something of a gray area. I found a few dolls in our basement that had once belonged to my older sisters, relics from the era before my mother raised her consciousness. Barbie was a full-grown woman so there was no mothering involved, nor did my mother seem concerned with the doll’s obvious anorexia. However, she did object to Barbie’s lack of professional opportunities, but my mother’s propensity to never throw anything away proved stronger than her feminist principles, so the dolls stayed.
Every year on my birthday my mother liked to give me an educational toy: Simon, Master Mind, Comp IV, Little Professor. It was hard to get excited. I’d get my doll fix from my best friend Michelle who lived down the street. Michelle’s mom was very nice though foolishly unconcerned with Michelle’s future political leanings. At Michelle’s house, I fed Baby Alive food packets mixed with water and waited for the substance to move through her so I could change her diaper. When Michelle and I played with her Barbie dolls and United Airlines Friend Ship, Barbie never demanded to fly the plane herself.
As my seventh birthday approached, Michelle’s mom asked me if there was anything special I wanted. A doll I said unequivocally. On the day of my party, she handed me a huge box. “It’s what you want,” she said when she wished me a happy birthday. Later that night I opened the box. It was a beautiful doll, a doll fit for a princess, the tag said. It was a doll that didn’t eat or go to the bathroom. There was no string on the back of her neck to make her talk. Her hair didn’t grow long and shrink back. There was no airplane sold separately. It was a doll of exquisite artistry that gave its owner pleasure simply by her very existence. Even my anti-doll mother was impressed. “Oh, that’s a beauty!” she said. “What a special gift. But its not a doll to play with—its too expensive.” She took the doll and placed it on the shelf in my bedroom. There it remained untouched for 23 years.
As I’ve gotten older, I feel pretty good about how I’m aging. Except for the lines on my face, the reemergence of acne, the gray hair that never stays completely covered, and the nagging persistent fear that my best days are gone, like a boat that has set sail leaving me stranded on the dock. Alone. Like I said, pretty good.
But there’s one change as I’ve gotten older that has been particularly irksome. Not to get all Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret on you, but lately my periods have become, well . . . kind of obnoxious. They’re longer and heavier now. My gynecologist tells me that’s normal for women my age. Normal or not, they’re acting like a passive-aggressive Jewish grandmother.
“What? You’d prefer if I didn’t bother you? Poof. I’m gone. Is that what you want? Listen missy, when I’m gone, you’re going to miss me so much, you won’t be able to see straight! Then who’s going to be sorry you weren’t nicer to me when you had the chance?”
“Yeah right,” I’d scream at my menses before slamming the door in her face. “I hate her, I hate her, I hate her!” I’d cry into my pillow before falling asleep exhausted.
I don’t really hate my period. I just wish there wasn’t so much of it. It’s like I have a reverse period now. I bleed three weeks out of every month. After sex with my husband, my bedroom looks like a crime scene.
The other day I went into my local Apple store. I had a few minutes to spare before I was to meet a friend on the other side of the mall. I was interested in the iPad mini and wanted to compare models. The cellular version was $129 more than the Wi-Fi version and I wondered if it was worth it when factoring in the additional monthly charges as well.
I’m not especially proud of this fact, but there’s a traditional division of labor in my marriage. My husband Mike Brady* takes care of all things related to technology and general infrastructure in the home while I take care of all things related to the children. I know. I totally have the better end of the deal. I’ve seen him wait on hold with the phone company for what seems like an eternity, getting transferred to three different people in just as many countries, all in the effort to figure out why a mysterious monthly charge keeps showing up on our bill, like a persistent weed, even after he calls to get it removed every four weeks. Still, I’m a bit sheepish that until very recently (i.e., last week) I didn’t know who our ISP was or what ISP even stood for. But then again, Mike has no idea what HAGS** or TBH *** means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled not to have to deal with the phone or cable company, but the downside is that my marriage has turned me into something of an idiot.
So as with all things related to technology, I solicit Mike’s opinion. Standing in the store with my backpack over one shoulder and my handbag hanging off the other, I started texting Mike to ask about the iPads when out of my peripheral vision I noticed an Apple employee approaching. She looked to be in her early thirties, wearing the blue Apple employee t-shirt and an Apple nameplate around her neck. Without bothering to look up from my phone, I said “I’m wondering if you can answer a question for me about the minis?”
The woman jabbed me in the arm. Not exactly hard but definitely forceful. I looked up to see her holding a MacBook Air with the screen facing me. I’m deaf. How can I help you? the screen said. Then she sat the laptop down right in front of me.
Wow. How cool is it that the Apple store had a deaf employee? Fantastic! I totally applaud their Human Resources department. Truly. It was just that at that particular moment . . .for me . . .working with a deaf employee was . . . a tad inconvenient. Don’t judge. This was strictly a timing issue. Between my backpack, handbag, and phone, my hands were already pretty well occupied. Plus, I only had a minute to spare before I was scheduled to meet my friend and on top of all that, I’m just an okay typist as it is. I tend to make a lot of mistakes when rushing.
I was about to type just looking but instantly felt guilty. Children of a Lesser God is one of my favorite movies. Who could say no to Marlee Matlin? Sigh. I plopped down my backpack and handbag, set my phone on the table, and started typing to Marlee. I typed a question about setting up cellular service on the mini. In response, her fingers moved swiftly over the keyboard, sounding like stampeding mice. She wrote that I didn’t have to use my iPhone provider but could use a separate provider for the mini. She showed me how I could sign up right there in the store. Impressed by her knowledge, not to mention her extraordinary typing speed, I decided to ask a follow-up question to challenge her a bit. I don’t believe in pandering. Which did she think was more cost effective: buying the iPad mini with Wi-Fi and utilizing my iPhone as a hotspot or going with the cellular version?
She was not intimated by me. She tapped her temple with her finger, which I interpreted to mean she thought my question was particularly astute and started typing again. She opened the AT&T website and showed me prices for various hotspot plans. The woman clearly knew what she was typing about.
My communication to her was filled with multiple misspellings and bad grammar. If she suspected I didn’t graduate high school, she never let on. In contrast, her communication was as clean and perfect as my eighth-grade typing teacher’s plum frost toenails on the first day of spring.
I typed that I needed to think about how I planned to use the mini, whether I wanted it more for surfing the Internet or for reading books and watching movies. She slapped the table hard and then pointed her index finger at me with the thumb raised, like shooting a gun, as if to say Finally! What took you so long?
* Not my husband’s real name, but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.
**Have a great summer.
***To be honest.
Which is better, to formally apologize to your kids after totally losing it or just pretending like it never happened?
(Never mind why I’m asking.)
And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
Exodus 8:16 King James Bible
I know exactly how the Ancient Egyptians felt.
Maybe its because Passover is coming but I’m reminded of the plague of lice that descended upon my home two years ago when my children were in fourth grade.
The day before we discovered my daughter Princess Leia* had lice was an ordinary Friday. There was a Halloween party at school and I was helping out in her classroom. I watched as my daughter stood back-to-back (!) with another child as their classmates wrapped them in toilet paper as some kind of double-sided mummy. The children were laughing, enjoying their respite from schoolwork, blissfully unaware that lice had already invaded their classroom.
The next morning Princess Leia complained that her head was itchy. She had a haircut scheduled that afternoon so I made a note to ask the stylist about dandruff shampoo. Instead I left the salon with $60 worth of natural organic lice remover.
“What’s this all-natural stuff?” Mike Brady* said when we got home. “There are live bugs in her hair. Get the chemicals.”
He had a point. I spent another $60 on a chemical lice shampoo and then $10 on a lice comb on top of that. Monday morning I called the school nurse to let her know about the lice and to assure her I had taken care of the problem. We still have to check anyway, she told me.
“Go ahead. I dare you to find anything,” I replied confident in my lice-removing skills.
But then suddenly, a smidge of doubt. I raced to the school and arrived just as Princess Leia was being called to the nurse’s office. Within two seconds the nurse found a handful of nits that I had missed. I started tearing up immediately. She sent us both home with a pep talk to stay vigilant. That night with a magnifying glass, pin light, and lice comb, Mike and I spent hours pouring over Princess’ hair, strand by painstaking strand.
“If she doesn’t pass the nurse’s test tomorrow, maybe we should wash her hair with gasoline. My father did that when we had lice as kids,” Mike suggested.
The next morning Princess passed the nurse’s lice check and was allowed to stay in school. But I was not lulled into any false sense of security. I continued checking her hair and I continued to find nits and lice. Less of them, but still they were there. I became an expert on the lice lifecycle—how long eggs stay attached to hair before hatching (7 – 10 days), how long newly hatched lice take to mature before they can lay eggs of their own (10 days), how many eggs a single lice lays (8 eggs a day for up to 30 days). YOU DO THE MATH! Then my son got lice as well. Our house was under siege. I made Mike Brady check me every night, cursing his bad eyesight when he said he didn’t see anything. “Are you really looking closely? They’re there, I know it!”
In hindsight, I might have been suffering from Müchausen syndrome brought on by lice hysteria. But whatever. Mike, happy to have thinning hair for the first time in his life, wasn’t concerned about getting lice at all.
Neither the chemicals nor the organic lice treatments proved completely effective. I needed my own solution. I combed the Internet reading mommy blogs and chat rooms to find answers. Finally I came up with an inexpensive integrated approach taken from multiple sites that proved successful once and for all, which I’ve revealed below. Just my way of paying it forward. You're welcome.
Incidentally, during my ordeal, I shared my tale of lice-woe with some of the mothers in Princess Leia’s class. Two of them admitted that their children had lice as well but never notified the school because they were afraid their kids would become stigmatized. Nice. If the teacher knew about the lice, then he could’ve helped prevent the spread by telling students not to share winter hats and avoid back-to-back mummy wrapping games. I was never able to find out if the kid that Princess Leia was back-to-back with during the Halloween party got lice. The mothers here are loathe to admit anything.
My foolproof, all-natural, inexpensive method for lice removal:
1. Slather your hair completely in full fat mayonnaise for 8 hours. Cover with shower cap because the mayo starts to drip after awhile. This will suffocate the lice. You’ll smell like a deli and look like a cafeteria worker. Note: the mayo needs to be full fat to really smother them. This is the one time you don’t want to go low fat or nonfat. Also, I wouldn’t advise sleeping with it, as it can get messy on your pillow.
2. Rinse hair of mayo and towel dry. Then spritz hair thoroughly with white vinegar with 5% acid. Leave on hair for 20 minutes. The acid dissolves the glue that keeps the eggs attached to the hair shaft. You’ll still smell like a deli but more like the salad bar instead of the sandwich area. After 20 minutes, rinse in shower.
3. Comb out hair with a .99 cents flea comb from a pet store. You should learn from my mistakes and forget the $10 lice comb from CVS. By now the glue has dissolved so the eggs should fall out easily.
4. Once hair is dry, flat iron hair using high heat setting in small sections. Be certain to flat iron all the hair. The high heat of the flat iron will singe and kill any eggs that remain on the hair shaft. Those eggs will never hatch – a lice abortion if you will.
Final postscript: Before lice, I never let Princess Leia use product in her hair. After her lice experience, and learning that lice are attracted to clean natural hair, I encourage her every morning to gel, spray, and spike it like Kajagoogoo.
* Not their real names but ones they agreed I could use for this post.
When I was twelve, my best friend “Michelle” got the first Walkman I ever saw. Our mothers were best friends so I expected that once I told my mom that Michelle got a Walkman, she would run out and buy me one too. But my mother was not socially savvy in the ways that are important. She never cared about things like keeping up with the Joneses. She thought the Joneses were idiots. In fact, the more money she and my father made, the worse she insisted we live. Gone went my father’s Cadillac. Why drive a new car with excellent reliability when you can pay $250 for my cousin’s twelve-year-old Chevy Nova with rusted panels that was in the repair shop once a month? She loved trying to shock people by driving a shitbox. “Reverse Chic” my mother called it. “Irrational” was how the neighbors saw it.
My mother wasn’t fooling anyone pretending to be poor. A compulsive shopper by nature, by the time I was in high school she had amassed a fleet of these shitboxes. There was the Nova shitbox that started her collection, then came the Mercury Cougar shitbox, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme shitbox, the Buick Skylark shitbox, and the Pontiac Grand Safari shitbox.
She appeared to have a special fondness for buying the cars of the deceased. I drove to high school each day in the car previously owned by our deceased travel agent who died unexpectedly in her fifties. Another shitbox had been owned by the mother of a good friend who died after a long battle with cancer. No car cost more than a few hundred dollars and none could be described as attractive. They all suffered from rust covered in a lumpy Bondo DIY repair from my father. Not all the panels were the same exact color. Trim might be there. Might not. Matching hubcaps was never a guarantee.
She once bought a BMW shitbox and bragged to my sister about what a fancy car she had gotten, what a steal! she said. My sister replied that she was surprised my mother bought a German car, since she had always declared she would never travel to Germany or buy German products, unlike our Jewish neighbors who had no issue with driving a Mercedes a mere thirty years after the Holocaust. My mother looked at my sister, surprised, and said, “It’s not a German car. It’s a British car. The BMW stands for British Motor Works." “No, Mom,” my sister corrected, “It stands for Bavarian Motor Works. It’s made in Germany.” My mother was stunned silent. That car didn’t last long in her fleet.
At one point my parents had ten of these so-called bargains. “How many people can say they own ten cars?” my mother boasted. But she’d spend 10 times the amount she paid for the shitboxes just to keep them running.
As you would imagine, eventually my parents ran out of room in their driveway to park all their shitboxes so they started parking them on the street, in front of our house and sometimes in front of the neighbors’. There were just too many of them to keep contained. More than once a stranger called the house demanding that my parents take their shitboxes off the street. The cars were just too ugly for the delicate sensibilities of our upper-middle class neighborhood. “Thanks for calling,” my father would genially reply before hanging up. They kept those shitboxes right where they were.
Two weeks ago my mother turned 81 years old. This is especially impressive when you consider that she’s been a smoker all her life. Yes, I know, a doctor who smokes—you can take a second to absorb that. At the height of her habit, she smoked two packs-a-day. But the aging process has been hell. Now she’s only able to manage a single pack-a-day. It’s been hard watching her having to accept that she’s no longer able to do many of the things she used to.
Whenever I remember my childhood, I see my mother with a cigarette in her hand. Always. And always with at least a 1/4 of an inch of ash at the tip. I’ve seen her get it as long as 3/4 of an inch. It was amazing how long she could grow her ash, something of an ash erection, if you will.
I used to worry that she’d get sick from all the smoking but so far nothing. Nada. Zip. She’s one of the healthiest old ladies I know. So I’ve been thinking that since she’s been both a doctor and a smoker for the past 50 years, maybe she knows something we don’t know? Like wouldn’t it be crazy if after all this time we find out that the tobacco companies were right—smoking is the key to longevity!
I think the real lesson of my mother is, if you’re going to smoke, smoke a lot. I mean really commit. Because after a lifetime of smoking, my mother’s body is so toxic even the cancer cells don’t want to live there. There’s no healthy tissue left for cancer to feed on. Cancer would literally starve to death in my mother’s body.
My husband Mike Brady* travels a lot for work, which means I’m home alone with the kids most nights during the week. He’ll frequently visit the “home office” in another state. At times I can’t help but marvel at how easy it would be for him to have an entire other family without me ever knowing.
When I asked him about it, he answered that one wife is more than he or any man could handle. I followed with, “What about a girlfriend and illegitimate baby a la John Edwards?” He countered that after dealing with me, he’s got nothing left for anyone else. Then I cross-examined him on what exactly he meant by dealing with me, though I had a pretty good idea. The average neurotic has nothing on me. I’ve been known to wear my clothes for years with the tags still attached, unable to fully commit.
Exasperated, Mike offered me his cell phone, laptop, and credit card bills to peruse to my heart’s content. It’s a good strategy on his part but I’m not 100% convinced. My reasons are not that I feel in my gut that there’s something wrong. On the contrary, things feel fine…but too fine, if you know what I mean. Mike Brady seems perfect. And well, nobody is perfect. That’s how I know I’m screwed.
Every day I live with a small persistent fear, like a low-grade fever that’s high enough to stay home from school but not so high that your mother will postpone her errands so she dopes you up on Advil and drags you to the grocery store where you lag behind the cart feeling not quite right. It’s that kind of fear. A nagging suspicion that one day a little girl will show up at my door, dragging her Hello Kitty suitcase asking, “Is my Daddy there?” I’d finally learn of Mike’s secret mistress, a school teacher who died tragically while saving her entire kindergarten class from a fire.
I would do the decent thing and accept Mike Brady’s motherless illegitimate child into my home. The neighbors would be amazed at the enormous generosity of my spirit, my abundance of grace for this innocent little girl.
“How does she stay with him?” I’d hear the other mothers whisper, disgust and awe battling it out as I walk past in the hallways of the elementary school. I’d enjoy newfound respect at the bus stop and home jewelry parties.
But as the little girl grew, she’d start to look more and more like her mother and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. She’d become a constant reminder of Mike’s affair and my passive aggressive tendencies would reveal themselves. I’m only human after all. On Christmas, I’d buy my daughter real Uggs and Mike’s illegitimate daughter Ugg knock-offs. I’d drive way past the mileage requiring an oil change, something I know makes him crazy. And I’d invite my parents for dinner…more than usual. And in this way, these small seemingly inconsequential acts would slowly pollute our home with the unmistakable whiff of resentment.
So I’m gonna ask Mike Brady one more time, “Are you sure there’s nothing going on at the home office?”
*Not my husband's real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.