Quite a Bit of (Leaky, Crumbling) Property

Hello, my long lost friends! When last we spoke, MommyEnnui headquarters was undergoing The Renovation that Wouldn’t Die. (Click the link to be reminded of the sad state of our bathrooms before renovation.) I so wish I could tell you that nightmarish chapter of my life was past and now I just sit around now reminiscing and chuckling to myself. In reality, our new bathrooms finally look fantastic. No holes in walls, no F’ed up tile job; they are a thing of beauty. But, as you know, sometimes horror lies beneath even the most beautiful façade.

kids'_bathroom_after_0516

Kids’ bathroom, after

Let me paint a picture for you. A very excited Biggie and Smalls are taking the inaugural bath in their now functional tub (well, the shower is functional). They’re happily splashing around together despite the fact that they’re humongous and are wedged pretty tightly in there these days. I’m looking on, pleased to have finally closed the renovation-from-hell chapter of our lives, when I hear Ad Man calling from downstairs. I think, “What the hell? He knows I can’t hear him with the tub running,” sigh to myself and go to find out what all the excitement is.

I find him standing in the downstairs bathroom, with an odd look on his face. He says, “Do you hear that?” I, of course, assume he’s gone off the deep end, but humor him and try to make out the phantom sound that’s the source of his discontent. Turns out, it’s not a phantom sound at all. Alas, it’s the distinct sound of water leaking and dripping inside the walls.

our_bathroom_after_0516

Master bathroom, after

I take off up the stairs like a bat out of hell, pull the drain on the girls’ bath and tell them to get out of the tub NOW! There’s water leaking into the basement! This does not please them. I tell them they’ll have to shower in my bathroom instead and the mood goes from bad to worse. Smalls is now crying and Biggie is throwing an epic fit. I mentally thumb through all the parenting books I’ve read in rare moments of optimism, reject all advice contained therein, and instead yell, “DO YOU THINK I’M HAPPY ABOUT THIS SITUATION?! GET. OUT. OF. THE. TUB!!!!” So, long story short, the nightmare continues.

Now, a rational reaction to the foregoing would be to swear off any future home projects, right? Unfortunately, Ad Man and I rarely make rational decisions. Instead, we’re doing the exact opposite. As of two weeks ago, we are now the owners of a crumbling bungalow on a large lot in Decatur, Georgia. We’re planning to tear down the crumbling bungalow and build a brand new, modern Maison MommyEnnui where it once stood. Yes, we’re building a house. Yes, we’re f*cking insane. And yes, by the time our dream house is built, there is a very good chance Ad Man and I will no longer be on speaking terms. After the closing, our banker said, “You own quite a bit of property now” which I thought was hilarious. Yep, that’s us. Atlanta land barons.

There’s good news for you, though, dear readers. In an attempt to preserve my sanity, keep a record of the all the gory details, and give you ample opportunities to write “Today, I’m feeling grateful I’m not MommyEnnui” in your gratitude journal, I will be blogging about the process of building a modern home on a modest budget with absolutely no previous experience with designing or building a house. Sounds like fun, huh?

Since one of our northern friends called us rednecks for moving just outside the city limits, I feel compelled to point out that Decatur is one of the most liberal spots in the South, which suits Ad Man and I perfectly. It’s very family friendly (for families of all races and sexual orientations) and has top-rated schools through high school. Redneck it is not. We love Decatur and have lots of friends who live there, but it’s really the schools luring us there. The thought of not spending $50,000 plus per year to send two children to private school was very enticing and, despite my determination to stay in the neighborhood and house that we love, Ad Man’s argument in favor of great public schools won out in the end. This leaves me with ample bargaining power, a fact which I plan to remind Ad Man of often when it comes to designing and furnishing the new house. “You got free schools…I get a pool. And a hot tub. And a pool boy.”

I’ve narrowed down our list of dream architects to three, each of whom I love for a different reason. Next steps are to choose one of the three and start the months long process of designing the house. We also need to get our current home in shape to list. We were able to buy the lot without having to uproot our poor children, but we’ll have to sell it before we can close on our building loan. I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I? Well, it’s been a steep learning curve and I’m sure I’ve still just scraped the surface of the knowledge one should have before beginning such an ambitious project.

On top of all this change, I’m hoping to be able to share some more big news with you very soon that will make it painfully clear I’m a masochist with the worst possible sense of timing. No, I’m not pregnant. (Oh sweet Jesus, no!) Stay tuned.

Two Kids and a Dog Up My Butt

Prologue

Please forgive me if this post feels stale. I’ve been attempting to finish it for the last two weeks, but I can’t f’ing write with two children and a dog up my butt 24/7! I’ve tried writing while the girls are huddled in front of some glowing screen or running unsupervised around the neighborhood, but it’s rare that even five minutes go by without someone whining (Birdie and Smalls), tattling on her sister (Smalls), protesting some perceived injustice (Biggie) or asking for a snack (Biggie, Smalls, Birdie, me). Aaaaarrrgghhhh!!! OK, I feel a little better. Please read on.

***

end_school_zoneIt’s the last week of school (you already know how I feel about this time of year), Ad Man is out of town all week, and I am barely holding onto my sanity (well, my definition of sanity which allows for a lot of wiggle room). Biggie and Smalls have been at each others’ throats pretty much every waking hour of the last few days. This doesn’t bode well for the next two and a half months. I’m starting to keep a list of some of the stupid shit those two find to fight about. My favorite so far is when they argue about whether or not they’re arguing.

Ad Man has been pretty much MIA other than a daily morning text to make sure we’re all out of bed. There are business trips during which he will call home and Facetime with the girls so he can quiz them on spelling words or they can read books to him. This hasn’t been one of those trips. Either his schedule is back-to-back meetings followed by expense account dinners followed by expense account bar hopping or he’s (wisely) avoiding me.

One rare time he promptly responded to a text from me this week, was when I informed him that I’d received a call about the mysterious bug I recently found downstairs on some laundry. I’m completely paranoid of Lyme Disease and haven’t ever seen a tick other than in photos, so I saved the bug in a zip-lock bag and gave it to our Orkin guy William. He couldn’t positively identify the body, so he brought it back to the office to observe it under a microscope. As he was walking out the door, he said casually, “I hope it’s not a bed bug.” Cue the panic! Find the Xanax!

Because Ad Man travels so much, bed bugs have been a recurring nightmare of mine for quite some time. Seriously, I’d rather both girls come home from school with lice than have the house infested with bed bugs. According to my internet research, which we all know is 100% accurate, bed bugs are very expensive, and damn near impossible, to get rid of. Moreover, bed bug bites are apparently horribly itchy. We had fleas in our apartment in Los Angeles once and I was ready to amputate my own legs in order to stop the itching. Ad Man, of course, is impervious to all insect bites.

Bed_bugThat was last week and, since I hadn’t yet heard back from Orkin and none of us had any bug bites, I thankfully assumed it wasn’t a tick or a bed bug and that all was well. That was until Monday, the day Ad Man hightailed it out of town. When I picked up the phone, William’s first words to me were, “You’re not going to like this…” Now, I adore William. He keeps my house mostly free of giant, flying cockroaches and never comments on my mounds of unfolded laundry. However, I think Orkin should start giving their technicians lessons on gently delivering disturbing news.

Indeed, the bug I was so worried was a tick turned out to be far, far worse. Ad Man got my text and responded surprisingly quickly. He attempted to calm me as I became more unhinged and my voice got higher with every passing minute. He tried to convince me that maybe just that one bed bug stowed away from New York in his luggage. I said, “Do you really think I just happened to find the one lonely bed bug wandering around our house?!” Feeling not the slightest bit optimistic, I made an appointment for a bed bug inspection for later in the week.

Meanwhile, I had a deluge of end-of-school-year and beginning-of-summer activities to wade through, so completely losing my shit was not an option. Biggie and Smalls have decided to join swim team after years of turning up their noses at the idea. I’d been told by numerous friends how lucky I was that the girls weren’t interested and that the schedule of practices and meets was overwhelming, especially while the kids were still in school. Did I heed their warnings though? I did not. I stupidly asked the girls just one more time if they wanted to join the team knowing how much they love to swim and wanting them to have an athletic activity to drag them away from the television this summer.

So, the day of the girls’ first swim practice arrived and I’d spent all day trying to work, stocking the fridge with ingredients for easy meals to which I would later say, “Screw it!” and order pizza instead, and tracking down luau-themed plates and napkins for Smalls’s year-end party. (I refused to drive across town to the party store for “luau” and went with “generically festive” from Target. I’m sure that put me on an inadequate-PTA-parent list somewhere.)

The girls’ bus got home late, as usual, so I had approximately nine minutes to get them changed and out the door. Naturally, I couldn’t find the beach bag containing all the swimming accoutrements, i.e., goggles, swimsuits that actually fit the girls, spray sunscreen, etc. I texted Ad Man, “do u know where swim bag is?” As expected, he was not helpful. I tried again, “i can’t find goggles 4 the girls!” to which he responded, “check the swim bag.” I considered filing for divorce, but decided that I should stick it out for the humorous blog content alone.

rainy_chastain_poolDespite the fact that we live, literally, five minutes from the pool, it took us twelve minutes to get there through school, baseball, and swim team traffic and another ten minutes to find a freaking parking spot. I dragged the girls to the pool, signed them in for practice, tracked down their respective coaches and grabbed a far-off lounge chair where I could sweat in private when the first clap of thunder sounded.

The lifeguards whistled righteously and herded everyone out of the pool. The coaches declared practice cancelled. The mother of Biggie and Smalls gathered up her wet children and all of their wet belongings and returned home to drink alone. That’s pretty much how the rest of the week went as well.

***

Epilogue

I’m relieved to say the bed bug inspection turned up exactly nothing. I did, in fact, find the one and only bed bug wandering around our house in search of a friend. Ad Man was right. I hate when that happens.

Dragon Teats and Mushroom Drippings

Ad Man and I went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday a few weekends ago. We met up with the birthday girl and her husband plus three other couples who are also friends of ours. All four of the couples with children were able to dig up babysitters for the evening on short notice. I can’t remember another time we were all in the same place at once, sans kids. You know how there are always those people who are like, “OMG…it’s the image of the Virgin Mary in my cappuccino! It’s a miracle!” Give me a break. This was a fucking miracle!

As is typical with our friends, plans for the birthday celebration began less than two weeks before the event. The birthday girl’s husband went through a few different options for locales, ultimately deciding on a hip, new restaurant in a gentrifying neighborhood in Atlanta called Inman Park. Sounded perfect to me. Hey, we’re hip! We like good food and drinking indie beers on patios!

sonic_youth_gooThe youngest of us is pushing 40 and the oldest is staring down the barrel of 50. We moan about how old we’re getting, yet still have this notion of ourselves as modern, urban, bohemians. When reminded that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Sonic Youth’s Goo, Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy and Doolittle by the Pixies, we die a thousand deaths inside. I mean seriously…that’s the equivalent of an album that came out in 1950 to us as kids. It’s mind-blowing.

So, despite the punk rock credibility we cling to like barnacles on a boat dock, it was hard not to feel a little long-in-the-tooth among the children gathered at the restaurant bar. And that was before a couple former sorority presidents–or so we assumed–began bedazzling an area in the back section of the bar for the Westminster School Class of 2005’s tenth reunion. (Note: Westminster is a very old, very affluent, private school in Atlanta.)

Ladybird Atlanta BeltlineAt that point, the population of the restaurant was approximately 49% young lawyers and art gallery interns with trust funds, and 49% young, tattooed hipsters with fixie bikes chained to the rack outside. Our table of graying, tattooed (former) hipsters bitching about the lack of good public middle schools made up the last 2%.

We sat down at a table among the pierced-and-perky hordes, and those of us who weren’t already wearing “progressive lenses,” pulled out reading glasses to see our menus. Reading and understanding are two very different things, however. The menu before me contained some of the most indecipherable, adjective-laden food descriptions I’ve ever seen. The Grassfed Beef Carpaccio was described as “dragon tears, smoked evoo, cauliflower & peanut puree, grana, little chips.” I misread dragon tears as dragon teats and we all agreed that was actually no more outrageous than the original wordage. There was the Hot Mushroom Skillet with “mushroom drippings, egg, toast.” You also couldn’t go wrong with the “Silver Turtle” Roasted Cauliflower & Sunchoke with “apricot, alliums, naan bread, smorgasbord.” I began to get a sneaking suspicion that these weren’t actually food descriptions at all, but rather, randomly generated haikus.

ladybird_menuIn contrast to the pretentiousness of the menu, our waiter was quite down to earth and friendly. Thankfully, he was fluent in restaurant-speak, and able to answer all of our many questions, including…How does one milk a mushroom? Are there any actual mushrooms in the dish or are they tossed away like yesterday’s trash after being robbed of their precious drippings? Where do you source your dragon tears and do you know if they were free-range dragons? Are you at liberty to divulge the contents of “smorgasbord?”

After we ordered, the chef walked into the dining area and my friend M, the birthday girl, realized they had a mutual friend. So, M dragged the chef back to our table. We all hit it off immediately and, thus, gave her no end of shit about the flowery menu. She claimed no involvement in its drafting, so we let her stay. The chef asked us who our server was and, when we told her, she said, “Aaaahh…you must be the table of ‘normal people’ he was telling me about.” I considered that a compliment given the obnoxious diners flanking our table, but M spent the rest of the night nursing a deep, psychic wound caused by being referred to by the N-word.

We were, however, pleasantly surprised when our meals arrived. The food was delicious and didn’t at all require bolstering by descriptions rivaling those of Keats’s Grecian urn. Sitting here writing this, I was just thinking I should reveal the name of the restaurant since I’m saying positive things about the food, if not the menu or the clientele. However, when I looked up its website, I discovered yet another reason to hate the damn place. I knew it was called Ladybird, a perfectly lovely name, but what I didn’t know is that the full name of the place is actually “Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall.” Whyyyyyy?! Why not “Canteen and Watering Hole?” Or, “Puddle and Pile of Kibble?” There are times (many, many times) when marketing people make me want to scream…and I’m not just talking about Ad Man.

This thing could comfortably accommodate a 2 year old.

The Louis Vuitton Neverfull can comfortably accommodate a 2 year old child.

As the Westminster Class of 2005 began filling up the back of the bar area, the restrooms became more and more inaccessible. This, unfortunately, coincided with the timing of the beer hitting my bladder. So, twice I had to steel myself and head out to yonder ladies’ room, slithering between Blaine and Grayson who were trying to hook up with Sloane and MacKenzie (or whatever their names were). Approximately every fourth woman at the reunion was carrying an enormous Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag, increasing the difficulty of the obstacle course exponentially. During my first trek through the forest of 20-somethings, all I could think was, “Wow…that is a crapload of expensive dental work.”

Following dinner, a few of us headed to a bar in Decatur where we chatted over Jack Daniels slushies and curry-spiced popcorn. When the server asked if we wanted another round of drinks, the birthday girl said, “You guys should stay and hang out, but I’m going home and getting in bed.” (We don’t call her “half-pint” for nothing!) I tried to rally the others, but the lure of pajamas and a warm bed won out over my sad cheerleading. So, we all headed our separate ways, exhausted from a long, raucous night of partying. It was 11 pm. Because, that’s how we roll.

The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of The Worlds’ Oldest PA. If you’ll recall, in Part 1, I’d gotten through the first day of shooting for a show on the Discovery Channel, about which I knew absolutely nothing, without any embarrassing incidents. The only time I was really stumped was when the Director of Photography held out a camera cable and asked me if I knew how to do “over-under.” I paused briefly, giggling to myself and thinking it sounded like something sexual (I have the sense of humor of a 13 year-old boy), but it more likely had something to do with the cord he was holding.

I kept cool and said, “No, but I’m sure I could learn if you’d show me.” He didn’t have time right then, but didn’t seem annoyed, so I assumed over-under wasn’t critical PA knowledge. I did, however, vow to myself that, before the end of the job, I’d figure out what the hell over-under was and how to do it.

After returning to the hotel after our first day of shooting, the crew all headed to our separate rooms. A couple people went to work out. I hadn’t even packed workout clothes and after a day of heavy lifting and errand running, was even more convinced that was the right decision. I chatted with the Associate Producer (AP) who said she’d likely head to the bar in a bit if I wanted to join her. Feeling socially weird (nothing new there) and yearning to remove my damn bra asap, I told her I was pretty fried, but to please text me when she headed downstairs. In the hotel room, I did my best to rally knowing that I shouldn’t skip out on meeting up with the others no matter how tired I was. Instead, I gave myself a mental bitchslap and when the AP texted, I said I’d be down in a few minutes. See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I got down to the bar and found the AP sitting there with her computer and a cocktail. I ordered a beer and, when she finished up with some work, asked her about the show and specifically, the episode we were working on. I’ll tell you, I was not prepared for the horrifying story she told. I can discuss it here because it’s a matter of public record and, in fact, got tons of publicity when it happened.

NND_logoIt turns out, the show we were working on is called Nightmare Next Door and you’ll quickly understand why this was an appropriate title. In 2011, a law student at Mercer University in Macon was murdered by another law student who lived in her apartment building. They’d both just graduated and were hunkering down to study for the bar. Friends and family of the victim, Lauren Giddings, began to worry after they hadn’t heard from her in a few days, initially thinking she was just busy studying. A search party scoured Macon looking for any sign of the missing woman. One person who was active in the search for Lauren was her neighbor Steven McDaniel. Steven was quite odd and a social misfit, but Lauren was friendly with him when their paths crossed.

When the search party was unable to find any trace of Lauren, friends and family members were distraught. A local reporter interviewed a number of people, including Steven. He told the reporter he had no idea where she could be or what could have happened to her. He said Lauren was outgoing and nice to everyone and he couldn’t imagine how anyone could do harm to her. In the midst of the interview, the reporter received some news and said to Steven, “Do you have a reaction to the fact that the police just found a body nearby?” Steven was visibly shocked by the news, needing to sit down and calm his breathing for a few minutes before he returned to continue on with the interview.

Shortly before this, the Macon police had found the torso of a woman’s body in a trashcan outside Lauren’s apartment building. The body had been decapitated and the arms and legs severed. The head and extremities were nowhere to be found. DNA tests on the torso turned out to be a match for Lauren.

The police investigated Lauren’s current and former boyfriends and interviewed family and friends, but quickly turned their focus to Steven. According to the police, it was the law students’ intense and strange reaction to the news of the discovery of the body that pointed them in his direction. The police questioned Steven extensively and arrested him for burglary after he admitted to have stolen items from neighbors’ apartments. A search of his apartment turned up videotapes taken through Lauren’s window, photos of Lauren, a master key to the apartment building, child pornography, and packaging for a recently purchased hacksaw. (I’m assuming Steven didn’t get the best grade in criminal law.)

I’m sure you won’t be shocked to hear that the killer was Steven McDaniel. He eventually confessed to the crime, describing how he’d strangled Lauren and dismembered her body with a hacksaw in her shower. He was (obviously!) obsessed with Lauren and upset that she would soon be taking the bar exam and moving away from Macon, and him, forever. Steven explained that he’d disposed of Lauren’s head and limbs separately from the torso, but police never found them despite extensive searching.

The story struck me hard. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lauren’s family. I was also astounded that Steven could be together enough to graduate from law school and not set off alarms with classmates and teachers as to his mental state, when in fact, he was a psychopath capable of planning and carrying out a gruesome murder. I was even more freaked out when the field producer pulled up the video of Steven’s interview on YouTube. To watch this guy who had murdered and dismembered someone just days before calmly express concern, on camera, about her whereabouts was chilling. I, couldn’t help but think about my own law school classmates and wonder which person in the group was the homicidal psychopath!

Lauren Giddings

Lauren Giddings

It was crazy working on this story in a small town like Macon, because literally everyone we talked to knew about the murder. Many personally knew someone involved in the case.There was one day when I took a large box of police records to be copied and sent to the production company for fact checking. I was flipping through the binders, showing the young woman helping me at FedEx how they were laid out, when she glanced at a photo of Lauren on the opening page and said, “I knew her.” My stomach dropped knowing there were gruesome photos in the records. I was relieved when we decided to just pack up the entire box of documents and send it to the production company rather than making copies.

So anyway, back to the hotel bar. Controlling my neuroses and meeting the crew for dinner and drinks was absolutely the right thing to do. We chatted and I got to know them better, which was great since they already knew each other having worked together on previous projects. The DP told me about his daughter who’s between Biggie’s and Smalls’s ages, and we discussed the difficulty of juggling career and parenthood, especially in a field like production where you can be away from family for weeks, if not months, at a time. The crew also asked about my background suspecting that I wasn’t a career production assistant. They were all awesome, and said they’d tell the production company to add me to their list of field producers. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! Obviously, I couldn’t be away from home for weeks at a time, but a few weeklong jobs every now and then would be great.

The next day, we were scheduled to interview the police officer who discovered Lauren’s body and the Police Chief in charge at that time. We shot at a small, neighborhood police station that looked to me like a run-down, old Baptist church. When we walked into the building, the producers,’ DP’s and sound guy’s faces fell. It was quite possibly the worst place possible to film. The whole office had been painted white decades before and bore the grunge and scars of the intervening years. The ceilings were high with buzzing fluorescent lights, and the sound of the air conditioner seemed to be competing with them for attention. The DP looked at me and said, “Watch…the producers are going to start freaking out. I just stand back and wait for them to get through it.” And, indeed, there were a lot of concerned looks, muttered discussions and frantic phone calls made. However, they did get through it and a plan was hatched to shoot in one of the cramped offices, with the overhead lights and AC turned off. Never have I been so happy to not be in the interview room.

Before the interview, though, we set up outside for the “hero shot” (which is exactly what it sounds like) of our main good guy, the police officer who found the body. The sky was looking ominous but we kept checking the weather which indicated that there’d be no rain until the afternoon. Once the equipment was in place, I asked the AP if she wanted me to go find a Starbucks. She said yes and that I should ask the officers for their coffee orders as well. She told me to pick up some doughnuts while I was out as well. When I protested, insisting that it was simply too cliché, she laughed and told me to shut up and go get the damn doughnuts! I told you this was a glamorous job.

storm_clouds_maconMacon isn’t exactly a town with a Starbucks on every street corner, but I was able to track one down and ordered some very complicated coffee and tea orders for the crew and a couple plain, black coffees for the cops. I watched out the window, waiting for the order to be ready as creepy, dark clouds rolled toward me. Luckily, I got all the drinks safely into the car before big, fat raindrops started plopping on the blacktop. By the time I got to Dunkin’ Donuts, it was a full-on torrent. I returned to the police station dripping wet.

My hair doesn’t like humidity, let alone driving rain, so I spent the rest of the day with random waves and wings sticking out everywhere. I briefly considered grabbing a baseball cap from the car, but remembered that the only one I could find to pack was my “Ready for Hillary” hat. I wisely decided that might not go over well at the Macon, Georgia police station.

I thought I’d have an in with the police officers since my dad was a cop for 25 years, but I wouldn’t say they were the warmest guys in the world. Later, as I was getting the Chief’s lunch order, I mentioned to him that I’d practically grown up in a police station. He indulged me with a little grunt of acknowledgement, then continued trying to figure out how to maneuver through the lunch menu on my iPhone. We interviewed another retired police officer back at our hotel two days later. The AP sent me out to make small talk with him while the crew tweaked camera and sound. I, again, tried playing the cop’s-kid card telling him that my father was also a retired police officer. He replied, “Hm…good for him.” Apparently, cops in the south aren’t known for being sparkling conversationalists.

My traveling companions, sent by the girls so I wouldn't get lonely

My traveling companions, sent by the girls so I wouldn’t get lonely

There was one classic working-mom-moment on the afternoon of the police station shoot. I was out picking up lunch when Ad Man left me a message sounding stressed and saying that the babysitter (an employee of his, actually) had bailed at the last minute and we had no one to replace her. This wasn’t good news to receive in the middle of the work day an hour and a half drive away from home. I dropped the lunch bags on the table and started madly making phone calls while trying not to hyperventilate. When the AP and the rest of the crew found out what was going on, they immediately told me that I should head home and they’d just cover for me for the rest of the day. I seriously almost started crying, told them I loved them all, grabbed my lunch to-go and hit the road! I’m ridiculously lucky to have worked with such a great bunch of people.

The rest of the week was a whirlwind of interviews with journalists, prosecutors and the District Attorney. We shot b’roll (generally, scenic filler) of Macon’s famous cherry blossoms, the courthouse, the crime scene, the landfill where police searched in vain for Lauren’s missing body parts and the exterior of the FBI crime lab. You didn’t think they had one of those in rural Georgia, did you? Yeah, me either.

By the time I headed home on Friday afternoon, I was utterly exhausted. Most of my body was sore, including the butt cramp that only got worse as I added more and more hours in the car. But, regardless, I was happy and felt more confident than I had in years. Nine years to be exact. I also finished this job with the absolute conviction that going back to work is the right thing for me. While wasn’t easy, Ad Man survived, the kids survived and I thrived.

I learned two other important things by the end of the week: how to set the goddamn cruise control on my car and how to do the “over-under” method of wrapping cables! Turns out, you can figure out how to do just about anything if you’re humble, willing to work your ass off, and have unlimited access to YouTube tutorials.

The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 1

PA_and_Brad_Pitt

See the woman in red? She’s a production assistant. My job was in no way like this.

Guess who just got back from a business trip. Me! Can you imagine? I’ve been casting a wide net, telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I’m looking for work. Because people are awesome, a few friends have actually contacted me with potential opportunities. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working very part-time on a writing and social media project for some friends. I’ve also signed on with a contract attorney/legal temp agency which is hard at work looking for legal gigs for me.

But, anyway, about that business trip…a couple weeks ago, a friend in the entertainment industry sent me a job listing seeking a production assistant on a shoot in Atlanta for the Discovery Channel. She actually wrote, “This may be below your pay grade, but…” which made me fall on the floor laughing. I composed myself and responded that my current pay grade is zero dollars, so unless I had to pay them to work on the show, I was in.

So she passed along my contact info and I received a call from a producer the next day. It turned out that the shoot was in Macon, which is about an hour and a half from Atlanta, but they’d put me up in a hotel there so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth. I immediately called Ad Man to see if we could work out the dates and he reminded me he was scheduled to go to Dallas or Houston or somewhere that week. As you can imagine, I was extremely disappointed and convinced I’d never work again if I had to maneuver around his ridiculous schedule.

After a mini-breakdown, we figured out a way for me to work the whole shoot. It merely took changing Ad Man’s flight to Texas, having me drive home one night so I could get Biggie and Smalls on the bus the next morning, finding a neighbor who could get the girls off the bus that day and hiring a babysitter who would take them until Ad Man got home from the airport that night. Easy, right?

Amazingly, I found a helpful neighbor, scheduled a babysitter, and the call times for the shoot worked out perfectly. Apparently, the production schedule gods were looking out for me. So, at this point, I was all ready to go, but nervous as hell. It had been a while since I was on a set and there were absolutely no guarantees I’d have any idea what I was doing! Plus, I was convinced that I’d arrive to find that the entire crew was a bunch of tight-skinned, 20-somethings horrified to see that they had The World’s Oldest PA working on their shoot.

Ad Man and I talked to the girls over dinner. We told them about my “great opportunity” and walked them through the schedule. With the exception of his one day out of town, Ad Man would greet them when they got off the bus and work from home for the afternoon. The girls were not at all happy. I generally leave home without them maybe twice a year for a weekend and this job just happened to fall a week after I’d spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale with my best law school friends.

“Mommy, do you have to go? Did you sign up for this job or did someone just call you?” Clearly, they were trying to figure out who to blame for this untenable situation. The discussion continued, culminating at bedtime when Smalls had a complete nervous breakdown, sobbing, clinging to me and whining, “Mommy, I don’t want you to goooooooo!” Meanwhile, I was going over my packing list in my head because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to make it to Macon for an 8 am call time and was not in the slightest bit prepared.

Rural Georgia is an interesting place.

Rural Georgia is an interesting place. And, no, that doesn’t say beer cooler.

Cut to the following morning (See how I did that? So Hollywood). It was pitch black out and I was so tired, I really should have been kept away from heavy equipment. I rolled into the closest coffee shop drive-thru and pulled out my phone while I waited. I was searching for directions to the hotel in Macon when I realized I already had a text from the Associate Producer. Change of plans! We were actually going to shoot in Augusta that day, 120 miles away from Macon. Unless I was already close to the hotel (ha!), I should head to Augusta instead. The rest of the crew would meet me there in 2 ½ hours. If I got there before they did, I was to grab some menus from restaurants in the area for lunch…in particular, barbecue joints. Excellent. Put the vegetarian in charge of finding the best BBQ in town.

Despite the last minute craziness, I kept calm and managed to arrive in Augusta unscathed. It was shortly after 9 am, so of course, there were no restaurants open from which to gather menus. Instead, I drove to the location and sat in my car madly texting about barbecue with friends who grew up in the area. I didn’t take this task lightly. I was well aware, from being a producer on shoots, that the PA’s most important job is to not fuck up lunch. A PA lives and dies depending on whether or not there are grilled onions on the director’s burger. This is not an exaggeration.

When a black van pulled up to the location, and people and equipment started spilling out, I was relieved to see that everyone in the crew (a small one, admittedly) was at least in their early 30s. No one there was young enough to be my child. One big hurdle cleared. Now, I just had to hope they wouldn’t ask me to do something about which I had absolutely no knowledge. I met the crew and everyone was very friendly. It turned out, we were from all over the country…a couple people from Boston, one from D.C., someone from San Francisco, and me, currently residing in Atlanta. I still can’t get myself to say that I’m “from Georgia.”

We were shooting in a beautiful, lightly renovated Victorian house in a gentrifying neighborhood in Augusta. A flag for the Master’s golf tournament was proudly waving on the porch. Augusta is famous for being the host of the Master’s, which was only weeks away at this point. The azaleas were in bloom and there was a distinct buzz about town.

I should say, at this point, I had absolutely no clue what kind of project we’d be working on. All I knew was that we were shooting for a show that was part of Discovery Channel’s “Investigation Discovery” lineup. So, I just jumped into unloading equipment, laying out cables and hanging blackout plastic on windows while dangling precariously from a wobbly ladder. It occurred to me that Ad Man and I haven’t taken out life insurance on me.

There was a small crisis when the Director of Photography realized that they’d forgotten to buy sand for the sandbags used to steady camera and lighting equipment. Where the hell does one buy sand at 10 am on a Sunday in the Bible Belt? Never fear though…my mom-skills kicked in and I had a plan! With one quick search on my phone, I determined that there was a Toys R Us in the area which did, in fact, carry play sand. I was off in a flash to pick up 100 lbs. of sand and save the day. See? I’m a problem-solver. Stay-at-home parenting hasn’t left me void of any skills after all. Need sand? I’m your gal! Need to rearrange the schedules of three interviewees in two different states? No problem! Someone accidentally got Sharpie on a set piece? Before you can blink, that stain will be my bitch!

An excerpt from my mileage notes.

Just an excerpt from my mileage notes.

I’ll spare you all the details, but I essentially spent the day moving heavy things around and then guarding very expensive things outside the house while the rest of the crew was inside interviewing the lovely young lawyer and owner of the home about I knew not what. Luckily, I remembered to pack sunscreen. I also bought new insoles for my Vans slipons and stocked up on Icy Hot for the screaming backache I was sure I’d develop before the end of the shoot. One must prep for all potential calamities when one is The World’s Oldest PA.

After the interview, the whole crew and the interviewee and her husband (also a young lawyer and also lovely) went out for lunch together. I kept my curiosity in check and managed not to ask any dumb questions about the topic of the episode. It’s a damn good thing, too because the woman we interviewed turned out to be a close friend of the victim. Hmm…victim. That meant we we’re dealing with a murder. Good to know.

Following lunch, we hit the road for a 2 ½ hour drive back to the crew hotel. For those of you keeping count at home, that was a total of 4 hours on the road for me that day. I spent the whole drive from Augusta to Macon trying to figure out how to set the cruise control on the car we’ve had for nine years because I had a butt cramp from driving. I am, indeed, the picture of fitness and vitality.

Stay tuned for The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 2, in which you’ll learn what the hell we were filming, the identity of the victim, whodunnit, and whether or not I got through the shoot without making an ass of myself.

It’s Not Vacation Unless Someone Barfs

Franklin, TennesseeAd Man and the girls and I took a much needed spring break trip to Nashville last week. At the same time, I vowed to go cold turkey on Facebook and not do any work on the blog so I could really unwind and relax my carpal-tunnel-gnarled wrists. This also allowed me to spend some time with the kids without an iPhone or a laptop glued to my face. So, if you wondered where the hell I’d gone to, that’s my excuse.

The good news is that, although I was unplugged from MommyEnnui, I was still gathering ridiculous stories to share with you. You see, the Schkqnchehrkhgt family has never once had a 100% problem-free holiday. Actually, I think this streak goes all the way back to childhood when my family took a trip to that vacation wonderland, the Wisconsin Dells. (Yes, we were big pimpin’ back then.) If I recall correctly, our drive up north was uneventful but for the usual squabbles in the back seat of the station wagon. By the way, this was a great improvement on the time my family took a car trip from Chicago down to Florida and we had approximately seventeen blown out tires along the way. We also accidentally hit a cat on the highway and I cried the entire 1,200 miles home. Ah, the memories!

Anyway, for the Dells trip, we arrived there only to realize that my Dad had forgotten to pack all the hanging clothes in the car. I was, apparently, the only one who didn’t feel the need to neatly hang my jean cut-offs and Shaun Cassidy t-shirts and was, therefore, the only person in the family who didn’t have to spend five days wearing the same clothes. To make matters worse, my father sat in chocolate on the day of our arrival, so he was forced to rock the same pair of poo-brown stained jeans the entire time. The Wisconsin Dells didn’t exactly have a plethora of superstores full of affordable clothing options back then.

There were no tragic fashion debacles during our trip last week, but there were enough other bumps in the road to keep us on our toes. As per our usual M.O., this vacation was planned at the last minute. Nonetheless, I managed to find and rent a cute two-bedroom cabin in Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is an adorable town, about thirty-five minutes outside of Nashville, and home to Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Jack White, Ashley Judd and other celebs.

Astronauts!On the drive up, we went a bit out of our way so we could stop in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Other than poorly timing our mealtimes so that the girls and I were famished and crabby by the time we left (Ad Man was his usual crotchety self), our visit was great. Both girls are now begging to go to Space Camp there as soon as possible and I’m weighing the pros and cons of selling an organ to pay for it.

For us, just getting to this point in the trip without a major incident was a huge accomplishment. Biggie and Smalls are known far and wide for their severe motion sickness and hair-trigger gag reflexes. After many, many trips that ended with a child and the car covered in vomit, we’ve finally gotten our process down. Before leaving for any car trip, the girls and I all take Dramamine (we now carry a stash of the chewable kind in the glove compartment at all times). Ad Man and I also stock the car with gallon-size, zip-lock freezer bags, wet wipes and a change of clothes for both kids.

1st Cabin BedroomIt was with a great sense of relief that we arrived unscathed in Franklin. Our cabin was unlocked as, it appears, is the custom in those parts and we proceeded to unload the two tons of stuff we’d packed for the trip. The cabin was lovely, though a bit more cramped than we’d expected. It was also a little less clean than I’d prefer. It must be dead ladybug season in Tennessee, because they were everywhere. We soon discovered, much to our chagrin, that the cabin was also inhabited by live wasps. Ad Man killed one that was hanging out on the kitchen curtains and we breathed a sigh of relief. Neither girl has ever been stung by a bee or wasp so we have no idea whether either is allergic to them. The middle of the country, far from the closest hospital was not where we wanted to find out.

Unfortunately, our sense of calm was short-lived because two wasps soon took the place of their fallen comrade. So, we continued our wasp-murdering spree. By bedtime, we’d sent five of them to wasp heaven, did a thorough sweep of the girls’ bedroom and locked them in for the night. (The girls, not the wasps.) As I was laying in bed reading, I spotted another one buzzing around, far out of reach, near the vaulted ceiling of our bedroom. I stared at that stupid thing for as long as I could keep my eyes open and finally just had to hope it would stay up there and went to sleep.

Ad Man, however, was still stationed on the couch in the living room on high alert. I awoke in the morning and realized he’d never come to bed. Instead, he reported that he was up much of the evening battling the little bastards, killing a couple more and freaking out in a very unsoldierly manner when one dive-bombed him in the night. I kept surprisingly calm until the girls came shrieking out of their bedroom after coming face-to-face with a wasp hanging out in the sleeping loft in their room. It also didn’t help that Ad Man then remembered to tell me that, the night before, he’d gone to throw a dead wasp in the trash can and a mouse popped out at him. By his own account, he’d “screamed like a little girl” much like he did that time when a turkey brushed by his leg at the Yellow River Game Ranch. Yep, that’s my studly husband.

Gotcha!At this point, we started making frantic phone calls and texts to the owner of the property. We finally heard back from him via text saying that he’d have an exterminator come to the house later in the day. He also asked if we wanted to move to another house on the property which we took to mean the shack even smaller than ours that we’d passed on our way in. Ad Man and I weren’t thrilled with the idea of all our belongings being bombed with wasp killer and there was no way to cram us all into the shack. We decided we’d rather look for a hotel in Nashville. We sent a message back telling the owner we weren’t comfortable with the chemicals and that, in exchange for him giving us back the money we’d already paid for the rest of the week, we’d agree not to give him a bad review on Airbnb and just chalk it up to “shit happens.” Sooooooo, we packed up everything that we’d unpacked the night before and gathered evidence that would support our case should we have to fight to get our money back, hence the reason I now have photos of wasp carcasses to share with you lucky readers.

We had just finished packing up and getting the kids in the car when a green pickup truck drove up the long, gravel road to our cabin. The owner got out and I thought, “Oh shit. This is going to get ugly.” I should point out that the owner of the property is a wealthy physician who owns a crapload of land very near celebrities’ homes; not exactly a thug to be feared. Turns out, he was lovely and accommodating and the other house he’d offered to us was actually the big-ass house across the road that we’d marveled at on our way in. We drove over to the house with him, I took one look inside at the enormous living room with soaring ceilings and a stone fireplace and said, “I think this will do just fine, thank you.” Whew! One major bullet dodged.

I’ve included a photo of our rented mansion so you can witness the swankiness for yourself. Ad Man and I did a little “holy-crap-we-totally-scored” dance and proceeded to unpack the car yet again. Meanwhile, Biggie and Smalls explored the grounds which included a small pond with waterfall, a large pond with a dock, a shuffleboard court, bocce ball court, horseshoes, a barn   and acres of prime Tennessee land dotted with enough wildflowers to keep two little girls happy for a month.

Cabin #2

The rest of the day was heavenly. We had brunch at an amazing bakery/cafe in downtown Franklin and explored the picturesque little town and surrounding areas. The girls spent the afternoon back at the house running around the yard and fishing in the pond with Ad Man. After going back out to dinner, we tucked the exhausted Biggie and Smalls into one of the many bedrooms together and then crashed on the couch ourselves with wine and a movie on Ad Man’s laptop. All was right with the world. That is, until the barfing started.

Ad Man and I were both startled when we heard Smalls crying out from the girls’ bedroom. We’ve gotten to the point where kids waking up screeching in the night is no longer a common occurrence. Ad Man jumped up to see what was going on and immediately called me to come help. Just as a mother learns to identify her baby’s different cries, I have come to recognize my husband’s particular yell that means, “Get in here now! There’s vomit everywhere!”

We sprang into action like the seasoned vomit veterans that we are. We sent Biggie to one of the other empty bedrooms and I grabbed the screaming, puke covered kid. I did my best to remove Smalls’s pajamas without smearing too much additional barf into her hair or onto myself and whisked her away for a warm bath. Ad Man dealt with getting the pukey sheets off the bed and into the washing machine. (Having a washer and dryer is one of the biggest benefits of renting a house rather than staying in a hotel.)

We got everything and everyone cleaned up and tucked Smalls into bed with me. So much for the wine and movie. She said she was feeling better, but I kept a trash can at the ready just in case. That was a good thing too, because just as I was dozing off, Smalls threw up again. This time, I was left holding a vomit filled trash can, but due to my fast mom-reflexes, we avoided having to rewash the kid and another set of sheets. The rest of the night was blissfully puke free.

Just petting a kangarooThe next day, Smalls was a little tired and clingy, but otherwise fine so we let the girls talk us into taking them to the zoo. We didn’t expect much from the Nashville Zoo, but it turned out to be really nice and we practically had the place to ourselves. Biggie and Smalls were especially thrilled to get to pet a kangaroo which was surprisingly soft. (I tell you this just in case you get the chance to pet a kangaroo yourself someday. Do not pass up the opportunity!)

We’d gotten tickets to go see some live music from a colleague of Ad Man’s, so a few nights later, we took the opportunity to expose the girls to their first concert not featuring a dancing, furry animal character of some sort. It was a live radio variety show called Music City Roots that’s recorded every week in a large theater-in-a-barn on the grounds of the famous Loveless Cafe. We had no idea what bands would be playing that night but we figured, even if the music wasn’t that great, we’d still have an adventure and eat warm biscuits.

Driftwood by SmallsIf you asked Ad Man and me if we’re big country music fans, we’d have to say no. If we really thought about it though, and looked beyond our Yankee music snobbery, there are honestly a number of, mostly classic, country artists that we both love. I count Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Sr. and Lucinda Williams as some of my favorite musicians. So, I wasn’t surprised that we ended up having a fantastic time at the show. Biggie and Smalls were grinning ear-to-ear and clapping along. There was one particular band called Driftwood that we were all crazy for. We bought their CD and listened to it nonstop on our drive home. Smalls, my little Southern belle, even drew a picture of the band and told me she wants to learn how to play the fiddle!

The rest of the trip was a whirlwind of checking out Nashville’s touristy spots and insider gems, getting together with good friends, fishing in the pond and eating insane amounts of unhealthy, but delicious, Southern food. Biggie and Smalls each came back with a new pair of “cowgirl” boots, as they insist on calling them. Ad Man also tried on a pair for fun in the boot shop and I nearly fell down laughing. He’s definitely more of a checkered Vans kind of guy.

Barn ratsIn the process of exploring, we absolutely fell in love with the city. We even found the hipster part of town with the help of friends’ suggestions and decided that, if we were to ever move there, it would be difficult to choose whether to live in East Nashville with the rest of the tattooed parents and plentiful vegetarian restaurants or to hightail it to the country where we could have chickens and goats and let the girls run wild. Ad Man is convinced I’d lose my mind living in the country, but I have to say, it was pretty great to breathe in the fresh air, sit in a rocking chair on the porch, drinking tea in my pajamas and point out constellations to my city kids who’d never seen so many stars in their lives. Seriously, if we’d stayed one more week, there’s a good chance you’d still find me there in a vintage dress and cowboy boots chatting with the regulars at my favorite coffee shop.

Just to keep us alert, two days before we left, Biggie threw up in the middle of the night. The nice thing about having an eight year old, though, is that they actually get out of bed and run to the bathroom when they have to barf. Ad Man was still awake in the living room and didn’t even bother to wake me with the news. Thank goodness for small pleasures like road trips, live music, room to roam, abundant stars and children who grow up and no longer spew vomit all over the house.

 

 

Good Things Happen When White People Dance

This past weekend was the biennial fundraising auction for Swanky Elementary School in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. While Swanky Elementary is a public school, it is attended by the children of some of Atlanta’s most upper-crust families and celebrities such as former NFL player Jerome Bettis, country music legend Kenny Rogers and the blogger beloved by hundreds, MommyEnnui. (“One of these things is not like the others…one of these things just doesn’t belong…”)

Britney_Justin_Denim_Red_CarpetAahhhh, and what a night it was. Excitement for the event began building months ago when this year’s theme was announced…“Denim & Diamonds.” So creative and not-at-all pretentious! The dress code for the evening was “dressy casual,” much to the confusion of many of Swanky’s parent fashionistas. It was widely agreed that the denim ensembles worn by former sweethearts, Brittney Spears and Justin Timberlake in 2001 would be most appropriate to the theme. Sadly, the fear of showing up dressed in the same outfit as another couple kept anyone from actually donning the attire for the evening. MommyEnnui briefly considered wearing bedazzled assless chaps, but the fact that she’d done a total of approximately ten squats in the past year made the decision to keep said ass under wraps an easy one.

The event was held at the hip, loft-like Mason Murer Fine Art gallery in Midtown because nothing cool like that exists in Buckhead and because few things thrill a well-to-do Atlantan more than pretending to be a New Yorker for an evening. In keeping with Southern tradition, the menu included meat, meat, meat, more meat, a soggy salad and a giant wheel of cheese. MommyEnnui (a vegetarian) was, however, more than happy with her dinner of bourbon, bourbon, bourbon, a chunk of cheese and four shot glasses of chocolate mousse.

auction_mink

Nothing says “dressy casual” like a mink stole.

The auction itself was extremely successful. This year, bidding was done via cellphone and began two days before the event. This gave attendees ample time to bid on Botox, vacations in Tuscany, diamond cross necklaces (oh-so-appropriate for a public school fundraiser) and golf rounds with celebrities from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Mere middle-class mortals with hopes of snagging a cheap gift certificate to some fancy restaurant had absolutely no chance of succeeding given that most items were bid up beyond market value. Whoever originally came up with the idea of the silent auction fundraiser was a genius. Put rich people in a room with free-flowing booze, fun buttons to push, and other people they want to impress and you’ve got yourself a goldmine!

obama_painting_cropOne item that failed to receive any bids however was a $3,000 painted portrait of Barack Obama. The opening bid was listed at the bargain basement price of $1,000. This author was shocked that the piece failed to sell. Shocked! The only possible explanation must be that people decided their money would be put to better use if donated to Hillary Clinton’s inevitable bid for the presidency in 2016.

A kooky Mardi Gras marching band, Seed & Feed Marching Abominable, provided some spice to the evening when the members came streaming into the gallery space, horns-a-blowin’ and surprised everyone (except for the event organizers, one would have to assume). The marching band’s appearance interrupted many banal conversations consisting of neighborhood gossip and networking opportunities, and turned the gathering into a real par-tay! The fact that the author has absolutely nothing snarky to say about the delightful band, is a rare occurrence and speaks volumes.

The crowd was also entertained by Atlanta’s favorite cover band, My Favorite Baldwin, in which MommyEnnui’s friend G is the funky bass player. (This was merely a happy coincidence seeing that MommyEnnui raised not a finger to help plan or throw the event…hence the reason one would be completely justified in saying she has no right to criticize a damn thing. Of course, that would be no fun at all.) The band was led by an impossibly tall singer with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a dark shirt, cream colored blazer and mirrored sunglasses. His ensemble and demeanor screamed, “I may be a 50 year-old tax attorney, but someday I’m going to throw it all away to become a full-time rock-n-roll star!” To be fair though, while the singer was not exactly MommyEnnui’s “type,” he did have a large group of 30 to 40 year-old former sorority sisters on the verge of throwing panties onstage by the night’s end.

The pinnacle of the event was when the lily-white crowd (not the best representation of the diversity of Swanky’s student body, by the way) was brought to its feet to bust-a-move to such frat party classics as Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back,’ The Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)’ and ‘Brick House’ by the Commodores. Let it never be said that My Favorite Baldwin doesn’t know how to play to the audience.

marching_band_auction

Seed & Feed Marching Abominable

After a long night of reveling and raising money for the poor children of Buckhead, many a middle-aged, Swanky Elementary PTA mom served her kids breakfast in last night’s smeared mascara, weighed down by regrets and a raging hangover. Luckily, MommyEnnui learned two important lessons long ago while a public school student, herself: 1) She who falls asleep in her makeup wakes up with zits, and 2) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and take two Tylenol before bed lest ye lament those many cocktails even more than having your pathetic dance moves caught on camera.

While other school auctions may not feature the same big-ticket items or be attended by men in bespoke tuxes and former debutants clad in $300 jeans and mink coats, every school fundraiser can be judged on the same scale…whether there were piles of credit card receipts, stumbling drunks and embarrassing selfies left behind. According to this standard, the 2014 Swanky Elementary School auction was, undoubtedly, a wild success!

The Effect of Snow Days on Otherwise Sane(ish) Mothers

grown_up_snow_dayThe madness of yet another major snow and ice storm in Atlanta has rendered my brain just about completely useless. You’ll be relieved to know that my autonomic nervous system is functioning as usual. My heartbeat, breathing and digestive systems are still on autopilot. However, complex functioning required to make plans, follow directions, make decisions or reason through any sort of cause-and-effect analysis is completely out of the question.

According to my own extensive research, the evidence conclusively shows that snow days are terrible for your health. My hypothesis, that proximity to one’s children and spouse/partner for extended periods of time with no option for escape can interfere with brain function has proven scientifically accurate. Moreover, my research has undergone stringent testing through the peer review process which turned up identical results. Subjects across the country were observed and polled. Local subjects participated in numerous round table discussions generally while imbibing copious amounts of wine. Other peers who responded remotely from across the country via Facebook and Twitter also reported similar results.

To be clear, I use the umbrella term “snow day” to mean any day in which weather conditions have caused the closing of schools, daycare centers or offices. As we’ve learned this winter, a “snow day” may include actual snowfall or, merely, excessive cold that makes standing on a bus stop a life-threatening activity. Because of global climate change, in the future, the term “snow day” may be extended to include drought, famine, floods, earthquakes, plagues of locusts and other potentially disastrous acts of nature. The following is a brief summary of my research notes after observing one subject who has chosen to remain anonymous.

The subject is a 44 year old, female in generally good physical health with the exception of a noticeable layer around her midsection that in no way resembles muscle. Subject is a stay-at-home mother of two elementary school aged daughters.  Subject has been married for, what she reports, “feels like two lifetimes…maybe more.” Her spouse is a 43 year old advertising executive with a high-level position in a global advertising company. During the observation period, subject’s husband was often observed being grumpy and lacking patience with the subject and their children.  This behavior tended to become more frequent in direct correlation with the number of snow days that kept him from the safe haven of his office.

During the observation period, there were two extended stretches of time in which the subject was exposed to the effects of snow days. In my report, I refer to these stretches of time as “Snow Week 1” and “Snow Week 2.” As with her spouse, negative impacts on subject’s mental and physical health became measurably more pronounced with each snow day. I will outline the subject’s changes in behavior and mental/emotional status separately for each Snow Week.

Snow Week 1

  • When the subject was presented with meteorological evidence indicating an impending snow day, she began a period of sharply increased activity during which she was observed hoarding food and drink, focusing mainly on gathering various alcoholic beverages.
  • The subject became notably more agitated as snowfall began and her spouse and children remained away from the family home. The subject reported having entertained a number of doomsday predictions during this time period.
  • Upon the return of subject’s offspring and spouse, her panic response reportedly lessened significantly.
  • Subject’s relief was short-lived however.  Realizing that she would be stranded in the house with her spouse and offspring for the foreseeable future, the subject’s panic response quickly returned to dangerous levels.
  • Subject reported becoming increasingly sensitive to various sounds during Snow Week 1. These sounds included, but were not limited to, her offspring’s whining, the theme songs to children’s television shows and cartoons, news reports incessantly repeating details of the snow event, and her husband’s low-level grumbling in response to any and all stimuli.
  • Subject’s activity level sharply decreased during this time period and her intake of sugar and alcohol markedly increased.
  • Subject became more and more sensitive to the taunts of peers living in the West who continued enjoying beautiful weather.

Following Snow Week 1, when the weather regulated and subject’s spouse and children returned to their usual work and school schedules, the subject demonstrated an increased level of optimism, bordering on inappropriate giddiness. Subject did, however, show evidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In one incident, the subject thought she spied a snowflake and was halfway to a panic attack before realizing that the offending item was merely a leaf. It appears this Snow Week will have ongoing emotional repercussions for the subject.

Snow Week 2

  • When the subject became aware of another predicted Snow Week, subject showed evidence of a serious break with reality. When she realized that denial was having no effect on the weather, she again entered a period of increased activity, seeking out and gathering children’s activity books, Nerf guns and an increased supply of alcoholic beverages.
  • As subject’s spouse and children were safely at home at the onset of Snow Week 2, her panic response was muted. Instead, subject’s behavior indicated evidence of sad resignation bordering on depression.
  • The subject’s physical activity slowed to sloth-like levels. She began baking and ingesting sugar and fat-laden comfort foods at an alarming rate.
  • On a handful of occasions, the subject was observed vocalizing in expletive-laden tirades apparently aimed at ice crystals raining down from the sky.
  • The subject was later observed eating Xanax like candy.
  • The subject’s parenting skills deteriorated to dangerously low levels. The subject reported having to repeatedly fight the overwhelming urge to eat her young.
  • The subject is catatonic, curled up in the fetal position. Her last words were, “Who are these people and what are they doing in my house?!”

I fear the subject may not survive another snow day. In fact, snow should be avoided at all costs. My recommendation is that the subject get on an airplane bound for a tropical island immediately…ALONE!

A Snowy Night in Hotlanta

As I sit outside at Starbucks writing and enjoying a sunny, 65 degree day, it’s hard to believe that just yesterday, we still had patches of snow on the ground. I’m sure you heard about the storm that hit Atlanta this week. Let me tell you…no matter what you heard, it was both more surreal and far more devastating in reality.

I started my week with a sick kid so, instead of getting my Monday reprieve from the munchkins and a doing little freelance work, I got a big dose of “Mom, entertain me…my fever is down and I’m ready to party!” Ugh. I can’t be the only parent who has been tempted to withhold Advil so the sick kid stays lethargic on the couch watching Nickelodeon. When I called school to let them know that Smalls wouldn’t be in, the woman in the office said, “It looks like she may just get a snow day tomorrow, too!” at which time I ran to my computer to check the forecast. Yessiree, another winter shitstorm coming our way, only this one was bringing more than just arctic temperatures.

TJ's Pre-Snow

Trader Joe’s, Pre-Storm

Because I’ve lived through one big snowstorm in Atlanta that had us iced in for a week, I headed straight to the grocery store when Ad Man got home that evening. Many of the shelves were already bare, but I managed to get some necessities…beer, wine, frozen pizzas and kale and went home to await the inevitable call that school was cancelled for the next day.

Only that call never came. This was odd. The last time we had a winter storm, the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cancelled classes upon just the rumor of snow. This week, we had a damn good idea what was coming our way since it was already barreling through parts up north. I assumed we’d be getting a call in the morning saying the kids would have a half day of school, but nope, still no call.  So I put the girls on the bus, ran to Toys R Us to see if they had any sleds (sold out), and then ventured no further than the Caribou Coffee a few blocks from my house where I could write and await the call to go get the kids or head home to meet the bus.

I sat staring out the window of the coffee shop when the flurries started. They were quickly followed by big, fluffy, Chicago-style snowflakes. I went home to avoid having to later drive on slick roads and still there was no message from the schools. Finally, the APS tweeted a notice saying that the middle-schoolers would be released one hour early and the elementary schools and high schools would get out at their usual times. APS specifically requested that parents allow children to return home the way that they had arrived so as not to create chaos in carpool.

I wasn’t thrilled having to wait what I thought would be another three hours for the girls to come home on the bus, but after frantic calls to Ad Man and a number of neighbors, I was assured that the bus was safer than heading out to retrieve them in our relatively light, non-four-wheel-drive car.  So, I sat tight as the snow started sticking and creating a winter wonderland in our backyard that would have been thrilling on any other day.

vb_sledding_hill_0114

Our Street as Sledding Hill

Biggie and Smalls generally get home on the bus around 3:15 pm. Instead, I got a call from Biggie’s teacher shortly after that, letting me know that the buses hadn’t even arrived at the school to pick the kids up yet. We and our neighbors quickly decided to divide and conquer, each heading out to a separate campus of the school to pick up stranded kids. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but the short story is, it took Ad Man more than an hour and a half to retrieve Smalls and it took our neighbor almost three hours to bring Biggie home from the other campus.

The girls reported back that there were still lots of kids and teachers stuck at school and the buses still hadn’t arrived when Biggie left at 5:30 pm. The girls were exhausted, but excited by the snow so we played outside a bit before heading in where we lit a fire in the fireplace and I poured a glass of wine to calm my frayed nerves. After dinner, the girls passed out, but Ad Man and I sat glued to the television watching horrific news pour in.

Traffic was at a bumper-to-bumper standstill all over the city. No one could move because of thick ice covering all the roads. Kids and teachers were stuck in schools, people were having to spend the night in their offices. And, those were the lucky ones. People were stranded in their cars everywhere, many whom ended up sleeping in them overnight. Others had abandoned their vehicles and walked for hours trying to get home to their families or find somewhere safe to sleep for the night. Cell lines were jammed. Every hotel in Atlanta was booked solid and a baby was born on the freeway.

Atlanta Traffic Map During Snowstorm

Atlanta Traffic Map During Snowstorm

At about 10:30 pm, I got a text from the neighborhood bus chain saying that our beloved bus driver Mrs. W was still out on the road trying to get the last few children home from school. She was stuck on an icy hill with five kids and couldn’t take her foot off the brake or they’d slide down the hill and crash into the cars abandoned there. The “bus mom”, my friend A, managed to get a hold of a few families on that street who brought out food, drinks and blankets. Ad Man drove as close to the bus as he could before the streets became too icy and had to walk the rest of the way. He and a neighbor on the street with a 4-wheel drive managed to get the last of the children home to their anxious parents.

Mrs. W never once left that bus, even when Ad Man offered to take her place so she could rest a bit. Despite many offers of a warm place to sleep, after waiting forever for a sand truck, Mrs. W ended up getting back to school at 3 am and slept there.

But Mrs. W is just one of thousands of ordinary people who did extraordinary things last Tuesday night to help out others, many of whom they didn’t even know. It was amazing. I’d like to believe that good people anywhere in the country would rise to the occasion in a situation like this. I know it happens here in Atlanta. When I sat down to have a cup of tea last Tuesday morning, I was intending to write a humorous account of what happens on the rare occasions that it snows in the South. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined the story that I’m sitting here recounting today.

How to Spot a Well-to-Do Southerner in the Wild

southerners'_handbookAs many of you know, I am not a native-born Atlantan. I do, however, have one daughter who is a native Southern belle and one who was born in LA, but moved here at 18 months so she might as well be a native. Many of my best friends are born-and-bred Atlantans (which, these days, is like saying you’re a native Los Angeleno…a rare bird indeed). A number of others are from different parts of the South and, in that I include Texas and Florida though purists may dispute their “southern” provenance.

Our friends back in the midwest and California find this fascinating and love to ask about our life in the South. I know many of them have been waiting for a snarky essay from me about being surrounded by rednecks and right-wing conservatives. What they don’t understand, though, is that I live in the city of Atlanta which just happens to be surrounded by the state of Georgia. I don’t necessarily consider myself a Georgian. In fact, unless we’re headed to a friend’s lake house or we’ve rented a cabin in Blue Ridge for the weekend, Ad Man and I rarely venture outside the city limits.

So, while they may be expecting a field guide to spotting hicks and fire-and-brimstone preachers, the truth is, we don’t see too many of those folks in the big city, or at least, not in the places where I hang out. Moreover, we live in a neighborhood that’s considered the “Beverly Hills” of Atlanta. This is not to brag. Believe me, we paid about the same amount for our house as we would have for a kickass parking spot in San Francisco. So, we live in the midst of lots and lots of conservatives, but very few rednecks. Plus, in these days of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ I highly doubt you need my assistance spotting a redneck in the wild…unless, of course they’re passed out drunk in the bushes dressed in head-to-toe camo.

What this post will do, however, is allow you to spot a well-to-do Southern lady or gentleman from a mile away. A few months ago, I flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to spend a weekend with some law school friends. Heading home, I was wandering around far from my gate when I spotted a woman in the crowd who, I had no doubt, was from Atlanta. She was a perfectly coiffed blonde, dressed in a Tory Burch tunic, cropped white jeans, Tory Burch wedges and carrying a Louis-Vuitton handbag. A few hours later I saw her again on my plane back to Atlanta. That’s when I realized I had a gift.

tory_burch_store_xmasI have since developed a bit of a checklist that I’m now passing on to you, dear readers, for spotting a well-to-do Southerner in the wild. First the women…ladies from the South tend to display a number of distinctive characteristics. Just as the woman at the airport, they tend to have an affinity for anything designed by Tory Burch. As you’ll see from the attached photo, I’ve personally spotted them lined up en masse outside the Tory Burch store at the crack of dawn the day after Christmas. Even a wealthy Southern lady loves a bargain.

They are perfectly turned-out at all times. I defy you to try to sneak up on a proper Southern lady and find her in sweatpants, hair in a ponytail, no makeup on and in need of a manicure. It simply does not happen. They’re even pristine in their tennis wear. I swear the women have no sweat glands!

There are a number of other brands around which you may find them flocking. Hermes is one because, well, why should Grandaddy’s horses get all the fancy leather accessories? They and their female young bear the distinctive markings of matching Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses all summer. They also tend to have a strange infatuation with quilted and garishly printed bags and other accessories from Vera Bradley.

monogrammed_houseSoutherners (women and men) monogram EVERYTHING. They monogram clothing, of course, including every single piece of their childrens’ wardrobes. (Forget about getting hand-me-downs from a wealthy Southerner.)  But, clothing is just a start. They monogram beach bags, beer cozies, iPhone cases, linens, insulated cups for concealing bourbon and ginger ale roadies, even their cars. This is not an exaggeration. As an outsider, I can only surmise that this is a way of marking their territory without the mess of having to go around peeing on everything.

A Southern lady has a vast array of crisp gingham shirts and white jeans to choose from. In winter, they reach for their (ironed) blue jeans, barn jackets and riding boots.

It’s a rare Southern lady that doesn’t love a diamond the size of a grape. Some of the diamonds at my children’s public school edge into Kardashian territory. (I guess that makes sense given their classmates include the children of NFL players and country music superstars.) In fact, the theme for the school’s big semi-annual fundraiser this year is “Denim and Diamonds.” Enough said.

As for Southern men, they seem to have latched onto the east coast preppy style when it was ubiquitous and never let go. Spotting a well-to-do Southern man isn’t difficult. His casual wardrobe consists mainly of polo shirts, wind jackets, sweatshirts and other items of clothing emblazoned with the logo of this favorite college football team…generally his alma mater. To this fanwear, they add pleated khaki shorts or pants, a braided leather belt and loafers without socks.

A Southern man of means sticks to a wardrobe of perfectly tailored suits, generally purchased at Brooks Brothers or Sid Mashburn in Atlanta, Gucci loafers, a pocket square (always!) and, ideally, a bow-tie, though some do deviate and wear long neckties. Distinctive, bright markings intended to attract a mate are generally limited to ties and expensive automobiles. As mentioned above, suits, shirts, golf bags, socks, swim trunks, whiskey tumblers and cigar cutters MUST be monogrammed.

seersucker_chickenThe stereotype of a Southern man dressed in a full seersucker suit and white bucks is absolutely based in fact. In the dog days of summer, this is the Southern gentleman’s uniform. As an aside, when we first moved to Atlanta, Ad Man and I went out for dinner one night with our real estate agent and her husband. As soon as I saw her husband, I exclaimed, “Ooohh…look at you in your cute seersucker pants!” only to realize that he was wearing them with absolutely no irony. Oops!

When at the country house, a Southern man can be identified by the bird dog and shotgun that accompany him. After the hunt (and most evenings), you’ll find the Southern male clinging to a bourbon, neat, or a gin and tonic.

Well, I hope you now feel better equipped to spot a Southern lady or gentleman should one wander onto your land. One may no longer simply rely on listening for the call of the southern accent to identify these creatures in the wild. The southern accent, at least in cities, seems to be going the way of the blue-footed boobie…with the exception of ‘y’all,’ of course. ‘Y’all’ is here to stay. If I ever hear a Southerner say, “you guys,” I’ll know the rapture is coming and I’ll soon be the last person left standing in the Buckhead Barnes & Noble.

Please check in next week when I describe the many, many ways in which I am a pathetic failure as a Southerner.