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At the grocery store, why are there always five scanners and zero baggers? I’d rather wait a little longer in line, even if I need to play defense in the candy zone and constantly redirect the kids’ attention from the educational headlines: “Improve Your Sex Life With These 10 Tips!”, than be required to bag two weeks worth of groceries myself. It’s not that I’m above bagging; I’m a decent enough bagger (even if I perpetually forget to bring my reusable bags). It’s more that I find it incredibly challenging to organize our stock of go-gurts, goldfish and chicken nuggets while simultaneously riding herd on my herd.

I’m puzzling out how to cram the most groceries into the fewest number of paper bags with Small and Medium shaking the row of but-they-only-cost-a-quarter! toys 20 feet away when the laconic teenager says, “S’that your bread?”

There, at the wrong end of the conveyor belt, is my bread. “Yes,” I tell her. “That’s mine.”

“You want it?” she asks.

We stare at one another. My blood is rushing through my veins so quickly my heartbeat has to be audible. I stomp around to the other end of the checkout, nudge the bread onto the belt, return to my unwanted post and resume bagging.

Again, goth girl stops scanning. “Got ID for the wine?”

Again, we stare at one another. I reach for my purse. Except it’s on the other side of the cashier’s station. The side where the customers are supposed to stand. I put an overly full bag in the cart and scrabble around for my driver’s license.

Once upon a time, I was flattered when I was asked to show ID. Now, I’m just irritated. Someday, my testiness is going to get the better of me and an unwitting cashier is going to get an earful of: Are you blind? Can’t you see how old my children are? I’m not wearing any makeup, I haven’t showered in days and I have thirty minutes to get home and everyone fed before T-ball, so please, don’t delay me any longer! As it is, if I didn’t have to bag my own damn groceries, I’d open that screw-top bottle right here and start chugging!

Oh. Now I understand the dearth of baggers.

The other night, I was on the fringe of a momversation about designer jeans. One hundred and eighty dollar designer jeans. As much as I would like to own a pair of jeans that would lift my junk back into my trunk, I am unemployed. One hundred and eighty dollar jeans are out of the question.

I live in jeans. I’ve got my play-on-the-floor jeans and my work-outside jeans. I have a pair that I must wear with a belt and a pair with raggedy legs from being scuffed under my shoes. I have a couple of pairs I can wear if I fast for a day or two (these are my standing room only jeans) and then there’s the button fly pair of American Eagle jeans that I bought in college and can’t bring myself to give away. The problem is that none of them fit me quite right. They either give me a troubling case of missingassitis or they underscore the mommy pooch I am continually trying to hide.

Yesterday, with the ladies’ postulations ringing in my head, I shimmied, shook, and struggled into no fewer than ten pairs of jeans at TJ Maxx. None of them fit. Skinny jeans with a one-inch fly may look good on the hanger but they ain’t gonna cut it in real life. Not mine, anyway. Jeans that have bell bottoms wider than my own bottom look just plain silly. And I flat-out refuse to buy jeans that are pre-ripped or have more than one zipper. So what’s left? Mom Jeans? C’mon now! I have three kids and am well into my fourth decade but hells if I’m ready for that.

Let’s face it: most people look better clothed than naked. I know I do. Even so, if I don’t find a pair of damnmyasslooksgoodinthese jeans soon, I may start leaving my pants on the ground.

There’s a reason that Victorian-era parents made their children eat in the kitchen with the governess instead of in the dining room with the rest of the family. Maybe it was because children are loud and interruptive. Or maybe those parents didn’t want half-chewed bits of food smooshed into their carpets. There might even have been a few families who wanted to complete a conversation with their spouses rather than have half a dozen failed starts: “You’ll never guess who I ran into today…yes, I heard you say you wanted ketchup.” “The funniest thing happened at work…be careful with that knife! You’re going to cut yourself.” “Did you read that article in the Times this morning? People are saying…will you please stop bothering your sister? And would you like to explain why you’re out of your seat?”

“Experts” tell us that Family Dinner is the most important ritual we can establish for our kids. Indeed. Well. They do not live in my house.

Dinner-time for our clan is chaotic. Adding to the ebb and flow of our non-starting adult conversations are the kid interjections and announcements: “You forgot to pack a snack for me today.” “My pants are wet.” “I don’t like this.” “Stop talking, I’m talking!” And the attempts at family conversation: “How was school today?” “I had a great day!” “Yes, we’ll talk about your day in a moment, but I was talking to your sister.” “Why don’t you like this?” “I just don’t. Can I have dessert?”

I prepare mostly healthful meals; the kids eat mainly bread and butter. I can guarantee they’ll eat only if I serve chicken nuggets, spaghetti with meatballs on the side (no sauce), pizza, or hot dogs (no buns) with french fries. If they discover that I am making something to expand their pea-sized palates such as Caribbean lentil stew or even vegetarian lasagna, they’ll load up on afternoon snacks and whine through our meal. I tend to wine through these meals, too. Red works better than white.

The other night, Small wandered into the kitchen while I was chopping onions and mushrooms for chicken marsala. “Ugh,” he exclaimed. “Can’t we have chicken nuggets?”

I decided then and there that I was done with the clamor for compressed poultry products. “No! You will eat what is put in front of you. I am not a short-order cook and this is not a democracy.”

Large took up the fallen standard for his brother. “Actually, it is.”

“Not in this family, it isn’t.” I chopped fungus with vigor.

“Well, then that’s communism and you’re a dictator. Revolution, guys!”

“Rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion…” The three of them crowded around me, chanting.

Victorian-era parents managed to eat a hot dinner in peace. If only I had a time machine.

I’d put the kids in it.

I’ve been so busy over the last two weeks that I have hardly had time to breathe, let alone write. Rest assured that I have been reflecting upon many deep thoughts and if I can ever retrieve them from the recesses of my brain, I will be sure to post them. In the meantime, I give you this little bit of crazy:

Yesterday, like so many days, was a whirlwind. Unlike so many days, my scheduled activities required that I fire the few cylinders left in my head. By late-afternoon, I was mentally exhausted. I mean I could barely speak. In fact, I stopped speaking altogether after leaving the very expensive, yet-healthy-and-delicious grocery store where I purchased two pounds of grass-fed, organic, locally butchered, pre-cooked meatballs from their deli case because I could not bear the idea of making dinner from scratch.

If you follow OINKtales on Facebook, you know that I have been carbohydrate-free since Monday and that I have been more tired and even crankier than usual (if that’s possible). How I miss my beloved bagels, pastas and cereals! I agreed to try this experiment at my husband’s suggestion. “Let’s do it for a week,” he said. I’m pretty sure that he wanted me to do it so that I would cook for him. When he’s done Atkins’ in the past, I told him he was on his own in the kitchen and then continued to prepare delicious meals like lasagna and homemade macaroni and cheese for the kids and I. (If it was for any other reason, he hasn’t said…and if there is one, he had better not.)

But I digress. Back to the story. Small and Medium are in the midst of a tickle fight in the back seat of my car. I am trying to ignore them while I drive and daydream about beef. As I turn into our neighborhood, my cell phone rings. It is one of Large’s friends asking to set up a playdate. My carb-deprived brain stops listening when it registers that it’s seeing two escaped prisoners. I toss my phone on the passenger’s seat and slam on my brakes. My next-door neighbor’s golden retrievers are headed for adventure on the open road. They are the picture of happiness – tongues lolling and tails waving. For a long second I debate: should I let them go or try to catch them?

I spring from the car whistling and calling to them. I don’t know their names. They come over to me anyway and I grab their collars. They are huge dogs. I am wearing heels. Neither dog appreciates being caught and they begin twisting and pulling to get away. I struggle to keep my balance and hang on. In this moment, I come to the instant and awful realization that with both of my hands full of furry beast, I can do nothing else. Thankfully, I am rescued by another neighbor who weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet. “Can I help?” Neighbor #2 shouts.

“Yes!” I yell back, relieved. “Can you grab a dog?”

In the transfer, one of the dogs escapes. Neighbor #2 runs after him. I look back at our cars and see that my children and one of her two children have unbuckled their seat-belts and are standing in the middle of the road. “Get back in the car!” I say sharply. Neighbor #3 drives up, dodges me, the children, my other neighbor and the dogs all the while gawking at us and continues on his merry way. Neighbor #4 pulls up in her SUV. “Everything okay?”

I explain the situation. Neighbor #2 has caught the other dog again. Neighbor #4 generously offers to put the dogs in the back of her SUV. We get one dog in; the other dog runs off. Neighbor #2 chases. I tell Neighbor #4 which house to drive to and follow her, scolding my children to buckle in as we’re driving, hoping the dogs’ owner is home.

I bang on my next-door neighbor’s outside breezeway door. Just when I think no one’s there, the inside breezeway door is opened by a bare-chested, pajama-panted teenage boy that I have not seen in the seven years my next-door neighbor and I have been neighbors. The teen takes one look at me, blanches, and before I can say anything, closes the door in my face.

Now, I don’t think I’m scary looking. At least most of the time. And in this particular instance, I was wearing pants and a shirt that required ironing before I donned them, the aforementioned heels, lipstick and mascara. Maybe he thought I was a Jehovah’s Witness come to proselytize. Maybe he thought I was a Mary Kay representative. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I wanted was to return the damn dog whose origins I was now questioning. Incredulous, I turn to Neighbor #4 who, because of me, is late for an appointment. “I have no idea,” I say to her. “Maybe he went to get a shirt.”

I send Medium home to get our dog leashes, then bang on the door some more, pace, and think dark thoughts about teens today. Neighbor #4 supervises her children and mine and checks her watch. Medium returns with the dog leashes and her father. We leash the dog and encourage Neighbor #4 to get going but she can’t because I unthinkingly parked behind her. I ask my husband to take Medium and our car home.

The door opens half-way and the teen – now shirted – sidles out. His eyes widen at the number of strangers in the driveway. “Dude,” I say impatiently and probably a little shrilly, “We have your dog!”

“Whaat?” He acts baffled and is seemingly unable to look at me. “I didn’t know even know they were out,” he mumbles.

I am irritated and indignant. “It IS your dog, isn’t it? The other one is running up the road and another neighbor is trying to catch him.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Uh, yeah!” I snort.

Neighbor #2 pulls up in her car with the second dog. The teen brings the first one into the house. As he is wordlessly bringing the second dog inside, I call to him sarcastically, “Thank you!” He doesn’t respond.

I need carbs. F#%k this diet.

By the way, in case you’re interested, the house on the other side of ours is for sale.

Last week, I went to the “Welcome to Kindergarten” meeting that our elementary school puts on for parents of incoming kindergartners. When the principal asked parents to raise their hands if they were sending a child to kindergarten for the first time, more than half the people in the room had air in their armpits. When he asked for a showing of second-time kindergarten parents, the rest of the room responded. My battle-scarred, oven-burned, cuticle-gnawed hand waved alone when the principal asked for third-timers. I felt like a grizzled veteran.

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Five minutes into the presentation, a young woman slipped into my row with her small son. I smiled at her and nodded when she asked if the seats next to me were open. She sat down. Her son scampered away to play. I have a surprisingly high tolerance for children when a) I don’t know them, b) I have absolutely no responsibility for them, and c) they aren’t close to my person. So, when he started rolling his monster truck across the linoleum ten feet away from us, it didn’t bother me a bit. It bothered his mother.

When my kids do something in public that embarrasses or otherwise annoys me, they get the Mommy Glare. It’s a freeze-you-in-your-tracks look that can be thrown over great distances such as across a crowded cafeteria or it can be focused like a laser beam such as when employed in a restaurant or a church pew. My Mommy Glare is given with a furrowed brow, gritted teeth and cement-lips. It is normally followed by a just-wait-until-we-get-home speech. I won’t guess at its rate of effectiveness since I use it, regardless of its efficacy, 100% of the time.

The mom next to me fidgeted in her seat, sighing. Here it comes, I thought. Instead, she did something surprising: she leaned forward and smiled. She held this position until her child looked over at her. When he did, she wagged her finger at him while shaking her head and mouthing, “No, no, no.”

The little boy paused before he shrugged and resumed his monster truck rolling.

I stopped listening to the principal so that I could concentrate on watching this woman without appearing to watch her.

Where was her Mommy Glare? Why wasn’t she springing out of her seat? Which Mommy tactic would she pull from her toolbox?

Without taking her eyes from her son, she waited for him to look at her again. When he did, she smiled and crooked her finger at him. He picked up his truck and walked over to her slowly. She continued to smile benevolently. I waited for her to rip off her mask but the moment never came. When he reached her, she whispered in his ear and kissed the top of his head. He rolled his monster truck on the palm of his hand and leaned into her.

I tried not to gape.

I’ve thought about this mom many nights since. I wish I had her patience. I wish I was quicker to smile and less quick to scold. I wish it wouldn’t bother me when my crazy–as it inevitably does–shows.

When I first started blogging (lo, twenty-one moons ago!) I posted about how quickly women – and particularly moms – judge one another. What I didn’t mention is how harshly we judge ourselves.

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