Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What do Lyme Disease, Blood Panels and Sharpies Have in Common?

I’m a self-diagnosed, low-grade hypochondriac.  Those who know me well are aware that I can be nudged into a full-on panic attack at the discovery of a raised mole, a numb toe or a sore armpit. 

Because I’m all about full disclosure, I shared my ailment with Mr. Charming before the nuptials.  The poor man assumed I was exaggerating, until, that is, I told him I thought I was dying of leukemia or Lyme disease.  Okay, maybe that’s not totally accurate.  He assumed I was exaggerating until I began weeping uncontrollably as I explained that I thought I was dying of leukemia or Lyme disease.

Maybe he attributed the sloppy meltdown to pre-wedding nerves.  Or perhaps he felt somewhat heroic because he calmed by fears by pointing out that the rash spanning my torso was identical to his own and most likely caused by our foolish and vain attempts to tan our blinding bodies before the wedding day.  Needless to say, he married me anyway.  Sucker.

Since then he’s witnessed a handful of other sloppy meltdowns that are generally health-related and largely unfounded.  You can imagine the anxiety he observed the week of my yearly physical that included a blood panel. 

When the nurse called to tell me my white blood count, platelet count, and hemoglobin levels were normal, I asked, “So, does that mean I probably don’t have cancer?”  You could tell mine wasn’t a typical response, as it took her a few second to recover.  “Uhm…while not 100% definitive, you maybe probably don’t have cancer.”

While that may not alleviate the fears of a high-grade hypochondriac, I decided that if a certified nurse tells me I maybe probably don’t have cancer, I’m going to take her word for it.  After all, she is a professional.

When I relayed the conversation back to my husband later that night, he shook his head, most likely thinking, “I am sooooo lucky!”

Here is the actual conversation we had the night before my appointment:

Me: So, will you think less of me if it turns out I don’t have a life-threatening illness?

Him:  What?!?!  (insert puzzled expression here)

Me:  You know, being as how I hyped it up and all.  I mean, after all this anxiety, would you think less of me if I wasn’t actually dying of something?

Him:  Would I think less of you if you did have a life-threatening illness, being as how you probably attracted it with all your hypchondriactic thoughts?

Me, harrumphing:  You shouldn’t!  Wouldn’t that just make me psychic?  And isn’t it better to be a psychic than a hypochondriac?

Him, shaking his head again, still likely awestruck at his luck: Okay, so maybe best case scenario for you is early-onset diabetes.  That’s pretty serious, which justifies your concerns.  But it’s also totally reversible.

Me, nodding thoughtfully: I like that. 

Later that night, after showing Mr. Charming all the questionable moles I wanted my physician to examine, he said, “Maybe you should circle them with a Sharpie so you don’t forget.”  Excited that we were already finishing one another’s thoughts, I replied, “I was thinking the exact same thing.”  The only difference was he wasn’t serious and I was.

Turns out I have high cholesterol which is both congenital and potentially life-threatening.  Thankfully, my physician thinks it can be lowered through diet and exercise. 

And after all that, I still don’t know whether or not to tell Mike, “I told you so,” or “I’m sorry you married a freak.” 

Either way, he appreciates your condolences.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

My Son the Doctor

The Doctor
When you meet my oldest offspring for the first time, he will introduce himself as The Doctor.  He’ll most likely be wearing a dry-clean-only suit jacket that I accidentally ran through the washer and now has three-quarter length cuffs.  Oh, and a bow tie with blue Converses. 

For that narrow margin of my demographic that watches sci-fi time travel episodic television, you’ve probably guessed that my son is currently obsessed with Dr. Who, having watched all six seasons this summer via Netflix.  

For those of you who aren’t, well, Whovians, Dr. Who is a BBC television program with a protagonist called “the Doctor.”  The Doctor is an alien in human form that travels through time and space in a British police box (otherwise known as the TARDIS—Time And Relevant Dimensions In Space).  I know.  My brain is already winded.

This dramatic shift follows years of superhero worship and a brief stint idolizing Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a hooded assassin from a video game he shouldn’t have been playing in the first place.  So I guess, all things considered, Dr. Who is a welcome change.  

And heavens knows, the Belyoak’s doors have always been open to fictional characters.  In fact, we’re like a halfway house for Marvel superheroes, little ponies and time lords.  So walk through our threshold and you better be prepared for heated discussions on alternate Spiderman costumes, allusions to Princess Celestia, Dr. Who knock-knock jokes (they write themselves, really) and any crossovers that might exist.  For those that may be interested, there is, in fact, a Dr. Who/My Little Pony episode on YouTube called Dr. Hooves.  As Leah would say, “Get it?”

I have no room to judge.  When I was six, I believed I was Wonder Woman’s daughter, orphaned so that she could continue to save the universe.  So I understand the allure of assuming an alternate identity.  In fact, my previous work as the imaginary birth child of a fictional Amazon warrior princess enabled me to celebrate my boy’s initial infatuation with Spiderman.  And I admit, I kinda miss the days when, wearing a threadbare Spiderman costume, he would follow me down the grocery aisles.  Periodically he would crouch amidst the canned goods and extend his hands in web-shooting fashion.  In those moments, I was simultaneously Wonder Mother and Matron Saint of Imagination. 

These days I question my ability to handle either of those roles.  Just the other day, I asked Mr. Charming if my little Time Lord needed a refrigerator box from which to fashion his own TARDIS or a therapy consult.  It’s a fine line, people.  A fine line. 

So we’re going to sit this one out in hopes that at some point his interest in girls overrides his interest in Dr. Who.  I’m guessing that’s the point at which he’ll begin dressing like an 11-year old again and stop flashing his Sonic Screwdriver at strangers.  And maybe he’ll even remember to wear deodorant. 

Hey, if my children can be superheros and time lords, I can afford to dream big.  Right?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is the Honeymoon Over?

Nearly five months ago I married Mr. Charming.  And according to AskMen.com, the honeymoon ended about three and a half months ago, give or take a weekend. 

While I’m generally not one to complain (riiiiiiiight), there are two things my husband stopped doing immediately after we wed: one, putting down the toilet seat after using the bathroom, and two, kissing me when I was sick.

And when I say immediate, I mean honeymoon suite.  

I nearly plunged into a swirling abyss the first time I followed my sweet husband in the high-end commode.  This after months and months of walking into the bathroom to find, not only the toilet seat down, but the lid too!

So while I was surprised at the newlywed slip, I ultimately decided to be grateful that he put it up in the first place.  Because for more than a decade I have routinely sat my delicate hiney upon a wet toilet seat.   Believe me, next to accidentally swallowing a bug while riding your bicycle or having a child vomit into your cupped hands, it’s unpleasant.  

Later, after we’d been married for about a month, I came down with the flu, complete with fever, chills, and the inability to behave rationally.  And believe it or not, my husband cut me off.  Of course, he continued to serve me chicken soup, go on Robitussin runs, and insist I rest, but he acted like my face was on quarantine.  Even long after I was able to stand upright and recite the alphabet, he dodged my kisses like a ninja.

This wouldn’t have been so surprising had the man used those same stealth tactics months earlier to avoid my lips when I had a series of cold sores.  Forget that I had open wounds on my mouth.  Forget that they were highly contagious.  Forget that they were reoccurring over a period of two months.  The man simply bought an industrial-sized bottle of Lysine, popped them like Vitamin C and dove in. 

But now that we’re betrothed, I guess we’ve both let our guards down.  My hair is routinely fashioned in a sloppy ponytail, yoga pants are the new lingerie, and I may or may not have once popped a pimple with the bathroom door open.

Thankfully, a few things have remained sacred.  Tubes of toothpaste are squeezed from the bottom and capped when not in use, we share responsibility for replacing toilet paper rolls, and neither one of us has yet to “Dutch Oven” the other.  All in all I’d say the romance is still in full bloom.

So if after five months that’s as downhill as things get around here, I’ll take it.  And from now on, I will refrain from consulting AskMen.com on, well, anything.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Belyoak Mobile

Mr. Charming and I are now the proud owners of a 1991 two-tone blue Dodge, 12-passenger van.  The red vintage interior covers three bench seats and a console that rivals The Starship Enterprise.  The stellar sound system includes FM radio and a cassette deck, and there’s at least three feet of luggage space in the back.

I know.  You so wish you were us right now.

About three weeks ago we decided it was time for us to find a family-friendly vehicle that could fit our nine-member brood.  Until this moment in time we had been caravanning in two vehicles whenever we all wanted to go somewhere like the library, the park or church.
We found this beauty on Craigslist.  

Maybe the reason I love it so much is because it’s reminiscent of the vehicle from my own childhood: a 1974 powder-blue Ford van.

I’m the oldest of six children, and when there were about four of us my parents decided that instead of strapping kids into the back of our 1970 Plymouth Duster, they would secure a heartier vehicle fit for errands and road trips. 

Upon purchasing the van, my dad pimped that ride, 1970-style.  He took out the bench seat in the back and replaced it with a “bed” which was basically a wooden platform covered in blue shag carpet.  As the oldest, I frequently rode on the bed, listening to cassette tapes my mother created in attempts to keep us entertained.

In fact, thirty years later I was watching Pete’s Dragon with my children when I inexplicably began speaking every line of dialogue with the characters.  For a minute, I thought I had become psychic.  Then I realized that Pete’s Dragon, along with Benji and The Apple Dumpling Gang, was one of many movies my mother recorded onto those cassette tapes that played for hours and hours while we traveled.  

To make road trips even easier, my father would bungee a mini porta-potty to the back of the passenger seat.  So when nature called we either did one of two things: 1. exercised tremendous bladder control or 2. balanced precariously and half naked, sans seat beat, over the sloshing blue water of our traveling toilet.  Being six years older than the next child, I went with option one, thank you very much. 

Year later I drove that same van, carrying a slew of teenagers, to a dance in another county.  My younger brother ended up changing the flat we got on the way back.  After I went away to college, another brother ran it up against a guardrail trying to maneuver the oversized van to a secluded parking lot by the river (after curfew, I might add).  And a few years before the van was finally put down, the neighbor boy pelted the side of it with a bb gun, in what my mother still alleges to be part of an ongoing feud over the hedges lining our property. 

Now we have our very own blue beast parked on the curb in front of our house. We’ll only drive it when all our kids are home, and we hope that years from now they’ll have fond memories of the vehicle that carted our blended family around (without the traveling toilet, of course).  

So honk three times when you see the Belyoak Mobile.  Because I’m certain that the last thing our children will ever be when riding in this vehicle is embarrassed. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Because everyone loves a chore chart...

Back in the day, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of successfully raising three healthy, responsible, and kind children.  Then I got remarried and became catatonic at the prospect of helping raise seven.  There’s nothing more daunting than eventually releasing enough citizens into the world to sway election results or make a lacrosse team.

So I did what any other mother does to reduce her parenting stress: I got crafty.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I feel much better about myself as a mother when I can glue gun, toll paint or macramé something for my family.  That or fill a board on Pinterest with items I can glue gun, toll paint or macramé for my family.  

In this case, I decided a cute chore chart (made with red spray-painted cookie sheets, of course) would solve all my parenting woes.

The Belknap children have been through roughly 6.5 versions of The Chore Chart, utilizing an assortment of the following: mason jars, industrial-sized rolls of paper, dry erase markers, magnets, marbles, packing foam and my own patented task distribution method called Extreme Chore Lottery.   Each of these versions was functional, enabling my children to know which chores they could complain about doing on any given day.

And that’s the funny thing about getting crafty.  Much like bedazzling a diet journal doesn’t make me lose weight any faster, making a new chore chart doesn’t make our children complete those chores without first whining about them (unless, of course, the chart is macraméd to a cattle prod).

The chart enjoyed its official unveiling last night when Mr. Charming’s children came over.  First let me explain that the chart includes all our children’s names, checkmarks and a variety of magnetic chore icons.  The magnets represent a child’s assigned chores which they move under the checkmark once they’ve been completed.  Genius, right?

Only the girls hung around to admire the chart’s sparkly blue lettering and glass-tipped magnets.  “Oh,” said the youngest.  “This one’s my favorite.”  She placed the “clean room” chore icon under her name.  “Now I have to sleep.”

“Uhm,” I said.  “That one actually means you have to clean your room.”

“No,” she said.  “It’s a bed.  It means I have to sleep.”

“When you clean your room, you make your bed, so that’s why there’s a bed on the magnet.”

“Ohhhhhhhh,” she said.  And she promptly removed the magnet from beneath her name.  “I don’t like that chore.”

So far version 1.0 of the Belyoak Chore Chart is working swimmingly.  Version 2.0 may include revised expectations and a new batch of magnets including “graduate from high school” and “stay out of jail.”  (I’ll be posting templates to Pinterest, if you care to follow me.)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Law of Attraction and Tampon Dispsensers

Note: the following post is intended for an all female audience. Any man who reads this post is cautioned to do so at his own risk. ‘Nuf said.

I don’t mean to make a public announcement or anything, but it’s that time of month. And I did the last thing any woman should ever do within the first couple days of her period. I went shopping. And unlike other, more prepared women, I wasn't carrying a spare in my purse, if you know what I mean. My new BFF, who no longer has a uterus, informed me that even she carries a tampon in her purse. In retrospect I’m realizing I should have gone shopping with her.

So I was at Sam’s Club with Leah and Zack, checking out the summer workbooks for kids, when I realized a change of guard was in order. But, I thought, this is America. What retail chain wouldn’t take advantage of a woman’s misfortune and sell a tampon or two in their restrooms? No problem, right?

The ladies room was being serviced. The janitor heard my moan of frustration and called out, “You can use the family restroom.” Women who use the family restrooms need tampons too, right? So I ushered my children in to discover that the only thing being dispensed in the family restroom was diaper packs and scented changing pads.

So leaving the door to the family restroom open while my children romped and played, I wedged myself between the wall and the janitor's cart to check the walls of the women’s restroom.

“Can I help you?” the janitor asked, stepping directly into my comfort zone.

“Are there any, uhm, machines, in there?” I asked.

Machines?” he asked, and I could tell he was trying to figure out what new technology he was missing out on.

I racked my brain. Was there a nice euphemism for tampon dispenser? Besides girlie cigar and lady lolli I couldn’t think of one proper synonym for tampon, period. Pun intended.

“I need a tampon. Is there a tampon dispenser in there?”

I realized there are many things you can say to shut a man up, but that phrase, uttered to a complete stranger, is by far the most effective. He didn’t say a thing. In fact, he physically resisted the reflex to look at my crotch and see just how dire my lady dilemma was.Not that dire, buddy.

I returned to the family restroom and soon realized that my situation hadn’t been dire at all. All that fuss for nothing.

My friend insists that I “attract” these situations so I have something to write about.

Speak up, ladies. Please tell me there are others who experience menstrual emergencies while out and about. That I’m not that only female on the planet who exposes her eczema to single pediatricians, locks herself outside the house in the dead of winter (after midnight),and is accosted by Mary Kay consultants while standing in the neuter line.

Never mind. Don't answer that. I don’t want to know…

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

With Great Power Comes Inevictability

I did the math.  

I’ve lived with Spiderman longer than I have any other man in my adult life.  And after nine years with the webbed superhero, I’ve come to realize he will not be evicted from our home anytime soon. He’s like the lazy, grown son I’ve never had, lounging around the basement in his spandex, watching episodes of himself on Netflix, and leaving his dirty dishes on the futon.  

Kaleb fell for Spiderman at two and a half years old.  By the time he was four, I had to buy him two Spiderman costumes because he wore out the first one those four weeks before Halloween.  And like Elmo and pocket rocks, whatever Kaleb likes, Zack follows with even more exuberance.

In the past decade, I have decorated five Spiderman birthday cakes, purchased at least 6 Spiderman costumes, tripped over roughly 352 Spiderman comics and contributed to Marvel’s profit margin by purchasing a kazillion Spiderman action figures and/or playsets. 

And you’d think all this experience would make me the most knowledgeable comic mom on the planet.  I thought so.  I mean, I knew that at one time Spiderman was a member of both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.  I also knew that Stan Lee was the creator of Spiderman some 50-odd years ago, and I could pick the old man out in a lineup. 

All that comic cred disintegrated the day I donned a batman t-shirt.  Thinking I’d impress the Spidey Sense out of Zack, I thrust out my chest and said, “Cool, right?”  Zack shook his head and muttered, “Batman is a DC comic, mom.  And Marvel is way cooler than DC.”
What was I thinking?

Luckily, I met and married a grown man who enjoys grownup things like sushi, stringed instruments and ABC’s Parks and Rec.  

Ah, who am I kidding?  Mr. Charming has lived with Spiderman (and an assortment of other Marvel superheroes) for longer than I have.  In fact, Zack led the marriage campaign once he discovered Mike’s comic book collection, complete with boxes and boxes of Spiderman comics, most of which are currently shoved beneath his bed.  

And, believe it or not, our call name for restaurants is Marvel.  “Like the comic book?” the Cheesecake Factory hostess asked the last time we went out.  “Oh,” Mike said, innocently, as if the connection for the first time.  “Sure.  I guess so.”

So back to the math.  My calculations show that with a total of 57 Spiderman years among us, we are 85.7% nerdy.  And 100% super (Okay.  So that was a little cheesy.).  

And so you know, two ideas rule supreme in the Holyoak household: 
  1. With great power comes great responsibility.
  2. Wash your own spandex.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mothering Guilt

Because I don't have a picture of myself breastfeeding...
Last week, Time Magazine gave the women of the world the best Mother’s Day present ever: an abundance of guilt. 

Thanks, Time, but I’m good. 

First, I must admit that for the past five years I’ve anticipated mother’s day much like the underdog anticipates a dodge ball game.   With much wincing and squinting.  Something about all the hooray regarding the great mothers of the world always left me feeling wholly inadequate. 

So when Time Magazine, picturing a perky young mom on its cover breastfeeding her three-year old son, asked, “Are You Mom Enough?” I wanted to overnight express a newborn into the sole care of their male editor. 

Who asks the mothers of the world THAT question on THEIR day?  Seriously?

Just a couple weeks ago, I decided I was an okay mom because I wasn’t barbequing any of my children in tanning beds.  That lasted approximately 12 hours before a handful of our children decided the futon in our basement made for a better teeter totter.  And before those same children boycotted the flushing of the downstairs’ toilet.  And finally, before my youngest offspring thought microwaving a nickel might be fun.

Four years ago, Dr. Phil said sleeping with your children was wrong.  At the time, I was a single mother with a three-year old boy edging me out of bed.  Conclusion?  I was a horrible mother with no thought for my child’s future wellbeing.  Now, after taking great pains to kick aforementioned child out of my bed (i.e. I got married), I am, once again, a horrible mother with no thought for my child’s future wellbeing. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with attachment parenting as it’s described within the pages of Time Magazine.  I also have no issue with Dr. Sears promoting extended breastfeeding, the family bed and babywearing; in fact, I wish I could stuff all my children into a giant fannypack every time I take them grocery shopping. 

I just don’t want to be made to feel guilty because I have chosen to parent differently.

So my final question is, can I regift the guilt you gave me last week for Mother’s Day, Time?

If so, I’ll definitely be giving it to my children.  Because as far as parenting techniques go, I’m pretty good with guilt.

In conclusion, I’ve decided the only thing constant in life is that my children will always want to microwave nickels, and I will always want to write about it. 

And to all you mothers in the greater Idaho Falls area, that is my gift to you.  Because really, don’t you all feel better about yourselves after reading my column? 

You’re welcome!

The Crab Whisperer

Because I have enough mammals currently living in my home, there is a freeze on acquiring any additional hairy pets.  So when my daughter decided that she wanted to buy an ‘animal’ with her birthday money this year, her choice was between the turtles and hermit crabs. 

The turtles were out of her price range.

I mistakenly assumed that crustaceans, unlike old cats and wet dogs, would not smell.  And maybe it’s not the crabs that smell, but their food.  Either way, it took an entire weekend for me to realize that I have zero tolerance for all pets, crustaceans included, except those cooked up in my own womb.

First crab lesson of the day: they live in a crabitat which is, in our case, a small travel tote with a purple lid.  I was surprised to discover that not all hermit crabs are created equal.  Leah purchased two, and while one is friendly and serene, the other is an angry pincher that nearly gave my daughter a blood blister his first day at the Belknap home (How we decided this crab was male I will never know).

“Can we take him back to PetCo and ask for a hermit crab that doesn’t pinch?” my daughter asked.

“Uhm.  I don’t think the return policy covers pinching crabs, Sweetie,” I replied.  “In fact, I think they expect their crabs to pinch.”

Pinchers, as we so lovingly call him, was initially unhappy in his new digs.  In fact, each time I cleaned his cage, he would tear it apart like a rock star trashing his hotel room.  The water dish would get overturned before being dragged to the other side of the cage, holes would be dug throughout, all the extra shells would be moved and sometimes buried before the pesky thing would sit defiantly atop Sunny, the hermit crab with, according to Leah, an equally sunny disposition. 

After some time, Pinchers seemed to acclimate to his new environment.  What I didn’t realize is that he was slowly slipping into a crab funk, or crusdepression.  He stopped trashing his crabitat and, instead, buried himself deep into the sand, refusing to come out.  Leah thought he was dead, and while I explained that he was probably molting, she mourned her supposed loss more than once.  Turns out he was neither dead nor molting—he was simply sulking.

But I didn’t realize how bad things had become until yesterday, when I heard a loud pop at the kitchen counter.  There, by the crabitat, lay Pinchers, who had somehow managed to climb up the side of his tote and through the small opening in the lid before throwing himself from atop the cage to the counter: Pinchers had attempted crabicide.

Luckily his shell broke the fall, and I was able to return him to his cage unharmed, but I couldn’t help but feel bad that Pinchers appeared to be so forlorn.  Should we travel to the beach where we can release him back to his natural habitat?  Should I talk with the good people at PetCo and see what measures can be taken to improve his well being? 

And then I realized that I was worrying about a hermit crab for which there would be no therapy nor Prozac.  So I did the best next thing, and I cut up a hot dog and put it in his cage. 

Just call me the Crab Whisperer.