Mama’s Martyrdom

We live in the Age of Mommy Martyrdom.  Women take to social media to lament dinnertime, carpool, bedtime, and breastfeeding.  We are all suffering daily for the good of our children, and, dammit, we want the world to know of our sacrifice.  It’s as if we are keeping score and points are awarded for how much suffering Mommy endures.  Bonus points if you suffer with a smile on your face.  I’ll admit it, I play the game. But I’ll give you a little inside scoop – sometimes this mama is full of shit.  

I’ve readily admitted my propensity toward lying to my children, but, as mothers, sometimes our desire to martyr ourselves makes us liars to one another.  Because sometimes motherhood isn’t so bad.  Sometimes it’s pretty damn awesome, but, for purposes of keeping up appearances,  this Mama likes to feign suffering in the following areas.  

  1. Listening to Teeny Bopper Music

I love and appreciate good music.  In high school I was listening to the White Album on repeat while my fifteen-year-old counterparts were blasting Puff Daddy.  I sing my children a Bob Dylan song every night before bed, and I find that playing Mozart in the car helps me relax and unwind after particularly stressful days.  You will rue the day that you try to convince me that there is an album more musically perfect than the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, but I would be a filthy liar if I told you that I don’t love me some cheesy pop tunes.  Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato – nothing makes a pre-bedtime dance party pop like pop music.  And don’t even get me started on boy bands.  You play me a canned pop beat with a 19-year-old English kid singing about how beautiful he thinks I am (because those One Direction boys are clearly singing about me), and I am instantly transformed into a gleeful 13-year-old girl.  

So when my daughters go through the inevitable boy band stage in five years or so, I will throw myself on my sword and begrudgingly offer to bring them, along with a gang of girlfriends, to whatever the equivalent of 5SOS is in half a decade.  I’ll pull up to their friends’ driveways playing some JD McPherson, maybe some Depeche Mode, just to demonstrate to the other parents what a sacrifice I’m making.  I’ll assure them that I’ll survive somehow; maybe I’ll even show off a pair of earplugs and a book for effect.  And then I will bribe all the girls with concert swag to not tell their moms that I screamed the loudest when the band came out for their encore.  

2. Making Dinner

I hate coming up with new ways to feed my family.  Together, there are roughly three foods that my two children will eat without complaint, and that is if you count ketchup. Most nights, I would rather change a blow out diaper while blindfolded than figure out how to put together a meal with the contents of my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. So, yes, dinnertime is my ultimate, legitimate mommy martyrdom. I can’t count the times I’ve sat around with my girlfriends, wine in hand, bemoaning slaving away in the kitchen for hours, preparing an organic, free-range, protein-packed meal, only to have my children whine that they wanted boxed mac and cheese.  Make no mistake, dinnertime is the bane of my existence – the meal planning and meal eating.  What I don’t tell people is that dinner preparation and all its ample alone time is this mama’s secret guilty pleasure.  

The kitchen is a veritable danger zone.  Filled with a hot oven, boiling pots, and sharp knives, I have convinced my children that entering the kitchen during meal preparation is tantamount to entering the mouth of an active volcano, only less fun.  So I wash and chop and stir, yes.  But I also sit my ass on a kitchen stool, sipping sauvignon blanc and checking Facebook.  When one of my children tries to enter Mama’s sanctuary, a quick shout about the hot stove sends them running in the other direction.  Some nights I can get away with this for 10 minutes, some nights it’s a solid 40 (especially if Dog With a Blog is on – but more on that later).  Dinner preparation is a time for me to recharge and prepare for the ultimate death match that is to come next – trying to make my children actually eat a meal.  And when Mama has had her wine-soaked time out, she really doesn’t care that no one else likes kale.   

3. Watching Children’s Programming

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of children’s programs that are clearly created and written by sadists.  There could be college courses devoted to studying the effects of Caillou on a parent’s mental and emotional health.  But, much like my love of teeny bopper music, I have never gotten over the joy original Disney programming gave me as a child. On occasional, glorious Sunday nights throughout my childhood, NBC’s Magical World of Disney premiered original Disney programming such as Return of the Shaggy Dog and The Parent Trap III.  These movies transported me to a fantasy world where everyone was beautiful, lived on neat, tree-lined streets, and, after a few setbacks and misunderstandings, ultimately got what they wanted. These movies filled me with hope and promise and I dreamed of my future that involved cruising California in a convertible while my madcap children tried to get me and my husband back together after a charming marital setback.  

Similar, modern shows starring well-dressed tweens and teens running their households infuriate many parents I know.  They lament the melodrama, the blubbering or absent parents, and, most importantly, the ease with which life’s challenges are tidied up.  I, on the other hand, celebrate these shows for those very same qualities.  Entertainment is not real life.  The sooner my children learn that lesson, the better.  Television shows are entertainment and escapism.  I do not depend on them to raise my children, nor do I expect nor want them to be responsible for teaching my children values.  Putting on Jessie or K.C. Undercover gives me the opportunity to just relax and snuggle up with my girls. When they watch, I imagine them planning out their futures in New York City or as a badass undercover agent. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but when I watch these shows with my girls, I’m not a mom biding my time until bedtime when I control the remote (which, incidentally, I still can’t find), but a mom reveling in the wonderment of my children. Besides, the parents in these shows really are almost always bumbling idiots and make me feel like, even though their hair always looks better than mine,  maybe I’m doing okay at this mom gig.  

4. Helping My Kindergartner Do Homework

Bahahaha.  Just kidding.  That shit is actual torture.

So, there they are.  My dirty little secrets are out.  When it comes to wine and tween entertainment, consider me Joan of Arc.  

 

Pants on Fire

Last weekend I told my five-year-old daughter that you weren’t allowed in Chuck E Cheese unless you were there for a birthday party. And she bought it.

Lying to our children. Some call it laziness, some call it a necessity. I say it’s both. Am I at my parenting peak when I lie to my kids? Of course not. But just like I know a second glass of wine isn’t always the best idea, it sure helps get me through bedtime. Lying is sometimes a matter of this mama’s sanity, and these are my most frequent fliers.  

  1. I love what you’re wearing.

I have two daughters who like to dress themselves. This means that we often leave the house in ensembles that include a variety of mismatched prints and headband scarves. Halloween costumes that have seen better days are usually thrown into the mix bi-weekly. They look ridiculous, but my daughters feel fabulous. They select their clothing based on what provides joy and fun (the more it twirls, the better), rather than on what a classmate or trend deems cool. I know these days are fleeting, so I “ooh” and “ahh” and tell them how gorgeous and glamorous they look. They are learning to express themselves as individuals and it is a beautiful thing…if we’re going to Target. If we’re going someplace nice, Mama doesn’t give a crap about their creative expression. They’re not leaving the house dressed like that.      

  1. We don’t use bad language in this house.

I would effing die if I heard one of my precious daughters use the f-word.There’s a time and a place for profanity and I find that a well-placed and enunciated f-bomb adds flavor to a story told over a glass of wine. It’s not quite as charming coming from a five-year-old when she falls off her bike. Like it or not, our words represent us. So I am the mom who gasps in horror when one of my children says “shut up” or “oh my God”. I explain to my girls that we want to use kind words, and I remind them that “we don’t use bad words” because we wouldn’t want people to think poorly of us. And then they go to sleep and I use the hours between their bedtime and mine to get out every precious expletive I was holding in all day. Because we do use bad language in this house. Mommy just waits until you’ve finally fallen asleep before she lets that shit fly.

  1. They only play music when the truck is out of ice cream.

For roughly two years, my husband and I got away with referring to the ice cream truck as the “music truck.” We’d be playing outside, hear the familiar sounds, and our older daughter would squeal in delight, giddly shouting “The music truck is here!” as she pirouetted to the soul crushing noise melody blasting from the speaker. Friends and neighbors who witnessed this called us genius, but, inevitably, the dreaded day came when our daughter saw kids getting frozen goodies from the “music truck”, and our cover was blown. By the next summer, she knew this was no van bringing the joy of song to our neighborhood, but a vehicle that carried the kind of treats Mommy doesn’t buy. So, a new lie was born. “Oh no!” my husband and I would groan, disappointment oozing from our mouths, “The ice cream truck is playing music. That means they’re all out of ice cream.” Because eff you ice cream truck! As a parent, I should decide when and what my children have for a treat. I am all for bingeing on some junk once in awhile, but I do not need my children licking high fructose corn syrup and red dye from their fingers every single day. And, yes, I am fully capable of telling my children “no”, but I don’t need every summer evening to deteriorate over a bomb pop. So play your tune ice cream man, we’ll just do a little dance as we eat our strawberries and yogurt.  

  1. The museum is closed today.

A day at the museum sounds lovely. Why would any parent deny their child’s request for interactive, educational fun? Because it entails going out in public. And sometimes, the going out in public, just isn’t worth it. Yes, my kids are going stir crazy and yes, there is a tension in my home that seems to whisper, “One of us is going to kill the other at some point today.” You know a location change and a chance to run around will cleanse your household and everyone in it better than smudging some sage, but you can’t. Because it’s already one o’clock and your children are still in their pajamas. And you’d rather clean the blood resulting from an altercation between them than put on makeup. Besides, the museum doesn’t serve wine.

  1. You love salmon (or any other food with some semblance of nutrition).

This lie doesn’t even work when it’s the truth. Yesterday, my three-year-old daughter gobbled up green beans and literally said the words herself as she ate them: “Mama, I loooove green beans.” As I served leftovers to her today she picked them off her plate. When I assured her that she loved those very green beans just yesterday, I was given every parent’s favorite meal-time phrase: “I don’t like them anymore!” So why do I even bother when it is a bold-faced lie? A lie that in the four plus years my children have been eating solid foods has worked a total of zero times? Because I am nothing if not hopeful. Just like the guy in a bar sporting a Big Bang Theory shirt believes that, one day, some fine lady will let him buy her a drink, I have to hold out hope that one day, at least one of my children will utter the words, “Oh yeah, Mommy, you’re right. I do love fish!”

So lie away parents. I give you my permission. They will work every time. By the way, I love what you’re wearing.

 

Gobsmacked

Last Wednesday, my blog received 14 views and I basically considered myself David Sedaris.  Today, 317 people from six different countries have clicked on Mama Tries Blog.  I realize that this is small potatoes in the world of blogging, but it has left me at a loss for words.  And since a loss for words is pretty much the kiss of death for a writer, thanks a lot for your support everyone, you’ve just ruined my writing career before it even started.  

This might be a good time to put out there that I am basically inept at expressing any serious emotion without a hefty dose of sarcasm and snark added in.  So, in all sincerity, putting this blog out there was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done.  Sharing it on Facebook, where I am not anonymous, resulted in a day full of nausea and cold sweats, and I will be forever grateful for all of the amazingly supportive feedback and love I have received.  I’ve always longed for a genuine reason to use the word gobsmacked, and today my dreams have become a reality.  I am positively gobsmacked.

 
Now, my love finally arrives home in about an hour.  I planned to make this house shine for him upon his return, but I don’t want him to think I went changin’ on him.  Instead, I shall do my best to make these last 60 minutes as productive as possible.  And by productive, I mean fix a cocktail and watch Vanderpump Rules sans snide commentary.  

Of Victims and Victimizers

There’s a mean girl in my daughter’s class.  She’s super cute, wears great clothes, and alienates my daughter.  Oh – and she’s in kindergarten.

As a mother of two daughters, I expected – no I dreaded – that this day would come.  The day one of my girls came home dejected because another girl, for no apparent reason, decided that, not only would she not be friends with my daughter, but that others should not be either.  This is why I have already begun to create a stockpile of liquor that I thought I would be delving into in six years when they enter middle school.  Apparently, I’ll be dipping into it a lot sooner than I expected, as well figuring out how to get my hands on some Xanax.  

As much as it pains my heart to think about anyone not treating my child with kindness, I am realistic enough to know that not everyone in the world can be as charming as my family and I.  There are jerks in the world, even in kindergarten.  I knew school would bring arguments over line budging and squabbles over crayons.  I knew there would be kids my daughter didn’t quite connect with and vice versa.  What I did not expect was the sneaky, calculated moves that I thought only came from a seasoned mean girl.

I had a bad feeling about this girl from the first day I met her.  Let’s call her Mean Girl (I’m nothing if not creative).  It was the Friday after the first week of school, and our family was attending a lovely community event. It made my heart burst with joy to see my spunky, hilarious, beautiful daughter beam and wave when she saw new friends.   When she saw Mean Girl, she excitedly approached her and Mean Girl acted like she had no. idea. who. my. daughter. was.  My daughter, nonplussed, attempted to convince her that they attended the same school, in the same grade, and were, as a matter of fact, in the same class.  That’s when Mean Girl actually pulled an “I’ve never seen you before.”  I’ve never seen you before?  That’s some A-level bitch burn right there!  Any other eavesdropper could have thought the entire exchange was an innocuous, perhaps even charming conversation between two innocent, naive little kindergartners, still getting their feet wet at the big school.  Call it mother’s intuition, call it being well-versed in the language of bitch, but I was not so fooled.  

I kept my mouth shut and hoped that I was wrong.  I wasn’t.  As predicted, my daughter started coming home and telling me about a girl who wasn’t very nice.  At first she could not qualify this with any further detail, but eventually the details came.  “Mean Girl doesn’t talk to me.” “Mean Girl was so rude today.”  “Mean Girl would only talk to so-and-so today.” “Mean Girl told so-and-so that I was gross.”  We were at a school event and my daughter was happily playing with a classmate.  Mean Girl showed up and neither she, nor the classmate, said boo to my daughter for the rest of the evening.  Tonight during dinner, my daughter told me that, at recess today, Mean Girl would not let my daughter play with her and her friends.  

I wanted to cry at the dinner table.  I also wanted to drive to Mean Girl’s house and burn it to the ground.  Mama Bear instincts came out in full force and I wanted this girl destroyed.  Did I mention she’s five?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Why was Mean Girl causing me to feel such an intense, fiery rage?   Why is Mean Girl trying to destroy my daughter’s life?

Because, as a mean girl, that’s the power she has.  When I reflect on my own life, I can recall countless times when I held my true self back for fear of what a mean girl would say.  In middle school, I remember proudly sporting a dress, that I had picked out and bought myself, as a shirt.  I had channeled my inner Blossom and I felt my tucking skills were chic and trendsetting and I felt fabulous as I helped pass back papers in Social Studies class.  Then a mean girl, her voice dripping with sarcasm, announced, “I love your shirt,” as her gaggle of followers laughed.  I never wore it again.

What is perhaps worse, is that I longed for this wretched girl to like me.  Worse still,  I got my wish, and she became one of my “best friends” a year later.  Now the cutting down of me was constant, always said with a laugh, or followed with a “I’m just joking!”  It wasn’t long until my own inner mean girl started to rear her ugly head.  Was it a matter of survival?  Did I feel like this was the only way to keep any sort of social status?  Did I need someone else to be the victim, lest I return to that role?  Was I so insecure that I needed to belittle others in order to make myself seem more important?  Or was this simply some sort of tween rite of passage?  Looking back, I can’t pinpoint just one particular reason as to why a year of my life was spent making snide remarks to other girls or feeling powerful as a member of a gaggle of girls who laughed at someone else.  I do know that, at thirteen, this reprehensible behavior had a bizarre allure.  There was an intoxicating power that came with intimidation and it gave me, a girl desperate to find myself, some sort of identity.

And so I panic with my own daughter, who loves to sing songs she’s made up herself.  Who loves to pick out her own outfits and does not like to brush her hair. Who could care less that she has yogurt all over her face because she is too busy creating a colorful art project.  Because I know these glorious days when her happiness is determined, not by the crowd, but by herself, are fleeting.  I know that there will come a day when she spends far too long scrutinizing herself in the mirror.  A day when her feelings will be affected more by how she’s perceived by others than by simply following her heart.  A day when she has to decide whether to be the victim or the victimizer.  A day that I did not expect to come so soon.  

But that’s the thing. Has the day actually come?  Yes, my daughter reports these incidents to me, but she does it so casually.  In fact, there’s almost a sense of bewilderment when I ask her what Mean Girl does after she’s rejected my daughter’s offer to play.  My daughter shakes her head, puzzled, and replies, “She doesn’t do anything.  She and [her friend] just stand around.  It’s so weird!”   It doesn’t quite seem to bother her.  That night at the school event, after Mean Girl ushered away my daughter’s playmate, my daughter went and danced her heart out, squealing and giggling with another group of kids.  

Could she truly not care?  Could I really have a five-year-old who is so confident and self-assured that a mean girl leaves her unfazed?  Or, perhaps, at five-years-old, she’s just completely unaware that these girls are a potential problem.  Realistically, that is the case.  Which is all well and good if I lived a life of realism, rather than lunacy.  So I just can’t leave it at that.  All worst case scenarios must be contemplated.  What if Mean Girl is making my daughter feel so alienated and uncertain of herself that she feels ashamed to express her true feelings to me?   Why is Mean Girl destroying MY life??

Because that’s the other thing.  Do I despise Mean Girl only because of how I think she may make my daughter feel somewhere down the road?  Or do I resent the fact that she is a stark reminder that it is up to me to show my children how to navigate this world, when I can hardly navigate it myself?  Mean Girl brought me to one of those horrific parenting moments when you fear the absolute worst – – that you are ruining your child’s entire life with one conversation.  Do I tell my daughter to just keep her distance from Mean Girl?  Or is that teaching her to be a timid pushover?  Do I tell her that the next time Mean Girl announces that my daughter cannot play with the group that my daughter should rally the others and says, “You are rude (the kindergarten equivalent of “bitch”), so I don’t want to play with YOU!”  Or is that just seasoning my daughter for a takeover as future class mean girl?  Mean Girl is causing me to have an existential crisis.  The question loomed: would I rather have my child be a victim or a victimizer?

I went with both.  I told my daughter that she should stay away from Mean Girl, and if Mean Girl ever said something nasty to her again, she should tell her that she is being rude.  And then my daughter, just as casually as she’d told me about Mean Girl on the playground today, asked me, “What if Mean Girl turns herself around?  Can I play with her then?”  A punch to my gut.  These girls are five.  “Mommy, maybe she’s nice and she just doesn’t realize that she’s being rude.”  These girls are five.  Mean Girl is five.  I am… older.  I am crazy.  Most importantly, my sweet, sweet daughter’s words helped me realize that, at least right now, she is neither victim nor victimizer.  

Because she doesn’t see herself as either.  She sees the good in people.  She sees the good in herself.  

That little jerk is such a better person than I am.  God I hope I don’t ruin her life.   

Clutter, Crumbs, and Company

Am I the only one who occasionally fantasizes that a girlfriend will randomly stop by with a bottle of wine for an impromptu night full of gossip after the kids go to bed, but then looks around the mess that is my house and becomes terrified that an unannounced visitor will only result in a wellness visit from CPS?  Just me?  No, okay, that’s cool.  

Seriously though.  How do people keep their homes clean?  Do you want to know how many times I’ve vacuumed this week alone?  Four.  Four times.  The same rooms.  Below is a photo of the floor in our dining room, less than 24 hours after I last vacuumed.  How does this happen?  Do my children carry breadcrumbs in their pockets?  Are they intentionally messing with me?  Where do all these bits come from??

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The most offensive marauder in this home, however, is the “stuff” that has taken over each room.  It comes in many forms and it’s everywhere.  A glance across the room reveals a table with a brush, doll clothing, and Christmas cards scattered atop it.  Note in the photo below that the ottoman is supporting, not my feet, but two drawing pads, five picture books, half a crayon, an empty iPhone 6 case, a flashlight, and a neatly folded dish towel.  Missing from the ottoman is the television remote that has not been seen in weeks.

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Why aren’t these things in their home?  Mostly because they don’t have one.  What do you do with extra Christmas cards?  Surely you don’t just throw them out.  They have my family’s photos on them!  And half a crayon?  I could mix that half together with all the other crayon bits scattered throughout my house and melt them all down in silicone molds shaped like hearts.  I could.  I saw it on Pinterest.

We are constantly warned not to compare our ordinary to other people’s “highlight reels” on social media, but I constantly find myself scouring through other people’s photos and finding that I don’t measure up in the tidiness department.  Yeah, yeah, your kids are cute and you looked lovely on that date night with your husband, but the clutter-free living room I’m seeing in the background is making me feel seriously inadequate.  Where are these people putting the 75 pages of schoolwork that comes home everyday?  Why can they see their entire dining room table?  Where are the wayward pieces of stale crusts on the floor?  Where is all of their stuff??

Perhaps it was serendipitous that today I stumbled upon the “40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge.” It seems as though the challenge has not yet been updated for the New Year, but the whole plan can be used at any time.  The concept is that you focus on one small area each day to declutter, filling a bag with items to donate, sell, etc.  Not only can this program help me declutter my house, but it can also provide me with the opportunity to teach my children about selflessness and philanthropy as we decide together which of their older toys to donate.  Just kidding – I’m doing this after bedtime.  Hit the hay kids, ‘cause Mama’s gonna be drinkin’ some wine and throwing away your shit!  

Then, maybe, just maybe, 40 days from now, my house will be Facebook-ready.  Hell, I’ll even call CPS myself so that they can see that the only clutter in this house is empty wine bottles on the counter left there by friends I happily invited in after they dropped by.  Wait…

The Christmas Loser

Christmas is, if anything, a competition – one that my husband has won for the last several years.  Last year I thought I had it in the bag, but then I was informed via Etsy that the Danny Devito rubber stamp I ordered would not arrive in time for the holiday.  A Christmas Loser again.

Until this Christmas.  It was around the 22nd that I smugly proclaimed that I clearly was going to be this year’s winner.  My husband has always been a gifted gift giver (he’s never bought me anything heart-shaped, for instance). But this year, he had been plagued with sickness.

One planned trip to the store was replaced with a trip to the doctor for ear tubes (no, I’m not married to an eight-year-old, just the only grown man who has gotten tubes twice in his adult life).  On the 24th, he was struck with a stomach bug, which meant that, unless he wanted to have a “Christmas Incident” in the middle of Sephora, last-minute shopping was out of the question for him.

He lamented that he only had one thing for me and, without even opening presents, a winner was declared.  The sheer quantity of presents I had bought did not just exceed his, but they also included a membership to a sock-of-the-month club – the perfect gift for a man who a co-worker once declared was “known for his socks.” And then came Christmas morning.

I expected perfume.  I had been not-so-subtly hinting that I was in need, and, I don’t know, perfume has always seemed to me like one of those extravagances that I felt funny about buying for myself. The box under the tree, however, was all wrong.  It was too big.  Too big even for a boxed set that came with lotion.  I unwrapped the gift to find another box inside and still felt perplexed.  It was some kind of electronic device, but what was it?  I lifted the lid to discover that my husband had bought me a laptop.  The real gift came, however, when he proclaimed, “No one else is allowed to use this.  It’s just for you.  To write.”

Before you start thinking he’s too good to be true, let me share a fun fact with you. My husband brought me to see Bad Santa on our first date. 

For the nearly 15 years since college (excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth writing that sentence), the only things I’ve written are grad school papers, report card comments, emails, and texts.  As a result, there were times that I got a little too carried away in my emails.  It was as if my brain was telling me to write, that it needed to express its snarky commentary in some form.

And so my friends got lengthy dissertations about my toddler’s bout with Coxsackie virus and diatribes against “some nasty bitch” who cut me off in the grocery store parking lot.  Fascinating stuff, described in enough detail to make Dickens accuse me of being too wordy.  I often wonder if anyone has actually read one of my emails in entirety in the last decade.

For years, I toyed with the idea of a blog.  It was the kind of writing I like best – self-centered, all-about-me essay writing.  No need to  research historical events, no requirement of a creative mind.  Blogging was the avenue for your typical smug, unctuous writer who thinks other people actually give a flying fig what they have to say about anything.  I had clearly found my niche.  So, for years, I did what all great procrastinators do, I thought long and hard about it, and updated my Facebook status.

Until this Christmas.  Because with a gift like this laptop I’m writing on, and more importantly, the message that came with it, how do you not take that extra step? How do you hear that someone you love believes in you, and then use their gift to Facebook stalk and judge the profile pictures of your ex-boyfriend’s family and friends?  (For the record, I predict that this laptop will most definitely find itself down some truly remarkable Facebook wormholes).

So, even though pair number 1 of the sock-of-the-month club were clad with a jellybean design, I suppose I was technically the Christmas Loser this year.  And so it is time now to declare the official winner of Christmas 2015 – my long-suffering friends who will no longer be receiving a detailed Monday-morning discourse about my weekend trip to Target.