There may be alternate realities, but I can’t see why I should care.

My approach to life is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” an outlook I like to think of as pragmatism rather than pessimism. There are definite pros to going through life with your psyche braced in the crash position but still singing show tunes, and while I’m often mortified, I’m rarely shocked. Since I’m constantly running horrible hypothetical situations in my brain’s background, when bad things actually happen, instead of panic, I experience more of an annoyed, “well, here we are then” resolve. Blood has little effect on me, even the sight of my own or my children’s, but there’s one sound that momentarily paralyzes and punches me with a wave of nausea. I imagine the sound of a child’s head hitting a hard surface is, for me, the emotional equivalent of someone with testes taking a blow to the groin.

I use to love trips with the kids to the grocery store, but I fear I’ll never again enter the market with anything other than dread and hypervigilance. Traveling lighter than usual with just the girls, I didn’t think twice about putting both of them in a regular cart since no two-seaters or buggies were available. Linda is the default strap-in, with her impressive and perfectly lady-like upper body strength, so she rode up front while Sally enjoyed the roomy “back seat.” Always the alert mother, I corrected Sally each of the countless times she started to stand up, gently tugging on her hood to sit her back down. That is, until I carefully positioned the last item in the her food nest, at which point she grabbed the edge of the cart with both hands, hoisted herself over two gallons of milk and did a full flip before landing on her head and back like the sack of potatoes Linda was chewing through while cradling like a baby.

Several workers responded immediately to my “OHMYGOD!” followed by Sally’s wails, and all three became slightly unhinged upon learning of the accident. My gracious decline of their offer to call for an ambulance and calm demeanor while I comforted her unsettled them further, even though she stopped crying after about a minute. I gently checked for lumps, redness, and dents, found none, and thanked them for their concern as we proceeded to checkout, Sally now being carried and immensely happy about it.

Once we finished our errands, picked up Billy the Kid from preschool, and unpacked the groceries back home, the inevitable nausea I’d stifled for the sake of appearances caught up with me, and I started off the afternoon with a wonderfully empty stomach. It occurred to me to call the doctor and see if they’d like me to bring her in, but then I remembered that I’m her mother and know when my children are absolutely fine. In fact, she began walking on her own for the first time several hours after the incident and put away a half dozen fish sticks for dinner.

I appreciate how fortunate we were today, but I’ll sleep just fine tonight in spite of the scare. While an optimist might stay awake after the fact, tormenting themselves by reliving the incident and imaging all those dreadful what-could-have-happened’s, I’ve efficiently gotten my self-inflicted mental anguish out of the way ahead of time, and the inevitable occurrence was much less horrific than my imagination’s various outcomes. I really can’t say enough about the magnificence of planning ahead.

I hear it’s fantastic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Best Vegetarian Chili I Never Tasted

I love a challenge. I hosted a baby shower for the radiant and ever-gracious Jess D last Sunday, and it was a rare occasion to find more vegetarians and vegans on the guest list than otherwise. Regretfully, I may have harbored a tinge of culinary resentment toward the sans-meat crowd back when I had endless, uninterrupted prep time before parties to spend on crown roasts, sushi, and various fowl. But now that I average two diaper changes while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate, I’m grateful whenever the time-consuming task of meat preparation is rendered null.

Obviously, my tried and true Vegetarian Appeasement made the spread, but I needed one more vegetarian entree, having been physically unable to hold back from applying the bacon topping to You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese. Somehow, I was able to locate the recipe for a meatless chili I made six Labor Days ago, combing through search results on Epicurious until I found one with a familiar, ridiculously long list of ingredients.

‘Vores of all walks claimed to enjoy the chili, but one should never take guests’ compliments as honest criticism. I’ll admit that I don’t eat chili of any kind, ever, so I had no idea what was going on in those bowls. However, Mr. P revisited the leftovers twice, legitimizing it as an official victory.

I find it inordinately satisfying to approach meals I prepare and events I host as competitions with myself. None of my children put up a fair fight at anything other than Candy Land, and I no longer work in an office environment (where competitive baking is always encouraged), so I have no choice but to set my own bar progressively higher in order to routinely best past selves. A disconcerting side effect of my approach to staying sharp has been my inner monologue’s shift to a dialogue, with definite manager and underling roles.

In addition to barking orders at my underling and maintaining a high level of hustle in the kitchen, my manager enforces our unnecessarily rigorous weekly schedule, ensures everyone is dressed and fed by eight, and gets us all strapped in the car and on our way by nine. My underling wonders if my manager has been overbooking us lately, but the former doesn’t get a say. Fortunately for my underling, my manager (who’s also in charge of menu planning) is a voracious carnivore, and while this chili is now a standard in our vegetarian repertoire, we’re still not eating it.

Product Review! Dole Apple Cinnamon Fruit Crisp: it’s what’s for meal.


I try to play my part in the hilarious global production of Let’s Pretend There’s Time to Fix It, and generally abstain from prepackaged fruit cups for the little ones, instead buying my mandarin oranges and pears by the large tin, then transferring them to plastic containers once opened. Our membership to BJ’s, however, thwarts my efforts on a monthly basis.

If you belong to a warehouse club, you’re aware of the fruit and vegetable aisle (not to be confused with produce), where subtle halos beam from behind hundreds of neatly stacked boxes of every kind of fruit cocktail imaginable. I’ve steeled myself against the snack-pack aisle, but every now and then the left side of that fruit aisle (I ignore the vegetables on the right) calls to me as I try to pass it, like a siren, with whispers of “hey, your kid will absolutely eat this!”

Sometime within the last six months, I fell for the pleasantly packaged, health-ish Dole Fruit Crisp Apple Cinnamon cups, and it turns out that, no, they absolutely will not eat this. Their refusal is for the best, as these little sugar bombs have virtually no nutritional value, aside from the circumstantial fiber present in the “all natural fruit.” You can imagine my growing resentment of eleven oddly shaped containers taking up real estate in my pantry, and several days ago I could no longer stand it. I can’t throw away unspoiled food, and the easiest way to get rid of them would be to just eat them myself. The thirty seconds I spent waiting for my first “apples” to warm were not hopeful ones, and I assumed I’d toss the remaining ten cups into the food drive bin after one bite.

I’m currently down to two cups, with an emergency trip to BJ’s slated for tomorrow afternoon to pick up some more. While the apple adhesive is similar to that in the filling of a Table Talk pie, the apple chunks maintain an admirable level of bite-resistance. The “crispy, crumbly topping” pairs well with the sugary syrup by distracting from its own sweetness with a hefty smack of salt.

The product’s biggest selling point, at least to caretakers of small children, is how impressively quickly you can consume it. Twenty-eight seconds in my microwave yields the perfect temperature, just shy of scalding, and the cup is small enough to hold behind my back as I side-step one or more suspicious toddlers, dart into my office, throw a chair under the doorknob, and pretend to be shuffling through papers out of sight while scarfing down 160 calories of “lunch” in about ninety seconds. I don’t encourage such dietary habits in general, but until my wards stop literally stealing my breakfast, I have to eat on the sly or wait for reinforcements to arrive for dinner.

All in all, a positive rating from the moms-who-should-eat-better-but-don’t demographic. This product should be kept away from children after 4PM to avoid a Gremlins-eating-after-midnight effect, and anyone who takes pride in a healthy lifestyle should probably steer clear as well. That wouldn’t be me, what with my trinity of addictions (nicotine, caffeine, and aspartame). Although I give my gym’s treadmills a good what-for several days a week, it’s really more for bottled-rage management than fitness, as well as the free childcare (thank you, once again, Mr. and Mrs. S!).

Dear Someone: Schrödinger’s Dachshund

Dear Someone,

I’m at my wits end. I was shopping a large supermarket 5 days ago, and as I was loading groceries a good friend, who has a darling dachshund, called to me. The dog was on a leash, but it loves me and my friend unleashed it to run and greet me. We chatted for about 5 minutes and then I finished loading and drove home.

Today I opened the van door and was overwhelmed by a stench. It was the dog, which had climbed into the van and probably gone to sleep. I think it starved to death. My friend had called me that day asking if I knew where the dog was, but I had no clue it was in the van and didn’t look. Should I let her know what happened, or just get the dog buried and let her think it ran away?

–Guilty Mom

Dear Guilty,

After weighing various considerations, including the emotional well-being of your friend, the possibility of canine depression, your reputation, and the potential repercussions of telling the truth, I must advise you to come clean immediately and confess to your unintentional dogslaughter. The deciding factor is this; you cannot keep a secret. A secret is a burden you accept to carry to your grave. Having typed out your account and sent it into the public sphere, this situation no longer qualifies as such. After all, my wildly successful blog has been known to receive as high as one hundred hits per day, at least twice, so you’re playing fast and loose with discretion. Additionally, I’m betting the dachshund community is a rather tight one. Finally, I foresee a counterproductive sense of guilt (not about the dog itself, who’s further insulted by the omission of “its” gender in your missive) tempting you to unburden yourself on close friends or subway passengers, so you’re clearly someone who personally benefits from closure, even if it further wounds the offended party.

I, myself, can keep a secret, but only if it’s a really big one. Luckily, my friends and family understand that they would need to practically hide a body to be allowed admittance into my Seinfeldian vault, so for the most part they wisely exclude me from their state secrets. If I was the owner of the malodorous van, I would have called my friend as soon as I opened the door, but I have to say that if the dog was a larger breed, perhaps a mastiff or retriever, I might have experienced a moment of hesitation. That, however, is just my own bigotry talking. So bite the bullet, suit up with Kevlar if you hail from the Lone Star State, and make the call. On the off chance that your friend becomes unhinged upon identifying the body, necessitating your hasty departure, you’ll want to have already transferred the remains to a (here it comes) doggie bag.

–Someone

Please send questions for Dear Someone to someonesintheoven@yahoo.com.

New Year’s Eve: Meh.

I’ve never been fond of New Year’s Eve. Save for one perfect celebration back in ’94 (the best of Providence’s short-lived First Nights), a string of failures had cemented my New Year’s cynicism by the time Mr. P and I joined forces, and he accepted that, like my love/try-to-hate relationship with cigarettes, some things are just part of this package. Until my mid-twenties, my self-imposed panic to secure plans and contingencies increased annually, yet I always wound up watching the 11PM Law & Order with my parents until I could no longer justify the wait, and would fall asleep irate and underwhelmed at quarter to midnight. In ’96, some confusion regarding a ridiculous “New Year’s Night” soiree ground my evening to a halt before it started. In ’98, half an hour into a delightful cocktail party at a childhood friend’s home, my obviously-uncomfortable tag-along chum developed a flash-migraine, so once again I found myself ringing in the new year an hour early with those familiar words: “in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups…”

Several factors in addition to chronic disappointment culminate in my aversion to the holiday. I have some specific issues with authority, so I bristle at the cultural direction to make resolutions; I’m doing things perfectly well, thank you. Then there’s that ball. I’ve always resented the famous orb for its ability to draw crowds of thousands with its promise of performing the most anticlimactic feat imaginable. The ball doesn’t even drop, it descends slowly, and just sits there once it reaches the bottom of its decline. The ball should start at the bottom, increase in speed on the way up, and at the stroke of midnight, it should blast straight off its scaffolding before exploding into fireworks or confetti. I still wouldn’t stay up to watch it, but at least I wouldn’t find it so infuriating.

My mission to ignore New Year’s Eve became less pleasant by the year, and then something wonderful happened. I had a baby, which is wonderful all by itself, but suddenly no one expected me to make it to midnight anymore. And just as Billy the Kid neared the age that would compromise my excuse, what do you know? Two more babies! A pair of free passes to early December 31st turn-ins for another two years!

It turns out that if I’m under no obligation to stay awake, New Year’s Eve is delightful. On Saturday, Mr. P and I paused halfway through the remake of Dawn of the Dead for a 9:30 PM champagne toast, and as I happily headed to bed an hour later, towards dreams of organizing rations and ammo during a zombie apocalypse, I stopped in to give my little monsters an extra tuck and whispers of thanks for my reasonable bedtime.

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