Saturday, March 31, 2012

Taxes Schmaxes

It's that time of year
politicians fear.
Let's make things clear:
Tax Day draws near.

"Quit the delay!"
That's what I say.
The sky is gray,
perfect for filing today.

It may seem like a racket.
Yet if you learn terms like income bracket,
you will be able to hack it
when you receive your 1040 packet.

Interest, carryover, dividends. A sage
is needed to take center stage
to compute deductions, gifts, and my measly wage.
But why do I find page after page after page?

Choose H&R Block
or an accountant. Tick tock
goes the clock
toward April 17. Fuck!

I haven't even begun,
let alone get done.
It's just no fun.
I'd rather wear a scuba tank to go for a run.

I used to do estimated
when my finances were complicated
and, oh, so sophisticated.
But now funds have dissipated.

So it almost seems absurd,
really the craziest thing I've heard.
Just you mark my word.
Anyhoo, I rest assured

of my civic duty when
Founding Father Ben --
representative of men --
wrote in a letter by pen:

"[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain,
except death and taxes."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sometimes I Get a Changing Feeling

The fact that it was like 85 degrees in northeastern Massachusetts in March automatically made it an epic day. But, oh, that doesn't begin to describe HOW epic. 

I headed into Brookline in the morning for my semi-annual skin checkup. These appointments at the dermatologist's office always cause me a little anxiety because my mother died of skin cancer, and I am very fair. I spent my childhood all the way through my college summers in various shades of red (sunburn, that is) -- whether at a beach club in my hometown, a sleepaway camp in Maine, or a club I worked at as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. And my nose? It peeled constantly. I should have a completely bare bone for a proboscis right now.

Without going into detail about my condition, let's just say that I've had countless spots treated since I started getting checked the year after my mother passed on. They've been sprayed, sliced away, biopsied, or removed surgically in a hospital. The fact is: I simply cannot leave an appointment without something having been done to me. It's been this way for as long as I can remember.

So when I got out of there a few days ago after only a handful or so of sprayings, I was downright elated. It had been a full year since I had missed my previous appointment.

Sometimes I get a happy feeling. 

To celebrate, I drove over to Harvard Square and treated myself to my favorite dark chocolate drink at L.A. Burdick. Then I photographed it with my iPhone and posted it to my Facebook page. Okay, the chocolate servers helped me as I had never done that before. But I felt satisfied at the small achievement and confident I would be able to do it again without assistance.

Sometimes I get a proud feeling.

Back in the car, bopping out to Flo Rida's infectious "Good Feeling," I missed the exit for 128N that I have taken a billion times. Argh. Turned myself around and next missed the exit to my favorite store! How odd. What was wrong with me?

Sometimes I get an unbalanced feeling.

Having just received my dividend in the mail on purchases made the previous year, I was psyched to spend it on new clothes for the unseasonable heat. First I collected a number of shirts and shorts to try on. Then I made my way over to the cap display in the rear of the store. The need to protect my face from the harsh rays of the sun was foremost on my mind.

I was determined to find a cute cap for the beach and walking around town. I've never been a cap person, but I suspect that's going to change. While rummaging through the store's stock, I found a tan topper with an interesting detail: a double-strung brown leather cord holding a rectangular metal piece. I liked the looks of the cap -- simple with a twist -- and it would go with most anything because tan is versatile. So I tried it on and asked a salesman walking by what he thought. He gave it the thumbs up.

At that moment, a man appeared around the corner with a smelly, dirty dog in tow. I'd never seen anyone in this store with a service dog, so the encounter took me slightly aback. "Ask her what she thinks of the cap," the man said to me, gesturing toward his dog. A strange request, but I decided to play along. "What do you think of this cap?" I asked the golden retriever a bit foolishly. She approached me, nuzzled my leg and the edge of my shorts, then wagged her tail. "She likes it!" the man exclaimed delightedly. "I'm so glad you approve," I told the dog.

As I turned toward the display to look for caps I might have missed, the man walked passed me and rounded the corner. I thought he had moved along. Yet when I came around that side, I found him touching the clothes in my cart. He was lifting a pair of dark green shorts I had partially draped over my open purse, thus exposing its contents. I was stunned. Had I caught this man about to steal from me? If not that, he was at least handling the clothes I had just picked out and planned to try on. Either way, I didn't like it.

Sometimes I get an uncomfortable feeling.

"That's my stuff," I said in the nicest tone of voice I could muster under the circumstances. "Oh," he responded, not a bit surprised, embarrassed, or apologetic. Since no one else was near us in this far section of the store at the time, I found it hard to believe that he couldn't guess the cart was mine. "Where did you get it?" he asked me about my clothing collection. "Um, the women's department," I replied, matter of factly. I resisted the urge to use sarcasm as the situation already felt disturbing, and I did not care to anger the man. "I have six older sisters," he added by way of explaining his interest in this woman's clothing.

Then he walked off and -- as is usually my luck when I need a salesperson -- I couldn't find one. Some minutes later I spotted the employee who'd given me the thumbs up outside the fitting rooms. I relayed the incident to him, expressing my discomfort. He apologized, and later a second employee who had been informed by the first did as well. I thanked them both for their concern and assured them I'd return to shop there again.

Driving back to my town, I felt nearly violated. Ever since two thefts occurred on my property a couple of years ago, I am attuned to recognizing the feeling. Nevertheless, I tried to shake it off with compassion. That's because the salesmen told me that the man with the service dog comes into the store regularly and engages customers in conversation. They did not know of him ever touching other people's belongings, however. That appeared to be a first. Hearing this, my heart sunk as I imagined that this man, who perhaps suffers from mental illness, frequents the store for company and to stave off loneliness.

Sometimes I get a conflicted feeling.

I picked my sons up at school at the appointed time, and within an hour we were at the beach. At last, I thought, I could relax. The late afternoon was lovely by the ocean. The sun was hot, but my face was shielded by my new tan cap. Fantastic. Hours passed, and we ended up staying for dinner. Charlie had a fit in the sand near the roadway because the pizza arrived with no pepperoni on top. He hadn't made it clear he wanted pepperoni, so his tantrum was not justified. But it's not as if I had never seen this behavior before! I was just grateful the display was not directly in front of the large group of beachgoers from town whom I know.

So there I was innocently eating my pizza with artichokes (Chris's choice) when, speak of the devil, a voice cried out a short distance away: "Christopher is trapped in the sand!"

Sometimes I get a scared feeling.

I ran over to a large hole and found my older son and a second-grade friend buried to the top of their legs standing up. Chris couldn't move his lower limbs, and he wanted out of the hole. That was certain. Yet part of him clearly enjoyed the attention because he was laughing. A bunch of boys and girls standing around the hole were also laughing.

Only two people could dig the sand away from the boys' legs because the group had only two shovels -- the same two shovels used to create the hole. Christopher's friend was released first. I made one attempt to pull my son out, but I wasn't strong enough. He weighs eight-five pounds, and his legs were still pinned. Having hurt my back not much more than a year ago, I was worried about getting reinjured. So I approached the group of adults enjoying dinner and cocktails and zeroed in on the largest man. I recruited him to help free Christopher. And with one big heave-ho, the task was done.

Sometimes I get a relieved feeling.

Chris came out of the hole in a mixed state -- alternately giddy from excitement and mad about being buried. What happened is this, according to Chris: He and four or five boys and girls jumped in the hole dug by two other boys. Using my son and his friend as ladders, the kids climbed out. Then a bunch of girls older than Chris but still in elementary school started kicking sand into the hole until the boys's legs were buried.

As Christopher's mother, I found the experience a bit jarring. Was it all in good fun? Or was it bullying? As I watched one of the girls snicker during the rescue, I tend to think it was closer to the latter.

Sometimes I get a protective feeling.

Have you had an epic day lately? What happened?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hunter-Downer Mom

My name is Shelby S., and I am a hunter downer.

What's that? Good question. It is a person who conducts a massive search with the whole family in tow every time his or her child loses a belonging. Sound a little over the top? Perhaps. But it's the reason why I have been able to hold onto most of my boys' stuff without having to spend money on replacements.

Single mothers like me can't afford to keep buying backup winter accessories, school supplies, and the like. We must be pragmatic by doing all we can to retrieve what's rightfully ours. I remember discussing this topic with a well-off married mother in my town. "Ugh," she said. "I can't be bothered to hunt down that crap. We just grab another pair of our own gloves or whatever." Indeed, the foyer to their home was stocked with children's gear aplenty.

Nonetheless I have a sneaking suspicion I would be a hunter downer regardless of my income. It's just the way I am. At first, I am annoyed at my son's carelessness. But when I stop to think about it, I realize I am excited about the challenge. I smell it, and I savor it like Prince Charles pursuing a fox on The Duke of Beaufort's Hunt.

Where's my scarlet coat?!

Everybody knows little boys are careless. My oldest certainly is. He would forget his floppy red hair if it wasn't growing out of his scalp. At school pickup every day, I have to consciously check that he has all his belongings. "Christopher, where is your jacket?" Scrunched up in his backpack. "Hat and gloves?" In the side pockets. No . . . wait! Only one glove is there. "Come on, Christopher! Not again. All right, back to the school. You, too, Charlie." The moaning and whining ensues, but it is a futile attempt because the boys know all too well it's a hopeless cause trying to argue with Hunter-Downer Mom when she is on a mission.

Full disclosure: I am an excellent hunter downer.

I have managed to find nearly every misplaced item since my second-grader was in preschool. I can vividly recall the year my son's hat went missing from his cubby hole the last day of winter. I kid you not. Why is it always the last day, or the first day? The black fleece hat from REI has a red, white, and blue tassel sprouting off the top and thirteen colorful world flags extending along its bottom edge. It is very cool-looking and gives the impression the wearer is worldly. In actuality, Christopher has never left the country. Yet he does possess a wide knowledge of the world for a child his age, thanks to hearing about current events from his news-junkie mother and stories she's told him from her extensive foreign travels.

Back to the preschool. I rummaged through my son's backpack. Then I poked around in other kids' cubby holes. Top to bottom I searched the place, including the "bike side" -- a paved play area for basketball and kids' vehicles -- as well as the yard on the other side of the house/school. I talked to the director, the second in charge, and the teachers on duty that day. Could any of them recall where Christopher might have left his hat?


Convinced another child mistakenly took it home, I pulled out pen and paper and drew up a sign. Okay, confession, a Missing Hat Poster. No, no, no, I know what you're thinking. I did NOT make it on poster board, just a piece of notebook paper. Yes, I can be a little intense sometimes, but I'm not a lunatic, for Pete's sake! It turned out to be a pretty good rendition, if I say so myself. In fact, I liked it so much that I have kept it all these years. Anyway, I thumbtacked it to the school bulletin board and waited for the calls about sightings to come pouring in. (Joke.)

Waiting, waiting. Still waiting! No calls.

Long story short, I got the hat back and now my younger son looks like he just stepped off the Milford Track in New Zealand. Terrific. Time to add one more tiny detail: I hunted that thing down with the best of my abilities. However, it didn't show up anywhere I expected. Embarrassment alert: I discovered it in my house . . . my messy house. I guess the hat didn't make it to school that day after all.

Oops. Someone else seems to also be forgetful.

No matter, you see my point. It pays (or, rather, keeps you from paying) to be a hunter downer. In the past few years, I have retrieved single gloves, a pair of gloves, a single mitten, a pair of mittens, a couple of hats, a sweatshirt, a school folder, winter boots, a tee ball mitt, a beach shovel, and a lunch box. Lots of successes and very few failures, including a bathing suit, a pair of cleats, and a Batman-themed glove. I blame myself for the last of these because I couldn't lead an investigation the day it disappeared. We had something going on that afternoon -- probably a sports clinic -- and I get charged for those as well. Let's see: a glove I got for free from the preschool director vs. a sports clinic.

Easy decision.

A couple of months ago, my younger son -- who is becoming an eager and clever hunter downer in his own right -- and I tracked down his "Toy Story" backpack one Saturday at 7 a.m. We had to act at that ungodly hour since his basketball clinic started at 8, and I was not about to let him skip it. We scoured every square inch of the grounds behind the school, believing he had slipped off the pack after dismissal the day before to play with a classmate on the sports field. It was not there. Then Charlie thought to look on the windowsill outside his classroom, and that's where we found it.

Another day the quest resulted in an awesome trifecta: a search of the same outdoor area just as it was getting dark, providing a bonus The Amazing Race sort of challenge (flashlights not included); a find of Christopher's glove on the floor right in front of his locker; and an after-school enrichment activity not sacrificed. Christopher was taking his jazz/hip hop class at the time. I hate waiting around at the Y with boisterous Charlie, so this hunt gave us something to do.

Late breaking news: Against all odds, part of the missing Batman-themed glove turned up today, of all days, after being gone for at least two months! Hunter-Downer-In-Training Charlie spotted it in the grass next to the side bushes behind the school while playing with friends after kindergarten early dismissal. "Mommy, Mommy," he cried, running toward me. "You're not going to believe what I just found!" He opened his fist. Inside was the crumpled and torn pinkie and ring-finger section of the right glove. It looked like an animal attacked it, or a pair of scissors.

Useless yet fabulous. It's just this kind of incredible stroke of synchronicity that makes me feel truly connected to the universe.

I think I want to be a detective when I grow up.

Are you a hunter-downer parent? What are some of your finds?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cupid's Trick

What does it mean to run into your last boyfriend on Valentine's Day?

I wish I could say I am asking this question hypothetically, as an experiment, or a kind of masochistic curiosity. Unfortunately, I want to know because this actually happened to me last month, and I have been pondering it ever since.

It sounds like a plot point out of a predictable rom-com. Too staged, too forced, too unrealistic. But there A was racing through Trader Joe's with five items in his cart and one in his mouth. Typical. He wore tight workout clothes that showed off his impressive forty-nine-year-old physique. Typical. He probably just came from yoga, and he's probably slept with or is still sleeping with his instructor and/or a student/s. The bastard. His head of hair was still gorgeous: full, thick, and curly. Indeed, A's the only man I've ever been attracted to in the flesh with gray -- no, it really is silver -- hair.

Aside from the clothes, he looked just as I remember from exactly a year earlier when we met at a Thai restaurant for dinner before taking in a showing of The King's Speech. I had bought a sparkly blouse for the occasion. When we came out of the theater, the sky opened up into torrential rains and gusting winds. We made a mad dash to our cars, deciding at his suggestion to say goodnight then and there because we would be seeing one another the next morning. As I followed A to the highway, he continued on in a surprising direction, which made me wonder if he was going to see another woman that Valentine's Day night instead of heading straight home. I tried to shake off the tinge of insecurity, reminding myself that I would be with him again in less than twelve hours. And I was. Yet being left with a question in my mind put a damper on an otherwise lovely holiday evening. Shame on you, A! Little did I know at the time that after three months it would be our last date.

A broke up with me eight days after Valentine's Day.

He cited one of the usual reasons -- the reasons that I, as an older single mother by choice -- have become all too unwillingly familiar with: My children are too young. Plain and simple. Though his, being fourteen and eleven at the time, were not a great deal older than mine at seven and nearly five, A was not interested in having a long-term relationship with a woman whose kids were younger than his.

Period. End of story.

During our drawn-out breakup, which took place over two phone calls and one emotional tete a tete, many issues were discussed. Yet the fact remains: He always had a great time in my presence. However, he reverted back to his overanalytical ways after our dates ended, his mind landing on the child problem and being unable to get past it. I encouraged him to live in the moment; he couldn't get out of his head. That was pretty much the roadblock in a pistachio nutshell.

As we sat at his kitchen table breaking up one Friday morning, A said he believed we could be good friends after some months had passed. I didn't know what to make of that statement at the time and, frankly, I still don't. Like most other women, I have heard the cliched line "I just want to be friends" many times before. But that is not what ends up transpiring in my experience. Too many hurt feelings, too much water under the bridge.

Did A want to be my friend? Or merely cushion the blow he'd dealt me?

I have run into him since the breakup, though only once that I can say for sure. Not long after my toilet caused an indoor flood late last May, I bumped into A outside Starbucks. He was in a hurry, of course, and wearing his workout clothes, of course. Banging someone from class again! (My mind always conjures up the worst-case scenario.) Nevertheless, he seemed really happy to see me and, dare I say, attracted to me despite my glasses and Sourpuss demeanor on account of the flood. We chatted briefly, mostly about my misfortune and not at all about someday becoming friends. As we parted, I did not look back at him.

In the late fall, my sons and I were making our way through REI to the boys's winter-jacket section in the back. My older son heard a man's voice say rather softly, "Hi, Shelby." He turned but did not see the man amid all the clothing racks. By the time Christopher told me, I could not find the owner of the voice either. I suspect it was A. He shops at REI, and he did not want to meet my sons during the time we dated. Since I was in their company, he would have chosen -- as this man did -- to remain hidden. I can't think of another man I know who, upon recognizing me, would split rather than show his face.

So that brings me up to Valentine's Day 2012 when I bumped into A at Trader Joe's. Again he acted pleased to see me. I mean, a little overly pleased as before. In fact, the same amount of pleased as when we were dating. Does he miss me? Is he sorry he broke up with me? Does he want me to contact him to initiate that "friendship"? As we briefly caught up on each others' lives, he noticed my full cart. Well, of course, it was full. I have two growing sons. Then he spotted the flowers in the cart and said, "Oh." I believe he was making an assumption that I was cooking dinner for a boyfriend and putting flowers on the table. In actuality, only the latter was correct. For his part, there was no indication based on his cart contents that he had any plans that lovebird holiday night.

I am a very perceptive person but slow on the uptake, especially when it comes to reading cues from men. So after he left the store, typical, I wondered if I should have made it clear that the flowers weren't what they looked like. On the other hand, I can't deny deriving some pleasure at having caused him to believe I had a hot date this Valentine's Day.

I was so hurt, angry, and stunned when he dumped me. "Pulled the rug out from under me" is how I describe being jerked around by him. The breakup came too soon, before we even got to spring and could try out warm-weather sports together. We were on the cusp of taking the relationship to a deeper level, but he decided not to go there.

Well, I decided not to go "there" (friendship) in return. It took me a long time to get over A because I liked him very much. In fact, I had told him I was "crazy" about him. In the end, I felt he had not been honest with me in the relationship. And if there is one thing that turns me off, it is dishonesty.

So perhaps I am answering my own question. All I know is: since running into A on Valentine's Day, I am reconsidering my decision not to be his friend or -- since I don't know if he was just feeding me a line -- my decision not to ask for further clarification.

Why does this business of the heart have to be so confounding? Why did I run into him -- the first time in nearly nine months -- on Valentine's Day of all days? Was it for the purpose of telling me we could have a future? Or should strike up that friendship? Or, perhaps, to stick it to A by giving him the false impression that I am taken? Maybe the chance meeting occurred so that he could feel some regret for his actions.

Oh, Cupid, why are you playing this trick on me?

Have you run into an old flame at an importune time? How did it make you feel?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dreams of an Eight Year Old

Like most boys his age, my son Christopher has an active imagination that often takes shape while he sleeps. Here is a collection of his most recent dreams in his own words:

(Adventure) "My family was flying in a small cargo plane. We were the only passengers, but the plane was carrying a load of bees destined for China. The plane was flying nonstop to Beijing. Over Tokyo, we jumped out wearing parachutes. We landed in the center of the city. We stayed in Tokyo for two weeks then flew back in a different cargo plane, also nonstop. Again we jumped out but this time over the runway in Boston. The plane was going to London to deliver Chinese tea and art. As we landed on the runway, a jet came speeding toward us. We ducked in fear. Luckily, the jet took off just before reaching us. So it flew right above our heads. I felt relieved."

(Fright) "A  preschooler with long, brown hair who I didn't know came to my second-grade class on Halloween dressed as a clown. The next day, still in her clown suit, she chopped down a seventy-foot oak tree with an axe near my classroom. The tree crushed the room with everyone in it. Everyone including me screamed. We were studying social studies at the time. I went up to her and asked why she chopped down the tree. She said she didn't know what to wear that day. She was wearing a clown suit because it had so many colors. Whatever shade of red the blood was would be the color she would wear. But since no one was hurt, there was no blood. So she still didn't know what color red to wear. I felt grateful to wake up." 

(Teamwork) "Charlie and I were walking down a rocky path  when we saw a monster coming. It was tall and brown, and it had big claws, red eyes, and not much hair. It didn't make any noise. I wasn't scared, but my little brother was.  Bottles of chocolate and strawberry syrup were on the path, so we picked them up and started squirting the monster. It did not get angry, but it was surprised to be squirted. When we ran out of syrup, we started climbing the monster's body. I climbed up to its eye and poked it in the eye with my finger. Then Charlie climbed up to its head and pulled what little hair it had. I climbed down one arm and pinched the monster's wrist while Charlie climbed down the other arm and bit its hand. The monster exploded, throwing us onto the path. We were not hurt, so we kept walking. I felt brotherly love."

(Empowerment) "I was at the ski area we went to over winter vacation. At the top of the mountain, two teenage snowboarders near the chairlift came over to me. One of them said: "Looks like somebody is going down the mountain with broken bones." Then he pushed me hard down onto the snow. That made me mad. I was not going to be bullied, so I kicked him hard with one of my skis. Both he and his friend, who was standing behind him, lost their balance and fell backward down the mountain. I felt victorious."

(Gratification) "I was at school, and my class was going  to the book fair in the lobby. When I got there, I started looking for the Captain Underpants books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But there were no books for sale. All of them were locked inside display cases. I wondered why the school would have a book fair with no books for sale. So a friend and I went over to a lady at the cash register and asked her why there were no books for sale. She told us there was a horseshoe at the end of the hallway signed by Jeff Kinney, the author of the Wimpy Kid series. So my friend and I ran down the hallway. Suddenly, it turned into a steep hill. We had trouble getting down the wet grass, but we reached the end and got the horseshoe. I felt happy."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spa Lust

Life with my two boys
as a single mother by choice
is hardly a cakewalk.
Listen closely as I talk:

There's the lack of a father,
an overworked mother,
the needing to stay well,
the days that feel like hell.

I don't go out at night,
can't afford a social life.
The house looks like a wreck.
Got no man, yet want to neck.

I worry about staying alive,
leaving behind a child still five.
It's always time to shop for food.
My fitness level is no good.

When do I get a break?
Well, at least there's no earthquake!
Friends just returned from Sundance, Florida,
an Eastern Caribbean cruise, Costa Rica.

We did go skiing, and it was great.
I feel bad complaining, just need to sate
my need for quiet alone time.
Is that such a crime?

I get it when the boys are at school.
I embrace the peace and refuel
by making a sincere attempt
to eat healthy, walk, look less unkempt.

As the winter's been mild,
I'm not desperate to go wild
at Club Med on Spring Break like childless years.
Will I regret this decision? Shed some tears?

Vacation funds anyway were already spent
trying to land a literary agent
at a writing conference on the West Coast
as book publication is what I want most.

I love my boys dearly.
They are my life, quite clearly.
But can someone give me a coupon to a spa?
Please. That's all I might need, this poor Mama.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Masters of the Obvious

I know I'm an open book when strangers comment about my appearance, my actions, and my child's behavior. I'm just not sure which book.

While on vacation in New Hampshire last week, a woman whom I had never met greeted me with, I kid you not, "You look exhausted!" I had just walked into the child-care room at a ski area to drop off younger son Charlie so that older son Christopher and I could have a little one-on-one slope time. As it turned out, I had spoken to her over the phone two days earlier. Yet she didn't know that yet because she didn't know who I was. She was just speaking off the cuff.

Another woman might have taken silent (or not so silent) offense at such a statement. After all, it could have been an insult. What . . . do I have bags under my eyes? Are my lids heavy? My gait sluggish?

But I chose to ignore the negative interpretation and, instead, view the observation as validation of how I felt at the time. Indeed, I was exhausted, having spent a sleepless night listening to mysterious slamming noises from the person next door, a snowcat grooming the mountain outside my window, and a Zamboni heading to the ice rink at the crack of dawn. Surely, I looked the way I felt. Rude Lady was only speaking the truth.

Two days later a woman directing traffic in the five-minute skier dropoff zone saw me coming on foot again and chirped, "You have been back and forth so many times today!" Her cheery tone suggested that I might actually enjoy lugging skis and boots for two people, poles for one, and a clothing bag for three repeatedly to and from my car. I tried to return her good nature with a smile, but it was definitely forced. Here's what I wanted to say: "Damn resort meal plan! Having to go back down the road to pick up the friggin boxed lunch or sit down to the buffet in the middle of the day while we are trying to ski. Where's my $&@!#% husband when I need him to help me carry all this s***?! Oh, yeah, silly me. I don't have a husband. Well, I could really use one about now. I hate having to do everything myself all the time!"

Neon Yellow Vest had no clue about my nasty thoughts. She was just trying to be upbeat, trying to offer me a verbal smiley-face cupcake.

Yet another day my sons and I were in Dunkin Donuts celebrating the last day of our town's basketball clinics. As usual, Charlie began to act up. He was getting in Christopher's face and invading his space. Before long napkins were flying, and Red's chocolate-milk bottle top sailed off the end of the table like a shrunken Frisbee. "Charlie, please pick them up!" I implored. "Other people want to sit here, and you've made a mess." I try to appeal to my five year old's sense of empathy. Oops, forgot. He doesn't appear to have any.

"Impulse control," I heard a woman at the next table say. "Your son has trouble with impulse control."

A million thoughts raced through my mind: Oh, puh-leez, can't we just enjoy a bagel and a few munchkins without some busybody butting in? Who is this person who thinks she knows my son? Am I about to be criticized for my inability to control Charlie's behavior? How should little old Christian Science-bred me respond to what sounded like psychological jargon? Charlie, I am so angry with you right now for embarrassing me YET AGAIN by causing YET ANOTHER scene in public!

Argh. Make that double argh.

"I know all about problems with impulse control," she went on. "My husband has them and his daughters, too." The man sitting with her, presumably said husband, nodded in agreement.

She kept talking and talking and talking. Then a funny thing happened: I had an epiphany. A stranger's observations coming completely out of the blue made me take notice in a way I had not before. Chatty Cathy might actually be onto something, I realized.

I'm quite certain this was not the first time I'd heard the term mentioned in relation to my son. A couple of my friends have boys capable of the same sort of rash, instinctive behavior as Charlie. We have commiserated many, many times along the lines of, "Wait till you hear what X did last night!" The sharing of wild stories about over-the-top behavior, socially unacceptable aggression, and other inappropriate conduct can be a source of amazement and amusement, bonding and catharsis. It has been suggested that Charlie be put in more activities to properly direct his energy. Comments have been made that he is a macho little guy, one who will grow up to be typically male, i.e. primarily physical rather than verbally expressive. (Christopher, by contrast, possesses many more feminine qualities.)

Charlie's sixth-year pediatrician appointment is looming later this month. As I did last year, I will tell the doctor all about his behavior. Previously, Blondie has been labeled on the rambunctious side of average. However, thanks to Chatty Cathy, I will use the phrase "impulse control" when I speak to her. As much as I want answers, I do fear a diagnosis like ADHD. I know ADHD is common, but I do not want to have to medicate my kindergartener. Even if I hadn't grown up in a religion that shuns medicine, I am convinced I would feel the very same way because I have a natural aversion to putting medicinal substances into my body. No question I would feel this even more for my young child.

As if I hadn't very recently been put on notice about appearing tired, yesterday a barista at Starbucks asked if I'd like an extra shot of espresso in my drink. Seriously. I'd been to the shop countless times before and never been posed this question. So my immediate response was one of paranoia: "Do I look like I need an extra shot?" I retorted. Caffeine Pusher mumbled an apology of sorts. Now I'd made him embarrassed.

Maybe it's time to start wearing makeup.

How do you respond to unwanted comments from strangers?