2018: Journal of a Malcontent

A Bathroom stall at a restaurant had chalkboard walls! How fun! A lot of people wrote declarations of eternal love and drew flowers. I offered a bit of levity.

A Bathroom stall at a restaurant had chalkboard walls! How fun! A lot of people wrote declarations of eternal love and drew flowers. I offered a bit of levity.

Thanksgiving is this week, and I’ve so much to be thankful for. Blah blah blah.

2018 was irritating. I am falling apart. Physically speaking, I mean. Instead of another saccharine Thanksgiving post (and truly – so much to be thankful for!), I’d like to share some of the crappier aspects of year 40.

I’ll be thankful on Thursday.

2018 in a nutshell …


An Ariana Grande song pops up on my carefully curated R.E.M. Pandora station. Later that same week, I find my Toad the Wet Sprocket CD, which had been missing since around 1997. So, January is pretty much a wash.


Five minutes into a flight from Miami, the man next to me spills his coffee, which ruins my book and seeps down the side of my seat, saturating the underside of my jeans. The man is very kind and full of remorse, but apologies don’t make my butt any less wet.


I have a calcium deposit in my rotator cuff. Every time I see the orthopedist, he reminds me that the deposit is the consistency of toothpaste. It feels like the consistency of glass, and an x-ray shows it has caused a tear in one of the tendons. The pain is excruciating. I make the bold decision to remove the calcium surgically because, quite frankly, I can’t take it anymore. And I have a high tolerance for pain. At least, that’s what I tell people to sound tough and cool.

The orthopedist sends me to get an MRI. My appointment is the last of the evening, and John encourages me to drive to the radiology clinic in his brand-new car, a standard VW GTI with heated seats. (Heated seats!) He even preheats the seats before I get into the car.

Halfway there, I decide the seats are a bit too warm, but it’s my first time in the car, and I don’t know where the seat-heater control is. Also, I’m shifting gears with my left hand because my right shoulder protests movement, and the whole ride is uncomfortable. I arrive at the radiologist flustered, having stalled the car about four times, and with a very sweaty back.

Except for radiology, all the offices within the medical building are closed, and the place is devoid of people. The facility’s wheelchairs are haphazardly strewn across the hall leading to the door of the radiologist. I weave through them, feeling like the guy who wakes up in the hospital after the zombie apocalypse has already begun.

The radiologist asks if there’s any metal in my body and what type of music would I like to listen to? I say no and classical, please. He gives me a headset, and a Muzak rendition of Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) plays on a loop for twenty-three minutes straight.

In the MRI tube, I spend my time devising the best means of escape in case of a zombie apocalypse, carefully considering whether-or-not the wheelchairs in front of the door will be a boon or a detriment in said situation.

I arrive home later with a sweaty back, proud I only stalled the car twice.


My shoulder surgery is put on indefinite hold when I lose my appendix.

One snowy April day in a Rochester, NY emergency department, I spend seven hours writhing in pain while puking into a Tupperware container. I implore the powers-that-be for pain medication stronger than Advil, which is the mediocre stuff they’ve been hawking. And remember – I have a high tolerance for pain.

They ignore me. A man walks in and has a seizure before he even registers his name, and they wheel him off on a gurney.

John says faking a seizure would not be a good idea.

My friend Kim thinks it could work.

Growing up, I thought appendicitis was a big deal, probably because of Madeline, the English orphan who not only lacked parents, but ended up lacking an appendix, too. That book contained a lot of hand-wringing.

My doctor is nonplussed about my rogue appendix. He sends me for an x-ray, determines my appendix is a grotesque size because of infection, and tells me I’m low on magnesium and need to absorb an IV bag full of it before my surgery, scheduled first thing the next morning.

They did finally give me morphine.

I don’t know if I should be on some sort of magnesium supplement. I probably should have asked.


I find out Chris Cornell died. I call John immediately.

Holly: Chris Cornell is dead.

John: Yeah, he died like a year ago.

Holly: No one told me.

John: …

To honor Chris Cornell, I create a playlist I call “The 90’s Angst Playlist” which contains some Pearl Jam, Fiona Apple, Stone Temple Pilots, the Pixies, Garbage, R.E.M., Soundgarden, and the entire The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. But no Nirvana. I always thought Nirvana was overrated. I tell this to John, and it causes an enormous rift in our marriage.


I find an unfamiliar shiny silver earring in John’s car. I confront him.

Holly: Whose, pray tell, IS THIS? Because it’s not mine.

(He examines it.)

John: This is a fishing lure.

(Long pause.)

Holly: Why on earth would anyone wear a fishing lure as an earring?

John: …


The kids are home for summer vacation. I work from home. These circumstances are not mutually conducive.

One week, the calendar indicates an ortho appointment, so I dutifully take my kids to get their braces tightened. The receptionist tells us we're not on the schedule. Turns out I had an appointment with the orthopedist, not orthodontist. (Because of my shoulder, which is still a problem.)

The whole month is horrible … just horrible.


We take the kids to the ocean! Within twenty-four hours, despite semi-frequent re-application of SPF 70, they become so sunburned it’s painful to even look at them. (Except for Ben, who’s brown as a biscuit and blonde as an albino. He’s really quite striking.) Caleb’s eyes are nearly swollen shut.

We go home a day early.


Ella throws a fit in the car, so I turn back to speak with her and end up rear-ending the lady in front of me. When I get home, I immediately submit a claim with my insurance company. Apparently, there were follow-up questions, and the insurance company called me several times during the day. But I ignore my home phone. I don’t know why we still have a landline. John and I argue about it.

John: In case of a global catastrophe, if cell phones don’t work, we’ll have a landline!

Holly: But none of our family or friends has a landline anymore, so who would we get a hold of? The police? If there's a catastrophe of global proportion, they’re not going to help us.

John: …

One day of ignoring Geico’s phone calls infuriates the husband of the woman whose car I hit, and HE SHOWS UP AT MY HOUSE. I’m not even kidding. I’m not home, so he talks with Danny, who didn’t realize I’d been in a car accident. The man leaves me a strange note accusing me of evading my responsibility and urging me to contact the insurance company RIGHT AWAY because his wife wants to get her car fixed ASAP. I understand that it’s challenging to drive around with a slightly dented rear bumper. But coming to my house? Confronting my children? I’m livid.


I fall in trouble with the law after I tell the husband of the woman whose car I hit that if he ever steps foot on my property again, I will cut his heart out with a spoon. Then I show him the spoon. Then I pepper-spray his face and run away, laughing maniacally.

I called this “defending my family.” The police called it “assault.” Whatever.


I fall down the stairs at my in-laws’ house and bruise or crack my tailbone – x-ray is inconclusive – and now I have to sit on a donut-shaped pillow all the time and ice my tailbone on a regular basis WHICH IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE, and my daughter, who runs without a filter, keeps telling people I broke my butt, and DEAR GOD WHEN WILL THIS YEAR END?


Here we are on the cusp of December. I'm sure it will be a fantastic month.

I'm not sure how to end this post.

Holly: I'm not sure how to end this sad, sad post.

John: Well, at least the Sabres are doing well. You should write that.

Holly: …

Odyssey of a Bucket Head

Daniel Bucket.JPG

There’s a scene in the 1989 film, Parenthood, where the three-year-old son of Steve Martin’s character puts a bucket on his head and butts it into the wall, repeatedly. Watching this tableau with barely disguised contempt is the kid’s uncle (played by Rick Moranis), who is also father to a precocious three-year-old daughter who can recite the periodic table of elements on command.

I don’t remember which child it was, or where we were exactly, but I vividly recall the alarm I felt when one of my own children donned a bucket and rammed it into his brother. Because when my younger, aspirational self imagined her future offspring, she pictured them as periodic-table types of offspring, not bucket-head types.

Yet, bucket heads I got.

I tried to spark their curiosity with Lego kits and slime recipes and subscriptions to National Geographic. I got them library cards. I suggested science camps. They shrugged and said they wanted to spend their summers “relaxing.”

“I don’t get it,” I complained. “You’re supposed to be using your free time pursuing knowledge. Now is the time to learn! Your developing brains are like sponges! This is the time to chase life’s big questions!”

“Oh, hey, I do have a question,” said one.

“Ask away!”

“Are you going to go grocery shopping this week? Because we’re, like, out of everything.”

Their apathy left me flummoxed.

“I don’t understand. Do you know how smart your father is? He was taking college courses and winning science fairs at your age! You think I married him for his looks? No! I married him because he’s smart, and I knew we’d probably have smart kids. What happened to you people?”

“Yeah, sounds like Dad was kind of a nerd. Let’s talk about YOU. What did YOU do over YOUR summers?”

“I uh, well, there was this bucket … oh, forget it. Who wants to watch Bob’s Burgers?”

Their impassivity quashed my hope; however, it was reignited when, at the beginning of the school year, Danny brought home a flyer for a club called “Odyssey of the Mind.”

I had a vague notion about the program, and after a bit of research, I decided the concept sounded promising: Odyssey of the Mind entails creative problem solving which develops skills in young people to help them thrive in our technical world. Daniel, I thought, would benefit from skills that would help him thrive in a technical world. He’s the only one, aside from myself, who doesn’t know how to turn on the television. (In our defense, multiple remotes and a long, confusing list of video inputs hinder our efforts.)

I dragged a suspicious Daniel to an informational meeting where we listened to soaring testimonies from parents and students who had, in years past, participated in Odyssey of the Mind. Daniel went from skeptical to intrigued, and my stupid, hopeful self thought, this is it! He’s going to do this, and SCIENCE! And he will win the Nobel Prize for ALL OF THE SCIENCE!

Blind optimism kept me from seeing what came next.

Odyssey of the Mind is run by parents, “coaches,” who host team meetings in their own homes. And our school district’s Odyssey of the Mind program suffers from a dearth of coaches.

It happened while watching a slideshow of happy children doing creative things. While the woman who runs the program was yammering on, I became aware of an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was that same feeling you get when an old friend contacts you out of the blue and says she was thinking of you, was wondering how you are, and asks what you’ve been up to. And you’re just so flattered by the attention, you naturally respond. And the two of you write back and forth, catching each other up on your lives, sharing amusing anecdotes about your children (And then, it was just sooo funny, he put a BUCKET on his head …) when things take a subtle turn. Your long-lost friend wants to tell you about the awesome new product she’s selling, and you listen quietly, feeling confused, then betrayed, then sad. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach combined with a traitorous desire to purchase moisturizer that promises to make you look five years younger.

That’s how I felt when it became clear that my kid wasn’t going to get on an Odyssey of the Mind team unless someone in the room stepped up as a coach. The informational meeting had turned into an aggressive plea for recruits, but despite their hard sell, no one was biting. I looked around at the other parents, who all wore the uncomfortable, resolute look of a person ready to say no.

I scanned the room, desperately seeking just one unwitting fool willing to host a team of eager, unruly, funky-smelling prepubescent boys in their own home on a weekly basis. And give them a snack. And organize all the materials and ideas and prepare them adequately for a competition in front of real-live judges. I needed just one enthusiastic, overachieving parent - the kind of parent who raises periodic-table type children. Because I had witnessed a spark in Danny’s eye, a curious spark I wanted to nurture and grow and send off into the world.

Or rather, I wanted someone else to nurture and grow it.

Just. One. Parent.

While I scanned the room, the evening took a second unexpected turn.

“Mom,” said Daniel, “this is something that we could do together.”

Oh, my stupid, stupid, weak, lovesick heart.

Five minutes later, I was the unwitting fool surrounded by parents expressing their effusive thanks while informing me of their child’s food allergies. And a couple of weeks later, I was the hapless leader doing her best to manage an enthusiastic group of eleven-year-old boys tasked with building a working car. A working vehicle that one of them must drive. A car that … runs. With wheels and stuff.

This is all easier said than done. Our first meetings have been exercises in futility. One child, clearly a periodic-table type, dismisses everyone else’s ideas as he draws a detailed picture of a vehicle that looks a lot like the Delorean in Back to the Future. One kid keeps venturing into my basement; I have no idea what he hopes to find there. One kid typed, “How do I get to the dark web?” into Google, and I think he may have helped crowdfund the assassination of a foreign leader. And Daniel – Daniel wants to take apart our lawnmower to get to the engine.

We have no idea what we’re doing.

But I’m learning, and I think things will get better. And there is a shiny, silver lining that feeds my hope and gives me the courage keep going. On days when we have our meetings, I feel like a good mom, and I think Daniel is happy. I’m pretty sure he’s happy, anyway.

It’s difficult to see his expression with that bucket on his head.

Go the F--k to Sleep: The Teenage Years

Go the F to sleepTeens.jpg

Your homework is done,
Dinner long over,
Siblings tucked away with nary a peep.
Time to turn off your music, your iPhone, your light,
Time to go the f—k to sleep.

The “last five minutes” of your video game
Is going on an hour.
You say you have stats to upkeep.
Let’s play a new game where I am the winner.
The game where you go the f-k to sleep.

Night is short, my sweet child,
And soon we shall wake.
At six, your alarm clock will beep.
Mommy wants but a half hour
All to herself
So please, go the f—k to sleep.

Your lunch has been made
Permission slip signed
A glass awaits me, merlot tall and deep.
Don’t you dare drink that coke
It has loads of caffeine
How will you ever go the f—k to sleep?

Mommy and Daddy have not been
Alone in forever.
Look, your poor father may weep!
You never think of anyone
Other than yourself.
You never just go the f—k to sleep.

Are you seriously starting
A fresh load of laundry?
Look – stars are out,
Crickets, they cheep!
I don’t care if your hoodie
Smells like a butt.
F—king wear something else
And go to sleep.

You’re comfy in bed
Covered in blankets
Your energy finally replete.
Well look who’s suddenly
Taken an interest in Hemingway.
How about taking an interest in going. The f—k. To sleep.

Midnight approaches
As you slip out your door
Downstairs, slowly you creep.
Backpack in hand, your homework’s not done.
F—k it. I’m done. I’m going to sleep.

How I Spent My 40th Birthday

2017: Holly and the Sports Bra turn 40.

With aging comes self-discovery. In the past year, I discovered that I am the type of person who is a bit anxious about her impending middle age and all that comes with it. The "all that comes with it" includes but is not limited to: gray hair, people calling me ma’am, the sudden inability to digest lactose, and that unsettling moment my husband said we shouldn’t have more kids because I have (and this is a direct quote) “old-ass eggs."

My anxiety surrounding my 40th birthday has spurred a lot of conversations like the following:

Holly: Marlon Brando was 40 once.

John: So?

Holly: Now Marlon Brando is dead.

John looks perplexed despite Holly’s sound logic.

(In other news: watched The Godfather for the first time this past week. Perfectly plotted film. Very short on laughs.)

Yesterday, my birthday arrived without a whole lot of fanfare. The husband and I had decided to take the kids to see a movie that morning. We trudged through the wintry tundra to the theater, where we stood in a longer-than-expected line for the 10:15 am showing of Jumanji. We were shocked to hear that the theater was mostly full and that the six of us would not be able to sit together. This made me sad.

I conveyed this information to the ticket agent:

Holly: It’s my birthday. My 40th birthday. I just wanted to sit and watch The Rock and Kevin Hart banter while sitting with my family on this cold and snowy day. Now I can’t, and I feel sad.

Ticket agent: I’m so sorry- there’s nothing I can do.

Holly: Well, you could AT LEAST say happy birthday and then tell me that I don’t look old enough to be 40.

Holly gives ticket agent a toothy grin. The character of Holly is an old lady, but still has a full set of teeth.

Ticket agent breaks into a smile.

Ticket agent: Oh you don’t! You really don’t! You look WAAAY younger than 40!

Ladies and gentleman, that was the incredible moment when I realized how I could best spend my birthday: by demanding that everyone whose path I crossed that day wish me a happy 40th, and by insisting they tell me I looked far too youthful to be 40. I would have fanfare. I would stoke my own ego by forcing others to pander to my insecurity. I would embarrass my children, a happy byproduct of all the fanfare.

As John finished purchasing our tickets, I demanded that the people in line behind us wish me a happy birthday and tell me how young I looked. Then I announced that in honor of my birthday, all 10:15 am Jumanji tickets were on me!

“But there are no more tickets…” said the ticket agent.

“Rats,” I said.

The line people did not seem sorry to see me leave.

We watched Jumanji. (Dwayne Johnson is no Marlon Brando, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is yet another example of a perfectly plotted film.)

After the movie, we stopped by Home Depot for a new shovel and some clearance Christmas lights. The man stocking the lights and the cashier both happily wished me a happy birthday and feigned astonishment at my age. I garnered similar responses from the kid who made our pizza at Salvatore’s and his cohort, kid #2. 

My younger sister came by later that afternoon to babysit so that John could whisk me away to a nice hotel to celebrate the fact that I was one year closer to death. Upon leaving, I might have screamed at my sister incoherently about her youth, my lack of youth, something about crow’s feet, and what she could feed the kids for dinner. “EAT THE LEFTOVER HAM! WE HAVE SO MUCH HAM! I’M 40!”

We checked in at the hotel, and I informed the staff of my age and maniacally demanded a response. I think that was when John decided I should not be around people anymore. So, we retired to our room to watch Game of Thrones. (He watched Game of Thrones. I occasionally interrupted in between naps to ponder whether I’d rather have a dragon or a direwolf, to accidentally reveal a major plot point I’d read on the internet, and to marvel at Cersei’s cheekbones.) I snoozed on and off until dinner time because that’s what 40-year old mothers do when they get away with their significant others. They nap. Then they eat and drink and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

At 7:00, we ventured to the hotel restaurant where I ordered the scallops, which were set dramatically atop beet puree, served with king trumpet mushrooms, wilted spinach, and something that was described as “emulsified”. It was almost as good as the Salvatore’s pizza I ate earlier that day. As we ate, John noted that the waitstaff seemed to be making a big deal out of one of the men seated behind us.

“It takes a lot of confidence to wear a hat like that,” John said of the man. “I think he might be famous.”

So, I turned around and had a gander.

“I think that’s Garth Fagan,” I whispered. After a furtive google image search, we confirmed the identity of Mr. Fagan and, admittedly, I became a little giddy.

The great city of Rochester is tall on snow, short on celebrities. We have, like, three of them. There’s the guy from Foreigner, Olympic soccer star Abby Wambach, and famed choreographer Garth Fagan. If one happens to come across any of these three, one naturally feels compelled to introduce oneself.

I wanted to introduce myself. But what could I possibly say to Garth Fagan? What intelligent words could I emit that would a) make up for interrupting his dinner and b) endear myself to him forever? These were my ideas:

I loved your work in The Lion King! (I’d never seen The Lion King, and I didn’t want to start out our budding friendship with a lie.)

You are such an asset to our community! (Horrible. Just horrible.)

My daughter takes dance. You should meet her. You’d like her! I always thought she’d make an excellent gazelle in The Lion King. Or hyena. We’re not picky. Here’s her headshot. (Better… a little weak, a little desperate, but coherent.)

Hey Garth Fagan. It’s my birthday. I’m 40. Do you think I look 40? Do you? Do you? DO YOU?


Our families are skiing together next week. Great 40th birthday.

I would totally share the selfie I took of us, but you can see my crow’s feet, so you’ll have to take my word that the events I have shared happened in the way I have described.*

*I did not converse with Mr. Fagan. He was spotted, but not approached. If it had been Lou Gramm, though, I would’ve definitely walked up to him. I imagine the exchange would have gone something like this:

Holly: Hello Lou Gramm. It’s my birthday. I’m 40. Do you think I look 40?

Lou Gramm: You know, I’ve been waiting for a girl like you…

Holly: I’m taken.

And scene.