You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning

Celia Rivenbark

St. Martin's Press

YOU CAN’T DRINK ALL DAY IF YOU DON’T START IN THE MORNING.

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TB or Not TB: Perfect Attendance Nuts Don’t Care

It doesn’t win me any points with the other mommies, but I tend to loudly yell “Booooooo!” and make lots of exaggerated thumbs-down gestures whenever a kid skips up to the stage to receive a perfect attendance certificate at the end of the school year.

Sure, it’s a little unorthodox—some might even say rude—but I don’t think it’s any ruder than risking everybody else’s health just so you can get a stupid fill-in-the-blank award certificate from Office Depot. You know what our little family got for your kid’s perfect attendance? The month of March with a scaly rash and violently unpredictable diarrhea.

Well. You asked.

Perfect attendance awards are usually presented at that tasty combo platter that is the year-end assembly, awards presentation, fifth-grade graduation, and nacho bar. It gores my ox every single year. Hence the booing.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked my fitness-freak mommie friend. I try not to hate her because she always arrives breathless from something called spinning class. For the longest time, I thought she was doing something with yarn but then I found out there’s actually a class where all you do is sit in a room and ride a bike that doesn’t go anywhere. You need a class for that? How about breathing in and out? Need a class for that, too?

Fitness mommie was pissed at me. She would need to do a few dozen downward-facing dogs and journal for at least an hour to center herself.

“You just booed a child. Who does that?”

“Boooooooo!!!” Guess she got her answer.

“Stop it! Those kids are going to get their feelings hurt. Here. Have some edamame. It’ll keep your mouth shut.”

Fitness mommie is always able to wrestle huge Ziploc bags of edamame from her purse at any given time. I just laugh because I grew up surrounded by soybean fields and hog corn, both utterly useless when faced with actually needing to prepare food. But now edamame is every damn where and I am so over it.

As the guidance counselor gave with the left and shook with the right, and the proud kid with the wet, hacking cough blew his nose on his shirt and waved happily to the crowd, I turned to “Edda.”

“He’s a snot factory. Same as the rest of them. Look at ’em. They’re so stressed out trying to get that perfect attendance certificate that now half the third grade has fifth disease. If it weren’t for kids like him, there probably wouldn’t have ever been a first through fourth disease. Hey! Thanks for coming to school with a hundred-and-three-degree fever, loser!”

Edda scurried away to find another seat but I just raised my voice. Like a crazy person.

“Look at that woman with the camcorder,” I hissed to no one in particular. “Her kid hasn’t missed a day in five years. I heard his appendix burst one Thursday and she told him ‘Don’t be such a pussy; that’s what weekends are for.’ ”

The parents drive this craziness, you know. Oh, sure, by about sixth grade, the kid has totally bought into it: Must. Have. Meaningless. Certificate. But it’s the parents’ fault in the beginning.

I know a woman who got a little brass lapel pin for never missing a day of school all the way through twelfth grade.

“I went to school with measles,” she said ruefully one day. “Can you imagine?”

Hell, no! I laid out of school if there was a freakin’ wedding on Another World. Fortunately, my mother understood this addiction and cheered me on.

“Let me write a note,” she’d say.

I usually handled the note-writing because, to my mother, actually laying out of school to see Rachel get married yet again was a perfectly logical excuse.

“No, no!” I’d say. “We can’t tell the truth! It needs to be something really dramatic, something nobody wants to really follow up on.”

Fetching notepaper from a kitchen cabinet and plopping into a recliner, I’d compose an entirely respectable letter to the teacher that usually included the phrase “agonizing pain emanating from her females.”

(In the South, and perhaps elsewhere, a girl or woman refers to her inner workings as her “females.” I have never heard a man call his workings his “males,” but it wouldn’t bother me particularly.)

Over the years, my friends and I had gotten extremely clever with the writing of sick notes. I like to think it was the start of my professional writing career. Only then, I was paid in Sugar Daddys or Black Cows. Some people are born to greatness; others have it thrust upon them. So it was that most of the dumbasses in my class would come to me for a great sick note. One showed me a note her mother had scribbled.

“Nobody’s gonna believe this. It don’t even make sense,” whined Opal-Anne.

The note was truly awful and, no, it didn’t make no sense at all. Written in Opal-Anne’s mama’s sad little scrawl, it read, “Please accuse Opal from gym class. Her period has done swooped down on her.”

From that day forward, I always thought of menstruation as a huge hawk that would dig its wrinkled yellow feet into your scalp for five to seven days a month and just sit there going “Caw! Caw!” or whatever the hell noise hawks make.

My mother’s willingness to be a coconspirator on keeping me out of school for important weddings of TV characters has carried over to the raising of my own precious cherub, Sophie, who gets much of her own health information and life guidance from TV, just as her mother did before her. Family traditions are sacred, y’all.

Sophie’s getting a crash course on some of this stuff now that the nightly news has informed me that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease.

All together now: “Ewwwww.”

Naturally, I summoned the Princess to the TV so she could hear it from Brian Williams’ own mouth.

“Mooooommmmm,” was the response, accompanied by a big eye roll. “That’s gross.”

“Indeed it is, little missy,” I said.

It’s hard to believe my baby is going to middle school in a few weeks. It seems like only yesterday I was lying to kindergarten teachers about having to go out of town on business just so I could avoid having to bake shamrock-shaped cupcakes.

Good times.

And it really was just yesterday when the school nurse called to say that the Princess had thrown up during Human Growth and Changes class.

“Some students are just more sensitive than others to these videos,” the perky nurse explained as I applied a wet Brawny towel to Soph’s pale forehead. “One little boy actually fainted.

I looked at the nurse for a few seconds and realized that I should choose my words carefully. I am, after all, a mature adult.

“What kind of perverted shit are y’all showing these kids?”

Yeah. I said it just like that. I’m pretty sure the nurse was considering recommending me for in-school suspension but she knew my lumpy ass would never fit in that tiny desk.

Listen. I happen to believe that schools don’t need to be in the business of teaching sex education to children.

That’s what TV is for.

Which is why I’m making sure the Princess learns everything she needs to know from a trusted, reliable source that stresses consequences: One Tree Hill on the CW network.

It’s like Human Growth and Changes, only it has an actual plot and the music is sick!

The Princess and I watch One Tree Hill together, which is my own way of educating her about nasty stuff. Sure, it’s a slightly unorthodox approach, but OTH covers everything she needs to know: the perils of unprotected sex, the perils of drugs, the perils of ignoring the creepy Goth kid, the perils of cheating at love and basketball—it’s all there.

Plus it’s filmed in my hometown so I’m partial to its addictive charms.

My idea? Ditch Human Growth and Changes and show the OTH episode where Nathan had a suspicious discharge. Or maybe that was Brooke. No, it was Rachel. Whatever—you’d be scared straight.

I signed my traumatized Princess out for the day and drove straight home.

I tucked her into bed, gave her a mug of tomato soup with a big crouton in the center, popped in the Cinderella III DVD, and promised her that she would never have to see a video about testicles again.

When he got home from work, duh-hubby, naturally, was thrilled to hear that sex education class had made his daughter sick. Men are so predictable.

One thing was for sure. Neither Soph nor the unfortunate little boy who had fainted during the sex-ed video (the little boy whom my husband likes to call “my future son-in-law”) would get perfect attendance awards. Not that she was ever in any danger of it.

Back in the assembly, watching the idiot parents fist-bumping and high-fiving was making me sick.

I was grateful that I didn’t have to go to school with measles, like my friend did all those years ago.

The very word “measles” just scares the shit out of me every time I hear it. I had measles when I was six and remember it being a round-the-clock “itchy and scratchy” show. Plus, it gives you rabbit eyes and the virus means you can contaminate unborn babies and make them come out with extra noses or, worse, as Republicans.

“I can’t believe what I went through to get that stupid pin,” she said. “My parents were assholes.”

OK, that was actually me that said that last part.

Giant, self-absorbed a-holes. Hey! You know where most of the kids with perfect attendance pins are these days? Me neither!

Harvard doesn’t give a shit, I’m guessing. Think about it; you have an award for simply showing up where you were supposed to.

I just read about a Michigan teenager’s parents who gave her a new car for having never missed a day of school from kindergarten through senior year. The family told reporters that she made it every day even “despite colds.”

Who’d have thought it? Colds in Michigan!

I hear they’re spread by being sneezed on by sick people who come to school just so they can get a stinkin’ Pontiac. And all the edamame in the world isn’t going to make you feel better.

Some people swear by chicken soup for a cold but my mama’s vegetable-beef soup works best for me and mine.

CURE-WHAT-AILS-YOU VEGETABLE-BEEF SOUP

My friend Susan uses this basic recipe but substitutes 93 percent lean ground beef for the beef stew. Susan is a true friend, arriving with a gallon of soup, a bottle of wine that she bought at an actual wine store, and a box of Sam’s Club frozen chocolate éclairs on my doorstep one evening when she heard I was feeling puny. She so rocks.

 

  • 2 pounds (more or less) beef stew
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 1 or 2 potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 medium can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans tomatoes
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag each frozen lima beans, corn, cut green beans, and (optional) okra

     

    In large pot, saute beef stew with onion and celery in 2 tablespoons olive oil until beef is browned; drain off nearly all the fat, but leave a little in the pot for flavor. Remove beef, onion, and celery from pot and set aside. Pour broth into the same pot and cook potatoes and carrots a few minutes in the broth until they’re softened. Return the beef, onion, and celery to the pot along with water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, salt, and frozen veggies. Simmer for at least a couple of hours; longer is better. In the last 20 minutes, you can throw in some uncooked rice or noodles if you want it to be even heartier. Serve with hot cornbread or saltine crackers if you’re pinched for time and drained of energy.

     

     

    Copyright © 2009 by Celia Rivenbark. All rights reserved. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.