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I stare at my computer screen and ponder my email. Is it too short? Too kind? Too sincere? Normally I wouldn’t give a royal rip, but we have a new PTA president starting this year. I haven’t met her yet, but she sent out a note saying she wants to be copied on all class parent emails. This fact alone has me at DEFCON 3. Smells like a micro-manager to me. Nina would never have wasted her time on that crap.
Sadly, Nina is no longer PTA president, nor is she living in Kansas City. My best friend in the world now calls Tennessee home. She moved to Memphis with my former trainer, Garth, and her daughter, Chyna, in June, shortly after it was named the fattest city in the U.S. for like the hundredth time. The mayor decided to start a “Cut the Fat” citywide health initiative and Garth was recruited through one of his Wounded Warrior buddies to develop a middle school program. It was an easy move for Nina—she can run her web design business from anywhere, and Chyna was more than happy to start high school in a new city after her less than stellar middle school years, poor baby.
But all their change and excitement has left me without my best friend, my kick-ass trainer, and a great babysitter … and everyone knows how hard it is to find a great babysitter. Returning as class mom would be so much easier if Nina was still living here—especially since she was the one who, once again, convinced me to jump back into the thankless cesspool.
“Just do it. You know you miss it,” she said on our latest phone call.
“What I miss is you, you big jerk.”
And I really do. There is a little hole in my heart and an emptiness in my life that no number of texts or phone calls is able to fill. Truth be told, that’s why I agreed to rejoin the class mom-palooza. I need something to distract me.
Thank God she didn’t move away last year. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without her. Our family was thrown for a loop when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a rough go for quite a few months and Nina was pretty much the anchor of our care circle. No matter how bad it got, Nina never wavered.
Laura, my sweet second-born, was finishing her last year at KU, but she came home every weekend to cook and clean for my parents. Right before our eyes she went from lazy college kid to domestic goddess. I’m not sure where she learned to make a bed with hospital corners, but I’m thrilled she did.
My oldest daughter, Vivs, moved back to Kansas City from Brooklyn, where she was cohabitating with her architect boyfriend, Raj, and took a job as a nutrition consultant at our local Jenny Craig just to be close to all of us. I nicknamed her the Lone Arranger because she single-handedly scheduled all of my mother’s chemo and doctor visits along with a schedule of who would be taking her to said visits. Finally, her bossy firstborn personality was used for good instead of evil.
Max was eerily quiet but very cooperative no matter how many nights he spent with Chyna babysitting him. And my husband, Ron, was—well, he was a man and frustrated because he couldn’t just fix the problem.
As for me, I was not ready to lose my mother, no way, no how. But instead of standing strong and defiant, I was a very disappointing tower of Jell-O. Who knew I’d fold like origami when the going got tough? There were lots of tears (on my part) and prayers (on my parents’ part), and it was all very bleak and sad until one day my mother, Kay Howard, up and decided that cancer had picked the wrong bitch to mess with. She actually said that, out loud. It was the first time I had ever heard her swear and I learned very quickly it wasn’t going to be the last.
With my mom in fight mode, cancer became our punching bag, literally and figuratively. I hung a boxing bag in my basement workout area, aka Ron’s Gym and Tan, slapped a picture of a cancerous boob on it, and beat the shit out of the picture every day. It was Garth’s idea and it really worked. Not only did my arms get toned, I got out all my frustration, so I was ready to face my mother and her never-ending demands. Not demands for herself, mind you, but for my father. Kay was taking no prisoners, but Ray was struggling with the thought of a life without his darling girl, as he calls her. I always knew my parents loved each other, but I’d never realized how in love they still are. Mom was ready every day with a list of things my dad absolutely needed. It usually looked something like this:
A poppyseed bagel from Einstein’s
Snapple Peach Tea
That toothpaste that tastes like cherry
At least ten hugs
* * *
Mom is now done with her chemo, thank God. In the spring she rang the bell at the University of Kansas Cancer Center to signal her final treatment, said goodbye to all her “chemo-sabes,” and vowed to keep the fight going. Her hair was a casualty of her war with the big C, but beyond that she is all piss and vinegar, which I believe is fueled by her collection of Golden Girls wigs. When she wears Blanche, there is no stopping her.
When the phone rings, I already know it is her calling for our morning check-in.
“Sweetheart, are you busy?”
“Just writing some emails.”
“Oh, good. Write one to your aunt Barbara, will you? I think she only gets spam unless I send her something.”
“Happy to.” I start typing her email address, Iwasacancangirl@aol.com.
Aunt Barbara is a little eccentric. In fact, she is a family enigma. She is my father’s half sister from when my grandmother died and my grandfather remarried. I myself have never met her, but stories about her are legendary. She followed her high school sweetheart to Honolulu when she was seventeen, but he left her for a luau dancer. My grandfather thought she would come home after that, but she surprised everyone by staying and working as a waitress in Wailea. She took a two-year course in secretarial skills and landed a job as the personal assistant to some guy who ultimately became a bigwig at the Bank of Hawaii. She worked for him for something like forty years, she never married, and she lives with six cats. I’ve yet to determine at what point in her life she was a cancan girl, but there’s no rush.
As I said, we’ve never met, but she was that relative my mom would always make me draw pictures for and get on the phone with to say thank you, which is so awkward when you’re a little kid. We’ve always exchanged Christmas cards and photos, and every year she sends me and my children $10 on our birthdays. My mother tells me it’s very generous, considering she’s on a fixed income now that she is retired. I asked my mom once why she never visits, and why we don’t go see her. I was informed we are not the Rockefellers and can’t just jet all over the world on a whim. It’s the kind of answer you give a ten-year-old if you don’t want them to ask again. I didn’t.
“So, what’s up for today?”
“Your dad and I have a meeting at the parish to talk to Father Dimon about the pancake breakfast and then we’re going to Denny’s for lunch. Can you come?”
I happen to enjoy the all-day Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s, but I have a full schedule myself. I tell her as much.
“Okay.” She pauses. “I can’t remember why I called you.”
“To ask me to lunch?”
“No.” Another pause.
“To check in?”
“No. Oh what the devil was it? Ray!” she yells to my father. “Why did I call Jennifer?”
I hear mumbling, and then my mother says, “Oh that’s right. Have you signed up for the Susan B. Anthony yet?”
“It’s the Susan G. Komen, Mom, and no I haven’t.”
“Jennifer, you’re the only one who hasn’t.”
A twinge of guilt hits me.
“Actually, I was going to do it right after my emails.”
“Well good. Remember, our team name is the Holy Rollers.”
“Yup. Got it. Have a good lunch. I’ll talk to you later.”
Gotta love Kay. Once she finished chemo and got her strength back she jumped full-tilt boogie into the Kansas City chapter of the American Cancer Society and they still don’t know what the hell hit them. She also started volunteering at the Susan G. Komen foundation, and before I knew what was happening, I was recruited for the Race for the Cure this coming May and charged with raising five hundred dollars. And when I say race, I really mean walk. There is a race, but Kay wants us to do the one-mile walk, so we can be together. I may do both, depending on how my winter workouts go.
I have asked a lot of my school friends to participate and Vivs, Nina, and Chyna all signed on immediately and started getting sponsors. I’m the only big lollygagger, because what I truly suck at is asking people for money. I haven’t raised one dime yet. Or even signed up.
I will get to that, but first, I send Aunt Barbara a recipe I saw on-line for pineapple soup that I thought sounded delicious (what with the cayenne pepper and basil). Then I decide to tackle Mrs. Randazzo’s questionnaire. I look it over and can’t help but smile. I live to fill out forms like this. I’m going to take old Razzi out for a spin and test her sense of humor.
* * *
Hello, Mrs. Randazzo,
Here is all you need to know about one Max Dixon.
1. In what way has your child changed the most in the last year?
He stopped picking his nose and he finally started pooping in the potty. He makes it there about 74% of the time, which is 6% better than his father, but you’ll still need to keep an eye on him.
2. What would constitute a successful third-grade year for your child? What do you most want him/her to learn?
Learning the alphabet once and for all would be a huge win. And he really needs to understand the difference between narcolepsy and necrophilia to avoid any future embarrassment.
3. What out-of-school commitments does your child have? Are you happy with the amount of time that he/she spends on extracurricular activities?
I don’t really know what the hell he does after school but he’s out of my hair for a good four hours and that’s enough … unless you know of an after-dinner program. If you do, I’m all ears!
4. Is there anything else that I should know about your child?
Max doesn’t like to be looked directly in the eye, but don’t look away, either. And be careful how you speak to him. The medication has done wonders, but it sometimes wears off too early.
Thanks! See you on curriculum night.
Copyright © 2019 by Laurie Gelman