Because Of Course It Did

I suspect most parents have moments where they stop spinning in circles for a breath and wonder what the hell happened. I’ve been channeling my inner David Byrne (“My God/how did I get here?“) most of this year. While much of the country is getting back to “normal”, the weird and/or hard shit keeps happening here. Here, the land of decidedly not-normal, where we still don’t have indoor seating at restaurants, where I lost two friends in the same week–one to lung cancer and one to suicide, and where God only knows if we will ever be able to go back to work on Broadway.

Robbie, the original A2 on Jersey Boys in La Jolla, 2004.

Friday our minivan died. Two weeks before we need three cars for three very differently scheduled students commuting to schools nowhere near each other. Because of course it did. Thanks, COVID. Also? 2020 is an asshole. If 2020 were poised on the edge of a cliff and started to lose its balance, I’d push it right over. It’s a total dick.

The Zombie Van was a 2007 Honda Odyssey with 230,000 miles on it. It really didn’t owe us anything else. It had already over-delivered. CC took really good care of it, but after the door fell off we accepted it was time for palliative care. We’d make her as comfortable as possible and she’d let us know when it was her time.

She died in the parking lot of the storage unit where we were hauling the last of #2’s stuff, to be taken to her when she moves into her apartment in the Midwest. The shop called with the news:

“Vehicle not starting. Battery failed load test. Alternator not charging. Valve cover gasket leaking oil onto alternator. Transmission dry, fluid leaking out of transmission cooler lines and radiator. Cannot check for codes for engine or transmission due to battery being dead and won’t know if transmission is operating normally. Power steering pump is leaking as well.”

So $3600 to get to the point where we could find out if it also needed a new transmission. My God I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. I guess she had one more gift left to give.

The punchline (no, that wasn’t it) was that we couldn’t get #2’s bed frame out because the back door wouldn’t open. BECAUSE IT’S ONE HUNDRED PERCENT ELECTRONIC. BECAUSE THAT’S BETTER. CC and #5 went back the next day with patience and ingenuity and successfully removed it. Sadly, the 6-CD changer (remember those?) held on to Operation Mindcrime, Clockwork Angels, and Hardwired to Self-Destruct and will take them to the grave.

A super bright spot is that I have an article in the September issue of Stepmom Magazine. If you’re a stepmom, this magazine is a lifesaver. There are regular contributions from therapists, stepfamily coaches, and smart, helpful stepmoms. I only got in because I told them if they didn’t take my piece, I’d send my house-bound kids their way, one at a time.

Don’t make me send them over.

My piece is about returning to a full house in quarantine when you were damn near an empty-nester. While you do have to subscribe to read it, you can subscribe a month at time and test it out. There’s even a free 30-day trial.

Meanwhile. . . have any of you ever beat my mileage on a drive-it-til-it-dies car?

Passenger Side

As much as it pains me to quote Wilco, I don’t like riding on the passenger side– particularly when a newly-permitted teen is in the driver’s seat.

When my sister was learning to drive, my mom always made me accompany them. It was awful. I curled up as small as possible in the back seat of the Escort and cranked up my Walkman, but it didn’t drown out them yelling at each other. Nor did it do anything to mask how bad my sister was at working a clutch.  I didn’t get my own license until I was 19, in no small part due to those driving lessons. Oh, and a botched lesson of my own wherein I was taking my mom to the doctor for a post-surgery follow up and she wasn’t supposed to drive and I stalled us out at a four-way stop and couldn’t get started again. That, too, was awful.

(I did eventually master the stick shift on a drive from Indiana to Key West; I had 24 hours to work it out).

I have to be honest, teen-permit-drive-time is the only time I wish we were dealing with visitations from the other parent on a regular basis. I would totally say, “You know, as merely your step parent, I feel unqualified to do this.”

As it is, I shove as much Driver’s Ed responsibility onto CC as possible. Inevitably though, there comes a time when the teen bounds up to me, permit in hand, batting her eyes and asking hopefully, “Can I drive?” I can only say no so many times before I feel like the complete a-hole that I am acting.

At a recent graduation dinner, #3 loudly asked CC to tell her grandparents what a good driver she was.

CC: Meh…you’re okay.

#3: Hey! I’m really good!

CC: How many times have I had to yell at you for rolling through stop signs?

#3: {waving away his comment} Please. There are no stop signs on the way to the mall.

Here’s my latest post on Family Circle’s Momster blog with the tips I’ve learned to make teaching teens to drive more bearable: Driver’s Ed 101:The Parent Edition.

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That’s Hot.

#4: What are you eating?

Me: Mac & cheese. Spicy mac and cheese!

#5: Why do you make everything spicy?

Me: Because it’s good.

I pointed to #4: You’re going to like this someday.

#4: Why do you say that?

Me: Because you already crossed the line. You like crushed red pepper on your pizza.

#4: But that’s GOOD.

Me: That’s my point. Crushed red pepper on pizza is the gateway spice.

#4: Gateway spice?

Me: Yeah. You start with a little red pepper on your pizza and pretty soon you’re guzzling bottles of Sriracha and snorting chili powder down in back alleys.

Blank stares from both of them.

Me: This is probably not an age-appropriate conversation, is it?

#5: What is wrong with you?

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Here is quite possibly the best thing to ever come out of the midwest: My stepmom’s recipe for Ro-tel Mac & Cheese.

WARNING: Do not attempt to make a “healthy” version of this. It’s pointless and will only piss you off. No soy cheese, no fat-free milk, no gluten-free pasta. Just don’t. If those are your dietary restrictions, just eat the Ro-tel out of the can because it will make you happier.

Before attempting this recipe, keep in mind two things:

  • If you send someone under the age of 24 out for a box of elbow macaroni, they will likely return to you with a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese (that’s Kraft Dinner to my Canadian friends).
  • Ro-tel is arbitrarily placed in grocery stores. One of my grocery stores puts it in with the tomatoes, one stocks it with the taco stuff. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s tomatoes with chilis. Mmm. Spicy.

RO-TEL MAC & CHEESE

1- 1lb box elbow macaroni

3 c milk

1/4 lb butter

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

4 Tbsp cornstarch

1/4 c milk

12 oz shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided usage

2 cans Original Ro-tel diced tomatoes with chilis

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the 3 cups of milk, butter, salt and pepper until hot but not boiling.

4. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of milk with the cornstarch and stir until dissolved.

5. Slowly add this to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly with a which.

6. When mixture has thickened, remove from heat and stir in 2 cups of cheese until melted.

7. Pour pasta into a large mixing bowl and add the cheese mixture and Rotel.

8. Mix well until macaroni is coated.

9. Pour into a greased 9×13 baking dish or 3-quart casserole and top with remining cheese.

10. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown on top.

It’s better the second day and perfect as a midnight snack.  You’re gonna thank me for this.

What’s your favorite comfort food?