Category Archives: reference

What It Was Like To Buy a Used Car

This was our third time buying a used car, so I feel as if I am really getting the hang of this now. The first time was when I was pregnant with the twins and we KNEW we HAD to buy a minivan, but I was so nervous: how could we know we were getting a GOOD used car rather than a lemon? and what if we got cheated because we didn’t know how to haggle?? All of our previous cars had been handmedowns from my parents, who take meticulous care of their cars. My friend Melissa was the nudge I needed: she said something like, “Look, you just have to go into it knowing you’re going to get a little screwed on the deal. But what’s the alternative? Going to school to be an auto mechanic, just so you can evaluate each car? Then going through the process to become a car salesperson, so you know how to haggle with one? No. You need a minivan, so go buy one and lose a little money and hope for the best.”

The second used car we bought was one for Paul’s commute. We were looking for something older but with relatively low mileage and relatively long expected future use. I hate his car. It has a sun roof, which I knew he’d accidentally leave open in the rain, and he has indeed done so. Also, we have owned four of this same make/model, and this is the only one I have a hard time getting into: the roof is LOWER. I am between 5’8 and 5’9″, and I feel SQUISHED. I am shorter than the average U.S. man; I should not have a hard time getting my height into a car. Also, I can’t figure out how to turn on the radio, let alone select a station; there’s some complicated computer-screen display. But it is a success because he likes it and he is the only one who has to drive it.

This time we were buying a car to replace our dear old 1999 sedan, which has over 230,000 miles on it. It was Paul’s commuting car before we replaced it. We’ve kept it on as a car for Rob and William to use, because if they were to smash it up, it would be no big deal to lose it. But nearly a year ago, our trusted mechanic told me that it was time to say our long goodbyes: he doubted the car would last another year. This is the same mechanic who has kept it running for so long and has resisted previous hesitant suggestions that it might be time to let it go, so I accepted that it really was Time.

Here is the first thing you need to know about buying a used car, if your circumstances match ours: it takes four hours, and there is no good reason for it to take that long. You just have to go into it expecting to lose that time. We bring fully-charged phones, a back-up battery, snacks, and books.

I start by going online to the dealership’s site, and making a list of cars I’m interested in. When we were shopping for the minivan, I found two minivans on the site, and only one was actually available, and we bought it. When we were shopping for Paul’s commuting car, I found five cars on the site, and only one was actually available but they also had two others not on the site. When we were shopping for this car, I found six cars on the site, and three were available, and they didn’t offer any others. So I don’t know if I’d recommend the pre-shopping or not. Maybe you should just show up.

The second step is to find a salesperson, but worry not: a salesperson will absolutely find YOU. Sometimes before you are all the way out of your car.

The third step is to say what you want (in this most recent case, “a car of this make/model but before the 2012 redesign”), and maybe shove your careful list of color/mileage/stock# toward the salesperson. The salesperson then goes to search for availability/keys, while you stand awkwardly in the middle of the sales floor wondering if you should move or if you’re okay where you are.

The fourth step may or may not be to give some information about yourself and show your license. This didn’t happen on occasions 1 and 3 for us, but did on occasion 2.

The fifth step is the test drives. Especially when they ask no information from you, it is a little surprising to be handed the key to a car and have them say “See you back here in 10-15 minutes, okay?” Sometimes the prep for this step takes awhile: they have to put a temporary license plate on the car, and they have to find the key, and they have to make sure the car has gas in it. Our most recent experience was pretty great: she got all three keys at once, and while we were testing each car she got the next car all set to go—even left it running with the a/c on so it would be nice inside. Last time, we got a newbie and he had to walk through the lot with us trying with mixed success to find each car.

Fifth step, sub-category: It can be a little difficult to do a test drive. I mean, what are you looking for? It drives, yes? Good. This most recent time, when we drove the first car Paul said it drove a little rough/loud, and I said I didn’t notice anything. But then when we drove the second car, it was much quieter and there was less vibration, so then I saw what he meant. You can also be like, “Ug/yay, I hate/love the sunroof,” and/or “Wait, what is that stain?,” and/or “I have no idea how to work these buttons,” and/or “These seats are extremely slippery, and this headrest is worn down to the fluff,” or WHATEVER.

Sixth step is choosing one—or leaving, if you don’t find anything. But all three times we HAVE found something.

Wait, the real first step is financing, if you are not going to be paying by check or by paper bag full of cash. When we need financing, we get a loan ahead of time online (we used the same site we’d used for our mortgage); the lender sends us a blank check to use to pay for the car. We have seen fellow customers getting financing through the dealership, and it seems to involve a very long additional session.

The seventh step is sitting down at the salesperson’s desk. This is the start of the unbelievably long process. Why does it take so long? Maybe one among us is a car salesperson or related to a car salesperson and can tell us. Because from the customer point of view, it seems like a lot of waiting. The salesperson takes some information: whose name will the car be in? Okay, let’s see your license. What’s your address? phone number? How will you be paying? How will the car be used—commuting? scooting about town? Sign here that you understand this. Sign here that you understand that. Sign here that you understand privacy. There is some small-talk about children, and about a recent day when things were so crazy here. Meanwhile we are “just waiting for the…” paperwork/inspection/cleaning/title/keys, and for the options guy to be available.

There is apparently no way to avoid the eighth step, which is “seeing the options guy.” In our experience he is always the slickest, highest-pressurey, salespersonyish person of all. He will try to sell you a three-year parts/repairs plan for $3400: it covers parts and repairs! I mean, not all repairs. And not all parts. But lots of them! It’s such a good deal, even though it costs a third of what you’re paying for the car. He has a booklet with a semi-transparent overlay that shows you how great this plan is. When you say no, he will ask if he can ask why. You’ll tell him it’s because these are such great cars: you’ve bought two of them before at this very dealership, and neither one gave you any trouble for YEARS. He will then say, listen, you’ve bought cars here, you’re valued customers, he just wants to see you happy: he can give it to you for $2900. He’ll underline it AND circle it. You will say no again, and he will say he is not trying to make a profit here, he just cares about you and your car. He doesn’t want to see you stuck with the costs. Look at the costs! He will show you a chart of a car with arrows pointing to the expensive places. You will say no again. He will sigh. Listen. He can offer it to you at HIS cost, $2300. He’s not making any money here. Listen, as a former mechanic, he can tell you: car repairs are expensive. He would hate to see you stuck with that. He’s not trying to sell you anything unreasonable—he’s not going to suggest the theft insurance, not in our nice city! and you don’t need the nick-and-ding insurance, not for a used car. But he can see you’re smart consumers and you know even one visit to a mechanic can cost what three years of insurance cost, amirite? …Still no? Are you sure? Okay. Sign here, and please write out longhand that you are declining all the available safeguards at your own risk. He’ll shake his head, feeling sorry for your future expenses. He’ll print out the final paperwork. And then, he will turn to your husband: “I know you’re the one who really makes the decisions” (he’ll say it like it’s a winking joke, but it will not fly)—and he’ll show him a paper with $1900 written on it; he’ll slide it furtively, as if he is really not supposed to be doing this but he LIKES you(r husband), even after only a few minutes’ acquaintance. This is after YOU have signed something saying no to $2300, which he said was “his cost.” Oh, so he is going to take a personal $400 loss so that you can have this plan? Your husband is not going for it, and you are not pleased with these shenanigans. Sign here and here.

Finally, finally, you are released from the grips of the options guy and sent back to your salesperson and the ninth step. She has you sign a few more things. She offers you water. She leaves to find the spare key. She leaves with your credit card. She leaves to get a manager’s signature. She offers you water. She leaves with your credit card signature. She leaves to check on the progress of the cleaning. She leaves to find out how the final inspection is going. She leaves with your check. She leaves to find a piece of paperwork she needs. She leaves to check again on the inspection; are you sure she can’t bring you a water? or a ginger ale? You catch Pokémon and read your book in five-minute segments between her visits.

Tenth step: What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long? What is taking so long?

Now things finally look promising; maybe we are at the eleventh step? Papers and copies of papers are being put in a folder. You are being handed a business card and a form that explains that if you refer anyone to this dealership you will get $100 per referral—she hopes you’ll refer to her, ha ha! And then: THE KEY! It’s THE KEY! The car is yours and you can LEAVE! …Oh, but call and make an appointment to come back for the inspection, because they didn’t actually do that yet because they were so backed up.

What It Was Like to Have a Child Graduate from High School

Rob did not want to make a big deal out of high school graduation: light on the pomp, minimally-required circumstance. He didn’t participate in many of the optional fun senior things. And he’s going on to college, so he didn’t have that “done with school” feeling. So this is a report of that kind of graduation.

The week before high school graduation, there was an assortment of activities: final exams, several rehearsals for graduation, handing out yearbooks, picking up caps/gowns, a senior trip, a slideshow, a scholarship ceremony, an awards ceremony, a picnic.

I found I kept sort of forgetting about graduation, and then remembering it with a startled feeling. It sometimes felt like a big deal and sometimes didn’t.

There was also the odd overlay of remembering my own high school graduation, which doesn’t feel as long ago as it was. On the other hand, it’s long enough ago that I thought I remembered the song we were all playing then, and I was TOTALLY WRONG: the song I was thinking about came out after I graduated. So. I mean, I’d played it for Rob with tears welling in my eyes, full of fake memories of that song playing on the radio as we got ready for graduation, and now I feel a little sheepish. I had a whole mental montage, and it’s a lie.

Graduation, by Vitamin C

As with college tours, high school graduation gave me the “Look how OLD we all are” feeling. Who is that plump middle-aged woman standing next to Rob in his graduation gown in that photo? OH IT IS I. You know how older people often say they don’t feel as old as they look? THAT TIME HAS COME TO COLLECT ME INTO ITS SAGGING ARMS.

You already know I cry easily, but I cry PARTICULARLY easily at anything ceremonial/symbolic: national songs, parades, dress uniforms, ritual costumes, ritual music, ritual rituals, synchronized salutes, official declarations, everyone standing for the bride. The graduation processional was a weepy moment. The formal declaration of graduation, read by the superintendent of schools, was another such moment. Look at us doing our formal human things!

The speeches by the class president and the class valedictorian were mercifully short: I will listen without external eye-rolling to teenagers talk about following their dreams and changing the world, but it’s easier on my eye-strings if they can keep it brief.

Our high school has a principal who is much better than average at speeches: he’s warm, friendly, personal, funny. He managed the In Memoriam section without choking up, but with a couple of pauses that made me choke up to think of him trying to keep from choking up.

I had expected to be weepy during the diplomas, but I was not. I had expected to be bored, but I was not: I had forgotten that they read people’s FULL NAMES during graduation! I was extremely interested to hear everyone’s middle name, and sat riveted throughout. Rob has four names, two of them difficult to pronounce (one of them my maiden name), and the reader got them all right; Rob said the reader was at the graduation rehearsals, getting pronunciations from everyone and then double-checking them. (I remember that from my own high school graduation.) I was very pleased to hear my maiden name read aloud in connection with my child, and very pleased to hear it pronounced correctly.

Afterward, they said “CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2017!,” and all the parents stood up, and the graduates flung their caps into the air, and so there was another little dab at the eyes.

Then we found Rob in the crowd. I wanted pictures of him with some of his friends, and that wasn’t something he would have asked me to do but he was willing for me to do it, and then as it turned out he got into it once we started. Also, after feeling shy the first couple of times I had to ask a kid if I could take their picture with Rob, I felt much more comfortable: everyone was so chill about being asked, and so willing to pose, and I got a ton of cute pictures that Rob may appreciate later, but I wanted the photos for myself even if he doesn’t ever care about them.

Let’s see, now let’s talk about worries and how they turned out.

I was in general worried because it was a new thing and I didn’t know how it would go. But I was less worried than usual, because I’d been through high school graduation myself and knew the gist: I only needed to add the parental-role upgrade.

I was worried about Rob not participating in most of the senior fun stuff. I worried he’d regret it later. I worried that maybe I should have forced him. I worried it meant he was a weirdo. I expect to resolve these worries in one direction or another by the time he is my age.

We were all worried about the weather: if it had to be held indoors because of rain, then each graduate could only bring five guests; if it could be outdoors, there were no guest-number restrictions. (It did not rain.) I was also worried it would be very hot outside. (It was not.)

I was worried about what to wear, especially since there was the possibility of needing to climb bleachers. I didn’t need to worry, though: people wore everything from shorts/t-shirts to Easter church outfits.

I was worried about parking and seating, but that went fine. Graduates had to be there an hour before the ceremony, so we just stayed after dropping off Rob; there were still plenty of parking spaces and almost a full choice of seats. (I wouldn’t have wanted to come much later, though; people arrived in a constant stream, and I don’t know where everyone found parking.)

I was worried that it would be awkward to ask people to pose with Rob for pictures, but EVERYBODY was asking EVERYBODY to pose for pictures.

I was worried that I would cry an embarrassing amount, and that all the Sentimental Ritual Stuff would make me cry even more than I felt like crying—but I did not, and they did not. I’d say I cried significantly less than expected. I teared up a few times and that was it, and all around me other parents were doing the same. It’s much worse when I cry at band concerts, where NO ONE else is crying and I am doing a steady leak. The children are so earnest about their instrument-playing! and isn’t it wonderful that adults put in so much time and effort to teach children to make music! and look how much they improve each year! and look at how sweetly the older kids are helping the younger kids! And also there’s the inexplicably touching moment when the conductor does that signal that makes everyone put their instruments at the ready.

Family Television Show Recommendations

Because I have twice vented my feelings about Paul Behavior in the last month or so, it seems only fair that I share something equally damning about myself. But I have thought long and hard, and if you don’t count getting cranky and sad for no reason, and being snappish and irritable, and not being a good or interested cook, and preferring the Friendly Squalor school of housekeeping, and being self-righteous and huffy about dishwasher-loading, and getting stressed and overwhelmed about anything new or unfamiliar, and trying to keep things from happening by worrying about them, and crying at the drop of a hat, and freaking out about raw meat, and only being comfortable within a four-degree temperature range, then I can’t think of a single blessed thing he has to complain about.

Oh, here’s one thing: it drives him crazy that I will stop an episode of a TV series at any point during an episode, rather than making it come out even by watching to the end. Like, if I want to watch TV for awhile, and I’m halfway through an episode when I decide I want to do something else, I’ll just pause it there rather than finishing the whole episode in one sitting. And if I finish an episode but I still have five minutes’ worth of lunch to eat, I will watch the first five minutes of the next episode and then stop it there.

Speaking of which, we are a family that watches TV while eating dinner, and we are pretty much out of shows to watch. Normally it is Paul’s job to find us things to watch, but we are on week two of We Bare Bears and it occurs to me that I don’t think people should complain about the food if they’re not going to do any cooking, so I’m doing a little research into shows that families can watch together when the youngest kid is 10 and the eldest is 18, and the mother doesn’t want anything too scary or sad, and we’re eating so it shouldn’t be gross.

Our favorite is if it’s a series, so that we can watch it for a long time without having to think of something new to watch. Best is if it’s a completed series, so we can watch the whole thing all the way through and not have to remember to come back to it later–but this is not at all a requirement. Some of the shows we’ve already watched:

Adventure Time
Avatar, The Last Airbender (none of us liked Legend of Korra)
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Good Eats
Gravity Falls
Great British Bake-Off
How It’s Made
Iron Chef
Kim Possible
Malcolm in the Middle
My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic
Over the Garden Wall
Phineas and Ferb
Regular Show
The Simpsons
Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Steven Universe
Teen Titans
Teen Titans Go!

And I think there are probably a lot more but I can’t think of them right now. If you mention one that we’ve tried, I’ll add it to the list (and I’ll note it in the comments section, so you don’t look to later readers as if you’ve suggested something that was already on the list).

We’ve watched some Doctor Who, but that is generally too icky for dinner or too scary/stressful/sad for me.

We’ve watched a ton of movies, but I’m leaving those off the list because series work better and because we still have plenty of movies to watch.

What It’s Like Going to a College Info Session and Tour

Rob has CHOSEN HIS COLLEGE. He’ll be going to one that’s about a 7-hour drive away, which is a nice distance: far enough to feel Nice and Far for him, but close enough that if something were to go wrong I wouldn’t have to try to book a flight; close enough that we can drive him with all his stuff, rather than trying to ship it or fit it on an airplane.

Well. That whole college-selection process was an…invigorating time. And now there is a brief lull before we start all the freshman-prep stuff, so this seems like a good chance to talk about what it was like to go on all those college info sessions and tours. Those were on my list of anxieties before starting the college-search process with Rob, so I want to tell you how much easier they are than I’d thought. Here are the notes I have from the last session/tour, which was when I decided to write this post:

• don’t wear loud shoes
• it’s so boring seriously
• shows you how old you are when you look around at other parents
• so many stairs

So basically that sums it up, but I’ll fill in a few sparse places.

To start with, colleges WANT you to do these. I don’t know why I imagined I was somehow inconveniencing them by visiting: they do info sessions and tours ALL THE TIME. Some of the more popular colleges do them again and again all day, every day of the week. Usually they have a schedule posted online; usually you need to register ahead of time with information such as the child’s name, address, phone number, email, date of birth, high school graduation year, areas of interest—things like that. (This will then get you on that college’s mail/email list if you weren’t already.)

Times that are convenient for you to go (Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, spring break, weekends, etc.) will either be unavailable or will fill up early. I was worried that if we went during the summer we would miss getting the Real Feel of the student-occupied campus, but I didn’t see a huge difference except that it was less comfortable weather-wise.

It is common for the students to be accompanied by family members. I felt awkward about this when registering the first time but it’s so totally normal. Many kids had one or two parents AND a sibling or two; Rob was accompanied by one parent plus William (since William is two years behind Rob and could get an early start on his own college search). It would not, however, be a good place to bring MUCH younger children—like, anyone in the run-around-in-the-aisles/cry-interruptively stage of life.

It is a little alarming, by the way, to look around at all the other parents and realize that’s how old you are too. It is especially alarming seeing them/yourself in such sharp contrast to all the young, vigorous students. A person can end up feeling a bit middle-aged and frumpy and done with the meat of life, is what I’m warning you about. I tried with mixed success to turn this into a feeling of solidarity with my peers.

The most common info/tour system we encountered was this: you could sign up for just the info session or just the tour, but usually the info session went right into a tour afterward. So if you see that info sessions are offered at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., and tours are offered at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you can feel confident that the 9:00 a.m. info session is followed by the 10:00 a.m. tour, and the 1:00 p.m. info session is followed by the 2:00 p.m. tour. (On our first couple of college visits, I was worried that the info session would take, say, 1.5 hours—so then we couldn’t sign up for the 10:00 a.m. tour. But no: the college realizes you will probably want to do both, and they don’t make you hang out for several hours in between.)

Or you might end up doing them separately. For example, some colleges have traveling info sessions: the child’s high school might host one, or in our case we attended one at a local hotel conference room. The school was far enough away that we wouldn’t have visited just on a whim, but after we went to the info session we were interested enough to book a tour and make the drive. We could have re-attended the info session once we were on campus—but since the college had Saturday tours but no Saturday info sessions, and since we were available on a Saturday, it all worked out perfectly.

The info sessions and tours are free. About half the time, they included free coffee and water, maybe some candies or cookies. Sometimes there are optional expenses: for example, a couple of tours ended by saying we were welcome to try a meal in the school cafeteria if we wanted to, but there was a cost for that.

I will say this: I found all info sessions and tours to be IMMENSELY BORING. One was kind of cool because it was at a famous college so I was sitting there thinking “I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this well-known place!” But then the person from admissions came in and started talking, and it was just as boring as everywhere else.

Boring but INFORMATIVE—as long as you realize you are sitting through a sales pitch. The information session tells you what the college thinks are its selling points. You will find out which buzzwords the college wishes to push: unique, cooperative, diverse, opportunity, innovative, excellence, hands-on, interdisciplinary, passion, real-life experience, selective, progressive, driven, research. You can recognize which words the college decided on because they will say them comically often until you are thinking “OKAY WE GET IT YOU WANT US TO KNOW YOU’RE TRYING TO SHAKE THE PRIVILEGED WHITE KID IMAGE” or “YES YES EVERYONE IS A GENIUS AND STUDIES CONSTANTLY, GOT IT.”

The info session usually takes place in a largish room with dozens or hundreds of people (though we went to one that was just five students and their families) and lasts about an hour. They will cover things such as: which majors are most common; what their acceptance rates are; a little about the application process; what they look for in a candidate; the student-teacher ratio; opportunities to study abroad or at other local institutions; a little about how they help graduates find jobs; cost of tuition, room and board, fees. Most will give you written materials as well, with pretty much the same info.

After the info session there is time for people to ask questions. Every single session-leader handled this beautifully so that it didn’t go on and on and on, but there were usually a few parents asking really specific-to-their-own-child questions that were a little tiresome for the rest of us; for example, one mother asked if the session leader could please list all the classes needed for a marketing major. (Beautiful handling by session leader: “Oh, great question! I don’t have that information with me, but if you stop at the Admissions office on your way out we can certainly get that for you!”) One father wanted to tell everyone that he had been quite the soccer star when he attended there, and to ask how had the team been doing since then because his son wanted to play soccer too.

After the Q&A, the group is divided into tour groups, usually of about twenty people in each (or of course fewer if the whole info group was fewer than that). (Usually there was no pee-break between session and tour, so find a bathroom before the info session if you can. You could also sneak out during the last 15 minutes of the session to pee.) One time we got to choose our tour guide: five of them introduced themselves and said their majors, and then we could pick which one to go with; this was nice because we got someone with the same major Rob is considering, so she knew about and emphasized stuff he was interested in. But most of the time we were counted off and then assigned. The tour guide is a current student doing a memorized routine. They walk backward while the group follows them and listens; typically you can ask questions as you go and the tour guide generally made it easy/comfortable to do so.

The tour lasts an hour or so, and typically includes a lot of walking and a lot of stairs; I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and bringing a water bottle. The tour usually includes some academic buildings, a dorm (but only once the inside of a dorm room—sometimes the college offered a separate housing tour), a cafeteria, the library, a social hang-out area, the gym, a big open grassy area, a sculpture, and anything else the college wanted to draw special attention to (a self-sustaining green area, an on-campus museum filled with student art, a fountain donated by someone famous, a concert hall, a 3D-modeling lab where students built a working car, etc.). Note: many campuses have multiple Pokéstops.

After the tour, you are dismissed. The tour guide usually invited anyone with additional questions to stay after and ask them. We almost always had to use that opportunity to ask the tour guide how to get from where we were back to our car. Fortunately the info session usually includes a map, too.

Oh, and I highly recommend bringing a snack: it seemed like we were always starting the process in the late morning and then going through to early afternoon, so afterward we were hot, tired, cranky, hungry, and in a strange city. Having a sneaky granola bar on the tour made things so much more pleasant.

Which reminds me of another issue: parking. This mystified me. The college would have online info about attending tours, and would instruct us to park in Lot A. And then Lot A would have ten parking spaces. And it would be full, because dozens or hundreds of people were attending the session/tour, and there would be no back-up instructions. So! Print out a campus map to bring with you, and investigate alternate visitor lots ahead of time if possible—or just be prepared that you might need to do so on the spot. I liked to allow quite a bit of padding so that we could (1) find parking without me feeling like screaming, and (2) walk from that far-off lot to Admissions, and (3) FIND Admissions, and (4) find a bathroom.


To sum up:

• investigate parking and allow extra time for it
• pee right before the session
• comfy shoes, water bottle, snack
• it’s pretty much always an info session followed by a tour
• take notes and save the paperwork, because they all start to blend together

What it Was Like To Deal with a 4883C Letter from the IRS

“Not too terrible!,” is the short answer if you’ve got stuff to do.

Here’s what part of Letter 4883C looks like:

It is signed “Sincerely yours, INTEGRITY & VERIFICATION OPERATIONS,” which is a little funny if you are still in the mood to laugh after receiving a letter from the IRS. “Sincerely yours”! And then all-caps! From not-a-name-of-a-person! It’s funnier to me now that I’ve already dealt with the letter.

The whole thing looks shady as heck, so first I spent some time verifying that it was a real letter from the real IRS. But they use the real IRS website on their letter, and a real IRS phone number, and the real IRS website has a section on this letter. Also, the postage is paid by

I looked up online to see if I could figure out why we got the letter, but apparently it’s a bit like getting pulled out of line at the airport for additional checking: sometimes it’s for a reason and sometimes it’s not, and most of the time you don’t get to know the reason. I also found reports of waiting 1.75 hours on hold to speak to an agent, so I waited until I had a whole afternoon ahead of me, and I had a book available.

They want you to have available your tax forms from the most recent filing and the previous year’s filing, including all schedules, W-2s, 1099s, etc. This gave me some anxiety: I was worried they would ask for some information and I would have to riffle endlessly through papers to find it. (This is exactly what happened, but they are used to it.) So I put all the stuff in piles on the bed to at least reduce the number of papers I would have to riffle through for each question: a pile for the tax return itself, a pile for the W-2s, a pile for the 1099s, and a pile for everything else—in two rows, one row for 2015 and one for 2016.

Then I dialed the number. They give you an estimated hold time right at the beginning, which I appreciated: if they’d said two hours, I would have called back another time. But they said 15 minutes, and that’s about how long it was. They are, as it turns out, the type of business that thinks you want a voice to come on the line every 20 seconds to thank you for holding and assure you that all available agents are helping other customers, and then remind you again to have your tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, etc.—so that was annoying. But tolerable.

An agent came on the line sounding like this was not his dream job but he didn’t blame me personally. He also had a cold. Imagine Robert De Niro, two years from retirement at a depressing desk job, and with a headcold. He’s not mean, he’s just really tired and he’s not having any fun.

Anyway! What was clearly happening was that he was reading off a screen as it told him what to ask me. He asked if I had received a letter asking me to call this number, and which letter it was, and whether I was calling on my own behalf or someone else’s; then I think he asked for the name or names on our tax return, and then for the first Social Security number on the tax form. Then he asked several other questions. One was how many dependents we had claimed in 2015. Then he asked for the Social Security numbers of those dependents. I had to riffle to the very last page of our taxes; I used the Coping Thought of “This must happen to pretty much everyone.” After I’d listed four of them, he said sorry, he needed me to go back to the beginning and tell me their full names. Then he needed me to go back to the beginning and tell me their dates of birth. There was apparently some issue with the fifth dependent not showing up on his screen, but that seemed to be an issue only for him, not for me: that is, he was keeping himself from saying his computer was stupid, but he didn’t give me any feeling that my forms were the problem. He said he could see it was five dependents but that for some reason it wouldn’t show him the fifth. Robert De Niro sigh, and a big long sniff followed by another sigh because he cannot stand to blow his nose even one more time today.

He asked if I’d worked in 2016, and I said I had, and he asked for my employer, and I told him the name of the in-home elder care agency, and he said “Excellent, yes.” Then there was a silence as he typed. I felt uncertain, because I also earn money from the ads on this blog, but that’s called “non-employee compensation”—so should I mention that or not? I decided to err on the side of MORE information, so I said into the pause that I wasn’t sure if this was the time to mention it, but I also had non-employee compensation. He said “From who?” and I told him, and he said “Perfect!” in a voice that to me communicated “Good girl, you got it right!”—I mean, in a good way, not in a condescending way. More like I had given the right answer and he was pleased. I was feeling as if however he felt about his job, he and I were getting along and he didn’t mind this call as much as he minded some.

I think that was all he asked. When he said something about number of dependents being weird, I said I wondered if it had anything to do with one of our dependents turning 18 this year—he’s still a dependent, but he no longer gets us the Child Tax Credit, so…maybe? And the agent said yeah, maybe so, and then he said “I mean, it’s not like we got two forms from you or anything, so it must be something like that.” And I seized upon this and said, “So it doesn’t look like it’s an identity theft issue? I was worried that maybe someone else filed a form using our names,” and he said, “No, no—we just got the one form, so something else must have triggered it.”

He put me on hold for about five minutes while he “returned the tax return to the queue for processing,” and then came back and said everything was all set and started reading off a screen again, something about now the forms were submitted for processing and I should call some other number if the refund wasn’t completed in 9 weeks.

And then it was done! The whole thing took about 40 minutes, about half of that time on hold and half talking to the agent. It was a little scary to get the letter and a little scary to deal with it, but in the end it was okay. Well, or we’ll see how long it takes to get the refund now.

Update: I thought it might be good to add a data point for how long it took to get the refund after this. I called them on April 24th, and we got our refund on May 11th: 2.5 weeks. That’s better than I was expecting.

What It’s Like to Do a Barium Swallow Test

First I would like to complain to you that when I went to my barium swallow test, I forgot my cell phone at home. This meant two things:

1. I could not see if there were any Pokéstops at the hospital.

2. I could not proceed with my original plan, which was to stay in the city after the test and go over to the mall and have lunch and browse Target and maybe get a few Pokéstops. (Without my cell phone, I fret about the statistically-small chance that the school will call about a sick kid or something. Also, without my phone I can’t get the Pokéstops.)

On to the test itself. I was partly worried about how long it would take: when Edward gets his MRI, we are at the hospital for hours and hours and hours; last time it was five-and-a-half hours. Part of it is the time the actual prep and test take, but part of it is that hospitals seem to be in a different dimension of time and space, and the hours pass without any particular concern for their passing. And of course sometimes at a hospital there are emergencies that mean routine appointments get bumped, as well they should.

Anyway, when the lady from the scheduling department called to set up my appointment, I asked her how long the whole thing would take, and she said, “Oh, 15-20 minutes.” I thought, “AH HA HA HA HA HA okay, fine, DON’T tell me if you don’t want to!” But from the moment I walked into the hospital (half an hour fretfully early) to the moment I walked out again was 45 minutes total. The time from “changed into johnny and waiting for doctor” to “changing out of johnny” was less than 15 minutes. Most of the time was spent in waiting rooms, because I was half an hour early. So it was not very long between thinking “Soon I will be one of these carefree individuals on their way OUT of this waiting room” to being in fact one of those carefree individuals.

Let’s rewind to where I am walking into the hospital. I’d been told not to eat or drink anything after 10:00 the night before, so I was feeling a bit grim: first Monday of Daylight Saving Time AND no coffee. I’d been told to go straight to Diagnostic Imaging, and so I did. There they checked me in and gave me a hospital bracelet, and instructed me to walk over to X-ray.

At X-ray, they had me undress just from the waist up, and put on two johnnies: one opening in the back and a second one opening in the front. (I didn’t have to remove those johnnies at any point during the exam.) All my stuff went into a little locker. A technician brought me into the x-ray room and showed me basically how things would go: she stood where I’d be standing and described the various things the doctor would ask me to do. She showed me a barium tablet that the doctor would have me swallow to see how a pill went down. I asked if most people did fine with the whole thing and she said, “Oh, yes!” and that hardly anyone had trouble—it was just a bit icky to have to drink the drink, she said. She also told me that “it goes in white, and it comes out white—so don’t be alarmed later!”

The doctor came in and had me stand up on a little step, standing in front of what turned out to be an x-ray table turned up on its end. He moved a machine in front of me, so I was sort of snugged into a little nook. He handed me a plastic cup of the barium and told me to get ready to drink it but not drink it yet. Then he had me turn partly to one side and then partly to the other, each time drinking the barium until he said to stop—maybe 7 or 8 seconds each time? Then I had to face forward and drink again. Then he had me swallow the barium tablet and drink again.

I didn’t find the barium particularly gross, but it helped to go into it EXPECTING it to be fairly gross. It was very bland, and tasted faintly like strawberries. It was about the thickness of…well, the technician said milkshake, but milkshakes are such a different TYPE of thickness: cold and crystally and melty. It reminded me more of yogurt thinned with milk (but with no yogurt flavor). I tried to pretend it WAS yogurt, to help me drink it.

The doctor had me turn to my side, and then he lowered the table, which was how I came to realize it was an x-ray table on-end. (The technician had not mentioned this part.) It was an odd sensation: like you’re standing against a wall, and then the wall just lies down and takes you with it. The technician gave me a pillow. The doctor had me drink more barium, through a straw this time, while lying on my side. This was the worst part for me: something about lying on my side, plus this was my second full cup of the barium. (They weren’t forcing me to drink that much: that was just how much I was naturally going through during the swallowing tests. Possibly I was drinking it too fast—but I wasn’t gulping it down or anything.) In the last few seconds, I gagged—but just once, and then the test was done anyway. I continued pretending it was a nice nutritious smoothie and not at all making me queasy—but I did feel slightly queasy. I think it was more mental than physical.

The doctor left, and the technician brought me back to the changing area—and then it was done. I stopped on the way home and got a large coffee and a sausage-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich, and felt so much better. The sweet, sweet relief of coffee is well worth the occasional pain of being a little dependent on it.

Overall, I would say that most of the fretting could be assigned to the Newness, as opposed to the actual procedure. If I had to do the same test again, I would be only very mildly anxious about it: maybe a 1 or 2 on a scale of 10, and most of that would be the nervousness that comes from not being sure I’m following directions correctly, combined with worrying about what they’ll find. LESS anxious than, say, a routine physical where I have to step on a scale, take off the johnny, talk about exercise and alcohol, discuss how many years I have left before they start suggesting colonoscopies, etc.

Changing My Cartilage Piercing for the First Time

It has been awhile since I had my cartilage piercings done: I had the first one done in July of last year, and the second done in August. I still love them. The only thing I don’t love is that I’ve continued to sleep on my side, which mashes the earrings. Every morning when I wake up, the area around the piercings looks a little puffy, and one of the earrings is tipped up diagonally. I think the tipped one must also have been pierced a little crooked, but maybe not, maybe it’s that the cartilage is softer or I sleep more on that side or something.

Either way, I felt uneasy about squashing them like that, and I don’t like how one keeps being tilted, so I went back to the piercing place and asked if there was anything I could do. They recommended flat-backed earrings, which have little discs on the backs instead of the familiar curly nubbin. I bought six of them, because they were on a buy-2-get-1-free sale.

I went home and I braced myself for the unknown and possibly gross. I was nervous about changing them: I’d read that it was more challenging to change a cartilage piercing than an earlobe piercing. I got everything I’d need: the saline spray, some rubbing alcohol in a soda-bottle cap to sterilize the new earrings and clean the old ones, some little cotton pads to wipe the ear clean.

I took out the first of the old earrings, which was hard to do. I know how to take out ear-piercing earrings, which snap-lock in place, but the cartilage is so much more rigid than the earlobe, and there was less room to get my fingers into position, and I was nervous it would hurt, and I was nervous I’d do it wrong. But I got ready, and then I pulled, and the earring came unsnapped as expected. What was not expected was that the ear around the piercing immediately puffed up both front and back: an alarming little lump on both sides. Hm. That doesn’t seem right. Or was that lump already there, and I hadn’t seen it because the earrings was there? It was hard to say.

I chose one of the new earrings, and tried to take the flat backing off of it. I tugged and nothing happened. I twisted and nothing happened. Finally I thought to twist the STUD part of the earring—and it unscrewed. Uh oh. This meant that the earring post needed to go into the piercing from the BACK, and then the stud would get screwed back on. I didn’t know how that would work, but I know people change their own piercings all the time, so I proceeded on faith.

I got the new earring ready. I bent my ear-shell forward and…it was clear I was not going to be able to put an earring in from the back. No way. I couldn’t even see where to put it. And the earring post was SHARP, so I was not inclined to start stabbing it around hopefully. And the whole thing seemed gross and scary, and I was worried something was going to hurt. But the earring was out, and a new earring had to go in, and no one else was home, and I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be willing to do it even if they’d ALL been home. I was on my own. Like Indiana Jones, basically.

The first solution my panicky brain came up with was to forget the whole thing. Never mind! Let the piercing heal up! Failed experiment! But I didn’t WANT to. I LIKE those piercings. I am not really a badass in any way, but I have badass aspirations if I can ever stop crying and cringing at everything, and those piercings feel like a step in the right direction. Plus I think they’re pretty. So here was my next thought process:

1. An earring has to go into that hole.
2. It has to be the kind of earring that goes in from the front.
3. I could put the original earring back in, but that’s discouraging and solves nothing.
4. What I wanted originally was SMALLER gold balls, like the ones in my second earlobe piercing.
5. I DO HAVE more of those smaller gold balls.
6. They do go in from the front.
7. Seems to me that we have a plan and it is time to stop dithering and spring into action.

Like Indiana Jones, I sprang to my room and got a pair of the earrings, which are sterile until unwrapped. I unwrapped them. Should I put them in the rubbing alcohol, even if they’re sterile? I mean, they’re unwrapped now, so are they still sterile? For how long? Well, let’s not sit here fretting about it, let’s just pour a little rubbing alcohol into the palm of my hand and give the earrings a quick dip.

I was worried that the earring wouldn’t go in: as I mentioned earlier, I’d read that it could be more difficult than with an earlobe piercing. I was further worried that the post would be shorter than the freshly puffy width it needed to bridge. I got the post through with only a little stabby fumbling: ouch, ouch, ouch, okay there we go. But only a teeny bit of the post stuck out of the back of the ear. I took the backing, I put it against that little point, and I shoved it on; it snapped into place with only a slight and brief pinch. It was in. It did not continue to hurt; it felt fine.

Now I had one large gold stud and one small. The question was: proceed, or leave well enough alone? It bugs me to have things uneven, and the first one had gone fairly well, and so INTO THE FRAY. Indiana Jones would have done the same with HIS cartilage piercings. I will stop mentioning him now.

I prepared to remove the second earring. I braced. I winced. I applied the pull-apart pressure. Nothing happened, and I felt like I didn’t have a good grip on it; the angle felt weird. I tried again, with more resolve and a better grip, and this time it snapped out. The ear had a lump like the first ear did, but this one looked less like it was new and more like it had been there all along: smoother and the skin looked more normal. I’d thought I seen a lump when that earring was still in, but I hadn’t been able to tell for sure. I know that can happen with cartilage piercings, and that the lump can linger for kind of a long time (like, a year), and it didn’t look scary in any other way so I’d figured that was the situation.

I put the new earring in, and got the back into position. But this time I couldn’t seem to get a good grip: the stud part kept slipping to the side as I tried to hold it steady, and I was nervous to apply a lot of pressure and then have it slip. I tried various things: using a bit of paper towel to hold the stud part steady, changing the angle of the ear flap, switching hands around. At one point the earring slipped out and I had to put it back in again. I was getting nervous and sweaty. And then I did get it, and it snapped into place. Huge relief.

I still have my saline spray from last time. It is surprisingly expensive, but it helps: I first bought the H2Ocean from the piercing place because I didn’t want to argue with them about it (it’s one of their huge mark-up items, so they really push it), and when it was all used up I tried the kind of saline they make for contact lenses, which I was sure was exactly the same stuff. I don’t know WHY it didn’t work as well, and maybe it’s because I’m suggestible, or maybe it’s because the ocean spray is literally better in some way, or most likely it’s because the cheaper saline wasn’t a propelled spray so I dribbled most of it down my shirt, but anyway I ended up buying a larger bottle of H2Ocean from Amazon. (The piercing place sold me 1.5 ounces for $7; Amazon has 4 ounces for $10-12.) And when I brought it out to use it in this story, for my fresh cartilage earrings, it didn’t work: it just wouldn’t spray at all. I tried removing the nozzle and cleaning it, squiggling into the crevices with a toothpick. I tried turning the nozzle different directions. I tried pressing really hard while clenching my teeth and saying “SERIOUSLY??” Nothing worked. I used the cheaper saline instead, getting saline all in my hair and down my shirt. Later I had Paul look at the H2Ocean, and he said he didn’t know why it was broken (we suspect a child tampered with it) but it WAS broken. It is a testimony to my H2devotion that I ordered ANOTHER $11 bottle of it, to have on hand in case the fresh earrings caused the piercings to go south.

But they have NOT gone south. They are still a little puffy, but not alarming-looking. They don’t hurt. No fluids are emerging from them. The one that seemed to puff as soon as I took the old earring out is still kind of shiny and the earring looks pressed in because of the swelling, but the other one (the one that had seemed to have a little lump all along) looks the same as normal. And even the first one doesn’t look bad or scary, just a little puffy and pink as if maybe I squeezed it and disrupted it and poked it and squeezed it again, and as if it were a little puffy to begin with and that’s why we started this whole thing.

The new earrings don’t really Solve The Problem per se, since they still have the regular non-flat backings. But the gold-ball part is about half the size of the ones I had before, so although they do still get squished when I sleep on them, there is less metal to press into skin. And I prefer the look of them: I thought the old ones were too big. So I am basically happy, though a little squinty about the $20+ I spent on six flat-backed earrings I can’t use on my own.

The last time I went to the piercing place and asked for advice about earrings, the clerk gave suggestions and then said something like “Unfortunately our piercer is off today, so he can’t change them for you.” So my IMPRESSION is that if I ask, the piercer CAN change them for me? I don’t know if there’s a cost to this, and I don’t know if he can change them for me if I bring back earrings I bought on another occasion. But when I had the piercings done I noticed a Tip Jar in his room, so perhaps it’s the kind of thing where he does it and there is an understanding that I will leave a little something in the jar? Do speak up if you know how this goes. Also do speak up if you have figured out how to change a flat-backed earring yourself.

What it Was Like to Get a Cartilage Piercing

Oh, hello, are you another member of the “I have always wanted an unusual piercing and/or a tattoo but I have anxieties and indecisiveness that have prevented this from becoming a reality even as the decades go by one after another” club? It is a pretty exclusive club, but we have good pastries.

Yesterday I finally broke through and got a cartilage piercing, and I thought you might like to know what that was like. Here were my anxieties beforehand:

1. Maybe it will hurt for a long time afterward

2. Maybe it will get infected

3. I’ve heard the piercing might make a gross pop or crunch sound

4. Maybe something will go wrong and my ear will be deformed for the rest of my life

5. I don’t even know how much something like this will cost

6. I can’t decide where to put the piercing, or how many to get

7. What if the location “means” something? (this covers anything from a vague memory about how it matters which ear a guy gets pierced, to hoping I don’t pick a location privately referred to among piercers as The Boring Middle-Aged Mom)

8. Feeling self-conscious about being perceived as trying too hard to be cool

9. The place on the mall that did my lobe piercings says I have to find a licensed tattoo/piercing parlor for this, and I feel very nervous about everything about that: how to find one, whether I’ll feel dumb going into such a cool place, whether that means it’s going to cost a lot more than I expect, what they’ll think of me, why I still care about things like that, etc.

10. It’s a semi-permanent or potentially permanent thing (like if something goes wrong), and that is a nervous thing


12. Maybe I will regret it FOREVER


So! Yesterday I was feeling extremely cooped up in the house, so Rob and Elizabeth and I headed to the mall. I used to go to the mall ALL THE TIME when I had children in a stroller and I needed a place to walk around and kill time and buy things and eat lunch, all without having to fold up the stroller, but I haven’t been in literally years. For one thing, when the kids are no longer in a stroller, how do you carry all your STUFF? But the kids thought it was a keen idea, and I wanted to do something, ANYTHING, so off we went.

We had lunch in the food court, and that is just so excellent when I’m somewhere with more than one kid. We didn’t have to agree on a place and that was rad. After lunch we wandered around and found there really wasn’t anywhere any of us wanted to look. Oh, except Claire’s: Elizabeth and I both wanted to look at Claire’s. I wish I had a photo of my 6-foot teenage boy standing in Claire’s, surrounded by everything sparkly and fluffy and cute, looking pained as Elizabeth fairy-flew around saying “Oooooo look at this cute cat!!!” and “Ooooo owl earrings!!” and so forth.

I noticed that the piercing kiosk (not at Claire’s) that told me long ago they didn’t do cartilage piercings now had a big section of cartilage earrings and belly-button earrings, so I thought I would ask just in case they now did them. But no, they still do not, and also the clerk turned out to be one of those clerks who answers a question as if it’s the thousandth time a particular customer has asked her the question, rather than as if it is the very first time (or possibly second time for some of us, but YEARS apart) for each of a thousand customers. Eye roll, exasperated tone, defensive tone as if I had demanded to know why they didn’t rather than just asking if they did; she said the state only allows it to be done at licensed tattoo/piercing parlors.

Well. That was disappointing. I was pretty sure it would take me a good long time to investigate that option, or to follow through after I’d investigated—especially if I’d need to call ahead for an appointment instead of just walking in.

We continued through the mall. The kids were doing a fair amount of “Oh, I remember these gumball machines!!” and “Oh, I remember this tile pattern!!” and “The candy store is gone??” We were just to the part where we’d leave the mall and find our car, and I remembered we hadn’t yet found the rides. Elizabeth, age 11 and over 5 feet tall, was embarrassed to want to do one of the rides, but she DID want to do one, so we were going to do one. Also, that’s where the gumball/candy/toy machines were, and I was going to let them pick one thing each for old times’ sake.

As we walked round and round the gumball/candy/toy machines making our choices, I saw as if through a beam of heavenly light a sign placed in the entrance to a store: “State Licensed Piercing Parlor.” Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. Why, if there was a state-licensed piercing parlor IN THIS VERY MALL, did the clerk at the piercing kiosk NOT MENTION THAT FACT?? Furthermore, the store looked like a cool-but-not-scary jewelry store, and the person on duty in the store was a friendly-looking girl: glasses, normal appearance, not too cool, a few tattoos and piercings but just enough to show she’d know what was what, not enough to make me feel out of my league.

I asked if they did cartilage piercings, and she said yes they did, and I said this was my first time here and (*gesturing at walls COVERED with RACK UPON RACK of earring choices*) could she point me to the earring choices for the piercing? She said those would be in the back room where the piercing would take place. I was a little cheesed not to get to look at the options ahead of time but WHATEVER, let’s DO this!

First she took my driver’s license and made a copy of it so that the copy appeared on a sheet of info for me to fill out. I had to give my name, address, and age, and I had to write my driver’s license number on a line right next to the photocopy of my driver’s license number. I had to answer a series of half a dozen or so questions: was I pregnant or nursing? was I over 18? was I currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol? did I currently harbor any contagious diseases? was I allergic to latex or metal? did I understand that this could go very wrong indeed and I would have no legal recourse? No, yes, no, no, no, yes.

Then there was a care sheet she went over with me. When I got my earlobe piercings done (as a child and later as a high school student), there was a different philosophy for after-care than there is now. I remember I was supposed to wash the piercings with rubbing alcohol multiple times a day, and also turn the earrings a LOT: the idea was to keep the piercing sterile (the rubbing alcohol), and keep the earring from sticking to the skin while healing (the turning). Now the idea is to LEAVE THEM ALONE. Just…LEAVE THEM ALONE, stop TOUCHING them, GAH! She asked did I want the $6.99 after-care liquid, and I know from when we had Elizabeth’s ears pierced that the $6.99 after-care liquid is nothing more than saline I could buy for a dollar at Target, but I ALSO know it avoids a lot of talk and warnings to just buy the $6.99 after-care liquid. (At other times of life, I have gone the other way, and have figured it is worth saving $5.99 (($6.99 less the dollar to buy saline at Target)) to endure a few moments of discomfort with a clerk. But at this moment, I was more RIDE THE MOMENTUM than SAVE THE DOLLARS.) Anyway, the care plan is to spray the piercing every 3-4 hours with the saline but don’t otherwise touch them or turn them or mess with them at all. It’s going to be hard for me to override the earlier training: the alcohol-and-turning made more sense to me, though this plan makes sense too.

She said that if the piercing DID get infected, I should under no circumstances take the earring out. That instead I should come back any time the store was open to see the guy who does the piercings, and he would treat/help/advise. She also said I should not change the earring for 6-9 months. MONTHS. Which ratcheted up my feelings of stress about choosing the earring.

She said I could bring one person back into the piercing room with me, but that neither of us could do anything with photos or videos or any sort of recording. (I did not want to bring anyone back with me.)

I imagine it varies considerably from location to location and from type of piercing to type of piercing, but at THIS place it was $30.00 for one single cartilage piercing, plus the $6.99 for the saline. Then I sat on a couch and waited to be called. At this point I gave Rob a couple of dollars and told him to take Elizabeth to the rides. And just as they walked away, a nice non-threatening-looking man came out and called me back to the piercing room. He did not have any visible tattoos or piercings of his own; his hair was short. He looked like a lab technician: medical and conservative. (Your own piercing technician may vary.)

It was a small room, like a smallish dentist/doctor room. There was a chair a bit like a dentist chair and covered in paper, and a big mirror on the wall, and a bunch of cabinets, and one of those metal-tray rolling side-tables. There were certificates on the wall, presumably testifying that the person about to alter my body was trained, licensed, and authorized to do so. The piercing guy asked what we were doing today, and glanced at my receipt to confirm it.

He handed me the card of earring choices, which blew my circuits right out: there were about three dozen choices, and he was clearly thinking I would just pick one real quick, when my actual m.o. would be to take about six weeks to weigh the options. There were three basic categories of choices: colored stones bezel-set in gold or silver; colored stones non-bezel-set in gold or silver; and metal studs in gold, silver, or a blackened silvery metal. The metal studs were about twice the size of the colored-stone options, and I wanted something smaller, but I could not choose a color. I liked too many of them, but none of them enough to be clearly the one I wanted. I just couldn’t figure it out. I panicked and chose gold, even though it was (1) too big, (2) a fake-looking gold, and (3) not as fun as a colored stone.

The piercing guy asked where I wanted it placed, and I didn’t exactly know, and I’ve found in situations like that it sometimes helps to clarify the strength of my opinion so that the professional knows to feel free to suggest changes to the plan. So I said I had been thinking of “this region?”—indicating the curve of my ear from twelve o’clock to…well, nine o’clock or three o’clock, depending on how we are overlaying the clock concept with the ear concept. Upper outer quadrant, is what I mean. I said I was not sure where specifically I wanted it, but…here-ish?—indicating more specifically the eleven o’clock / one o’clock location. But I added “whatever seems best.” He put some stuff on the ear, washing it and sterilizing it I assume, and then drew a mark. He said, “Without. Touching. Your ear. Look in this mirror and tell me if it’s right.” I looked, and he’d drawn the mark more at ten o’clock / two o’clock. (I regret the clock imagery, but we’re too far in at this point.) I was very aware that this was an EASY change at this point if I wanted it higher; I also wanted to defer to his professional opinion; I was also aware that his professional opinion might be at the shrug-who-cares end of the spectrum so I didn’t want to defer TOO much. I weighed these elements and decided I liked where he had put it. For one thing, eventually I am thinking I want three piercings in a little arc, and this would be a nice position for the lowest of the three.

He unwrapped some thingies I didn’t look too closely at (one of them looked like too big of a pokey thing for me to want to think about it) and mentioned that these were all one-time-use supplies and would be used for me only. He took an earring out of a wee little baggie. I said, “Brace me for how much this is going to hurt,” and he said, “Oh, I think you’ll be surprised!” Me, aware that he really would not say that if he meant it would hurt MORE than I’d expect, but unable to avoid the follow-up just to be sure: “… … …A lot?” Him: “No, no, I mean pleasantly surprised!”

He had me lie down on my side, with the ear in question facing up. I felt him messing with my ear a little, dabbing/arranging it. Then he said, “Okay, take a deep breath,” and I did, and I didn’t count the seconds but my perception afterward was that it was about three seconds of pain. The pain was of a fully-bearable nature for that time period: that is, I thought to myself “Oof, ack, ouch,” but then it was over. It seemed to me it was about one second’s worth of the pain of the actual piercing, followed by one second’s worth of it continuing to hurt, followed by one second’s worth of pain from him putting the earring into the hole he’d just pierced.

I know this will vary from person to person and from piercing to piercing, but in my case I didn’t hear or feel any kind of crunch or pop. When I had my earlobes pierced, I remembered being surprised that the pain sensation was more of a really strong hot squeezing pinch, rather than the sharp point of pain I expected; in this case, the pain sensation was less of a pinch and more of a sharp point.

He spent another 20 seconds or so fussing with the ear, cleaning it up. Then he let me sit up and had me look at it, and I approved it and thanked him, and that was it. It all took so little time that when I left the piercing room Rob and Elizabeth were only just walking back into the waiting area. The clerk said, “How did it go?” and I said “Great!” and she said, “Great! Call if you have any questions or concerns!” and I said “Okay, I will!” and I walked out of there feeling really wonderful. Like “I DID IT!! I REALLY DID IT!! IT REALLY HAPPENED AND IT’S REALLY OVER AND DONE!!” Mixed with a sort of astonishment at how quickly and easily the whole thing was done, after so many years of thinking about it and worrying about it. It was a pleasingly casual experience, and I felt extremely good about finally pulling it off.


I had immediate and enduring regret over the earring choice (it’s so big! it’s such a fake-looking gold! why didn’t I just choose the nice light green? or the aqua? or the clear? or really ANYTHING AT ALL EXCEPT THE GOLD??), but I am always in need of practice in not wasting time thinking about small, temporary, unimportant stuff, so I will accept this next installment of the lifelong lesson plan. This is the unsurprising-result math equation I encounter again and again: “person who has trouble making snap decisions” + “forced snap decision” = “nearly inevitable regret.” And when the issue is an earring choice rather than, say, a life-threatening crisis situation, it’s really, really okay. If I continue to be bothered by it, I also have the option of going back to the store and saying to the nice friendly clerk that I regret my earring choice and is there any way to throw money at the problem to fix it? Like, what if I purchase another piercing earring, and have the piercing guy change the earring for me? I could even pay the entire $30 fee over again for this. Or, OR, I could DEFY THEIR RULES and buy my own piercing earring at another location and change it myself! Or I can just be PATIENT, and then get whatever I want after the long unendurable torment of Not Quite The Earring I Wanted is over. I DO have options here.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, the pain situation. So, as we were leaving the piercing place, my ear didn’t hurt even a tiny bit, but it did feel quite hot. All the way home, it didn’t hurt. All afternoon: no pain, just heat. Then I tucked my hair behind my ear as I do many times a day, and my hand brushed lightly against the back of the earring, and OH JEHOSHAPHAT LET’S NOT DO THAT AGAIN. But it didn’t hurt as long as I didn’t touch it, and it didn’t hurt to put the saline spray on it. Still, I started worrying how I was going to sleep, since my usual is to flip back and forth from side to side all night.

And it was a bit difficult: I hadn’t realized just how much I rely on the flipping back and forth until I couldn’t do it. I woke up a lot, and felt sad to have to be on just one side, and was very grateful I hadn’t tried to do piercings on both sides in the same session. One time I woke up to find myself cheating: I was on the side I wasn’t supposed to sleep on, with the pillow folded under the behind-my-ear area so that the ear was pretty much free.

When I woke up in the morning, the ear didn’t hurt at all. Like, I was very carefully taking out my braid, and my hand nevertheless brushed against the earring, and it felt like nothing. I jostled it a few times on purpose, and still nothing: it felt like a piercing I’d had for years. But just now I was jostling it again for comparison, and then realized I was actually jostling the higher-up one of my lobe piercings and not my new cartilage piercing, so. Hard to say for sure about earlier today.

I took a shower very cautiously: the care sheet says to avoid harsh soaps and shampoos, and to rinse thoroughly. I was not sure where “rinse thoroughly” and “quit TOUCHING it!” should meet, but I did my best. Afterward, I was verrrrrry careful when turbaning, brushing, styling my hair; when I jostled the earring, it did hurt a little, but not like yesterday when it was a startling feeling. I would use a word such as TENDER, rather than a word such as HOLY HELL.

At this point it’s been nearly 24 hours since I had the piercing done. I just jostled the earring on purpose a few times, and I would say “tender” still applies. I feel inclined to leave it alone. I will update later about how things go over the next…6-9 months.

Update 1: Second morning report. The clerk told me not to sleep on the piercing, but I kept waking up sleeping on that side. It was apparently not tender enough to prevent me from doing so. When I got up, I saw what looked like a small amount of very dark dried blood between the earring and my ear. I was glad I was about to get in the shower anyway so I didn’t have to decide what to do about it. I put the shower on its gentler setting and repeatedly let the water run over the piercing as I was showering. When I got out of the shower, the piercing looked clean and fresh again. The piercing still feels tender if I jostle it or accidentally knock into it. Part of the discomfort is that the cartilage part of the ear is so rigid. My lobe piercings feel as if they’ve got quite a bit of wiggle room, but the cartilage piercing is sturdier, and so feels wronger if gets wiggled.

Update 2: On Day….let’s see. I got it done on a Wednesday, and I am going to talk about Sunday, so that would be Day 5. On Day 5, my ear felt more tender than before, and was the hot-pink color it was the day it was pierced, and was very slightly swollen: not super-puffy or anything, but I could tell because the earring seemed to be a tighter fit than before.

Update 3: Two-and-a-half weeks. I am back to sleeping almost normally on that side: every so often there is a little twinge, but I just readjust the pillow. I stopped using the multiple-times-a-day saline spray about a week ago; I use it just if the piercing feels itchy or irritated. After I’ve rinsed my hair in the shower, I pull my hair aside and rinse just the piercing, front and back, for awhile—like, 15 to 30 seconds, probably. I lightly touch the back of the earring as I’m rinsing the front, and lightly touch the front of the earring as I’m rinsing the back, to make sure I’m rinsing between the earring and the skin. My ear is not pink or swollen anymore. The piercing is still sensitive if I jostle it, but not oh-holy-hell—just a twinge that makes me disinclined to jostle it. I wish I’d updated about a week ago when the piercing area felt Quite Itchy, so I’d know when that was and how long it lasted, but I forgot. Well, it was about a week ago, and I think it lasted a couple of days. It wasn’t call-the-doctor itchy, but it was itchy enough that I thought, “I hope this is HEALING itchiness and not INFECTION itchiness.” There were no other symptoms besides pinkness (and the pinkness might have been because I kept furtively scratching my ear): no oozing or swelling whatever.

I’m feeling happier with the gold stud: it helped considerably when I replaced the smaller gold stud in my up-high lobe piercing, because now the two golds match in color. Also, as I got used to the cartilage piercing it just seemed much less noticeable over all. No one says, “OH! You got a new piercing!”—it’s not noticeable enough for that. It’s much less of a big deal than I’d thought it would be, and I mean that in the positive sense. I feel very happy about doing it, and a little silly for waiting so long.

Drops in the Bucket, Holiday-Style

I am feeling sad and cranky and plain today, and my hair is kind of dumb and I’m tired of all my shirts. Paul and I had another argument, and whatever, the upshot was that I started cleaning out the basement storage area, and feeling about 10% satisfaction and 90% resentment-and-why-did-I-marry-a-jerk-who-was-such-a-jerk.

It HAS been satisfying to get rid of some things. I had two medium boxes of baby things I’d forgotten I still had—not particularly sentimental stuff, but the few practical things I’d kept Just In Case: the only front carrier I ever liked, the few receiving blankets that worked best, a hooded towel, the best play gym ever, the favorite baby toys. Time to get rid of those.

Also, do you remember the mother-in-law dishes? That was a long time ago and still so satisfying to me to think of. I swear those dishes made me more pleasant for my mother-in-law’s visits. But in the six years since my mother-in-law died, I haven’t opened the box a single time, or even thought of doing so. And so it is time for that box to go.

I’ve stalled on the basement project for now to give myself plenty of time to sit around fretting about Christmas. I always do that at this time of year, and everything always works out, but this year I am later on everything than I have ever been. That is, when I place orders, some of them aren’t going to arrive until after Christmas. I always at least get the Christmas card stuff up from the basement by this time of the month, and this year I haven’t even taken a picture of the children yet. The tree, which is never up long enough to suit me, is not decorated. And curses, CURSES on the earlier version of myself who thought it was a good idea to make gingerbread houses with the children, because they have latched onto that SO HARD that now I can never stop.

This morning I thought “Something MUST be done.” That is, I can’t just keep fluttering around being stressed and yet somehow not making any progress. And so I am going to take the drops in the bucket approach to this. If I hang one single ornament on the tree, if I order one gift, if I buy one single container of eggnog—all of these things bring us closer to what I’d like to have done, and make me calmer.

Yesterday I did TWO things: I brought the Christmas cards upstairs, and I brought a Christmas mug upstairs. I’d kept NOT bringing the mug upstairs, because “I can’t do that until I put away some of the everyday mugs, and I can’t do THAT until I bring up the whole Christmas box and take everything out of it so there’s room to pack away the everyday mugs.” But then here I was, every morning, not drinking out of a Christmas mug, and drinking out of a Christmas mug is one of my favorite things about Christmas. That mug can sit on the damn COUNTER if there’s no room in the cupboard, and today I put eggnog in there (purchased as the One Thing from the day before yesterday) with my coffee.

This afternoon I am taking a picture of the children. We were going to do one with all seven of us this year, but that’s not going to work out, and we’re out of time, so Just Kids it is. We haven’t changed much anyway. I will try to ALSO take the pictures off the camera, choose one, and order it, but that’s like three additional tasks so we’ll see.

Collected Solutions for Winter Blues

I am low. Low, low, low. Lowwwwwwwwwwww—no, that looks like “ow” with an L. Talking about being low is one of the things that can help fix being low, so here we are.

First, it is so boring to be someone who would be talking about this again. I cringe on your behalf. As the decades of life roll past, it seems as if this would stop happening, but no. At least it gets easier to recognize as A Low Time which is MASQUERADING AS a Ruined Wasted Life of Doing/Being Everything Wrong, and therefore has become somewhat easier to deal with. When I’m lying awake thinking of every way in which everything I’ve ever said or done has been in the very NICEST interpretation stupid and clueless, I can think, “Okay, there is no point thinking about this, now just stop it” before I continue thinking about it, instead of thinking I OUGHT to think about it, or that it is HELPING to think about it.

Second, I continue to find it useful to pretend someone ELSE is saying/thinking the same things, and deal with it THAT way. I am by temperament a Fixer, one of those people it’s good to prime with “Now, I just want to VENT to you about this, I don’t want SOLUTIONS.” If I pretend someone else is saying the floppy, discouraged things I’m thinking, then my mind immediately switches into Fixer Mode instead of cycling back around uselessly into more discouraged flopping.

Third, I continue to find it useful to ask what would make it better, even infinitesimally. Big things are too big, and too difficult: if a big thing is what it’s going to take, I can’t do it. But little things add up to a big thing. Drinking a glass of water is not too hard, and maybe helps a little tiny bit: one point for the actual inputting of the water, plus a second point for feeling like you’re doing something good for yourself, plus a third point for feeling like you’re making some progress on feeling better. Wiping a little spill off the counter is not too hard: one point for the actual wiping, one point for the improved household view, one point for not seeing that spill and feeling bad every time you walk past it, one point for feeling like you’re making a difference. Sending for a course catalog is not too hard. Eating a baby carrot is not too hard. Writing something down on the list is not too hard. Filing one piece of paper is not too hard. Turning on the radio isn’t too hard. Petting a cat or dog isn’t too hard, if you have/like a cat/dog. Peeing is not too hard, and can help considerably.

Fourth, I continue to find it useful to dabble / DO something. I picture it exactly like when someone in a movie is trying to start a fire, and they get the teeniest little glow and they immediately put all their energy into encouraging that little glow to survive and get bigger. QUICK, GIVE IT OXYGEN!! Any flicker of interest I feel in anything, I try to pursue it before it goes out. As I drove sullenly through town the other day feeling as if life were nothing more than a neverending cycle of pointless, tedious chores punctuated by pointless, stressful chores, I saw through the window of one of the shops a rack of what looked like postcards. I felt a flicker of interest. A feeling of “What’s the point? I have too many postcards already, and barely ever do Postcrossing anymore” threatens to put it out; a feeling of “It’s probably just greeting cards anyway” is the next threat, followed by a feeling of “It’ll just be awkward: I’ll go in and there won’t be anything I want or they’ll be greeting cards or they’ll be postcards but overpriced, and the owner will keep talking to me and I’ll feel pressured and the whole thing will be a bust and I’ll have wasted my time,” which needs to be shoved HARD away from that little glow. I will go to that shop today, when it opens. One point for satisfied curiosity; one point for getting out of the house; one point for a mission; one point for probable social contact, however brief; one point for feeling like I’m making progress on feeling better.