Tag Archives: my crazy childhood

Elementary School Blues

Yesterday Lily had her first minor spat with a classmate at school. At least, I assume it was minor because I only heard about it from Lily. Her teacher didn’t call me, and Lily was allegedly toward the top of the behavior chart for the day.

Lily came to me and tearfully announced, “Mara said I’m not 6. She said I’m 5, but I AM 6. She wouldn’t believe me!” She was really upset about the encounter.

Well, as one of my friends said, Lily should have said, “I turned six last week, stupid. Weren’t you paying attention?” because they’d celebrated Lily’s birthday in the classroom last week. Obviously Lily was more polite than that. Otherwise I probably would have gotten a phone call about the whole thing.

This led to a facebook discussion about our own memories of elementary school angst. I still hold a grudge against the large girl who got mad at me for not letting her cut in the line for the bathroom in first grade. When I wouldn’t move, she picked me up and moved me to the end of the line. I have hated her ever since. It has been 28 years, and I still hate her. I never bothered to get to know her after that. I just thought she was mean. I wonder if we would be friends right now if she hadn’t moved me in the bathroom.

I also am still annoyed with the sole other Jewish girl in my class for something that happened in first grade, and she was probably trying to look out for my best interests. My family does not keep kosher. I’m not sure what generation stopped following Jewish dietary laws, but neither my mother’s nor father’s parents kept kosher. Not keeping kosher is pretty common among non-Orthodox American Jews. The other Jewish girl in my grade DID keep kosher. When she saw me getting a ham patty (one of my favorites) from the lunch line at school, she tattled on me to the lunch lady. And the lunch lady took my sandwich away!

Which, OMG! Who was this Christian lunch lady to enforce my religious eating habits? As an adult, I don’t know if I’m more mad at the girl who tattled on me for eating ham when I DON’T KEEP KOSHER or the lunch lady for believing one Jewish kid over another. If I really kept kosher, I would be packing my lunch because the school cafeteria surely isn’t kosher. I’d been getting my lunch at school everyday and had definitely eaten milk with meat MANY times before this event happened. I may have even had the ham patty at school before.

And if I WAS breaking dietary laws, wouldn’t that be an issue for my parents to talk to me about later? Not the lunch lady? Whose duty is it to stop me from eating a ham sandwich? I know I was too young to be making my own religious choices, but seriously, not the lunch lady’s place to step in. I was annoyed with the other Jewish girl for years over this– but she was young too and probably just trying to look out for me.

So those are my two big early elementary angst stories. As you can see, they clearly stuck with me. I wonder if Lily will remember the time Mara told her she was 6? Is that in the same league as being physically moved to the end of the line in the bathroom or being denied a ham sandwich and told you were breaking rules when you weren’t?

What early elementary school conflict still gets you worked up?


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A Surprise in the Litter Box

I’ve written before about my mom’s latest in a long line of animal obsessions: Her pet pig Wuzzle.

When you have a pig that lives in the house, you usually have a litter box for that pig. Wuzzle prefers to hold it and do most of his business outside, but she keeps the litter box inside for Wuzzle just in case he has to go potty while she’s not home. Wuzzle usually used the box about once a week. Suddenly, my mom noticed Wuzzle was using the box every day. She actually got a little worried about him. Why was Wuzzle suddenly using the box so frequently? Did he have a bladder infection? Was it pig diabetes? What was happening?

Then one day my mom walked into the “pig’s room” and found her dog in the litter box. Peeing. Her Australian shepherd Dusty had been watching the pig use the litter box and decided she wanted to get in on the action too!

The dog has apparently been using the pig litter for a while. All those extra litter box presents were probably from the dog and not the pig!

The dog was really embarrassed to be caught in the act. Really, she should be praised! I mean, that certainly makes some parts of life with a dog easier… but others harder. Who wants to change the litter box of a 50 pound dog?

What I’m confused about is why it took a pig to convince the dog to use a litter box. She’s been living in a house with cats her whole life.

By the way, the “pig’s room”? It’s my childhood bedroom. That’s right, my childhood bedroom is where a pig lives now. I feel really special and loved and… piggy.


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Only with My Mom

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Tale of the Animal Hoarder. Things haven’t changed much with my mostly harmless animal hoarding mom. This year they’ve “only” expanded their menagerie by one peacock and a new boarding horse. The pot-bellied pig they got last year has become my mother’s obsession (aside from riding horses every single day).

Wuzzle* the pig has become a celebrity among my mom’s and my friends. He has been visiting vacation Bible schools and nursing homes. He has learned a variety of stupid pet tricks and recently obtained a pair of pink butterfly wings to wear while he performs. He’s a flying fairy pig who is secure enough in his masculinity to wear pink sparkles.

My mom and Wuzzle recently came to visit. I had been making the girls some no-sew tutus out of tulle and elastic. My mom got really excited and wanted to make a tutu… for her pig. Only, she had a lot of trouble making a slip-knot and was indecisive about color patterns. It was taking forever for her to get anything done on it.

Finally she decided I should make the tutu. For her pig. At 11 pm on a weeknight.

I ended up staying up until 1 am making a tutu. For a pig. That’s right, under my mother’s encouragement and scheming, I stayed up until 1 in the morning making a tutu for a pig.

There’s a good chance that I’m the first person in the history of the world who has been forced to stay up until 1 am to make a tutu for a pot-bellied pig. My little girls have matching tutus with their cross-dressing pig uncle.

That’s right. I’m told this pig is my brother. Pigs have insatiable appetites. If that pig is my brother, that sure explains a few things about what happened to all the Halloween candy.

Believe it or not, my pig brother was probably the cleanest thing in my house when he was visiting and way easier to deal with than my mother’s bad influence country dogs.

*Indiana ISTEP kids of the 1980s and 1990s would be able to fill in this example from the vocabulary section of the annual standardized test. The test had the same five-ish words on it every single year. “A balou is a bear. A yonker is a young man. Wuzzle means to mix.”


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Swine Invasion

Chances are, you do not have a picture of your 3 month old like this.

Or if you do, you took it at a petting zoo and not in your own backyard or living room.

My parents came to visit this past weekend and when they come to stay, a small menagerie comes with them. It used to be “just” four dogs traveling with them, but two of the dogs recently died and now they are traveling with their newfound best friend for life, Wuzzle the Pig and two dogs. As odd as it is that my parents have a house pig, I’m sort of surprised it took this long to happen considering all the odd things my mom has brought home before.

So I have a pig as an overnight guest. He comes with a giant kennel and a litter box. Whenever my parents make a rest stop on the trip here, they are rushed by a crowd of pig fans who take his picture like he’s some sort of pig celebrity. What do these people do with these pictures of a pig stranger they saw at the rest stop? That’s what I want to know. I suppose it would make a cute “OMG, look what I just saw at the rest stop” facebook status, but I find it hard to believe that that’s what all those people were doing. I like cute animals as much as the next girl, but I don’t need a picture of the random pot bellied pig I saw at a McDonalds by the freeway.

I do, however, understand and like pictures of a pig I happen to know, especially when he’s standing next to a baby I know even better.

Based on the pig paparazzi my parents encounter, you all WISH you had pictures of your baby like this.


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Potty Princess

At a cousin’s wedding nine years ago, my mom, sister and I got very bored. We had to go to the wedding at least two hours early in order to take some family pictures. We weren’t even going to be in these pictures, but they wanted some shots of my grandparents and my dad was my grandparents’ chauffeur an airplane ride away from a world where we had our own cars. The wedding was at a secluded mansion on a mountain. There really wasn’t much to do once the pictures were taken. We didn’t even get to visit much because everyone else there was in the wedding party and busy.

In our boredom, we got a little bit loopy. We were all dressed up and we had a camera. For some reason, the OBVIOUS choice of entertainment was to take formal pictures of ourselves in the various mansion bathrooms. We thought we were hilariously clever and giggled hysterically while we did this. The pictures turned out hilarious. It was pre-digital so I don’t have a copy, but my mom has them prominently displayed in her bathroom to this day.

And a tradition was born. Every wedding since then we have posed in our formal wear in the bathroom. Or we’ve at least attempted to do this. At another cousin’s mountain mansion wedding on the opposite side of the country, all that was available was a portable potty and we didn’t all fit in there, especially because I was pregnant with Rose.

Naturally when it came to my own wedding, I HAD to use the professional photographer to get formal pictures of us by the toilet. It wouldn’t be a real wedding without such shots.

This is the most elegant bridal picture you are ever going to see.

I have the pictures from this photo shoot framed and hanging in my bathroom. Right now, we are attempting to potty train Rose (note the word “attempt”) and she is obsessed with these pictures while she’s in the bathroom.

“Mommy! You wore a white dress! You are a princess!”

Any picture of me in my wedding gown elicits such a response. If I am wearing a dress (which is rare), I am a princess.

Lately she’s fixated on this picture.

My mother is elegantly displaying a roll of toilet paper next to my wedding gown. You know you wish you had a picture like this from your wedding. What? Doesn’t everyone pose by the potty?

THEY SHOULD. These pictures are seriously my most treasured wedding souvenir even though my husband is not in them.

What does Rose think is happening in this picture?

“Mommy, Nonni is making you a princess!”

That’s right, folks, she thinks my mother is making me a princess by making my dress out of toilet paper like at some wedding shower game. Now, I’ve actually seen some toilet paper dresses made by designers that are quite beautiful, but this was not one of them.

She also comments a lot about how my sister’s husband is NOT in this picture. My sister’s husband wasn’t even at our wedding because they’d only been on a couple dates at that point, otherwise he MIGHT have been in on the potty photo shoot. Why Rose notices he’s not in this picture when my father and husband are also not in this picture, I don’t know.

So, I’m a princess who wears toilet paper wedding dresses made by my mother, then poses by the toilet on my wedding day.
I thought everyone should know.



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The Birthday Pony

You know those little girls who lie in bed dreaming of horses?

Much to my mother’s dismay, I was not one of those little girls. I did not catch the horse bug, and neither did my sister. Maybe we didn’t dream of ponies because we already had horses in our backyard? My sister and I both love animals, but at ages 32 and 29 we both only have one dog a piece and that’s probably how it’s going to stay. By this point, my mother had an entire menagerie, including the horse she got for free from a lady in a pet store when she was 16 years old.

I know when you every time YOU walk into a pet store, someone offers YOU a free horse, right? Wait, they don’t? That’s not normal?

If you haven’t caught on by now, that’s how things work in my mother’s world.

When my mother was my age, 32, I was 7 years old and she was adding a second horse to her hobby farm. For my 7th birthday, my mom gave me a pony. This sounds like every spoiled little rich girl’s fantasy. When I say I got a pony for my 7th birthday, I SOUND like a spoiled little rich girl, but I swear it wasn’t like that. When you have horses in your backyard and your mother loves to go trail riding and wants to take you along, at some point you are going to get your own horse.

At this point in my life, I was taking horseback riding lessons. This also makes me sound spoiled but how else is a (hobby) farm girl going to learn how to ride? My parents got me an underweight oversized pinto pony who may or may not have been abused by her previous owners. My dad’s favorite story to tell about my pony is that when they were test-driving her, they were trying her bareback. My pony tried to take off when my dad was trying to mount her and he slipped and banged his torso against her body. She was so thin that he cracked his rib on hers.

We named her Gypsy, and she was pretty wild like a Gypsy, at least when I rode her. She had a very sensitive mouth and, well, I was a SEVEN YEAR OLD, so I’d yank too hard or fidgit too much and she’d go bucking across the arena. That horse reared up on me so many times! One time she went so far up, I really thought we were going to fall over the other side.

What’s amazing about Gypsy’s crazy antics in the arena is that I almost never fell off. She would buck and rear all over the arena and I would keep my seat. I have a terrible sense of balance on my own two feet, but I can sure keep myself on a horse. In fact, I don’t think I ever fell off of Gypsy. All the falls I remember happened on my sister’s gentle, quiet pony Piper. Piper was such a perfect pony that you never expected him to misbehave. I fell off twice when he stopped short before a jump, once when the saddle I was riding in was somehow too loose and literally slid beneath him with me on top of it and once when he spooked without warning when a hawk flew up out of high grass while we were cantering through a field. I always expected Gypsy to try to dump me, so I stayed on better. When Piper dumped me, I never even had a chance to try to hang on because I wasn’t expecting it from him! (What the hell are you supposed to do when your SADDLE falls off anyway?)

Even though I was with my parents when they were pony shopping for me, I screamed with excitement when my mom revealed Gypsy, who was decorated with bows or streamers or something, at my kid birthday party. I’m still not sure what I was screaming about. I KNEW my parents had gotten me a pony. I KNEW I was getting her for my birthday, but I still screamed like an idiot when I saw that pony with streamers on her.

Since I didn’t turn out to be much of a horsewoman and Gypsy wasn’t so easy to ride, Gypsy didn’t turn out to be a forever pony with my family. She moved on to a new owner after a few years, but I’ll always remember screaming like an idiot when I got a pony for my 7th birthday even though a) I knew I was getting a pony and b) I wasn’t one of those girls who was dreaming of horses.

Even now, I don’t really enjoy riding. Actually, I like trail-riding very much, but I hate all the dirty, nitty-gritty and time-consuming grooming and horse prep that goes with riding. Maybe I’d like riding more if I were super rich and I had someone to do all the prep work and clean up that goes with horseback riding, but as it is I’ll stick with indoor pets and hiking when I want to be in the woods.


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Bald Chickens

For about 10 years of my life, there were NICU incubators about 3 feet from where I sat eating my breakfast.

No, I wasn’t in the NICU. Or a hospital. These NICU incubators were in my parents’ eat-in kitchen.

Why are you looking at me like I’m strange? Surely everyone has such incubators in their kitchen. No?

These incubators did not contain babies, if that’s what you are thinking. Let me modify this: They did not contain HUMAN babies. This is where my mom kept her bald baby macaws and African grey parrots. When you think about baby parrots, this is probably what you are picturing.


But what was actually in my kitchen was this:



My mother bred and raised African greys and ruby macaws for many years. The breeding parrots were feral and lived in our basement. A few weeks after the babies hatched, my mom had to remove them from the nest to hand-feed them for months until they were old enough to feed themselves and sell to pet stores or private parties. The birds went for quite a bit of money in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I believe she sold the African greys for $800 each and the ruby macaws for $1200, but I could be mistaken.

It wasn’t easy work, though. The babies needed to be hand-fed with syringes of foul-smelling mush every few hours. The bird formula was a mushy brown that looked something like hummus, but smelled kind of funky. The birds gobbled up the food like it was delicious. It sure didn’t smell that way.

The birds gradually gained feathers and got bigger, but for a long time they looked like plucked chickens, just what most people have in their kitchens, except most people keep plucked chickens in the refrigerator. Ours were in baby incubators. In our kitchen. Next to where we ate.

I’ll bet most of you can’t say you’ve ever eaten lunch next to that!


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Puppy Love

I promised bird breeding this week, but I’m more inspired by another story.

Eight years ago this coming Monday, Lumpy was born. Since my mother owns Lumpy’s mother, my mom and sister’s dogs Dusty and Snwoball were also born that day. Lumpy’s best friend in the world is his brother, Snowball. Snowball usually lives in Milwaukee these days, but when the two boys get back together it’s a joyous reunion with much tackling and snuggling.

They seriously spent 90% of the last couple days curled up around each other on top of either my sister or me.

Back when my sister was in college and I was in graduate school, we lived 2 blocks away from each other. The dogs spent a lot of time together, as did my sister and I. Our dogs knew the way to each other’s houses. My sister used to dognap my dog and take both boys to the dog park. I finished graduate school one semester before my sister graduated from college and moved out of town.

Snowball did not get the message that we had moved away. He missed his brother and didn’t understand why they weren’t coming to visit us anymore. One day my sister was taking Snowball for a walk and he pulled himself out of his collar and ran away all the way to my old apartment building! He missed his brother so much that if my sister wasn’t going to take him to see her, he was going to take himself.

We weren’t there, so he was disappointed, but this is the classic tale we always retell each other about our dogs’ love for each other. Her dog loved my dog so much that he ran away from home to try to visit him.


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For Sale: Fishy House

You know what helps sell a home quickly? The smell of fish and a 4-foot-tall wild bird in the basement.

This is another crazy animal tale my father reminded me needed to be on the blog.

When my parents were selling their first home 26ish years ago, a vet asked my mom to help rehabilitate a great blue heron that had flown into some electric wires and had to have part of his wing amputated. This was not mom’s first wildlife rehab. We had recently rehabilitated a squirrel and had had other odd wild animals. We weren’t living in the country yet. Mom was doing this in our 1,400 square foot home on a small lot in a small residential neighborhood well within city limits. By the way, abandoned infant squirrels are possibly the hardest wild animals to keep alive. It almost never works out, even with a vet heavily involved in the process.

Anyway, my mom jumped at the opportunity to take care of the great blue heron. Of course she had to say yes to the giant, bizarre wild bird. How could she not?

Because her house was FOR SALE. That’s how.



She named the bird Chumley and gated off a portion of the basement that she filled with shavings. At first, Chumley ate a steady diet of smelt, which of course stunk up the house. Later, Chumley’s health started to fail him more and they had to switch to live bait to keep him interested in food. My mom kept buckets of water in the basement full of live fish she got from a bait shop.

Meanwhile, realtors were showing our stinky house to perspective buyers only to have a big reveal of a 4-foot bird on pine shavings in our basement. Keep in mind that whenever we had a house showing, we quickly loaded the cats and dogs into the car so the perspective buyers wouldn’t see THEM, but we left the 4-foot wild bird in our basement.

Can you imagine walking through a realtor’s tour only to discover a 4-foot wild bird on pine shavings in the basement?


My mother’s father to my father: “You can’t let her do this! You have to put your foot down! You have to stop her!”

My dad still isn’t sure where my grandfather got the idea that my dad had any say in any of the animal madness decisions, or that he was in any way the boss of my mom.

I’m not sure how long this all went on, but it was pretty crazy. I was only six, but I remember standing a safe distance from the bird who towered over me. He was very strange.

Unfortunately, the Chumley didn’t end up making it, so jeopardizing the sale of our house was all for nothing.

And the house DID sell eventually after we got the bird and the fish out of there. AND we later successfully rehabilitated another big bird like a great blue heron, but we can’t remember if it WAS a great blue heron. This was after we sold the “city” house were living in the country.

Next Thursday, I’ll talk about the business of breeding parrots.



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Because the Cats Were Lonely

My father reminded me of this story and declared it must be on the blog.

When my parents moved into their current house 25+ years ago, Mom had grand plans to move our cats down to the basement so my father, who was allergic to them, would no longer be exposed to them on a regular basis. Our basement is partially above ground and used to be rented out as an apartment. The whole house needed a lot of work when they moved in. Though technically it was finished and dry-walled, the basement wasn’t nice enough that anyone felt like hanging out in it for any amount of time.

So, of course, my mom was worried that the cats would be too lonely if we never hung out in the basement with them. She decided we needed to refinish the basement so the cats wouldn’t be lonely.

Cats’ feelings are obviously worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

My parents dropped a second stairwell down to the basement so you wouldn’t have to enter through the utility side and knocked down all the walls between the tiny rooms in the basement apartment to create one large, fantastic family room. For the cats. They pulled out the run-down kitchen and put up walls of bookcases. They put couches around a big tv and a pre-existing fireplace. They put in new carpeting. There was also a full bath and bedroom in the basement, though it was mostly used for storage and later parrot breeding. Yes, parrot breeding. I guess I’ll have to talk about that later.

The cats’ basement turned out amazing. Clearly these cats would never be lonely because we were going to spend a lot of time in this area. In addition to a media area, there was space for a home office and a toy room. When we were kids, it was probably the best place in the house. It was really nice. In fact, it was probably a little TOO nice.

After spending thousands and thousands of dollars so the cats wouldn’t be lonely, my mom decided that the cats, who sometimes had accidents/marked their territory as cats are wont to do, would ruin the basement. That’s right, the “cats’ basement” was too nice for the actual cats.

And so, the cats stayed upstairs where my allergic dad (and later allergic my sister and I) slept while the basement became a cat-free zone.

So instead of getting rid of the cats so my dad (and my sister and I) wouldn’t feel sick, my parents spent thousands of dollars to keep them and keep people healthy, but then kept the cats where they would make people sick anyway.

If that’s not devotion to ones’ pets, I don’t know what is.

At various points in my life, there’s been talk of not replacing the cats when they die so the allergic people won’t feel sick. This has never come to pass. My parents currently have two indoor cats years and years and YEARS after those original lonely basement cats have died.

And my dad can blame my mom for the current cats all he wants, we all know that he’s deeply in love with both of them despite his allergies.

Next Thursday in “My Crazy Childhood”: You know what you should keep in the house when you are trying to sell a house? Buckets of live bait for your rescue bird.


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