I don’t know about your family, but in mine, we like to use sayings. Sayings are efficient. They cut through the specific and hit on the general, thereby making a universal statement that Everyman can relate to. Why say “I thought my life would be better once I bought those new Chloe boots, but now that I have them, I realize they look great but can’t be worn in the rain/snow/weather of any kind,” when you can sigh and mutter, “The grass is always greener.” Right?
In my family, we like to go one step further. We like to actually create these sayings. We capitalize on our unique experiences and turn them into generic catchphrases that we can use over and over again, whenever the…boot fits. So to speak.
After years of safekeeping, I am here to share these maxims with you. Should you find yourself in a predicament and lack the verbiage needed to describe what happened, perhaps my family can come to your rescue.
I’d like to begin with an oldie but a goodie: making meatloaf. This story involves my aunt, JaJa. When JaJa was 22, she was newly married and living in Maryland. Being young, JaJa was a little bit clueless about grocery shopping and cooking. So my grandmother would buy meat at her kosher butcher in Brooklyn and bring it with her on visits. Each package would be clearly labeled as to what the meat was to be used for and how to prepare it. All JaJa had to do then, after her mother went back home, was cook the meals as directed. One night, after JaJa and her husband, David, both came home from work, they looked in the refrigerator and found a package marked “meatloaf.” It was already late, and they were starving. But what choice did they have? JaJa went about making meatloaf.
Now, meatloaf requires a lot of ingredients. Salt, and pepper, and egg, and water, and maybe some onion and breadcrumbs and who knows what else. And then, it requires a good hour and a half in the oven.
At some point as they cleaned the kitchen and watched the timer, David turned to JaJa and asked, “Couldn’t you have just made hamburgers with that ground beef? We would have been done eating by now.”
Have you ever made an elaborate production out of something that really has a basically simple solution? Have you, perhaps, complicated a situation that could have been so straightforward? Then you, my friend, have made meatloaf.
For the record, to this very day, my aunt has an award-winning ability for making meatloaf out of most any situation. Perhaps you, too, have a friend or family member like JaJa.
Next up: That’s not athlete’s foot.
It’s a tragic tale, really, involving my foot and some kind of bumpy, itchy, red rash that was growing on it. I showed the foot to my husband, Brett, who married me in sickness and in health. “What do you think it is?” I asked. He took one look at my toe and left the room.
“Well, I think it’s athlete’s foot!” I called after him. After all, my dad is an ophthalmologist. Because he is a doctor, and because I look a lot like him, I can diagnose almost anything.
I went to CVS and loaded up on fungal foot spray.
I can’t believe I’m telling you this.
Anyway, it didn’t get better, this rash. In fact, it definitely got worse. So much worse that I was having trouble walking. The rash had spread across the bottom of my foot and became angry looking. I caved, and headed to a real doctor.
“I think it’s athlete’s foot,” I told the dermatologist.
He was across the exam room when I took off my shoe and sock, but even from a distance, he could tell. “That’s not athlete’s foot,” he said. He shook his head and told me that, whatever it was or had been, it was now seriously infected. I needed to get on antibiotics stat, and, with a foot like that, I really shouldn’t fly to the Bahamas in three days as planned. (I took half of his advice.)
Now, whenever Brett or I wonder what kind of minor ailment we or our kids have, we smile and say, “I can tell you one thing: that’s not athlete’s foot.”
Last up: The problem is the underpants.
When my son, Andrew, was 3, I sent him to a preschool summer camp that required he be potty trained. He sort of kind of wasn’t. But they didn’t have to know that, did they? I mean, as long as he was out of diapers and wearing underpants, he (and I) met the requirement for attendance.
And it’s not like I hadn’t tried. For the six weeks leading up to the start of this camp, we had been in full-on basic boot camp underpants training. Andrew had gone commando. He had been in lockdown. He had done squats and lifts and jumps on the potty, and then, for good behavior, he had been given M&M’s in the mess hall. Andrew had been a very good little soldier, but still, he was wet.
But I was 9 months pregnant. I just needed Andrew to cooperate.
On the day before I was to be induced with this second child, I got a call from Andrew’s preschool teacher. The message explained that Andrew had peed through his pants, and also through his extra pants, and also – mysteriously – through his shirt. They were able to find him some girl’s pants from the lost and found and a top from the dress up corner, and he was currently enjoying his lunch. But maybe, when I got the message, I could stop by with several more back up changes of clothing.
At the classroom door, I took one look at my son and cracked up. He was wearing green cargo Capri pants that rolled at the bottom and was bare chested, with a red silk vest. With his tanned skin and shaggy hair, Andrew looked just like Aladdin.
I took my prince of thieves home. Over snack that afternoon, we had a heart-to-heart talk about the baby that was arriving the next day and the darned potty, and all the factors that were complicating our lives. “Mommy, I know what the problem is,” Andrew said. “The problem,” he paused, “is the underpants.”
So, whenever the problem turns out to be exactly what it looks like, then your problem, my friend, is the underpants.