Thursday, April 12, 2012

The 2011 Cantaloupe Tour

I always found the old adage “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” quite illogical.  My silly classmates would recite this verse while I was left to ponder their intelligence. Since any educated person knows that sidewalk fissures and female vertebrae share no commonalities, I preoccupied myself with much more probable scenarios.  “Touch a public doorknob and catch methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus and die.”

It wasn’t until my tenth year of life that I was clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I recall the debilitating fear long before my first meeting with the shrink.  I was reading on the couch when an episode of 20/20 featured the Ebola virus in Africa and its transmission via monkeys.  My mind (which is similar to a hamster on a wheel while under the influence of speed), immediately went to my last visit to the Scovill Zoo.  How close did I get to the monkey cage?  Do the zoo owners import their primates from Sudan?  Did any of the monkeys sneeze?

Twenty-years later, the questions may be different (the Ebola virus is so last season), but they are just as merciless and unrelenting.  My husband finds it irritating that I have no medical degree to show for all the hours I’ve invested in the research of diseases, disorders, and contaminates.  We constantly engage in a game of "let's remove WebMD from Steffo's homepage and see how long it takes for her to freak." I usually win. 

I’ve learned over the years to avoid certain OCD “triggers”.  Particular fears and obsessions are worsened by events and circumstances, so I’ve made myself aware of what might “set off” my anxiety.  For example, if salmonella was on the rise, I avoided salmon (cut me some slack, I was nine).  If the country is on an elevated security alert, I avoid airports, train stations, and the White House. What I was not prepared for, however, was the biggest OCD trigger of them all: a positive line on a pregnancy test. 

Pregnancy brought with it a whole new realm of medical conditions and predicaments. I was now susceptible to a range of illnesses that could harm my unborn child, and in due time, I honed in on Listeriosis and studied it nightly.   All of my research led me to believe I could avoid this nasty little food-borne pathogen if I abstained from deli meat, soft cheeses, pate, and raw fish.  Done. 
During my fifth month of the longest pregnancy on record, the news reported a listeria outbreak originating in Colorado, but no source had yet been named.  I followed this story hourly, even waking in the middle of the night to check for updates. On a Tuesday evening, I sat down in front of the television set with a giant bowl of pre-cut cantaloupe and a bottle of Hershey’s syrup and turned to CNN.  Breaking news: listeria source identified!!!


If you knew me following the days of this announcement, I apologize.  After calling every Kroger in town, interrogating the produce managers, and sending my friend Jessica to ask the Kroger “fruit preparer” if they wash their produce before shelving it, I was still convinced I needed blood work and antibiotics.  I called the nurse at my gynecologist’s office, explained my situation, and pleaded for a test.  Not understanding the urgency of my request, she simply told me I was “fine” and that the outbreak was not in Central Illinois.  Since I’m quite a natural at thinking on my feet, I conjured up a little white lie and said I’d been travelling around the country eating cantaloupe---a cantaloupe tour, if you will. 

She told me to call back when I had symptoms. Nurses these days…

I’ve filed away listeria in my bottomless database of OCD obsessions (along with Ebola, melanoma, bird flu, MRSA, and that strange Benjamin Button ailment).  I’m sure it will resurface during my second pregnancy, as all of my fixations eventually do, but for the time being, I have momentary peace.  That’s the thing with this OCD business---you just have to ride out each wave and wait for a brief reprieve.  It ultimately arrives, and then it’s on to the next obsession.  But today is a good day---a peaceful day, so I plan on enjoying a pleasant walk with my daughter as soon as I disinfect her stroller.  I hear influenza’s making one hell of a comeback.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy 31st Birthday, Matt!

As it would turn out, Feliz Navidad is neither French nor Happy Birthday.  Trying to outdo last year's birthday cookie (I'm notorious for buying giant cookies with messages scrawled in butter cream icing), I thought it would be witty to wish my husband a happy birthday in the French language.  Unfortunately, the Internet on my cell phone would not work while in line at Mrs. Fields', so after I came to realize that Feliz Navidad would not properly showcase my bilingual abilities, I was left with no choice but to retreat and find a different gift.  My husband, who by far is the most difficult man for which to shop, always returns every gift I purchase because it is either: a) too flashy, or b) ridiculous

To commemorate my current OCD obsession, I thought something along the lines of UVA/UVB protection would be just the ticket.  Who doesn't need a practical pair of Ray Ban aviators?

They'll be back on the shelf by midday tomorrow 
In three short years I have found myself surrounded by the two greatest loves of my life.  If you asked me at 23 what my five-year-plan looked like, I never would have fathomed something this marvelous.

Here's another blast from the past: a story I wrote just months before meeting my future-husband. My, has he changed me ;)

Any Given Sundae

I can’t even commit to an ice cream flavor. My friends point this out as if one must be monogamous with their scoop of cookie dough. I know that holding up the line at Baskin Robbins is borderline infuriating to all those who maintain serious relationships with dairy, but come on folks, there are 31 flavors. I’ve never been one to discriminate.

I usually go with the richest I can find. The only time you will ever hear me admit to love at first sight is when my eyes connect with decadent, creamy chocolate swirled with thick fudge and smooth, mouth-melting caramel. Love, I’m telling you---genuine, unconditional love. My issues with men may appear synonymous with my issues with ice cream, but I dispute both claims. After all, I have never had difficulty committing to Ben and/or Jerry.

So what if I’m 23 and prefer the allure of single-dom? Relationships inevitably turn rocky, and the only rocky road I care to travel is the one melting in my cone. To commit is to sacrifice the rest of the male population; the other 30 flavors.

I’m sorry that I don’t go all cherries jubilee over the idea of marriage, but truth be told, a lifetime with one single, solitary person seems quite frightening and unappealing to me. What happens when it turns bland; when I wake up every day to a mistake I fear I made? What if I don’t want Chunky Monkey for the rest of my life?

My friend Liz has no problem with commitment. She may as well have a framed marriage certificate declaring her union with mint chocolate chip. Their twenty-year bond has only been tested on occasion when she feels the undeniable urge to commit sherbert adultery. Liz, obviously, has never sampled the Baskin Robbins’ buffet. Why experiment, she figures, when she already has a perfectly adequate selection? Needless to say, her boyfriend feels the same.

I’ve done the whole relationship bit---don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone to the movies, held the hands, and even adopted the nauseating pet names like every boyfriend/girlfriend is somehow programmed to do. But when the new turns to the ordinary and the ordinary becomes the old, I find it impossible not to bail. Just as some are programmed to use the word “pookie-bear” on repeat, I am genetically pre-disposed to ordering the flavor of the week. Bubble gum chunks inside of raspberry laced French vanilla? They can really do that? Double-scoop me.

I suppose life would have a pleasant mediocrity if I always stuck with a primary flavor. Like they say, you can’t miss something you’ve never had. I am sure Liz will never realize there’s a whole other world of cookies’n’cream out there just waiting to be devoured, but I know that’s okay with her. Some of us were meant to be “thirty-one flavor” kind of gals---some of us were meant for the latter number.

As the sighs get louder and the boy behind the counter with the ridiculous striped pink hat once again asks for my order, I can’t help but ponder what the real rush seems to be.

I finally go with the Jamoca Almond Fudge, yet quickly decide after two solid licks that this will be a short-term relationship between the two of us. After all, there are too many fish in the sea and just way, way too many cartons in the freezer. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sun, Sun, Go Away

I wonder how long before this blog is added to the carcinogen list.  After my second skin cancer screening of the year (it’s an OCD thing---you name it, I’ve screened it), I’m confronted with an existential crisis: to worship the sun or dress as a beekeeper.  Although my dermatologist, who could moonlight as an extra for the Twilight movies, has reassured me twice that I am currently melanoma-free, she also lectured me on the perils of stepping outdoors.  Doc Shun-the-Sun Cullen presented me with pamphlets and bookmarks preaching about my imminent death if I dared venture past my front door sans SPF 300. 

After noticing my slight tan, she asked how I acquired it.  Well, I sometimes take my daughter for walks or read a book on the deck. GASP. “Any sun exposure is bad for you.”  I know I never fared well in my science classes, but I am somewhat certain the sun has been hanging around for a few years now.  On the fourth day, God created sun.  I doubt He wore sunscreen while he rested on the seventh.

 While I am not advocating roasting in the tropics (although I spent the better part of my college years sleeping in a tanning bed, and I may or may not be guilty of stealing my daughter’s baby oil), I can’t help but question this doctor’s message.  A sunless existence?  Let’s say I do cut back on my sun sessions---I will still likely succumb to another of my favorite carcinogens.  If it’s not bad enough they’re preaching against cell phones, now they’re claiming water bottles cause the Big C, as well.  Crap. I often sit in the sun on my cell phone while drinking a Dasani.  Could someone pass the cigarettes and Agent Orange?

My OCD has turned CDC as I've read the Center for Disease Control’s Known Carcinogen List more times than People Magazine.  They even have an App for that.  I assure you I understand the enormity of cancer and in no way am trying to make light of it. I just find all these warnings enough to make even a sane person, well---me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Beauty and all the Beasts

I find myself enthralled with Amelia’s book collection.   Although she is much too young to comprehend Goodnight Moon or the Berenstain Bears, I am overcome with a sense of nostalgia as I flip through the once familiar pages.  Last night’s selection, Cinderella, brought back not only childhood memories, but adult ones, as well.  After digging through my old vault of college essays, I happened upon the “anti-Disney” phase of my life.  Instead of lighting the book on fire like my twenty-year-old self would have done, I read it to her a second time. 

If you’ve already read this old feminist rant of mine, I apologize for the redundancy.  If you haven’t, I promise I’m back on Walt's bandwagon.

   Beauty and all the Beasts (2008)
I learned Santa was an obese hoax at the ripe old age of four. I knocked out almost all of my teeth during an aggressive game of Red Rover in kindergarten, and so there went the Tooth Fairy at five. I can’t remember my exact age when the Easter Bunny was let out of the bag, but I’m sure I still had training wheels.

They can open up about the Tooth Fairy (cheap bastard), they apologize for a bunny rabbit, and they can even bring themselves to hit alt, control, delete on old Santee Claus himself, but they never thought to unveil the biggest revelation of all time. After all the years of Disney stories and all the Brother Grimm fairy tales, no one ever thought to mention---Prince Charming doesn’t exist. There. Someone finally said it.

I always felt so relieved at the conclusion of Cinderella when I realized that despite her filthy hair and camaraderie with mice, Prince Charming could still love her regardless of her odor. And Snow White----she cohabitated with seven other men, yet Prince Charming overlooked her promiscuity and loved her unconditionally. I read these stories cover to cover, night after night, transfixed by an unblemished prince who was chivalrous, faithful, and loyal. I pretended I was Sleeping Beauty, poisoned by the infamous apple, and would lie still in bed until his imaginary lips woke me to a world of voluminous hair and ripped biceps.

With every relationship gone bad, and with every Prince-not-so-Charming I would meet, greet, date, and dispose, I found myself asking the age old question that all damsels in distress most certainly ask, “Where the hell is he?”
It took me twenty-two years to realize that Prince Charming was the leading man in all three of my favorite fairy tales. I awoke in a panic at the enormity of my discovery. Prince Charming and Cinderella; Prince Charming and Snow White; Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty. Same damn guy. It hit me like a ton of bricks---Prince Charming was a womanizer.

You’d think I would be distraught to learn that my ever-elusive Prince was in reality just a man who charmed the ballroom gowns off of vulnerable, often times drug-induced women. You’d think my faith in mankind and in happily-ever-after would be shot to a kingdom far, far away. Yet somehow, I was relieved.  No wonder I couldn’t get it right---even Cinderella was duped. 

They should have told us---yes, thinking back, we should all be warned while still in diapers that like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, a flawless knight dressed in shining armor will never arrive on our doorstep. He’s just a hoax like the rest of them; a childhood myth they should debunk at birth.

We wait our entire lives to meet a soul mate of such epic proportions, only to find he falls short of the bedtime stories. We explore high schools and colleges and planet Earth in search of him, convinced this one remaining mythical creature just may be out there.  

I still skim through the remains of my childhood storybooks, but Prince Charming’s once shiny hair now looks greasy and gelled; his biceps steroid-induced. He’s just a man, I tell myself, and a Grimm one at best.