Author: Annette Earling

Training the Gray Dog to Finally Fall Asleep

NyQuil. Ambien. Valium. Diphenhydramine. Melatonin. Gabapentin. These are the treats that I’ve been feeding the beast. The sock drawer full of scooby snacks that I’ve been resorting to for weeks and weeks now. Insomnia. Is. The. Worst. I’ve never been a good sleeper and recall much of my childhood spent either tossing and turning in anticipation of sleep or quaking under the covers after waking from yet another bad dream. My nightmares were epic pageants of the anxieties of youth. I can still recall a particular dream of being kidnapped that continued for three nights in a row — an actual mini-series of the psyche. I’ve been drowned in poisoned grape juice, hunted through city streets, trapped under a giant glass dome and pursued by oversized hats with eyes (I watched a lot of Lidsville for a time and never quite recovered from Sid and Marty Krofft’s dystopian vision of a world populated by both gigantic hats and Charles Nelson Reilly.) They call depression the Black Dog, and I’ve been fortunate — that particular cur …

Up in Smoke: A Renovation Nightmare

After a couple of years careening back and forth between considerations about where to live, how to live and what we want to do with the next 50 years of our lives, my husband, Dave, and I finally committed ourselves to a big renovation project. It included an expanded living space, hardwood floors, new doors and windows, a new kitchen, new heating and cooling…the whole nauseating enchilada. Exactly four months ago, we broke ground, planning to be back in our home in time to host Thanksgiving in our newly-expanded dining room. But that was before the fire. Allow me to back up a bit. The decision to renovate was not an easy one. When we bought this house several years ago, the home inspector looked at its crawl space full of decaying joists, its attic full of black mold and the varmint hole as wide as a dachshund dug under the kitchen floorboards and shook his head and said, “Well, I can see why the price is so low. But listen. Do not invest any …

Nightmare On Dream Street: When Your House Falls Down

The home that brought Annette’s neighborhood to a dead stop — collapsed. (Photo courtesy of Annette Earling) After 23 years of living on a street that I loved — and after swearing that I would never be frightened or intimidated into leaving — I fled my neighborhood in fear for my life and the life of my family. A month later, the house that was the focus of my fear collapsed in the middle of the night, trapping everyone on our end of the block in their homes as electric wires sparked over piles of splintered plywood. Nice job, city of Philadelphia. My story — essentially one of governmental ennui — begins about two and half years ago when a lovely young couple bought a property on our quiet, dead-end street in the center of the fifth largest city in the U.S. Honestly, you couldn’t find a better street in any town. We’re a half-block from Broad Street and some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world. We have five of Zagat’s top ten …

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Like Mother, Like Daughter — When it Comes to Tattoos

I present for your entertainment the brief but painful tale of my foray into the world of body modification, and how my seventy-three-year-old mother managed to both steal my thunder and make me feel like a privileged little shit. I got my tattoo later in life, some time around age 41 or 42. It was something that I’d wanted to do for years, but in all that time I had never been capable of settling on an image. There were three basic concepts that scrolled through my mind’s eye, and each one felt powerful, personal and perfect. But three tattoos were two too many for me, and committing to that one-and-only and forever-and-ever was harder — I admit it — than it was to commit to my second husband. I suppose it was because I’d already lived through the pain of divorce, but I’d never experienced anything like laser surgery. The images were simple ones: A ginkgo leaf. A dragonfly. A horseshoe crab. Each represented a time and place in my life and each spoke …

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The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mom

My son hands me a form and tells me he needs $10 for a field trip. A client requests a change to their website. The tulips are coming up and the flowerbeds need to be raked. One of my volunteer causes has been patiently waiting — for weeks — for a new logo. We’re out of toilet paper. And milk. And, oh yeah, food. Ten years ago, my 40-year-old brain would have remembered it all, categorized the demands in a mental list and multi-tasked the crap out of them. But over the course of the past decade, I’ve found myself relying less on memory and more on strategy. You know, the little sticky notes, the smart phone apps, the piles of paper strategically placed near the front door. Like most other people my age, I simply can’t remember things the way I used to. Thing is, I’m happy about it. I’m clearing the clutter from my overloaded mind, and it’s such a relief. The decluttering began when I hit menopause at age 47 — and …

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Asked and Answered: How the Universe Provided My Dream Guy

January’s East Coast blizzard, now manifested in little more than a few snow piles that continue to lull me into thinking there are more parking spots up ahead at the local Target, brought back memories of the Blizzard of 1996. As the weather ‘bots on TV attempted to roil up panicked shopping at The Home Depot, recollections of that monumental snow dump informed many of my decisions in preparing for the blizzard of 2016. While checking on generator fuel and access to the snow shovel (try digging out your shovel when it’s across the yard and all you have on hand is a large spatula), I marveled at how my circumstances have changed in the interim between storms. In 1996, I was recently divorced, confused and in terrible psychic pain. What I can now blithely refer to as my “starter marriage” had gone horribly wrong after I had ignored one of the basic tenants of relationship advice, which is to actually listen to what your partner is telling you. My ex-husband had made no bones about …

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The Self-Medicated Woman

I’ve learned to love my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I’ve also learned to accept and even love the legal drugs I use to manage it: caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As many of you reading these words today amid your 500 other to-dos know, ADHD is blessing and a curse. My morning preamble to sitting down to this article was marked by a frenzied dance through a series of tasks I felt compelled to undertake no matter how inane, including chopping beeswax to make “cutting board butter” (thanks a lot, internet), muscling the sludge off of the side of a bottle of liquid soap (it builds up!), a step in the long process of making homemade apple jack (America’s first legal drug), repairing a broken window (it’s cold out there) and, oh yeah, getting my son out the door and to the bus on time. All before the sun had barely crested the treetops. At times, I feel ridiculous, but after a half-century of flitting from task to task, I’ve come to trust the process …

Seeking “Irresistible Grace” in My 50s

Age is transforming me into a graceless buffoon. Case in point: I’m cooking a giant pot of soup. Tonight, it’s kale and beans, made with the leftover bones of a rotisserie chicken from a few nights previous. (I call it “Free Chicken Soup” — buy a chicken, get the soup for freeeee!) My cell rings, the dog barks, my son stomps by grudgingly on his way to practice his trumpet. I twist to the left, and my elbow sends the big wooden spoon flying off of the counter and into the forest of dog hair on our kitchen floor. In my mind, I swoop down in one fluid movement to retrieve the spoon, rinse it effortlessly in the sink with one hand while dispensing an encouraging booty smack to my son, then pluck up the cell while striding to the back door to let out the dog. In thirty seconds flat, the world is set aright. Soup bubbling. Client satisfied. Son and dog on track. But my mind has forgotten my knee. In reality, as …

A 9th Grader “Bros and Hos” Dance? You Must Be Kidding

Tina Fey said “Bitches get stuff done,” and I couldn’t agree more. I always say, if you want something done, ask a stressed out mom. She’ll growl at you — but she’ll do it. Just don’t actually call her a bitch when you ask because most of us are still coming around to that word as a term of endearment. There’s one word, however, that’s been trying desperately to work its way into the parlance that most of us will never, ever accept. Ho. I recently moved out of center city Philadelphia and into the countryside of Central Jersey. When I wake up in the morning and open the blinds, I spy bald eagles soaring over tall pines rather than crack vials scattered over someone’s emptied-out purse. I sort of hate it, but I’m getting used to it. I came here for my son. He’s in 6th grade now and totally blown away by the amenities of his new middle school. He comes home with wonder in his eyes: “Mom, I ran on a track …

Teaching My Son to Be Nice to the Robots

“Siri. Siri, you’re stupid.” My son — the most polite, sweetest, kindest little boy I know — is at it again. “Siri, I think you’re ugly.” I cringe. I yell from my office, “CALVIN! Stop being mean to Siri!” “But Mom, she’s not human!” he yells back from his nest of pillows on the couch. Yeah, I think to myself. That’s exactly what people said about their slaves 150 years ago, isn’t it? It’s what the Nazi’s said about their victims in the ‘40s and what ISIS says about Yazidi women today. Is that where the bar lies in this household? Is this our acceptable level of conduct? Calvin, like many children of his generation, learned the word “acceptable” even before he learned to walk. He used to toddle around and scold his stuffed animals with that big, grown-up word. “No ass-ET-ball,” he’d chastise, wagging his chubby finger at Elephant, who is, unsurprisingly, a stuffed elephant. “NO ASS-ET-BALL!” [pullquote]“But if you can’t learn to be nice to the robots, then you can just…just…FORGET about having a robot. …

This Story May Actually Make You Want to Buy a Pet Rat — or Two

Here is a tale about two tails. Two long, scaly grayish-pink tails that skeeved me so hard I could barely look at them the first time I saw them. Two hairless appendages that caused me to backpedal furiously on my promise to my son that today was the day that he could finally choose his very own pet rats. We were at the pet store, thanks to my cousin, whose son had a rat of his own. When he showed me a photo of it, I drew back a bit, gave a sidewise look at my cuz and said, “Really? A rat?” She nodded firmly and said, “Annette, it costs six dollars, lives three years, and eats whatever you have lying around in the fridge.” Hmmmm. My son was nine years old at the time and aching to take on the responsibility of a pet. We already had a dog, but she’s always been my baby and barely gives him the time of day unless he happens to have bacon stapled to his shirt. He …

One Engagement Ring, Three Divorces

Two months salary. A girl’s best friend. A gift that lasts a lifetime. Our family diamond has been called many things, but it will no longer be called an engagement ring. I’m heading to the jeweler’s to pick up the shard of stone that’s been passed down in my family for three generations, sowing havoc and heartache wherever it landed. Humans have always attributed enormous power to rings. Think of popes, kings, seniors and Lords of — no one ever kissed an earring or bowed to a bracelet. And so, I’m having this ring deconsecrated. It is ready for a new incarnation as a sparkly bauble, no longer a promise of eternal love. After three failed tries, our diamond will be reincarnated as a harmless charm. The diamond was originally purchased by my father, hastily, in 1964. Not long after he thrust it at my mother, I was born in a manner that had the aunts and uncles counting on their fingers and nodding knowingly.  But despite its rocky start, the marriage endured for 14 …

Learning to Love My Bugs

If you asked me which era of the great sweep of human history I would prefer to live in, I would have a two-word answer: Anti. Biotics. You can keep your Renaissance, your Industrial Revolution, your Paleolithic Eden. You can also keep your streptococcal pneumonia, your abscessed incisors and your untreatable UTIs. Give me the modern age. The one with penicillin, toothpaste and Pinterest. I wouldn’t have had a prayer of inventing a steam-powered loom or stalking a saber tooth back in the day anyway. I would have expired horribly at the age of three after having stepped on the shaman’s pointy poop-stirring stick — I KNOW IT. Despite my conviction, though, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the other side of the story. The anti anti-biotic side, if you will. In fact, I’ve come to love my germs. Our story begins six years ago with an unremarkable sinus infection. The holidays were coming, the days were full and my nasal cavities were jammed up with that sticky sweet mucus that we all know no amount of …

Rolling on the (Delaware) River: The Church of Tubing

I’ve spent most of my life along the bank of one river or another, including the San Lorenzo in Santa Cruz and the Tiber in Rome, but the river in which I’ve washed away my most of my sins is the Delaware. I’ve lived in tiny towns on Delaware’s eastern banks and the largest city on its western shore. I’ve seen it from its most picturesque to its filthiest, and have certainly smelled its remarkable spectrum of aromas. From ages 10 through 17, I lived directly on its banks. When my family arrived in the ‘70s, we landed in the village of Titusville — the site of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. Over the centuries, it’s been a town of lumber mills, mule barges and summer homes for the wealthy. At the time we moved, it had evolved into a sleepy working-class hamlet. The main road was paved with gravel and lined with three churches, two bars and a soft-serve ice cream joint. Not much has changed since then except for the gravel — it’s …