I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere but the Pool, page 1
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To Laura Leonard, with love and gratitude
Welcome to our collection of funny stories about our everyday lives, which will sound like your everyday lives, except less well behaved.
We’re a mother-daughter team who also happens to be best friends—as well as occasional enemies.
What mother has not had a daughter slam a door in her face?
What daughter has not had a mother roll her eyes behind her back?
We’re talking about family in these stories, and we keep it real.
We each write about our lives from our differing perspectives. Francesca is a thirtysomething in an apartment in New York City, and I live on a farm in Pennsylvania. As far as my age goes, let’s just say I can’t remember the last time I had estrogen.
I prefer it on the rocks.
Francesca came up with the title of this book, and as soon as she said it, we both knew it was perfect.
I need a lifeguard everywhere but the pool.
Haven’t we all felt that way, sometimes?
Especially me, because I can’t even swim.
Yet I have a pool.
Every summer, I get out to my pool for an hour a day and try not to drown.
I flail, I doggie-paddle, I put my face under the water, and somehow, I don’t die.
I wish there were a lifeguard, but there isn’t.
Do you smell a metaphor?
Isn’t that what life is like, at times?
I’m divorced twice, from Thing One and Thing Two, and Francesca isn’t dating anyone right now. In fact, as you will read in her stories herein, she’s on what she calls a “guyatus”—a hiatus from guys.
So here we are, mother and daughter, happily single yet unhappily celibate, going through life on our own.
We’re not the only ones. There are a lot of women in our position, whether divorced, widowed, or just never got married or divorced in the first place.
And we still count.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be in full-blown love, marriage, or living with someone in unwedded bliss, there are going to be times in your life when you are simply on your own.
When no matter how much someone loves you, they can’t undergo chemo for you, or get you out of debt, or help you make a decision that is personal to you.
I grew up in an era when women expected to be saved by a Prince Charming.
Which is just another kind of lifeguard.
But with a castle.
And I don’t think that those expectations have completely left this culture. I think the myth of Prince Charming, a lifeguard, or Mr. Right to make everything right, is as pervasive as ever.
And that notion can make you unhappy if you don’t have one, or if you think other women have one and you don’t.
But here’s what I want you to know:
As I lived a little, I began to understand that there was no Prince Charming—and that wasn’t bad news.
On the contrary, it’s excellent news to be on your own.
Who better to trust with your life than you?
Who knows you better than you know yourself?
Who’s more reliable than a woman?
The busier we are, the more we get done.
We haven’t met the Things To Do List we can’t defeat.
We were born to check boxes.
You’re a grown-ass woman, and you make excellent decisions.
If you want the job done right, do it yourself.
So there is no lifeguard in life.
Though sometimes we wish for one, mightily. By the way, it’s okay to secretly whine about the fact you don’t have one, just so long as you understand that you don’t really need one.
You will get to the other side of the pool even if you can’t swim.
Sometimes life is treading water and not going anywhere.
You won’t sink, girl.
Think of your breasts as a flotation device.
And your hips and your butt, in my case.
Bad times pass, and before you know it, it’s summertime.
The sun is out, you go on vacation, and your mood lightens. You’re not only staying afloat, you’re making your way across the pool.
Or even the ocean.
It’s behind you.
Being on your own is being free.
So have a great summer.
Read this book and LOL on the beach.
The real truth is this:
You’re your own lifeguard.
Ain’t nobody better.
Mommy has a new wish.
Besides Bradley Cooper.
We’re talking coffee.
And I’m on a quest.
I know, some people climb Everest.
Others cure cancer.
But all I want is a delicious cup of coffee that I can make myself, at home.
Is that so much to ask?
Right out front, I have to confess that I love Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Sometimes I’ll have Starbucks and other times Wawa, but my coffee soul mate is Dunkin’.
We’ve been together longer than either of my marriages combined.
Daughter Francesca likes to tell the story of the time we were watching television and a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial came on, and I whispered, “I love you, Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Okay, that’s embarrassing enough.
But then Francesca tweeted that to Dunkin’ Donuts, and Dunkin’ Donuts tweeted back:
“We love you too, Lisa!”
Anyway, you get the idea.
So I stop by Dunkin’ Donuts whenever I can and I also pick up a lottery ticket. When I lose the lottery, at least I’ve had a great cup of coffee, which makes me almost as happy.
You’re supposed to be able to make Dunkin’ Donuts at home, and I have a Keurig coffeemaker, so I bought the Dunkin’ Donuts K-Cups and did the whole Keurig thing, but it wasn’t the same as the real thing.
And unfortunately, I developed almost a superstitious belief that a cup of great coffee is essential to my writing process. I’m not the first writer to believe that a beverage is essential to great fiction. Ernest Hemingway had booze, but I have caffeine. And when my good-luck charm is on shaky ground, I fear my books will start to suck, and Mrs. Bradley Cooper can’t have that.
So I decided that I would give up on making Dunkin’ Donuts at home and try different types of coffee. I understand this is called being flexible, but it’s not something that comes easily to me.
Nor should it.
One of the great things about being single
Nevertheless, I decided I should go back to basics, namely percolated coffee. I admit this was probably nostalgia-driven, because I remember the days when Mother Mary perked coffee on the stovetop, brewing Maxwell House from a can, but I couldn’t find a stovetop percolator and had to settle for a plug-in, and I thought I could beat Maxwell House, so I got myself to the grocery store, where I stood before a dizzying array of types of coffee, coming from everywhere around the globe, including Africa, Arabia, and the Pacific.
This was coffee with frequent-flyer mileage.
Likewise there were different kinds of roasts—light, dark, French, Italian, and Extra Dark French, which sounded vaguely racist.
I went with medium Italian, because that’s basically what I am.
Then I had to choose the “body” of the coffee, which evidently meant “the weight of the coffee on your tongue.”
Everywhere you look, body issues.
Again I chose the light-to-medium bodied, ground it at the store, brought it home, perked it, and it sucked. I persevered for another week, but I couldn’t do it. I decided to throw out the baby with the coffee water and went back further to my roots to buy a little Italian Bialetti espresso maker, perked on the stovetop. But that meant I had to go back to the grocery store and start all over again, since the new coffeemaker required the moka grind, which is not even a word.
I brought the coffee home, perked it, and took a sip.
It sucked, too.
Or maybe I suck at flexibility.
So now I don’t know what to do.
I’m taking any and all suggestions.
And I have a novel to finish.
Tell me how to make a great cup of coffee.
The future of literature depends upon it.
Also my job.
I’ll split the Powerball with you.
We’re Having a Baby!
I was hunched over my laptop, reading an article about which baby stroller is best for city dwellers, when my mom peered over my shoulder.
“Do you have something to tell me?”
We’re having a baby!
Well, my friend group is.
I’ve been part of a stable group of six, dear girlfriends since we were in the sixth grade, and now the first of us is pregnant. We’ve moved through many steps of life in stride, but a baby is a new frontier.
I am beyond excited.
Last night I couldn’t sleep, my brain was too busy thinking of baby names.
Don’t worry, I would never be so presumptuous as to suggest any.
(But in case she’s reading this: if you’re curious, I have a list, and it’s totally okay if you hate them, but I’m just gonna email…)
In addition to researching strollers, I’ve scoured Sephora reviews of the best stretch-mark cream and scouted the coolest maternity clothes websites. I’ve pre-selected my friend’s birthday, Christmas, and Groundhog Day presents.
And I haven’t even gotten started on gifts for the baby.
Actually, I take that back—I did preorder a board book entitled Feminist Baby, because I’m staking my claim as that aunt early.
Thanks to my web search history, every online advertisement thinks I’m pregnant.
If I see one more pop-up for breast pumps …
Last week, the New York contingent of our girl gang got dinner with Mama for the first time since she emailed us all the happy news.
The moment she slipped off her coat and revealed the tiniest baby bump, I girl-squealed.
And I never girl-squeal.
I found myself making sure she sat out of the way of the passing busboys, wanting to pull the chair out for her, then wanting the waiter to bring water faster, and bread, lots of bread! I wanted to order everything on the menu and watch her eat it.
Even as her friend, seeing her triggered an animal urge to nurture and protect her.
Our pride is having its first cub, and we lionesses need to circle the den.
When the waiter brought the wine list, we waved him off. It went without saying that we were abstaining in solidarity.
We made about two minutes of small chat before I caved and said, “SO, what is it like?” and we unleashed a torrent of questions.
Pregnancy is simultaneously the most universal female experience and the most unfathomable one. You can’t possibly imagine what it’s really like until you experience it.
Or, second best, until you see it up close.
And until this moment, I’ve only gotten as close as a sonogram photo on Facebook.
I’m an only child, and in my small extended family, I have only one cousin—and he’s older. On both sides, the Scottolines and Serritellas are bad at reproduction.
No one can stay married long enough.
I babysat the neighbor’s kids as a teenager, but actual infants were above my pay grade.
I’ve cooed over babies but never held one.
Pip doesn’t count.
When I’ve had an acquaintance or distant relative announce a pregnancy, I congratulate them, but I don’t feel comfortable asking any questions. I never know what is and isn’t polite to ask, it seems too personal.
But nothing is too personal between friends of twenty years. So I had a million questions at this dinner.
How do you feel? Are you nauseous? Are you starving?
Are your boobs awesome now? Oh no, they hurt?!?
When does it kick?
Does this mean we can order dessert?
She laughed and patiently answered our questions and filled us in on all the things that she did and didn’t expect. She told us the best news ever:
It’s a girl!
I tried not to immediately burst into tears. I nearly succeeded.
It was at once surreal and fitting that I was again leaning over a table with these girlfriends to learn about this most momentous experience of womanhood, just like we had when we were sitting around the lunch table in middle school, comparing notes on the most trivial firsts of womanhood.
These are the girls with whom I puzzled out puberty. Together, we figured out which razors wouldn’t nick your knees, even with a shaky hand, which maxi pads felt least like diapers, which tampons were the least scary. They reassured me that I was not the only girl on earth to have slightly unequal-sized breasts.
Whoever did anything first had to report back to the troops. We compared notes on what to do with your tongue when you kiss. When the first of us saw a guy naked, lunch break became a Grey’s Anatomy lesson, complete with crude diagrams drawn on the back of a napkin.
And it wasn’t just boy stuff, we conferred on SAT prep, college essays; anything big and daunting was tackled as a team.
After college, we no longer hit life milestones in lockstep with one another. That can be a source of jealousy or angst in some friendships, but only if you reduce major life events like marriage or a child to merit badges of womanhood.
I have truly never felt competitive with these friends, but I think that’s because we always helped each other.
Childbearing is more complicated than shaving your legs. It will probably take all six of us to get a comprehensive sense of this remarkable, insane, beautiful female experience.
Friendship is like a longitudinal study of how to be human. We’re here to be each other’s test subjects, and to use our findings to tip the scales toward happiness.
Not that Mama is our unlucky guinea pig—it evens out. Yes, she’s running the diaper gauntlet first. But she has all of us unencumbered single ladies around to support her. Her baby girl will be the object of adoration of five happy aunties and last-minute babysitters.
Those of us who have children later won’t need as much help, since we’ll have cribbed notes for years. Plus, we’ll get the mother lode of hand-me-down baby clothes.
And if any of us is unsure that having kids is right for he
For the last twenty years, these girls, now women, have been my brain trust. Thanks to them, for the last two decades I haven’t had to figure anything out alone.
And Baby Girl, you will always have a high chair at our table.
It turns out that my past is spotty.
And yours may be, too.
I learned this when I turned sixty.
(I’m still getting used to saying that, much less seeing it in print.)
All of us women have to cope with the signs of aging, and some of us do so better than others.
I mostly ignore it.
I’m not a model, so I don’t earn a living by the way I look, and I’ve come to like my face, even with its laugh lines, since I like to laugh.
I know that sometimes my cheeks look drawn and hollow, which is the kind of thing that tempts some women to opt for injections of filler.
I don’t judge, but that isn’t my style.
As soon as I hear “injections,” I’m gone.
And the only filler my face needs is carbohydrates.
The same is true of face-lifts or cosmetic surgery. I don’t blame anybody who does it, but my fear kicks in at “surgery.”
Though I have to admit that I’ve been tempted recently, a fact I discovered by accident. After summer was over, I noticed an oddly dark spot on my cheek, and since I wasn’t always careful about using sunscreen, I worried it was cancer. The very notion sent me scurrying to the Internet, where I looked at various horrifying slides and learned the acronym ABCDE, which stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.
Now you learned something, and so did I.
The last time I had memorized an acronym with as much interest was when I was getting engaged, and I learned about the four C’s for engagement rings.
Cut, clarity, color, carat.
Much more fun.
Worried, I called around and found a dermatologist, a woman reputed to be a great doctor, though on the brusque side.
In other words, a woman of few words.
I hadn’t even known such a creature existed.
Obviously, she’s the direct opposite of me, but I wasn’t looking for love, just to stay alive.
Anyway, the dermatologist suggested that I come in for a mole check.
I agreed, though she’d said it so fast, I thought she’d said “mold check.”
Other author's books:
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