The East Wall

The woman sat contemplating the infant wrapped in the womb of the Earth on the East wall of the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts. While Rivera was painting the murals, his wife Frida Kahlo, suffered a miscarriage. The event led to the addition of the infant to the mural and Kahlo’s heart-wrenching self-protrait, “Henry Ford Hospital.” In the painting, Kahlo twists naked in a bed, bleeding with red strings like umbilical cords tied to symbols of her pain. 

The woman rests her hand on her abdomen as tears burn her eyes. This would be the third and final attempt at IV. She was in her second trimester, two weeks longer than her first pregnancy and one week less than her second. 

Her sob caught in her throat as she looked again at her phone, her husband’s smiling face staring back at her from his Tinder profile.

Sibling Rivalry

“Mommy! Drew took Vanessa! Make him give her back!”

“Drew- really? Give your sister her doll.”

“I don’t have it.” Drew gave an obnoxious big brother grin, as his sister punched him futilely.

“Drew.”

He didn’t move and his smug smile grew.

His mother grabbed his laptop charger from the floor. “Now.”

His smile faded. “It’s in her room. Under the pillow. Brat!”

“Jerk!” She disappeared upstairs.

“Drew, things are tense enough. Must you? She’s only six. You are 15. 3 years from adulthood!” 

“If you let me see my friends, I wouldn’t be so bored and I wouldn’t bother her.”

“Drop the attitude. You know that you cannot hang out with anyone because of the quarantine. We are sheltering in place and socially distancing. End of story.”

“But, Mom-”

“No”

“Bu-”

“NO! No. Find a movie to watch. That Melanie will enjoy! Quiet everything down.” She continued, mumbling just loud enough for Drew to hear, “ I don’t know how stay at home moms do this full time. I am not cut out for this. Thank God for WiFi and movie streaming or else there would be no peace”

“Mommy!!!”

“Mom? Why is it pitch black?”

Nononononoooooo! “It’s a blackout!”

Just the cats

The sound of shattering glass woke the boy. Since the quarantine began, his habits had become erratic, staying up late to play games online with his half brother. He lifted his head from the keyboard but could only see as far as the monitor illuminated. He whispered into the headset, “Drew, I think the cats broke something. You still awake?”

“Hmm? Yeah, kinda.”

Surprised Mom didn’t hear that. She hasn’t slept since half the police force fell sick. Afraid of looters. Just the cats? 

He peered over the banister at a dim light in the kitchen. A cat wove around his legs as he strained to hear any sounds. Holding his breath, he thought he heard a floorboard creak. His hands trembled as he stepped down. A cupboard banged shut. Just the cats. His feet froze in place.

“Justin? Help me pick up this glass,” his mother called from below.

Blood Orchid

The orchid sat in the window by the hospital bed surrounded by get-well cards.The stem extended out like a dancer’s arm, the delicate violet blooms spiraling around to the buds at the top. The steady beep  of the heart monitor lulled the woman to sleep in the chair beside the bed. Her head rolled to the side and her father’s hand slipped from hers.

A nurse crept in and drew a vile of blood from the father’s arm. She handed the woman the flower and squirted the blood on the roots.  “Your father will live as long as this orchid lives. Just follow the instructions.” 

The young woman woke with a start, clutching the orchid to her chest. Her father sat upright in the bed and asked about breakfast. 

“Daddy? You’re awake?” 

“I feel a bit stronger today. And in less pain. Doctors do something different?”

“Daddy, this is hospice. The doctors aren’t doing anything except making you comfortable.”

“Well, I want to go home. I feel fine. If I am still dying, I’m strong enough to go home. I don’t want to die here. I want to die at home.”

“I’ll make the arrangements!”

Just follow the instructions. What instructions? Where’s the tag? What am I supposed to do? I know that was a dream, but what if it was a vision? I’m losing my mind, but WHAT IF?

“Alright, Daddy! Welcome home! What else do you need?”

“What’s that dumb flower?”

“An orchid. A gift from a friend.”

“Toss it.”

“I’ll just move it where it doesn’t bother you.”

3 ice cubes, once a week. Indirect light. I can do this.

“Nurse- where’s the plant that was in the kitchen?”

“ Your father asked me to toss it.”

“WHAT?! NO! Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?!!” He lay quietly, with a soft smile on his lips.

Extinction

Are you a passionate leader looking for autonomy and exciting career possibilities? Are you ready to bring positive vibes to an “old school” corporation? Are you a change maker, ready to bring 21st century positive culture to a driven work-aholic dinosaur? Email your resume and 30-60-90 day plan…

Simple black pantsuit, white blouse, top button only open, pearl necklace, sensible heels, mid-size black leather satchel. Resume in manilla folder, with copies of awards and additional certifications. Arrive 15 minutes early.

“So you graduated college in 2010?” 

“Correct- Summa Cum Laude” –is he calculating my age?”

“It says that you ran a department of 15 associates, achieved 15% sales growth and nearly eliminated turnover? Tell me about that?

what is he- like mid 50’s? Not a top exec, but the gatekeeper. No wedding ring, slight paunch, receding hairline. What angle do I take?-

“When I started, the turnover was nearly 100%, the struggles in our department were affecting the rest of the company, sales were down. It wasn’t just in-fighting over commission- it was a toxic environment in every way.” –did he just look at my chest? Did an extra button pop open? Did I spill coffee? Forget it, stay focused-There was one associate at the heart of the drama. Essentially, once I eliminated the problem, the team was able to focus, shift gears, work together, support each other’s sales and everything fell into place.” 

“What was the one person doing?”

“Everything you can imagine-back talking, pot stirring, inappropriate jokes, inappropriate touching, sale stealing, sowing mistrust with clients, undermining management.”

“Who was he touching?”

-here it comes, he’s going to label me a trouble-making femenist. Maybe…-

“She. Actually it was a woman. She was very aggressive with the other women- shoving, smacked someone’s derriere. She made the men uncomfortable- always cracking dirty jokes, hands on their thighs, shoulder massages.”

“The men were uncomfortable? They should have loved that! Unless they were, you know….” He let his wrist drop. “I bet she wore short skirts too! Do you like to wear dresses?”

um, what? Just ignore it- “The men were all extremely professional, and felt the behavior was distracting. -what an asshole-

“So is that an engagement ring?”

-are we making small talk or is he digging- “Yes.” -see where it goes. Don’t give too much up at once-

“Never married myself. This job is demanding. 24 hour commitment, never had time to find ‘the one’”

-air quotes? Seriously?- “Oh, I see.”

“No, princess, I don’t think you do see. When you come home at 10pm, your fiance will start making accusations. Your marriage will start to fall apart and then you’ll decide to have a baby to fix it. Then you’re going to complain that you have to leave work before 7 for the sitter, and demand a place to pump milk because the ladies’ room isn’t good enough for your precious spawn. Who will raise your kids? The nanny?”

-he really went there? What a piece of work! Who says I want kids? Maybe my husband will be a wife! Maybe he or she plans on being a stay at home parent. What does this have to do with the position? AND DID HE CALL ME PRINCESS?! Deep breathes, deep breathes-

 “Ah! Well, I am here to demonstrate that I am the perfect woman to change the culture of this archaic corporation. Specifically- the job description states that drastic change is needed to bring the company into the 21st century. When I spoke with Martin- your boss I believe?- he stated that the entry level positions are difficult to fill and even harder to keep. There are few women or minorities above mid-level management and the average tenure of anyone below mid-level is two years.

The driven culture that thrived in the 20th century is dying. People- men and women want to enjoy family, free time, vacations- life! No one wants to be a wage slave. 

Are you, sir, happy?”

“Happy?! I’m extremely successful! I have a new sports car every few years, a penthouse in the city and I date models!”

“I’m sure that will look snazzy on your gravestone. You are financially successful. But are you happy?

“Happiness is overrated.”

“Not according to the generation that is entering the workforce. They watched their parents struggle, take two weeks vacation and back to the grind. They may have accumulated wealth, but they never enjoyed it. These young men and women followed the rules, went to college, and now there are few decent jobs available so they live with their parents. They don’t see how they can have the monetary success of their parents and they don’t really want it. We spend 40 to 60 hours a week at work and they don’t want to hate it.”

“Snowflakes. They have no place here.”

“Sir, no disrespect, but the ice age cometh. The snowflakes are your generation’s replacements. If this company wants to survive, to employ another generation, then it needs to adapt to the modern world. And the modern world accommodates working parents, vacations, work-life balance. This company accommodates nothing, and is currently listed as an endangered species. Evolve or die. What do you choose?”

“Pansies! In my day, we worked! I had a job at 16! No one paid for my education- I worked my way through, I carried my own student loans. I didn’t want to slave in some factory like my father! Work smarter, not harder! Keep your nose to the grindstone and get ahead!. This generation has everything handed to them and they have no work ethic. Freaking mental health days! Flirting makes them uncomfortable! And everyone wants rights. Bah!”

“So to be clear, you are choosing extinction?”  -nailed it! Stayed calm under pressure and drove my point home. He doesn’t realize that Martin already hired me, and I’m currently studying the company’s interview process!-

The Mommy Manifesto

“Jennifer, Why do you wish to join the Mommy Consortium?” Her voice boomed over the microphone, which was unnecessary for the small space. Her perfect bobbed hair bounced above her perfect ears. Her clothing was age-appropriate trendy, just tight enough to showcase her perfect breasts which were just big enough to question if they were enhanced. 

“ My name is Jessica and I’ve heard that this is the most influential mommy group in the district, and….”

“Why are you wearing all black?” The second Mommy spoke quickly and authoritatively. She could easily have been the African-American twin of the first Mommy. “This is the MidWest, not Manhattan. We wear color!”

“I’m sorry?” The applicant looked from one Mommy to the other in confusion.

“Yes, agreed! Unanimous decision! You don’t fit. NEXT!”

“Wait! What?”

“You heard her! NEXT!” The enforcer Mommy was the opposite of the other two. Short, chunky, wearing clothes that accentuated her rolls and gave the overall impression of an out-of-date washing machine. A large white cube that served a function. She grabbed the applicant’s arm and mis-directed her to the waiting room instead of the exit. The next applicant glanced at Jessica’s face and tiptoed in.

Jessica stood in the waiting room, fury rising in her chest. “What the actual…?” She burst into the interview room spewing profanities in colorful combinations. As she gesticulated, her sweater fell from her shoulder, revealing swirls of colorful tattoos. “Who are you to say I’m not worthy of your crappy little club?”

The perfect Mommy twins sneered in disgust. “The children of this community will be raised to standards. They will be breastfed, they will be vaccinated, they will learn to read before pre-K, and they will participate in sports where everyone wins because we don’t raise losers. They will not defile their bodies with tattoos or dermal piercings or install gages or gauges in their ears or whatever your sick alterna-minds invent.” As she pontificated, the second Mommy was feverishly flipping pages of the Mommy Manifesto.

The second applicant, tears streaming down her face as she realized her chance was waning, stammered, “ I-I couldn’t breastfeed, my baby didn’t latch, I tried, I really did, I wanted to but, but…”

The first Mommy gave her a withering squint. “Oh, that’s so sad. I guess your children will suffer from earaches and stupidity, just like you.”

The washing machine Mommy snatched both applicants’ arms. 

“I found it! The second Mommy held the Manifesto high. “ ‘We the founding Mommies of the Mommy Consortiom will not introduce to our children, the precious light of the future, the hope of all humanity, any controversial elements, including, but not limited to, red dyes, caffeine, sugar, nut products, foreign foods (especially BabaGanoush, the consumption of which funds Radical Islam), transfats or gluten.’ We are anti-vax, not pro-vax. If we’re not giving them gluten, why would we give them mercury?”

“Because we don’t want them dead! We are pro-vax! Pro!!” She snatched the manifesto and began skimming.

The washing machine dropped the applicants’ arms and pulled her personal copy of the manifesto from under her shirt, concern oozing from her face. The applicants looked at each other and exitted. “This is insane. I’m not even angry anymore. They’re nuts. By the way, I’m Jessica. Do you want to grab a coffee”

“I’m Becky.” She pushed up her sleeve, revealing a forearm tattoo of a small angel holding a ribbon with a name, as she grabbed Jessica’s outstretched hand. “And I’m thinking wine at my house.”

Becky’s house was antiseptically clean, bearing no trace of occupants. “It never looks like this. I was afraid they would demand  home inspection if I passed the interview. I sent my fiancé, the kids and the dogs to his mother’s house.” Both began to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Tears squished from their scrunched up eyes as they leaned on the furniture, clutching their stomachs, wheezing in short gasps as they released the mix of emotions from being subjectively humiliated by perfect Mommies that didn’t know their fundamental stance on vaccinations. “Vaccinations caused the group to shrivel and die!” “They should have vaccinated against stupidity!”

After a half a box of wine and some processed cheese on crackers, Jessica asked, “Aren’t there any other parenting groups in the area? What do the rejects do?”

“Not much that we can do. The Mommies control every PTO, run every function and afterschool activity. Their kids aren’t allowed to socialize with our kids, and anyone that hopes to join won’t socialize with the stigmatized.”

“So who do the kids play with?”

“No one. They play video games, make crafts, read.”

“Why don’t the rejects start their own group?”

“The group is too powerful. They even control the highschool sports.”

“Maybe not after today- Look!” Jessica showed the Facebook notification. “‘The Mommy Consortium has been temporarily disabled.’ They’re fracturing because they can’t agree on vaccinations. Who knows what other festering issues this exposed?”

“Why do Moms have to judge each other so hard? We’re all on the same team, even if we don’t agree on how to raise our kids. We just want them all to have the best opportunities and lead happy lives.” Becky poured more wine and squirted more cheese-flavored snack on a cracker. “Let’s do it!” Her cheeks flushed from the wine and exhilaration of the idea. “We can call it the Coalition of Reject Moms!”

“Coalition of Reject Parents- lets not exclude anyone. Let’s allow everyone that helps raise our kids join: Dads, grandparents, stepparents.”

“Our manifesto can read ‘They’re your kids! Raise ‘em your way!’”

At the fourth meeting, parents overflowed the couches and tried to get comfortable on the floor. “So are we anti or pro vax?” The washing machine mom shifted from her knees to cross-legged and bumped the man next to her. “Sorry, numb legs” 

“Well we better be pro-vax, or I’m leaving. It is completely irresponsible to leave your child unprotected and at risk of infecting my child,” a heated voice called from the corner.

“My child’s medical records are not your business!” someone hollered.

Becky raised her hand to settle the group. “I think you’re missing the point. We’re not here to police each other’s choices. We’re here to support each other, and help each other. It’s not helicopter vs free-range or lawn mower vs tiger. We’re all in it together.”

“Judging other parents doesn’t help. We’re here to set examples for our kids- we need to demonstrate that we can set aside differences and coexist. Dr. Soumayia, I need the recipe for this babaganoush! It’s addictive!”

“Please, just Soumaya. Doctor is for the office. For the record, I am pro-vax, but I cannot force you. I am the pediatrician for many here, so you all know this. But marginalizing only shuts down the conversation. I am always here to answer your questions, as a doctor and a friend. Shouldn’t we be discussing plans for the new accessibility playground? I have ideas for a low sensory area.”

And they all lived happily ever after. The breastfeeding moms clipped coupons for formula. The anti-vaxxers waited to visit babies too young for vaccinations. The children of helicopter parents helped teach caution to the children of free-range parents, the free range kids pushed the copter kids to be daring. And everyone had Dr. Soumayia’s recipe for babaganoush (which she got from recipes.com).

Review of the Kroger Brightening Mask

Skin looking meh?

When you look in the mirror, do you think to yourself that your skin looks dull, dingy, and splotchy? The dullness is generally caused by the buildup of dead skin cells that mute the skin’s natural glow. The splotchy, depending on the tone, can have multiple causes. Red splotches can be caused by external skin irritants and inflammation, such as dryness, allergies or breakouts, as well as internal factors such as alcohol consumption. They can also be caused by skin disorders that must be diagnosed by a doctor, such as rosacia. Uneven skin tone in the form of dark spots can be caused by excess melanin production triggered by sun exposure, hormones, or acne scarring. Dark spots are often a sign of early aging and are, by far, more difficult to remove than wrinkles.

Treatments

Dullness

Dead skin cells must be sloughed off to treat dullness. Skins natural shedding process needs an exfoliation boost when the dead cells get caught on the skin or buildup in pores. Various types of exfoliators, from physical scrubs to chemical peels, are available. A scrub consists of granules (sugar, salt, crushed walnut shells) in a creamy base that is rubbed on skin then rinsed off. These should only be used once or twice a week. Chemical exfoliators such as astringents, use a chemical reaction to strip the cells off. The reaction can be caused by a lab produced chemical such as cosmetics grade alcohol or naturally occurring fruit sugar acids. Witch hazel, citrus fruits, toners (Clinique Clarifying Lotion) and serums (Estee Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisher) are exfoliators that can be used daily.

Redness

Florid skin can indicate irritation such as extreme dryness, environmental sensitivities or general inflammation. Products that soothe the skin frequently contain Aloe, Licorice root extract, or Hyaluronic Acid. Irritated skin cannot perform its natural repair processes, such as collagen production, as well as calm skin, so redness is a precursor to aging. Serums, masks and moisturizes can help to assuage irritation, but it is important to clarify the cause of inflammation. Dryness can be addressed with a mild facial cleanser (indulgent: LaMer Micellar Water, budget: Cetaphil) hydrating serum (cult following: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair) and moisturizer (Clinique Moisture Surge).

Dark Spots

Excessive sun exposure, hormones and acne scarring are the three leading causes of increased melanin production in the skin. Skin produces melanin as a protective measure when exposed to sunlight producing a tan which will then fade when no longer exposed. Overtime, the skin cells stop functioning as efficiently and cannot disperse the melanocytes as quickly. Although the dark spots may not show until later in life, the damage is already there. Anyone that has had a skin picture taken at a makeup counter can tell you how much damage lurks beneath the surface! The best remedies attempt to treat the skin damage that you don’t see as well as what you can see. Very important to wear sunscreen to avoid further damage. Melasma- the mask of pregnancy- develops when pregnancy hormones trigger melanin production. Because the trigger is internal, it is more difficult to address, but not impossible. Again wear sunscreen to avoid further damage. Acne scarring predominantly affects deeper skintones. As the pimples heal, the dead damaged skin is trapped within the pore, melanin is produced because the skin is stressed and dark spots emerge. These are the most likely to fade on their own, but they can linger for extensive periods especially when breakouts recur frequently. Again, sunscreen should be used to prevent further damage.

Products that disperse the melanin in the skin can lighten dark spots over time. They can take years to develop and years to disperse. If you don’t USE SUNSCREEN while treating and after treating dark spots, they will come back. Common ingredients in dark spot serums include Mulberry, Turmeric and Licorice root extract. Mulberry and turmeric are both in Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Remover.

Kroger Brightening Mask

Kroger, a large supermarket chain, carries products as diverse as soda and diapers, under its own name. Now it also carries its own line of face masks. I tried the Brighetening sheet mask in an individual packet which claims to illuminate and awaken skin. The sheet mask is typical in appearance, a folded up cloth with holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. It felt cool and refreshing on the face. After 15–20 minutes, I removed it and examined my skin. Overall my skin appeared brighter and fresher. The mask includes pineapple extract and licorice root extract. The pineapple extract contains vitamin C and an enzyme called bromelain, which acts as an exfoliant and anti-inflamatory, giving skin an instant glow and reduced redness. The licorice root extract has three important enzymes- glycyrrhizin which is an anti-inflammatory, glabid glabridin which inhibits pigmentation and liquiritin which disperses melanin.

Final thoughts

The Kroger brightening mask does give skin a brighter, fresher glow. One use will not reduce dark spots, but it could support a regular skincare regimen that addresses these concerns. For $1.50 per mask, it is definitely worth a try.

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