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About the Author

Rebecca Eckler

Rebecca Eckler is one of Canada's most popular journalists and writers. She has a weekly parenting column in The Globe and Mail, and her work has appeared in such publications as Elle, Fashion, Chatelaine, House and Home, Mademoiselle, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. She is also the founder of ninepounddictator.blogspot.com, and writes a blog for sweetmama.ca. Eckler’s bestselling books, including Toddlers Gone Wild and Wiped!, have been published in Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary, and Turkey. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Books by this Author
Apple's Angst
Excerpt

One
 
“Apple! Are you insane?” Happy demanded, viciously tearing Apple’s fourth-favorite pair of jeans from her. “Please tell me you’re not thinking of wearing those,” Happy continued, dismay dripping from her tongue. “ I know you’re obsessed with jeans. But please, not today! Today, you can’t be yourself!”
 
Happy tossed the jeans into a corner, a revolted look on her face, as if she were tossing out a baby’s dirty diaper. Her perfect ski-slope nose crinkled as if there was also a foul stench in the air. She ran her fingers through her shiny, long black hair and shot Apple a glance. Happy’s green eyes said it all: “What am I going to do with you?”
 
“Hey, be nice to the jeans!” Apple huffed, picking up the pants, folding them, and placing them gingerly on her bed. “What did they ever do to you?”
 
There were already dozens upon dozens of items of clothing in the Absolutely Not pile in the corner of Apple’s bedroom, including jeans in every wash, shade, and style imaginable.
 
The heap was getting higher by the second. Apple hadn’t known how much she owned until most of her clothes had been ripped from hangers and emptied from dresser drawers and she could see them in the one mammoth heap. Some of the clothes, much to Apple’s shock and shame, still had price tags. This made her feel supremely guilty. Apple loved to shop, especially with Happy. Happy always managed to convince Apple she “should” buy something when they shopped together. But most of the time, no matter what was in her closet, no matter the occasion, Apple ended up in jeans and a tank top.
 
All that money gone to waste, thought Apple, looking at all the unused clothes, wondering if she could return any of the items, or if—genius idea!—she should actually start to wear them.
 
Happy hadn’t approved of any of the outfits Apple had so far held up as possibilities to wear today. Every outfit Apple suggested had ended up in Happy’s Absolutely Not pile, mostly because Apple kept holding up variations on jeans and a tank top.
 
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” asked Happy. “You can’t be yourself today.”
 
Apple had heard her—she had simply pretended not to the first time.
 
“Oh, I heard you. So what exactly do you mean by that?” she asked, watching Happy pick up another pair of jeans, looking unimpressed. “Hey!” Apple cried. “I love those jeans. What’s wrong with them? They’re such a dark wash they could pass for a really funky pair of pants. And you said you loved them on me! And you said my butt looks fabulous in them. And you’re the one who gave them to me, in case you forgot,” she said, hoping to convince Happy before the jeans ended up in the Absolutely Not pile.
 
Apple suddenly wished Lyon was there, though she knew he would probably rather cover himself naked in honey and lie on an ant pile. But at least he would tell her that no matter what she wore, she looked fantastic. Thinking about her boyfriend, Apple couldn’t help but smile. He had come by first thing in the morning only to drop off her favorite strawberry-banana smoothie.
 
“I just wanted your day to get off to the perfect start,” he had told her. And though she was dressed in one of her dad’s T-shirts and an old pair of sweatpants, he had also told her she looked adorable. Thanks to Lyon and his surprise visit, it had been the perfect start to a day.
 
As Happy sighed, with exaggerated tolerance, Apple was brought back to the present. Happy was speaking to Apple as if she were a very patient teacher explaining to a six-year-old how to add single-digit numbers.
 
“How many ways am I going to have to explain the situation to you so you’ll actually understand, Apple? I do love the jeans. And they do make your butt look great. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I’m sorry if I hurt the jeans’ feelings,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I do love all your jeans. But you just can’t wear jeans today! Today is too important, even for designer hand-me-down jeans from yours truly. Even if they make your butt look delicious.” Apple tried to interrupt, but it was impossible. “And I know how you always say that Lyon loves you in jeans, but today is not about impressing your boyfriend, who would find you attractive in a garbage bag. Deal with it,” Happy said, finishing her rant.
 
“But that’s me,” Apple argued. “Jeans are me! That’s who I am! I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt type of gal. I’m at my most comfortable casual.”
 
“I know that. We all know that,” Happy said, glancing to the far end of Apple’s bedroom, where their other best friend, Brooklyn, was sitting silently, eyes closed, hands resting on her knees, palms facing up.
 
Brooklyn was meditating, something she had recently taken up as an add-on to her regular yoga practice. Brooklyn was as obsessed with yoga as Happy was with fashion and Apple was with jeans.
 
If Happy had been looking to Brooklyn, whom they called “the Noodle” because she was so lean and flexible, for backup it wasn’t happening. Not only did Brooklyn live in yoga pants, but ever since she took up meditation, she had also acquired the amazing capacity to tune out everything that was going on around her. You could dance in front of Brooklyn, making ridiculous faces and gestures, while she meditated and she still wouldn’t budge.
 
“So what you’re really saying is that they won’t like ME if I wear jeans, even though that’s who I am?” asked Apple. It bothered her that there could be people out there who thought like that, who would judge her based on what she was wearing. Apple liked to believe that people weren’t that superficial or judgmental, even though she knew that was kind of naive.
 
Apple never judged people by the way they looked or dressed. Though she would admit she sometimes laughed along with Happy’s biting criticisms of someone else’s outfit, Apple was not the type to actively start those conversations, or even have those thoughts.
 
“No, what I’m trying to say is that, today, you just have to be a better version of yourself. At least you have to dress like a better version of yourself,” Happy said gently, taking Apple’s hand as if she were breaking bad news. “Listen, how are people supposed to take you seriously if they aren’t a little envious of what you’re wearing? They want people to look up to you, don’t they? And people won’t look up to you if you don’t look like you’re a person to aspire to! If you were going to be interviewed to be a counselor at a day camp or a salesperson at a clothing store, I’d tell you to wear jeans. But this is so, so different. This is so much bigger and more important. You have to impress these people. Please, please, please just let me pick out what you should wear. You’re going to be working at Angst magazine! This is, like, the most important day of your life! It’s Angst magazine!”

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Blissfully Blended Bullshit

Blissfully Blended Bullshit

The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

Prologue

Where the fuck is my confetti? Where is my celebratory dinner? Oh, right. I’ve forgotten about the less-than-thrilled response I received from some members of my blended family when I told them I’d signed a book deal. I suppose breaking the news that it was about them might have had something to do with that. They didn’t seem overjoyed that I was going to write about the cold, hard, uncomfortable truth of what really happens behind the closed doors of blended families. Welcome to my life. Even before I sat at my computer to compose my thoughts on what this book would look like, certain members of my blended family already had their backs up, wondering what the hell I would be writing about and, of course, how they would be perceived. It’s not that they weren’t happy that I’d got a book deal. They just weren’t exactly enamoured with what they thought, or assumed, I was going to share. They were anxious. And, honestly, they should be.

I was “gently” advised by my partner to “be cautious” when writing about all of us — all of us being myself, my partner and his two biological children, the son we have together, and my daughter from my first common-law marriage. One big happy-ish family! I felt like a child being told to think before I speak. I “gently” reminded him that I’m a grown woman. So, no, there was no dinner, no champagne toast, not even dying roses from a gas station in my honour when I got the go-ahead to tell my story about what it’s like to be in a blended family.

It’s a story worth telling. Holy shit, have my experiences opened my eyes, not just to the gargantuan reality of adjusting to life in a blended family, but also because of what I’ve learned about myself and relationships while blending. You kind of get a crash course in reality when trying to manage all the bullshit that comes along with this rapidly growing family dynamic.

Sometimes what happens in a blended family really is stranger than fiction. The fights and slights can be so ridiculous, I’m not sure anyone would actually believe me. Which is why I’ve never truly shared, nor have I found any book out there that can commiserate with me about what a shit show it is to be in a blended family.

This is not a memoir about being a step-parent or having stepchildren or the step-parent–stepchild relationship. Not that I don’t touch on it. But this is more my account of how blending families affects everyone, including people you’d never consider, like our exes, or our ex-in-laws, our new in-laws, and even the dog.

The truth about blending families can be fucking harsh. Those who haven’t gone through it and are dating others with children, are thinking about blending, are embarking on blending, or are just curious about what it’s like to blend families probably just figure it’s an … adjustment? Perhaps a process to learn, a path to travel, a mountain to climb, a field to plant, a knot to unravel, a Coen brothers movie to fully understand. In other words, a difficult but seemingly surmountable challenge.

Ha! Challenge. Living it, I’d probably use a much different word. Every single one of us in my blended family has our own perception of our roles in each other’s lives and in our blended household. We may all live under the same roof, but our experiences are totally different and can even be contrasting at times. Our truths may have discrepancies and may even have zero basis in reality. Everyone else’s sense about what it’s been like for them to blend is a reflection of them, just as my reactions while blending reveal a lot about me.

My family — the kids, the grandparents, the Boyfriend, and the exes — know that honesty and candour are my MO. This memoir is my truth, and, unfortunately, truth can sound an awful lot like criticism. Some people — yep, I’m gonna go there — can’t handle the truth. Or, at the very least, they would prefer to ignore it than to admit and confront it. Believe me, I’ve been on that side, too. But I know my truth from talking to others in blended families — some successful, some not so much, some not at all — and comparing notes to see if I’m just batshit crazy, or if they could relate to a lot of the bullshit I’ve found comes along with blending. I mostly know about the bullshit of blending from living it, from being honest about the way I feel in certain situations and the way I think everyone else feels in my blended family, and, also, from the hundreds of texts and email exchanges over the years with the cast of characters in my blended family. Thank you, iCloud!

So, yeah — blah, blah, blah — the truth will set us free. But first it will piss someone, or everyone, off. Or, who knows? Maybe everyone in my blended family will let out a huge sigh of relief that it’s not just us who thinks navigating our new roles is a bit of a shit show. Maybe they’ll even have a good giggle. What screws most of us up is a picture or the fantasy in our heads of how a family is supposed to be, how we are supposed to treat each other, and how we are supposed to look. I hope that when my family looks back on the most difficult times, we’ll also remember the awesome memories we’ve created and continue to create. I know I will. Even for all of our scars and bumps and bruises and imperfections and missteps, it hasn’t all been all bad.

There is one thing I’m pretty sure we’d all agree on, though — and I do mean just one! The process of blending families comes with a considerable amount of bullshit.

Still, knowing that the people who have been in my life now for years — the family I’ve gained after blending and as we continue to blend — are, for lack of a better word, perturbed over what I’m going to write kind of stings. I’m not going to lie. I’m legit hurt by their lack of enthusiasm.

So, okay, I don’t exactly have a cheering section. There is no confetti. No bouquet — flower, fruit, balloon, or otherwise — in my future. But maybe, just maybe, this book will be like blending families: completely unexpected, with some WTF, but also a whole lot of, “Oh, really? I hadn’t thought of it that way!” My family need not fear that they will come off looking like assholes while I come across all roses and rainbows. Quite the opposite, actually. Many times I’m the one who comes across as the schmuck. Many, many times, my dark, jealous, resentful side surfaces, and often my feelings are completely irrational and immature, to the point that it horrifies even me.

But I’m not one to shy away from sharing my account of the hard truths, the less-than-ideal realities, and all the bullshit I was completely unprepared for by blending. I wouldn’t be me if I held back. So I don’t plan to.

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How to Raise a Boyfriend
Excerpt

Why Is It So Hard for Men to Answer a Damn Question?

Communication, according to every single article or book on relationships ever written, is the key to a healthy, lasting relationship.  I’d like these “experts” to try to be in relationships with some of the men I have been with and see how long they’d last. I dare them! They wouldn’t last a second. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. One man I was in a relationship with loved to talk. He loved to talk so much, I told him on more than one occasion that he was in the wrong profession and should have been a professor, because then he’d have uninterrupted hours with an audience required to listen to his rants. This man and I could waste hours together talking about nothing at all, which was fun. (We were both procrastinators.) He was also one of the smartest people I had ever met, which is why I was so attracted to him. Except, that is, when it came to answering basic questions. When it came to answering basic questions, this man was probably one of the stupidest people I had ever met. Sometimes, our phone conversations were so painful, I honestly would have rather got naked, covered myself in honey, and lay on an anthill. Getting answers from him for very simple questions was brutal.

This is how our conversations would typically go:

Me: So what did you get up to last night? 
Him: Oh, I went out. 
Me: Oh, you went out. Where did you go? 
Him: Just to a couple of places. 
Me: Oh, a couple of places? Which places?
Him: Just to a couple of bars. 
Me: Which bars? 
Him: Just a couple of bars downtown. 
Me: Who with? 
Him: Just a couple of friends. 
Me: Which friends? 
Him: Just [fill in best friend’s name]. And a couple of other people joined us. 
Me: Who were the people? 
Him: Just random people. 
Me: So did you have fun? 
Him: It was fine. 
Me: Okay, then [silently wanting to pull out his fingernails, or mine, one by one].

Yes, even I can see that from my questions, I look like a royal nag or jealous bitch. The truth is, I didn’t really care who he went out with or where he went. I was not jealous. I was making conversation. And I did care that while he was able to recite the entire history of every single war to ever take place, he was not able to answer the most simple of questions.  (Okay, I’ll admit I was 5 percent asking because I can be a royal nag and jealous bitch. But 95 percent of me was asking because I was genuinely interested in what he got up to. I really was attempting what they call “making conversation.”) And if you are wondering, he wasn’t the cheating type. He had the highest moral standards, so he wasn’t being sketchy with his cagey answers. That’s just the way he was. So I ask you, why couldn’t my boyfriend answer the question, “What did you get up to last night?” How much easier would it be when any gal asks her man, “What did you get up to last night?” for him to answer, “I went to the Fox and Firkin with Jim and Bob, and we talked about sports and politics. We had a nice time” “  (Even nicer if he added, “I thought about you the entire time.” But let’s not push it.) Why do men turn us into investigators?

Many of my good friends go through the same experiences with their spouses. One friend says of her husband: “I tell him my every move. But he won’t answer any of my questions when he comes home after a night out.  I’m really just making conversation. I’m not checking in.” (And, my friends, unlike me, she’s really not the jealous type at all. She really is trying to make conversation with her husband.)

Another friend loves when her husband tries to pull the whole “What did you say?” trick after she asks him a question. “I’ll say, ‘So where did you go last night after work?’ And he’ll immediately answer, ‘What did you say?’ as if it’s instinctual. I know he heard me. But it’s like he’s buying time to come up with something, even if he is totally innocent. It’s like he just can’t help but say that.” Another girlfriend never gets straight answers from her husband of ten years. She has finally given up asking. “I just read his e-mails instead,” she admits. See? This is not good. We women don’t want to have to break into your e-mails just because you can’t bring yourself to tell us what you did last night. You don’t want us to be that woman either, do you?

In fact, sadly, most girlfriends don’t seem to fare well in the basic communication department, especially when their partners come home from work. When one of my friends asks, “So how was your day?” when her husband arrives home, he actually grunts. (Which makes me feel slightly better about hearing, “Just went out.” At least I get words from my boyfriend, if only three of them.)

Some of my married friends are lucky if they get a “Fine” from their husbands when they ask how their day was. Then their husbands race away from them as quickly as possible to lounge in front of the television or to work in their home offices. One of my friends and her husband got into a fight one day over his “non-answers” to her “How was your day?” question. He screamed at my friend for ten minutes about how he “talks all day at work,” and how he “doesn’t want to answer any questions.” Hello? My friend wasn’t asking questions (plural), she was asking one question: “How was your day?” Like me asking my boyfriend about his nights out, my girlfriend asks her husband how his day was because she truly does care to hear the answer. She truly does care how his day was.  In the time he spent yelling at my friend that he didn’t feel like answering questions, he could have just as easily said, “It was a long day. Lots of meetings.”

If I were to grade my boyfriend and my friends’ husbands when it came to answering basic questions, they’d so get a D on the Relationship Report Card.

No matter how many times I screamed, “Why don’t you just answer the damn question?” my boyfriend just couldn’t do it. Yes, he needed to be in a remedial boyfriend class. But what could I do? Clearly, yelling at him didn’t work.

I Just Saved You $200 and Forty-five Minutes of Your Time (Total: $200)
 
“Freud” is my therapist, and I see him twice a month. His name is not really Freud, but that’s what I like to call him. (Not to his face. Just to my friends.) He’s a psychologist and knows me better than anyone. He charges $200 for a forty-five-minute appointment. He’s sometimes worth the $200. Sometimes he is not. But the fact is, he deals with couples—both women and men complaining about each other in his office five days a week, eight hours a day—and has for more than twenty years. He must know something about what makes relationships work because he probably has heard it all.

I told Freud how my boyfriend, though he loved to talk about everything, had problems answering basic questions, which pissed me off. Freud said that if your man is being “evasive,” or giving only one-word answers, you need to be honest with him and say, “You sound evasive. And when you sound like that, it makes me feel mistrustful. And I’m interested in having an open, honest relationship.” He explained that for many men, being evasive (and sounding cagey) is a “control thing.” Men, he explained, feel that their wives or girlfriends don’t have “the right to know every single detail.” So we women have to be honest with them. But also, Freud said, we should not come down so hard on ourselves for wanting to know answers.  “When women don’t get straight answers, they assume the worst,” he said.  He is right. Not only did it piss me off to not get direct and open answers from my boyfriend, but also I assumed the worst, even though he was trustworthy.  (As does my married friend, who checks her husband’s e-mails.) Freud said that it’s human nature for women to feel that way, which means I’m normal to get pissed off at evasive answers. (Yay!)

Guest Appearance from a Real-Life Ex of Mine!
 
Now, since it takes two to tango in a relationship, I decided to go back to some of my exes—the ones who will still take my phone calls—to ask what was going through their heads when I came down hard on them for certain things. (Actually, I have pretty good relationships with my exes, in the sense that because I’m no longer with them, they don’t annoy me so much.) I think it’s important for women to hear the men’s side of things, even if the men’s side is fucking dumb. I figure we can learn something from hearing them out and learning how their brains work. At least that’s what I hope. So I asked my ex-boyfriend, the one who always sounded so cagey when I asked him about his nights out, why he never answered my questions and made me work so hard to get answers. “I just felt it was none of your business. It made me feel claustrophobic and reminded me that my status was no longer one of independence. It made me feel like a lion in a cage,” he ranted. “For men, after a night out, it’s done. It’s like waking up after a party and seeing a little bit of beer left in a bottle. You wouldn’t drink it because you know it’s old and tastes like shit. That’s what it’s kind of like to be asked the question ‘What did you get up to last night?’ It’s done. It’s over. I’m not thinking about what I did last night anymore. Plus, I’ve learned that whenever a girl asks that question, there’s an alternative purpose. No matter how innocent their question is, women are waiting to hear something in our tone. They’re waiting for us to trip up. That’s all they’re really listening for—not what we did but our tone. And my married guy friends? Well, if they have the ‘night off’ from their kids, there’s always a bit of resentment from their wives. So don’t ask us what we did last night. We know it’s a loaded question. A better way of posing it would be, ‘Did you have fun?’ Or better yet, just let it go and don’t ask us at all.” (Is it just me or does he sound bitter to you?)

A Word from a Grade-A Husband . . .
Now, I have exactly one married friend who is completely happy with her husband. She never complains about him. Her husband should be the poster boy for good husbands/boyfriends everywhere. He is not whipped. He is just a good guy who loves his wife, his family, and his life. I “borrowed” him because I wanted to know what a man who has been raised thinks about the problems I and my girlfriends run into with our not fully raised, C-graded men. “Guys don’t really like to talk, but men need to realize that there’s a small amount of maintenance in a relationship that is easy. Answering the question ‘How was your day?’ is easy,” he says.

CLEVER TACTICS/ADVICE ON RAISING YOUR MAN TO ACHIEVE AT OR ABOVE THE EXPECTED LEVEL
(It would be nice to have them at an “exceptionally high level,” but let’s try for “the expected level” to start with.)
1. Do not be negative when asking your boyfriend/husband what he did last night. Try your very best to tame your tone so it doesn’t sound like you are interrogating him or resent him for going out. Give him time to wake up, or unwind after getting home from work, before you start asking questions.  He’ll be less grumpy.
2. Talk to him like you’re talking to a friend. “Last night I was on the phone with Sheri and we talked about her job, and then I watched a re-run of Entourage. What did you do?” Pretend your husband/boyfriend is your best friend and you’re just catching up. You’re a woman! I know you can act.
3. Joke that you’re not his mother. You don’t care what kind of trouble he got up to. Joke that you want to live vicariously through him.
4. If you are the type who is strong enough not to ask, maybe just don’t ask.
And maybe he’ll offer it up.
5. Do not look at his BlackBerry for answers. It will just make you feel worse. (Trust me. I’ve been there.)
6. If you do look at his BlackBerry, do not say anything.
7. Play the “If the tables were turned” game next time you go out. Give him one-word answers and then ask him how it feels.

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Knocked Up

Knocked Up

Confessions of a Modern Mother-to-be
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

The First Trimester

(a.k.a. The Longest Three Months of My Life)

Sunday, January 26

6:45 a.m.
OH SHIT!

Did I . . . did we . . . did he . . . in me?

6:46 a.m.
I’m awake, right? I’m conscious, right? I don’t feel like myself. Something has changed.

6:47 a.m.
OH MY GOD! The elastic waistband of these boxer shorts can’t already be tighter. This cannot be happening. To me. Of all people. Oh God . . . I just felt something moving.

6:59 a.m.
Oh God, I HAVE THE FEAR!

I can’t believe that I . . . that we . . . that he . . . in me.

We did, right?

SHIT!

7:00 a.m.
It’s way too early to be so awake on a Sunday. I’m going to sneak out of bed and quietly go to the kitchen and reheat what’s left of yesterday’s midafternoon Starbucks non-fat vanilla latte in the microwave. I need caffeine. There’s no way I can fall back to sleep now. I need to make the Fear Phone Call right away. I desperately need to talk to Lena. But the fiancé is still sleeping, or pretending to still be asleep. How can he possibly be sleeping at a time like this? Man, it must be nice to be a man. Men can sleep through anything. It’s freaking annoying. I can’t let the fiancé know that I’m f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g out. The fiancé can’t – under any circumstances – overhear the Fear Conversation I need to have with Lena, as soon as possible. I mean immediately. If the fiancé knew what Lena and I really talk about, he would never want anything to do with me – or any other woman – ever again. There is already a good chance that the fiancé already wants nothing to do with me after last night, and I’ve probably turned him off women forever.

If I were a good person, I would go out and buy the fiancé bagels or something. I am a bad, bad person. Even if the fiancé wasn’t here, it’s too early to call Lena anyway. When I last remember seeing her, it was two in the morning and she was breakdancing on the dance floor, thrusting her pelvis up toward the ceiling. She didn’t look bad either, considering she was a thirty-eight-year-old drunken white girl dancing to Eminem. She, too, will have The Fear this morning and will be sleeping off her hangover until at least noon. Which is what I’d be doing too if The Fear wasn’t so devastating and hadn’t woken me up like a slap in the face so freaking early. I think I’m hyperventilating.

Did I . . . did we . . . did he . . . in me?
Shit, shit, shit . . .

The Fear is what happens when vague memories of drunken stupidity instantly become clear as crystal. The only thing to do when the sheer terror of The Fear hits is to go back to bed, bury your head under the comforter, and never, ever leave your house again. Either that or make the Fear Call to your closest girlfriend to try to piece together the puzzle of fogginess by detailing what little you both can remember from the previous night. You can really only stay in bed for so long, no matter how mortified you are.

The Fear Phone Call, the morning after a night of way too much drinking, can last hours. The Fear Phone Call always, always begins with “Oh God, I have The Fear” and carries on with much laughter, gossip, and good-natured (and a lot of not-so-good-natured) bitchiness. It always ends with promises to “never, ever drink that much again.”

If this was a typical morning after with The Fear and the fiancé wasn’t asleep – or pretending to still be asleep – in the next room, I would tell Lena how I flirted with my boss, that one of my married colleagues came up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist, and whispered in my ear, “Just because you’re engaged now doesn’t mean we can’t get together, right?” I would tell Lena how I think I remember yelling at a drunken, sloppy guest for spilling her entire drink down the back of my $900 dress so that the material clung to my skin, like a bad date you’re trying to lose in a crowd. Or was that me who spilled my drink? In any case, all of that did happen at the party last night. But all of that seems kind of innocuous, considering what happened after the fiancé and I somehow managed to make it back to my apartment. How did we get back?

Did I . . . did we . . . did he . . . in me?

Lena would tell me how she kissed a man whose name she never knew, and that she doesn’t remember how or what time she got home – which is always what happens when Lena drinks too much. We’d laugh until we wept, and we’d groan about our foolishness until our stomachs hurt. We’d reassure each other that what happened in our intoxicated state wasn’t so bad. Surely everyone else was too drunk to even notice our bad behaviour. Truth is, I look forward to the Fear Phone Call. Actually, I adore the Fear Phone Call. Because if you’ve made the Fear Phone Call, it usually means you’ve had an incredible night. The longer the Fear Phone Call lasts, the better and more memorable the night.

But this is not a typical morning with The Fear. I have super freakin’ crazy fear. I got into bed last night drunk on alcohol and high on exhilaration, snuggling in with my drunken fiancé, thinking how wonderful my life will be with this man, how much I love him, and how lucky I am that he loves me. I didn’t even brush my teeth before pulling him down on top of me. Now I’m anxious and guilt-ridden and sober as a nun. There’s a good chance the fiancé will dump me after what happened, after what I begged him to do. It was entirely my fault. Sort of.

The fiancé and I celebrated our engagement last night at a party we threw for 150 of our closest friends. The party was also my fault. Everything that happens in a relationship can be blamed on someone, after all. It was my “brilliant idea” to celebrate our engagement. What was I thinking?

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Rotten Apple

Rotten Apple

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

One

Dear ED (electronic diary),

Happy New Year.
I’m sorry I haven’t written lately. I’ve been crazy busy. Okay, I am so completely lying right now. I haven’t done much of anything these past two weeks. Unless you consider staring at my split ends, ignoring my mother, watching my all­time favorite teenage drama, Minors in Malibu, and waiting for school to start as doing something.
I so need this winter break to be o­v­e­r.
Surprisingly, not doing much of anything has been emotionally exhausting.
There’s no such thing as privacy in my house. Having “alone time” is not an option when the Queen is around.
Which is why I haven’t logged on ED, my dear electronic diary.
In only 16 hours, 27 minutes, and 45 seconds – not that I’m counting or anything – I’ll be back at Cactus High. You know me, ED – I’m not some freak of nature who gets off on the scent of textbooks or sucking up to teachers or anything like that.
I just cannot stand to be under the same roof as my mother, for more than, um, five minutes.
I know, I know. How can this be, right? My mother is, after all, Dr. Bee Bee Berg! The one and only Dr. Bee Bee Berg! Cheers all around!
I’m well aware that my mother’s die­hard followers, who plop on their couches every weekday at 5 p.m. to listen to the good old-fashioned relationship wisdom spewing from my mother’s mouth during her syndicated talk show, Queen of Hearts with Dr. Bee Bee Berg, would cut off their right arm to have the Queen hovering around them 24/7.
The millions of viewers who watch her show religiously would just love, love, LOVE to have Dr. Bee Bee Berg worm her way into their brains by asking them a thousand times a day how they’re “feeling” and if they’d like her “advice.”
I am NOT one of those people.
Trust me, being interrogated about how you’re feeling 24/7 is about as much fun as waking up to a huge whitehead pimple . . . in the center of your nose.
It’s been just my luck my mother’s talk show happens to be in repeats during my winter break. In television­land, they call this a “hiatus.” What it really means is that she’s been at home, every single minute of every single day, treating me like one of her television guests – guests who are only too willing and eager to answer personal questions about the most intimate details of their relationships – in front of millions of viewers AND a studio audience. I know, right, ED? How personal is that?
My mother has spent the last two weeks wanting to talk, talk, talk, talk. I keep reminding her that, at home, she’s not on television, that no one is watching her, and that I’m not heading to my room to pout because all my best friends are away.
I just want at least a little peace and QUIET!
She should know I am the Sponge. Have I told you, ED, that’s what my best friends, Happy and Brooklyn, have always called me? I soak up all my feelings and keep everything inside. You’d literally have to wring my neck and pull out my fingernails one by one to get me to talk about anything personal.
And what’s so wrong with that, ED? When did keeping things to yourself and being a private person become such a bad thing? Not everyone in the world needs advice or needs to share every feeling that passes through their head.
Not that I have any major relationship problems I’d need advice about anyway. Not everyone in the world has relationship issues. Take Zen. Zen has never known about my crush on him. Good thing, too, because who knows if I’ll ever see him again. Sigh. He has spent the last half year in Australia, being homeschooled by his parents, but I’m sure he’s spent most of his time surfing and meeting new friends. Why would he ever want to come back from living like that? I may NEVER see him again. Unlike some people, I don’t think that every thought that passes through my head or every feeling in my heart needs to be discussed to death. And really, if I could just forget about him altogether, I would. I haven’t even told Happy or Brooklyn about my crush on him.
Speaking of my best friends, I’m heading off to meet them at Gossip Spa. Finally I’ll get away from Dr. Bee Bee Berg, who is yelling at me right now from somewhere downstairs – “Are you okay up there? What are you doing? You need advice on what to wear?”
I know, ED, I know. Welcome to my life.

Shoot me now, Apple thought. Put me out of my misery. Just shoot me now!

“You want my advice?” Dr. Bee Bee Berg called out, just as Apple managed to get one foot out the front door. Dr. Bee Bee Berg – my mother! – had appeared out of nowhere, and now she was standing with one hand holding the door open so Apple couldn’t shut it behind herself.

“I think you should get out of those ripped jeans you’ve been living in for the past two weeks and put on something a little nicer. Honestly, I’m surprised nothing is growing on those things. You will feel better on the inside if you dress nicely on the outside.”

Of course, her mother would say that. Dr. Bee Bee Berg, even when she wasn’t on air, was always impeccably groomed. Today she was wearing a white cashmere sweater, white slacks, and open­toed sandals, which featured her French­manicured toes. Every strand of her hair, as always, was perfectly in place.

“Mom, I didn’t ask for your advice. And I’m fifteen! I think I can dress myself!” Apple responded, trying to remain calm.

Apple would have made it out the door, too, if only she hadn’t been wearing her kitten­heeled ankle boots, which had clicked on the marble­tiled floors in the long hallway and had given her away.

Because of the high ceilings, every tiny sound in their house echoed. It was like living in a shower stall or the Grand Canyon.

“Will you at least take my advice and put on something a little warmer? It’s pretty chilly out there today,” Dr. Bee Bee Berg told her daughter, wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing them for emphasis. “You don’t want to get sick before school starts.”

Cold outside? That was taking it a bit far, Apple thought. Sure, technically it was January, but it had to be 65 degrees at least.

Apple sighed loudly, stepped back inside the house, and closed the door.

“Excuse me,” she said to her mother, stepping around her and opening the hall closet. She was already wearing a thin baby blue sweater over a V­neck T­shirt. But she grabbed a jean jacket from a hanger in the front closet and slid her arms into it.

“Okay now?” she asked her mother. “I’m going to be late for my appointment at Gossip.”

Sometimes it was easier just to do what the Queen suggested than to argue with her.

“What are you getting done today at Gossip?” her mother asked. Apple couldn’t believe it. Had she not just said, two seconds earlier, that she was going to be late? Her mother always picked the most inappropriate times to want to chat.

“You know,” she went on, “when I was a teenager growing up in Buffalo, there was nothing like spas for teenagers around. Not really even for adults. If I had told my mother that I wanted to go for a facial when I was your age, she would have said, ‘Aging is a natural process. Don’t fight it!’ Are you getting a manicure? I always advise women, and men too, that personal upkeep is very important. After all, if you can’t even take care of your nails, what does that say about what else you can’t take care of? I should really book some spa treatments myself – it’s been ages since I’ve been pampered.”

Apple thought, Well, why don’t you just do it then, instead of telling me about it? But what she said was, “Mom, really, I’m running late. Your questions are making me late. You’re making me late!” She just couldn’t keep the annoyance from dripping off her tongue, thick as honey.

“Apple, all I asked was what you were getting done at Gossip. It’s a simple question,” her mother answered, sounding perplexed at her daughter’s tone. “It would take only two seconds to answer.”

“I’m going to get my eyebrows done, okay?” Apple answered, through gritted teeth.

“Okay. Are you meeting Happy and Brooklyn there?” Dr. Bee Bee Berg asked next. “I can drive you, you know. You don’t have to walk. I’m more than happy to drive you, if you’re running that much behind.”

Apple liked to walk. She could walk for hours, taking in the peaceful scenery. She enjoyed the solitude of walking. She enjoyed the silence. That’s all Apple ever wanted: silence.

And Gossip was only a twenty­minute walk from her home – if she could ever get out of the house.

“Yes, Mom. I’m meeting Happy and Brooklyn there. And I want to walk. I really have to go now.” Apple opened the door for the second time.

“Well, ask them how their vacations went,” her mother said. “I know seeing them will cheer you up. I can tell that you’ve been down ever since school break started, so you must be pretty excited to have them back. I just wish you’d talk to me more about your feelings about it all. You know, five million people would love to talk to me about their feelings,” Dr. Bee Bee Berg reminded her.

Her mother was unbelievable. She could not, would not, take the hint.

“I know, Mom. You don’t have to remind me. I’m well aware of what you do for a living,” Apple sighed, adding under her breath, “You never let me forget it.” Apple wondered how different her life would have turned out if her mother had been an accountant or a dentist, and not the third most famous relationship talk show host in the country.

“Apple, I’m worried about you. It’s not healthy to not talk about your feelings and problems,” Dr. Bee Bee Berg told her, for like the six millionth time in the last two weeks.

Apple rolled her eyes.

“Okay, Mom. I’m going now for real,” Apple said, and added, “I feel fine. Honestly, there’s nothing to talk about. I’m fine.”

“Apple, seriously, you want my advice about –”

Apple slammed the door before her mother could finish. She felt a pang of guilt hit her gut. She didn’t want to be rude to her mother, but at that moment, she felt she just had to get away or she would start screaming, “Can you please just shut up already? Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!”

Apple raced down the sidewalk, passing the large houses of her guard­gated community, Silver Ranch. Her neck and shoulders were tense, as they always were when she was irritated. She wondered if maybe she should have booked herself a massage instead. She walked by the tree­lined streets and small parks, took in the Spanish-style homes, and tried to calm her breathing and stop thinking about Dr. Bee Bee Berg. Apple had once heard that if you counted to ten while breathing in and out slowly, it would make the lump in your throat go away and calm you down.

Her shoulders started to relax and her thoughts turned away from her mother’s questions and the guilt of slamming the door in her face to the excitement of soon seeing her two best friends.

Since Apple was an only child, Happy and Brooklyn were the closest she had to sisters – aside from Crazy Aunt Hazel, that is, but she was a whole other story. Apple couldn’t wait to get to Gossip, not only so she could finally get her eyebrows shaped, but also so she could complain to Happy and Brooklyn about Dr. Bee Bee Berg.

“You want my advice, girls?” Apple imagined herself saying, imitating her mother’s no­nonsense tone, to her friends as they were getting their treatments. “I think you should stop biting your nails, Brooklyn. And Happy? You want my advice? I think you should stop smiling so much. You’ll get lines.”

She knew her best friends would laugh, politely, at Apple’s impersonation of her mother.

But Apple also knew that, no matter how much Apple complained about her mother, her best friends believed that Dr. Bee Bee Berg was the coolest parent in the world. Nothing Apple could do – no impersonations, no amount of bitching – would ever change that, no matter how hard she tried.

Happy and Brooklyn thought Apple was truly lucky to be the only daughter of the one and only Dr. Bee Bee Berg. They often said how fortunate she was to always have a “professional” around to give her advice for free. And a famous one, too!

Happy’s parents, after all, paid Happy’s therapist $200 an hour, once a week, to listen to her and try to fix her problems, and her therapist wasn’t even on television and hadn’t written six advice and self­help books, like Dr. Bee Bee Berg had.

“How’s it going, Applesauce?” George, the day gateman, called out as she walked by.

Today even George’s friendly question annoyed Apple. And it annoyed Apple that it annoyed her. George was a nice man, and the only person she would let get away with calling her “Applesauce.”

She gave George a half­hearted smile.

“I’m good, George. How are you?” she asked.

“Great, Applesauce. I’m just great. How’s the Queen of Hearts?” he asked.

“Oh, she’s fine,” responded Apple. “Just enjoying her time off.”

“Well, you tell her to get back to work. It gets quite boring in this booth without having your mother’s show to look forward to,” George said, pointing to the mini television in his booth, as proud as if he were showing Apple a photograph of his own family.

“I’ll let her know. See you later, George,” said Apple with a polite smile.

“Later, Applesauce,” said George, tipping his hat. “You have yourself a good day.”

Apple flashed him another half smile. From the time she had been able to understand words, Apple had realized there would always be questions and “cute” comments about her name. Being named after a fruit kind of did that to your life. In fact, Apple often joked that her first name might as well have been “Conversation” and her last name “Starter,” because people were always asking if that was her real name and why in the world would her parents have named her that.

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