Last Friday, I spent a large part of the evening manically cleaning the house. Adam followed me around, shaking his head in wonderment at my efforts. “Do you really think you need to wipe the mouldings?” he asked. “I doubt they’ll notice the dust, anyway.”

I shook my own head, swiping at my sweaty brow with the clean (I think) end of the dustcloth. “Notice?” I hissed. “Adam, this is a BOOK club. These people read BOOKS. They know about mouldings.” I paused for breath. “THEY ARE READERS.” Then I brought him the stepstool and instructed him to dust the blades of the ceiling fan.

The cleanest moulding ever.

Truth be told, this was my first time hosting the group and it had to Go Well, lest I somehow be kicked out of what I have decided is the best book club ever. When it was formed last year, the founding members declared that we would read only enjoyable books, not the depressing tomes of social woe so beloved by previous book clubs. Besides one ill-fated misstep involving a Liberian memoir, we have remained true to the mission, indulging in the fluffier New York Times bestsellers and the random hey-the-cover-just-LOOKED-good selection. We shrink from pretension. We avoid any plots revolving around inherited disease or rapid descents into poverty. We positively shudder at book reviews that mention “literary irony.” Or “heartbreakingly devastating.” That one’s the worst.

Truth be told again, we don’t actually talk about books all that much. Those of us with husbands complain about them. Those of us with children then complain about them. And then the single women in the group regale us with dating stories and we all wish we were single again. Well, except for the single women. But you get my drift.

The best meeting ever took place this past fall. In October, lubricated with wine and fresh off a rousing conversation about eyebrow waxing, we discovered we all shared a common if completely age-inappropriate love of the Twilight series. Then someone suggested that we forgo a book in November and instead meet at the movie theater for a viewing of New Moon. There was a moment of silence while we considered if this was too lighthearted a move to make, even for the World’s Most Lightheartedest Book Club.

“Well, New Moon was a book,” one member said.

“Yes! With complete sentences and everything,” someone else chimed in.

“Don’t forget the plot,” another cried. “It had one!”

Another moment of silence. Then someone whipped out the big guns.

“Yes, it definitely had an interesting plot,” she said softly. “In fact, some might call it devastating.”

That pretty much sealed the deal. We met, we bought popcorn, we catcalled. When Jacob/Taylor Lautner took off his shirt, we made comments so unsuitable that my ears burn to recall them.

IT WAS GREAT.

And so, in the spirit of book clubs and the books they may or may not read, I offer this giveaway: Leave a comment by next Tuesday night (4/6) and automatically be in the running for a $20 Amazon gift card. You could buy a book! A movie! A VAMPIRE!

Actually, I just learned vampires cost $29.99. Eh, you can scrape up that extra $10 on your own. I have werewolves to save for, myself.

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One afternoon not long ago, in a discount store not far away, Aura may have asked me to buy her the CraZCookn’ Marshmallow Maker, a foul toy that would surely produce foul creations, the likes of which would immediately inspire a Whole Foods employee to start rending his or her fair-trade garments. Fatigued by shopping and weak from a gnawing need for a Diet Coke, I may have said yes. I will admit to nothing, except the following.

Admission #1:

Perhaps the CraZCookn’ marketing gurus were so exhausted by the Herculean task of spelling two common words with three fewer letters that they didn’t have the energy to appropriately audition box models. For if I am not mistaken, the taller girl is muttering something distinctly unChristian between her teeth to the other, dim-looking girl. Something along the lines of “Move over or I will stick this elbow into your still-developing boob, just like my older sister Shannon Doherty taught me. And then my agent will eat your agent, FOR BREAKFAST.”

Admission #2:

If a person were pressed to identify the Marshmallow Maker’s least appealing trait, that person might have to say it’s the 371 parts that need to be washed before use. After all, a mother doesn’t want her developing child to ingest factory chemicals. Except after the 52nd piece falls down the garbage disposal and has to be retrieved by hand. At that point the kid is welcome to all the nitrobenzene she wants. Godspeed, daughter, and happy snacking.

Admission #3:

Well, shoot. If I’d known about the Yellow 5 and/or Blue 1 beforehand, I wouldn’t have even picked up a sponge. Talk about freakin’ gilding the lily.

Admission #4:

Somewhere, some food safety lab is enjoying an early, CraZCookn’-sponsored happy hour. “I’ve gotta hand it to you, Gerald,” says one lab worker to another. “I thought for sure you wouldn’t find one actual mineral in that stuff. But then you go ahead and not only do you find calcium, you top yourself with a trace of riboflavin!” The Heineken flows. Or, more precisely, the HeiNekn’.

Admission #5:

The instructions tell you to add water to the marshmallow mix and then “stir to a toothpaste thickness.” I tried my best to gross out Aura as she stirred, making all kind of mentions of vomit and bird poop, but nothing. If the folks at CraZCookn’ have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t disgust a three-year-old. You can, however, make her father retch for five whole minutes, and that’s worth $11.99 right there.

 Admission #6:

I  know. EXACTLY what I was thinking: How can this white stuff possibly turn blue simply by mixing with water?

“Now THAT!” I cried to Aura. “THAT is SCIENCE!” Having already explained both mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster earlier that afternoon, I felt that it was a particularly solid day of science education. Preschool may teach her about rocket ships, but here at home SHE LEARNS THE TRUTH.

Admission #7:

When I looked down at the baggies of white powder scattered across the counter, I couldn’t help but sigh. “In another life,” I murmured, “this might have looked illicit.” I tell you:  A woman goes and has a kid, and it’s like her dreams of being a cocaine dealer just fly right out the window.

Admission #8:

If I had bought Aura the Marshmallow Maker, this would have been the end result. And it might have tasted like puffy bird poop after all.

Thank God for hypotheticals.

When we reluctantly moved to the suburbs in winter 2008, many of our still city-dwelling friends tried to comfort us. “Think of all the extra space!” they’d exclaim, patting our backs supportively. “Plus you’re only nine miles outside of Boston.  It’s not like you’re in the boonies!”

Adam and I would chuckle nervously. “Not the boonies!” we’d reply. “Right you are!”

And then spring came and the man who owned the grassy lot across the street appeared and started raising a spring crop of chickens and rototilling the world’s largest and ugliest garden. For weeks, the air was heavy with scent of manure, the scratching of the neighbor’s hoe a constant reminder of the horror across the street.

“WE HAVE MOVED TO THE BOONIES!” I screeched to Adam, sounding not entirely unlike the rooster regularly cock-a-doodle-freakin’-dooing across the street. “I can’t take this, this…this RURAL LIFE,” I continued disconsolately. “I hate it here. It’s so GREEN and PLEASANT. There aren’t even any homeless people around to pick the cans out of our recycling bins. DO YOU KNOW HOW HEAVY OUR RECYCLING BINS ARE NOW?” I screamed, stomping back and forth across our disgustingly large suburban kitchen. “Plus there isn’t a single Thai restaurant in town. And everyone here is SO WHITE.” I then finished up with promises to pack up Aura and return to the city if things didn’t change.

Two years later, I’m calmer. I’m even almost used to the guy across the street, a longwinded and curiously bearded fellow who nonetheless proffers homegrown veggies from time to time. Whenever we chat, I cheerily mention “appearances” and “property values” and the benefits of “attractively walled-in gardens and fowl,” weakening him one loaded hint at a time. As it is, this year he is raising pheasants, not chickens. Pheasants are a much more attractive bird, though I am finding that their mating calls can be rather…startling. Whenever I have the windows open it’s a bit like someone is being murdered, except with more rustling and pecking.

Truth be told, I am actually getting used to all of suburbia. I still detest having to drive instead of walk, but there’s something to be said about people who smile and adequately funded libraries. There isn’t a real independent coffeehouse in sight, but there are lots of parks for Aura and lots of other moms for me and a sturdy school system for the future. And sometime in January a guy actually started driving over and picking through our recycling bins on trash day. I don’t think he’s homeless, but if you squint really hard he might be laid-off, and that’s good enough for me.

Then last week, after dropping off Aura at preschool, I noticed a new sign going up on one of the storefronts in town: “Spice Thai Restaurant: Coming Soon!” Well, for the love of God. Next thing you know, some Asian or African American family will move to town and it will be completely unnecessary to return to city life. If that happens, I guess I’ll just invite the new family to dinner. Then I’ll serve pheasant.

A month or so ago, Aura and I were rattling around the latest sale at Kohl’s. Painfully aware that my delicate underthings had lately been looking more threadbare than delicate, I directed Aura to follow me to the lingerie department, where I was determined I would find at least a couple of new bras. 

As I’ve mentioned before, Aura is rather smitten with the idea of bras. Having been informed that she herself will not be able to wear a bra for another 10 or 12 or forever years, she took it upon herself to help me locate one. While I rifled through the underwires, Aura disappeared momentarily, soon popping back with an armful of ruffles and lace and hot pink. I’m telling you, if kindergarten doesn’t work out, I’m shipping her off to those stripper conventions in Vegas and calling her a really short salesperson. She’ll be in heaven, helping Candi/Bambi/Diamond find rhinestone-studded bras to match their g-strings.   

Aura would also feel at home in Frederick's of Hollywood.

After more fruitless searching, I gave up, dragging a reluctant Aura away from the Maidenform racks. On my way out of the department, I noticed packs of Hanes underwear on sale. Normally I’m loyal to Calvin Klein underwear, but desperate times called for desperate measures. I tossed a package labeled “low-rise” something into the cart, too intent on making sure Aura hadn’t stashed a Wonderbra on her person to actually read the package. 

When I got home, I didn’t give more than a fleeting glance to the new underwear as I threw them into the washer. I do remember thinking they looked a little…larger than I would expect. But I chalked that up to 100% cotton and the need to adjust for dryer shrinkage. That Hanes, I thought admiringly. Now there’s a company that thinks of EVERYTHING. 

And then I slipped on a pair. At first, I was just confused, thinking that perhaps I had put a leg through the waist hole? Was wearing them inside out? Had accidentally sewn two together? Then it dawned on me: These were briefs. Unlike the low-rise bikinis I typically wear, or the very occasional thong I don when dressing up to go somewhere without coloring placemats, these underpants were BIG. Like cover-your-stomach-and-some-of-your-hips-and-maybe-a-third-of-your-thigh big. 

So kind of like this. But without Lady Gaga, and bigger.

I really want to say that I hated them right away. Eeeeeeeehhhhhh. Hear that? That’s the sound of me trying to say that.  

But I can’t. And you know why? I LOVE THEM. No, I don’t wear them during the day, when someone might see them peek over the waistband of my jeans or possibly get caught on the hem of my jacket. However, when I change for the evening, slipping on my old sweats and tying back my hair, you better believe I reach for a pair of these babies.  

Such support! Such coverage! Such…stretchability! I tell you, I am a better, entirely more agreeable person wearing these—God help me—briefs. If Adam wants to go out and buy a bottle of rum that costs as much as a small sovereign nation? Sure! A charity telemarketer calls for a donation? Why not? Hell, when I’m wearing these suckers I’m apt to agree to support ALL of PBS’s New England stations, that annoying WordWorld and Antiques Roadshow be damned.  

Big underwear has changed my life. In fact, it reminds me of a story Adam once told me about a coworker named Radu, who hailed from Romania but moved to the United States when he was about 30 years old. Every day at lunch time, Radu would go out and buy himself a big, steaming bowl of clam chowder. This went on for months and months. Finally, Adam asked him why he never bought anything else for lunch. And so Radu explained: “For 30 years, I never knew about clam chowder. Now that I know, I cannot waste any time.”  

I TOTALLY GET WHAT HE MEANT.

Look what we finally got around to purchasing:

Yes indeedy, a floor mirror. This purchase was actually a pretty big deal for us, considering that Adam and I have been cohabitating for almost 11 years and have never owned a full-length mirror. Well, technically, that’s not quite true. The first place we rented came with a full-length mirror on the back of a closet door, but there was no light in the closet and the mirror had a ripple distortion thing going on. So if you wanted to check your outfit, you had to bring a flashlight and then convince yourself that you didn’t really have three breasts. We didn’t use it that much, except during parties, when we were like, “FRIENDS! STEP INTO THIS HERE CLOSET AND COUNT HOW MANY BREASTS YOU HAVE!” It was similar to a chummy game of Clue or Monopoly, except more psychologically scarring.

Barring that particular mirror, we never had another full-length. If I needed to check my pants or shoes before leaving the house, I would stand tiptoe in front of the bureau mirror. But mostly I just hoped for the best and then squinted really hard at my reflection in elevator doors or store windows. Grocery-store windows always worked fairly well, though I’d often have to contort my body to keep the Sale! posters from getting in the way. And even then it seemed like “THIS WEEK ONLY! RIB EYE ROAST $3.99 PER POUND!” always prevented a really accurate glimpse of my waist.

Which, if I’m being frank, was the point. I don’t like looking at my reflection all that much. And if I do get too good a look, then I immediately find something lacking, whether it’s the width of my thighs or the shape of my lips or myriad other issues. I’ve always been this way with photos of myself, too. It was only recently that I realized this little phobia now involves someone other than just me.

“Mommy, why don’t you let Daddy take more pictures of you?” Aura asked during a family outing a few weeks ago, as I was ducking away from Adam and the camera.

“Oh, well, I don’t always like the way I look when I see the pictures,” I replied.

Then it struck me. A lot more comments like that might lead to a lot less of this:

I don’t know if being dissatisfied with your own appearance is the result of too many supermodels in magazines, or a misunderstanding of modesty, or simply a hallmark of being a woman. But in this household, it has to stop, or at least start to stop. I may not be able to guarantee that Aura will always be as carefree and content with her appearance as she is now at three years old, but I damn well have to try.

Step 1:

Thank God for baby steps.

Aura and I went to the Museum of Science today, nipping into the dinosaur room about an hour into our visit. After one minute of standing and staring at a giant Triceratops skeleton, I found that I just couldn’t lie to myself any longer.  “I’m seriously starting to doubt this dinosaur thing,” I whispered conspiratorially to Aura.

And I really am. I’m sure there is a veritable legion of five-year-old boys out there who would happily correct me or at least shin-kick me into obeisance, but honestly, I’m not sure I could be convinced. I mean, just look at those things:

I know, I know. There is evidence, and there are fossils, and yes, scientists think dinosaurs lived on all continents and came in varying sizes and met a bad end by asteroid, yada yada yada snore. But STILL. We don’t really know, right? It’s not like they left behind these wildly revealing dinosaur diaries or scratched out some cave drawings with their little Mesozoic claws. Basically, some men back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found some bones, got out some Victorian-era Crazy Glue, and went to town. It was kind of like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition except that Ty Pennington was a paleontologist and instead of a new house there was a new creature. YES, IT WAS JUST LIKE THAT. DO NOT DOUBT MY POP-CULTURE PREHISTORIC ANALOGIES.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t just like that. However, I remain skeptical of a field of study in which there exist so many may haves and probably dids. The freakin’ explanation cards in the museum even admit to the uncertainties. For example! It turns out that no one really knows why the Triceratops had that frill thing on the back of its head. Some think it was for mating purposes, others for defense, still others for temperature regulation. No one suggests the theory that the frill was meant to draw attention away from the BUTT UGLY HORNS, but I might as well go ahead and float it.

So what is it about kids and dinosaurs? I wouldn’t say Aura is necessarily overwhelmed by the idea of dinosaurs, but she’ll sit in front of a dinosaur fossil or the show Dinosaur Train for, oh, any-amount-of-time longer than I ever will. In my mind, there are so many others things that should intrigue a child, like magnets or ladybugs or electricity or UNICORNS, for God’s sake. Every time I see a kid playing with a toy dinosaur, I want to sneak over and replace it with something like a Donny Osmond or William Shatner action figure. Yes, yes, the dinosaurs were around 160 million years before that unlucky, asteroid-lit night. But Shatner? Now THAT guy has real staying power.

Inspired by what has become a swath of unseasonably warm weather, Aura and I headed over to Harvard Square today for a little exploring. As we were tooling around the area, I decided to formally introduce Aura to Harvard itself. “Maybe you’ll want to go here someday!” I chirped sunnily to Aura, ducking through one of the many arched gates that dot Harvard Yard.

A minute or so into our tour, Aura had already stopped listening to my speech on the importance of higher education, preferring instead to climb staircases and run on the lawns. I was soon reduced to talking to myself, raising my voice during the important parts to regain Aura’s attention. “Schools like Harvard are certainly a possibility IF YOU BUCKLE DOWN,” I yelled. “Never forget that MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS can be yours!”

It was somewhere around the time I was explaining college’s potential for “LIFELONG FRIENDSHIPS!” and “SELF DISCOVERY!” that I first noticed the many flyers dotting the campus. The more of them I read, the softer my diatribe became.

By the time I finished reading these, I was starting to change my tune. “But there is certainly nothing wrong with smaller, lesser known schools!” I called to Aura as she whipped back and forth in front of the famed Widener Library. “Many state schools produce a DIZZYING array of successful graduates!” I cried out,  pulling Aura back toward one of the campus gates. Every time a passing student smiled at Aura, I glared in return, muttering things like “Sexual deviant!” under my breath.

Then I saw this flyer.

It wasn’t until Aura started tugging on my hand that I realized I had been standing in front of this particular flyer for an unnecessarily long time. But…vajazzled? In a legendary place of higher learning? The editor in me took offense with the j in place of a g, the proofreader in me bemoaned the underline in place of italics, the music lover in me reared back in horror by the bastardization of jazz.

And the mother in me? “FORGET WHAT I SAID,” I announced to Aura, scooping her up and racing for an exit as fast as my legs could carry us. “THIS IS NOT THE SCHOOL FOR YOU.”

Another day, another $48,868 per year saved. And Aura will never touch a stick-on jewel again.