Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Some women have perfect pregnancies. They glow as if they’ve swallowed one of those will o’ the wisps from the movie Brave, go for long, smug walks, and eat mixing bowls full of salad while laughing.
And then there are pregnancies like mine. After two miscarriages I thought I was a pro at handling the morning sickness, having puked my guts out for three months solid both times. But while my little sea monkey blessedly did not make a dramatic exit at the end of the first trimester the third time around, neither did the nausea. It did get a bit more manageable over time – less surprise puking in public, more eating saltines in bed and not giving a fuck about the crumbs – but it never really left.
Some women in their third trimester look like they are trying to shoplift a large melon. I looked like Humpty Dumpty, having gained 70 pounds despite all the puking. Still not sure how I pulled that one off.
Some women have beautiful home births that feel like orgasms. I’ve seen the videos. I had every intention of having one of these and even had a birthing tub set up in the living room. But then my little gymnast surprised us all by turning herself breech after 36 hours of labor. So we rushed off to the hospital in the middle of Seattle SeaFair traffic (not recommended, BTW) for an emergency c-section.
So I’m not sure what gave me the idea that, after all of that, breastfeeding would be a walk in the park. I thought Aria would just smell the milk, squirm her adorable, tiny body over to my ridiculously enormous nipple (seriously, those things looked like thumbs right about then), latch on perfectly and get all the nutrients she needed to grow and prosper.
Instead, we descended together into an infernal abyss of mutual misery in which she screamed incessantly from hunger and frustration, and I cried and pumped and pumped and cried, desperately trying to make enough milk to meet her needs. Eventually, we were rescued by an angel named Hannah with much milkier mammaries than mine who generously donated bags of precious white gold to supplement my own.
But in the interim I experienced some of my darkest days to date, sitting on the couch and pumping for hours on end, with just a few minutes’ rest in between. I looked, and felt, like a milk cow. A pathetically underproducing milk cow.
To keep myself from diving off the deep end of sanity, I did what I do best: I wrote. I set up a Tumblr account, and created a character who was the polar opposite of how I felt at that time: A fearlessly sassy, delightfully insouciant individualist with a razor-sharp wit. And I called her Mrs. Fishbaum.
Mrs. Fishbaum was more than just a much-needed distraction. She became a sort of talisman (I won’t say spirit animal because that’s incredibly disrespectful to the Native American religions that hold them sacred. But I digress.), an imaginary frenemy through whom I could live vicariously, joyfully flipping off the world with one hand and holding a giant glass of chardonnay in the other. In fact, I dressed up as Mrs. Fishbaum for Halloween when Aria was just a few months old. I found a gold lame jumpsuit at Value Village, and the rest of the outfit fell into place quite naturally. Behold.
And you thought I was kidding
The Tumblr still lives, for now, so feel free to go experience The Misadventures of Mrs. Fishbaum in their natural habitat. But for the sake of posterity, I’m reprinting a curated selection here. Please enjoy them in perpetuity, and may Mrs. Fishbaum save your sanity as she did mine.
At first, Mrs. Fishbaum thought she was taking advantage of the “no-questions-asked money back guarantee” on sheer principle, not because she was in any way unsatisfied. But as she was removing the UPC symbol from the package, that picture of the well-muscled, flannel shirt-clad Brawny Man grinned out at her with a competence that bordered on the erotic, when suddenly she realized just how unsatisfied she really was.
Ritzing it up
As far as anyone could tell, Mrs. Fishbaum had thrown the party for the sole purpose of trying out the suggestions as to how one might “RITZ IT UP!” on the back of the box. The Cheesy Tuna and Tomato melts weren’t so bad, but the Zesty Roast Beef Bites were a veritable crime against nature.
The Doctor’s Note
The conversation had barely begun when Mrs. Montgomery launched headfirst into a rant about The Whore Who Had The Nerve To Show Up In That Skirt.
Wasting no time, Mrs. Fishbaum reached into her faux suede handbag, pulled out a thrice-folded sheet of institutional-looking stationary, and handed it to Mrs. Montgomery.
Curiosity having won out over annoyance, Mrs. Montgomery unfolded and read:
“To Whom it May Concern,
Elle Fishbaum suffers from an underdeveloped gossip gland. Please excuse her from this conversation.”
For a moment, Mrs. Montgomery simply opened and closed her mouth, like a deeply offended goldfish. Then she offered her objection.
“This is signed ‘Dr. Who’!“
But Mrs. Fishbaum was already walking away.
A dog named Sue
Sue the shih tzu was not, as Mrs. Fishbaum liked to pretend, an artifact from an ill-fated previous marriage. She purchased the shaggy little terror herself in hopes that it would keep her kitchen floor clean. By the time she realized that “mop dog” was simply a derogatory nickname for the breed, it was too late. She was stuck with the yappy little rat.
The Wrong Idea
“I would do the dishes,“ thought Mrs. Fishbaum, “but that might give my husband the wrong idea.”
Winnie T. Poole?
From the expectant look on Gloria’s face, Mrs. Fishbaum gathered that she was expected to ooh and aah over the freshly decorated nursery. Instead, she mused aloud, “Winnie the Pooh really ought to have taken a stage name.”
Gloria retaliated with her extraordinarily well-practiced Grin of Thinly Veiled Hostility, thinking as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, “Look who’s talking, Fish Bomb.”
“No thank you,” Gloria replied, louder than was necessary, “I’m on a new diet. No ‘vehicle foods.’” Mrs. Larson retracted the tray of potato skins with an expression that Gloria was able to translate into an invitation to expound, “You know, foods that are only vehicles for other foods. Potato skins: vehicle for sour cream and chives. Artichoke: vehicle for melted butter…”
“Vodka,” Mrs. Fishbaum interrupted, sloshing a bit of her Cosmo onto the carpet on its way up into the universal “toast” position, “vehicle for NOBODY GIVES A FUCK.”
Mrs. Fishbaum was about to hit “Snooze” for the third time when she remembered what day it was. “Thursday!” she thought, sitting bolt upright, “Recycling day!”
She was still zipping up her favorite pink tracksuit as she tumbled out the back door into the alley. Success! The truck hadn’t come yet.
Still catching her breath, she looked left and right, tip-toed over to the neighbor’s recycling bin, and fished out last month’s issues of Cosmo (for the perfume samples), People (for the gossip), and Martha Stuart Weddings (just because it was there).
The Name Game
“Ladies,” Gloria grinned, holding up Mrs. Fishbaum’s purse (left unattended on a rare solo trip to the powder room) as a man would a 4-foot carp, “place your bets!”
Although it was widely agreed that “Elle,” as Mrs. F was given to introduce herself, was not her given name, theories abounded.
“Estelle,” said Mrs. Larson, laying a crisp $20 bill on the table.
“Penelope,” barked Louise, slamming her money down.
“Emily,” Gloria winked, explaining, “I once overheard her husband slip up and call her ‘Em’!”
But once the wallet came out, there was no winner. And privately, not one of them could come up with a better nickname for “Muriel.”
It wasn’t just that Mrs. Fishbaum’s dress was a hideous hybrid of the scarlet crinoline nightmare Lydia Deetz wore at her wedding to Beetlejuice and the lacy pink potato sack Andie Walsh wore to the prom in Pretty in Pink. She had worn worse. Yes, even to a funeral. The main issue was the length. Poor Reverend Walters! Every time he said “Eulogy” it came out “You-leggy.”
”They can’t all be masterpieces,“ declared Mrs. Fishbaum. It was unclear whether this statement was in reference to the pot roast she had just served, or the dryer-shrunken sweater she had repurposed into a jaggedly cut skirt and droopy arm warmers. Either way, Mr. Fishbaum offered no protest.
Sinking into the fragrant, slippery suds, Mrs. Fishbaum couldn’t help striking a melodramatic pose and thinking, “Calgon, take me away!”
But then she immediately amended it to, “Actually, Calgon you can leave me right here. Just give me a couple million dollars. I can take care of the rest.”
If you asked Mr. Fishbaum (as nobody had ever bothered to do), he would tell you that Mrs. Fishbaum lived her life by this simple motto: If at first you don’t succeed, cry, cry like Miss America being tiara-nated until someone else does it for you
“The last thing I want to do is upset you,” Mrs. Fishbaum told Gloria, “but it’s still on my list.”
The Biddies Who Brunch
The mane issue
The first thing most people noticed about Mrs. Fishbaum was her hair. An unnerving combination of uneven finger waves and self-propelled mass of Bozo-esque frizz, it looked as though it must surely have been the result of a terrible accident involving a crimping iron, an entire bottle of home perm solution, a fork, and a light socket. There was even some speculation among the Biddies as to whether or not there were small animals nesting in her ‘do. But it did make her easy to locate in a crowd.
The blame game
“I didn’t say it was your fault!” Mrs. Fishbaum yelled in the general direction of her indignant husband, “I said: I blame you!”
Ex marks the bald spot
“Isn’t that your ex-husband?” Mrs. Fishbaum asked Louise in a scandalized stage whisper, apparently referring to the balding, bespectacled Jew who was awkwardly exiting a hot pink VW “New Beetle” outside the window.
Louise rolled her eyes. “Wait til you meet his girlfriend. She’s so young, she thinks ‘farfegnugen’ is German for ‘imported Fig Newton.’ ”
Mr. Fishbaum considered for a brief moment the option of attempting to talk his wife out of this, her most recent ridiculous notion. But having long since retired from that occupation on the advice of his doctor, he bobbed his head in a well-rehearsed cadence and forced his mouth to pronounce the words “Great color for a bathroom, pink.”
Mrs. Fishbaum handed him the can of paint triumphantly.
“Soothing,” he went on, “Like Pepto Bismol for the eyes.”
“Enough, Frank,” Mrs. Fishbaum frowned.
And, with a small and private smile, Frank silently agreed that it was enough. It was just exactly enough.
There were days when Mrs. Fishbaum was utterly convinced that her life was, in actual point of fact, a series of farcical vignettes, strung together without much rhyme or reason by a bored and benignly sadistic writer somewhere. Today, however, was not one of those days.
“I’m so sorry, Gloria, but I’ve got a stomach ache and I won’t be coming to your garden party.”
There was a moment of chilly silence. Then: “The party is next week.”
Mrs. Fishbaum made a failed attempt at not smirking. “Did I say those two things were related?”
“Sometimes,” sighed Mrs. Fishbaum, fiddling with a nail-polish stained cotton ball between her toes, “I wish Frank would cheat on me.”
“So you can divorce his ass and keep the house?” Supplied Louise, with far too much enthusiasm.
“This pile of crap? No, Louise. Because of Viagra. Who can keep up?”
Some days the sheer idiocy of the world was too much for Mrs. Fishbaum, and she would stay in all day, ensconced in a protective layer of Things That Make Sense: bedclothes, bubble baths, romance novels, chocolate. These days she called “Friday.”
Now if only she could get her husband to stop letting Gloria in…
And then, of course, there was the time Mrs. Fishbaum got so spectacularly smashed she thought a “martinarita” was a good idea. She poured her martini, olives and all, into the blender, and then insisted everyone at the party take a sip. It was unanimously decided that it wouldn’t have been half bad had she remembered to remove the toothpick first.
“Sent from the future”
Gloria had long since figured out that by simply typing “Sent from my iPad 2” at the bottom of her emails, she could fool her fancier friends into believing she was a tech-savvy hipster with disposable income. But when she got a message from Mrs. Montgomery with the tagline “Sent from my iPad 3,” she was mortified, and immediately upgraded herself.
Mrs. Fishbaum, having caught wind of this little scheme, did the only sensible thing: she sent Gloria an email with the tagline “Sent from my iPad 17.”
“Oh sweet Lord!” Mrs. Fishbaum nearly spilled her morning coffee at the spectacle of her husband sitting completely naked on the couch.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Fishbaum sighed, “Such a scandal, a man sitting naked in his own living room. I mean, what would the neighbors think if they saw me like this?!”
“They would think, Frank,” Mrs. Fishbaum replied, setting the coffee on its namesake table with a clanking sound intended to convey a lack of amusement, “That I married you for money.”
“I wasn’t stealing your crappy lipstick!” cried Mrs. Fishbaum, her expression a perfect illustration of righteous indignation. “I was just testing it.”
The lipstick in question was called “Siren.” It was unclear whether that was a reference to its powers of attraction, or to the fact that it was an alarming shade of orange, a truly shrieking tone, likely to cause widespread panic.
Actually, strike that. It was in no way unclear.
“Anyway, I don’t want it.” Mrs. Fishbaum dangled the opened lipstick from two fingers. “It isn’t crappy enough by half!”
“Cleanliness may be next to godliness,” Mrs. Fishbaum mused aloud to her captive audience of one (Sue the Shih Tzu), “but you can’t spell ‘sanitary’ without ‘Satan.’”
At the hardware store
“I have a confession,” Mrs. Fishbaum blurted out in the middle of the lightbulb aisle. “I only ever come here to show my legs off to sexy handy-man types.”
A subtle smile toyed with Mr. Fishbaum’s lips. “Oh, M,” he breathed, placing a hand on her shoulder with rare affection, “Why do you think I keep inviting you?”
At the Halloween party
“What are you supposed to be?” asked a cat-eared, leopard print leotarded Gloria, eyeing Mrs. Fishbaum with ill-concealed disapproval.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mrs. Fishbaum replied, swirling her straw with equally ill-concealed insouciance, “someone who gives a ffffffffffumbling fuck about this conversation?”
Chocolate is fattening, Kid.
There are few joys in life greater, thought Mrs. Fishbaum, wiping her chocolate-lined lips with the back of her hand, than raiding your stash of Halloween candy in the middle of the night. And, of course, making up lies to tell Trick Or Treaters as to why all you have to offer them is peppermint hard candy from Denny’s.
The cake is not a lie
Of course, the highlight of the Halloween party was when Gloria introduced Netta Finkelstein, recently-widowed and reeking of sherry, to her recently-divorced (and alarmingly attractive) neighbor, Elvin.
“Oy GOD,” Netta cried out, upper lip curled and hands clasped to her head. “Listen, Fancy Face. Why don’t we both save ourselves some time here: I’ll give you all the money I got in my wallet, then you go and sleep with the youngest and prettiest girl at the party. And then have a heart attack and die. Meanwhile, I’ll have another slice of sponge cake.”
At the end of the night, the Ghostbusters theme came on, and the Biddies-Who-Brunch hit the dance floor en masse.
Watching their gyrations from a corner table, Velma DeGrasse shook her Carnival-masked head, muttering, “7 billion people in this world, and not a one of ‘em has figured out how to give old white ladies rhythm.”
As Mrs. Fishbaum reached for the overripe tomato in the hanging basket, the last survivor of the season, her husband recited patiently, “Knowledge is recognizing the tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not splattering it against your neighbor’s windshield just for kicks.”
“I would agree with you,” Gloria began her famous refrain with far too much pleasure, “but then we’d both be wrong.”
Mrs. Fishbaum sighed, “Well Gloria, I would agree with you, but then we’d both be smug know-it-all bitches, and I would have to destroy us.”
He was an aging, errant knight in plaid trousers and a bad hat. And when he approached the Biddies mid-brunch, he had admittedly been communing with a bottle of Scotch before noon. But being a gentleman, he placed the aesthetically offensive hat over his heart and gave a stumbling little bow before he spoke.
“Ladies,” he began, a bit too solemnly, “the thing about saving damsels in distress, is that the ones worth saving… the ones worth saving…” he looked as though his train of thought had been boarded by robbers, and could not go on.
“…are too heavy to pick up?” Louise supplied, rather optimistically.
“…remain dressed?” Mrs. Fishbaum offered, rather snarkily.
“…don’t want anything to do with the likes of you?” Mrs. Larsen suggested, rather harshly.
“Oh, I know,” Gloria bounced in her chair and waved her hands, bracelets tinkling like wind chimes in a hurricane, “it’s: ‘…the ones worth saving don’t need to be saved’!”
“No, no, no,” the red-nosed knight shook his head, “I remember now. The thing about saving damsels in distress is that the ones worth saving will beat the crap outta you if you try to get ‘em in a fireman’s carry.”
And then he passed out cold.
“You know, Gloria, the thing about New Age,” mused Mrs. Fishbaum, unintentionally harmonizing with a humpback whale, “is that it’s most appealing in old age.”
“Oh, Elle! This gravy is delicious!” cooed Mrs. Larsen, spooning another heaping helping onto her mashed potatoes, “what’s your secret?”
“You mean besides the fat and the MSG?” Mrs. Fishbaum smirked.
“Her secret,” Mr. Fishbaum jumped in, “is that, underneath this sarcastic exterior, beats the heart of a woman who is truly thankful…”
There was a moment of sentimental silence before he added, “…for powdered gravy packets.”
Cultural Appropriation FTL
“And why, dare I ask, is Gloria not speaking to you this time?”
“Oh,” Mrs. Fishbam’s hands swatted the air, as though at a cloud of fruit flies, “she wouldn’t shut up about her SPIRIT animal, as if she’s some kind of SHAMAN or something. So I told her…”
“Let me guess,” Mr. Fishbaum pursed his lips, as if to kiss a less-than-treasured aunt, “you told her you have a spirit animal too: the dust bunny.”
Mrs. Fishbaum stared at her husband as if he had suddenly begun to ooze molten chocolate. “Actually I told her she was a moron, but that is PURE GENIUS!” Reaching for her phone, she added, “I knew there was a reason I married you!”
The Birthday Card
Mr. Fishbaum brought in the mail and, with carefully practiced nonchalance, pretended he didn’t notice the the large card envelope tucked in with the Valu-pack coupons and CURRENT RESIDENT junk mail. With luck, Mrs. Fishbaum wouldn’t notice until he’d gone to bowling league.
However, Mrs. Fishbaum couldn’t be thrown off so easily. She sat at the table, lit a new cigarette and plucked the offending card from the pile.
“Goddammit, Gloria,” she snapped while she opened the envelope, “I thought I made myself clear on this point last year: I’m not young enough to look forward to birthdays and I’m not so old I need to be reminded of my age, so stop killing trees about it already. Strip-o-grams ONLY!”
What they said:
Mrs. Fishbaum: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pool?
Mr. Fishbaum: Mmm.
What they meant:
Mrs. Fishbaum: I want a sexy pool boy, preferably latin, who will ogle me like I’m the centerfold in a Sport’s Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Mr. Fishbaum: Excellent!! I am now justified in buying a pool table on the pretense of having misheard that.
“Now Gloria,” began Mrs. Fishbaum, taking Gloria by the arm conspiratorily, “I know this is a big birthday coming up for you, so I wanted to do something extra-special. How about a fancy brunch?”
“Oh, that sounds lovely, Elle!”
“Great. How many can you cook for?”
Gloria stopped cold. “Me? You want ME to do the cooking?”
“Gloria. You know I can’t cook!”
“But… what kind of a birthday present is that?”
Mrs. Fishbaum treated Gloria to one of her very wickedest grins before delivering her punchline:
“Who said anything about a present?”
“Remember when Saturday mornings were special?” Mr. Fishbaum blew into his coffee mug wistfully, “We would sleep in, and then I would make breakfast, and we’d do the crossword puzzle together.”
“Frank,” Mrs. Fishbaum gave a little dry laugh at her husband’s sudden attack of nostalgia, “that’s what we do every morning now.”
“Exactly. Sometimes I think we should start getting up at 6 again on weekdays, just to have our weekends back.”
And at the moment he pronounced the word “back,” Mrs. Fishbaum kicked Mr. Fishbaum in the shin. Hard.
“Ow! What the hell was that for?!”
“To help you appreciate how pain-free your other leg is. You’re welcome.”
“Oh look, Louise,” trumpeted Mrs. Fishbaum as the Biddies were settling down at their usual brunch table, “your sandwich is today’s special!”
“Whaddaya mean, my sandwich?” Louise, who hadn’t yet had her morning coffee, was in no mood for games.
“You know,” Mrs. Fishbaum sing-songed with far too much enjoyment, “the one with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. But instead of avocado they use hummus.”
Gloria gave Mrs. Fishbaum a disapproving look. “Oh, Elle. Don’t be so… racist,” she whispered the word as if it were pornographic. “Just because it has hummus on it doesn’t mean Louise will like it.“
“She’s not racist,” Louise grumbled, adjusting in her chair, “just ignorant. Jews don’t even eat bacon, ya meshugana shiksa!”
“Uh… I don’t think that’s what she was referring to,” muttered Mrs. Larsen, pointing nervously toward the Menu board.
And they all turned in unison to read what was written there beneath the words TODAY’S SPECIAL: