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Fire Away! by Dee Jay Gude
Okay, so I come bopping home from work after a particularly productive day. I kick off my shoes and kiss the husband, greet the kids, pet the cat. I'm feeling pretty good - last night I remembered to thaw and marinade the steaks so all I have to do is pop them on the grill, whip up some pasta and green vegetable and voila! Dinner! Also, the girls have folded laundry and unloaded the dishwasher and the boy has emptied the trash, so the house is even looking decent. The husband is upstairs playing a computer game but that's okay - he's had a full day, too.

Little did I know that my nemesis has arrived in the mail today.

There it is - sitting nonchalantly on the kitchen table amid the day's mail, perky in it's blue and lime green color scheme. It mocks my industrious day with "20 Ways To Get More Done". "Read me," it beckons, "I'll show you Pretty Decorating for Almost Nothing." "Lose Inches, Lose Pounds" rests next to "Tempting Desserts".

Woman's Day magazine.

Yes, it's still around, raising its eyebrows at us, reminding us of how lazy and slovenly we are, how imperfect our children are, how fat our thighs are. And is that a dust bunny under your bed? Suddenly the shine is off my day. I remember that I haven't sent my Mother's Day cards yet and that the living room could use a vacuuming.

No wonder American women are so neurotic. We subscribe to neuroses on a monthly basis - pay for it, even! In our quest for the American Dream, we devour articles on how to make perfect iced tea and transforming flea market finds into family treasures. We torment ourselves with stories of how a couple turned their marriage around by going on an exotic vacation or how International dishes will have your family shouting Bravo! The children of these writers eat okra - mine would run shrieking in horror if I put it on the table.

Am I a bad parent because my kids won't eat okra or lima beans or chickpeas? Am I a bad wife because I didn't send my husband a mash email today or leave him Hershey Kisses in his jacket pocket? Am I just a flat-out bad person because I waste time reading in bed rather than listening to an audiobook on my way to work? The writers of Woman's Day do this and more. I thought I was doing well with steaks, pasta and artichokes. Now I find that other women apparently have a challenging career, trot home to make swordfish with chili-lime dressing for dinner, then spend the rest of the evening cuddling their husband and making cakes that look like Uncle Sam. They make Banana Napoleons for dessert.

So why do I torment myself with this unrealistic magazine that makes impossible demands of me? Probably for the same reason I still love Donna Reed reruns - escape. For just a few minutes, I can pretend that perfection is attainable. That my house is always immaculate and my children unfailingly polite. That I never raise my voice or argue with my husband. It's for the same reasons that men read Playboy - they want to be Hef, I want to be Claire Huxtable.

And it's there, it's reachable! For a mere $1.69, I can learn the secrets of those fresh-faced women with their perfect hair who take the opportunity to wax their furniture while their computer reboots. Who begin each day with 10 minutes of gentle stretches, followed by a 20-minute brisk walk. Who never smoke or drink caffeinated beverages, keeping their skin healthy and hydrated. Who wear pretty sundresses and strappy sandals.

So I read, and I dream. Then reality comes crashing down on me in the form of two young ladies, who seem to be having a disagreement about who sits where at the dinner table. The third young lady, not to be left out, proclaims the seat in question as her own, raising more ire. I come out of my reverie long enough to shout (because the little darlings are quite hard of hearing, unless there's ice cream involved):

"Cut out that fighting or I will knock you out!"

Quiet. Ahh, that's better. Now, where was I? That's right - "4 Things to Do with Old Pantyhose."

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