Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, blast from the past edition


I just found a piece of paper which was titled. "New Years’ Resolutions 2000." And it reads:

1. Stop saying “Fabulous”

2. Don’t talk so much like a sailor

3. Exercise

-- contortion

-- ballet classes with Maestro

4. Spend less money

5. Overcome the Joyce Leslie fantaticism

The good news is in the last 11 years, I have managed to succeed in resolutions 1 and 5, the bad news is that I have to renew all the other ones and if you replace the word "fabulous" with "douche bag" and "Joyce Leslie" with "woot.com" the others totally stand, too.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Santa Fight Club



Ever since I realized I could stream This American Life, from my iPhone while I’m working out, I have been a happy exerciser. The raw power of TAL is almost enough to make me work out more than twice a week. Last week, I listened to a great one, Santa Fight Club about these two rival Santas who literally came to blows over the future of professional real-bearded Santa-ing. Just don't listen with your young kids in earshot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas-cookie-making mania


Here’s a part of Christmas-celebrating that seems odd to me: the compulsion people have to make cookies. I’m talking about normal people, non-baker-types, who for the other 11 months of the year feel no yen at all to fire up the ovens and get all nitty gritty with the flour and the sugar. I know a whole host of people like this, who when December rolls around, suddenly catch cookie fever and take on these extraordinarily complex baking projects which lead to cookie boxes that look store-bought – ribbons, bows, cellophane wrapping, the whole nine yards.

My mother was always one such person. There were at least five different kinds of cookies in her repertoire – all of them traditional Italian cookies – the powered nut balls, the frappe’s which look like bows, biscotti, among them. Her and my grandmother would spend hours tying the bow dough perfectly, fighting the whole time

“You’re not doing it right! Look at that one! We have to re-do it!”

“Whatta you talking about? Fifty years I make the frappes!”

“Then you’ve been making them wrong ALL THIS TIME!”

We kids did not help in the endeavor, because if my grandmother’s seasoned fingers were not nimble enough, then ours certainly weren’t. It was much like that scene from The Hours where Julianne Moore tosses out the birthday cake her son helped her make and makes a new, perfect one by herself. Except without the first cake altogether.

I, too, feel compelled to bake Christmas cookies, but I’ve stumbled onto the formula which works for me and for the kids, and it is this:

1. We bake one batch of sugar cookies

2. We separate each stage – 1.mixing, 2.rolling, cutting and baking, 3.decorating – by several days

These two decisions helped me to avoid several awful side effects of Christmas cookie baking:

I no longer get that overwhelmed, why-the-hell-did-I-start-this-goddamned-project, I-am-a-trapped-hausfrau feeling that comes when I do anything domestic for over one and a half hours.

Since each stage only last 30 minutes or so, the kids can help the whole time

AND most crucial of all, by letting the kids help decorate, I am able to tell everyone I give the cookies to, “The kids made them” which covers up my lack of skill, because the truth is, they’d look precisely the same, if I made them all by myself. I can’t coat a Douglass Fir sugar cookie with red icing to save my damn life (cookies in the picture above are not, obviously, mine. I was too depleted after making them to take a picture, as usual).

I put four or five awful-looking but delicious cookies in a Chinese food container and then take a Sharpie and write “Happy Holidays” on the top. Maybe I’ll draw a Christmas tree underneath. And that’s it. Done and Done. Season’s greetings people. Eat your cookies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time to Make the Stockings


And a very merry, holly jolly day after day after Christmas to you! We've had a action-packed Christmas weekend which included me turning into an incompetent but very determined Martha Stewart facsimile when I decided that at all costs, I would make my children handmade stockings before Santa came. This was an ill-advised move. For six years, my kids have gotten by on using other people's stockings or generic ones from the 99 cent store. But this year when we couldn't locate any of the shitty store-bought ones, it occurred to me that instead of replacing the shit with more shit, I could, theoretically, give the gift that lasts a lifetime by crafting stockings from fancy wool/ felt blend and then sewing on the kids' names, felt decorations, and sequins. At first, I balked at my own proposal, but then I remembered that my mother had made these exact type of stockings for us when we were very young and my mother's no seamstress either. If she could do it, then certainly, INDUBITABLY, so could I. Better, probably. Once I realized I could compete with my mother's accomplishment, it was a done deal. I bought a tonnage of felt and sequins and got to work.

After working til nearly midnight on the night before Christmas Eve, I had cut both stockings and sewed on Christmas trees and Seconda's name. This took me about five hours. I realized that to meet my goal -- attaching a faux-fur trim on top, and decorating each tree with sequins. loads of felt presents under the tree and a simple night skyscape of shooting stars, moons and candy canes -- I'd probably have to work from that moment until New Year's Day. It took me 10 minutes to knot the end of the freaking thread to say nothing of actually threading the thing.

So on Christmas Eve, I brought the work-sack full of felt to my parent's place, the which I basically turned into a Stocking-Manufacturing Sweat Shop. While my mother and father cooked, I barked orders at the rest of the crew - my sister was appointed head of Cutting, David was Official Threader, my cousin was a freelance sewer. Then when my grandmother finally got sprung from her duties frying riceballs, I roped her into the operation and THAT'S when shit got started in earnest. Nonnie, who worked as a seamstress in swimsuit factories for several decades, knows her way around a needle and thread. In the time it took me to knot the end of the thread, she'd already sewed on five letters. I am not even exaggerating. It was like having a contest between sometime who was sewing with their fingers and someone who was sewing with their toes.

Our group effort paid off and by the time I went back to my place on Christmas Eve, I had a few minor things to add, and then to close the stcokings up. These two things took four hours. As I pushed midnight, sewing frantically while David dozed, I realized that the next morning, when the kids woke at 6am, all bushy-tailed to see Santa's offerings, I'd be in one colossally shitty mood, and probably end up shouting at my kids all because I stayed up into the wee hours making a freaking homemade stocking NO ONE ASKED ME TO MAKE.

Now that this insanity is behind me, however, and the stockings are fully adorned, the sequins shimmering, the adorable felt presents lined up in adorable rows, now I"m delighted at the endeavor. My children, who at this point don't give a flying shit about the fact that I overcame incompetence and burned the midnight oil to achieve the feat, will look on these stockings in a few decades and remember me fondly. Or maybe they'll think, "Yeah she was one self-obsessed nutty broad, but hey, these are damn cute stockings."

Yeah, I realize it would have been a good idea to include pictures but I was too busy making the things to photograph them, and now I'm in Jersey, enjoying being snowed-in and listening to my parents argue while cooking dinner. Photographs later, readers, and prepare to be dazzled.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How TV made me a better mother


Let me say first of all that we do have limits as far as screen time is concerned, but I'm the first to admit my kids watch plenty of TV. In the morning, all bets are off, and its a TV free for all, although since they are lately late-to-bed-and-late-to-rise, this isn't more than one or two shows usually. I've got Sec with me most afternoons and, as I'm sure you know, she's one high-impact child so I consider it essential to promoting peace on earth to allow her a show or two before we pick up Primo. After homework's done, they'll sometimes take in an episode of Curious George, and if they are ever left in the care of my grandmother they basically are glued to the TV. So TV is not a stranger to our home. The AAP wouldn't stage an intervention but they would frown upon it. And knowing this, I end up beating myself up about their screen time, though there's not a chance in hell I could reduce it. And that's because . . .

Without TV, I would be the world's shittiest mother.Some people's kids will entertain themselves quietly for long stretches of time, reading books to their siblings and playing tea party with their teddy bears. These people can enjoy the liberty of not having a TV in the house and then telling they don't have a TV in the house and feeling great about themselves. But some people have kids who, when left alone for five minutes, kill the fish and take all the feathers out of their pillow and tell the neighbor they hate their outfit. Some people have kids who come to blow while fighting over a wizened poinsettia leaf that was found near the garbage. When you have these kinds of kids, you let them watch TV because if you didn't you'd end up banging your head against the wall in an effort to knock yourself unconscious. That's best case scenario.

Primo has been really worried about the possibility of thunderstorms and tornados lately, making him decidedly opposed to leaving the house. “Decidedly opposed” is the polite way to describe a situation where screaming, yelling, whining, crying and threats are used whenever we have to go out – for a playdate, groceries, birthday party, library. It is taxing. But because I’m a fighter by nature, the kind of person that refuses to admit defeat, I soldier on, forcing him o confront his fears and do what needs getting done. It did occur to me though that perhaps the kid needed to feel like he had more control over the day so I asked him what he’d like to do this weekend and he said, “Let's have a Christmas party!” You may recall that I JUST THREW the birthday party of the century for him, so I vetoed this idea immediately, but then he downgraded the party to simply “invite two friends and their families over to watch Christmas movies.”

Movies, did you say? BINGO. All systems go.


We Tivoed "Charlie Brown Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" tossed popcorn in the microwave, and set up blankets and pillows on the floor of the living room. Then David busted out the beer he’s been homebrewing and I put out some Costco guacamole and a Carr’s Entertainment Assortment package of crackers. Instant party.

May I say, too, that it was the most pleasant affairs that I’ve hosted in years? Kids a-chuckling, contained in one corner of the apartment, parents imbibing in the other. There were no fights to break up, no interventions necessary. The most taxing thing was cleaning up the popcorn from the rugs afterwards.Primo was happy, Sec was happy, David was happy and I was happy.

Spontaneous, unstructured play is good and all, but when your kids are impossible and you live in a 900 sq foot apartment, it can be a little much on the nerves. TV, on the other hand, heals all wounds.

So today I say, three cheers for the boob tube! AAP, I love you and all, but just for today, you can suck it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Zombiepalooza!!!



The first mistake I made was asking Primo what “kind” of a birthday party he wanted to have this year. In retrospect, I see that was dumb, When you’re six years old, a birthday party shouldn’t require a category, It should be sufficient for the theme to be “fun.” I should have made some cupcakes, hung up a few rolls of crepe paper and assorted balloons and called it a day. But, no, I had to go and ask what “kind” of a party he wanted. I should have known my kid would not choose a conventional option like “Spiderman” or “Transformers” - the kind that’s easy to achieve with a purchase of some paper plates and maybe a banner for the door. Did I really think Primo, lover of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Greek mythology, would say he wanted a “Star Wars” birthday?

“I want a Plants vs Zombies birthday party!” he yelled immediately.

“Oh, ok, “I said, “That might be a little tough. I mean, I don’t have any idea how to do that.”

“We can play Plants vs Zombies!”

“No, no no. That’s out of the question. No video games at the party.”

“Ok, then we can listen to the soundtrack. Come on, Mommy, I KNOW you can do it! Don’t give up, Mommy! BELIEVE in yourself!”

Oooh, nice. My own galvanizing words come back to haunt me.

The kid knew who he was dealing with. I am a party planning maniac, an unhinged, incompetent, cheapskate Martha Stewart figure, and I love nothing if not a good challenge.

“Fine,” I said, “we’ll do it. A zombie party.”

“A Plants vs Zombies party.”

“A Plants vs Zombies / conventional zombie party,” I specified.

Turns out this is not as easy as one might think. Choosing the undead as a theme for a siz year-old birthday poses several problems.

  1. There is a dearth of zombie-related paper products out there. When I say dearth, I mean an absolutely gaping hole in the market. So we opted for plain old Solo plates, on sale from Key Food.
  2. Zombies, believe it or not, are fairly frightening creatures and not all six year-olds, and their toddler siblings, enjoy being terrified by images of rotting corpses brought back to life (is that what zombies are? I don’t even freaking know). So I had to find zombie accoutrements which were authentic but still light on the terror factor. This meant I could not show the Thriller video, as I initially planned. I didn’t need nasty 3am emails from mothers whose kids woke with nightmares.
  3. Zombie party favors are few and far between especially after the month of October. .

Are you ready, readers, to hear how to throw your child a state of the art, Plants vs Zombies/ conventional zombie birthday party? Prepare to enter DIY paradise!

PARTY DECOR:

Hand-crafted Plants xs Zombies decorations, which included the sunflowers, peashooters, and cherry bombs. .

Copious print-outs of the videogame screen which reads “THE ZOMBIES ATE YOUR BRAINS!” courtesy of Google images.

The piece de resistance: I got my younger sister, whose boyfriend works for Firefox, thus making him in my eyes an internet and tech wunderkind – to insert a real image of Primo jumping into a pool into the image from the videogame screen where the zombies are advancing into the swimming pool. This allowed Primo to ENTER the VIDEOGAME. It was pretty freaking cool.

PARTY FOOD:

Bagels. Everyone likes bagels, including zombies.

PARTY GAMES:

My peeps on FB stepped up to the plate for this one, helping to create a winning zombie game lineup:

Hot potato mine!

Duck duck zombie

Zombie freeze dance

Hands-free eat–the-brain/donut-off-the-string

Zombie model magic creation station

Zombie face painting, courtesy of my cousins

Make an eyeball out of ping pong balls.

Pinata in the shape of Crazy Dave from the video game (in actual fact, a pirate, but look, who really can tell the diff?)

Last but not least, Pin the Brain on the Zombie, on a board crafted by Master Primo himself

PARTY BAGS:

Gummi brains

Brain pops (made by taping a printout of a brain over the lollipop wrapping)

Brain teasers

Chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (sunflowers being the go-to weapon in the videogame)

Glow-in-the-dark zombie finger puppets

And each kid got his own fashion pin featuring a zombie saying like:

Zombies were people too

I’m with Zombie

I heart brains,

You’re my friend and all, but if a zombie chases us, I’m totally tripping you

Yes, eBay is a magical thing.

That’s about it.

EXCEPT for the best part which was the KICK-ASS birthday cake featuring images of the different Plants vs Zombies weapons and zombies printed in color from the internet and mounted on cardstock, then glued onto toothpicks and uses as caketoppers??????

Whatesv. All in a day’s work. It’s not like I did it to prove that I’m the best-ever party planner and Mother of the Year. I did it, of course, just to put a smile on my darling son’s face. Any medals of honor I get in the process would be icing on the cake.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where did I come from?


My daughter is such a strange and captivating creature, sometimes I have no choice but to respond to the things that she says with the rhetorical question: “Where did I get you from?”

“Where DID you get me from, Mommy?” she asked one day, genuinely curious.

“From the moon.”

“You got me from the moon?”

“Yep.”

She paused and considered.

“Did you really get me from the moon Mommy? In real life?”

“No, honey.”

“Then WHERE did you get me from?”

A tough question. Where to begin? Do I go all Darwin? Dazzle her with fancy prehistoric terms like “australopithecus”? Do I tackle the birds and the bees? The wonders of the uterus? None of it answers the question really. So I tell her what I told her brother when he asked:

“In real life, God made you and put you in my belly,” I said.

She looked skeptical, and really, who could blame her? It’s not easy for kids to sort out fantasy from reality to begin with and then you throw in stuff like God and Santa and growing humans from tiny eggs inside your belly and it gets just impossible. But that’s life – confusing, undecipherable. I’m glad she has skepticism, but I’m a person who believes in stuff, all sorts of stuff – God and saints and miracles and evolution and science and myths and magic and ghosts and folklore and community. I’m the opposite of an atheist, if that’s possible, because I pretty much believe in everything, to a greater and lesser extent. There’s no explaining life without explaining the divine, where I’m coming from, so that’s where I started. Later, we’ll get to the Big Bang theory and Evolution of the Species. And eventually – sigh -- the birds and the bees, though I’d better start brainstorming a better title for that particular seminar, one which doesn’t make me sound like an octogenarian.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Time to Talk


About four years ago, I was flipping channels and ended up watching a documentary on cyber-bullying which has been one of the most haunting things I’ve ever seen on television. Like so much of what we read about in the news, it’s something I wish I could un-know, because the thought of something so awful happening to my kids literally keeps me up at night. But unlike so many things that happen to us and the people we love, like disease and accidents and misfortune, bullying is something that we, as parents, can absolutely do something about, if we’re informed. The same goes for teen dating abuse and domestic violence – these aren’t things we are powerless against, once we learn a little about them.

Which is why I gladly accepted the invitation to the “Its Time to Talk” Conference last Wednesday, sponsored by Liz Claiborne. Since I attended last year, I knew I’d hear a lot of demoralizing, heartbreaking stuff about dating abuse and domestic violence, which would cost me a few night’s sleep and probably give me more gray hairs that I can afford. But I also knew forewarned is forearmed. And hey, not only do I have myself and my own small-fries to think of, I have you, dear readers, to watch out for too. Now, I know most of you have young kids at home and it seems like you’re decades away from having to worry about this stuff, but the hard truth is, what we do now is important in equipping our kids to deal with these issues later on. If you wait to discuss digital ethics and what a healthy relationship is until you think your kid’s old enough, in the tween years, you’re already playing a dangerous game of catch-up. So here’s what you need to know right now:

Digital devices are powerful, and you need to prepare kids to use them:

The time to broach the fundamentals of digital stewardship is the first time you give your child a cell phone, or a computer, or any kind of electronic device, says Dede Bartlett, founding Chair of National Domestic Violence Hotline Advisory Board. In addition to explaining how you dial numbers and send texts, says Bartlett, you have to go over what the rules of engagement are going to be. The rules that you’ll enforce will depend on your family, but the important thing is that you have rules, that you discuss a strategy for using the devices, and that you do not just hand over something as powerful as a cell phone or a Facebook account without fully discussing first what the implications of use are and that what happens online COUNTS. We need to teach kids that there are people with feelings on the other end of those screen names and that they must treat people online just as we would in person. Bartlett recommends instituting a curfew where all devices are collected at 10pm and held until the next morning. Another expert I heard from advised that before giving permission for your kids to join social media like Facebook, you come to an agreement on how you’ll be able to check in with the page and make sure they’re staying safe and being safe to others. Bottom line: these devices are powerful tools but they can also be used as weapons and the onus is on us to make the distinction clear.

Don’t overlook the power of the bystander:

When it comes to bullying, we tend to think of there being two parties involved: the bully and the bullied. But in the majority of cases, bullying doesn’t happen if bystanders are mobilized, and this is as true in the cafeteria or at recess as on Facebook or on a chat board. Of course, we’ve all been young and we know its not easy to stand up for the kid who’s getting his butt kicked: most of us in the tween and teen years are just trying to get by without attracting too much attention, trying to stay under the radar so we don’t become targets ourselves. But not only it is critical for us to teach our kids to be advocates for others, its also not as hard as it used to be in many ways. And that’s because . . . .

There are easy ways to stamp out bullying, when it happens digitally

We have to understand that the kind of bullying which happens today is not the type we remember from our own childhoods. When we were kids, you got bullied at school or on the way home, or when you went out with your friends, but when you were home, you had a break. There was an escape, even if brief. Today, though, it’s a different story, says Bartlett: “Because of technology, bullying is 24/ 7,” she explains, “because of technology, it is instantaneous, because of technology, it is permanent, because of technology, it is anonymous. Today, there is no refuge. And this terrible specter of teen and tween suicides that we’ve seen should scare the hell out of every single parent in the US.”

OK, now that I’ve terrified you, let me hasten to add this: even though technology has helped to make bullying and dating abuse so pernicious, in some ways it has made it easier to stop, too. Because so much of it happens anonymously, that means it is not only easier to participate in it, its easier NOT TO. So we need to teach our kids that if they get an email which is intended to embarrass, ridicule or deride someone, that they have a responsibility to stop it in its tracks and that is as easy as hitting “delete” rather than “forward.” It seems like nothing at all, but it is everything, because if we help create a culture where shaming and embarrassing other people isn’t that cool or funny or interesting, many of the “pranks” and the “wouldn’t-it-be-funny-if"s just wouldn’t get started. That’s the first step.

Accept the reality that kids start dating young:

It may be difficult to accept the idea that a 13 year-old could be in am abusive relationship because it seems insane to imagine a 13 year-old in a dating relationship at all. When I think of my daughter having what I can only bring myself to describe as “relations” at the age of 12 or 13, the thought it so terrifying, it does seem easier just to choose denial. Unfortunately, this kind of willful oblivion has serious consequences for our kids. Melissa Kaufmann, training coordinator for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and National Teen Dating abuse hotline, says kids as young as 13 contact their hotline (they offer not only a phone line but a chat line, which she says really allows the younger teens to feel comfortable broaching the subject). Kaufmann also explained that when she started the helpline, she thought it would involve a lot of awareness-raising for the kids, sort of helping them to understand that abuse was something that could happen to them, but what she found was that the situations the helpline was getting calls about were just as dangerous and violent as what a 34 year old mother of two goes through with an abusive husband. So first thing is accepting what it means to be a 14 year-old today, and then, taking this experience seriously, because as Kaufmann explained, abusive relationships for people under 18 can prove even more difficult to tackle since teens under 18 don’t have the same access to services that an adult would, in terms of shelters and getting protective order issued. Really young kids are getting into really serious situations and we can’t help them unless we first bring ourselves to see what’s happening.

If you have young children at home, here are some things you can do now to help protect them from teen dating abuse, domestic violence and digital abuse:

· Really prove to them that they can talk to you about anything, and you’ll listen

· Teach them to respect others and themselves

· Model and discuss what a healthy relationships looks like

· Prepare them to enter the digital world and insist on transparency, so you have access without violating trust

There is tons more information on the subject, and if you want to learn more, go to Love is Not Abuse.



*I wrote this post after attending an informational media event on behalf of Liz Claiborne and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Good coffee after bad


You know the expression, throwing good money after bad? This morning, what I’m doing is throwing good coffee after bad. I’m so damn tired that even my third cup of coffee isn’t making a dent into the mountain of fatigue. Isn’t it depressing, too, when you’re so tired for no apparent reason? I’m mean, I had a decent night of sleep – waking once when Sec crawled into my bed and kicked me for a half hour – but then slept til a respectable school day hour. But I’ve still got a headache and the dreary-eyed blues. And this leads me to conclude that my fatigue is a result of me being old as DIRT. Yep, its just one of those side-effects of getting on in years that your old, worn-out body can’t even handle the normal rigors of daily living.

So pointless is this coffee drinking that I’m about to cut myself off from caffeine for the day. Unless the barista’s screwing with me by handing over decaf. Which would be the worst practical joke ever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Marzipan Pig


Want to read a flat-out freaky kids' book? I highly recommend The Marzipan Pig by Russell Hoban. We inherited this book from my cousin's collection and one day were curious enough to open it. What awaited us was nothing short of children's literature of the absurd. It is such strange shit, so creepy and unsettling yet delightfully funny and lyrical - a total gem, and adding to its gem-ness are the illustrations by Quentin Blake, whose name and whose effortless-looking line drawings you'll recognize if you're a Roald Dahl fan.

Here's the storyline:

A sentient marzipan pig falls behind a couch and is left there to rot, bemoaning the loss of his potential to bring sweet happiness to someone. Then a mouse stumbles upon the pig, gobbles it down and becomes stricken with a kind of love sickness. Instantly, the mouse falls in love with a grandfather clock, but sadly this love is unrequited, and though the clock does give the mouse the time of day, that's about the extent of it, so the mouse gives up on love, goes for a walk outside and promptly gets devoured by an owl, who instantly falls head over heels for a taxi meter.

Yeah, a taxi meter.

The owl thinks the fare is a measurement of the taxi's love and urges it on, "Love me more! More!" with which the taxi seems to comply, by raising the fare as it continues to drive.

And that's only about 10 pages in.

"Tis the season to give absurd kiddie lit. . .

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We came, we saw, we conquered Santaland


Thus read my husband’s Facebook status on Sunday evening. Yes, before it was even December, we got that Santaland shit done. A bit premature, you say? Try this on for size: we exited Macy’s 30 minutes after entering it. Man, that’s how long it would take you to find a freaking bathroom in the department store and we toured all of Santaland, had a one-on-one with the red-faced guy himself, and walked out with a glossy, perfect 8 x 10. And that, dear readers, is how you do Santaland.

The secret is simple, and I am ready to share it with you: you’ve got to go the weekend of Thanksgiving, preferably the Sunday, and you have to be there a few minutes before Macy’s opens. We’ve been doing this for the past four years and its worked like a charm. How did we come to unearth this little secret?

By trial and error of course.

One of my best qualities is my ability to learn from failure. It is for this reason that I try to fail frequently, and ideally, abysmally. Which is exactly what I did when Primo was one year old, and David and I hopped on the subway to 34th Street, the weekend before Christmas, and about noon. We ambled over to Macy’s, eyes a-gleaming (OK, only my eyes were a-gleaming, David’s eyes were a-rolling, and Primo’s eyes were a-glazed-over). When we entered the store, the guard at the door informed us that the line was about 45 minutes.

“Oh,” I said, looking over at David, “That’s not so terrible.”

“For the elevator to Santaland,” corrected the guard.

“You mean there’s a forty-five minute line to get to the floor where the real line is?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Yeah.”

“And how long is the wait up there?”

He gave me a look which said, “I’m a security guard, not the tourist information booth,” but then he offered, “Hour and a half, maybe more.”

We got right back on the subway. Kid was too young for Santa visitation anyway.

But the next year, I was not only seven months pregnant with Seconda, I was smarter, more saavy. I was going to beat the system, because that’s what being a New Yorker means. Let the tourists wait for two and a half hours. I was going to do a walk-through. This is when the Thanksgiving day weekend visit to Santa was born.

On this particular visit, as we boarded the elevator to the Santaland floor, David looked at me and said, “I can’t believe we really do this every year/”

And I said, “I know, but we’ve only got two, three years tops, before you-know-what happens.”

Primo’s always listening and he is starting to get really good at spelling so its forced us to go into deeper code when we speak about the inevitable losing of faith in old Saint Nick.

“Yeah, its true,” he conceded.

“We’re making hay while the sun shines,” I explained, “striking while the iron is hot.”

“You don’t have to pitch it to me,“ David grumbled, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

Veni, vedi, vici . . . Terra Santa.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pulling strings in East Tennessee

Primo woke up at 4 in the morning complaining of ear pain, the day before Thanksgiving. Within five minutes, I'd come up with an emergency earache investigation plan.

Normally, a little ear pain doesn't alarm me, but we had to get on a plane in a few days and I know just enough about pediatric medicine to worry about a perforated ear drum (and not enough about it to talk myself down). I also know that I couldn't take him to be seen by anyone on Thanksgiving or the day after, so I mobilized for pre-emptive action. When we woke the next morning, I called my doc in New York first thing, and he informed me that since he was not a virtual doctor, he would not be able to treat an ear infection in Tennessee, from New York.

"Have him seen by someone over there," he advised.

"Ok," I grumbled, "But just tell me what you'd do, and what you'd prescribe, so that I know if they're doing the right thing."

The reason I love my pediatrician is that he did so, with no complaint.

Then I called my sister-in-law to see who she brings her kids to locally and she referred me to a general practice, walk-in clinic run by - what a small world -- one of David's friends from the Boy Scouts. David hadn't seen this man since he was 12 years old -- in fact, the doc was going by an entirely different first name nowadays - but nonetheless, there was the link.


"Ok, here's what we do," I told David, " You call them up and see if they take our health insurance. Then you tell them you are a CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND of the doctor's and that we need to see him, and have them squeeze us in -- anytime is fine, whenever opening they have."

"Ok,ok," David complied dialing the number. I listened to him explain the situation and refer to his close childhood friendship with the doctor and I heard him "uh huh." "uh huh" "huh uh" a few times and then he hung up.

"Well, what did they say?"

"Come anytime after 12:30," he said.

"Great!" I exclaimed, "We'll get there early, beat the rush, cut down on the waiting room build up."

With two young kids, you spend a lot of time in pediatrician's offices and you learn some tricks. You learn to strategize.

We get to the walk-in clinic at 12:30 on the dot and find the waiting room empty. There is no pre-Thanksgiving rush, no like-minded strategists, it seems. I gave David a nudge, and he recited the words I'd prompted him to say.

"Hi, I called earlier about my son, who we think has an ear infection. The doctor and I go way back, we were boy scouts together, so I'd love if he could see us today."

"Are y'all from out of town?" drawled the middle-aged woman behind the front desk.

"Yes," I said, "What gave us away?"

She was kind enough not to reply: "The neurotic way in which you try to control everything, and the obnoxious habit you have of trying to throw your weight around and how damn seriously you take yourselves."

Instead, she said, "Y'all just look BE-wildered! Come on, I'll help you fill out this paperwork."

I instantly took umbrage at this assessment, wanting to retort, "I'm from New York and I don't GET bewildered. Being from New York means I'm bewilder-proof. I'm the one who does the bewildering. Capisce?"

But of course, that'd just be me, getting more bewildered. Instead, I filled out the paperwork, tried to bite my tongue when the nurse practitioner looked inside Primo's ear and said it looked "dark" (of course its dark, that's why you use one of those nifty lights) and made a minimal amount of fuss declining the Z-pac she wanted o prescribe and pushing for the more appropriate amoxicillin.

We did see David's long-lost close childhood chum on the way out though, and he gave the kids a sucker. We call them lollipops but I didn't quibble. I can be flexible like that, you see.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We're going to make it after all

We're in Tennessee. Its only an hour and a half flight, which sounds like no big deal -- smooth sailing -- but if you've been on any airplane with two young children, you'll know there is no such thing. I mean, it was a helluva lot easier than our recent red-eye flight to Italy, memories of which still haunt me in my dreams, but that's not saying much. This time, I was prepared to face heightened airport security, including pat downs and full body scans but neither of these presented themselves (what? I'm not hot enough for the full body scan?) Instead, the trouble came in the form of unexpected delays. Which were totally our fault.

Yeah, we got lost driving to the supercheap off-airport parking near Newark. And when you get lost near the airport, you're totally fucked -- one wrong turn, and you're stuck driving through the the entire airport, which'll easily cost you 15 minutes. OK, so maybe you wouldn't be fucked if you were the sort of persn who gave yourself more than a 15 minute cushion, but we just don't roll like that. When we finally found the parking spot, we saw the airport to the shuttle pulling away, which meant we'd have to wait another 20 minutes. We raced through check in and baggage drop off and the Air Train over to the terminal and through security, where no one was patted down or full body screened, as far as I know.

While lacing up our boots after security, I said, "I think we're going to make it after all." Then, I repeated it again, but more slowly and sagely, so that it would be clear to all who happened to hear that I was referring to more than just the flight. Then, realizing I sounded like I was in an episode of Grey's Anatomy, I had to laugh out loud. All of which made me sound like a nutjob.

We did make it after all, onto the plane, that is.

I'll tell you what didn't make it. Our Maclaren stroller, which we checked at the gate, the way you have to when you fly with a stroller. When we landed in Tennessee, the stewardess handed us our stroller, except that one of the front wheels had been mangled beyond recognition. The rubber had been ripped off and the steel or aluminum or whatever the hell they use to make the hub was twisted and bent all out of shape.

Now, I should note that we came by this stroller in the following fashion: my mom brought it over one day, looking new as can be, with no explanation. When I pressed her as to why she'd decided to get us a stroller, suddenly and for not apparent reason, she said that she had been leaving work one day and saw a poor, pitiful young mother trying to sell it on the street for money for her baby and so she bought it from her, for charity. I didn't buy this bullcrap, not for a second, so I kept pestering her and pestering her to explain where the hell she got this nice stroller and she finally confessed, in a very irritated tone: "I found it on the street in front our our office, OK? Some kid had vomited in it and those assholes, their parents, just left it there even though it was PRACTICALLY NEW! All that was wrong with it was a little VOMIT!" So that's how we got our swank Maclaren stroller, and really, when I saw it mangled up, I should have thought, "easy come, easy go." But I didn't.

"Do you see this?" I asked the stewardess, "My stroller's all mangled. I can't use it."

"Yes I see that ma'am, but unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about it." she replied stiffly.

"Can't I file a damage claim or something?"

"Unfortunately not, because stroller wheels are not covered by our damage claims."

"Ok, here's the situation. I gave you this stroller in New York and it was fine. Now you give it back to me and its un-usable. So I need to talk to someone about this."

"Yes, I do understand that ma'am, but unfortunately, my supervisor is not here on Saturdays."

I'll spare you the rest of this edifying convo. After a few back and forths, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere and tried the airline ticket counter at the front of the airport only to find there was no one there. So I went downstairs to get David who was claiming our luggage, and cleaning up Sec, who had shit her pants on the airplane. She's going through a phase where she's too scared to poop and sometimes this results in shit-in-the-pants. Meanwhile, Primo's screaming about how he refuses to stop at the International House of Pancakes for lunch because the chance of rain today is over 0 percent and he wants to go straight home, since he is currently terrified of precipitation.

So with my two crazy kids, both of whom are crying and carrying on, I head BACK up to the ticket counter to see if, perchance, someone's decided to actually WORK even though it is Saturday and I do see someone but unfortunately, its the same stewardess who was totally useless at the gate.

I caught her looking at the door behind her when she saw me coming but I was walking too fast and she was caught, at the counter.

"Yeah, its me again."

"I see that ma'am."

"Ok, look, I'm not being unreasonable here. I had a stroller and now I don't and I need one for my daughter and I need your airline to take care of it because you broke it."

"But I can't do anything about it so why don't you tell me what you want to do."

I love Southeners because this is about as mad at they get. Snippy. In Newark, we'd be slinging four letter expletives back and forth by now.

"What I want to DO," I retorted, "is leave you this stroller, because I sure as hell can't use it, and I want to leave a note taped to it for your supervisor when he gets back on Monday. How about that?"

Which is precisely what I did. And not only did the stewardess not get more irritated and irate, she actually told me, as I was writing my little note, that she understood how I felt and she sure did hope I got my stroller fixed because she was a mom, too.

Makes you feel purty good to have a civilized exchange like that.

So we're here in the Smokies. Looks like we made it after all -- onto the plane, that is. As for the rest, that remains to be seen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dreamboat Teacher


Primo’s first-grade teacher is a dreamboat and I have succumbed to full-fledged love for her. She did – and this is a fact – hang the moon. I want to give this woman a Staples gift card worth $100K. When she leads the class out for dismissal, I want to scream in adulation like teenyboppers did at Beatles concerts in the 1960s. After a rocky year in Kindergarten, she has laid the groundwork for Primo to have a fantastic first grade, and for this I am eternally grateful. She somehow manages to be warm and friendly and fun while demanding respect and lawfulness in the classroom She doesn’t abide no fools and she makes those kids work hard but she also showers them with compliments when they deliver, and then rewards them for their hard work. She celebrates the kids for who they are. And her hair is preternaturally bouncy. She is (sigh) just dreamy.

Of course all of these attributes would be meaningless to me if she didn’t understand how cool my kid is. But she does, she gets it. So parent-teacher conferences were great because it was essentially like me winning 15 minutes with my favorite rock star, to talk about my favorite subject ever. But in the middle of the conference, it almost all went terribly wrong.

The kids are writing stories about small moments in their lives, and Jennifer was reading some of the stories Primo’s been writing. If I was helping Primo brainstorm possible subjects, the list would include: “Going for a midnight dip on Ferragosto,” “Getting caught in a big rainstorm,” “Having a tea party with cousins.” Instead, for his first story, he chose to write about how Sec pretended she was going to fall off the balcony. I found this choice of subject matter strange for a number of reasons but mostly because it was a highly uneventful moment – Sec basically just sat on the balcony and said to him, “I’m going to say. ”Oh no! I’m going to fall off the balcony!” and you say “No! Don’t!” OK? OK?” Then I told them that was a lousy game and they should stop. But he told the story somewhat differently:

“One day Sec almst Fel! Off! The! Balkany!” it begins. His illustrations show me, eyebrows angled down like an arch-villain, shouting “NO!” and Primo yelling “STOP!” It is a very gripping story.

As Jennifer reads it aloud to us, I really want to explain that this isn’t what happened so she knows that I am not the sort of mom which would be too busy to notice her child almost falling off the balcony, but then I think that’ll sound like I’m protesting too much and anyway, she must know that the kids take poetic license with these “true” stories.

Then we move on to another story he has written about when he was little in Italy and fell in a piazza and scraped his face.

“One day I wos litl and I wos rning in the peaza and oh no! I fll! Dere was blod! Mamy gav me a banddad.”

Jennifer read this and David and I were smiling, so proud, so delighted. Then her voice halted suddenly and we looked at the words she was supposed to read next.

“Fac you Mamy!”

I gasped. David choked. Jennifer said, “Oh!” stuttering to recover, “oh, I don’t think that says what we think it says.”

And I say, “Because it looks like Fuck you Mommy!”

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is . . . “

Instantly, I am cursing myself for cursing so much at home, thinking that finally, my trucker mouth has rubbed off on that sweet child, imagining the days of detention ahead, when David exclaims:

“No! It’s supposed to be a “th”! He gets “Th” and “F” confused! It’s “Thank you Mommy!”

Huge communal sigh of relief. We all laugh. Then Jennifer jokes. “That’s a good thing, because between his sister almost falling off the balcony and Fuck You Mommy, I was starting to worry.”

Yeah, she’s funny, too. Sigh. For Christmas, I’m thinking about buying her a pony.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What's your secret, happy camper?

I'm writing an article for a parenting mag on the secrets of happy moms and dads, which will include tips from real parents of things you can do throughout your day to stay happy and manage the stress of parenting a baby or young toddler, and I need your input. I mean, do you really want ME, a mom amok, coming up with these helpful tips myself? What do I know about it? So chime in with your ideas and stories about little things you did when your kids were little (0-18 months) that made your day more enjoyable - could be anything from practical solutions like "Have a good breakfast" to the emotional "Forgive yourself for not being perfect" to everything in between. If you don't feel like commenting publicly, you can send me an email to amomamok [at] gmail.com -- just let me know your name, city where you live, and ages of your kids. And hey, don't skimp on details!!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Going Down

Hey, you say, isn't it about time for another one of those delightful Dispatches from Babyville from that powerhouse of a local mag, The Park Slope Reader? As a matter of fact, it is.

GOING DOWN


I used to complain constantly about what a pain it was to live in a walk-up with two small children. But since moving into an elevator building, I have come to see that the pain in my behind was from the kids and not the stairs. As it turns out, it’s still a three-ring circus whenever we enter or exit our house, although for entirely different reasons. In fact, the elevator, which I’d counted on as a cure-all, has created problems of its own.

Don’t get me wrong: I love our elevator more than it is reasonable to love a steel box. But while it has liberated me from the physical burden of being a pack mule, it has saddled me with a mental strain. Walking up stairs is simple, one foot in front of the other, but riding an elevator, like any other situation in which you must share a confined space with strangers, requires your behavior to adhere to certain unspoken rules. Of course, there are always individuals who shrug off these conventions: on the subway these are the people that eat stinky, messy food or tell detailed stories about their sexual exploits or sing to the music on their headphones at full voice On the elevator, these people are my children.

It works like this: as soon as the doors close on the elevator, a signal is released in my 3 and 5 year-old’s brains to say something odd, inappropriate or just really god-awful loud.

This might just be the uncouth sound of a bodily function, or the announcement of future body functions, as in, “I NEED TO DO A HUMONGOS POOP!”

But usually the off-putting words are spoken directly to our fellow passengers. The best case scenario is that Primo, my sociable son, will be friendly, super-friendly, so friendly it is almost an assault, like the time we stumbled upon a pretty middle-school girl in the elevator after-school.

“What’s your name?” Primo asked, instantly interested.

She was busy looking at her cell phone and didn’t hear him.

“What’s your name? What’s your name?” he repeated.

“GIRL!” shouted Seconda, “Say your name, girl!” My kids have a serious good cop/ bad cop thing going on.

“Lauren,” she mumbled, staring at the elevator doors.

With this, Primo fired forth a barrage of questions, leaving nary an opportunity for her to answer: “How old are you? What school do you go to? Where’s your mother? What’s the number you live in?”

This last question, it was clear, was the most pressing, and he asked her again “What’s your number?”

“SAY YOUR NUMBER GIRL!” Seconda shrieked. .

Lauren, clearly wishing she’d taken the stairs, asked me, the official Crazy-English translator: “What do they mean?”

“What apartment number do you live in?’ I explained.

“Oh,” she answered as she stepped out on the 3rd floor:”3B.”

The doors closed again and Primo announced: “I am going to write that girl a letter and bring it to her house!”

I tried to dissuade him. I tried to distract him. But at the end of the day I walked him over to 3B and helped him slide an anonymous letter which read “her is a pictr av the sun. you r nis,” under her door, if that was, in fact, her real apartment number.

As elevator behavior goes, friendly advances from a five year-old, no matter how persistent, are generally beyond reproof. Where I get into trouble is with my daughter.

Secibda looks like she just stepped off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: golden hair, rosy cheeks – the whole nine yards. But when she opens her mouth, it’s a different story.

“What beautiful eyes!” people on the elevator often exclaim.

“I don’t like you!” she snaps back with venom, “Go away!”

This response usually works to paralyze her appreciators, but if they persist in making conversation, she’ll pull out the big guns: “You can’t talk to me!” “This is my elevator and you can’t be in it!” “You’re annoying!”

It’s not that she’s cranky or upset. In fact, she’s at her happiest when she is berating and scolding others in a small box from which there is no escape. I know this because of the grin which spreads over her impish face afterwards.

I’ve come to accept the fact that my daughter is, at present, just really, regularly unfriendly. Ok, hostile. Ok, more belligerent than a drunk who’s been cut off.

This is shocking to me because I’m a people person. When I board an elevator (and I’m not doing damage control for Sec) I make light, palatable, diverting small talk, the conversational equivalent of muzak. I’m as amiable as a Southerner except I know when to stop talking. Yet, as with so much in parenting, this friendliness has caused a backlash in my daughter.

I’ve grown so accustomed to Seconda’s gnarly, snarly elevator bit that when I see children who are perfectly nice to others for no reason whatsoever, I can’t help but conclude that they are either cuckoo for cocoa puffs or under the influence of Children’s Benadryl or a similar mind-altering substance.

One morning last week, I was rushing Sec off to school and we got on a crowded elevator. Among the many riders was a brother and sister, about Seconda’s age, with their pregnant mother. I smiled at the children. The children smiled at me. The children smiled at Seconda. Seconda growled at them like a rabid dog. Then she informed me, “Betsy doesn’t like them!”

Betsy is Sec’s imaginary sister, and frankly she’s a bad influence. Where Seconda is mischievous, Betsy is nefarious. Betsy has a lot of opinions about things and they all fall under the “I hate it” category. I am currently filing paperwork to have Betsy excommunicated from the family.

The little girl on the elevator had a nicely-maintained black bob and was wearing an adorable flower-print sundress, making me have second thoughts about how I’d allowed Seconda to dress herself for school in pink penguin pajamas. She had been wearing a fetching frock this morning, but only because she’d put that on to sleep. She’s like an infant with her days and nights switched, only with wardrobe. But I’ve learned to pick my battles with this iron-willed child, and the battle at hand was over Sec’s habit of saying “Go away! I hate you!” to each and every person she encountered. She was under strict instructions not to direct the word “hate’ at anyone, period.

So now, I stood in the elevator, holding my breath and hoping we could make it to the lobby without an incident. But Seconda said nothing, Instead it was the girl who spoke, turning to her brother and saying: “I love you, Jack.”

And little Jack said, “I love you too, Pearl.”

Everyone on the elevator, including me, oohed and ahhed. Who wouldn’t? It made your uterus hurt, it was so cute.

Encouraged by the response, Pearl went on: “I love Jack and I love my Daddy and I love my Mama!” she said, flinging her arms around her mother’s legs. Then she put her hand on her mother’s pregnant midsection and said, “Hello little baby! Hello! I’m your sister!”

Seconda squinted her eyes and cocked her head, which I knew from experience did not bode well.

“Do you have a baby in your belly?” she asked the mother, innocently enough.

“Yes, I do,” the mom replied with a smile.

“Oh,” Sec answered thoughtfully: “I hate that baby.”

Every passenger on the elevator, including but not limited to Pearl, Jack, the mother, me, and probably the in-utero baby – gasped audibly.

“Seconda!” I exclaimed.

To make matters worse, my daughter broke into a huge grin which stretched from one blond pigtail to the other.

Thankfully, at just that moment, the doors of the elevator opened and I bounded through them, exclaiming, “Sorry! So sorry!” over my shoulder.

Wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last time I have to make a hasty exit after a doozie like that. Though I’m inclined to make a big show of being shocked and aghast – you know the show I mean, where you exclaim loudly, “I don’t know WHERE you learned to talk like THAT! You know BETTER!” in defense of your parenting skills — I’ve learned it only fans the flame of bad behavior, so I try, whenever possible, to just let the mortification roll over me and subside, before reminding my daughter that it is not kind to tell a mother that you despise her fetus.

But it does make me remember fondly the days when we lived in a walk-up, where the only people who suffered in the freak-show of my family getting in and out of the house, was me. And so I’ve decided that until the reigning Mean Queen of the Elevator can soften that razor-sharp tongue of hers, we’re hoofing it up the stairs. Not only it is rehabilitating, it’s good for the glutes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

High School Reunion at Duane Reade

I was in Duane Reade with my son the week before last, trying to locate some construction paper. I looked like shit. In my defense, I felt even worse than I looked, so in that respect, I was making an effort. I was in the process of getting over a nasty virus and if I had my druthers, I’d still be in bed, sleeping. But swim class waits for no man, so I’d had to get out of bed, throw on some clothes and take care of business. When I say ‘throw on clothes” I really mean, toss on whatever raggedy, threadbare, ultra-comfy shit I had lying on the floor around my bed.

In fact, when I got dressed, I did have a moment where I said to myself, “Really? You’re really going to wear this out of the house? I mean, I know you’re sick but are you willing to set this precedent?” And myself said back, “Yeah, we’re doing this. New low.”

So there I was, in my sweatpants and this peasant-y synthetic shirt which is one size too small from Target which, despite all reason, has been a preferred item in my wardrobe these past few years, making it faded and threadbare. My hair, unwashed, in desperate need of highlighting, was pulled back into one of those ponytails where half of your hair has already fallen out on the bottom. And t his is how I looked when I noticed this woman down the aisle checking me out. She was about my age with a little girl about Primo’s age but that was about all we had in common, by the looks of it. This woman was put-together. She was wearing a Sergeant-Pepper’s-type red woolen coat with a super sharp pair of black glasses, and her hair in a fetching, stylish bob. I didn’t know this person and honestly, I didn’t want her to know me, in my current Slob of the Slope incarnation.

But not only did she continue to look at me, she walked right over and announced cheerily, “Hi Nicole!” like I was definitely supposed to know her from somewhere.

“Heeeeey!!: I gushed, way too enthusiastically.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?” she smiled

“No,” I conceded, “I’m sorry/”

“Well I remember you. You had the best tits in high school!” This she sang out, with nary a note of apprehension or hesitation to use the word “tits” in front of both of our five year-olds.

Thsnkfully, this choice of language clued me in immediately to who she was.

“Jenny!” I exclaimed.

Jenny was this loud-talking, hyper-energetic balls-to-the-wall girl I knew in high school. And now that I knew who she was, I saw she hadn’t changed that much, except she was hotter and better-looking despite being 15 years older. This is when I started regretting in earnest the choice to surrender all claims to attractiveness.

We exchanged a few squeals of excitement at having discovered each other and realized we were neighbors, and then Primo’s patience ran out and he started yanking me away, which was totally fine by me because this was not my most shining hour.

But when I told this story later that night to David, I said, “She lives just a few blocks away which means I’m going to run into her again. And next time I can’t look like a washed-up charity case.”

Except that that’s EXACTLY how I looked the next week when I saw her entering my son’s school to get her daughter. And this time, I didn’t even have the excuse of illness. But the precedent had been set, and once that happens, you don’t even bother to strive for dignity. This time, I felt compelled to disclose how amazing I thought she looked, only in a crazy way, which is how shit usually comes out of my mouth.

“WHY do you look so GOOD?” I shouted, like I was back in high school again. “You look AMAZING! Your haircut! Your coat! Shit, you’re so SKINNY! And I am basically right out of The People of Walmart!”

“Its because you have a husband and I want one.” she laughed.

Note that she didn’t contradict me.

So this morning, I forced myself to upgrade every time of clothing, forsaking the stretched-out underwear the stained Old Navy pants, and the torn winter jacket which I can’t zip up all the way. I dragged out my kick-ass Last Tango in Paris cream-colored coat with the furry cuffs purchased from Screaming Mimis over a decade ago. And I put on lipstick. Two can play at this little game of making an effort. Failing all else, I’ve still got the tits.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bowl Lane Time Machine


I didn’t realize when we took the kids bowling last week that I’d be getting into a Bowl Lane Time Machine, but I will say being transported back in time to 1985 was not an altogether unpleasant experience. The kids were off from school for Election Day so I decided to invite Primo’s BFF Leigh, and her peeps to go bowling. Primo and Seconda had never been, and the last time I put on a pair of bowling shoes was at Bowlmor Lanes, in high school. Before I was old enough and cool enough to bowl in the city though, I’d go to this small. kinda rundown joint by my grandmother’s house and I swear that’s where we ended up last week with the kids.

Nothing had changed since I was 10 years old – not the machines, which groaned and moaned like it took their last gasp of breath to spit out that ball; not the balls which were more sticky and filthy than the floor of a movie theater after a Saturday night blockbuster; not the staff, who were literally my grandmother’s age and hobbled, bent over to get the balls that the kids had only managed to roll half-way down the lane; and not the music, which consisted of Beat it! Smooth Criminal, and Living on a Prayer.

Wait -- there was one thing they had which I don’t remember – gutter bumpers. Are you familiar with these Godsends? They are little rails which pop up and block the gutter, totally eradicating the possibility of a gutterball. They are meant for children, but I find them indispensable for myself, as well. That’s because my bowling style -- just like my foreign-language-speaking style, and my dancing style, and my cleaning style – relies on raw power and enthusiasm, with almost no consideration for accuracy. This means that though I can throw the bowling ball at 70 miles an hour, I will throw it straight into the gutter. But not with those gutter bumpers! Genius invention. I guess the past 25 years haven’t passed in vain.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't know much about history . . .


“Did you know that New York was really bad in the 70s?” said Primo this morning as I was making his lunch.

I don’t know about your six year-old but mine has never before referred to a decade with such breezy authoritativeness. His historical perspective doesn’t have that level of specificity, where it can hone in on a decade at a time. Usually the periods in history he refers to are vast, like “ancient times” or “revolutionary war times” or “when Nonnie was a little girl” – and sometimes he thinks all three of those periods happened at the same time. So, this casual cocktail party talk about “New York in the 70s” was a departure.

“New York was really bad in the 70s?” I repeated: “In what way?”

“There was a lot of garbage on the street.”

This is why it’s good to ask leading questions of your child, rather than reply to their vague questions right off the bat. I was about to launch into a speech about how Bronx was burning, while he was just imagining a bad case of litter.

“Yes, I’ve heard,” I said, “Who told you that?”

“Mark, from school,” he said.

Ah, yes, it all makes sense. I’ve found you can always tell which kids have older siblings by how much they know about history. The other day, we were having a playdate with one of his friends from school, and he was chatting on and on about Hitler. Guess whose fifth grade sister had just finished a report on World War II?

I’d rather have a talk with my first grader about New York in the 70s than Hitler any day.

“Not only was there garbage in the streets,” I said, “But you should have SEEN what people wore. Have you heard of bellbottoms?”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Weekend Getaway

The following conditions contributed to a fan-freaking-tastic weekend.

1. My parents watched the kids.

2. Dinner at Chesnut, complete with plentiful house-made pickles (gratis, served with foccacia) and the SINGLE-MOST DELICIOUS dessert ever -- something they call the Bubino, which is a flour-less chocolate heaven topped with --wait for it -- peanut butter mascarpone mousse. Boo-yah.

3. Followed by watching Due Date, with a flawless performance by Zach Galifianakis and starring the still-super-hot Robert Downey Jr.

4. Traffic-free drive up the Hudson Valley, where we stayed in a converted rectory from the early 1900s.

5. Flight to Sweden menu at Da/Ba, including herring prepared three ways and elderberry sorbet.

6. More-than-reasonable amount of sex.

7. Traffic-free drive back to NY where kids, and mother were blissfully happy to see us home -- mother waiting with her jacket on, by the door; children full of hugs and accusations about the things Nana did wrong.

Ahhhhh . . .

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cop's Wife

Not to be confused with the Crying Wife, of whom I am also a fan (or at least stunned speechless by). This wife doesn't cry, but she did make me want to, with this kick-ass blog post about her son's unorthodox Halloween costume.

Rock on, Nerdy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Day


Besides the fact that they know how to cook and save all your childhood shit, you know what’s great about my grandmother and her generation? They totally rock the vote. They never, ever need to be reminded to show up on Election Day. I don’t know if it’s the immigrant in her, or the fact that she’s several generations closer to the days of the suffragettes or what, but my grandmother doesn’t take that ballot box for granted.

Now that she lives in our building, we can go vote together, along with my darling children, and if that doesn’t add up to a three-ring circus I don’t know what does.

“We have to vote AGAIN?” Primo complained, “We just got a new president.”

“I don’t want to go!” Sec yelled, “IT’S BORING!”

Heaven help this bunch of apathetic vagabonds.

“Oooh, you betta be quiet or da policeman gonna arrest you,” my grandmother contributed.

“WHAT? But, Mommy, you said kids can’t go to jail!!” Primo yelled.

I squinted my eyes closed, shook my head at him and made the “she’s loco” gesture towards my grandmother. She always knows just how to get the kids on board.

The panic was short-lived though, since we were just passing the Bake Sale Table at the entrance to the school where we vote.

“Ooooh, cupcakes!!! I want a cupcake! Cupcake! Cupcake!”

“Yeah! Yeah!Yeah!Yeah!”

“No, no, no, we’re about to eat dinner,” I said. I almost always say yes to the Bake Sale but it was 5:30pm and I do have a sliver of conscientiousness in me.

So we rolled into the voting area with two screaming kids, a humiliated great-grandmother threatening them with time in the clink and me, wearing this defensive look on my face which I get when my kids are really being a public outrage and I can’t do anything about it. It’s a look which says, “Yeah, I know they’re a hot mess. What you gonna do about? I’m here, aren’t I? This is my democratic DUTY, motherf&$%ers! I’m ROCKING THE VOTE!”

I managed to calm the rugrats down by giving my IPhone to the little one and letting the big one fill in the ovals on the paper ballots. This gave my grandmother a heart attack: “Jesu mio! Watch what you doing! Makea sure you coloring in da right person!”

Then the voting people directed us to those computer scanners and Nonnie had another heart attack.

“What da hell is dis?” she exclaimed.

“Just put it in like it’s a fax,” the voting helper instructed her.

Seriously, guy? You think THAT is going to clarify the process for my 79 year-old grandmother? She doesn’t know a fax from a falafel.

I slipped her ballot in and then I read the screen to her: “Your vote has been counted.”

And I will admit, saying that out loud did get me a little misty. Your vote’s been counted. Rah rah, democracy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't cry over spilt M and Ms



When you’re hot and heavy at the start of a love affair, you might imagine you and your beau getting married, but you don’t imagine being married. You don’t imagine going to Costco, much less buying a freakishly huge bag of M and Ms there, much less fighting over the huge bag of Costco M and Ms. Because if you did, the love affair would end right there.

The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, in between scanning through my mental calendar and remembering all the Evites I’d forgotten to reply to, feeling guilt-ridden about how I’ve never bothered to teach my daughter her ABCs while my son knew the whole freaking alphabet at this age, and worrying about how I’d locate different elements of the kids’ Halloween costumes, I also managed to squeeze in some recalling of fond memories from the start of David and my love story. I recalled specifically one beautiful night, right at the very start of it all, in college, when he was dating someone else and we’d been forbidden to talk, but he picked me up in his car anyway and took me to a Greek diner off-campus for a heart-to-heart. I remembered how I rolled the window down, and cried my silent, cinematic tears, and how I felt compelled to empty my pockets while we were driving home, and throw everything that was in them out the window of the moving car. We didn’t kiss, we didn’t have sex – we just pined for each other. Ours was a love that could never be! It was tragic! It was the stuff of novels.

Then, immediately after playing this scene in my mind, I played another scene, from earlier that night – the scene of the M and Ms. David, family man that he is, usually handles our monthly trip to Costco, with Seconda in tow. On one such trip, he came home with a mammoth sack of M and Ms, which must have held at least four million M and Ms.

“Why’d you buy four million M and MS?” I asked.

“Oh, I told Sec she could pick something out and this is what she wanted.”

Now, I try not to surrender to the harpie hag instinct in me, which is why I didn’t voice my extreme annoyance at having to find a place in our teeny, tiny kitchen for four million M and Ms, which would go uneaten for months since none of us really eat M and Ms. I mean, I COULD eat them, and I have been tempted to, just to get them from taking over an entire cabinet, but the last thing my ass needs is four million M and Ms, so instead, I’ve just been silently seething over them.

Finally, I found a way to get rid of some of the candy. We were having a few kids over for pre-Halloween festivities and I thought. “GREAT! I can unload some of these space-sucking M and Ms onto the kids. Perfect!”

I went to pull down the sack off the high shelf where David had stashed it. What I didn’t know was that the two-ton bag of candy-coated chocolate had not been sealed all the way. And when I yanked it down, the entire bag of M and Ms poured from the high shelf all over the kitchen.

If you haven’t heard the sound of four million M and Ms hitting the floor from a high altitude, I highly recommend it. It’s something quite extraordinary The sound was so thunderous, in fact, that it caused the kids to run out of their bedroom, to see what all the fuss was about.

There I was, standing in a sea of rainbow candy. There were M and Ms all over the floor and the counter, inside the pots and pans on the butcher block, behind the stove, under the stove, EVERYWHERE. I just stood there, stunned, exhausted. The kids headed back to their rooms, chuckling heartily.

David ran in, too, and gave me what appeared to be a, “Oh, come on, not another huge mess” look.

This triggered the fight.

“This isn’t MY fault you know.” I pointed out.

“I hope you’re not implying its MY FAULT!” he said, “since I was no where NEAR YOU.”

“But you put the M and Ms back without CLOSING THE BAG!! WHO DOES THAT?”

“THERE WAS A TEAR IN IT!”

“AND you bought the STUPID, insanely-big bag in the first place!”

I’ll spare you the rest, mainly because it just went on like this, with more and more four- letter words for another ten minutes Then I spent an hour cleaning up the mess, and David helped, too, and then I went to bed and stayed awake, juxtaposing this scene with the First Blush of Forbidden Love scene from years ago.

In the morning, I told David about how depressing it was to replay the scenes back to back. I tell him whatever cockamamie, hysterical thought pops into my mind, without editing, and to his credit, he’s very good about handling it. Later that day, I got an email from him, which was titled. “Don’t cry over split M and Ms” and the message went something like this:

Of course we fight over stupid shit like spilled candy, he said, because that’s the dumb, mundane crap that tired, frazzled people fight about. It doesn’t mean our love isn’t as true and deep than it was oh-so-many years ago when the only Coscto-sized item we needed was a super-sized box of Trojans. In fact, he said, check the nightstand, and you’ll find just that, purchased along with the M and Ms. Because while we may be older, and tired-er, and haggier and craggier, we’re still in it to win it, which is to say, lovebirds.

It was a hell of a love letter. And I slept like a baby that night.