“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Somewhere

I have a plan.

Joe and I are going to pack up the kids, sell our house, and move to a tropical country that is relatively safe and germ-free but needs an accounting overhaul.

I figure if they need an accounting overhaul, they'll also need a few lawyers, so that means the rest of my family will need to move to this place, too.  They don't know about this plan yet.

We will all move to said tropical place, and then my mom and I will open a school for the adorable, underprivileged, and underestimated children.

We will become the royalty of this tropical nation, and have lots and lots of money.  We might live in a giant, state-of-the-art tree house like Swiss Family Robinson, or we might live in a massive chain of beach bungalows.  I haven't really decided yet.

My mother will cook.  Everything will be fruity and delicious.  She will teach the natives about good spaghetti sauce and they will teach her the secret of serious jerk chicken.  The natives will give us rum and there will be daiquiris and delights.  I will be in excellent shape because I will beach-walk and swim often.  I will own big sunglasses and have a sarong.  My children will wear straw hats and run barefoot out the front door every morning to beautiful weather.

We will always be miraculously missed by hurricanes and other tropical storms.  We will have a boat, a jet ski, and an exotic pet.  Like a macaw, or a zebra.  If I let my brother come, he will NOT bring his dog.

I will ride my zebra down the beach at sunset, and Joe will ride an ostrich.  Because he's that kind of guy.

And working will be fun, and life will be great, and most importantly...

I will never be cold again.  I hate winter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Matter What

Today I felt like a total failure at being a Super Amazing Stay-At-Home Mom.  It really began yesterday afternoon and then just bled over into today, and I'm pretty sure that while I feel in my heart like a moronic seventeen-year-old without a clue, I look like a seventy-year-old life-long chain smoker.  With bad hair and no makeup.

To help you gain perspective, here is the body of text from an email I sent to my sister and to Joe at work yesterday:

Noah just pooped ON THE FLOOR, NEXT TO the toilet.

He's been constipated all day, and kept sneaking off to do his pushing in other rooms. Every time I'd put him on the toilet, he'd suck it all back in and announce, "I'm better now!"

Finally, I was unyielding. Gates up, game on. I was in the next room when he called. "Mom! I goed! It's HUGE!" I said, "You pooped on the potty?" He said, "No! On the floor! Next to the potty!"

His tone of voice completely showed that he was having a "Why haven't I thought of this before?" moment, and it was so completely disgusting and unacceptable, I can't even tell you the freakout I had. He had also stepped in one large, deliberate blob, and then denied it, despite the fact that it was all over his sock and ground into--wait for it--the GROUT.

I freaking hate everything.

Oh, yeah, and the toilet is now plugged.  I can see the massive poop blocking everything.

Here is the email I sent him today.  

You're going to come home one of these days and I'm going to be dead, and Noah will be standing on top of my corpse, smiling.

Still, despite the fact that Noah's personality and mine seem to mix as well as oil and vinegar, let's not forget that oil and vinegar make really, really good salad dressing.  Right?  There were a lot of tears in our house today, and at one point, Noah looked at me and said, "I don't even need a mommy."

At bedtime, I had to do something to make him know that everything was okay.  That we all have really bad days, and we yell and we feel crazy, but we always love each other.  Is there any better book in the world for that than Love You Forever by Robert Munsch?  I don't think so.  

And when I read, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living--" Noah interrupted me by grabbing my face and kissing me.  Then he said, "I'll love you forever, too, Momma.  You're a good Momma."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Crazed Shopper

I have always found "The Ungettable Get"--that one gift every year that people fight over, but can't find in stores or online--to be nonsense.  Year after year I think, "Come on, people.  Just wait until after Christmas."  The Year of the Wii, Joe was ALL over it, and I thought HE was being nonsensical.  I mean, do we really need it NOW?  And at least that's a gaming system that's, you know, pretty cool.  What about the Tickle Me Elmo Year?  How lame was THAT toy?

But this year, I've been...affected.  With Noah desperately trying to read, he has actually taken up a serious interest in all the learning devices in our household.  These are the toys that are meant to "make learning fun" and encourage your child to "learn without even realizing it!"  And Noah actually DOES play with these toys...for hours.  You have to understand then that when he saw the commercial for the latest Leapfrog device: the Leappad, he freaked out for it.  It's like the iPad of learning toys, and Noah has gone so far as to say, "All I want Santa to bring is the Leappad.  Maybe some other cool stuff, but really just the Leappad."

Well HOLY SMOKES.  Now I understand.

Yesterday it came to my attention that Noah's ONLY requested Christmas gift (and he's three--don't three year olds usually want ANYTHING and EVERYTHING???) is this year's Ungettable Get.  Ugh.  At first, I decided I must be much more Shop Savvy than any of my friends, and proceeded to visit all conceivable websites and stores, expecting to just be lucky.  Then the panic set in, and I realized, I'm just one among millions (a totally different meaning for the phrase, "one in a million").

This morning, I hopped on the Internet, trying all the different sites again.  Sold Out.  Out of Stock.  Sold Out.  Not Currently Available.  I began to despair.

The only store I hadn't tried was Target, and I thought, "But of COURSE Target will be sold out.  Everyone goes to Target."

But I had to try, so I typed it in.  I searched.  To my shock, I saw: In-Store Only.  My heart raced as I ran a search for our zip code.  Of the five closest stores, the one nearest me had "Limited Stock."  The next nearest said, "In Stock."  All the rest: "Out of Stock."

I quickly ripped Noah off the potty, figuring if things had happened for him yet, it was safe to wait.  He had to go to school, and of course, today is "J" day and we had bring something that started with J, and I hadn't done that yet, so I tossed a picture of Joey into his backpack (to which Noah replied, "Uh, no thank you, I'd like to bring a toy," and I ignored him).  I had him bundled and in the car in under sixty seconds, and was racing toward his school thirty minutes early.  But it had to be done.  Luckily, my mom is the owner and the teacher is a close friend, so they were very understanding about watching Noah for me.  Then, I was off.  To the races, as they say.

By the time I arrived at "my" Target, it was a mob scene, and it had only been open for an hour and fifteen minutes.  I fast-walked into the store.  On the one hand, I wanted to break into a full out run, but on the other hand, I didn't want to clue anyone into my "secret" info.  Not like all the other parents in a 100 mile radius weren't doing exactly the same thing as me.

I tore through the store, no cart.  Other people were shopping around, so I felt hopeful.  I was sweating through my fleece, thanking God I decided to wear my running shoes (like I've ever run anywhere).  I made it to the Leapfrog aisle only to see a salesgirl regretfully telling another mom, "I'm sorry, we just sold the last one."


But there was no time to lose!  I raced back out of the store, not worrying about running anymore.  I'm sure people thought my pants were on fire, but I didn't care.  It was off to the next Target!  I hopped in my car and revved the engine.  As I flew onto the Thruway, Marky Mark was singing "Good Vibrations" on Sirius radio, and it was possibly the best "Get Psyched" song ever for my heated mission.

I was slowed down only by an indecisive State Trooper who finally must have felt the vibes of my Shopper Anxiety all the way in his patrol car and finally veered off to rest in a U-turn stop.

When I arrived at the store, I was pleased to see it wasn't nearly as crowded as the last place.  It was in a bit of shady neighborhood, so I felt that running into the store was more acceptable, and I clutched my purse in double paranoia, eyeing up any competition.  There were definitely some characters standing out.  A couple of men in their thirties wearing pressed khakis with their hair gelled had clearly been sent by their wives for the Leappad.  A messy-looking mother of twins (what must I have looked like at this point, all sweaty and frazzled?) making her way slowly to the back of the store.  

To the Leapfrog aisle!  I moved quickly through the store, thanking God that its layout was identical to my home Target.  As I approached, another woman, looking as determined as me, was coming from the opposite direction.  I ducked down the aisle, and saw the boxes gleaming at me from the bottom shelf.  Good GOD!  

I snatched up one, and behind it saw one more.  I knew my really close friend hadn't been able to find one for her daughter, so I grabbed that one, too.  My mission can't have been all about me, after all.  That's not how heroes are made.

Holding the boxes tightly in my arms against my chest, I dared not slow down.  To the checkouts I hurried, not messing around but going straight to the Express Lane.  The fellow BEEPED! the boxes over the scanner, and, with shaking hands, I ran my credit card through.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," said the fellow.  "Your card has been denied."




"What???" I screeched.  "I'm sorry, there must be a mistake."  Yes, there must be, since I'm married to the Spreadsheet King of the Universe and this just simply wasn't possible.  And how could such a STUPID thing be happening to me NOW?

"Well, we can try again," he said helpfully.  We re-did the transaction, same result.

I breathed a huge breath.  "Can we please keep these boxes RIGHT HERE?" I asked quietly in my scariest Teacher Voice, leaning close to him.  "So I can call my husband?  There seriously must be a mistake."

"Okay..." said the fellow uncertainly, clearly afraid of me.  I wondered if he had a security buzzer next to him, and if he might use it.

I stepped out of the way and dialed Joe's number.  Joe, incidentally, was working in Pennsylvania this morning.

He answered in a frustratingly lazy voice, "Oh, hey.  How's it going?"

"JOE!" I said.  Unfortunately, I had taken on an alter ego: Hysterical Mary.  My family are constantly trying to squash this persona out of me, since it leads to totally Unacceptable Behavior, but once she comes out, there's no turning back.  It's my version of Hulking Out.  When it happens, I honestly can't even see anymore. I lose all vision and all sense of good, common sense-abiding behavior.


You can imagine this may have come out slightly slurred in the state I was, so I had to repeat it.  Twice. I was becoming desperate, and the checkout fellow moved me solicitously to Customer Service.  With the Leappad boxes, since I clearly refused to be separated from them.

Joe, in the meantime, was looking at our credit card account online.  "You won't believe it," he said.  "You and I both used our cards at the same time.  Since I'm in Pennsylvania, the company thought your purchase must be fraudulent."

Ugh.  Do you KNOW how much I hate when Joe works out of town?  And now THIS?!

"Okay," he said easily.  Easy for him, since he wasn't in this state of EMERGENCY.  "I verified the purchase.  You should be all set."

I stepped up to the counter, and, I must tell you, the Customer Service Guy was extra nice.  He didn't treat me like garbage for having my card denied (which I felt like, even though it was a misunderstanding).  He was very kind, and rang up the purchase like this sort of thing happens all the time.

By the time I left the store, I was trembling.  My shirt was soaked and I was breathing hard.  I held my packages tightly, and raced all the way home, not willing to feel any relief until the Leappads were safely inside my house, hidden away for Santa to wrap.

Next year, I'm encouraging my children to become artists, and they're getting a paint set.  And that's IT!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Come On, Get Happy

Happy is staring me down.

Three years ago, a package arrived in the mail.  It was covered in stamps from around the globe.  I knew it was actually from my sister, but the return address was marked "North Pole."  This was the day we received our very own Elf on the Shelf.  He came with a little story book explaining his existence, and we as a family had to choose a name for him.  Noah was just seven months old at the time, but Joey was three.  And Joey picked the name "Happy."

And now, as I said, Happy is staring me down.

He's on the shelf right above where I now sit, and he has this irritatingly complacent smile on his face.  And he looks off to the side.  I think it's because his story says he is Santa's scout, watching to see who is naughty and who is nice, but he's a total thorn in my side and I think his sideways stare is annoying.  At night, Happy supposedly heads to the North Pole to report to the Big Man, and then returns to us by dawn.  Every morning, he is perched in a new and clever spot in our house, a sign that he went away and came back.

This brings my children inexplicable joy, which probably indicates that Happy was aptly named.  Every morning, the boys race through the house, tripping over each other, trying to find where that tricky elf has taken himself.  Yesterday he was dangling from the dining room chandelier.  Noah fell over in giggles, his belly shaking like Santa himself.  He groaned, "Oh, Happy!  You're so silly!"  Joey just shook his head knowingly, as if to say, "Those elves.  So unpredictable, but what can you do?"

But the pressure is so HUGE to keep coming up with places to perch this stupid thing.  The boys are infinitely disappointed if Happy repeats a locale, and sometimes I don't even realize it's happened.  "The bookshelf again? Come ON, Happy!"

Even worse--and I'm so ashamed, I really am--is when Happy doesn't move at all.  You know, some nights, you're just really tired.  You're exhausted.  It's been a long day of wiping poop off the bathroom floor or explaining that, "NO, I don't have a penis and really, I AM okay with that," or whatever.  You climb into bed, and you have that blissful moment where every part of you sinks into the mattress and you exhale deeply with your eyes closed and then BAM! Happy's face appears before your eyes, all taunting, and maybe you think, "I'll get up early and do it then."  But then, you don't.

This is really hard to explain to little boys who love their elf.  In our house, I'm met with overly rounded eyes filled with tears and trembling chins and the fragile question, "Is...is it because we're BAD?"

I don't know how other parents handle this.  Probably, other parents aren't idiots who fall asleep without moving their elf.  But me?  I look at my darling little children and say, "Well, I guess you must have been.  Happy must not have wanted to tell Santa bad news, though, so just be EXTRA good today."

Terrible.  I know.  I really feel terrible.  Honestly.  And I have all kinds of plans this year--premeditated lists of shelves in my house and little mental reminders all day long.  Because it's a cute little tradition and generally makes Joey and Noah happier than ice cream sundaes.  Every day!

But he really is a stupid elf.  Stupid Happy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Maybe I'm a sucker, but...

My husband often laughs at me because I'm a total sucker for the media.  I'm not, for example, allowed to ever, ever watch infomercials.  When he and I first started dating, he would weekly come across new, innovative items in my apartment.  Miracle makeup, 6-Minute Abs, and Miracle Blade Knives (3 sets!) are just a few I can recall.  Finally, with my best interests at heart, he suggested that if infomercials are on, perhaps I'd best turn the television OFF.

Then there are the Kay Jeweler commercials.  Can we all just acknowledge the cleverness of "Every kiss begins with Kay"?  Mingle it then with those tear-jerking moments they show in candle-lit or fireside rooms...or, good God, that one with the soldier Skyping his son and wife, and the little boy whipping out the box..."I helped Daddy pick it out for you, Mommy."  I'm always caught off guard, too: the perfect viewer.  I think I'm just watching a family Skyping.  Or a couple waking up on Christmas morning in a lovely mountainside lodge.  Or whatever.  And suddenly my eyes are misting up and my nose is burning and, worst of all, someone sees me like this.  Usually Joe.

It probably goes without saying that I'm an avid fan of Clorox and Lysol commercials.  I particularly like when the germs are shown as little monsters with faces, and get brutally wiped out by the strong chemical powers of the cleaning agent.  Rock on, poisonous chemicals.  Kill those germs.

Do you know the one I feel the most strongly about?  The scene that comes on our television and instantly has my heart stopping, or climbing into my throat, or, at times, has Joe leaping up to change the channel or turn the TV off?  St. Jude's.  And it's not because it makes me cry.  It's not because of the gut-wrenching stories some famous person sits and tells calmly to the camera.  It's because it really is a worthy cause, and leaves me feeling completely helpless and emotionally drained.  I hold my own children a little tighter and say a million extra prayers of thanks that they are healthy.  I remind myself that a cold is just a cold, and that in a few days my boys recover and are smiling and strong.  How could I NOT want to do everything I could to help the children of St. Jude's?  

So at the mall today, when I was Christmas shopping in Gymboree (big sales, if you can get there), I was thrilled to see that with each purchase, they asked customers to consider donating to St. Jude's.  My mother, who was with me, and I exchanged a quick murmur about how extremely fortunate we are to have all our children healthy.  Then a woman next to us stepped up to pay.  "Would you like to donate a dollar to help St. Jude's today?" asked the salesperson behind the counter.  

"Hmph!" said the woman.  "I'm NOT from around here!"

I was really glad when the salesgirl echoed my thoughts aloud: "Well...that doesn't really matter."

It doesn't.  I think that giving out one dollar of the money we seem to have no trouble spending in Gymboree, or in the myriad other stores involved with this pretty great cause, is a really easy way to help people who need it.  And they are children who need it.    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sunshine, My Only Sunshine

This is my tribute to Noah Michael, who is three years old and very, very good at it.

This is dedicated to Noah, because he sucks every ounce of energy out me and makes my brain chant, "NOAH NOAH NOAH" all day long.

Noah is super handsome.  He has my eyes and his dad's ears and a smile straight from heaven.

Noah is constant energy.  This is since he was In The Belly.  Just as I would be ready to doze off after a long day, he would somersault like the circus performer he is and keep me up all night long.  These days, he gives nightly performances of Justin Bieber, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, and any other music he's into.  Concerts start at 2 am.

Noah is ambidextrous.  He favors the left hand for writing, eating, and other regular activities, but can switch it out if he feels like it.

Noah is extremely intelligent.  He is a second child who will not stand for second best.  Because Joey can read, Noah is teaching himself.  He knows all his letters, all their sounds, and can actually sound out whole words.

He is extremely logical and pragmatic.  Sometimes he hits his brother.  It works out for him because Joey will never hit back.  When questioned, Noah says calmly, "But he was annoying me," or, "But I wanted that toy, and he wouldn't give it to me."  He definitely feels bogged down by rules and manners.  It all just seems to get in the way.

Noah is loud.  And he's not always singing.  Sometimes he looks me in the eyes and glares, and yells, "GUTS" because he thinks it's a bad word.  Sometimes he squeaks.  He makes his voice at a pitch that's almost worthy of dog whistles and says, "SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK!!!"  After your ear drums recover, I suggest counting to ten and breathing in and out.

He's not a good waker-upper.  After finally getting rest, he will generally be in a better mood, but not for the first fifteen minutes after waking.  Then he has a frown worthy of Hades.  He throws all his most prized stuffed animals at anyone who dares to look at him.  He says things like, "Go aWAY.  I don't like ANYONE."  If you attempt to cajole or, God forbid, take him out of his bed, he makes his body EITHER A) stiff as a board or B) totally floppy like a wet noodle.  He SQUEEEEEEEAKS and flails and pretty much makes you want to jump out the nearest window.  Which is on the second floor.

Noah refused to use the potty until he was three years and four months old, and it was only because I gated him into the bathroom.  He was so mad, he sat down and pooped, and yelled, "THERE.  I did it. Can I get out of here and have a treat now?"

On a particularly low day, I ran out of legal discipline options and went with, "If you don't want to be a nice boy in Mommy's house, you can live in a different house."  I opened the back door and pointed at the yard, expecting tears, apologies, and maybe a hug.  But Noah said, "OKAY," and walked right out the door.  I called (in a total panic), "I really mean it, Noah!" and he called back, "Okay!  I'll go live at my playground!"

If I say, "No" about any certain thing, Noah will shrug and go find his dad, in search of a more pleasing answer.  If his dad also says "No," he lies to one of us about what the other said and does what he wants, anyway.  If you catch him and call him out on it, he says, "THEN I'M THE BOSS!"

Once, he walked by me with his hands behind his back.  He said, "I have no candy behind my back."

Noah also gets into fits of giggles where his eyes tear and his belly and shoulders shake.  He once said to me in the car, "My Mommy, I love you more than I love cookies."  He gives bear hugs and butterfly kisses, and sometimes comes to find me in the house just to say, "Momma, you are a beautiful momma."  He loves to snuggle and when he smiles at you, your heart will break into a million tiny pieces because it's like looking at personified sunshine.

And damn it, he really sings well.  Even at 2 in the morning.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Joey heard that ALL the moms were coming to his class's Thanksgiving celebration at school today, and he begged me to come, too.  I did not want to at all, but I could not tell him no.  And before I go further, I will say that Im glad I went because Joey was really, really happy every single second I was there.

Still, I've mentioned before how uncomfortable I feel going into classroom situations where I'm not the teacher.  It stems, I think, from a combination of two things.  One: contrary to popular belief, I'm actually painfully shy.  It's taken me a lot of personal effort to portray all the flair and spark you see out there in the world.  I think I've become so good at faking it, in fact, that in awkward moments I can't seem to crawl out of, people think I'm being rude or stand-offish.

The second thing is that I'm a total control freak.  No need to explain this one; I think it comes across loud and clear to all.

All the same, I didn't want to go today.  It also doesn't help that I'm taking time off from teaching, and there I was thrust back into the fray.

Joey's class was set up in centers, several separate tables designed for different activities.  I was put in charge of the Indian/Native American headdress station.  For a germophobe like me, this was especially tricky because it involved measuring children's heads for headdress sizes.  I had to touch their hair.  I handled that the same way I handle cleaning vomit.  Again, no further explanation necessary.

Anyway, it's been a long while now since I have done the whole teacher thing, and I have to admit, I easily fell into the old groove of dispensing materials, giving directions, and attending to all the various needs of each boy and girl.  That's actually what I'm best at, I think, and I did start to enjoy myself a bit.

After the activity was over, however, there was a prayer service.  Basically, I'd compare this to any school-wide assembly where all the kids are put together in a large space, whether it's an auditorium or the church where we sat today.  And this is where my stomach started to burn.

First of all, let me say that I don't think anybody else present was aware of the small annoying points I'm about to make.  I think they are the sorts of things that catch the eye ONLY of the Control Freak Teacher.  But certainly, they are the kinds of things I really can't tolerate in my own students.

While the priest was giving a speech on what being thankful is all about, or should be all about, I counted at least two students per class talking.

As an inspiration interlude, the principal pressed Play on a portable CD player and we all listened to a jazzy song about God and giving thanks.  Granted, it was completely cheesy, but I was not a fan of the smirks and eye rolls I saw from some overly comfortable older kids in the back.

And this was the kicker: When the priest asked the students to raise their hands and share what they were most grateful for this year, one kid raised his hand, stood up in church, and said, "Noodles."  The priest chuckled good-naturedly, but when he picked the next person, that kid stood up and also said, "Noodles."  There were about four "Noodle" responses in a row before the priest chose a darling younger child who said, "My family."

It was the Noodles that got me.  It was the Noodles that made me really, really glad I'm home with Joey and Noah this year.  It was the Noodles that prickled under my skin last year in my own classroom when I would close my eyes and count to ten and think, "Do I really want to be here with these NOODLES when I could be home doing something that matters to me?"

There was a time when I would have laughed at Noodles.  I would have laughed AND had a snappy comeback that would have ended an irritation before it started and allowed us to move onto more important things.  But right now, I'm doing something way better than coming up with snappy comebacks for Noodles.

I think I know what I'm most thankful for this year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nothing Like A Sister

I had to share a pink bedroom with my sister until I was thirteen.  Actually, wait.  When I was first born, my parents didn't know what to do with me, so they put me in the bathroom.  I'm not exactly sure how much time passed before they put my crib in the bedroom with Janie, but I'm willing to bet it was shortly after my grandfather found out and said, "What the hell do you mean, you keep her in the bathroom??"

It was very important to Jane, who is six years older than me, that I understood from the get-go that the pink bedroom--pink being HER favorite color--was primarily hers and that, for me, it was simply a place to rest my head at night.  Being me, I couldn't just let that go.  I felt an inherent need to stand up for myself.  To throw my body against the door slamming in my face and heave my way into a room where, no, I wasn't wanted, but where I felt I had a certain right to be.

At age three, I carved my full name--Mary Pat Michalek--into the window sill.

At age four, I stole my sister's markers and drew all over the walls.  And my face, but everyone was more upset about the walls.

At age seven, I created a make-shift swing by swagging a blanket between our bedposts.  They collapsed, the canopies falling on top of me.  The bedposts could not be repaired, so we could never have canopies again.  And the posts always leaned funny after that.

When I was nine I set up a "science lab" using Dixie cups filled with sugar water, which attracted ants (to this day I can hear my sister's shrill voice screaming, "ANTS LOOOOVE SUGAR WATER!  How could you NOT KNOW that?").

I was also generally untidy, but I think that was just endearing.

Periodically, I would enter the pink bedroom to find territories marked off by masking tape.  My bed would be a lonely little island in the far corner of the room.  There was no way to reach the bed without Trespassing, which was strictly forbidden.  Obviously.


When I was five there was a thunderstorm.  The huge kind where the windows rattle and the lightning makes it look like daylight in the room.  Janie scooched over in her bed and made room for me.  She let me share her pillow and she rubbed my back.

When I was six she bought me my first ever Barbie with her own money, and helped me build a dollhouse in our closet out of boxes.  She showed me how to make up stories with the dolls and gave me a whole four square feet to play.

When I was thirteen and we got our own rooms, Jane took me out to celebrate.  She took me to the mall, and bought me lunch in the food court.  We had our pictures taken in one of those little photo booths, and she confided in me about a boy she liked.

When I was sixteen and I liked a boy, she let me lay on her bed and she told me that if any boy got to really know me, he wouldn't be able to help but love me.

When I was nineteen and I hated living at home, she let me visit her at her new house with her new husband any time I wanted.  And she took me out for doughnuts.

When I was twenty-two and my life briefly fell to pieces, we both went back to my parents' house, went up to the pink bedroom room, and laid on the bed while she promised me everything would be okay.

When I was twenty-four and looking the absolutely most beautiful I ever had or ever will, she leaned over and whispered, "I've never, ever seen a happier groom than Joe."

When I was twenty-five and afraid my infant son was in life-threatening danger because he'd been asleep for five hours straight, I called her and she said, "He's fine.  It's fine.  You're doing everything right."

I don't know when she became the best friend I can't live without.  Maybe it's just something about starting out life in a bathroom and then moving in together.  But...is there anything better than a sister?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bubble, Bubble, Pasta Pot

Tonight I did something I've waited all my life to do.  I hosted Sunday Dinner.

Sunday Dinners began in my family by accident.  My mother cooked Sauce every Sunday because my dad loves it, and then Mondays were leftover days.  Over time, it kind of became famous.  Everybody who has tried my mother's Sauce loves it, and since it was regularly cooked on Sunday, scoring the big invite (or, these days, inviting oneself) became a Thing.

As a kid I never really understood the appeal.  I hated that my family was "weird" and had Sunday Sauce, and I boycotted and protested like crazy.  Each week my mother stood at her pot like Strega Nona, and she would ask people, "How hungry are you?"  I don't know why she asks, because she gives everyone the same amount: A LOT.  But when she got to me, I'd say, "Only a little, and NO SAUCE."  My mom never said anything.  She always gave me the plain noodles and let it go.

As I got older, it changed from "no sauce" to a "raindrop of sauce."  And then when I eventually moved out and realized, Oh, hey, cooking isn't quite as easy as Mom makes it look, well, I really began to look forward to Sundays.  And Sauce.  Now that we're all grown up, Sunday Dinner is the meeting place for the Original 5.  My parents and my brother and sister, and all of our children.  And usually, my grandparents come, and then...well, whoever else.  My mother will never turn anyone away (not even if she's remodeling and it's the construction workers), and she always has enough.  Always.

There are about four Sundays a year when my mother doesn't do Sunday Dinner.  They usually involve events taking place elsewhere, and it should be said that my dad gets pretty grumpy about it.  Usually, on the D-L, my mom cooks a pot of Sauce anyway and serves my dad his spaghetti BEFORE they go out.

On those Sundays when my mom isn't cooking, my sister usually picks up the slack.  Jane's been a grownup pretty much as long as I can remember, so I can't recall the first time she ever made her own Sauce.  All I know is, Jane, like my mom, has the whole process down and makes it look, really, really easy.  Her meatballs are delicious, her salad dressing is tangy and fabulous, and she thoughtfully remembers everybody's personal preferences for breads, drinks, and desserts.  And she uses a tablecloth, a nice touch my mom never bothers with.

I realized yesterday that this would be one of those Sundays my mom wasn't cooking.  Before my sister could even think, I blurted, "CAN I MAKE THE SAUCE??" with a level of enthusiasm that I'm pretty sure left her feeling totally obligated.  I envisioned lit candles, and a whole lot of oohing and aahing.  Basically, since my mom and sister could do it, I figured it was a blood thing.  Of course I could do it, too--and it would be worthy of Better Homes and Gardens.  HGTV would be knocking at my door wondering what smelled so amazing.  Martha Stewart would call for tips.  Or, at the very least, my mom and sister would be really proud of me.

Let me put this simply, to save time and embarrassment. Blackened garlic bread.  Sour salad.  Horrible, horrible meatballs.

I'd like to say that my mom and sister are just plain amazing.  And I'm not, apparently.

Not yet. ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Conference Day

Tomorrow morning I have a Parent/Teacher Conference at Joey's school.  I'm extremely nervous.  I think I've mentioned before that I feel a little uncomfortable on the other side of the desk in a classroom. 

I have been a teacher for eleven years.  In that time, I have had conferences with parents numbering in the hundreds.  I know I'm prone to exaggeration at times, but this isn't one of those times.  I can prepare for a parent conference like nobody's business--because that's the business I'm in.  Go to the computer.  Review the grades.  Make a complete printout of all grades for the quarter (and if it's pertinent, previous quarters) to give Mom, Dad, Stepparent, Legal Advocate, Grandparent, and, once, weird guest whose presence no one really understood.  Next stop, writing portfolio (I'm an English teacher).  Review all writing pieces the child has completed, photocopy anything worth noting--good or bad.  Place all things in a paperclip, have pen and paper handy to take notes during the meeting.  

When a parent asks me questions, I want to be able to answer honestly and constructively.  If the child needs help, I want to know how I can best give it.  If I believe the parent can do something fairly simple, I am ready to suggest it.  If the home life needs an overhaul, I bite my tongue, smile politely, and ache inside for the child.  Unfortunately, the latter is usually the case in my field.

But tomorrow, I am walking in with nothing but Joey's report card.  It is a report card filled with glowing comments and praise, and yet, I'm not wholly satisfied.  In first grade, where there are no tests and no number grades, I can't help but think the grading system is all a bit arbitrary--and this from a teacher who firmly believes that grades are secondary to the human being earning them.  Not all children are smart in the same way, but it doesn't mean they aren't smart.  Grades are not always the measure of greatness.

And yet...well, this is my son.  I've known him since he was a nugget in my belly, and I'm telling you seriously: he was one smart nugget.  He has now grown into a first grader who is reading well beyond what I'm used to seeing in--get ready--the eighth grade.  I'm not kidding.  He can read out loud with expression and emotion.  His comprehension is astonishing, and his ability to process abstract ideas and concepts is above average.  And while I hate math myself, I can say that he knows his facts without pause.  I have seen him do his work, and it's like watching a little machine.  His hand flies over the paper marking answers without error.

So why are his grades not all perfect?  I know I can't march into this classroom at 8 am tomorrow morning demanding answers; that was never well-received when I was in the teacher role.  But I also can't think of a time when I ever graded a child lower than they deserved.  Of course, I deal in points and numbers at the middle school level.  

Which brings me to what is actually my biggest fear.  Could Joey's teacher not know how smart he is?  Could you be reading this and grimacing, wondering if perhaps I have overrated my son?

I definitely have not.  I could give a heaping list of his shortcomings, and believe me, he has them.  If this were about his artistic ability, I might be chagrined and say, "Well, that particular thing isn't his strong suit."  But it isn't about artistic ability.  It isn't even about conduct, if you can believe it (although he is a lovely behaved boy).  

I once heard a fellow mom sharing the tale of her first Parent/Teacher Conference.  "The teacher told me he was just average," she said.  "And I had to accept that.  Nothing wrong with average.  They can't all be superstars."

I think that is just about the worst thing I've ever heard.  She walked into that meeting believing her son was special, and walked out thinking different because someone told her to?  That's going to shape that boy's life! There are certainly exceptions to everything, and certainly I get that if every child was "above average" they would be simply be, by definition, average.  But doesn't everyone have their stellar qualities?  Aren't I more above average at some things (like complaining, for example) than others?

We cannot ever, ever forget that children will carry our impressions of them around for their entire lives.  If my mother and father had looked at me once in my life and said, "Sorry, kiddo, you're just mediocre," I don't think I would be half of what I am today.  I would never have set goals, I would never have worked to reach them.  I would have sat back, shrugged my shoulders, taken what came, and said, "It's fine.  It's not great, but it's fine."  What the hell kind of way is that to live your life?  To settle?  To not strive for the very best you can make your life become?  And seeing the gifts that Joey has, seeing the environment he is growing in, I can't think for a moment that the best he is is anything less than Absolute Superstar.

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow morning.  I can't beat up Joey's teacher if she doesn't say what I want her to.  Besides it being illegal, she's quite old and it wouldn't be a fair fight.  But I do know that I need there to be a consensus that Yes, my son is extremely intelligent, and Yes, there is something that can be done about raising these marks to be what I think they should be.  Maybe he rushes.  Maybe he's sloppy.  Maybe he burps out loud.  As a teacher, I can say I don't much care for the Burpers (or the Nose Pickers: GAG).  

But what if this teacher won't acknowledge what I know to be true?  What then?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vacation, Please

Highlights of my day.

Kidney stone surgery at 6:30 am.  I completely love going to Buffalo Ambulatory Surgery Center because the nurses are like fairy godmothers, the anesthesiologist tells really funny jokes, and my urologist makes me blush and giggle like a moron.

Arrived home at 9:30 am to a blessedly quiet and empty house to rest.  Drank 900 gallons of water and slept.  Woke often to make sure I didn't drown.

11:45 am: Noah comes home.

Noah has decided it is no longer okay that Mommy doesn't feel well.  He has decided he will  be as bad as a three-year-old can be to just to be clear that it's not acceptable for me to be lazying around in pain.  Awesome afternoon, let me tell you.

Joey's bus arrived home fifteen minutes early.  I was in the bathroom saving myself from drowning (and by the way, without giving TMI, this is a really big deal when you've just had kidney stones blasted). I exited the bathroom and noticed my Greek neighbors staring in my windows.  The wife was wearing a full length fur coat and I'm pretty sure they were trying to see me in the bathroom.  I felt violated.  But then I heard the bus beeping and I realized the neighbors (who really are lovely people and way too couth to be staring into people's bathrooms from their driveways) were wondering where the heck I was.  I raced to the door, flung it open, just as the bus driver was ushering Joey back on the bus to take him God-knows-where.  I yelled, "NO!  WAIT!  I'm HERE!!!!!!!"  The road is about three hundred feet from my house, so I'm hoping the gesture the bus driver gave me was all five fingers, and not just one.  Luckily, Joey was permitted to leave the bus.

Joey clearly forgot that I had surgery today, and came in like wildfire.  "Mom!  I have to read THREE stories!  You have to read TWO IMPORTANT NOTES in my backpack!  I got invited to a birthday party!  I want popcorn!  I'm really thirsty!  Where's my change of clothes?  Where's Grandma?"

This litany quickly progressed into a Loudness Competition with Noah, until the two began shoving each other out of the way (all the better for me to focus on one of them--so thoughtful).

The day really exploded from here, and now, at 7:21 my boys are in bed and I am, too.

A lot of people might think me taking this year off from work is a lovely vacation, and let me be clear: I have never been happier.  Seriously.

But seriously.  I need a vacation from this "vacation."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Best Fictional Moms

Here are some of my "Mom" role models: Andy's Mom (Toy Story). Caroline Ingalls.  The Wicked Stepmother (Cinderella).  June Cleaver.  And of course, all the real-life moms I've been surrounded by my whole life: my grandma, my aunts, family friends, my sister, and my own off-the-charts Mom.

I think there's a recipe for greatness.  I don't have any idea about what turns out good humans as I'm only a beginner, but I definitely am learning what it takes just to survive being a mom and to do a decent daily job of it.  It is a combination of the people I've named above.  Without shooting glory at anyone I actually know (the real-life moms), I'll just point out a few of the more admirable qualities in the fictional matrons.  (I know Caroline Ingalls actually lived, but be real here: I'm totally zeroing in on the TV series one played by Karen Grassle.)

Andy's Mom from Toy Story.  What makes her great?  Well, for starters, she's a single mom but doesn't let it drag her down.  In the first movie, she's moving her children to a better neighborhood (she's successful).  In the second movie, she refuses to sell Woody to Al (of Al's Toy Barn) despite his generous offer.  In the third movie, we see the amazing person she has raised: a kind yet sentimental young man who's going off to college.  Andy's Mom is patient, she has a sense of humor, she's firm, and she really, really loves her children.  And they know it.  She's also fun.  She let Andy leave those birthday decorations up even after his party was over in Movie 1.

Caroline Ingalls.  Where do I begin?  Seriously, this is the woman who made it a joy to be "Mom" when you played house as a kid.  I remember when I scored the coveted role, I'd instantly bun my hair and smile serenely.  So is that it?  Her serenity?  But we mustn't forget how much she laughed, the way her eyes danced so merrily at the husband she loved so much or the way her girls constantly surprised her.  She was firm: homework and Bible study every day.  And of course, she could cook.  She opened her own restaurant for goodness sake!  How progressive!  And like Andy's Mom: she always put her family first.  They knew she cared.

The Wicked Stepmother.  Perhaps you thought I was kidding?  Not at all.  I actually believe there has to be a point where the children fear you.  I'm not confusing this with respect at all, which is quite nice on its own.  I mean that when things go too far (and they generally do with children, at some point or another), a tone in my voice and an expression on my face needs to put a healthy fear of God (and me)  in my boys so that they will stop, drop, and be silenced.  There's a lot of hype about how children should want to be good, do well, and succeed for themselves.  That's all well and good, but there needs to be a starting point where simply learn to do the things first.   And I really begins that starts with a fear of, "What will Mom say?" 

June Cleaver.  Patient, kind, loving, a good cook.  But also, she looked really good day after day.  I think that counts for a lot.  Take care of yourself, too--it gives you the energy and the willpower to maintain all the other qualities necessary for successful mothering.

Fictional Moms I'm not that into: Carol Brady.  Auntie Em (not a mom, but in the role nonetheless).  And what's up with the mom in Sleeping Beauty?  It's not selfless to send your infant daughter off with addle-brained fairies (much as I enjoy watching the movie).  It's stupid.  Fake your own death and escape with the daughter in the night.  Raise her yourself in the woodcutter's cottage.  Or maybe that's just the control freak in me.

Now for the confession.  I'm not always patient.  Sometimes I'm more Wicked Stepmother than Caroline Ingalls.  Sometimes, I just wear sweatpants and think, "Screw you, June."  But these are the faces swirling in my mind when I'm wondering, "What do I want to look like to my children?  How do I want them to perceive me?"

There are days when Joey grumbles, "Get Mom some coffee."  When Noah says, "You're a MEAN Mommy!"  And there are even days when my husband says, "Geez, Mar."

But I was feeling pretty good tonight when we were superhero-ing ourselves at bedtime.  Joey said, "My superpower would be my IMAGINATION!"

Noah said, "My superpower is my--" he leapt into the air and landed with jazz hands, "DANCE MOVES."

"What's mine?" I asked them.

"Your love," said Joey.  "It's your magic power that keeps us safe."

I may not be perfect at it, but I really love being a Mom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Facebook Freak

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I'm a little addicted to Facebook (and also: SCARVES, but that's not really pertinent here).  I love seeing what the people I know are up to.  I've scored some pretty great ideas for family activities, outings, and things to tell my children in picklish situations.   I've received moral support, been mocked by my family (a given both online and reality), shared secrets, and, apparently, made many people laugh at my general tendency toward comical misfortune.

But here's a major drawback.  Picture this.

I'm shopping at Wegmans, pushing my really huge cart through the overwhelmingly wonderful aisles.  I'm navigating around angry old people and slow perusers (at whom I mentally holler, GET OUT OF THE WAY!).  I am waiting for access to the milk fridge.  And then it happens.  A seemingly random person turns around.  Maybe they're wearing a signature ear-flap hat, or distinctive blue eye shadow, but the point is: I recognize them.

I recognize them, and I know their name.  I possibly know their likes and dislikes, and the types of things they say in various situations.  Who are they?  They are the Friends of Friends.

The Friends of Friends cause me grief.  At these moments when I'm waiting for the skim milk, or the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or the Clorox wipes, I see their faces and my brain is instantly screaming, "Hi, Barbara!" or whoever this person is that I most certainly know of.  But that's just it: I don't actually know them, and there's no guarantee that they have ever heard of me.   And it's only been really good luck thus far that I haven't embarrassed myself by actually crying out the person's name, along with DETAILS: "I completely agreed with you that the Water For Elephants book was so much better than the movie!"  Because technically, I'm not really supposed to know that this person thinks that.  They weren't actually talking to me about Water For Elephants.  

Yet Facebook has created this reality where I know far more about people than they realize.  I know what their children look like, what they do on weekends, and sometimes where they live.   With some people, I think of them in terms of their full names: First, Middle, Last, or First, Maiden, Married.  So in Wegmans, I not only recognize Barbara, but my mind is frenetically saying, "Barbara Broms Bernstead!  Barbara Broms Bernstead!"  And if I scream THAT out in Wegmans, Barbara would probably assume I was some insane freak from her high school class who has been "following" her life for the last twenty years, when I really, I'm...I'm....

I'm a Facebook freak. :(

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ode to Joe

Sometimes he slurps pop.

Sometimes he smells funky.

Sometimes he is really, really crabby about work, but acts all indignant if you call him out on it.

Sometimes he interrupts the romantic part in a movie with a joke.

Sometimes he's too loud.

Sometimes he says the exact opposite of what any normal person knows is acceptable.

Sometimes he snores.

Sometimes he leaves dirty plates in the family room.

Sometimes he brags about what his SAT score was FIFTEEN years ago.

Sometimes he makes large, unnecessary messes in my kitchen.

Sometimes he hides his razor from me.

Sometimes he pretends he's going to use my toothbrush, just to freak me out.

Sometimes he makes me so mad I swear it makes me want to...want to pluck out all his nosehairs and eyebrows while he's sleeping.  One by one.  Because I think that would hurt a lot.

With all of that, I still feel better about everything in the world when he walks in.  

Good night.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Going For a Spin

Having children does nothing for my self esteem.

We were heading to Grandma Judy's for dinner, but discovered she was not yet home from work.  Ignoring my feelings of disgruntled irritation (I really wish people would just drop everything and be THERE for me already), I suggested to the boys that we "go for a spin."  They responded with their usual enthusiasm; this is one of their favorite things to do.

At Halloween, we like to go through neighborhoods and shout out about the best Halloween decorations. At Christmastime, we drive around to see the twinkly lights.  Today, there was nothing much to see so we just drove through town with the radio playing.

The radio is kind of a pain.  First of all, in this age of "On Demand" everything, Noah and Joey really don't understand that I really can't just make Bon Jovi come on.  Or Selena Gomez.  Or the Glee version of "Forget You," because they think Cee-Lo sounds weird.  Additionally, Joey listens to the radio on the bus, and thinks he knows what's up.  He shouts at me as I try to drive and radio surf, "Put on FM 96!  Put on FM 96!  It's the BEST!" Noah can't EVER be outdone (or outshouted) so he begins yelling, "I want 'Baby, Baby!'  Put on Justin Bieber!"

To combat this, I put on my favorite oldies stations and turn the music up really loud.  The boys are super offended by oldies--I have no idea why because they are awesome...?  Anyway, today "Happy Together" by the Turtles was playing and I was really feeling the groove as we approached an intersection.  I mean I was really belting out, and was just getting into the fantasy that a music producer would pull up alongside my car with papers to sign me up because I was singing THAT well when Joey exploded into coughs and gags in the back seat.  Joey, who is prone to carsickness and, also, random, meaningless (but gross nonetheless) vomiting.

Luckily, the light was red.  I whirled around in horror.  "Are you okay??"

He smiled serenely.  "Yes, I'm fine," he said.

I turned around and was just about to chorus, "Me and you, and you and me," when suddenly I froze.  I turned back at Joey who was staring at me.

"Were you trying to get me to stop singing?" I asked.

"Well, Mom, sometimes I just like to hear the music, if you know what I mean."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hey, Mom, There's Something In the Bathroom...

Today was a day that a blog entry formed itself before my very eyes, before my very eyes even wanted to open.

Today is Air Duct Day in our house, which means we (I) hired a company to come and suck out all the dirt, guck, dust, and germs from all the airways in our house.  Every year Joey and Noah get colds that don't go away and aren't really contagious to anyone, and this was one of the things recommended to help that (and we know the REST of my house is clean, don't we).

But this meant that men would be showing up at my house at 8:00.  I take Joey to school just before that, so I was feel a bit harried.  I couldn't get Joey to school too early, but I also couldn't NOT be here when the Duct Men arrived.

That's not all.  Joe is away for work again today, and the Duct Men required a lot of prerequisite work.  Man's Work: moving furniture out of the way.  I had to do all that, too.  I meant to do it last night, but Glee was on and then I was so awfully tired....

Being awfully tired meant that I skipped my night shower and had to take one this morning, plus move the furniture, plus all the regular stuff (making breakfast, cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, and dressing the boys for school which is like trying to put clothes on two jellyfish, I swear).

Being awfully tired was an awfully big mistake.

Of course I overslept.

Then Noah took twenty years to eat four French Toast Sticks.  And dripped sticky Mrs. Butterworth's every which everywhere.  He said, "Mommy, I just don't want to eat anymore.  My tummy hurts."

"Can you eat a cookie?"


"Then eat your French Toast Sticks."

"But my tummy hurts."  Ugh!  You need to understand, Noah is a Master Manipulator.  One day, to help me out while I was sick, my mom came over to help me put the boys to bed.  Bedtime is a no-nonsense routine that takes fifteen minutes.  Period.  Bath, jammies, teeth, story, GOOD NIGHT.  No frills.  No lingering, lovey conversations.  Imagine my surprise when I finished up with Joey and saw Noah's light was still on.  Imagine my surprise when I opened his door and found MY MOTHER, the QUEEN of No Nonsense (the one person in the world I would have pegged as impossible to manipulate), lying in Noah's bed beside him, giggling and snuggling.  "I'll finish up," I said.  When I went downstairs, she greeted me with, "You weren't kidding about him.  He REALLY thought he was going to manipulate me."  I said, "Mom.  He totally did."

So this morning, I said, "Eat the French Toast Sticks."

Next I ran through the house moving the furniture (3 couches, 1 console table, 1 baker's rack, 1 nightstand, 1 giant globe, and 2 dressers; not that any of things actually BLOCK vents, because I have a complex about that, but they were infringing on the required four square feet of space near all vents).

At this point I was sweating and it was 7:20.  The boys were in the playroom.  I poked my head and said in the Serious Voice Reserved For Serious Moments, like serial killers invading our home, "Mommy's taking a shower.  Do NOT fight and do NOT leave this room."  Both boys nodded, well, seriously, and said, "Yes, Mommy."

I tried to take the World's Fastest Shower, but it made no difference.  As I stepped out, Joey was screaming.  "MOMMY!  MOMMY!  NOAH POOPED HIS PANTS AND IT'S ON THE FLOOR!!"

Noah was already yelling, "I'm sorry!  I'm so, so sorry!" as I raced through the house leaving footprinty puddles and clutching my stupid towel.  I was about to curse the world and cry out, "WHYYYYYY?" when I realized exactly why.  All the pieces fell into place.

Noah tried to tell me his tummy hurt.  I told Noah, in My Serious Voice, to NOT leave the playroom.

It was kind of (totally) my fault that he had his first accident since being potty trained.

But then I had to clean him.  Clean the poop.  Remove all traces of poop from the carpet (SHOUT! it out!).  Disinfect the carpet.  Disinfect Noah.  Disinfect me.  Get dressed.  Put on makeup (because the people of Joey's school REALLY care what I look like).  Dress the boys.  Hide the laundry.  Put their coats on (WHY do they become unhelpful snails when it's time to put on coats?  They WANT to go out...).

On the way to school, we hit every light.  I got trapped behind a bus and a minivan.  Don't even get me STARTED on minivans.  Pulled into school, there was some jerk blocking the driveway.  Drop Joey off, watch him mosey at .2 mile per hour into the school, stopping twice to readjust his backpack.  Fly home.

When the Duct Men arrived?  I opened the door calmly.  I smiled.   I said, "Come in, come in."   The picture of Normal.

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I really hate cliches, and I hate it even more when they are the only appropriate thing that comes to mind in a situation.  Like today.  

When it rains, it pours.

I took this year off from work to be home with my children.  To balance being 100% devoted to your children and working a full-time job outside your home, well, it's REALLY hard.  Even when we give Working Moms a lot of credit, we're not giving them enough.  

I wanted to bake cookies, read stories, do crafts, sing songs, and just be more of a presence to my boys.  Up until now, I'd been dealing with medical problems that made me anything but crafty.

And last week, I had my surgery.  My long-anticipated, seeming-never-to-come surgery--the one that would fix everything.  I feel like a new woman.  I'm all settled down to bake cookies, read stories, do crafts, sing songs, and be more of a presence to my boys.  And then today...well, my family had some bad news.

My grandmother is sick.  We have been worried about her for a long while now, since last May or June.  It's been a slow process.  A lot of careful testing and tip-toeing around what everyone feared would be.  Today we had our fears confirmed, and I feel sick all over again.  But instead of the physical pain, it's the other kind.  The kind that gets inside and squeezes your heart and turns your belly inside out and goes up behind your eyes and sucks out all the water so they feel dry and prickly.  That kind of pain.  And never mind the worry we feel about what my grandmother must be feeling.

I could go into how wonderful she is, but I can't do it tonight.  I can't get into it tonight, because I know I've always taken her for granted and God forgive me, but I just want to keep taking her for granted. She's in her eighties and she's a marathon runner and she's beautiful and her life is full and good and that's everything to be thankful for.  But I want it to stay this way.  Like a little kid, I'm closing my eyes really tight and hanging on to what's right in front of me.  

Deep Breath.

On the upside of things, Noah went to vote with Mommy and Grandma Judy today and scored a free pen.  He calls it his "Wucky Pen," and carries it everywhere.  

Joey and I are excited that I will go into school and read his class a story tomorrow.  He's a little nervous about my reading style.  He said, "Mo-om.  You can't be like THAT.  Moms are just supposed to read quietly and ask us questions.  WE get to be all fun and wild."

I said, "And how am I reading?  What's so bad about it?"

He pointed to his head and twirled his finger around and around: the Crazy Sign.  

And the three of us dealt with a Giant Ladybug Attack tonight.  Man, I hate those things.  Did you know that they are impervious to Lysol?  Don't worry.  We handled ourselves.  We had to--it was us or the Ladybugs.

And that's what I'll keep on doing in every aspect: Handling myself.  Life's tricky that way, isn't it?  It doesn't really matter if you think something is too much to deal with.  When it's happening, it's happening.  All you can do is...keep going.  One day at a time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taking Out the Trash

Am I the only old-fashioned girl left who believes the husband should take out the garbage?  Forgive me for what I'm about to say, but...it's Man's Work.

I know, I know what you're thinking.  You'll be shocked to know I have a story that matches your thoughts.

In high school, if any of my friends had to work, it was fairly routine that the rest of the gang would swing by and visit to make the hours a little more enjoyable for said friend.  One time, we stopped to see my friend Carolyn who worked at a little hamburger place in South Buffalo.  We went in, kind of giggled through our orders (because it's a little funny to order food through a friend, I guess), and sat down.

While were eating, Carolyn came out from behind the counter to chat and introduce us to a coworker.  I don't remember the coworker's name, but I do remember that it was clear Carolyn had talked about all of us to her friend, because with each name, she gave a nice little, "You know, the one who..." and everybody felt complimented by the whole thing.

When Carolyn got to me, she said, "And this Mary Pat.  She's a princess."

I was not offended.  On the contrary, I was thrilled that she got it so right.  She tried to gently tell me later that it might not be the compliment I thought it was, but I was okay with it.  Still am.

I was definitely ALL princess today, as I lugged two VERY heavy, oversized Rubbermaid garbage cans the three hundred feet from my garage to the end of my driveway.  And I was having THOUGHTS.  Things like, "I can't BELIEVE my husband forgot to do this," and, "Probably EVERYONE driving by is feeling really sorry for me because these garbage cans are huge and I am clearly hurting myself."  I definitely pulled a muscle in my back, by the way.

And yes, there were brief interludes of, "I am so empowered, I am Taking Out the Trash," but it was all overshadowed by, "I am so getting Joe back for this."

I really can't think of any good revenge ideas right now, mostly because I'm so flustered by the whole experience (in a heated argument the best I can come up with is, "I know you are but what am I?"), but I'm open to suggestions if you have any.

EXCEPT "Suck it up, MP."  That one's no good.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

You Make Me Feel So Young

As a Middle School teacher, I don't think I've yet reached the pinnacle of Age Jokes.  A few students have tried to make them because they recognize that insulting your teacher's age in a light-hearted moment will earn you laughter and peer approval (and, in most cases, a good-natured eye roll from the teacher herself), but really at 32, I don't really feel that the "Old" jokes have hit me hard.  I'll definitely acknowledge that some things those ratty yet lovable tweens come out with are definite indicators that they simply have no concept of age, but that's not quite the same thing.  In a whimsical Friday afternoon poll, I learned that my students determine my age anywhere between "23?" and "like, 50."  Basically, I'm a Grownup.  I'll take it.

But my son and HIS contemporaries are another story.  Somehow, that seven year gap seems to make all the difference.  Or is it my role as Mom?  I'm not sure.

Today, while out shopping, Joey (6) and his BFF/Cousin spotted nutcrackers among the various Christmas decorations newly on display.

"What's a nutcracker?" asked my nephew.  "Does it really crack nuts?"

"Well, THESE don't," I said.  "But I think they actually were used to crack real nuts in the Olden Days."

I was figuring that, like me, anything labeled "Olden Days" would bring to mind any one of the Little House on the Prairie episodes, or, if you're pushing it, maybe The Waltons.

I was wrong.

My nephew dropped the topic, but a little while later returned to me with his large questioning (challenging) brown eyes.

"So, when you were little you REALLY used nutcrackers to crack nuts?"

I'm a little slow on the uptake.  I went to correct the little chap with, "No, I said they used them in the Olden Days."

"Right," he said.  "When you were little?"

It's rough, but I'm getting used to the insults.  And they aren't limited to age.  Here are just a few of the things Joey has said in recent months that have REALLY boosted my self-image:

"Mom, it's so nice that your face looks sun-burned ALL the time, even in the winter."  Yeah.  I have splotchy skin.

I kissed Joey on the cheek and teased, "I got lipstick on you." But he was unaffected.  "Yeah, right, Mom.  You don't look like you're wearing any makeup AT ALL."

On the beach, in a two-piece bathing suit that has since been incinerated,"I just love those fancy stripes on your belly."  This was in reference to the stretch marks that my husband INSISTED were "just in my head."

And my absolute favorite, delivered in moments of absolute seriousness:
"Yeah, but Mom, you're CRAZY."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Memory Lane: The Grape Jelly

The night I met Joe was not the introduction to the world's most perfect romance, and anyone who knows us well knows that.  There was a lot of Bad Timing through high school and definitely through college, but I think two things made it all end so well.  One is that we stayed friends pretty much no matter what, because we genuinely liked each other.  There's a lot of magic in meeting someone new and "falling in love"--those fantastic beginnings in relationships where everything is fresh and wonderful and exhilarating.  What Joe and I had was friendship, and magical moments.  And like any girl who got her happy ending, I've held on to all of them.

Senior year in high school was probably among the best in my life (though I admit I've had a lot of Good Years).  I had finally overcome many of my issues with self-consciousness and uncertainty, and learned to--really--just be myself.  I had realized that there are actually people out there who will like me for who I am, and constantly trying to be anything else just isn't worth it.

I had more friends this year than I'd ever had before, and probably have had since.  They were good friends, too.  There are two that are contained within every memory of that year, and they are Alice and Carolyn.

One cold night in November, Alice and Carolyn drove to my house and picked me up.  Our plan was to go nowhere.  No, we were't staying at my house.  Absolutely not.  We had access to a CAR!   Instead, we were going to drive around town and enjoy the freedom of Driving Around Town.  And hope to be seen by other people also Driving Around Town.  Because if you're a senior in high school who doesn't drink much, doesn't try to get into bars, and stays away from illegal drugs, Driving Around Town is Awesome.

"Where should we go?" Alice asked, pulling out of my driveway into a dark and snowy night.

"Hmm, I don't know," said Carolyn.  "Any ideas, Mary Pat?"

"You know what would be SO funny?" I asked, trying to sound like this was a complete whim and I had zero personal interest vested in the idea.  "Driving by Joe Bielecki's house."

It should be said I hadn't talked to Joe in quite awhile.  Periodically one of us might call the other for a, "Hey How Are You" but as for hanging out, it had been at least since summer.  But Alice knew Joe well enough through her boyfriend Pat, and that meant Carolyn knew him, too.

And let's face it.  They both knew I was secretly in love with Joe.

So after a little bit of straining our memories (or me pretending to), we found our way through the wintry streets of Western New York to Joe's neighborhood.  Alice pulled through the turn with extreme care and caution, one of the few decent adolescent drivers ever, and as her headlights fell on the street where Joe lived, they also fell on a lone figure walking.

It was a blond teenaged boy wearing a Canisius High School varsity jacket (complete with white leather sleeves; eat your heart out).

"Is...is that Joe?" asked Alice.

"Why is he just walking down the street?" I wondered aloud.

"We're totally stopping, Mary Pat," Carolyn declared.

My heart started racing.  It was pounding.  It was November in Buffalo and my hands were sweating and I was pretty sure the walls of Alice's mom's car were closing in around me. Alice was pulling the car over to the sidewalk.  Joe was walking away from us, so he didn't know we were there. (How did he not hear us?  It was a suburban neighborhood on a silent winter night and no one else was around.  I say he's LUCKY it was just a trio of girls.)

I quickly took stock of the situation.  Alice and Carolyn were seated in the front.  I was in the back.  If Joe got into the car, he'd be in the back seat with me.

"Do I look okay?" I squeaked as Carolyn rolled down her window.

"You look fine," she said without turning around.  "Beautiful."

"You're not looking!"

Alice faced me and made reassuring eye contact.  "You look fine, MP."

By now, Joe was slowing his pace and turning around.  I scooted over to the window and rolled down it down.


He squinted his eyes to see in our windows (which was stupid since I'm pretty sure I was hanging out of it from the waist up), and recognition dawned in his face.

"Al?  MP?" he said uncertainly, and walked over to us.  Yeah, I guess it wasn't nearly so casual as I'd hoped.  He lived pretty out of the way and his street led to nothing but other streets within the subdivision so there was really no way we were just passing through.

"Hey!" I said with forced cheer.  Sound Fun and Exciting, sound Fun and Exciting.  "Wanna go for a ride?"

"Sure," he said, and actually climbed in.  I slid back over behind Alice and made room for him.  He brought with him the smell of outside, and the distinct Smell of Boy.  The good kind.

As I've said before, we had no actual destination in mind and scrambled quickly to make it look like we were trying to figure one out just before we "happened" upon Joe.  He suggested Friendly's Ice Cream, and off we went.

The waitress seated us in the back of the restaurant, probably because we were automatically deemed trouble-making teenagers (even though the trouble-making sort would probably be off binge drinking, doing illegal drugs, or trying to get into a bar, as far as I could figure).  It was a four-seater booth, and Alice and Carolyn immediately and smirkily slid into one side of it together.  My favorite part of it is that I had never once had to say, "Make sure I sit by Joe," or "Joe really gets my blood racing."  They just knew, like good friends should.

I slid into the booth with what I hoped was the right amount of perk and confidence: a fun girl with personality.  I immediately picked up my laminated menu, as though ordering was the only thing on my mind.  Joe slid in next to me with the ease and grace of a teenaged boy a bit too large for the booth.

We ordered and passed the time playing Truth or Dare (very Disney Channel) and always choosing Truth since we weren't the sort of trouble-makers who'd cause a ruckus at Friendly's.  I was conscious of every move Joe made.  That he laughed at all my jokes, and seemed to look directly at me even when Alice and Carolyn were talking (and that's awkward when you're in the same side of the booth).  Suddenly, he leaped out of the booth.

"I'm going to the bathroom," he said, and disappeared.

Alice and Carolyn exploded.

"He likes you," they said together.  I felt my face grow hot and stretch into the kind of smile that hurts an makes you feel like should do nothing but try to stop smiling as soon as possible.

I barely had a chance to get involved in a serious questioning of, "Why do you think so?" "What did it mean when  he...?"  because suddenly, there was Joe, back at the booth.  He was smiling.

He slid onto the bench we were sharing, his arm sliding across the back behind my neck. I felt my hair move against his sleeve.  He leaned very close to me and looked quite boldly into my eyes with what I can only describe as a Twinkle.  Across the table slid his other hand, placing in front of me a foil grape jelly packet.  Smuckers brand.

"This," he whispered, "is for you."

I don't know if I've had a more charged moment in all my life.  And I STILL have that exact same grape jelly in the bottom of a large pink box labeled: High School Stuff.  And of course, I had no idea that an identical grape jelly was looming in my future, waiting for Good Timing.