“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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Confession of My Idiocy

I’m  an idiot.  

Have you ever seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks?  Well, first of all, if you haven’t, you should.  Secondly, there’s a scene where Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly is in a supermarket.  She finds herself in a situation that makes her miserably uncomfortable (not unlike most of my own life), and becomes so flustered she enters a  Cash Only checkout line with only a credit card and one dollar.  Everyone in the line, especially the cashier, is unforgiving and angry.  Kathleen Kelly’s archenemy (played by the affable Tom Hanks) descends on the scene and manages to charm everyone in the line and rescue the unfortunate Kathleen.  But not before the cashier gives her a severely menacing glance and demands her pen back.  That’s just a day in the life for me.

I blame it on the fact that I really can be a total idiot.  To people who know me well, this may not be a surprise.  You may even be thinking, “Good God!  You’ve only JUST figured this out?”

Well, of course I’ve always known, but what I really don’t think is fair is that I try so very hard NOT to be an idiot, and always come up wanting.  I do think most people who know me would acknowledge I’m pretty intelligent, and thus it seems further unjust that I am so prone to both moments of total lack of common sense and moments where what I’ll call my basic humanness seem only to aggravate people. 

Today I was on an airplane.  In the midst of the requisite fears that I was going to die, never see my children again, and/or become an angry ghost haunting my loved ones, I needed to use the restroom.  It make shock you that I’d use an airplane bathroom at all, being THE Germophobic of the Century.  However, resulting from my several bouts of kidney stone trouble, my bladder (and I suspect my kidneys, too, though the urologist smirks and hints that perhaps I’m imagining it) gets weak and achy fairly quickly.  So as soon as the  “Seatbelts Fastened” light went off, I climbed over Joe and made my way to the front of the plane.

Since 9/11, this makes me really nervous.  I have a general fear that I’m unwittingly breaking a rule or entering a place I am not allowed (this makes Joe either laugh out loud or sigh exaggeratedly in exasperation), so as I approached the front of the plane I anticipated an angry flight attendant leaping in front of me and shouting, “Terrorist!” when all I am is a girl with a weak bladder and a need.

I looked left and I looked right, but because this was also Flight Attendant Headquarters, there were more doors and latches than I expected and I was unsure which was the bathroom.  Not wanting to make a wrong choice, I approached a flight attendant who was reading a magazine whilst leaning against a cabinet. 

“Excuse me,” I said, polite as can be.  She did not turn her head from her magazine (an apparently riveting copy of US Weekly), but looked at me over the top of it with her eyes only.

Undeterred, I said, “Is the bathroom up here?”

She glanced then at what was obviously the bathroom.  Sheepishly I noticed the clearly displayed man/woman symbol.  Feeling foolish but wanting NOT to look stupid, I tried to joke off my mistake.

“Sorry,” I said, chuckling.  “I just wanted to make sure I was in the right place.”

The flight attendant put her magazine down and faced me squarely.  When she spoke, she had a thick Southern accent and her nose wrinkled at me.  “Why don’t you just go on and stand in the corner over there and wait your turn.”  It was far more a dismissal than a gentle suggestion,  and her lilting accent did nothing to soften the blow.

When my turn did come, I embarrassed myself even more by not being able to open the door, close it properly, or then lock it.  It took me a full sixty seconds to figure out how to flush, and then to turn on the sink.  The entire time, I imagined the evil flight attendant pressed against the other side of the door, pointing and laughing with the other flight attendants.  And of course I couldn’t escape the feeling of indignation, the rampant thoughts that they had all been honest, normal mistakes that anyone could have made.

But, alas.  It was me.

And if you’re doubting whether this seemingly inconsequential event is truly representative of my general self, ask me about the day I met my new boss two years ago.   Or about the anesthesiologist who administered my epidural.  Or the time I asked my grad school professor where she bought the awesome paper we were using for group work.  Or any time I speak in large groups of people.  I’m telling you it’s true.  And you know what makes it worse?  My nervous TALKING.

It reminds me of an important lesson my mom taught me growing up.  “Honey,” she said, “just PRETEND you’re a quiet person.  People will like you better.”

P.S.—Understand that this is self-deprecating humor.  I’m not only my biggest critic; I’m also the person who thinks I’m the most wonderful, too. ;)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Memory Lane: My Christmas Wish

This year I had a lot of wishes come true for Christmas.  Noah pooped on the potty of his own volition, and I have to believe it was because I had told him that was the only gift I wanted this year.  Creepy.  Gross.  Totally true.

I also received a gift from Big Joe, as we in our house call my husband, stemming from his weird and somewhat Polish penchant for keeping/conserving things most people throw away.  Like hotel mini condiments.  When he came home from Pittsburgh last week, his suitcase was crammed with room service-sized jars of honey, ketchup, you name it.  My kids exploded into giggles this morning when we discovered a hotel-sized grape jelly had landed in my stocking.  I did not explode into giggles.  On the contrary, my eyes misted up and I looked at my husband with cheesy, gag-inducing amounts of fondness.

Joey said, "Why did Daddy put that in your stocking?!"

I said, "Because grape jelly is very special to us.  Daddy used it to ask me to marry him."


So I explained the whole story.  That Mommy and Daddy have known each other a very, very long time. That when we were much younger, we weren't in love at all, but just good friends.  And one time, to be silly, Daddy gave Mommy a grape jelly as a "present."  We were in a restaurant, the kind where people might order toast and might want a little grape jelly packet to go with it, and Daddy thought it would be funny.  What Daddy didn't know was that even back then, Mommy loved him very much.  And so she kept the grape jelly.

Then, after a long, long time of being friends, and then after a time when Daddy went away and Mommy went away and we didn't talk for awhile, we fell in love for real.  And one day, Mommy said, "Remember that time you gave me a grape jelly as a joke?  Well, I loved you so much that I kept it all this time."  After that, any time we were in a restaurant that had little jellies, Daddy would find a way to give me a new one.  He gave me so many, that pretty soon I had over a hundred grape jellies!  They were ALL OVER my apartment!

The first Christmas we were together and in love, Daddy gave Mommy a stocking filled with all kinds of special treats.  There were markers, crayons, Post-Its, new pencils and a pencil sharpener, fancy gel pens...the kind of gifts that make Mommy really excited: School Supplies! (just what every teacher wants--seriously!)  And in the very, very bottom of the stocking, stuck in the toe, was a grape jelly.

Mommy loved the grape jelly best of all, and smiled and let it drop back into the stocking with the other gifts.  But Daddy got upset.  He said, "Um, maybe you should open THIS jelly."

"Why?"  All I could think in my head was, "I'm not having toast."  It didn't seem to matter.  Daddy reached into the stocking and pulled out the jelly.  He said, "You really need to open this one."  And suddenly he got down on his knees, peeled back the foil wrapper, and inside, it wasn't jelly at all.  Daddy had scooped it all out, and put in a diamond ring instead.  He said, "Mary Pat, I don't know how long I've loved you.  I think I always have, and I KNOW I always will.  Will you marry me?"

After I'd finished the story, I looked at Joey and Noah, who were staring at me expectantly.

"So that's it?" asked Joey.  "THAT'S how Dad got you to marry him?  With JELLY?!"

"That's it," I said.  I guess I was an easy catch, but of all my Christmas memories, it's by far my favorite.  Christmas Magic for me isn't just seeing my children and my family so happy and in love and together on a special day.  To me, it's the fact that I've been lucky enough to have this family at all.  Lucky that Joe chose me--even though he knew everything about me--and gave me all the things that make up my life as I know and love it.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Committed to Santa

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook: "I am committed to Santa.  I am committed to Santa.  I am committed to Santa."  My sister replied, "Well you should be committed."  I took this at first as affirmation of my choice, but later wondered if she meant, No, you should be committed.  Like, to an asylum.  Because it's making me that crazy.

It all began like it does for most other people: I wanted Christmas to be magical for Joey, and then, for Joey and Noah.  But now that they are growing older, and unfortunately more astute, remaining committed to the lie is becoming quite the tangled web.

First of all, there's the issue of the wrapping paper.  As a child whose mother tossed gifts in plastic grocery bags with Post-Its toward her later teen years, I can't remember wrapping paper being a big deal.  However it was pointed out to me once I had Joey that the wrapping paper used by SANTA can't be like the wrapping paper used for gifts to the rest of the family.  The SANTA wrapping paper cannot be visible anywhere in your house, because then it couldn't possibly be from the North Pole.

Flaw in the Lie #1: Other people shop for wrapping paper where I shop.  The children are likely to see the SANTA wrapping elsewhere and ask questions.

This year I went so crazy as to choose separate wrappings for each boy, so they could easily tell their gifts apart.  This seemed like a convenient and practical idea because it helps me visualize the equality of their growing piles.  But, alas, when you are down to that one scrap of Toy Story paper and the only gift that will fit is for the OTHER CHILD, you're kicking yourself.  Such a small detail in the lie, but one my boys would surely pick up on.  Or would they?  I don't know, and can't take the chance because I am committed to the lie.

I mute the TV during Christmas movie scenes meant for grownups.  Movie scenes I myself never picked up on as a child (but I really wasn't all that astute), like in A Christmas Story when Ralphie and Randy scramble up to bed and the parents pause dramatically, then say, "Let's get 'em."  I ask Joey loud and overt questions when Buddy the Elf is questioning how people could really not believe in Santa.  It is that moment when I say, "JOEY, WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN SCHOOL TODAY??" and I am sweating bullets and trembling inside in case he hears Buddy the Elf say, "People think parents give the presents to the children?"

Happy, our Elf on the Shelf, is another source of extreme pain.  I have run out of shelves, and I can't perch him too low or anywhere he might fall because, dear me, the magic might be lost.  But I cannot give up, because the lie would be ruined and, more importantly, my children would be crushed.

And the worst part of all.  Oh, the very, very worst.  As I tucked Joey into bed tonight, he whispered excitedly, "I know Santa's watching closely tonight!" and I realized...he's six.  This might very well be the last Christmas Eve Eve that he feels this thrilled, this enchanted by Santa Magic.  Next year, assuredly there will be questions.  In fact there were a few this year.  Things he's overheard on the bus or that kids at school with older siblings have planted in his sweet ever-working mind (I seriously wanted to beat up a kid at one point).  But nothing yet has been able to crack his thick resistant loyal-to-Santa skin.  The skin I have so carefully molded and tended.  I felt horrible as I kissed him goodnight, then, realizing that it will not be long before he realizes that his mother has told her a lie.  The first he will ever know of, and from then on, he will doubt me.  Do I really have Mommy Magic that keeps him safe at night?  Is my older brother really the actual Superman (that's a lie spun wildly out of control now, to the point where my brother emphatically says before leaving, "Gotta fly--oops! I mean, go to work!" and my children get red-faced and giggly and whisper, "Don't say it!  Don't tell his secret!"), or did Mommy lie about that, too?  Worst of all...we'll never have that bond again, I don't believe, where he sees me as the omniscient and omnipotent Mommy, whose word is Law and who will always, always save him.

I know this happens with all children, but Joey is...well, he's Joey.  He's My Joey, and I became so sad tonight as I pulled out the Mickey Mouse wrapping paper and the sparkly silver Sharpie marker (because elves label gifts in silver, didn't you know?) and re-committed myself to this lie that is going to end up biting me big time.

But I'm committed.  As committed as I was to the lies I told my parents in high school ("I was at Alice's house the WHOLE TIME...."), I am committed to Santa.  Because...it IS pretty wonderful, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gingerbread House

Every year my uncle sends us a gingerbread house.  One year, my sister said, "Please don't send us a gingerbread house."  He sent it anyway.  I must admit, gingerbread is not my favorite thing to eat.  And once you "dig in" to it, it doesn't look pretty anymore, but nobody actually likes eating it, and then you have to throw it out.

This is the first year Noah noticed the gingerbread house at all.  It arrived in a glittery red box and Joey recognized the label immediately.

"Mom!  Mom!  Mom!  C'n we open it?  C'n we open it?  Huh?  Huh?  Can we?  Can we?"

I picked up the box and set it on the counter.  "Later," I said.  I just wasn't ready for the battle of, "Can we eat it NOW?  Can we eat it NOW?"  I wanted it to look pretty for a little while, at least.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwww!" Joey whined.

"But what IS it?" asked Noah, not wanting to be left out.  He hopped from foot to foot, trying to see around Joey.

"Oh, Noah," Joey answered, rolling his eyes, "it's SOOO cool.  It's the awesomest thing."

"But can we open it?" asked Noah.

"Not now," I said.

I was able to get away with this for about an hour.  It was then that Noah was actually using the potty properly and I caught Joey picking at the packing tape on the glittery red box with a Batman pencil.

"Joey!" I gasped, shocked at his disregard for my final word.

"But Mooooooooooom," he whined.  I sighed.  I put his Batman pencil in the drawer and reached for the scissors, cutting the box open in one efficient swoop.   "Awwwwwesome," Joey breathed.  Yeah.  I rock those scissors every time.

"What's going on??" Noah shrieked from the bathroom, realizing something was indeed going on.  Just what a nervous pooper needs: people opening mysterious packages at inopportune moments.

"Just opening this box," I called.

"Wait!  Wait!! Wait!" he cried.  I heard a bit of a clatter in the bathroom and he emerged, pantless and breathless.  "I want it!  I want it!"

I knelt down in front of him and helped him put his pants on.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"That!" he cried, pointing at the gingerbread house.

"Oh, that," I said, snapping the little snap on his jeans.  "You don't even know what it is."

"I do!  I DO!" he insisted, yanking at his zipper.  "Joey told me, and we are BROTHERS, so we tell each other stuff, and it's IMPORTANT, and--"

"Then what IS it, Noah?" I interrupted.  He was on a such a loyalty tangent I think he forgot about the gingerbread house altogether.

He blinked, looking at the gingerbread house, and then at me.  Then he closed his eyes in feigned exasperation and said knowingly, "Well, it's a BIRD house, of course."

Of course.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just Can't Help Believing

Today, Noah started our day by refusing to wear clothes.  He ripped off his pajamas and streaked through the house in all his glory, screaming all the way, "You won't LET me wear my pajamas!!!"  When it came time to drive Joey to school, I was able to wrestle Noah into a pair of Joey's pants.  He had one arm in his Christmas turtleneck.  I said, "We have to drive Joey to school now.  You have to put on your clothes."  He said, "I WON'T.  You can't MAKE me."  So I wrapped him in a blanket and put him in the car, which had been warming up (thank God).  I buckled his seatbelt and he looked at me and wailed, "I'm COLD!!!!!!!"

Days should never have to begin that way.

On the other hand, my day ended with both boys going right to sleep, and me lying on the couch listening to BJ Thomas' "I Just Can't Help Believing."  It makes me feel gooey inside because everything about this song is my husband, from the breezy rhythm to the humility of the words.  It's one of our favorite songs to dance to--and we do love to dance.  I think it's one of the signs that led me to know he was perfect for me.  He'll stop and slow dance and sing in my ear just about anywhere, and he has.  On the beach, in the kitchen, at the mall.  He sings along (or just sings, because sometimes there's no music), looking into my eyes, and bopping me side to side and in circles like he's Prince Charming. And at actual events where you're supposed to dance, well...look out.  He can dip me and flip me.  And if no one has ever done that to you before, guess what.  It IS that cool.

So as I listened to BJ Thomas (on repeat, because Joe is still away and I miss him), I went and dug out the special photo album I put together for him the first year we were officially dating.  It was nine years after we'd first met, and I'd really botched his birthday present.  It was one of those situations where you want to get it soooo right, so you can't do anything but get it wrong.  I felt crushed when I realized he didn't "get" my efforts, so I went home and pulled out my Memory Box and created a montage of our whole relationship.  It began with a poem entitled, "He Didn't Call," and ended with an email he'd sent me that day.

We keep it up on a high shelf now, because it's filled with all kinds of memorabilia we don't want wrecked, like the napkin from my junior prom and a card he'd had delivered to me at school senior year that had only a solitary cryptic question mark written inside.  But one day not long ago, Joey spotted it.  The featured photo on the cover is from when Joe and I were sixteen.

Joey pointed at it, squinting, and said, "Hey, Mom.  Who are THOSE kids?"

I guess we DO look a little different these days.  Anyway, tonight it was this picture and BJ Thomas that made the perfect ending to...another day.   Well...more than just a day.  ;)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Road Trip

For the second time in my life, I embarked on a road trip all by myself to meet Joe on one of his business trips.  He always thinks this is a good idea, and I always agree until I'm right there doing it.  Then I remember I'm a princess who is very used to people helping her with everything, that I have absolutely no sense of direction, and I'm afraid of lots of things.  Unusually so.

The first road trip was to Cleveland and I'm pretty sure it was before we were married (don't tell my dad). I left straight from work on a Friday feeling empowered and all Independent Woman.  I was particularly pleased by myself when I stopped at an exit in Erie to get Burger King and found my way back to the 90. When I hit Cleveland, I was overwhelmed by the highway widening to six lanes and by the bazillion exits.  I panicked, got off at the wrong exit, and ended up at the end of a deserted pier in the dark on my cell phone yelling at Joe that I was going to be murdered and it was all his fault.  Because I'm really good under pressure.

This past weekend I drove down to Pittsburgh.  My mom had the boys (SCORE!) and this time I had my new car complete with OnStar.  I really, really liked using OnStar in this case.  The friendly operator plugged in the address of the hotel in Pittsburgh, and then sent the directions to my car.  A female computer voice (which doesn't really make sense, but there you have it) then assisted me turn-by-turn all the way down to my destination.  I named her Stella.  GET IT?? (hoot! knee slap!)

Driving into Pittsburgh taught me some new lessons.  First of all, I don't like the topography of Pittsburgh.  It's too up-and-down and in-between.  It freaked me out.  It's twisty and turny and wild and all the Pennsylvanians are accustomed to it and fly past you at 100 mph.  If I were a cartoon, I'd have been left swirling like a top on the shoulder of the road.

Second, they don't use salt on icy roads in Pennsylvania.  A plow chugged by me, and I cringed in wait for the spatters of road salt to attack my windows, and...nothing.  No salt.  And Pennsylvania is apparently a land of many bridges.  Each one is begun with a highway sign that reads something like: Bridge May Be Icy, or: Bridge Becomes Icy Before Road.  At one point, I seriously considered posting a sign that said, "Heard Of Salt?"  Sorry, but it's pretty terrifying to come careening down the curvy side of a mountain toward a massive bridge with giant signs that really should say: Watch Out, You Might Die.

Last, business trips aren't cool and glamorous.  Whenever Joe is away for work these days, I feel annoyed and resentful because I'm at home in Buffalo taking care of the boys without him.  Joey, Noah, and I miss our fella fiercely for days while he's off staying in a fancy hotel and eating room service.  (I have a real Thing with room service; I totally think it's the greatest.)

But as I entered the hotel room on Friday, I realized Joe had been here all alone.  He wasn't sight-seeing, he was working.  He was leaving early and coming back late, and there's no Joey giggles or Noah snuggles to greet him.  The room seemed empty and sterile and then, I saw Joe's face as he saw me.

When you really, really love someone...love a person the way marriage is SUPPOSED to be, and not like all these wild modern relationships that last thirty seconds and then people just expect their next do-over or try-again...when you love someone in the Forever way, there is so much in just one facial expression.  When Joe saw me, his face went from looking tired and a bit sad to...relieved.  Awake.  Thrilled.  And for the first time in days, my heart felt like it was beating in sync again.  Like maybe, it had been missing a beat or two every few seconds.  I felt relieved, and I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding.  I think I'd been holding it since the last time I'd said goodbye to Joe.

And he said the same thing he says to me every single time we've been apart, for as long as I can remember.  Even in high school.  He said, "Hey there, Beautiful."

As much as I hate math, life is a basic math problem.  It's not searching for and finding one right thing, or one right person.  It's the million things that all add up: the kids, the weather, the DVR, the cooking or the going out, the fights, taking out the garbage, organizing the mail, sharing the inside jokes.  They are part of the equation that includes the horrible days, the crazy days, and...the moments like this one.  Where my Joe looks at me and...I am myself again.

Merry Christmas, Joe.  All we want for Christmas is you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Memory Lane: Episode 1.2

Want to hear something funny?  When my in-laws call my house, and I see their phone number pop up on the caller ID, I get a little shiver of excitement.  Because years ago, seeing that phone number pop up on the tiny little screen meant Joe was calling me.  It was also a phone number I had memorized within twenty-four hours of meeting Joe when I was fourteen, and I was never brave enough to dial it.  Sometimes, I dialed and hung up.  I wrote a lot of very bad rhyming poetry about the whole traumatic situation.  "I'm sitting here/all alone/I telephoned/he wasn't home."

This period of telephone trepidation lasted about a month before I gave up on Joe altogether (I turned fifteen and decided to grow up).  But the existence--and longevity--of our relationship fascinates me.  Even to people who don't believe in Fate (and I do), there's just too many coincidences and points of return to ignore.  It's like our song says: "After all the stops and starts, we keep coming back to these two hearts..."

So obviously I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on the whole thing, and I think it all comes down to that first month.  That first month of lying on my canopy bed that had no canopy, a phone with a twisted, knotted cord laying before me, NOT RINGING.  A period of time where the name "Joe Bielecki" weighed on me with a magnitude that only a silly fourteen-year-old girl could create within herself, because she wanted so much to fall in love with a boy who only seemed perfect.

He became a part of me.

Of course, what happened seven months later really sealed it.  I had packed Joe's name away in the back of my mind, labeled "Boy I Once Irrationally Loved," and moved forward.  I'd moved forward all the way to a crisp, damp April night when my friends and I decided to meet at a Timon Dance.  Timon is the all-boys' school is South Buffalo, whereas Joe attended Canisius in North Buffalo.  But as Joe had been pushed from my mind AGES ago, I certainly wasn't going to miss out on any opportunity Timon might afford me.  In fact, I kind of had my sights set on a different guy.  A Timon guy.  Timon guys had luster and enthusiasm.  They wore their baseball hats backwards and had big shoulders and were loud and fun.  Their varsity jackets had yellow sleeves.

I was fifteen years old, and I stood in the Bishop Timon High School gymnorium/auditasium.  I wore a midriff-revealing shirt because I was absolutely scandalous (no I wasn't--I was so small it covered my midriff anyway).  I stood in a circle of Mercy girls, with my good friend Alice at my side.  My stomach had butterflies and my heart felt like it was skipping beats because it was Friday night and the gym was dark and somewhere was the boy I liked.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  All my friends were around me...who could THAT be?  I felt so sure it had to be that special Timon guy--we'll call him Fernando for identity protection purposes--I felt so sure it was Fernando, having learned that this scandalous girl was waiting on a slow dance with him.

My friends looked over my shoulder as I turned my head slowly and confidently, so sure of who I would see standing there on the incline amidst the plastic auditorium seats.  I was completely surprised that the person there was no Timon guy I'd ever seen before (and somehow every Mercy girl seemed to know all the Timon guys at least by sight).  It was a tallish, blondish, very nervous-looking boy, whose twinkling blue eyes met mine and said, "Are you Mary Pat?"

He was definitely good-looking and it was nice to be approached, but I was so obtuse at age fifteen that my cloudy head was thinking, "Is this Fernando's friend doing the talking for him?  How lame.  Where is Fernando?"  So I said, "Yes, I'm Mary Pat.  Who are you?"

"I'm Joe.  Joe Bielecki."

Maybe you don't know much about the Catholic high school circuit in Western New York, but when a Canisius guy randomly shows up at a Timon dance and remembers you after seven months when you only met one time (even though you might not remember him...or at least what he looked like), well, I'm sorry, but...that's gotta be Fate (and it only took us eight more years to fall in love).

The next afternoon, the phone in our kitchen rang.  It was the only phone in the house with that newfangled caller ID thing, and what number do you suppose I saw there for the very first time?

The number of my future in-laws, of course.   :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Joey

I've been spending so much energy on everything Noah lately, and this morning Joey made me laugh really hard, and I realized...he needs a shout-out, too.

Joey is probably the greatest six-year-old kid I've ever met.  He reminds me a lot of one of my favorite people ever, my "baby" cousin John Conor (who is now 22 and lives on his own in Washington DC) because he is sensitive, good-hearted, and loves rules.  He reminds my sister of Hermy the Elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who said, "But I don't want to make toys.  I want to be a dentist."  Joey doesn't want to be a dentist, but he's not too concerned about what other people think he SHOULD BE doing.  He wants to be, and I quote, "A scientist with NO GIRLFRIEND."  My dad said that shouldn't be too hard to accomplish.

Joey is also a clone of my some of my more idiosyncratic traits.  Namely: Hypochondria.  Here are just a few the more hilarious examples.

This morning, brushing his teeth: "Mom, every time I hiccup my butt squeezes and it hurts!"

Yesterday at my mom's...

Joey: "Oh my God!! I just sat on poisonous berries! Now there's poison on my pants!"
Judy: "Joey, those berries are plastic.  They're fake.  They fell off of something."
Joey (pressing his hands to his eyes): "Oh, THANK GOD.  WHEW."

As I wipe his mouth when he's a mess...

Joey: "Is there poison on your hands???"
I know he's asking if I just used Clorox, and I would never put Clorox on my child, but I can't help but say, "Yes.  I'm covered in poison and now you are, too."

Driving home from school: "Mom, I was reading my DEAR book, and there was this picture of a man with a rash, and can I GET the rash from touching the book????"

Out in the yard, there was a question of whether my husband touched poison ivy (he didn't).  This one was a little my fault, since I kind of freaked out, too.  But for days, Joey ran away from his dad, crying, "Don't touch me with your poison hand!!!"

Aside from becoming a scientist, specifically, a "potion maker," Joey has other great aspirations.  In no particular order, they include:
1) learning to do "the worm"
2) being on a the Disney Channel show
3) getting his haircut like Wolverine
4) becoming a spy
5) becoming a wizard
6) inventing useful household "contraptions"
7) inventing NOT useful household "contraptions"
8) telling a funny joke
9) learning karate
10) learning to play the guitar
11) saving the world from certain doom
12) owning a robot

Probably Joey's best quality is that he loves me more than anyone.  He thinks I'm beautiful and smart and really funny.  I know he lives in fear of ever letting me down, but he's so great, I live in fear of ever letting him down, too.

And you know what gives me hope?  When Joey was three, he broke things, yelled, refused naps, screamed and/or sang all night long, and did everything I asked him NOT to do.  So while I go crazy with Noah, at least this time I have Joey to keep me sane.

"Don't worry, Mom.  You're doing a great job.  You're the best mom."  And I like it best when he adds, "REALLY."

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Little Sticky

"Noah, do you smell bad?"


"I think you smell pretty bad.  Should we go potty?"

"I think we should.  And you know, my pants are a little wet."

"They're wet???  Where??"

"Right here."  Noah pats his bottom.  "And a little icky on my right leg."

Grab him by the armpits, run him to the bathroom.

One tiny pellet drops out his pant leg.

Yank off his pants, searching frantically for more.  Place him on the potty.

Still searching for the rest of the poop.

"I'm pretty sure it's there, Mom.  Check the right leg."

Inside the pants is total darkness.  Shaking the pants with fervor.  Can't believe it, but must get a flashlight.

Can't believe it, the only working flashlight in the house is his mini Buzz Lightyear one.

Shining Buzz Lightyear into Noah's pants to find missing poop.

Step out of kitchen, see two more brown pellets.

Start to grab Clorox wipes, when yelling ensues.  "MO-OM! I GOED!"

Run into bathroom, Clorox wipes in hand, knocked over by odor.  Must get different sort of wipes.

Decide to just clean everyone and everything.

"Mommy?  Why are you Mommy Pat?  Why are you not just Mommy?  Why do you have a Pat, too?  Other people don't have a Pat."

"Because that's what my parents named me."

"Oh.  Hmm.  Can you get me new undies?  These ones are a little sticky."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Early Riser

My bedtime until I was about fifteen was ridiculously early--like, 7:30 pm early.  I was always terribly embarrassed both by the early bedtime and by the powerful hold my parents had over me.  How did other kids manage to be so willful and in control at home?  My parents had perfected the art of The Look, and any time one of those was shot my way I was putty in their hands.  So unfair.

I do try to be so scary to my own children.  Totally works on Joey.  Nothing on Noah.

The early bedtime had its advantages, though.  For one thing, it trained me to have the ability to go to bed in any degree of light.  Those July nights when the neighbors were still running free outside my open windows, shrieking and enjoying TWO MORE HOURS OF SUNSHINE, really conditioned me to sleep through anything.

It also led to me being a naturally early riser.  Don't confuse this with being a Morning Person, because they're not the same thing.  My sister Jane is a Morning Person.  This was a major problem when we shared a bedroom and she'd hum and sing and turn on every lamp in the room to add to her horrible cheeriness.  I prefer dim lighting, total silence, and staring.

My brother and sister never suffered through the Insanely Early Bedtime.  I have no idea why this is.  As long as I can remember, they stayed up late watching TV with my parents.  They would all even PLAN their evening in front of me at the dinner table.  "What's on tonight?"  "Oh, that show WE ALL LOVE!" "I can't wait!  It'll be so great!"  Once, they ordered pizza.  That might be the one and only time I busted out of my room and rioted.  (My mom found me peeking around the corner into the family room, waiting to be noticed and invited.)

Because Janie and Pauly never had to had to go to bed early, it did follow that they didn't wake as early as I did, either.  When I was six years old, I was allowed to go downstairs by myself when I woke up.  It was usually just before six o'clock, and my guess is that it was easier on everyone if I was sent as far away from the sleepers as possible.

I still vividly remember my routine.  I'd wake up, and go down the stairs as quietly as possible.  It wasn't because I worried about waking anybody.  I was far more concerned about potential intruders/robbers/kidnappers/murderers lurking below.  At the bottom of the stairs, I'd round the corner into the total darkness of the dining room.  The darkness terrified me, so I'd give myself up.  I flipped on the lights, and called out, "If there's anyone there, please come out now!" because I imagined our burglars would be decent and gracious and would definitely step out before me, hands in the air, saying, "Okay, okay.  You got me, little girl.  I'll go home now."

Then I'd turn up the thermostat, something my dad had taught me to do when he realized the advantage of having someone downstairs at least two hours before him.  I warmed up the house for him (apparently, my smile wasn't enough).

But here is the best part.  I'd end up in the family room.  I'd turn on no lights at all, and the entire house was silent but for the ticking of my father's mantel clock (I've grown so accustomed to this clock I no longer hear it, even when it's noon and it dings twelve times).  I'd seat myself in front of the best thing in my whole house, something most kids my age didn't even have.  The computer.

It was an Apple II C.  It was tan, and unlike many of the school computers I'd used, it didn't have a green screen.  In fact, when I put in my floppy disk to start up my favorite program, the screen went pitch black, and then lit up with white letters:  AppleWorks.

At age six, I'd taught myself how to use our word processor so I could write stories at 6 am.  Yes.  It's true.  I've always been a dork.

At first, my stories were pretty basic, quite short, and my vocabulary was limited because I was six and couldn't spell too many words.  But the more I did this--and it became regular pretty fast--the more words I was able to spell.  Sometimes, I would wait for my dad to come downstairs at 8, and he would go through and help me fix my spelling.  And unlike the children of today, I actually remembered how to spell those words the next time I used them.

By the time I was ten, I was typing over 65 words per minute.  I know because we had a program that told us.  I didn't--and still can't--use the proper keys with the proper fingers, but my mind knew where every letter was and my hands flew over the keyboard, clickety-clacketing the unfolding stories in my imagination.  I was stranded on an island.  I was on a discovered pirate ship.  I was rich.  I was poor.  I was an orphan.  Once, I was even Julia Roberts' niece.

With the entire room dark around me and the screen background inky black, the white words that appeared before me glowed beautifully.  It was complete magic to have all my dreams and wishes float in front of me that way in the silence of my house, without my brother teasing me or my sister and mom talking loudly in the kitchen.  Without my dad turning the volume up on the TV ALL THE WAY (seriously, who does that??).  It was just me, my tapping fingers, and my words.

The other night I was at my mom's for dinner.  Just before my mom set the food on the table, my dad looked up from his perusal of the daily mail and said, "Where's Joey?"

"In here, Grandpa!" he called from the next room.

"What're you doing in there?" my dad asked.

Joey rolled into the doorway on my mom's computer chair and said, "I'm writing a story.  Wanna see?"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I'm In For Good

It's official.  I'm staying in until May.  The time of year has arrived when I would rather do nothing but snuggle under a blanket, drink what I call a Cozy Beverage, and never, ever leave my house.  The temperatures have dropped below freezing, the ground is covered with crunchiness, and the air zaps right through my several layers of warm clothing, through my skin and muscle, and invades my bones.  I expect to feel this way steadily for the next five months.  This is Western New York.

Many people loves this.  It invigorates them.  They get all trilly and tittery about the pretty snowfalls and the rockin' good winter sports.  I like the warm blankets and the Cozy Drinks, but here is what I most definitely do NOT like.

Everywhere you go, someone is ickily sick.  Phlegmy coughs and drippy noses and germs everywhere.  And because it's Western New York, there's no expectation that the weather will improve or that one's cold/flu will improve any time soon, so people go out like this.  They man-handle the carts at Target and they sneeze on the fruit at Wegmans and use the community credit card pens at every kiosk.  

My children get sick.  

Snow gets inside your socks and boots.  Your socks get wet and your feet stay cold.

My bones are cold and rattly.  I know I already mentioned it, but it's just so darn awful I had to say it again.

The sky is either miserably gray (90% of the time) or icy blue with a sunshine that lights up the miserably gray roads.  If the snow is melting, the grass underneath is brown and muddy.  Everything is pretty much the color of the crayons that nobody wants to use.

I can't just run out to my car to grab something.  Since the ground is all sloshy and full of icy puddles, even inside the garage, I have to put shoes on first.  

I can't just toss the kids in the car for a quick jaunt anywhere.  The complexity of preparing them for any outing is exhausting.  Coats, hats, mittens, and the boots--dear God, the boots.  "Push your foot!  PUSH!  PUSH!"  Maybe God intended for me to remember the pain of labor, or to recognize the frustration of super evil labor nurse (I'll never forget you, Barbara--I flipped you off with both fingers and I'd do it again).  

Driving.  The driving is horrible.  I do applaud Western New York's tremendous plow system.  Apparently, other parts of the country don't have monster trucks with monster scoopers and have no understanding of salt's great uses.  Just the same, Western New York drivers of every personality engage in an angry battle any time they take to the road in snowy weather (which is usually--we Buffalonians are generally undeterred by whiteouts, bluster, and zero visibility).  You've got your angry, aggressive drivers who go 80 miles per hour in the left lane regardless of their vehicle type, road conditions, and, worst of all, any other driver on the road.  Then there's the mindless drivers, who meander in their minivans, careening all over the place without regard for the existence of actual lanes.  There's the teenagers and the senior citizens, who are overconfident and have slow reflexes.  The tailgaters, who zoom up on your bumper when you're just trying to be cautious.  The overly cautious, who turn on their hazard lights and ride the shoulder and you're thinking, "But WHERE are you GOING???"  The tractor trailers, who think they know about driving in snow but don't, and end up jack-knifed in a ditch on the side of the highway.  And, of course, the idiots who don't belong in Western New York at all and end up stuck and stranded and IN THE WAY.

But me--I prefer the WNY summers.  Eighty or ninety degrees, the sun gleaming down on our Lake, tank tops and sunscreen, and busting out our pasty white Buffalo legs for some serious vitamin D.  I love our ice cream stands that take the boards off their windows and the hot dog stands with swinging picnic tables and the patio dining just about everywhere these days.  I love the color the leaves turn at twilight in the sun and the fact that I can step onto my back patio in my pajamas and bare feet in the morning and drink my coffee while listening to cicadas and some kind of cooing bird I've never bothered to identify.  I love the sound the leaves make in the light breeze and the fact that Buffalo beaches have the softest sand I've ever felt (and yes, I HAVE left Buffalo).  I love the way our air smells and that my sons' eyes sparkle a little more and their hair gets white blond on the crowns of their heads.  I love that we can all jump in the car with or without shoes, and go anywhere we want without having to spend fifteen minutes GEARING UP for bone-chilling cold and runny noses and phlegmy coughs.

I miss summer.  But I'd also really miss Buffalo if I ever left, because despite everything, it's home like no place else.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Baby Einstein

As I sat in what I'd hoped was my final urologist appointment waiting for the nurse practitioner to come in and tell me that no, my kidney stones aren't actually ALL gone, the song that came on softly in the background was Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

I was instantly brought to the morning of my wedding, standing behind the closed doors of the church with my father while guests were settling in.  Three of my oldest friends passed through the vestibule--Alice, Chris, and Kelly--and I looked at my dad and said, "I think I might cry," and he said, "You're not going to cry.  Why would you cry?  You've got everything you ever wanted right here," and so I cried.

But as my heart constricted over this memory, the more startling realization was that I was almost positive it was Baby Einstein xylophone version of Jesu....  Why would the urologist choose that version, of all the versions?

From the time Joey was about two weeks old until he was just past three months, he was extremely colicky.  He also had pretty bad reflux, and still does even now at age six (nothing gets him like strawberries on a hot summer day).  He cried when he was hungry, he cried when he was finished eating, he cried when he was lying down, and he cried hardest of all when he burped.  His burps sounded like a knife cutting through a brick, if that's even possible.  It was awful, and you can imagine then that when I discovered that Baby Einstein made him stop crying, it became a survival need on level with water and Purell in our house.

Sitting in the urologist's office my thoughts jumped from the day of my wedding to a day in the family room of our first house, with its bright yellow walls and dark leather furniture, the sun streaming through the sliding glass doors and me, sitting there wishing we had air conditioning in the heat of the hot, hot Buffalo summer.  Baby Einstein was playing on repeat from the corner of the room, and Joey was in my arms staring into my eyes.

He was a big-time starer.  His eyes always gave him the look of what most people would call "an old soul," although I just always thought of it more as proof that babies are people who think for themselves.  Joey was actually born with a furrowed brow and frowned pretty much until he could sit upright on his own.  I guess if I spit up everything I ate all the time, I'd frown a lot, too.

Mostly in those early months, I felt like a big fat fraud.  I felt like the nurses and the doctors handed me this baby believing I was a mother and I would naturally know what to do, and I absolutely did NOT know what to do.  I lived in fear of doing something terrible to him.  Not like crazy, psycho, abusive mothers do, but like, contracting a deadly virus on my pinky finger and inadvertantly transferring it to Joey via his binky or his bottle.  And when they interviewed me for the six o'clock news they'd say, "How could you possibly not KNOW that viruses are FESTERING on your pinky finger??"

But when Baby Einstein played, Joey wiggled until he was comfy in my arms, and he'd look up into my face with an expression that clearly said, "I think you're pretty great."  His round golden cheeks were so chubby and soft, and the top of his head was warm and fuzzy.  He never had that baby smell you hear women gush on about; he always smelled like spit up, but he was wonderful.

I almost started to cry in the urologist's office when I heard the Baby Einstein song and realized that six and half years have passed since I sat in my cheery yellow family room with my tiny new baby, that now he's such a big boy.  You should see how long his arms and legs are; I can't hold him comfortably on my lap anymore (that could also be because he's totally offended by me wanting to hold him).  He can read and write and dance and loves the song "Moves Like Jagger"(he says it, "Moves Like Jagga") instead of anything Baby Einstein.

This whole experience made me grumpy.  Joey's not a baby anymore, and I'm old, and I STILL have kidney stones.  I think the urologists should change their playlist to something more upbeat.  Something more like "Moves Like Jagger."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Memory Lane: Episode 3

It was Chinese food for dinner tonight (since Grandma needed a break), and afterward the boys started watching Nightmare Before Christmas.  This movie bothers me a lot for many reasons, most notably that it gives Joey nightmares, so I felt an urgency to get them both away from the TV.  I also felt like we needed some Christmas Spirit, so I loaded them into the car to go on a Christmas Light Adventure.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother, and this year, for me, is a year I really want to hold  on to all the moments my grandma made special.  When we were little, I vividly remember sitting in the back of her giant Lincoln, driving at 1 mile per hour through the rainbow-lit streets of her neighborhood (which was just her usual speed in the Lincoln).   My parents never put lights on our house, which could have really dampened my spirits if it hadn't been for all those rides with Grandma.

Joey and Noah have a favorite neighborhood to drive through.  There are three houses clearly in competition with each other, and Joey and Noah start shouting, "I see them!  I see the lights!" when we're about a mile away.  These people must have the tallest ladders and the biggest electric bills, but I appreciate how happy their efforts make my children.  Noah made me drive by, at 1 mile per hour, about five times.  I had to keep coming to a stop, and I was really afraid of holding up traffic until I realized these people must get this a lot.  Why else bedazzle their homes this way?  I wondered how many people still drive around oohing and aahing over Christmas lights, and I remembered the only other time in my life that I'd done it myself, besides my Grandma, and besides these last few years with my kids.

I was a senior in high school, and I had liked the same boy for two years.  He had blond hair and blue eyes, he played football and was captain of the wrestling team.  Once in awhile, he stayed up late night on the phone with me listening to my problems and telling me his, and always reassuring me I was something special.  Then one night after two years, he asked me to go on a date.

He wasn't actually able to drive me, because when you're seventeen years old having a license, ability to drive past 9 pm, and access to a car add up to too many conditions.  But I was so excited that I eagerly volunteered to pick him up in my mom's super-cool Ford Contour (I had plastered Winnie the Pooh decals in the back windows, to my father's horror; I called it the Pooh-mobile).  My parents would have been adamantly against me driving a boy on a date, except that when they asked where I was going and I said, "Out with Joe Bielecki," it was just no big deal.  He was a person, a name, a friend they had known for years and took for granted.  But I didn't.

I did my hair and put on my makeup with serious care, certain that tonight would be the night that would change our relationship For. Ever.  I took the long way to his house, my palms sweaty and shaking.  I checked myself in the rearview mirror at every red light, every stop sign.  My right foot trembled against the accelerator, but I couldn't help but press on it a little harder than usual.  I'd known Joe for two years, but tonight felt different.  He'd never asked me to go out just the two of us, and since I didn't think he'd ever known my real feelings for him (because I'm NEVER obvious about my feelings), I couldn't help but feel a little magic was on my side.  

When I pulled up to his house, he was already coming down the front walk.  He was wearing jeans and his awesome varsity jacket, white leather sleeves and all.  He climbed into the car, smelling like cologne and outside.  The cold rushed in as closed the door, and I felt my whole body temperature rise against the snowy air.  Ridiculously, I wondered whether I could possibly be giving off steam and thank God for the darkness.

"Where to?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said, trying to sound breezy, like this was just another night of hanging out for us.  Except that we were alone, so it was really, really hard to be breezy.  "Are you hungry?"

"I could eat," he said.  "Friendly's?" 

"Sure, we could go to Friendly's," I said.  I flipped the car in reverse like I'd been driving waaaay longer than six months, and carefully backed out of his driveway.

I couldn't possibly hope that we'd hold hands this soon into the date, because it was just too weird that magic was hanging all around us, practically singing.  I deliberately cranked the heat up so that Joe reached for the dial to turn it down.  When he did, I pretended I was reaching for it, too, and his fingers brushed mine.

"Sorry," he said easily.  I, on the other hand, was nearly hyperventilating from the contact, and decided such bold moves weren't safe to try while driving.

The restaurant was pretty empty; maybe it was because it was only eight o'clock or maybe because it was an ice cream shop in December.  Either way, the waitress seated us in a tiny booth along a wall of mirrors.  As I wiggled out of my coat in the super small seat, I had to mentally tell myself, "Don't look in the mirror.  Don't look in the mirror."  Mirrors are my mom's primary decor, so I grew up unable to avoid my reflection and became rather fond of the convenience of it.  I liked to think of myself as Mary Pat-neverhasfoodinherteeth-Michalek.  But to be caught checking myself out by Joe, well, that just wasn't an option.  So instead, I focused on his face, and the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed at his own goofy jokes, and the way his eye would catch mine and hold my gaze a second longer than a friend's should.  

We opened our menus, the tall skinny laminated kind that have miscellaneous mysteries smeared crustily across them. I quickly chose a basic hot fudge brownie sundae. I put the menu down and focused on Joe instead of the fact that a large and promising mirror was two inches to the left of my head.

Joe peered at me over the menu. He turned his head a little, like he was about to say something, but he said nothing. His right eye squinted slightly, searching for mine. When our eyes met, I went cold in the head as my body grew warm. I had goose bumps. The waitress came over.

"What can I get you?"

"I'll have the Brownie Mountain,"  I said. She scribbled it down and turned to Joe.

"Well, I have a problem," Joe began, looking the waitress seriously in the face. She looked slightly alarmed. "You see, I'm completely torn between the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and the Pieces. What do you recommend? Cups or Pieces?"  The waitress blushed and self-consciously fussed with her hair. I watched the whole exchange with a bit of awe. He had just charmed a complete stranger by making her believe she was involved in this decision.

"Well, Cups are good, but I 'd definitely have to go with the Pieces," she said. Her whole face reflected hope for Joe 's approval.  I, too, was anxious for his decision.

"Okay, then," he said. "The Pieces." The waitress beamed and hurried away.

When she left, Joe put his full focus back on my face. His eyes roamed liberally and carefully over my entire head. It was exasperatingly unnerving, and it made me desperate to check my reflection. I tried to pretend I was just crossing my legs and casually noticing that Oh, hey, there's a mirror there, but I nearly fell out of the booth so I decided to just look back at Joe.

It was a mistake, of course, because now his eyes locked on mine. He took a breath, and again it appeared he wanted to say something. I wanted so much for it to be some kind of an admission. A Look, we've come so far. I know now that I want to be with you.   The only thing that came, however, were two ice cream sundaes and a now confidently flirtatious waitress.

Joe paid for the ice cream sundaes.  I couldn't help but think that made the entire night Official, but I just thanked him and walked out ahead of him.  I started making my way to the car when I noticed he had stopped walking just outside the door.   I turned around.  He was staring up into the dark winter sky.

"It's such a clear night,"  he said.  "Want to go for a walk?"

I froze.  Friendly's was located on an extremely busy main road complete with four lanes and a median.  I had never, ever walked down this road or any like it because my parents were strict and because growing up they had put the fear of God in me that I might be killed by crossing any street, never mind a suburban superhighway.  So of course, I blinked up at the stars, looked back at Joe and said, "Okay."

I walked near him with my hands in my pockets.  The snow covering the ground blanketed all sound, even the noise of the cars whizzing past.   I was aware of the gravelly chomp beneath our boots and of the air puffing from our noses as we moved through the night.   I thought he might hold my hand, but it was cold and he had pocketed his own hands.  I tried to stay close enough that we might bump elbows, and maybe share a little warmth.  The icy breeze made my cheeks numb and I hoped my nose wasn't running.

Across the street from the restaurant was a playground. It was dark and icy and abandoned, but Joe headed toward it anyway.  It was the kind with all the towers and secret staircases and tunnels.  The swings had been dismantled and stored for the winter, but everything else was intact.  I climbed up a tower alongside the monkey bars, the one at the top of the slide.  I leaned over the side and peeked down at Joe, feeling childish but content. I was a princess.  Granted, I grew up believing this was true, but in that moment my knight was down yonder awaiting me.

Joe made his way immediately to the monkey bars. He hung upside down from his knees, swung and did a flip, and then climbed all the way to the top.  I watched him.   He had all the spunk of a little kid and he knew I was noticing.  I wondered if he would want to kiss me. A moment did not pass that I did not think about the fact that we had never kissed and probably should.

I was just noticing a strip of ice on one of the monkey bars when I heard the loud squeak of a sneaker.  Before my eyes, Joe slipped from the bar and landed on one just below him with a thud.  He was straddling the bar and looked...winded.  He gasped.

I went thundering down the metal tower staircase to his aid.  "Are you okay?" I asked, not sure if it was funny or not.   In my head I was laughing uncontrollably.  He shrugged and got up, limping slightly.

"Yeah, why?" he asked, his voice only a little strained.  He walked into the tower and climbed the steps to the top of the slide.  I did not follow him.  He seemed to need a minute.

It was not a full sixty seconds before he was leaning out of the tower. "Where are you?"  he called.   I ducked through a tunnel and made my way up to him.  The tower was narrow and we were standing very close.  The wrinkled leather of his jacket sleeves was brushing my hands.  He looked at me.  His eyes sparkled in the streetlight.  He smiled and then walked back down the steps toward the road.  I felt all the air go out of me in disappointment as I followed him.

It was strange. I had never been on such a date. Conversation floated between us all along, and yet I have no idea what we spoke of.  I only can say it was...us.  To anyone else, it probably sounded meaningless, but to us, every word, every moment was so interesting.  I don't think these kinds of conversations are common in life, or that you can have them with just anyone.  At least, I can't.  They require comfort and a sense of safety.  No matter what I said, it was okay.  But what I wanted to say, I didn 't.

It was getting pretty cold and we were a fair distance from the car, so when McDonald's came into view and Joe suggested hot chocolate, I was relieved. The blast of heat hit us as we entered and we immediately unzipped our coats. Joe stepped up to the counter and ordered two hot chocolates.  

"Three seventy-three," said the bland cashier.  She was a girl who looked like she loathed her job.  Joe put four dollars on the counter.  The girl scooped it up and began counting the change out very slowly.

In this time, Joe had miraculously come up with seventy-three cents.  He placed it on the counter and busied himself examining the display of recent Happy Meal toys.  I watched the cashier triumphantly produce the change, still from the even four dollars, as she noticed the seventy-three cents on the counter.

"What's this for?" she demanded.  Joe started, and faced her.

"Uh," he said. He looked at me sideways as if to say, What does she think it's for?  "That's just for being you," he said seriously. The girl looked side to side in confusion and then said finally, "Thanks?"

We hiked back to the car and, though I didn't want our weird enchanted evening to be over, I felt I had no choice but to start driving back to Joe 's house. His parents tended to be unreasonably strict like mine were, and he needed to be home by ten. I headed toward his neighborhood.

"Wait," he said.  There was a flutter in my stomach.  "Let's drive around and look at the Christmas lights. "

Dear God. How freaking romantic. I was dying. Dying, and it was spectacular.

The Pooh-mobile rolled slowly through the streets of our town, making loud crunchy noise over the salt and snow on the roads.  Joe knew all the jazziest neighborhoods, and interrupted our loud silence to periodically say, "Turn here," or "Don't miss the next street.  It's a good one."

At ten-thirty, worry began to creep in. What if Joe's parents associated me with his lateness and thought I was a floozy? I turned the car back in the direction of his house.  He did not object.  When I came near, I pulled up in front of the driveway so he wouldn't have to get out in the snow.  At first, he did not move to get out.  He only stared at me in that unsettling way, the way that made me feel exposed and beautiful at once.

"I had a really good time," he said.  He wasn't smiling.  He looked as uncertain as I felt.

"So did I, we should do this again."  I stopped before I started speeding along in my obvious chalance.

He unclicked his seatbelt.   He looked at me.  I held my breath and blinked.   He leaned over and hugged me.  He opened the car door and stepped out.   He waved.  He turned and began walking toward the house.  I let my breath go and put the car in Drive.

As my foot sank down on the gas, movement caught the corner of my eye.  I turned slowly, uncertainly, to find Joe peeking in the passenger window again.   I slammed my foot on the brake.  He opened the car door and leaned in.  Oh my God, I thought.  Oh my God.  He has returned for the kiss.  Finally.  My heart raced as he opened his mouth to speak.

"Do you know how to get home?" he asked.

"I, uh, yes."

"Okay," he said. He paused. He looked deeply into my eyes, and then walked back out onto the driveway, closing the car door behind him.   I watched him walk all the way into his house.

Oh my God.  Oh my God.

I drove all the way home imagining myself turning back.  I replayed the last moment when he returned to the car and leaned in.  I replayed it again and again.  Could I have changed it?   Could I have initiated something more?  Was Joe in fact initiating it and had I done something stupid and irrevocable?  Most importantly: Would I get another chance?

These questions seem beyond silly now, fifteen years later with two little boys in my backseat shouting, "I think I see Santa!  Look!  Mommy, do you see him?!"

I am so lucky that I have TWO Joe Bieleckis, plus one very special Noah.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who Makes Dinner

My mother had an uncle who got really, really sick when I was ten.  He lived far away, and I didn't know him very well.  But when I was ten and he was sick, my mother flew to California to see him.

I remember her telling us everything.  "My uncle is really sick, and I need to go and see him.  He needs me."

And my response was, "But who will make dinner?"

This was a serious concern to me at ten years old.  In my whole life, there was only one person who ever made dinner.  I've mentioned before that even when we were expecting to go where another person was cooking, my mom cooked for us beforehand.  Just in case, she said.  Because you never know what you'll get.

When my mother returned home from California, I was extremely relieved to tell her that Daddy had taken good care of us, and that he had been able to handle all the meals like a champ.  "Mommy!  Mommy!" I shouted.  "I had Fruit Loops for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner!"

My sister became an adult when she was, like, two, but it was about twenty years after that she took her first real foray into serious cooking.  My parents were away on vacation, and Jane decided to cook Cornish hens.  This seemed like a pretty big feat, and it was.  She made side dishes and everything.  The sides turned out okay, but not the hens.  She'd cooked them upside down, and...I don't know.  They weren't done right.

And I sat at the table with the sides and the messed-up hens thinking to myself (but never out loud--my sister was already crushed), "See?  This is what happens when Mom's not here to cook."

(My sister has since become quite a successful preparer of all sorts of foods, even conquering the Cornish hen some time in the late nineties--Kudos! to her for not giving up.)

And it's funny, because as always, I see history repeat itself in Joey and Noah.  At around five o'clock this evening, Joey looked pointedly at the door.  "Should we get our shoes on?" he asked.

"Grandma's going out to dinner with Grandpa," I said.

"But who will make dinner?" he cried.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Things I Said

My son Joey was a surprise.  Having only been married a very short time when we realized I was pregnant, I managed my extreme panic, painful morning sickness, and, at times, horror, by imagining a beautiful little girl I would call Isabella all dressed in pink with giant floppy bows on her tiny bald head.

Joey is so not a girl.  Nor, for that matter, is Noah.

But I have since decided that God had a LOT of reasons for placing me in a boy-crazy house.  For one thing, it's certain payback for my behavior as a teenage girl.  I also think it's owed to my behavior as a teenager in a way completely unrelated to boys.  I don't think I could live with another me.  It's not about sharing a spotlight, it's about how really terribly I could behave as someone who is as much girl as my boys are boys.  Let me spell it out for you.  Drama.  Angst.  Hormones.  Shrillness.

I told my mother I hated her more than once.  Maybe even every other day.  I said even worse things to my brother and probably my sister, too, though our relationship now is so close I can't actually remember it being any other way (which is probably for the best).  My dad is pretty scary when you tick him off, so I never said anything nasty directly to his face, but you can bet he was the recipient of some seriously fuming Thoughts and Mutterings.

My only jobs in my teens were working for my parents.  Before I describe my somewhat atrocious behavior, I'd like to defend myself by saying my parents wouldn't let me work anywhere else.  For all my prissiness, I really wanted to work at Burger King and eat Whoppers.  No kidding--I thought they were delicious and still do.  But instead, I answered phones at my dad's office two nights a week, and sometimes cleaned.  He fired me each and every night that I worked.  Either I was "sick," late,  belligerent, rude, or just plain old refused to get up off my chair.  He would yell, "Then just go home!  I don't want you here, then!" and I would drive all the way home only to have my mother say, "Don't be an asshole.  You have to go back and apologize."

I worked for my mom as an "administrative assistant."  I have to give her credit for tossing such a glossy title my way, but I also have to admit that I was prone to skipping out early, falling behind in stacks of paperwork, and trying to flirt with the male employees (who were all way too old for me).

In short, I was a bit of a brat and not very nice.

I'm thinking of all this right now because while I didn't get the daughter who would supposedly bring strife and drama to my life, I do have two children who are people.  They are individuals with their own personalities, and there is nothing I can do or even want to do to shake that out of them.  Boys bring their own issues to the table, and it's not just gross bathroom floors.

Noah managed to say all of the following to me in the course of just today:
You are MEAN.
I am NOT doing that.
I WILL not do that.
I don't like you.
I don't need you.
I want a NEW mommy.
I don't want a mommy at all.
I don't want to live with you.
I hate you.
You are ugly, ugly, ugly.

I know in my heart that these things he said today were only said because I was expecting him to do things he didn't want to do (poop on the toilet, eat his whole lunch, take a nap, put something away, etc.), and because I refused to take no for an answer--something I definitely inherited from my own parents.  I also know that because he was mad, he deliberately said things that were the OPPOSITE of what he says when he is happy.  On any given day, he will also call me beautiful, tell me I'm the best Mommy, and ask me to never, ever leave him.   And of course, he's only three years old.  There's also that.

But as I tucked him into bed tonight, and he held my face close to his and said fiercely, "I just love you so much," the other things he said today were not erased.  Sometimes I can forgive and forget, other times I cannot.  Tonight, I couldn't forget.  I couldn't help but feel like really good moms everywhere would know just what to do with such a high-charged, high-maintenance, intense little boy like mine.

And then I remembered being seventeen years old and standing in my parents' kitchen, looking right into my mother's eyes, and saying, "I HATE you."

I wanted to hurt her, because I had been angry.  But now that I know how much it hurts, even when you know they don't mean it, I want to tell her I'm so, so sorry.  I want to hug her--even though she really hates when people touch her--and buy her a big present and tell her what I've always REALLY thought:

I'm so lucky that all my life, my mom was prettier, smarter, and more fun than all the other moms.  That she's better than a gourmet chef and that I really admire how clean and good she makes everything around her.  I hope someday Noah will say something like this to me, but I won't hold my breath.

Because he's Noah.