“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, February 23, 2012

In Disguise--With Glasses

I'm told that when my mother was a little girl, she was kind of a brat. Actually, I don't know if "brat" is even the right word, but I know that our Judy was the only small child in a family full of adults, and that she definitely drove everyone crazy.

One of my favorite stories is the one where she was a little girl driving in the car with her father (my grandpa) on the Skyway. Somehow, she had procured a pair of those glasses with the nose and the mustache, and she had her face pressed against the window while she made horrible, vicious faces at the passing cars. Suddenly, a horrifying thing happened. The car door that my mom was plastered against flew open. Clutching onto it for dear life, her little feet ran along the pavement of the Skyway beside the still moving car while my grandfather screamed in terror. When he stopped the car, he yanked her back inside, grabbed the silly glasses off her face, and threw them right out the window. 'Cause that's how it's done in my family.

As a joke, she recently bought a pair of those glasses and wore them out to dinner with my grandparents. Since then, my kids have made great fun out of wearing them periodically.

Flash forward to today, a day dominated by Noah. Having decided NOT to nap this afternoon, demons seemed to possess his mind and he ran wild. He kept flicking his tongue like a lizard and instead of talking, he yelled at everyone. Instead of saying, "Excuse me, Mother, I think I might need a fork please," he'd holler at the top of his lungs, "I NEED A FORK NOW!!"

At my mother's for dinner, he screamed for a snack when it was time to eat. When we gave him his chicken, he yelled that he wanted potatoes. When we gave him potatoes, he wanted more. When we gave him more, he wasn't hungry. Then he wanted a banana. Then he wanted jelly beans. It was maddening. We kept him busy for about ten minutes by teaching him to write "Bielecki" by himself, but he's so d@%# smart that he had it down with no trouble at all.

He finally became quiet over a game of folding chairs. They're those child-sized ones in primary colors, and my mom keeps them tucked away for larger family parties. Noah decided to unfold all the chairs and line them up. Three times there was a loud CRASH! Once there were tears. Twice he fought with Joey about the arrangement of the chairs.

Then he decided to pretend the chairs were a bed. He stretched out along three of them, his eyes closed in pretend sleep. I was so fed up with him, I did something really terrible. I dug around and found the silly mustache glasses. I put them on, and snuck up beside Noah.

"Can Mommy have a kiss?" I asked.

He turned to me, opened his eyes, and screamed, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

'Cause that's how we do it in my family!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Memory Lane: The Penny Loafer

I was seventeen years old and driving down the Skyway of Buffalo for possibly the first time ever. It doesn't really matter, since it never gets any easier. The Skyway is about a billion feet up in the air, careening around the outside of downtown, and if you're afraid of heights and/or bridges, it's not for you.

I was on it because I was heading to a basketball game at Buffalo State College with four of my friends. Canisius High School was doing well that year, and it was a big game, so they were playing in the college venue. I wasn't a particularly big fan of basketball, or sports in general, but I was exceptionally fond of going anywhere with good friends. Even if it meant taking the Skyway.

My friends Christine, Alice, and Pat were smushed into the backseat. The game was Pat's idea, since Canisius was his school. And since Pat was going, he'd invited along his friend Joe Bielecki, too.  Joe was in the front seat next to me.

I was sure no one knew it, but I had been secretly in love with Joe for two years. In that time, he had loved me, loved me not, and loved me again more times than are necessary to count. At this point, he had loved me not enough times that I felt complete hopelessness (and helplessness) where he was concerned. Truthfully, the only real reason he rode shotgun this day was because he lived closest to me and I'd picked him up first on my way to the game. It had nothing at all to do with the fact that I was pretending we were on a date.

"Hey," said Alice suddenly. "Why is the radio off?"

"Because I need it off right now," I said. My hands were locked on the steering wheel in a death grip at ten and two o'clock. I sat ramrod straight, my back not quite touching the seat.

"Why do you need it off?" asked Joe.

"Because I'm concentrating," I said, trying not to notice how close the edge of the highway was. There were cement barriers, but still. What if my mom's car was powerful enough to plow through and go over the edge?

I became aware then of movement out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly our local station, Kiss 98.5, blared through the car.

"Hey!" I shrieked, slapping the radio off. I was terrified to take my eyes off the road, but I did so for a flash of second to glare at Joe. "Did you really just do that?"

He chuckled at himself, like I was amusing him. I felt my nose wrinkle slightly and my blood start to race.

"It's not funny," I said, my teeth gritted. I prayed mentally for the end to come quickly--of the Skyway, not of life--while taking deep breaths.

"What's not funny?" asked Joe. The laughter in his voice made his feigned nonchalance more annoying. "This?" And on came the radio again.

My heart pounded in my ears. My friends giggled in the backseat. Did no one understand that we were so high up it felt like there was no road beneath us at all? Like I was on a cloud that provided no stability or control for my mom's really cool Ford Contour and that if I messed up, we'd all die and it would be Joe's fault for turning on the radio?

I slapped the radio off again, trying not to blink. What would happen if I blinked? Oh, I don't know. Certain doom, perhaps?

"Cut it out," I said.

"This?" he asked again. The sound of the Spice Girls filled my car.

"I mean it!" I yelled, turning the radio off. "I can't drive with it on right now!"

And just as I said it, the Skyway ended. I took a deep breath and gave Joe a glare I hoped meant "I hate you and I want you to go far, far away forever." He just smirked and turned the radio on again, clearly knowing the worst was over. Pat and Alice gave me directions the rest of the way to UB, and by the time we stepped onto the bleachers that surrounded the huge basketball court, I'd nearly forgotten the radio incident.

Pat and Joe walked up ahead of us, looking for the right seats. I walked between Alice and Chris, talking and laughing about school and friends and boys. Suddenly, in the middle of our conversation, I must have stopped talking. I'd become distracted by something.

It was Joe. He had his keys attached to a long key chain on his belt loop, and with each step he swung the keys around and around like a cowboy with his lasso. I must have been grimacing, because Chris nudged me with her elbow.

"That was really annoying in the car, wasn't it Maris?" she asked. Maris was a nickname I'd gotten at school because of the character on Frasier. I never actually approved it (who would?!), but it stuck with some of my friends. Chris was one of them.

"Ugh," I groaned. "I know! Who does that? I mean, I was really petrified of the Skyway, and--"

"You still like him, don't you?" she interrupted. Alice smirked.

"What? I don't," I said. It sounded weak, even to me.

She leaned in close to me, so I could see that she was seeing what I saw. "You know you really love someone when they do something like that--" she gestured at Joe's key swinging action-- "and you love them anyway."

I swallowed. I'd never actually had anybody acknowledge my feelings for Joe as more than a silly crush, and the way Chris had just spoken, I felt my heart both sink and soar at the same time.

I swallowed a second time and said, "He was a total jerk in the car. Who could love him?"

Alice didn't even break stride. "You do," she said.

I felt my face color and I smiled sheepishly, but I didn't say anything more about it. We found Pat and Joe down near center court, and climbed down over the benches to sit behind them. The game was apparently going well, since the Cansius fans, identifiable by their blue and gold flags and attire, cheered wildly and often.

I didn't pay much attention to the game, and could barely focus on the conversation that continued around me. Chris and Alice had kind of freaked me out. Were my feelings that obvious? Of course I had mentioned being crazy about Joe here and there--I'd even taken him to my junior prom--but the whole thing was so on-again, off-again and I definitely hadn't mentioned him that way in months. I had even been telling myself I was over him, though I clearly wasn't. I didn't want my eyes to wander to Joe, but I couldn't help it. He wore his varsity jacket, its sleek white sleeves crisp and clean and inexplicably begging me to touch them. His cheeks were pink because it was chilly, and he was holding what looked like a dirty yellow hand towel.

"What is that?" I whispered to Alice, pointing at Joe's rag.

"It's called a rowdy rag," she replied. She giggled. "It looks like it's from a bathroom, doesn't it?"

"Just what I was thinking," I said. Something exciting had apparently happened in the game, because Joe was waving his rowdy rag all over the place. I seriously hoped this was the only thing he used it for, because it looked pretty gross.

The guys turned around and looked at us. "Having fun?" Joe asked.

"Oh, yes," said Chris.

"What about you?" he asked, locking his eyes on mine. Don't blush, don't blush, I begged myself.

"Loads!" I said. Yeah. Because basketball games were totally my cup of tea, and definitely when my two close friends called me out on my secret love and made me feel self-conscious. I could feel their eyes on me right now.

"Mary Pat just loves basketball, don't you, MP?" asked Alice with a laugh.

"Of course," I said.

Joe's eyes dropped to my shoes. They were new and very, very cool. Chunky high-heeled penny loafers. With the pennies.

"Nice shoes," he said, shoving his rowdy rag in his pocket. It didn't fit, so it was hanging off his pants in all its filthy glory. What a dumb idea.

"I know," I said, glancing down at my shoes to distract from his rowdy rag.

"So you like them?" he asked.


"Do you need them both?"

"Yes, wh--"

He cut me off by grabbing my shoe. Off my foot. I looked at my white ankle sock in disbelief, and then at Joe. He waggled the shoe at me. The crowd cheered around us. Probably not about the shoe, though.

"Don't you need to watch the game?" I squeaked, diving for my shoe. He easily moved it to his other hand, holding it out of my reach. I turned to Alice and Chris. Alice shrugged and Chris held back a laugh. Neither helped.

"But I've got this great shoe," he said. He stood up, still holding it out of my reach. My beautiful penny loafer shimmered in the bright lights and seemed to cry out for my now cold foot.

"Joe, just give it back," I said, gritting my teeth. People were starting to look.  Love? How could I love this person? First the radio on the Skyway and now this shoe stealing nonsense?

"You really want it?" he asked, dangling it over my head. I didn't want to flail around like an idiot, but I could help but jump for it. I missed.

"Yes, now give it back!"

"Go get it!" he shouted, and threw the shoe down about ten bleachers. I watched it thonk, ka-thonk, blam! land about ten feet away from a group of irritated onlookers. I couldn't blame them. They seemed interested in the basketball.

My gaze flew to Joe in shock, and then back down at my shoe. Joe had plopped back down in his seat, all lounge-y and comfortable, a huge satisfied smile across his stupidly handsome face. I wanted to hit that face.

I looked at my friends, and they were just as shocked as I was. I stood, one shoe on and one off, and considered climbing all lopsided and crooked over the benches to retrieve my shoe, but I honestly could barely manage it with both shoes on. I was really clumsy and a little afraid of bleachers.

"I'll get it," Alice said, standing. She wasn't mad, she was trying not to laugh, but I could tell she thought Joe was a total weirdo. Well who wouldn't? I mean, who does that??

Alice easily retrieved my sad penny loafer and sat a little closer to me as I placed it (what I hoped was) securely back on my foot.

"Why do you think," she whispered, "a guy would steal a girl's shoe?"

"I have no idea," I said, shaking my head in bewilderment.

"Because he likes her," Chris hissed, leaning behind Alice's back. My stomach flipped over.

"Come on, guys," I said, shutting my eyes at the absurdity of what they said. "We know that's not how it is. At least not with Joe."

"Oh, come on, MP," Alice pressed. "All that waving the shoe around so you'd jump all over him?"

"I didn't jump all over him."

"Oh, okay," she said, rolling her eyes.

I let the subject drop, but this time I couldn't help but stare at Joe. Why would someone do something so completely stupid?

Probably because as much as I loved Joe all those years ago, he kind of loved me, too. I think about this story on the days when my husband drives me the most crazy. I remember that he stole my shoe at least two more times the next year when were in college, right in the middle of campus. I remember how absolutely mad he made me--really mad, not even angry--and then I think about how all he had to do was smile at me and say, "You really are beautiful," and I didn't even care. How stupid was I?

I think love is more the penny-loafer days than anything else. Being married isn't easy at all, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or...just lying, really. My husband could not only still be counted on to steal my shoe at an inopportune moment, but he also leaves dirty socks on the family room couch. He leaves dirty dishes in the sink instead of placing them in the dishwasher. He interrupts ALL THE TIME, constantly contradicts me (especially about our kids!), and he has this way of just sitting in a chair that screams, "I'm so SMAHT" (not smart, SMAHT) and makes me completely insane. I mean, sit like a normal person!

But then he'll get up to leave the room, or he'll come home from work, or he'll throw our son over his shoulder...and I'll see him all over again. That goofy guy, swinging his keys, all those years ago. And I'm lost.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Field Trip

I am not normal. I think I need to come to terms with this.

It's not to say that I think I'm "special" or "better than." It's that every time I embark upon even the smallest thing that the average person does with no trouble at all, I meet Disaster. And Disaster gets all crazy and explosive and up in my grill.

Today, my sister and I decided to take our kids to the Aquarium in Niagara Falls. To be clear, she's not normal, either. She's much closer to it than I am, but there must be something in our genes that prevents us from reaching 100% (you should meet my mom sometime--not normal at all). Anyway, we loaded up the five children in my sister's oversized SUV and braved the Grand Island bridges (of which we are both terrified and made the children ride in total silence for the duration of both) and found our way (not easily) to the Aquarium.

Does anyone recall that I said I was a "recovering" germophobe? Wait, let me start over. Let's say a person is really, really afraid of...hmm, I don't know...heights. But the person works in a tall building, and his wife loves roller coasters, and he realizes, to live my life every day, I'm going to have to deal with heights. So he learns to deal with heights. He even rides the Superman at Darien Lake. But then, on a weird day, his wife, thinking he's all recovered, drags him to try bungee jumping. She's got him all strapped to the cord and is about to shove him off a platform and suddenly, BAM! He hollers, "I'm FREAKING AFRAID OF HEIGHTS!"

This is what happened to me at the Aquarium today. Within the controlled environments of my daily life: my home, my family's homes, Target, Wegmans...I'm a recovering germophobe. But at the Aquarium today? I was a FREAKING germophobe. It's because of all the gross people!  Why were there so many at once? Why are they allowed out in public? The phlegmy coughing, the teary eyed, croaky children, and messy hair and disheveled clothing? The crusty faces? And they have no manners at all, pushing and shoving and touching whom and whatever! Good GOD!

I don't think I would feel this vocal if it weren't for what happened. Are you ready for what happened? It was actually toward the end of the field trip. My sister, the unspoken boss as the eldest, announced it was time to go. Our five children were obediently lined up, smily and sparkly like the children in The Sound of Music, donning their jackets and caps. Suddenly, just as we all buddied up and joined hands, a large group moved past us. And in that group was a girl, probably in her twenties. As she moved by my sister and me, she turned to us abruptly and...


And it was a DOOZY. Not a cute little "kerty-choo!" but a "WAAAAAHCHOOOOOOOO!" full of vile liquid and gusto. Before we could stop ourselves, my sister and I both moaned in horror, throwing up our arms as if to block the germs. But it was no good. It was done. To our grave dismay, we could not be unsneezed. (Although, perhaps from our reaction, the twenty-something sneezer learned a valuable lesson.)

From there, everything just went downhill. We got lost on the way to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. We discovered that our "perfect parking spot" led to a path that had been barricaded and had to backtrack and re-route as it started pour freezing rain. Joey refused to eat his chicken because it "tasted gross" and Noah refused to eat his hamburger because he "already ate lunch." Everything took too long and the children became restless, shifty shells of their former selves and began behaving like the Aquarium kids instead of the Von Trapp family. To return to our car we scaled a fence and landed in mud, which Noah promptly stuck his hands in the second we were seated in the car. My niece started overheating on the ride home and kept throwing her ponytailed head between her legs because she was faint and in the way-back seat Joey discovered leaky bug spray that had spilt on his hands and he was sure he was going to die from it.

I'll end the story with a direct quote from my sister. It's what she screamed at the top of her lungs at all of us as we made our mad dash through 80 mph winds and whipping ice-rain.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Cold Pack, Warm Heart

Have I mentioned that I'm clumsy? Unfairly so? Inanimate objects seem to grab me with a magnetic force that is meant for me and only me. I bump doorjambs so often I actually wonder if I've been shoved by a ghost or if the wall is jumping out to get me. And thank goodness for the floor, always sure to catch me when I fall. So thoughtful.

Tonight after I'd given the boys their bath, I smacked the side of my head on the...wait for it...CORNER of the granite countertop as I bent down to help Noah. The boys are no strangers to my injuries, and as I crumbled into the fetal position clutching my head and moaning (and also wishing someone might get a bowl to catch the brains surely oozing from what had to be a gaping wound), Joey played with his toes and hummed. Yes, really.

Oddly enough, it was Noah who flew to me, wrapped his arms around me and said, "Are you okay?" I was deep-breathing through it, so I wasn't sure if he heard me when I gasped, "No!" Suddenly, he dropped his Eeyore towel. He ran out of the room in a streak of cuteness, and returned to me holding his most prized and valued possession. His icepack.

He held it out in front of his round little tummy, his eyes wide and earnest as he said, "Put this on your boo-boo, Momma. You need it more than I do right now."

Dumbfounded, I did what he asked, all the while thanking God that he'd given me a son so weird he needed his own personal icepack.  Because he sleeps with it (yes, really--he has lots of aches and pains that mean he just can't possibly go to sleep at nap time), it was warm and mushy, but the love that came along with it really helped the throbbing in my head to subside.

I think it was overpowered by the swelling in my heart.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Crazy

I don't know if everyone does this, but I am trapped within the mental confines of school-reality, versus real reality, if that makes any sense. It means things on many levels, but here and now, it means that September is my time for New Year's celebrations. It's the end of summer, the beginning of layers and coats and fur-lined boots. It's when everyone, I don't care who you are, buys new pens and, perhaps, a clipboard.  (If you don't own a clipboard, get one. It's life changing.)

So this "year" has brought me a lot of surprises. I can't seem to get over the fact that every year brings surprises. September rolls around and I think, "This will be the year with no surprises. The STABLE year." There was a time when things were like that. I think I was, like, eight. But things were stable and predictable and PDG. Pretty Darn Great.

This year was totally supposed to be my stable year. I'm on leave from work. As in, no job stress. How could it be anything but stable? I imagined myself cuddling and educating my sons all day long and taking meaningful field trips every week and becoming...crafty. Not like, psychopathic killer crafty, but as in, "makes crafts."  When I was eight, I made awesome dolls out of tissues and Scotch tape. Where did that go?

But this year has been anything but stable! Oddly, I find that I'm happier than I have ever been, possibly more than when I was eight even though that was when rolling your jeans was really in and I'm patiently awaiting its return to the fashion arena. All the same, here are some loops that have been thrown my way:

1. Kidney Stones. Who wants to walk around with an 18-inch non-pliable tube running through their midsection for thirty-two days? I didn't, but no one really asked me. At least, not while I wasn't under the influence of some serious pain meds.

2. My husband works Monday through Friday in a city four hours away (it's actually only 3/3.5, but he drives reeeeeeeally slow). That pretty much sucks.

3. My younger son, the one I spend the majority of my days with, doesn't like me very much. You might think I just have a complex, but really. He tells me this all the time, and is certain all his babysitters are in cahoots with a mean plan to rescue him from my evil clutches.

4. My grandmother is sick. I never saw that coming. Stupid, I know, but I've been pretty sure all along she has possession of the Sorcerer's Stone or some powerful elixir. But it turns out, no, she's just as human as the rest of us. 

5. My mother does NOT want to be besties. Seriously. What's her problem?

6. I am not one of those people who can eat whatever she wants and gain nothing. Lots of people warned me this was the case, but, alas. I'm surprised. And...inconvenienced, to say the least.

7. I don't like volunteering at my son's school. I'm a teacher, so I definitely didn't see that coming. But, um, yeah, it makes me uncomfortable to be NOT the teacher, so.

8. It doesn't matter how many fresh groceries I buy. I'm not a very good cook.

9. My older son is what they call "the whole package." Extremely intelligent, artistic, creative, good at math, exceptional at reading and writing, a terrific dancer, kind-hearted and gentle, and so, so, SOOOO handsome.

10. My younger son is what they call "the one to watch out for." He's so, so, SOOOO handsome and incredibly charming, but he's got the devil in him--and he's okay with it.

11. I can make my own Roman blinds. That part's cool.

12. My kids are weird. Joey played all day with those little rubber bouncy balls the other day and announced, "Mom, if I'm ever in a talent show, I'm gonna get up on stage and just play with my balls." You go get 'em, Tiger.  And Noah doesn't like to wear underpants. He also invents people to talk to so he can avoid me. "Mom, I'm not talking to you. Stella is here right now, okay?"

And oddly, it doesn't matter. I still think my life is great. My last line will be meant to tick off my mom, since she won't be my BFF (at least not 24/7).

Go figure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Mommy's sick...

...the boys step up.

I don't want to say I'm loving it. It sounds wrong on so many levels, especially given that I'm a recovering germophobe. (Hear that? Recovering--Yes, you read that correctly!) And also, a hypochondriac. I love the part in that Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman movie The Switch when the little boy says, "What's hypochondria?" and Jason Bateman explains, and the little boy frowns and says gravely, "I think I have that." Yes, I am aware that I have just compared myself to the character of a six-year-old. So?

Anyway, I'm not horrifically ill, just a cold and a sore throat, but it is one of those maladies that makes me feel like wearing pajamas all day, drinking tea, and lounging around under cozy blankets. Not really much fun for little boys, but what can you do?

I was shocked, then, to find Noah hovering over me this afternoon. He pressed his hand to my forehead, frowned, and nodded. "Yes," he said seriously. "I think you need plenty of rest. And lollipops." Then he kissed my cheek and my forehead and said, "I'm here. It's okay."

Later, he brought me his remote control firetruck so I could have some fun without leaving the couch. He pressed the remote into my hand and said, "Go ahead, Mom. You can have my turn." After a few minutes, he picked up the truck and brought it close to me. "Want to see a trick?" he asked. "Press right here and the truck will beep. I promise it will work."

As I pressed the spot he pointed to, he leaned closed to me ear and squealed, "BEEP!" Then he blinked innocently, raised one up-turned hand in the air, and said, "See? Does that make you happy?"

At night, as I tucked Joey into bed, he said, "Just go, Mom. Don't worry about me. You really need your sleep."

I know I'm a little biased, but I can't help but think I have the best boys ever. <3

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Memory Lane: Episode 4

Fifteen years ago, I sat in a high school cafeteria painted pink with a floral wallpaper border. My neatly pressed Oxford shirt was tucked into my dark plaid kilt (mostly), and I was surrounded by red and pink carnations.

It was Valentine's Day, which meant that all lunch periods were bustling with the delivery of cheap flowers, a dollar a piece and sporting cheesy notes tied with curling ribbon, from all the area boys' schools. You didn't need to have a boyfriend for a flower to come your way. Girls with boyfriends were upstairs in the main office picking up elaborate arrangements of roses with teddy bears and balloons (God I wanted to be one of those girls--they got to have their names called over the PA). No, you didn't need to have a boyfriend; you just needed to have someone.

Around my lunch table of twelve or so other girls, carnations were piling up. These were my friends, and I knew most of the boys who had sent the flowers. They'd rip open the paper card, laugh at the funny or lame message inside, and then pass it to their neighbor, or to me, to share the fun. And it was fun. I had two flowers in front of me at the moment: one from my friend Pat and one from my friend Al. And they had funny and lame messages inside, and I was glad to be remembered and appreciated. But there was one other reason a boy might send a cheap flower to a girl. As a sign.

And I'd been waiting a couple of years from a sign from one particular boy.

I kept one eye on the clock, watching for the end of the lunch period. People were throwing out their garbage now, it wouldn't be long until we were dismissed. I sighed, resigned, and stood to carry my tray over to the kitchen.

When I stood, a grinning member of Student Council turned my way. She had three flowers in hand, clearly the last of the last because mine was the latest lunch period of the day, and she was moving toward me like a girl on a mission. I pretended to have forgotten some piece of garbage--a napkin, a spork, whatever I could find, to linger longer where I was.

She dropped the bunch beside me in my friend's lap, and moved on to help clean up with now empty flowers boxes, littered with lost leaves and stray flower petals.

I felt...bereft.

Foolish, of course, because if you've waited two years for a sign from a boy and he still hasn't given it, well, isn't that a sign all by itself? But that's the thing about signs. If the one you want hasn't come, the rest don't count.

The bell toned--more of a department store chime than a true traditional ringing--as I dropped off my tray and collected my books for my next class. Math. Nothing like "adding" insult to injury.

My math teacher was pretty laid back, and usually entered the class several minutes after the students. In the meantime, being fine students of a preparatory school, we settled into our assigned seats and took out our homework and freshly sharpened pencils.

Okay, really? Girls were gathered in clusters when I arrived comparing Valentine notes and numbers of flowers received. One girl sat in the corner, feigning surprise over an enormous balloon/mixed flower arrangement that she "just couldn't figure out where to put without it falling over!" Ugh.

My good friend Carolyn turned to me and glanced at my flowers. "Pat and Al?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said, trying not to sigh. She raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything. She knew what flower I had waited for, but didn't get.

I looked up to see the teacher plodding her way down the hall toward our classroom, laden with heavy binders and an overfilled tote. Her hair was slightly mussed and she looked frazzled from navigating halls that burst with Valentine-crazed teenaged girls.  Just as she was almost home free, safe within the confines of our classroom, a student council member shoved past her. The stunned math teacher bumped into the doorjamb, too shocked to scold the girl whose purpose was clearly desperate.

The girl stumbled into the room, righted herself, and stood facing us. A few of my friends' mouths were open slightly.

"Is there a Mary Pat in here?" she called, holding up a broken flower. It was the saddest thing I'd seen all day, snapped in half and dangling by a wilted leaf. The card was slightly ripped and bent all over.

I stood, a little embarrassed that this flower--the reject of all flowers--might be mine to claim. But it was senior year. The only other Mary Pat I'd ever known had graduated the year before, so it really only left me.

"Here you go," she said, thrusting the damaged carnation my way. "Tell your guy to learn your name." I grabbed it, tucked it into my side, and slumped in my seat.

The teacher was pulling her materials for the day out of her tote, and pretending not to be interested in what had just happened. The rest of the class was staring at me.

"Well?" prompted Carolyn. "Are you gonna read it?"

I looked at the flower, resting over my math homework. The whole picture was my sign, by the way. Trampled, rumpled, extremely late, and mixed up with math. I should have turned and run as far from that disaster as I could.

But my heart was pounding and my face was hot and it was all just too much. I turned the card over. It read, "Mary Pat Malkovich." I pressed my lips into a straight line and pulled the card open carefully, as it was pretty beaten up. My eyes rested on the message inside, and I felt the voices and faces around me fade to nothing as my heart froze and I truly believed I was flying. The message told me everything I wanted to know:


I needed no more signs or answers that Valentine's Day--this simple slice of punctuation and damaged flora told me everything I needed to know, misspelled last name and all. I did not make my usual stop at Burger King on my way home from school that day. Instead, I raced home to a house I prayed was empty, made a beeline for the telephone (one of those archaic ones tethered to the wall by a wire), and promptly dialed a phone number as familiar to me as my own.


"Hey, Joe," I said, keeping my voice casual. A major accomplishment, all things considered. "You won't believe what happened to me today."

I could hear a mix of pride and laughter in his voice. He thought he was so clever. "Oh, really? Did it have anything to do with...Valentines?"

"Yeah," I said, huffing as if in annoyance. "You won't believe what some total loser sent me. A broken flower, a totally wrong last name on the card, and here's the worst part: the only thing he wrote inside was a question mark. Can you believe that?"

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then, Joe Bielecki cleared his throat and asked timidly, "Um...what is your last name?"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kissing is GUH-ROSS!

Joey decided at least two years ago he would never fall in love. He has never strayed from this, except the one time he mentioned that "Maybe Selena Gomez is pretty--sort of."

He doesn't repeat his decision as a mantra like many afraid-of-commitment men and women of today. Instead it is very well thought out, with all kinds of ways to ensure his life will be successful and complete despite his decision to live it out as a happenin' bachelor. Here are some of the more memorable quotes:

1) "I just have to save all my love for my mom."

2) "I can't marry anyone because that means kissing, and kissing is GUH-ROSS!"

3) "Eeeeeeew."

4) "I'm going to be a scientist. Scientists don't have time for girlfriends."

5) "Since I'll be a scientist, I can always invent a robot girl to marry, if I really need to."

6) "I don't have a girlfriend. I don't want a girlfriend. I just want to be REGULAR friends with everyone."

7) "That girl makes me feel too warm and chocolatey."

8) "I'm NEVER having a girlfriend! I don't NEED one."

I really believe I was scarred by the societal expectation displayed in Disney movies, Barbie world, and pretty much everywhere else that a girl needs to meet the boy of her dreams, marry him, and live happily ever after. I think that I probably would have been much smarter in my teens and in college if perhaps I didn't have some deeply rooted need to find my "soul mate." (Although I did end up finding out that I DO have one and he is wonderful, but that's beside the point.) Therefore, I one hundred percent respect Joey's choice, and firmly tell him that whatever choice he makes is okay by me, as long as he is happy. If he changes his mine, that's okay. If not, that's okay, too.

Naturally, I almost fainted when Joey came home from school two weeks ago and announced that he had asked a girl to be his Valentine. A whole month ahead of time.

I was cleaning his lunchbox and Noah was bouncing off the walls as usual, when Joey stopped, leaned back into the kitchen and said, "Um, by the way, I wanted to tell you. I asked Wynona* to be my Valentine."

Trying not to squeal at the adorableness of it all, searching desperately for my nonexistent poker face, I said, "Oh? What did she say?"

His face was completely poker-ized as he replied, "She said yes. She asked me to please wait until the actual day to give her my present."

"Did you try to give her a present?" I asked, still trying to keep my voice level. 

"No," he said. "But I'm going to."

"Okay..." I said. I tried desperately to hold back the words, but no matter where I go, I'm still me. I blurted, "When did you decide to do this?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. She's the nicest girl in the whole class, so."

I swallowed, and smiled like he had just told me he'd merely had a good day at school. I did NOT want to freak him out, or make him think this had to be a huge scary deal.

"Sounds good," I said. "Thanks for telling me."

"Okay," he said, and left the room. 

This was when I did a silent squeal and run-in-place and waved my arms all over. CUTEST. KID. EVER!!

*Wynona's name isn't actually Wynona. I'm protecting her darling and adorable little identity.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Face Off

Noah and I faced off today in JoAnn Fabrics.

He was INSISTENT that there were "Ben 10 rings," whatever those might be, on the opposite side of the store. I was there strictly to buy fabric. As I am not crafty, and this is only my second time in this store EVER, I already felt like an outsider trying to blend.

Now, I was an outsider with a misbehaved little boy tugging on my arm and hollering, "We ARE going this way!"

I gently let go of his hand, turned the other way, and said calmly (and in front of about nine strangers), "Okay, fine. You go that way. I'm going this way." I pretended to start walking as my heart thundered in my chest and my pulse roared in my ears.

"Wait!" he cried out. Thank God.

"Yes, honey?" I asked. He hesitated. So did I.

"You...you have to come with me." He paused, then added quite deliberately, "Right now."

"Oh, that's okay," I said casually, starting to walk again. "You go on ahead. Someone will probably take you because you're so awfully cute...and good...but that's okay. See you 'round."

It was not even three seconds until his little hand was clasped firmly in mine and he said, "I need you close to me. I'll just stay with you."

A woman nearby looked at us both in shock, her mouth hanging open. Then she just started to laugh.

Because really, with Noah, it's all you can do.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dear Noah

Dear Noah,

Right now you are three years old, and you make me feel so crazy every day that I wonder how you will ever grow up to be a normal person. You yell. You poop in your pants. You scream. You are offended by the word No. You cry and wail (sometimes for real, usually not). You hit. You lay down on the floor and say, "I want a new mommy." Today, you peed on the bathroom wall. You knew it was happening. You watched it continue to happen. You said, "My penis didn't want to be down."

At bedtime, you pulled me close and said, "I have two things to tell you. I love you and I need you." You hugged me hard and said, "I just love you so much."

I named you before you were born. I chose your name because to me it represented everything I wanted you to grow up to be. I wished for you to have strength and courage. Intelligence and sharpness. Persistence: a never-give-up attitude that would always end in success. I wanted you to be sure of yourself and of your feelings, and most of all, I wanted you to be a person who loves with everything he's got.

I know you drive me crazy now, because you are three, but I have a feeling you won't let me down. I have a feeling that somehow, you helped me choose your name and to know who you would be. It's who you are right now, already, today--and you are only three.

But of course, as you tell me every day, you are almost four.

I love you all the time, no matter what.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

25 Epiphanies

These are 25 Things I've only just realized about myself. These things may have been obvious to you the moment you met me (if you've met me), but they are completely new to me.

1) I really, really want a dog.

2) I am not the type of person who should own a dog.

3) I am a serious control freak.

4) My mother, a fellow control freak, never made me clean because she wanted to make sure it was done "right." Therefore, I never really learned how to clean and have been too embarrassed to ask for help.

5) I do NOT like asking for help.

6) I LOVE being offered things, like help. And invitations.

7) More than being offered invitations, I LOVE when people insist or figuratively twist my arm to include me.

8) Because someone a long time ago took really terrible advantage of me, my involuntary first response to all requests is NO. Very often I don't even mean it, but I just can't seem to help it flying out of my mouth.

9) I used to be really open and romantic. Now I'm really cynical and generally dubious.

10) I am also untrusting.

11) I think people who candidly display that they are less than intelligent are intolerable. Particularly people who swear in non-angry social conversations.

12) I need more sleep than most people. I thought I needed normal sleep, but I need mononucleosis amounts of sleep to function. I don't often get this kind of rest, so I compensate with lots of coffee which makes me talk too fast and too loudly.

13) I love all the music of the world except rap and "scream-o."

14) I am outraged by unhappy endings in movies and books. I find them a complete waste of time.

15) I am generally suspicious.

16) I am unfairly clumsy. I think I always have been. It has taken me thirty-two years to no longer be surprised by the fact that I have fallen/bumped into something/hurt myself on a normal household item, like the faucet.

17) I am incapable of projecting past the NOW. I am like the ant in A Bug's Life who loses his way when a leaf falls in his path. "I'M LOST!" he yells. That's a great metaphor for my whole life.

18) I have a really, really hard time paying attention, even to things that interest me.

19) I actually do need to exercise and eat healthy.

20) I think I use commas more often than I need to, but it's because I take frequent mental pauses to organize my thoughts.

21) I see all thoughts in punctuated sentence form, like in a book. I also hear things this way, which makes me particularly keen to judge a person's tone and what it means.

22) Whenever I think I detect the sound of sickness in a person's voice, I am almost always correct--sometimes even BEFORE they know they are sick.

23) I can't stand being lied to.

24) I'm okay with change, but not okay with uncertainty.

25) I have a lot of blessings, but I'm afraid if I start counting them, God will notice and decide I need some bad things thrown my way. Because it's probably not fair that I have so much good in my life. Therefore, I often end up making a big deal out of small problems to throw God off my scent.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Angry Birds

I think I'm going to win Mommy of the Year because I played Angry Birds all day. I'm not kidding. I'm really sorry to moms everywhere who are making the argument that they are busy all day long and exhausted at the end of the day.  Whew! Me, too!  Have you ever tried playing Angry Birds with a three-year-old yelling in your ear that he needs more milk? What a crock of baloney. What's more important? My child's milk or scoring three stars on Angry Birds? Yeah, I knew you'd see it my way.

I had two great tasks to complete today and neither was accomplished. First, I wanted to procure window treatments for my kitchen window. It's huge and wide and it's been four years of feeling like somebody's watching me do the dishes. And you know what? In scary movies, someone really IS watching them wash the dishes. Knowing my luck, my life is a scary movie, and it's all been leading up to that moment.

So after a LOT of Facebook discussion (shout-out to my FB friends, thank you!), I was all set to hop in the car with Noah for an "adventure" to Home Depot and JoAnn Fabrics. Noah was all set, too, and then Joey's school called and said that he was sick. "Complaining that his stomach is upset," is what they said. Can't mess with that, especially not with Joey, who has been a refluxer since birth and throws up when he is totally healthy. To Noah's horrid resentment, we cancelled our adventure and I went to get Joey (with a bucket in the backseat).

Joey was confined to what we call The Sick Chair, which is the best TV seat in the house. This makes up for the fact that the sick person can't leave it except to use the bathroom. I find that little boys don't like resting even when they need it the absolute most, so I made up a scary Mommy Rule that they are basically in Sick Jail until I say otherwise. Laugh all you want, but it really works. Joey rested all day, and, incidentally, was completely fine and probably shouldn't have left school at all.  But again, you just can't mess around with "Upset Stomach." Nobody wants to be the mom who made her kid stay, only to puke all over everyone. As a teacher, I also emphasize, DON'T BE THAT MOM.

During this period of extreme rest, an episode of Franklin came on where I didn't want to kill the Beaver character, so that was a plus. Franklin and his pretty terrific best friend Bear end up building a cardboard submarine, and BINGO! there you have my second task for the day. In our basement we have about a hundred giant cardboard boxes from online shopping at Christmas and because we, at one point, believed we were moving.

I said, "I can totally build you guys a submarine!"

Why did I say that? Why did I say that. I don't know.

In a nutshell, the submarine DIDN'T get done because, well, Noah is Noah.

Oh, Noah.

But, on the up-side of everything, I completely won a major battle on behalf of mommies everywhere today, even aside from Angry Birds. At dinnertime, Noah turned his nose up at my cooking. His face crumpled in disgust and he scrunched his eyes shut and squealed (like a green pig): "I won't eat it I won't eat it I won't eat you can't make me you can't make me it's ICKY!"

I said calmly, but with a face as fierce as any battle bird, "Noah, this is the dinner that Mommy made for you. This is good food. And it's the ONLY food you may have until breakfast."

Noah decided, as always, to call me out. But seeing as this really IS perfectly logical and reasonable, I stuck to my guns and repeated, "You may have THIS food that Mommy made, Noah. If you don't eat it, you will have to wait until breakfast for something else."

We eat at 5:00. At 6:00, he snuggled against me in the family room and said, "I'll try the chicken now, Momma." And he really did eat it, along with a glass of milk.

HURRAY! VICTORY! I win! I win!

Which is the same thing I said when I completed all of Level 3 of Angry Birds, which, by the way, Noah calls, "Mad Birds." ;)

P.S.--If it wasn't clear (it might not have been; I suffer from being rather convoluted), the reason I sat around playing Angry Birds is that I was waiting for Joey to throw up. I never like being alone when it happens to me, you know?

P.P.S.--When I told Noah he was hurting my feelings when he called my cooking icky, and asked how he would like it if I screamed that his artwork was icky, he said, "But you WOULDN'T. You love my artwork because it's so beautiful."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Go Sabres!

Today was "Sabres Day" at Joey's school, and all students had the chance to sport their favorite Buffalo Sabres gear (or Sabre-colored outfit--logos weren't mandatory). This week is Catholic Schools' Week, and each day brings a special and exciting theme to boost kids spirits about being a part of a Catholic School. Some of my own best memories of Catholic Schools stem from the festivities of this week, and I'm excited that Joey gets to experience it now, too.

At breakfast this morning, Joey gave me more details about what today would bring.

"On Sabres Day, Sabre Tooth comes to school and plays BINGO with us!" Joey said excitedly.

Noah, munching on some fruit, spoke up. "Sabres Day?" he asked.

"Yes," said Joey importantly. "The Buffalo Sabres. They're our hockey team." (You can tell we're huge sports fans over here, right? We had to borrow the Sabres shirt, by the way.)

"Mom," said Noah, a hint of urgency in his voice. "I want to go to Joey's school today."

I blinked in surprise.  Before this moment, Noah was not seriously into any sport enough to make such a statement.

"And," he went on, before I could question this, "I'm going to need you to get my light sabre out of the closet."

"Your light sabre?" I repeated.

"Of course," he said, filling his mouth with watermelon.

"But Noah," Joey said, perplexed. "It's not Star Wars Day--" (and I could see he was definitely feeling it would have been a better idea)--"it's Sabres Day."

"Yes," said Noah, like we were all really, really stupid. "And I'm coming. And I'm going to need my light sabre. Of course."

I'm embarrassed to say it took me this long to figure out that Noah was imagining Joey's day at school to be filled with Luke, Darth, and the gang all dueling in some serious light sabre action. When Noah pictured "Sabres Day," he pictured "Light Sabre Day."

After a great deal of explaining about who the Buffalo Sabres were, why they mattered, and how fun their mascot Sabre Tooth is, Noah decided to let the whole thing drop.

Until Joey came home from school all mopey and disappointed. Apparently, he had NOT won Bingo (I never do, either--what's up with that?) AND had missed a chance to have his shirt signed by Sabre Tooth because his shirt was, as I mentioned before, borrowed. Looking at his glum little face, I tried to perk him up with, "Well, maybe we can go to a real Sabres game some time, and you can have Sabre Tooth sign your shirt there."

"Really?" asked Joey, a smile lighting his eyes again.

"Sure," I said.

"And I'll come, too?" Noah piped up, ever the second child.

"Sure," I said.

I leaned over and kissed his forehead just as he added, "And I'll definitely bring my light sabre!"

And he thinks WE'RE the weirdos!

P.S.--Noah's light sabre is kept in a closet on a high shelf because Noah is a little too violent and scary with it.