“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, September 27, 2012

Back To High School

Tonight I had the very flattering opportunity to take my beautiful niece, now in seventh grade, to an Open House at the high school I went to. Before I go on and make this all about me, let's take a look at my beautiful godchild. This is her, last Christmas with Noah. Doesn't she look JUST like me? Except with glasses and red hair.

Oops. I kind of made it about me there, didn't I?

Anyway. My sister (my niece's mom) asked my mom and me to go to the Open House at Mount Mercy Academy (in South Buffalo, if anyone wants to check out how amazing it is) with them. At first, I admit, I was kind of like, ehhhh. I loved my high school experience, as in, I'd go back and do it again--which I think might be unusual--but I don't have a daughter. I've always sort of mentally surrendered the idea of revisiting my all-girls high school as kind of a waste of time. Good memories, but all in the past. I will say that as a public school middle teacher, I do keep my eyes peeled year after year for any girl who looks like maybe she'd be interested, but even then, there's so many conditions. Would she even be interested? Would her parents bite my head off for suggesting private school? A lot of people, I know, are not remotely interested in sending their daughters to Mount Mercy. Although, I say, take one look at ME and think again.

No, really.

But then Jane (my sister) asked me to just check it out. She's been struggling with knowing that the other area girls' schools are excellent, and I think we both wanted to see if Mercy had the same impressive feel. I personally feel that Western New York has really excellent schools, public and private, and that if you're looking to go to any of the Catholic schools, they all fall into a generally positive category. It's just a matter, in any case, of choosing the school that feels right for one child and their family.

Okay, so now that I've said that, I want to say that pulling down Red Jacket Parkway in South Buffalo made my heart clench. That walking up the front steps, being greeted by Mercy girls, who weren't even wearing the same uniform I used to wear, made me giddy. I was greeted by a smiling face who said, "My goodness! It's so good to see you again!" It was like coming home after being away a long, long time. Since I grew up and only moved across the street from my mom, you can imagine that "coming home" isn't a feeling I've ever really experienced.

The library/media specialist is also a graduate, and we worked together as teachers for two years at my current school, so we had a great time chatting and making dinner plans for some night soon. My history teacher pointed out the exact desk I sat in. My old art teacher greeted me with a huge warm hug.

The walls had been painted. I think the lockers had been replaced, though I knew the exact spot where mine had been my senior year. I walked through the halls smiling so broadly that a lot of teachers probably had no idea who I was, but could tell my overly enthusiastic expression that I was one excited alumna. Either way, they all said, "Welcome back!" like I belonged.

Joe always goes on about how I'm psychosomatic. I develop almost physical attachments to places and things and people, and I physically ache for them when I miss them for too long. I hadn't realized I had such a connection to this building, to this place I haven't visited in years. Unlike so many things from when I was young, I did not find it too changed or much smaller. There were a lot of impressive improvements, of course, times having changed and all that.  Yet it just was, in so many ways, exactly as it had been. I think it was all the important things that stayed the same through the years.

I'm sure I sound crazy and/or sentimental to most people. I hope people can see past that, though. I wish more people could understand the special value of an all-girls high school, of everything empowering and strengthening that comes with it. I have always said I would never have become half the person I am today if my parents hadn't made me go. Are you kidding? Boy crazy me? Could you imagine how insane I would have been if I had gone to school with boys? And sure, plenty of people might think there is something majorly lacking a single-gendered school. There's a lot I could say to that (with an eye roll and a scoff, no less), but all I'll tell you is: I met my husband when I was just a Mercy girl, and that worked out pretty well for me.

A couple of memories that I'd forgotten:
1. Cleaning my paintbrushes in the art room.
2. Hanging out in the Learning Lab to do my math homework.
3. Escaping to the library during study hall to read magazines, talk about boys, and pay a nickel to use the computer (was that real, or did I make that up?).
4. Taco salad.
5. Setting a bag of popcorn on fire in the school cafeteria's new microwave.
6. RACING from the top of the freshman building, down the stairs to the cafeteria, up the stairs of the main building to the top floor for Global Studies as a freshman. (Mrs. Howard totally remembered me fondly, by the way--I could tell.)
7. Running away from my Latin teacher during her cafeteria study hall, where I'd camped out under a table to talk to my friend Alice. It wasn't actually my study hall, so the teacher threatened to give me my one and only detention ever. She didn't, and I never did get one.
8. Wearing a name tag.
9. Getting wall mail.
10. Being SURE I was going be poisoned during chemistry lab.
11. That ALL--really, all of them--my teachers really cared about me as a person.

Everybody experiences school differently. I'm a teacher, I get that. But I will say...I do think I had such a good time in high school because of where I was. If not entirely, then at least quite a bit more than I've realized.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Chicken

When Joey was in preschool, he brought home this memory book at Christmastime. I'd been so busy, I hadn't even remembered they were making it. It was unfortunate, too, since each child made an entry in the book that was supposed to have been worked on together with their family. It seemed that since I had missed this, the teachers had gone ahead and asked Joey the question themselves: What is a very special thing you do with your family to get ready for Christmas?

Joey's answer, as recorded in the book for all the preschool families, forevermore: "First my mom takes the package out of the fridge. Then she opens the package, breaks apart the dough, and puts it in the oven. And that's how we make Christmas cookies."

I don't think I've had a more embarrassing Mommy moment.

Knowing this should make it no surprise that when I pulled a roasting pan out of my cupboard today, I realized I've never used it in the eight years I've had it. But today, my mother taught me how to roast a chicken, so I needed the pan. Chicken and mashed potatoes is my kids' favorite dinner at my mom's house and she had decided it was time I leave the nest and...cook the bird. That metaphor seems wrong here. Just the same, I'm leaving it.

I'm actually pretty excited about doing this, especially since my kids generally hate my cooking and make it well known. I was so excited, that as I drove Noah home from school today, I told him about it. I said, "Mommy's cooking a chicken!"

He said, "You already made the chickens? Won't they be cold when I get home?"

I realized when he said "chickens," he thought I meant "chicken nuggets.

"No, no," I said, "Mommy's making a whole chicken. Like Grandma Judy."

"The whole thing?" he asked happily. "Even with LEGS?"

"Yes," and I couldn't help smiling at how I'd made his day. Ten points for Super Awesome Stay-at-Home Mom!

"Did you cut it yet?" he asked next.

"Well, no," I said, confused. "Not yet."

"So you left it just FLYING AROUND THE HOUSE?!" he gasped.

What? "It's not alive, Noah--"

"But you didn't cut its head off! How--"

"Honey, I don't have to kill the chicken. It was already dead when I bought it."

"It's DEAD?" he cried. "DEAD?! The poor chicken!"

Okay. So maybe I should have learned to cook sooner.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


More and more lately I look at Joey and Noah and think, "They're so not babies anymore." To most people it's obvious; they're four and seven and they haven't actually been babies for a long time. But for me, time with them seems to move more slowly, like we're in a warp. There have been so many days where I wished for them to be a little bit older, to understand just a little bit more. I wish I didn't let myself do that, but I know why I do. It goes along with the whole concept of, "God made babies cute for a reason."

I have been singing the same song to Joey at bedtime since he was an infant. He was a really fussy baby, and discovering the miracle of the bedtime routine was possibly literally lifesaving. In his darkened bedroom at our first house, he'd nestle his fuzzy blond head against my chest. I'd rub his back with one hand and have my other arm under his round diaper bottom. I always think of him in the fleece footie pajamas, so cozy and warm in our drafty old house. I hope I never forget that feeling of his weighty little body in my arms as I sang to him "Close To You" by the Carpenters.

I remember one night I laid him in his crib and placed his favorite striped blanket beside him (just like I did tonight), and he smiled up at me through the dim light. It was one of those huge, loving, open-mouthed baby smiles, and I was struck by the two little teeth poking through his bottom gums. I felt a sharp pull on my heart. "He's lost his newborn smile," I thought. "He'll never be my brand new baby again."

Flash forward seven years (I can't believe it's actually taken so long, or that it's already been seven years), a little boy comes home from the dentist proudly wiggling all his lower teeth with his tongue. "They're all loose and I didn't even KNOW!" he announced proudly to everyone who would listen. I'm pretty sure he's the last one in his class to lose his first tooth. He's sat idly by while all his friends have shared reports of dollar bills and five dollar bills and, of course, teeth tied to slamming doorknobs, just waiting for his turn. His big chance.

One tooth was wigglier than any other. The bottom right tooth. I've watched him play with it now (to my germophobic horror, I might add) for two weeks. At one point, he handed me a paper towel and said bravely, "Just yank it out, Mom. I can handle it." He could handle it, maybe, but I couldn't. I gingerly pressed my thumb and forefinger, braced by the paper towel, on either side of that tiny tooth and, well, I tried to pull, but, in the end, I just couldn't do it.

"Don't feel bad," he said, so typical of himself. "It'll come out when it comes out. It will happen on its own."

Sure enough, I came home from shopping today to a gap-toothed smile. He'd done it himself, pushing himself to pull the tooth as far forward as he could handle, until it came free in his hand. He was so proud of himself. It meant so many things to him: being a big boy, finally matching his friends, showing me his bravery, handling a hard situation on his own. I know a lot of experienced moms out there will roll their eyes at me (and probably do often), but when I stared down into that little hole in his mouth, it meant a lot of things to me, too.

The hardest part of all was tucking him in to bed tonight. Pushing that fuzzy blond hair off his forehead as he pressed back on his Batman pillowcase, trying to see if he could feel the tooth beneath the pillow. "Try it out, Mom," he said. "I'll roll over and pretend to sleep, and you be the Tooth Fairy. I want to see if she'll wake me up."

There is a longstanding story that when my big brother was a little boy and lost his first tooth, my mom tucked him into bed that night with promises of a magical fairy who would bring him a prize to trade for his tooth. Legend has it that my brother frowned deeply, reached beneath his pillow for the tooth, and thrust it back at my mother. "You take it," he said. "I don't want any fairies in MY room."

I honestly think that it might have been easier for me if Joey had done that. As I described the mysterious ways of yet another mythical hero (in line with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Superman), I felt yet another pang. It may sound weird, but I hate lying to him. I hate imagining yet another milestone moment down the road; the one where he looks at me with hurt, tear-filled eyes, and gasps, "You lied to me?"

Just the same, I'll never forget those magical moments from my own childhood (though my mom slipped up a lot more than I do; I was third and she only cared half as much as she had with my brother and sister, a fact she admits freely and without shame). As I fielded his questions in the best ways I knew how, I was plotting in my head just how, how, I would sneak into his room later, get my hand under his pillow, and make the big trade.

I was sweating it all evening, I'll tell you that. I know he's generally a good, heavy sleeper, but the evil voice in my head had other ideas. What if he rolled over and my hand got stuck? What if he bolted upright and asked what I was doing, waving a five dollar bill in one hand while the other was pressed beneath his pillow? I've never been very good at getting caught. I abandon the lies instantly and confess every last detail. I highly doubted I could hold onto my reign of Best Mom Ever if I fell prey to my own tendencies.

But how many years have moms and dads been doing this? I don't know. I don't want to know, either. I don't have the energy to Wikipedia it tonight. Not after I just crept up the stairs to Joey's room, waving a five dollar bill in one hand. Not after I approached his bed where he lay spread out like a little golden angel, his new mouth slightly agape with precious sleep, and slid my hand beneath his pillow to find the rather gross first gained and first lost tooth. Of course it was way farther in than I remembered and I had to dig several heart-pounding seconds longer than I wanted, but he didn't budge. He lay there so trusting, so angelic, visions of me singing "Close To You" dancing in his sweet little head.

I committed the lie and dashed madly out of his room, down the stairs, and stood breathlessly in front of my husband. I gestured wildly for him to pause the TV.

"I did it," I proclaimed. "It's done."

"Great," he said. "Can I unpause now?"

How deflating! After I placed the tooth in a Ziploc bag and tucked it into my sock drawer with Noah's first baby hat and Joey's last binky, I lay down in my bed and remembered that chubby little baby from seven years ago.

He's most certainly not that baby anymore.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Paper Towels

I should own stock in paper towels. I don't care what company. I'm not currently loyal to anything but sale prices. The point is, with two little boys, one big boy, and a small dog, I use up ROLLS of paper towels per day. And I'm not overusing.

Our dog Bree dislikes going outside when it's raining. I read recently that it has something to do with sound amplification. I don't really care. Bottom line? She only has accidents in the house when it's raining. It seems she's a bit of a princess, and I'll tell you that in THIS house, there's only room for ONE of those. And it ain't the dog.

When I was working, we were actually told not to attempt to clean up body-fluid messes. We were told: "Our custodians are highly trained for that." It was said in such an authoritative voice, and I remember leaning back in my seat and blinking and wondering, "Why are you saying that in such a vehement tone? I'm sure nobody WANTS to clean those messes, anyway." But apparently, to be clear, there was no choice. We weren't highly trained. It suited me just fine. I was a princess at work, too. My favorite students were the ones who came up to my desk during study hall and said, "Mrs. Bielecki, do you need help with anything?" Why, yes, you charming little dear. You can organize my book shelves by author. You can put little stickers on all the writing folders. You can staple these papers. Oh, and you can water that plant. Yes, that's right. The one that's brown and crispy.

I was meant to rule.

But in all the time I was a ruler-in-training, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, told me about the paper towels. I wasn't highly trained. But I am now.

Just a little while ago I was cleaning up the kitchen. Rinsing dishes, loading the dishwasher, wiping down counters, happily disinfecting my little world. From the bathroom came Noah's unmistakable voice, loud and clear, "MO-OM! You need to come here. I had a little pee accident. Actually a BIG pee accident. It went everywhere! I don't know what happened!"

This happens to him waaaaaaaay too often.

I sighed, reached for the paper towels (a brand new roll, because it's raining out), and went to the little bathroom off our kitchen. I opened the door to find Noah standing, pantless, in the middle of a giant yellow ocean. In one hand he held his pants. In the other, a drumstick.

"I just don't know what happened," he repeated, truly mystified by the mess surrounding him.

"Noah," I said, pressing my lips together so I wouldn't yell, "what is in your hand?"

"My pants."

"In your other hand, Noah."

He looked at his other hand, like he'd assumed it was empty and I was alerting him to new information. "Oh!" he said cheerfully. "That's my drumstick."

"Noah," I said, still trying not yell but REEEEEEEALLY wanting to, "people do NOT bring drumsticks to the toilet with them. Not even rockstars. Definitely not YOU."

"They don't?" he gasped. "Why not?!"

Deep breath number one, deep breath number two.

"Because...they are BUSY DOING SOMETHING ELSE!"


I wiped up the floor with the paper towels, removed the soiled laundry, and helped Noah wash his hands. I retrieved the Lysol and, surprise!, more paper towels, and asked Noah to leave the room while I gave it a thorough cleaning.

"Okay, Mom!" he said. Damn his cheerfulness. "And by the way, I didn't get any pee on my drumstick. Not a drop!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stuck On You

Happy Birthday to my husband, Joe. Today is his day, exactly twenty-nine days before mine. He is, and I will be, thirty-three years old this year.

Our story is a long one, as many of you know. If you didn't know, go off to the menu on the right and look for entries labeled "Memory Lane." The whole story is there. The general idea is this: We met when we were fourteen years old. For a long time, I loved him, but we were only friends. And then we weren't. And then he loved me, and I loved him back, and we got married, had two children, and a dog, a lived on. I hate to say "happily ever after" because it makes people jealous.

I considered making this a lovely tribute to Memory Lane, expounding once more on the magic of fate and how things turned out magical and wonderful, but I decided instead to give you a little dose of the real me. The real me doesn't linger in the pixie dust. The real me shoves the dust up Joe's nose and makes him sneeze it all out, because he so deserves it most of the time.

Once, in college, I had this disturbing dream. In the timeline of our relationship, Joe and I were in love, pretending to be just friends, with me taking it one step further because I was pretending to be annoyed that we were friends. (These games didn't go away; they're just different now.) In the dream, Lionel Richie's "Stuck On You" was playing, and Joe's face was close to mine, and he was saying, "I don't know what it is about you, Mary Pat, but I'm just stuck on you." 

Yes, unfortunately, that is a true story.

In the dream, Joe was wearing a navy blue shirt and khakis. I might not have remembered that detail, except that the next time I saw him, guess what he was wearing? That's right. A navy blue shirt. I remember feeling that he must have somehow read my mind and was making fun of me, but he was just as cheerful and clueless as ever. Later that day, we were on the phone and I said, "I liked that navy blue shirt look today," and he said, "Oh this old thing?" or something to that effect. To my eternal embarrassment, I said rather feverishly, "You looked really, really good in that." And, well, he DID. All that light blond hair and his blue, blue eyes. He IS a good looking guy, after all. 

It may be true that after that phone conversation, Joe went out and bought three hundred sixty-five navy blue shirts. I can't really know, because it was right before the point in our relationship when we stopped being friends. But I can tell you that tonight, on his thirty-third birthday, Joe is lounging on the couch across the room wearing a navy blue Polo shirt and jeans, giggling over the DVRed Saturday Night Live from last night. His hair is darker, his eyes are more green than blue, and I know that he is the kind of guy who shouldn't eat too much garlicky food (or ELSE), and that he when he watched TV, his asthma becomes more pronounced (weird but true), and that when this show is over, he's going to go into the kitchen and get a Diet Pepsi, open it noisily, and slurp it until it's gone, even though I've asked him a million times to stop drinking pop because it's so bad for him. I know that when he sleeps, he steals all the covers but then gets too hot, and throws them all off. In the morning when he wakes up, he accuses me of ensuring he was without covers all night long, even though I was unconscious for most of the night's events. I know he snores, but that if I kick him in the leg with medium strength he'll stop. I know he HATES HATES HATES that I lose everything important (including his birthday present today; I meant to hide it in a place HE couldn't find it, but alas...). He thinks Listerine is the answer to everything. His version of heaven is vague but definitely includes bacon and barbecue ribs. I know that at some point tonight, he'll peel off his gross day-old socks and LEAVE THEM on the couch, even though he'll pass both the laundry room and, separately, a hamper before going to bed. I know his voice is so loud our dog howls when he starts proclaiming things.

Moreover, I know that I have married, quite literally (and I DO know how to use that word), the man of my dreams. I have learned, in all the years we've known each other, he is far more than a good-looking blond in a navy blue shirt. But in the spirit of birthdays, I'm forced to admit one irrefutable truth: I sure am glad he was born. I sure am glad he is mine. And, as he said to me in my subconscious fantasy all that time ago, I'm stuck on him. So often, we end as we began, don't we?

Happy Birthday to my husband Joe. I LOVE YOU!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Daily Grind

WARNING: This will be vent-y.

One of my favorite things about school being in session, whether I'm working or not, is the beautiful routine everything falls into. I'm a highly disorganized person, spontaneous by default because I can never remember what I'm supposed to be doing or where I'm supposed to be. My poor darling son Joey has inherited this both fortunate and unfortunate trait from me. It's fortunate because it makes life full of unexpected twists and surprises and, well, fun, but it's not so good because it tends to offend people (like when you lose something they need or fail to show up to a place where they are waiting for you, like a meeting at work), and also because I HATE not being to find or remember things.

Routine helps with all of this. Because everything always happens the same way at the same time, I have a much easier time remembering. I love the predictability of it, too, since so few things in my life are ever expected. In fact, I've really come to hate surprises at all, because most moments of my life are filled with accidental ones that are happy only about fifty percent of the time. Finding five bucks in my pocket? Awesome. Finding my keys in the refrigerator after thirty minutes of searching and blaming everyone, including the dog? Bad. Bad, bad, bad.

A drawback of a routine is that you know, LIFE happens, and it can't always meet the demands of the normal schedule. Like this week, for example. It's SUPPOSED to be glorious, the first week back into a routine. But no. Joe was sent to Washington DC for work, so I am not following the routine as it is meant to occur. This means this morning, though I tried to plan for it, was a disaster.

Joey has to be in school by eight. Noah, on the other hand, who goes to the SAME school, doesn't start until 8:30. One might even say he isn't supposed to be IN school UNTIL 8:30. Sure, other preK parents arrive early, but this week, and this week only, I have to drop BOTH boys off in the morning. (Why not have Joey take the bus, you say? I say, SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO THE STORY.) It was recommended by the more aggressive and bold parents that I walk in at 8 AM with both boys and stand there and WAIT. Maybe then the school will get a taste of the inconvenience they've imposed on me. Other people shrugged and said, "Drop off Joey, go get coffee, and then bring Noah back."

See, either way, that block of time will be inconveniently taken up by the school. So I ask myself: Do I want to stand in the vestibule trying to keep Noah quiet and feel like people are staring at me (because my mother raised me to believe that people are ALWAYS looking), or do I want to leave school, drive around and listen to the radio, and not worry about Noah talking loudly and saying funny (but sometimes inappropriate) things? I voted choice B. I stand by that choice, even though today went badly.

FIRST OF ALL, I am married to a man who possesses the WORST SENSE OF TIMING. EVER. I mean, we are talking about a guy who met the girl of his dreams when he was fourteen, and waited nine years to ask her out. WHAT A DUFUS.

Anywho. Since Joe is away from home and feeling all pathetic and left out, he keeps on calling us. Like, all the time. "That's so sweet!" you may croon. Ugh. It's a pain in the butt is what it is, especially when you're dealing with two children (and, incidentally, a dog...who isn't much trouble at all, but still; she's there) who are loud and demanding and insane. When did Joe call today? 7:15. Right in the middle of us getting ready for school. Even if we weren't, it still threw off my mentally scheduled time allotments for everything. And not only did he call, but he needed to be passed from person to person to send them off with an INDIVIDUALIZED message for the day. And even though I wasn't supposed to be part of two of those conversations, I had to be, because neither boy really felt like receiving an individualized message this morning (we're not morning folk over here at the Bielecki house) and I had to make sure they RECEIVED it and possibly returned it because otherwise Joe's FEELINGS would be hurt. Since he's all pathetic and left out while STAYING IN A HOTEL, HAVING ROOM SERVICE, AND HAVING A MAID PICK UP HIS CLOTHES AND MAKE HIS BED. Oh wait. That's pretty much what his life is like at home, too. "Oh, you have a maid?" you ask. NO. No, we most definitely do NOT.


Noah only owns four pairs of jeans, and though I do the laundry every day, somehow, none were available this morning. He not only needed a pair to wear, but also needed to send in a SPARE pair for his emergency bag. Or maybe it's called an accident bag. Whatever. I didn't have ANY jeans, so I was upstairs trying to decide what pair of pants would be acceptable to send in if Noah had some sort of spill, or God forbid, a bathroom accident. It couldn't be sweatpants because I'd never send him to school in sweatpants, and if he had an accident and was handed sweatpants he would know that was weird and would feel even more self-conscious. So I decided on khakis, but then I had to decide which pair I could part with, because what an event comes up and he needs khakis but I sent all the good ones to school? Stupid emergency/accident bag. I hate you.

While I was making these earth-shattering decisions, I could hear Joey and Noah downstairs playing with the dog. I felt my blood start to boil as I waited. Sure enough Joey yelled, "AUGHH! She's going to BITE ME!" Now, this dog is fairly new to us. We've only had her a month. But she doesn't bite. At all. Ever. When she feels playful, she opens her mouth to BREATHE, and the boys see her teeth, and they scream, "She's going to bite me!" but she ISN'T. In fact, if you stick your hand right inside her mouth she immediately curls away and licks you to ensure you understand she was not going to, and never will, bite you. I think it's rather smart AND sweet, and I have shown this to Joey and Noah multiple times, and STILL they scream, "She's going to bite me!" WHEN they screamed this while I was struggling with the khaki pants, I might have yelled, "SHE DOESN'T BITE! IF YOU TELL ME SHE BITES WE'RE SENDING HER TO THE FARM!!!!!!!!! AND THEN YOU WILL NOT HAVE A DOG!" I might have. It all happened so fast, I can't really remember.

THEN it was time to get the boys in the car. But I remembered Joey wanted to bring his lunch because he thinks school pizza is gross (which it is NOT it's delicious and I always buy it at work). But he forgot to bring his lunchbox home yesterday so I had to dig out a brown paper bag. The whole time I was digging (with a tub full of Keurig coffees dumping on my feet), Joey was chastising me for not remembering to give him ice cream money yesterday, to which I responded, "You forgot your whole lunch box. I forgot to hand you a dollar. I don't think you can be mad about this." Not to mention he totally guilted a friend into buying him ice cream. "WHAT???!" you shriek. Yes, he really did. I'm just as embarrassed as he should be. When I suggested he buy that friend ice cream today, he shrugged one shoulder and said, "We'll see." I have no words to defend him.

At school when I dropped Joey off, I knew better than to try and hug or kiss him. Instead, I presented my fist and said, "Fist bump, buddy?" He looked at my fist and then up at me, and turned and walked away. WHAT. He left me hanging. My own son. AND there were people around, so everyone saw it happen. I said, "JOEY!" and turned back, giggled, and continued walking. "Don't make me chase you for a KISS!" I said, my voice growing a little too loud. I almost did it, too, but realized how weird we might look to the onlookers all around us, so I just stood there, my pathetic fist still in midair, realizing my son believes he is too cool for his mom. Which is just dumb. I think I'm REALLY cool. So there.

Then I was faced with the debacle of what to do with the next thirty minutes before Noah had to be at school. "Let's go get coffee," I said to Noah, but he couldn't really muster any excitement over this since it didn't benefit him in any way. I drove on to our Tim Hortons, the one on our corner that we could walk to in seconds but choose to drive to in minutes because we're THAT lazy. It's a "satellite" shop because it's in a gas station. It's usually empty, which is what I love about it, but for some reason it was really hopping this morning. Even worse, ONE idiot driver didn't know how to handle the growing drive-thru lane and managed to mess up the entire parking lot. I was grid-locked and about fourteenth in line (when I'm usually the ONLY one in line--you can imagine my bitterness). I would have just parked and gone in, but I knew I would never be able to get my car back out. So when the line moved ENOUGH, I drove to the real Tim Hortons a block away. Of course, I got stuck at the only traffic signal between here and there, and it was a LONG one, and I got to watch the entire line move through the drive thru at the gas station shop and then when the light turned green the lot was empty. Like it had never happened.

At the big Tim Hortons, there was a line. Shocker. I parked the car and walked Noah inside. The guy who took my order was new. He poured me decaf instead of caf, which is unacceptable because I'm only there for the caffeine. I'm one of those people who's waiting for in-home caffeine IV systems that are "totally safe and healthy to use." I could deal with the needles to get the caffeine. On our walk back to the car, a pickup truck of what looked like hoboes rumbled into the crosswalk and smirked at me because I had to wait for them (while holding my hot coffee and the hand of my child). Not a big deal, but still.

I looked at the clock and saw that it was now 8:15. I considered heading back home, but decided to head back to the school. "We're going to be late!" Noah moaned.

"No, honey," I assured. "Mommy is NEVER late." Because for all my scatterbrainedness, I am never EVER late. I was raised in a house where the only thing worse than being late was committing a major crime that would be in the newspaper making everyone LOOK AT my family in a negative light. So I am always early. Sometimes I sit in my car and then walk in at just the right moment to make it LOOK LIKE I'm on time, but I'm really always there with time to spare.

Except today. Today, on the usually three-minute ride to Joey and Noah's school, I hit every single traffic light AND ended up driving behind a police officer who was one of those ones who deliberately slows down to drive less than the speed limit so you have to, too. The usual three-minute ride brought me to school at exactly 8:29. When I pulled into the lot, other parents were LEAVING. "I knew it!" Noah wailed. "You made me late!"

"It's the only time, I promise!" I cried as an apology. The car might still have been moving as I dove out into the lot, flung open Noah's door, and dragged him out of his booster seat. I grabbed his backpack and dashed into the school with him flailing under my arm. Inside the doors, we could see his class lining up.

"Put me down!" he hissed, trying to be cool. I was horrified. BOTH kids embarrassed of me in one day? I put him down gently and helped him don his backpack.

I don't think he was able to hide how upset he was about the lateness and the being manhandled as we entered the building. But then something wonderful happened. I'm pretty sure a heavenly light shone down on his wonderful, wonderful teacher as she walked all the way over to him, placed her hands on his shoulders, and crouched down to his level.

"Noah!" she said in an enthusiastic but extremely gentle voice. "I am so glad you're here. I was hoping you would be our line leader today."

When Noah was a baby and had his first real smile ever, he earned himself the lifelong nickname (from me only, I think) "Sunshine." It is the song I sing to him at night. Not every smile is like that, but some definitely still are. And when he beamed at his teacher in that moment, every ray of God's sun was aimed right at her. My heart melted.

So. Bad morning. Really bad. But...one moment made it all okay. I guess it's true. Teachers really do make a difference--even to crazy moms like me. :)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Dinner With My Grandparents

On Sundays, everyone meets at my mom's house for dinner. It's just what we do. There's wine, cheese, other varying appetizers (today it was shrimp with remoulade sauce), and spaghetti. If one of us can't come, we don't come. If we don't want to go (perhaps we're fighting with our sister who continues to usurp Shopping Days With Mom, or some other such issues), we don't go. If we change our minds at the last minute and go, there is always enough. ALWAYS.

Today, it was just me and my boys. My mother just got a new roof over her back patio, something she only waited forty years for, and we snuggled under blankets in the cool fall afternoon and chatted while  Joey and Noah drew with chalk and played. After a little too much cheese and shrimp, my grandparents arrived.

It used to be more irregular, but now my grandparents come every Sunday. That's not to say that at any point I didn't see my grandparents regularly, because I did. Very regularly. Just not always at Sunday dinner. But the last year has made the pattern dependable, and now it is rare for my grandparents to miss.

My grandfather is an old world Italian man. I don't know how tall he was in his prime, but now he is smaller than I am at 5'3". His once-black hair is stark white, but he still combs it back off his forehead in an impressive wave. He walks like he owns the world, and in a way, he does. He surrounds himself by the family and the world he built through a lifetime of work. In my life, he's probably only ever said one thing directly to me: "How's Mares?" And when he says it, he smiles a huge smile and looks right at me and then keeps on walking.

My grandma, on the other hand, was the person who took care of me as a child when my mother couldn't. When my parents vacationed, when I was home from sick from school and my mother worked, I spent that time with my grandmother. She makes amazing fruit salads. Truly. Like you eat it and you think, "My God! Is this really just fruit salad?" and it is. She loves church and always carries a rosary. She drives ridiculously slow but ran marathons until last year. She never baked cookies, or even had them in the house. Her fridge was always filled with fruit, milk, eggs, chicken, and diet pop. She makes delicious salad and meatballs. She never once missed any milestone in my entire life, or in my brother's or sister's. In fact, my mother was on vacation for my sister's prom, and it was my grandma there snapping the pictures and recording the memories. She kept calling, "Look at the camera now, Bert!" His name was Brett.

She is wonderful with children, but not too many at a time. She is at her most magical when it's just you and her. Noah adores her, which we discovered when we visited her and my grandpa in Florida last spring. Today, he set up all the kiddie folding chairs my mother has (and there are a lot) and asked my grandma to please ride his roller coaster. "Gwamma? Will you PWEEZE wide my wolla coasta?" She crunched herself up on the tiny little chair. Noah had imaginary milk and served her imaginary wine. She threw her hands (and, it would seem, her imaginary wine) in the air and yelled, "Weeeee!"

After dinner, my mother got up from the table and began clearing the dishes.

"Judy," called my grandmother, "where did you get this cheese? It's out of this world." My grandma never lets a meal go by without saying something is out of this world.

"Wegmans," said my mom. "Isn't it delicious?" My mother never serves a meal without receiving compliments. She owns Sunday dinner like God owns church.

"Oh, I love Wegmans," said Grandma. "And I love Aldi's, too. It's right down the road, you know."

"Oh, Aldi's is a little too far out of the way for me," said my mom. She pulled out a French press and put water on the stove to boil.

"Oh, but Aldi's sometimes has better deals," said Grandma. "I like to get my canned tomatoes there." But she says, "tamay-tas."

"Get your tomatoes at Wegmans," said my mom. "They're seventy-nine cents a can right now."

"I get them at Aldi's," said Grandma repeated, kind of ignoring my mom.

"But Mom," my mother said, knowing her mother hadn't listened the first time, "they're only seventy-nine cents at Wegmans."

"What?" asked Grandma, blinking. "Seventy-nine cents?"


"At Wegmans?"


"Well, that's a great deal!" Grandma seemed baffled by this news, and turned to my grandpa. "Did you hear that, San?" she asked. San is short for Santo (pronounced SAHN-TOE). "Tomatoes are seventy-nine cents at Wegmans!" Tamay-tas.

"Judy gets good tomatoes," he said blandly. Tamay-tas.

"You want coffee, Dad?" my mom asked, now pouring the boiling water into the French press.

"Watcha got there, Jude?" he asked, eyeing up the press.

"I'm making coffee, Dad," my mother said irritably. "Do you want it?"

"That is the best coffee," my dad piped up. "I mean, it's really good."

"Isn't it good?" asked my mother.

"The best," said my dad.

"What kind do you get?" asked Grandma. "I got my Maxwell House at Aldi's for seven ninety-nine."

"I got mine at Market in the Square for six ninety-nine," said my mom.

"Well what the hell!" sputtered Grandma. We all froze for a minute at the expletive, and then began to laugh. "Well how does she do it?" my grandma went on. "I mean I say I got a deal on tomatoes, and she gets a better one. Come on. What kind of coffee is it?"

"I don't know," my mom said, shrugging. "Maxwell House, Folgers. It's good, Ma."

"Well I only like gourmet," she said. "That's why it's seven ninety-nine, which is a good deal."

"You just said you bought Maxwell House. I got it for six ninety-nine."

"Well I get a dark blend," she said. "The darkest."

"Well this is the same thing," Mom said, handing the container to my grandmother.

Grandma squinted and read the label. "This is only medium dark," she announced. "I don't buy that kind." She looked around the table and then back at my mother. "Well are you going to get me a cup or not?"

And this is Sunday dinner.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Babying My Baby

Joey has soccer practice right after school tomorrow. At school. This means that he will not be taking the bus home, which bothers me because A) he gets off first and I don't want him to lose his slot and B) who is going to help him get into his soccer stuff?

I have been worrying about this in a sort of half squelched, half unconscious way since I learned about the practice. I'm one of those annoying people who only asks questions when they're really obvious, like when Joe and I were at the casino in Niagara Falls, Canada and I slid my money over to the cashier and said, "It's American...do you know what to do?" But when I have actual questions, I say nothing and worry. A lifetime of this, however, has led to me never asking questions at all, unless I think my mom can answer them. And it turns out, she doesn't want to answer all the questions I have. (Like, "If I eat eggs one day past their expiration, will I die?")

Anyway, this soccer practice issue has been festering inside me for a week, and now it's upon me. It's kind of too late to ask the right questions at this point, so I finally sucked it up and did something I hate to do. I asked Joe for advice.

"Joey has soccer practice right after school tomorrow," I said. This is something I do to avoid asking questions. I present the situation instead, and wait for someone to respond appropriately. It never really works out.

"Cool," said Joe. "So he doesn't have to take the bus home."

I tried not to wrinkle my nose too noticeably as I said, "Well, actually, he's the first one off right now, and tomorrow's only the second day, so what if he loses his spot?"

Joe didn't look at me when he smirked and said, "I think it'll be fine."

I didn't hide my nose wrinkle when I saw he wasn't looking, anyway. I pushed forward with the bigger problem. "Well, the thing REALLY is," I said, "that the coach is meeting them in the gym. Who do you think is helping them get into their soccer gear?"

Joe faced me then and raised an eyebrow. "You mean shinguards?"

I tried not to show that his question was disgruntling. "Yes," I said.

"Mar, you have to stop babying him," Joe said gently. "He has to start doing more on his own. He has to not be afraid to do things on his own. I think you make him feel a lot more nervous than he needs to about most things."

"So what you're saying," I said--just to clarify, "is that I shouldn't meet him in the gym tomorrow after school to make sure he can get his shinguards on? Because that's really what I was asking."

There's this look Joe gets sometimes when I ask one of my questions. It's not just one face...it's, like, three. Amusement around his mouth, disbelief in his eyes, and something else. A touch of confoundedness, perhaps? Or maybe it's just love. Let's go with that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Learning About First Days of School

For ten years, the Wednesday after Labor Day meant new beginnings. It meant fresh boxes of pencils, clean erasers, movie screens that raised and lowered properly (if only for one day), the smell of hot Xerox ink on the hundreds of copies I'd made of meaningful course outlines and expectations. It was fresh sticky tack on the walls and newly laminated posters and a teacher desk that would not be so clean and empty of uncorrected essays for the next forty weeks. My desk.

I don't know if the smell of fresh floor wax means the same thing to other people as it does to me, or if  the sound of the chalk hitting the board for the first time in months is music to anyone else. And on that first Wednesday morning, which is almost always rainy why is that?, there is this moment where the school building is completely quiet, but very busy with hope and expectation. THIS year will be the year our students are good and ready to learn. THIS year is the year we will teach our best, and have high expectations that will be met not just with achievement but with enthusiasm, because THIS year we will be magic for the children.

Well, I don't know about anybody else, but I was awesome every year.

No, seriously. THIS year is my second year away from all that. It is quite a different experience to be where I am.

Upstairs in my house are two sleeping boys. They are sharp and witty and kind and funny, and incredibly handsome, too. What will their teachers think? How will I stop myself from being the kind of parent I've always hated, the kind that believes her child is incapable of wrongdoing or imperfection? The day Joey started preschool, I made sure Joe knew ahead of time to prevent me from pulling the teacher to the side so I could explain that Joey is sensitive and specially emotional. (Joe was appalled that it was even a possibility.) At Joey's kindergarten parent conferences, I gave Joe a prep talk. "I know how these things go," I told him bossily. "I've done them a million times, and I don't want to be the annoying parents." "Got it," Joe had said. Ten minutes later, I sat across from Joey's teacher, explaining that Joey is highly sensitive, and specially emotional. I made sure to add how exceptionally smart we think he is, too. As we walked out afterward Joe said, "Oh, yeah. You handled that like a real pro."

This year, I decided to take a different approach. Rather than worry about how others will perceive my children, I wanted to give them preparation for how to handle others. Some friends of mine posted a link to a lovely article about teaching your children compassion toward others. It is an effort toward kindness and goodness and against bullying, and included a wrenching story about a little boy named Adam who was always left out.

At bath tonight, after my boys were shiny and fresh and embarking on some good clean fun (HA! Get it??), I introduced my own version of the Adam story.

"Adam did not have special new clothes for the first day of school," I explained. "When there were groups to be chosen, Adam was picked last. At the lunch table, Adam had no one to sit with." You get the picture. Then I said, "If you see a boy or girl like Adam at school, it might make your heart hurt a little." I explained how this is compassion, and how it is a special message from God that we should do something to help. (Pretty much stole the idea exactly from this article.)

Joey said, "Yeah, Ma, I always help the kid nobody likes." Oh. Well. Then.

And Noah said, "I'll watch out for this Adam kid. If I see him."

My children always seem to be the exception to the lovely stories. I don't know why.

I re-explained the story, trying make Adam come across as more detailed for Joey, but more generic for Noah. I included a tale about a girl in Joey's preschool class (who he didn't remember at all but pretended to) who actually was bullied and who Joey had defended. "It can be a boy or a girl," I said. Noah added, "Or Adam. Don't forget him."


I gave up temporarily when it was time to towel off the boys and put them in their jammies. And then it happened. I had two towels ready, like always. One was bright green with a yellow stripe. The other was a princess towel. Why do I have a princess towel for two boys who are obsessed with superheroes and Harry Potter and sword fighting? Well, because I do, that's why. No, really--they were on sale about eight years ago and at that time I had foolishly believed that I'd have a house filled with little girls. Stupid, I know. But now I can't let the towels go to waste, so periodically, one or both of my boys gets dried off with pink and fluffy empowerment.

Apparently, Noah wasn't feeling it tonight. He stumbled out of the tub hollering, "I get the green one! I want the green one!" Since he was first, I cloaked him in the green towel and held the pink one out for Joey. Joey didn't seem to actually care, but then Noah sneered, "Haha! Joey has to use the princess towel!"

Well, I may be more mom than teacher these days, but I know a teachable moment when I see one.

"Noah!" I gasped. "You are not being very compassionate, are you?!"

Immediately, Noah recoiled. His face crumpled, he pressed his chin to his chest, and began to cry. Loud, wailing tears. I gathered him up in my arms and carried him into his bedroom, whispering to Joey, "Get your jammies on. I'll be right back." Noah and I settled into the rocking chair. I waited for the wailing to subside.

"Let me know when you're ready to talk about this," I said.

He halted his tears a moment. "One more?" he asked.

"Okay," I said.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" he cried out. Then he sniffed, sat up taller, and looked at me. "Done," he said.

"What made you feel sad?" I asked him.

"You did," he said, his face crumpling again.

"I did?" I asked. "Or do you feel sad because you think you might have hurt Joey's feelings when you teased him?"

"Oh, no," he said, suddenly quite composed. "That's not it at all. I was crying because I want to be compassionate, and YOU said I wasn't."