“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, May 31, 2012

Not the Way I Planned It

As my first year of being a stay-at-home mom comes to a close, I reflect back on what my plans were this time last year. As with most things, the way I pictured this was NOT the way it ended up happening.

First of all, I imagined I'd wake up at 5:30 every morning, like a farmer. (Or do they wake up earlier? I guess I really don't know). I'd shower and put makeup on, because it was going to be the same as "going to work." I'd wear an outfit, not my sweats.

Next, I'd go in the kitchen and make a well-balanced breakfast for my family. Fruit, pancakes, maybe some bacon. Juice and milk. I'd finish this up as my family joined me in the kitchen and then we'd sit down together and have a lovely meal to start our day.

I'd pack my husband and school-aged son healthy lunches, send them off to their respective jobs, and then Noah and I would do some laundry. He would love this, the doing laundry. By May he would know how to fold clothes and would assist me in this task.

Noah and I would go on an educational field trip, perhaps to the science museum or, weather permitting, the zoo. We would have richly educational conversations and I would turn him into a child prodigy in more than one area.

Noah would take lengthy naps and I would become a for-real novelist.

Joey would arrive home from school to a healthy snack, and he, Noah, and I would complete an educational activity that made us all laugh and hug at the end because we are so happy to be together.

The boys would entertain themselves by performing one of Shakespeare's best (in Old English) while I prepared a wonderfully delicious dinner for the family. My husband would arrive home, and for the second time that day, we would sit and eat together, perhaps joining our hands in a prayer of thanksgiving before digging in to a meal of such splendor that I'm asked to have my own cooking magazine.

Before I tell you how things REALLY went, I want you to know that for, like, two weeks last summer this all totally happened. It DID. Then I went and stayed at the beach with my parents, and THEN Joe started his job in Pittsburgh and was gone all week long, so...


This morning, Joey and Noah came downstairs hollering and hooting that it was a new day. They attacked me in my bed, shaking me ferociously and shouting, "Get up, Mommy! Get up! We NEED FOOD!" Their voices get all Hulk-y when they say this. My husband Joe, who missed me terribly in Pittsburgh (wouldn't YOU?) and has since moved back to Buffalo, rolled out of bed before me and trudged to the shower.

After a full five minutes, I myself rolled out of bed and stood unsteadily, hating the sun and hating the morning and hating the world in general. I went into the bathroom and washed my face because if I don't, my eyes will not stay open and I will bump into large inanimate objects, like the wall. I made my way to the kitchen, where my children bounced off walls and windows and sang too loud for any human before 7 AM. Joey had an Eggo waffle and strawberries and Noah had sugar toast and watermelon. After they were set, I had granola.

In the middle of the granola Noah yelled at me, so I went to his new behavior chart and gave him a big black X next to "Be Nice To Mommy." This enraged him, so he jumped off his stool and attacked me, insisting that I erase the X. I gave him another X for this, which made him call me a name. This brought him his third and final X before he shouted, "FINE! I'LL BE A NICE BOY! BUT I WON'T LIKE IT!"

Joey helped me clear the plates and then went to play on the computer. Noah joined him. I did the dishes and made myself tea which I forgot about. It got cold. I went and found my husband, who was readying for his day, and we talked about our plans for later. Dinner at my mom's of course, but what time? He said, "Do you really hate cooking that much?" and I said, "Yes. I HATE cooking THAT much." He laughed and said, "That's okay."

Joe was ready to drive Joey to school, but I had forgotten to get him his clothes. I raced to the dryer and dug through a mountain of clean clothes searching for Joey's uniform shorts and shirt. I found them. They were wrinkled, but I have decided that no one probably notices that.

I realized next that I'd also forgotten to make Joey and Joe's lunches, so I flew into the kitchen and yanked out bread and peanut butter and cold cuts. I slapped together their sandwiches and put them in their lunch boxes (Batman for Joey, Yoda for Daddy) with a Sani-Hands wipe that I'm pretty sure they both ignore when they are away from me.

At this point, Noah looked up and said, "Mommy, your hair is CRAZY." Joey jumped to my defense, "Don't say that! She's beautiful!" Then he looked at me. "And don't listen to anyone. You don't NEED any makeup." I was not reassured, but always appreciate a compliment.

Joe and Joey left, so I sat down to go on Facebook and Pinterest. I can't do this when Joe is home because he might think it's all I do all day. I looked out the window and saw that Joe was coming back into the house; he'd forgotten something, too. I snatched up my laptop, shoved it under a pile of laundry, and breathlessly began folding clothes. Joe dashed past me, paused, and said, "Don't forget to have some fun today." Snicker, snicker, snort.

Let me fill in the rest for you. I am still in my pajamas. My house is NOT immaculate. Noah will go in for a nap, but he will not sleep. He will jump up and down and sing rock songs, but I will continue putting him in because it is my only few moments of sanity during the day. I once had a glass of wine during this time. Judge all you want. You haven't met him.

I have not written a novel. I write a blog, and I have about five local readers and one random one from Russia who I am confused by but appreciate.

My mother is a waaaaaay better cook than me, and I'm okay with that. I hope she is, too. Noah and I will spend the morning on a field trip to Target, because I like to put him in places that keep him contained and distracted, and shopping carts are good for that. I will beg my mother to come with me so I have adult company. Noah will be jealous of SOMEONE and complain often and loudly.

I will come home to feed him chicken nuggets from the freezer and we will watch Miss Spider. He will pretend he's going to take a nap and I will catch up on laundry and/or cleaning. I will not finish. I might head out into the garden. It is soothing and I will daydream instead of actually gardening.

Noah will need to be saved from himself eventually, so I will get him out of bed. We will wait for Joey's bus to come, and then we all play a noisy and insane game outside, because we are noisy and insane. We might play loud music and dance around. We will eat popcorn or cookies and drink Capri Sun and wait for it to be time to go to my mom's. If my mom is ever away on vacation, my children wail, "WHAT ARE WE GONNA DOOOOOOOOOOOO??????"

At my mother's, my children watch television, play Legos, and deliberately annoy my father because he has worked all day and is easy to annoy. Joey cannot sit still after a long day at school so everyone takes turns asking him to please sit down. Sometimes we add, "Both cheeks on the chair!" This is what they said to me when I was little, and it annoys me that Joey is no better than I am.

My mother clears away the plates before I am satisfied that my children are REALLY done eating and she feeds them candy and cookies and ice cream. When they have a good, thorough sugar rush going, we head home, snuggle on the couch, and make plans for tomorrow.

Joey and Noah have their bath, and morph into sparkling, smiling angels. They snuggle into me on the beanbag chair in Joey's room and together we read a story. Last night, Joey read to us. He told jokes in between the pages, and we all giggled. Noah and Joey hugged each other good-night and said, "I love you," and then I tucked Noah in. I used my "Mommy Magic" to make him feel safe and sang, "You Are My Sunshine," because it's true. For all his bad-itude, he is the sunshine of our family.

Then I went and tucked Joey in. He snuggled under his Batman blankets and whispered, "I hope you had a good day, too, Mom." I used Mommy Magic on him, too, and sang him "Dream a Little Dream of Me." He made me check around his room THREE TIMES (once using X-Ray vision, because I have that) and then finally, I went back downstairs where Joe was microwaving leftovers from my mom's house. He smiled, retrieved a fork, and then came his usual greeting.

"How was your day?"

It's not paradise, and it's not perfect. But I think it's pretty great.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The First Baby I Ever Met

I was born last in my family, and I think I was pretty much a textbook youngest child. You know, perfect in every way, learning from the mistakes of the idiots who came before me, loved by all. But I was also four years younger than my brother and six years younger than my sister, which may not seem like a lot--and isn't now that we are adults--but it was just enough when I was little to make them seem unreachably older. Jane, as I've mentioned in the past, always seemed like an adult to me. This is a detail I actually remind myself of often when I see my own children look up to my 12-year-old niece as if she were an equal to me (God help us and save us). And my brother took his role of older protector and adviser so seriously that he didn't make much of a buddy. The only time I got to play with him was when I was sure to get hurt. He was Superman and I was the person about to die. "Don't worry, Mar, I'll catch you" (as I'm crashing down off some precarious perch he promised was totally safe). Or his favorite. "Get out of the room." I really, really hated Get Out Of the Room.

So there I was, kind of an only child in a family with three children. I had younger cousins, but I either didn't see them very often or didn't know them well, or both. And my mother was adamant I was It for her--I was told frequently, and I overheard often, that I was the last surprise my mother ever wanted. Therefore, when I was ten years old and my aunt and uncle had their first baby, I was destined to fall in love.

I'd never really seen a brand new baby, so seeing this one was a bit like visiting a zoo. An exotic creature right there in front of me, who I was sure I would never be able to touch. Imagine my surprise when we had been standing in my aunt's family room all of two minutes when my aunt turned to me--ME!--and asked, "Would you like to hold him?" Never mind that I almost fainted, my mother squawked, "MARY?!" She looked at me, eyes wide and smile huge. "Can you handle it?" she asked. My own grin was too big to allow speech, so I just nodded excitedly.

They set me in a wide chair, showing me how to rest my elbow on the arm so it wouldn't get tired. Then my aunt reached into the swing where my impossibly tiny new cousin was bundled so tightly he couldn't possibly move. His hair was jet black and his wrinkled skin was smooth and golden, and he reminded me of a little cartoon papoose. When he was placed in my arms I could hardly breathe. He stirred slightly, his head turning a bit from side to side as he found a comfortable position, and then his eyes opened. Only a little, but enough for me to see how beautifully blue they were, and for him to look right at me. I will never, ever forget that moment. It was the first time I ever really knew what it was to love a baby, someone smaller and more helpless than me. And I did love him, immediately and overwhelmingly.

"Talk to him," my aunt prompted gently.

I looked down at him and said, "Hello. I'm your big cousin Mary. And I'm gonna love you sooo much."

Somehow, as the men sat and watched football or some other such nonsense, and the women (my sister included) sat at the kitchen table chatting, I was forgotten. Minutes ticked by, I have no idea how many,  but I know that my arm went numb resting there beneath that tiny, fuzzy head on the arm of the big chair, and that with each minute, it became sealed more and more that this baby was as close to mine as any would get. At least when I was ten.

It didn't matter to me that my brother and sister loved him as much as I did, and even my mom and dad. I had staked a claim on him that first day, and from then on, at all gatherings (which were pretty often back then) from the moment he arrived, I scooped my baby cousin into my arms and carried him everywhere I went. Somehow, this was okay with my aunt, even though I was only ten and eleven years old, which is kind of a miracle. And how else would I have trained to become such a good mom? I learned from my cousin all about how to be with small children, how to play with them, how to talk with them, not at them. I learned what to do when they cry (besides carry them, arms outstretched, to their mothers), and how to keep them occupied for long whiles with mundane things. Like collecting rocks at the beach, playing police with a cordless phone, and transforming Transformers back and forth five billion times. Looking back, I guess it was the best practice I could have had for the two little boys I ended up with.

As he grew and I grew, I actually got to babysit him officially. When he was three and four years old, he'd insist I cuddle him as he fell asleep, listening to his snuffly little breathing and smelling the stinky blanket he carried with him everywhere.

I love children, mainly because for a long time I assumed they were all as cool as this boy. Even after that, I had discovered that all children have something unique and magical to offer in their own ways, even the very worst ones (and there are some doozies). But there have been very few children, my own included of course, who have crawled up into my heart like this one did, to stay forever in a special place.

And so, in my way, I say Happy Birthday to you, Baby Cousin. You are OLD now, and I'm so glad to know the person you've become.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Needing a Sister

Since a lot of people we know have been having babies, Joey and Noah have "decided" they should have a sister. They're not being terribly pushy about it, but remarks are made at least five times a day. It's usually a casual, "We should really have a sister next," or a breezy, "So, Mom. When are you going to get another baby in your belly?" Each time I smile, sigh, and say, "We're probably not going to have a sister in our family. It's probably going to stay just us." As children who are used to getting what they want (because they only ever make reasonable requests, of course), they are irritated by instant shoot-down. Why am I not even considering their reasonable request? Why don't I want a darling little angel to add the verve and pizzazz to our family that's so clearly missing? And the biggest question of all: Why don't I want another girl to hang out with?

None of my answers ever appease them. I don't really think it's appropriate to discuss adult decisions with children, but this one is a little bit their business and certainly affects them. This leads me to give small inadequate responses since a simple "No" isn't quite fair.

"I just love you two so much, I don't need anyone else."

"Why do I need a girl when you boys are so much fun?"

"Babies cost lots and lots of money, and we don't have any of that." (This helps me out later, when they make unreasonable requests at Target.)

Or Joe's stand-by: "Mommy likes being the only girl. Another one would only steal her thunder." This one, though partly true, doesn't really satisfy Joey and Noah at all. They don't think I have much thunder. They think I'm pretty lame.

But today I decided to give Noah a little more. I wasn't going to get into the whole, "Joey would be eight years older than the baby," or, "How would Mommy handle having been home with you but returning to work with a new baby since she used all her time up and then changed her mind about how many kids she wanted?" No, that's the stuff that I think they don't need to know or be concerned with. But again--there is a lot that would change in their lives, and it seemed safe to share what some of that would be.

"Mommy, when are we going to have a sister? I really want one."

"Well, I'm not sure a sister would make you very happy. Babies are a big deal. Even bigger than a bicycle."

Noah made a face, looking at the bicycle he was perched on, one foot on the ground, one hand on his knee. His Buzz Lightyear helmet was slightly askance and his shaggy blond hair, in need of a cut, stuck out from the front over his forehead.

"Do you know that if we had a baby girl, she would need her own bedroom?"

"That would be okay," said Noah. He furrowed his brow, nodding his approval. Of course that seemed fair. At first.

"Well, that means you'd have to share a room with Joey. You'd have to give your bedroom to the baby."


"We'd need to get rid of your Toy Story bed so we could fit the crib in the room, too."

"My Toy Story bed?" he repeated, his voice getting panicky. "But I love it."

"Well, yes. But you'd sleep in Joey's bunk bed, and the new baby would have the crib."

"But what about my toys? And my clothes?"

"All that would have to go in Joey's room. You'd have to move all your clothes in his closet and share the space."

Noah scratched the back of his neck and glanced from side to side as he processed this. But he wasn't done.

"Joey's bunk bed is awfully high. I know how to use the ladder, I guess. But I sure love my Toy Story room. When would I get it back?"

"Well, never," I said. By now I was seriously fighting a smile. "If you have a sister, that would make her a girl. And she would need her privacy. Just like Mommy needs privacy."

"But you share with Daddy!"

"I do, because we're grownups and we're married."

"What if my sister wants to share with Daddy?"

"She can't. He shares with me because we're married. It's something you get to decide when you're a grownup. You get your own house, and decide if you want to share it with someone you marry."

"Get my own house??" he screeched. "I can't live with you forever?!"

"Well, no. When you're a grownup you don't live with your Mommy anymore." In my head I muttered, "God willing."

"And I'll...I'll never see you again?" His little voice was shaky.

"No, you will. We'll see each other all the time, just like we see Grandma Judy all the time."

Noah considered this a moment, then brightened. "Okay. I don't need a sister, and I will grow up and have my own house. And I will have a pool."

He hopped on his bike, shoved off the pavement, and pedaled off at a hundred miles per hour.
Mr. Thoughtful

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boys Who Cry

I could expound for hours on what I believe are the differences between boys and girls. I understand I don't have a daughter of my own, so this may seem unfair, but I'm a girl myself (for one thing) and I'm about as close to my nieces as anyone can get (for another). So while I admit I don't know it all, I do know a little.

Instead, I'd like to just focus on one particular thing. That when little boys cry, it completely breaks me.

I remember feeling this way--overwhelmingly--in elementary school. There was always that one kid--you know the one--who held things up for the rest of the class. It might have changed from year to year. Let me see...there was Mark (he wore brown pants every day), Jack (who had an eye patch like a pirate), Mark (who still wore brown pants two years later), Jason (who stuffed a note from the teacher to the principal in a radiator and totally got in double trouble for potentially causing a fire hazard). But about once a year, it happened that that kid cried. In front of everybody. Blotchy face, snot, bangs pushed up from a sweaty forehead. I think this is hugely indicative of larger issues for these boys, but again, that isn't my point here. My point is (like always) what happened to ME in those moments.

I'm not sure why exactly it broke my heart every time. Perhaps it was the complete unexpectedness of it all, that this boy was absolutely the last person on earth I would expect to feel so helpless in any moment that he had to cry. It might have been that I was raised in a family where girls cried and boys just didn't, or that literature and the media perpetuated that stereotype. For whatever reason, seeing a boy cry made my heart clench and my stomach drop and made me want to do the unthinkable: get up out of my assigned seat in the middle of everything and offer comfort to a person I would normally steer clear of entirely.

It follows then that when my sons cry, it's all over. This is something that really irks my husband, I know, because a lot of times they are crying for valid reasons. As in, they did something pretty bad and deserve to be crying a bit.

I will say I've become a bit impervious to Joey. He's incredibly sensitive, so he cries far more often than really anyone I've ever met. He doesn't cry at school, which is a relief, because he must recognize the weirdness that could cause in front of his friends. (I asked him once and he was totally appalled. He said, "Ugh, Mom, no WAY.") But apparently, I'm a "safe" person, as is anyone else in our extended family. And Joey doesn't cry--he wails. It's like his jaw is on a hinge, and he just flips his head back, his mouth gaping open, and at first nothing comes out. He holds his breath, building up the big loud cry. And then it comes out, long and strong and embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone but Joey, who's too involved with his episode to notice.

There are some times, though, when I'm not unmoved by his pain. That's when I know he truly feels broken and I can't do a thing about it. Like the first time he watch Charlotte's Web, or when we were in Disney World and he thought he couldn't participate in the Star Wars Padawan training. I'll never forget that one. Joey wasn't the kid in Disney having meltdowns or acting spoiled. He was the happy-go-lucky kid who said cheerfully, "Okay!" to pretty much everything we said, from "Let's try that ride out,
 to "Oops. Guess that ride is closed this week." So when Joe and I were discussing that maybe we'd missed our chance for Padawan training, we were shocked when we notice Joey's head hanging down and him desperately fighting off The Wail. After that, I would have taken out any kid who got in our way. Joey WOULD be trained as a Jedi. And he was.

Noah, on the other hand, continues to be my proof that it doesn't matter if you have the same parents and upbringining: you can be totally different than your sibling. Noah is pretty tough. When he falls off his bike, rolls across the blacktop, and skins both knees, he grunts, lifts himself off the ground, and gives a wave. "I'm okay!" is his mantra. To my great confusion, he didn't spend nights crying as a baby. He spent them playing--so much so that I decided he must see ghosts and be talking with them. I remember talking to the pediatrician about this when he was almost a year old. "Why do you keep going in?" she asked. I was baffled. "I don't know," I said. "Because he's not sleeping." Her response, "Stop. You'll know when he needs you."

And that is why it breaks my heart when Noah cries. It's always so unexpected. Although, I have to say, it usually happens when he knows he's done something bad. Like yesterday. He was mad at me about something (not unusual), so he jabbed me in the ribs with his pointy little elbow. I'm not kidding--he meant to do it! What a little jerk. So I said, "Ouch! Noah, it is NOT nice to do that to ANYBODY, but definitely not your mother. I don't want to be around you if you act like that." WHOA. That was the IT thing to say, if I wanted him to "get" my point. He stood up, shocked, and his face contorted slowly into a pained, I'm-going-to-cry expression. His eyes got all scrunched and his mouth became an almost cartoonish frown, his chin jutting out beneath it, and then these crocodile tears began to tumble from his eyes, rolling over his cheeks and onto his t-shirt. He SO deserved to be in trouble--he elbowed my ribs on purpose! But I knew I'd hurt his feelings, and he looked so devastated I felt a crumbling all around my heart. I had caused this tough, tough, mommy hitter to feel heart-broken. Joey, too, felt I'd crossed some sort of mommy line, and he was instantly at his brother's side, rubbing his back. But he was stronger than I would have been if I'd allowed myself to speak (something I've learned not to do when I know the child was truly out of line). Joey said, "Well, you can't hurt our mother, Noah. You just can't. But we do love you. We just want you to be good." I couldn't have handled this better, and found myself thanking God that Joey is as sensitive as he is. Who would have thought he'd be the voice of reason when I couldn't be?

I don't really think it's bad that they cry. I don't want them to be...you know, sissies--and be real, here. You know what I mean. But I do want them to feel comfortable...feeling.  Isn't everyone entitled to that? They can be manly in lots of other ways, but sometimes, especially when you're little, crying is okay no matter who you are.

Still, I suppose this is all just another reason I'm not meant to have a daughter. If I can't handle the drama boys bring, what on earth would I do with a girl? Sure, you might tell me, "Not all girls are dramatic, Mary Pat," but seriously, the odds aren't in her favor. Have you met me??

Friday, May 18, 2012

Handling the "Boy Stuff"

Yesterday Joey was riding his bike in the driveway after school. For more on what Joey is like when he rides a bike, click HERE. Anyway, he took a turn too fast and too sharp as he headed downhill (really it was more down slope) and I watched him take his usual fall with no grace and no shame. This time, the handlebars twisted and nailed him right between the legs.

I...he...it was...awful. Just awful.

He immediately began to wail, of course, but also amidst chokes and gags and breathless cries of, "I'm gonna be sick! Oh MY GOD!" I didn't really know what to do, thinking back to all this times I'd seen this happen to guys I'd known. Usually they just needed space. And air. Lots of big gulps of air.

"Just breathe through it!" I called encouragingly.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" he hollered through the pain.

I rushed to him and hugged him tightly. I'm a mom. What else am I going to do? But I knew I was entirely out of my depth here, so I just kept saying softly, "It will get better. It really will." And then for good measure, I told him, "This hurts grownup men as much as it hurts you, and you're handling this MUCH better than they ever do." Joey actually seemed comforted by this, and he managed to gather himself emotionally. He limped off to a chair, dragged it pitifully into the sun, and collapsed into it. He rested there for several long minutes before feeling ready to go off and play again. And not on his bike, you can be sure.

A little bit later, I was still a bit worried, so I broached the subject carefully. I used my gentlest, mommiest voice as I whispered, "Honey? How's your...you know...your injury?" And I gestured briefly to his region.

Joey looked appalled. "Ugh, Mom. Come on."

"Well how is it?" I pressed.

"It hurts a little still."

"Well, you can talk to Dad about it when he gets home from work."

But I just couldn't seem to let it go. I was genuinely worried. What if he'd permanently injured himself? Did other boys his age ever hurt this part of themselves, or is this an injury that happens to stupid teenagers when they are too daring, or stupid men when they cross a line in a bar? I mean I really just didn't know. So a little bit later, I leaned over to Joey, cringing a little at what I knew was going to annoy him, and said, "How's your, you know, your--"

"It still hurts, okay?" he said. Joey really isn't the type to grow annoyed with me, so I really had to force myself to see that I just couldn't help this situation. I just had to wait for my husband to get home and deal with this thing I would never understand. Or really want to.

At bathtime, it was clear that Big Joe was running a little late. As Joey climbed into his jammies, he mentioned (to my great honor), "It does still kind of hurt." Then he added, "In that place under my penis."

I frowned, debating whether I thought I should bring this next part up. I decided he should probably know. "Do you know that's called? That part?" I wrinkled my nose, hating the word. Joey hesitated, as though trying to remember. I filled in for him. "It's your testicles."

Joey's eyebrows furrowed and his mouth bunched up on one side, as he was thoroughly perplexed. "Huh," he said. "Dad just said it was my balls."

Horrified, I rocked back onto my feet from my knees. "Oh," I said weakly. "I guess you could call it that, too."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jury Duty

Today I have jury duty, and I'm sitting in a dull basement room lit by fluorescent lights with about a hundred other people who probably don't know just how much I don't want to be here. I mean, they probably think THEY don't want to be here. But are they germophobic? Claustrophobic? Have a seriously weak bladder from multiple kidney stone procedures in the last few months?

Okay, they might have equally distressing circumstances, but right now, with my full and queasy bladder and the nervousness I feel about packing up my things, losing my seat, going to the lavatory, and THEN having my name called is pretty wild.

It's not all bad, though. I'm sitting in a quiet place sans children, my laptop glowing before me all full of promise. How much Pinterest could I work into a day, given the chance? And also, I did get to enter the beautiful old courthouse on Franklin, and if you're not, you know, a criminal, it can be a very magical experience. Buffalo is so laden with rich and fantastic history. I don't think people realize how beautiful our city is, or how special.

The first time I was ever in this building, I was eleven years old. My mom and dad had taken just me out to dinner at Chefs, a family favorite restaurant. Getting to go somewhere, anywhere, just me with both of my parents was a rare and special experience. My older brother and sister not only monopolized my parents' attention, but were also terribly interesting. Jane was a star student who lived to study and read for fun. I'm not positive because I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure she was born fully-grown, popping out of my mom as an adult just like Athena from Zeus. Adults always seemed to accept and enjoy her without question, where they always shushed me, or worse, looked at me like I had three heads when I decided to share anything I  found interesting.

Pauly was the boy, of course, which made him automatically fabulous in our family. My mom just positively doted on him, reveling in the chance to make him fancy meals of egg or pounded chicken. "Pauly never asks for anything," she would declare, which was a bald lie. "So of course I just have to give him something if he asks." Named for my father, it was expected Pauly would walk in his every footstep. Many dinner-table conversations were spent listening to an absurd exchange of their own unique brand of humor, throwing everyone into gales of giggles. Even if we didn't get the joke, their laughter was so contagious we were pulled in, anyway.

But this night, this special Friday night, both Pauly and Janie had somewhere else to be. Since my parents hadn't paid a real baby-sitter in years, they had no choice but to bring me along on their regular Friday-night date, and then, subsequently, to my dad's trial at the courthouse. I have no idea who he was representing that night, or what that person was accused of. I just know that it was by far the coolest thing I'd ever gotten to see.

Because of the nature of the evening's events, my mother encouraged me to dress up. I loved dressing up, so this was not a problem. I wore my red and black checkered skirt, the one that went straight out around me when I spun in circles (which I frequently did). My hair was neatly combed and pulled in a headband, and I even carried a purse. It was stuffed with tissues so it didn't sag in the middle.

After dinner at Chefs, where all anyone talked about was ME! GLORIOUS ME!, we drove through downtown to park closer to the courthouse. I had never seen the building close up, and I instantly loved  it. I was between my parents as we crossed Franklin Street, holding each of their hands, staring straight up at the huge building. I loved the clock tower and the wide front steps. I couldn't believe my dad got to work in this building, and that tonight, I got to be a part of it.

Inside, my jaw dropped. Marble floors and brass doorways and massive staircases were everywhere I turned, and my father began to tell me, in a hushed voice because of the echo of the now mostly empty building, all the history that had transpired here. He told me how often he came here, how my uncle worked here, too, and, because there was time, he took me into the very courtroom where the trial took place for President McKinley's assassin. I stood there, in the dim courtroom, a raised-letter plaque beside me, imagining how history was made right here. I could hear in my imaginative mind the deep, booming voices of those involved, and I imagined a dramatic finger pointing at the accused, shouting, "GUILTY!"

And then it was time for my father to report to his assigned courtroom, so off we went. I felt so important walking beside him, like a movie star or some important member of government. Everyone was looking at us, stopping my father here and there for introductions. My dad, too, seemed excited to have me there. He practically leaped to the side and gestured grandly toward me, telling people, "This is my daughter, Mary Pat." And because it's the thing to say, everyone would respond, "She's so beautiful!" and they'd address me directly then, asking, "Are you excited?" Of course the answer was a resounding yes.

Because my family is afflicted with Chronic Earliness Syndrome--we are always EARLY for everything, so much so that if we are on-time we consider it LATE, the courtroom was nearly empty when we entered it. It was disappointingly bland, but the air became charged again when the judge exited her chambers and approached us. My father gave his great introduction to me, and I smiled and responded to questions politely. This being my first real court experience, I'd never stood before a judge wearing full garb. Her black robes rustled and swirled as she spoke vigorously to us. I was intimidated.

"Would you like to see my chambers?" she asked. I was taken aback. The way she said, "Chambers," I expected something akin to a queen's quarters. Would there be a grand four-poster bed and servants? I was so nervous being in her presence, all I could do was look to my father for guidance. I turned my head to find his face, familiar and reassuring.

"Of course!" he boomed. He grasped my hand in his, leaving my mother behind (apparently she wasn't invited...or interested). I followed the judge's swishy robes behind the massive bench and through a small unassuming door I hadn't noticed. To my grave dismay, I found myself standing not in a room for royalty, but just a great oversized office. The best part of it was the expensive couch and the fancy tea seat on the coffee table before it. The judge invited me to sit here.

"Are you going to be a lawyer like your father?" the judge asked then. I suppose it was an obvious and inevitable question that night, but the way she was looking at me so sharply, I suddenly felt like I was on the stand. While I'd never been in a courtroom before, it was a feeling I was uncomfortably familiar with. It was how my parents handled all questionable issues between my siblings and me.

"Um," I stammered. I felt stupid immediately, and was instantly worried I would embarrass my father. "I want to be a writer," I said in a stronger voice. "Maybe a lawyer, too."

She nodded approvingly. "So you like to write." I didn't like the way she said it, though I still don't like the way people say it. Looking down their noses like I'm just a foolish kid with a silly dream, wasting my time.

"She's already written a novel," my dad interjected proudly."She's really fantastic. And I know she's already composing something about tonight. She loves this building."

I beamed at him shyly, so thrilled that he'd noticed.

"And a lawyer, too?" the judge went on, skimming past the writing nonsense. "How about a judge? Is that something you might aspire to?"

I swallowed. I'd never really thought about this, but the way this woman in front of me looked, hardened and all sharp angles and eagle eyes, I wasn't too sure. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, or disappoint my father, but I didn't have a good answer prepared. I shrugged one shoulder, in that silly way young kids do when they are shy and unsure, and said, "Maybe."

My dad squeezed my shoulder and smiled at me, and we stood. The judge leaned down and said, "Wish your father luck. I'll see you all in a bit."

I did as I was told, and we returned to the general assembly where only a very few people were gathered now, my mom included. She smiled at me enthusiastically, and reached a hand out for me to take. I did so almost desperately, so unnerved was I by the whole judge experience, and sat beside her. She leaned down and whispered, "How was that?"

I said nothing, just looked at her and shrugged. She smiled knowingly and smoothed my hair. "Not really the fun part?" she asked. I shook my head.

"That's okay," she said then. "The fun part will be watching your dad win. But you have to be very good, and very quiet. Children aren't usually a part of this." I nodded nervously and sat back in my chair. I was in the sixth grade, but I was small for my age and when I pushed back in my seat my feet lifted off the floor. I gripped the armrests of the chair and waited, unsure of what would happen next.

As I was prone to do, I drifted off into a daydream and I really don't remember much after that. Nothing really, until the moment when my father's client, a large man in really extraordinary clean red sneakers, jumped out of seat and shook my father's hand heartily. Over and over again he said, "Thank you, Mr. Michalek! Thank you so much! Thank you!" My father's smile was broad and was all the way in his eyes, and my mom was squeezed my arm and shoulder with both of her hands hissing, "He won! Dad won! Aren't you so excited?"

I was. I grinned at my father and gave him our usual signal: a thumbs up. He looked so proud--of his work and to have me there to see him win. I will never forget the magic of that moment, the pride I felt for my life and my father and what I got to see that my brother and sister never had. Ironically, it was they who went on to become the lawyers, not me. I know my father wanted to me to join the club, as it were, but from that moment in the judge's chambers it had never really felt like the right place for me.

But being here now, waiting around for my name to be called for jury duty, it is a memory that makes this a special and good place to be. Even if jury duty kind of sucks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dangers of Bicycling

I did not learn to ride a bike until I was eleven. This means, among many other things, that I do not fit the cliche of "It's just like riding a bike. You never forget how." I go so long between periods of bike experience that each time I get on, I need to re-learn how. It can take anywhere between five minutes or one full day, and there is no pattern to the level of difficulty I experience each time. It just doesn't come naturally to me.

I've always blamed this on the fact that I grew up on a busy road that I was allowed nowhere near. I am now raising my own children on the exact same street, but I vowed both to my husband and myself that my children would not suffer from the same bicycling tragedy I do. They would learn to ride at a young age, and be provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy it. There are plenty of parks and neighborhoods nearby where our kids can ride their bikes safely, not to mention that our driveway is pretty big and is sufficient for learning and practice.

However, now that I have seen Joey learn to ride a bike, I am forced to wonder if it was the street or even my parents that were really to blame for my inadequacies. Because Joey is somehow just...a biking disaster.

I'll start by saying he's a super smart boy. He has a straight-A report card, and can impress the pants off anyone with his great vocabulary in regular conversation. And yet...if a car is coming at him, or he is heading for a car, he doesn't get out of the way. He plunges ahead at a wild and out-of-control speed, like a magnetic force is yanking him toward danger. And when he falls (not if, when), it is always a great catastrophe. He just won't put his foot out to the side. He becomes dead weight and goes down with the bike in a clamorous heap, opening his mouth a tragic wail well before he hits the pavement. I'm dramatic and generally sympathetic to this similar quality we share, but even I find myself rolling my eyes as I head over to "see if he's all right."

Noah is still in training wheels and finds Joey's mishaps all very amusing. Noah is generally better coordinated than Joey (which I truly believe has something to do with him being left-handed--not everything, but something), and rides his bike at about 200 miles per hour. His steering is incredibly precise, and he almost never falls or crashes. Of course, he is using training wheels, but Joey just never had that sort of impeccable control. So what? Well, Noah thinks it's great fun to mess with Joey by riding his bike directly into Joey's path. Noah can get out of the way at the last second, playing chicken, but Joey surrenders immediately. He lets go of the handle bars (???) and flings himself overboard, wailing, "NOOOOOOOAAAAAAAH!" as he goes down.

It was pretty great the day they did actually crash. Everybody learned an important lesson.

Despite said learning experience, bike riding at our house has become a time of sure excitement. Yesterday, Joey had a fantastic fall where he bounced off the handle bar and was actually launched about three feet backward. Noah was so impressed by the attention this received that the next time it happened (because Joey usually makes the same mistake at least twice), he decided to give it a try. He carefully stepped off his bike, laid on the ground, and gently pulled the bike on top of himself. He called out in a completely level voice, "Help."

Today, Noah drew a "track" for himself in a massive curvy circle around our driveway. He followed the lines so precisely it was like a carnival ride where the cars can't actually leave the track. Then he had the great idea that I should race him on foot. I must tell you, running is sort of the "R" word for me, but he was so sweet about asking I decided to give in, flip-flops and all.

I didn't count on Noah being quite so competitive, however, and it wasn't long before he careened out of control as he was looking back to see how far behind I was. He blasted through an artfully arranged pair of lawn chairs and slid off his seat sideways, his helmet slightly askew. He stood shakily, waved an airy hand, and called, "I'm okay. What?" I suggested then that our little game be over, to which he responded in anger. He was probably just emotional over the embarrassment of falling at all (embarrassment is a HUGE deal with him), but whatever the reason, his face became stormy as he stomped his foot and raged, "YOU ARE A MEAN-O! DID YOU HEAR ME? I called you a BAD WORD."

Maybe my parents were on to something by eliminating bicycles from the many other complexities in life. Maybe they realized it was just...an unnecessary stress.

Or, more likely, maybe we're all just crazy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Itchy Energy and Why I Shouldn't Be Alone

Do you ever feel like you shouldn't be left alone? This morning I was shopping at Wegmans and slightly vexed that it seemed to be Bring Your Own Senior Citizen To Shop Day. Normally I find senior citizens delightful, which I think sounds slightly condescending and I don't mean it to. While many people find seniors to be grumpy or irritable, I find that if you give them a smile they're just lonely and really appreciate the friendliness. But today at Wegmans, it was a different sort of senior citizen. The sort that can't be left alone.

I think I'm one of those people. Not just recently, and not because I'm an absent-minded, mommy-brained lady. I think I've always been this way, starting from when I was really little and thought it would be a great idea (note the italics, because I was already thinking in italics even back then) if I used my sister's magic markers to make my own clown face. Another great example is when my mom wanted to grow out my bangs in second grade, and I hated the in-between, fall-in-your-eyes phase and decided to cut them myself. These things all happened when my mother was "resting her eyes" during All My Children, by the way. When my mom woke up that afternoon, I'd put on my Easter bonnet from the year before so it came down real low below my eyebrows, like that was a Thing People Were Doing. My mom didn't seem to find anything weird about me wearing an Easter bonnet in the middle of a February afternoon, so the guilt began to eat away at me. I finally cornered her coming out of the bathroom and confessed nonverbally by pulling the bonnet off my head dramatically, revealing that half my bangs were crooked and the other half just gone, a sad little patch of bald in their place. The look on her face that day said it all: This girl can't be left alone.

(This did not stop her from resting her eyes during All My Children the very next day.)

You might think I'm saying all this because I feel like my children have inherited this from me, but sadly, no, that's not it at all. It's because today I did yet another stupid thing just because I'm all by myself. Let me defend myself first by saying that, being aware of my own faults, I normally channel this--itchy energy, shall we call it?--this itchy energy into productive activity. Yesterday, for example, I reorganized my laundry room. Another day, I organized the Tupperware. Organizing is a great way to rein in your itchy energy. But today, I was feeling all deserving of a break. This is NEVER a good way for me to feel, but you see, my husband Joe just started a new job yesterday, and before that he'd been home during the day for what seemed like eons, and if anything is not a good idea, it's my husband Joe being home during the day for eons. He's a wonderful guy and I truly love him, but...yeah. You get it.

Anyway, I'd read this article online yesterday about a woman who had achieved baby soft clear skin by using Noxzema overnight. Apparently, her grandmother had sworn by it for a lifetime, and was practically as ageless in her nineties as Dorian Gray, so the girl went and tried it and SHAZAM! amazing skin. And SHE said SHE had sensitive skin, so I started feeling all hopeful, because I have sensitive skin. This was the same sort of hopeful I felt when I learned about Proactiv and mineral makeup (another thing I shouldn't be allowed to do when I'm alone: Watch infomercials), and neither of those worked at all. Proactiv swore it was for all skin types, and it totally wasn't. Mineral makeup swore it wouldn't clog your pores, and I ask you this: if it's meant to be rubbed into your pores to hide them, well what exactly does anyone think is going to happen? And then they tell you to sleep in it? Swim in it? Get out of town. It clogs your pores.

Since I never learned my lesson, and since I decided to surrender to my itchy energy today, I happened to pick up some Noxzema at Wegmans. (This was actually my first run-in with Bring Your Own Senior Citizen To Shop Day--a woman and her senior citizen were blocking the Noxzema area, going back and forth repeating slowly, "It's FIVE NINETY NINE!" "FIVE NINETY NINE, YOU SAY?" "Yes, it's FIVE NINETY NINE!") When Noah went in for his nap, I went to the bathroom, dampened my face, and began to spread the Noxzema around, per the instructions from the article I'd read. It occurred to me halfway through that I'd used Noxzema for awhile in high school and it had ended badly, but I shoved those worries away by telling myself that I just didn't have these special directions back then. And anyway, I wasn't going to wear the stuff overnight, I was going to just try it for forty-five minutes.

I can almost hear my sister's voice in my head saying, "Oh, dear."

I went into the family room with my laptop, expecting to Pinterest away the time until I had to rinse off the Noxzema to reveal my new baby soft skin. After about ten minutes, I noticed my skin felt tingly, tight, and a little itchy. Not panicking, I Googled "Noxzema overnight?" I didn't need to actually click on any of the articles that turned up. Captions like, "My eyes swelled shut" and "My face turned blotchy" said more than enough. I raced to my sink and frantically splashed water all over (even onto my t-shirt, which I assure you was inadvertent).  My face honestly looked no different than before.

But now as I sit here typing, regretting my alone time and wishing I had a companion like the seniors at Wegmans, my eyes are still tingling and I just can't tell if they're swollen. I mean...do they always look like this? I never really thought about it before. They could be swollen. I guess all we can do is wait.

And also...maybe I should go organize something.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mother's Day Tribute

Everyone is paying tribute to moms everywhere today, but I would simply like to pay a quick tribute to each of the reasons I am a mom. They are two little boogers, two total pains in the butt, two reasons I feel ready to drop into Rip Van Winkle sleep at the end of every day. When I am at my worst, they say, "Ugh, Mom, you are the WORST mom ever." When I look my worst, they say, "Ugh, Mom, did you WANT to look like that?" Sometimes Joey will try to smooth it over, realizing too late that, you know, I have feelings or whatever, and will say, "I just love those splotches on your face when you're mad," or, "It's so super great how you make your hair stick up all over." But not Noah. He loves to make everything REALLY clear. "No, Joey. She looks TERRIBLE. I hope she doesn't look like that tomorrow."

They always encourage me to keep going, to never give up. When I make three different breakfasts for one kid, or cut a peanut butter sandwich into a dinosaur shape and it was supposed to be in triangles what's wrong with me, they always let me know I get another chance. Noah's especially firm about this. "Make it again. Just do it, okay? I know you can. I believe in you." Oh, well, as long as you say it that way. I was planning on eating T-Rex peanut butter for lunch, anyway.

They have taught me to expect the unexpected, to roll with punches. Just when everything is under control, I might find poop smeared on a wall. I might think at first that it's chocolate, and touch it with my bare finger, and then realize too late what I've done. I might be in the middle of Target and have my little boy scream at the top of his lungs, "MY PENIS! MY PENIS IS KILLING ME! YOU HAVE TO FIX IT!" Or, my personal favorite, "You are NOT my Mommy. GET AWAY FROM THIS CART." Yeah, that one's always nice.

They have taught me to be unselfish--a particularly big challenge for me since I'm awesome. But I'm going to tell you, when your baby is vomiting, you just stop caring about you. When your baby is shaking with fear, sweating with fever, or crying real, snowball-sized tears over a bad dream where YOU died, you'll go another mile. Or ten, or a thousand. Whatever it takes to make it better. And when you can't fix it, a small thing plants itself inside your heart and hurts for awhile. Because they believed you could make it better, and you just couldn't.

Most of all, they have made sure I understand the meaning of the word "unconditional." It used to be a thing for me, when I was a teenager, that I was searching for a person who'd love me unconditionally. That special soul mate for life who would just "get" me, and accept me for "who I really am." I've definitely found my soul mate, but one thing about marriage is that you can't just be who you really are all the time. You have to make sacrifices and changes and go out of your way to make sure someone else can live with you--and that's not easy. But there is one person who DOES love me unconditionally--no matter what I do. Although it really helps if I kiss her a hundred times in a row and say in a sappy voice, "I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you." And for good measure, I have to add, even now that I'm thirty-two,"You're the best mommy ever."

I have learned in my life that while sacrifices and concessions must be made to help a marriage function successfully, there is a limit to how much another person can ask of you. That after a point, they SHOULD like who you are and want to be with the real you. But with your children? There is no limit. I will give them every bit of me, every last bit if that is what I believe they need, and I will love them in the face of the very worst they could ever do or be. The hardest part of my job will be helping them learn that the rest of the world will NOT be as unconditional as I am, because my love will never have the infallible super powers to protect them that they believe in right now.

But I'll tell you something. When I am at my worst--those days when Joey and Noah remark on my appearance or my mood with chagrin, disdain, or disgust--I know who to call. I know who can get through to me and make me better. And if I can be half that mom for my boys, I will have been more than I could hope to be.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Memory Lane: Defining Moments

I feel like in my short life, I've already lived at least four separate lives. Somehow, the Universe has afforded me opportunities not to...start over, exactly. But to change course so that I can continue on a path to be whoever it is I hope to be. That's pretty cool.

It could also be, too, that I'm one of those...dissatisfied people always looking for something more. Although...I don't really have a problem with that.

Except when I feel dissatisfied.

I'm totally one of those people who can be moved to huge and important decisions because of a book I read, or a movie I watched, or even a TV commercial. After I saw A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe, who I don't even like very much, I knew I had to change my life. How ridiculous is that? Not like I fancy that I myself even have a beautiful mind. Just that...my world needed more than what it had at that time.

But sometimes it is so much simpler than that, isn't it? I watched a movie tonight, a movie that I'm so embarrassed was my "Move Me" movie that I won't say what it was, but it was a Big Deal. Anyway. It made me think about those old feelings of dissatisfaction, and then about what my life is right now.

You can feel free to read all my blog entries to date to find out what my life is NOW, but I can sum it up real easy. Today I went to change a toilet paper roll in the bathroom, and when I bent down to do it, I came face to face with a thick, dark smear of poop on my cream-colored wall. And what did I do about it? I silently got a Clorox wipe and cleaned it off.

I really, really love my life and who I am (as my sister pointed out to me this morning, incidentally: "You don't have any problems with self-confidence that I can see"), but this movie that I watched tonight reminded me of something else. It reminded me of feelings beyond the magic of being a mom and a wife and a...bloggist. Blogger. Bloggess.

Nine years ago this month, I woke up really early in a hotel room. Not a super nice hotel room. It was...adequate. I'm pretty sure it had the word "Budget" in its name. I'm not generally into waking up early in a hotel, but this might have been my third or fourth time ever being in one, so maybe I didn't know that yet. Or maybe it was because it was in Cedar Point, Ohio, and I wanted to arrive at the gate before anyone else, so that I could race to the new roller coaster and be the first one on. The Dragster.

Of course when we arrived, Joe and I, the line outside the gate was already a small mosh-y crowd, filled with people of all ages and all types voicing similar plans to mine. Families with tweenagers. Burly older men with scruffy beards and backwards baseball caps and t-shirts with cutoff sleeves. Super preppy college kids in Polo shirts and pressed shorts. But I was twenty-three years old. I was spry. I was determined. I would get to the roller coaster first. I would be on the first ride of the day. And Joe would be with me.

It was a sunny warm day for May. When the gates opened officially, the crowd began to move faster than I expected through the clicking turnstiles. I was conscious of two things: how close I was to the front of the line, and the person whose palm was pressed against the small of my back so that we would not lose each other in the shoving and pushing to be next.

Just as we neared the front of the line, I felt a warm cheek press against my face. I closed my eyes, and I could see without hesitation the smile that was not just in his mouth but that went all the way into his eyes, like his heart was visible through the pupils. Through the twinkle that was always there when he looked at me. I heard his voice say, "We're next. Ready?"


I handed my pass to the ticket-taker. She scanned it over the turnstile, and waved me through. I had taken three steps before I heard the clickety-click of the turnstile behind me, and then Joe's hand grabbed mine.

"GO!" I yelled.

Hand in hand, we began to sprint. Oh my God, it might be the last time I ever ran like that, like I was being chased by a team of raging pit bulls and the only means of survival was propelling my body forward as fast as I could. Joe's hand slipped from mine as he pulled forward, but he turned back to see that I was still there. The sun was behind his blond hair, his cheeks were pink with excitement, and that smile on his face...I swear it lit up the whole park. Or maybe we both did, because I felt that smile inside me and knew it was on my face, too.

I wimped out at the Drop Zone, or the Terror Tower, or whatever that ride is that pulls you straight up and then lets you go at, like, zero gravity or something. I don't pretend to know. Anyway, I got a cramp in my side, because while that was probably the last time I ever ran that way it was also probably the first, and I half galloped, half limped the rest of the way to the Dragster. Joe, clearly torn between loyalty to me and our plan to get to the ride first, half galloped a little ways ahead of me.

We weren't first to the ride. How could we be? We weren't even first in the park. But we only had a ten minute wait to get on that roller coaster, and I'm pretty sure that moment when I flew off into a wild run with a person I know with my eyes closed was the free-est and most alive I'd ever felt.

That was my moment of pure, complete happiness. Mine. Separate from my children, separate from everything I had been before a life that began that day, at Cedar Point, Ohio. It is the moment that defines for me that whoever I am, whoever I become...happiness makes the most sense when Joe is right there with me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why I'm Not Like Harry Potter

I got into this huge monologue with my sister this morning about how I recently discovered that, contrary to my initial belief, I would never, ever be sorted into the Gryffindor House.

I read Harry Potter for the first time twelve years ago, at the vehement prompting of my "baby"cousin, who happens to be one my all-time favorite humans (he is still my "baby" cousin, though he is turning twenty-three in a couple of weeks). I loved it from page one, plunging into the series with a hunger I don't think I've since experienced while reading a book. Not even for the Hunger Games, which has the word "hunger" right in it. JK Rowling had managed to make real for me something my college professor had once said about poets and scientists. He'd said, "They both believe there are things, real things that matter and affect us all the time, happening right in front of us that we can't sense because we lack the ability to know it's there." Hello, Muggles. Nice to meet you.

Anyway, I think I fell into the same group as all other readers when I confidently believed that just as it'd happened for Harry, of course the Sorting Hat would have placed me in Gryffindor House. I think it is owed to the fact that JK Rowling created characters so really alive that all of their actions seemed so understandable and true. I assumed I would have totally done the same thing in any of those situations.

But if you know me, do you think I would really take on a troll? Or not run screaming from Voldemort?

This year, Joey and I have been reading the series together. This makes it almost like reading brand new books, because I am seeing the story through the eyes of my six-year-old. It also means I'm re-reading details I've long forgotten, and noticing things that in my first, second, and third readings I overlooked because I was caught up in the plot. But when you read to children, you tend to scan words, phrases, and ideas as you go to be sure they will understand. (Don't you?) And as I did so, the constitution of a true Gryffindor began to fan before my eyes like the perfect hand of poker I've never had.

First of all, if my best friend was trapped in a bathroom while a troll was loose in a school, what would I really do? I would go find Professor McGonagall, that's what. I'd say, "Professor, I think Hermione is in the bathroom!" and then I would dutifully head off to the Common Room.

Also, if I mysteriously received an Invisibility Cloak for Christmas, I'd immediately suspect it were poisoned or some sort of threat. After a two-week waiting period, if nothing had blown up or caused a dark plague, I might try the thing on. But no way would I sneak out of anywhere to go solve a school mystery. Quite honestly, I would be so completely fine with the way the school was running on the surface, I probably wouldn't even notice that there had been a return of a Dark Lord.

If my name had accidentally or inexplicably been entered in a tournament that could result in death, I would be very relieved when teachers stepped forward to say that it didn't count. If Dumbledore tried to make it happen, I would respectfully decline, thank you.

When the students of Hogwarts were under strict curfews because Dementors were combing the the grounds, I would have reported to the Common Room five minutes early, every night, just to make sure I got a good seat in front of the fireplace to read my book or chat with my friends. I would not be late. I would not be investigating the Restricted Section of the library (especially not with that Mrs. Norris about, who I'd totally befriend and feed catnip to, even though I hate cats). And I would write my dear friend Hagrid a polite but regretful note that read: "Dear Hagrid, I'm sorry I won't be able to visit you for awhile. You understand. It's this new curfew rule. Hope you're well."

My six-year-old son is a deep and pensive kid when he wants to. I wasn't surprised when I marked our page one night and found him looking at me thoughtfully. He asked, "Mom, would YOU be a Gryffindor?"

I want him to think I'm brave and smart and true, all of the things that I love most about Harry and Hermione. But I also think he knows me better than that. So I sighed and admitted, "I think I'd be a Hufflepuff."

He nodded, frowning. "You might be a Ravenclaw," he said generously. Then he added, "But at least you wouldn't be a Slytherin. That's for sure."

But Joey? Joey's got it all. He'd be a Gryffindor before the Sorting Hat touched his hair. :)