“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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


My mother bought me this really fantastic hair straightener for Christmas. I used to faithfully straighten my hair every day, until one day I realized that stepping out of the shower and just being ready is actually way easier. Who knew? So I gave up straightening my hair for many, many years.

Until my mother bought me this present. I must admit, it's pretty amazing. It doesn't take me very long--which is saying something, since my hair is pretty thick (I've actually been told by snarky hair dressers that I'd just better WARN them on the phone next time because my hair is "unreasonably thick," as if I have any control over that), and it doesn't make my hair all large and in charge, either.

Well, today, time wasn't on my side and I didn't have time even for the super fabulous quick straightening, and I wore my hair curly. I must tell you, each time I passed by my own reflection it was like seeing an old friend I'd been missing. And oddly, I felt relieved. Like for a little while there, I hadn't quite been my real self, and now I am again.

The more I thought about it, the more reflective I became about when exactly I became definitively me. Waaay back when Joe and I first got engaged, a friend of mine and I were discussing the various ups and downs of embarking on a new life with another person, and she quite wisely said, "You just have to be really clear about what you decide are you non-negotiables." My response was quick (if naive), "That he love me, take care of me, not leave me or cheat on me or hurt me," and she sort of laughed and rolled her eyes and said, "Well, aren't those everyone's non-negotiables? What are yours?" But for me, at that time in my life, those were it. I'd actually been in a place where they weren't glaringly obvious to another person, and I figured I would never need much more than that, so as long as Joe could be counted upon to be, you know, a decent human, we'd be all good. And since I'd already known Joe at that point for ten years, I felt pretty confident I knew what I was getting into.

Lucky for me.

Because quite honestly, if you asked me today, I bet I could brainstorm a whole shiny new list of what my non-negotiables are. Topping the list would be do NOT roll your eyes at me and do NOT move things from where I put them. Ridiculous? Yes. Negotiable? No.

So what happened between then and now? The obvious answer (and the cliche one) is life. Life happened. More specifically? Let's see if I can outline a few of the more glaring specifics that have changed me into the curly-haired person I was so relieved to see in the mirror this morning.

1. Children. Children are messy and annoying and dealing with them alone totally sucks. Dealing with them with another thinking human is, like...impossibly hard. Imagine: I have one idea of how to handle Noah singing "Video Killed the Radio Star" at 2 am, and my husband--what is he thinking?--has the audacity to have a different one. The moral of the story: Nobody can predict their child will have an affinity for singing vintage rock songs in the middle of the night.

2. Mail. Young people really don't understand about mail. My older sister was completely in love with it. The affair began when my parents first subscribed to TV Guide, and it only became more passionate from there. For this reason, I wrongly predicted that one day receiving my own mail would be a magical and satisfying experience. How wrong I was! Mail brings bills and other kinds of bad news. It is a reminder of everything you have to do but don't want to do. It contains advertisements for things you want to buy, but your bank just sent you a letter saying you can't afford to. Sometimes, it contains random letters you suspect might carry illness. (At least if you're me.) And then these envelopes, these harborers of evil, pile up and up in a really inconvenient place in your home. Because half are for you and half are for another person and some are for now and some are for later. You create a system for managing it all, and then the other person, the person who was only meant to love you and take care of you and never hurt you (non-negotiably), comes along and moves the system to a different place. A secret place. It might be the garbage. It might be the cupboard. It doesn't matter. It was moved. Moral of the story: My sister is weird and mail is bad.

3. Modern literature. I have one name for you: Jodi Picoult. Reading Jodi Picoult, or any other writers who have subscribed to using her kind of endings, is akin, in my humble belief, to a person offering you a basket of freshly baked cookies. "They're still warm," the person might say. You're elated.You heart soars. Warm cookies? you think. How delightful! Calories? I don't mind spending them on freshly baked cookies! You reach in, take a cookie, and bring it to your mouth. You bite. And then, more than anything, you want to spit the cookie back out. Those were not chocolate chips. They were raisins. Oatmeal raisin cookies are my equivalent to Jodi Picoult books.

4. Owning a dog. I understand that Joe and I did things a little backward. The way most people do it is they get the dog before they have the children. Joe and I messed up. We had the babies first. Babies are hard! Babies are trouble! Babies do not sleep and then they grow up and sing "Video Killed the Radio Star" at 2 am. I actually rolled my eyes and laughed at people who owned dogs but had no children. But now? Now I see the usefulness of their choice. How much more patient I could have been with someone who isn't human if I didn't actually already care for and nurture small humans. Now, all I keep thinking about is, "I have to clean up your mess and you're not even a person. This blows." No moral here, as far as I can see. But I may not be seeing things in the clearest light since I've been up at 2 am for almost five years listening to rock songs.

I became a teacher because I was done with college. I became a wife. I became a mom. I own a house. I have an SUV that seriously hates me. I hate cold weather and I live in a place that has miserable weather for at least eight months of the year.

But when I looked in the mirror this morning, and saw my own old face surrounded by curly hair, I smiled and walked on, humming a certain Buggles song under my breath as I went. Behind my eyes a slide show played, showing me an array similar to the following.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Twitter Mute

I know I used to blog more often, but then I joined Twitter and was struck dumb.

Seriously, does anyone else feel a little deer-in-the-headlights with tweeting? It's not at all like Facebook, where I feel safe within a virtual circle of friends. Instead, it's like being at a huge cocktail party where I don't know anyone, and I'm wearing a brown paper bag dress with tin-foil booties. And I'm not rocking the outfit as a fashion statement.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Everybody's Baby

When the millennium was just barely born, and I was just barely twenty years old, I had reason to drive myself to the hospital. This is a terribly big deal, you must understand, because the words "I had to" and "myself" were rarely strung together in my life at that point.

I was excited to be at the hospital early in the year 2000, because I had no life experience. I had little knowledge of suffering, and little understanding of loss. And I was there for neither reason. I was there, quite the contrary, to celebrate something new.

My sister, the oldest in my family, had just had a baby girl. My sister's first baby. My first niece, first grandchild of my parents. First everything. And that made our new girl, tiny little angel, everybody's baby. The day she was born, it was like a whole new family was born. There was a reason to be excited about all the things we'd forgotten in our new adult angst. Suddenly, where everything had been old hat, we saw new, tiny hat. Magic. Possibility. I entered the hospital room, and she was bundled up in a tiny blanket, nothing to see but the tuft of blazing red hair that peeked out from the swaddle.

There are very few people I've loved so fast in my life, but my Olivia is one of them. Somehow, though she was my sister's, and as I've said, everybody's, somehow she belonged especially to me. Not because I was her godmother, or because I'm Jane's only sister, but somehow, when her eyes blinked open at me as she was placed in my arms, we connected. I think God must have decided in that moment I'd only give birth to boys because he knew I'd never love another girl quite like I love this one.

I spent Olivia's first year as her nanny, gladly arranging my college schedule around my sister's work schedule, so that I could be there as a trusted person to care for her. I'd hold her red head just under my chin, smelling her good baby smell, and we'd fall asleep together in the rocking chair in my sister's living room. As she grew, and showed more of her special stubborn streak, I was the one who rocked her to sleep willingly (as I wasn't the one waking with her in the night). I was the one who knew that Africa by Toto could lull her like nothing else. I was the one who was willing to lay next to her indefinitely until her sweet bronze lashes would fall to slumber, and her perfect round cheeks relaxed with the angelic sleep that only babies know.

Thirteen years later, I am signing my two sons up for Little League. I am rushing through the house to find town IDs and birth certificates. I have a teenage girl--hear that? a teenage girl--in my car, ready to run into the town center to drop off these forms that my husband and I misplaced, or forgot, or whatever the reason is that we were unprepared this time (because I'm no longer twenty and the words "I had to" and "myself" are regularities and can cause quite the mess). She is tall--too tall for my family. Her hair is flowing fire, a cascade of lava that matches her personality. She is a girl to be reckoned with. She wears skinny jeans and tall fur-capped boots and--inexplicably--a sequinned hat. I guess at some point every girl makes the mistake of not knowing sequins are ridiculous. Lucky for my girl, it is now when she is freshly thirteen and not down the road when she has a fancy date with a fancy boy who will want to roll his eyes because sequins are ridiculous.

I watch her dash through newly fallen snow, dainty and coordinated as I never was, her sequinned hat sparkling against the white around her, her red hair standing out against the blank desolation of winter. It is the perfect metaphor for my Olivia. She is anything but plain. She is anything but quiet. She will be heard, she will be seen, she will be noticed. She is the fire against the snow against all odds.

We are so, so proud of the girl you have become, Olivia Rose. I am so proud to be your goddy. Happy Birthday, Teenage Girl.

My baby girl holding my baby boy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Your Life's Going Down the Toilet!

I want you to watch the above video clip from the movie Moonstruck. It's only about a minute long.

I love this movie, and I love this scene. While this exact moment may not be from my life, the relationships, the exchanges, and the nuances are all very applicable to my family and to me. When I am having a bad day, I love catching this on TV or even pulling it up on Youtube. "Your life's going down the toilet!" is something my parents have both said to me all throughout my life at varying times, from the day I didn't feel like doing my homework in high school to the day my life really did go down the toilet to the present, where I doubt myself as a mother every single day and it seems like my parents' mission in life is to fuel that doubt. Any doubt. Mary Pat's down? Cool. Let's kick her.

And yet...this is my family's means of support. "Dysfunctional!" you spit at me. Maybe. But more than that, it's validation and a kick to get moving. "Mary Pat, what the hell's the matter with you?" And even though we are not from Queens or Brooklyn, even though we are all mostly Polish (except my Sicilian Mama) and from Buffalo, this Italian accent kicks in when they say this to me: What the hell's the matter with you? It's generally followed up by a really loving voice change: "You've got so much good. God has given you everything. Why can't you just--" And then you can fill in the blank there, because what follows is usually a demand to do what they want, like do the Sunday dinner dishes (which my sister and sister-in-law voodoo-minded their way out of the other night--WTF), or buy better groceries (my dad: "Why the hell don't you have ginger ale in the house? Who doesn't buy ginger ale?" We don't.), or whatever it is that minute, that day.

But today's one of those days. The kind where you reach into the community candy bowl on the kitchen counter dying for a Krackel bar, and you know what? There's no Krackel bars. You dig and you dig--you know you spotted one at breakfast and mentally filed that for later, because breakfast isn't an appropriate time for Krackel bars--and you come up empty. Damn it, there's no Krackels. OR Mr. Goodbars, if you really want to know. So then you're stuck with Special Dark. It's a whole bowl full of Special Dark. It may as well be a glass half empty at that point.

I dragged myself away from the bowl and peeled off the wrapper of the unwanted Special Dark, savored the flavor I didn't want, and sat down here and thought, "What would make me feel better?" I just read on Twitter, "What do you read when you don't feel well?" or something to that effect. I generally consider myself rather literary, but if I'm so sick I need comfort, or so down I'll eat Special Dark, I have no energy to read. I just want scenes to display themselves before my eyes, plots to unfold in front of me that show someone who is worse off than I am, about to become better off than I am.

This scene from Moonstruck is perfect. It's exactly what came to my mind when I read that Twitter post. These people, Olympia Dukakis and Cher as Italian mother and daughter, are my mom and me. Not the premise, the relationship. The worry, the angst, the retort, the "Fine! You gotta help me!" after everything else. And, if you watch the rest of the scene unfold--it is, in fact, the end of the movie if you didn't know--your heart will be warm and fat and full. My favorite way for my heart to be. Exactly the way a family should always make you feel, even if they shout, "Your life's going down the toilet!"

And my mom? She's just the type to sit down and share a Special Dark with me. Or even better, ring the doorbell with a bag full of Krackels. And over that, she will say, "Your life's going down the toilet," and we'll lean in close, and burst into belly-aching laughter that takes our breath and makes us wheeze.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Choosing Daddy

With Joey as Star Student this week, a few complications arose to slightly shift the fam dynam. (Family dynamic--not yet sure if I like my abbreviation.) As I mentioned before, there was the whole question of "Who do you most want to be like when you grow up?" which caused Joey a bit of moral struggle: does he choose his father, which makes the most sense, or does he choose me, to whom he is most loyal? In the end, as I shared in another post, I had to let him know the truth: I know his life's aspirations are not to be a stay-at-home mom and love the color purple (which, as it turns out, is all he knows about me).

Today, the last day of the days, Joey was to invite his parents in and have one of them read the class a story. Now, that does come across a bit like a setup, where the child will be forced to choose. Really, I think the child is just meant to invite in the parent who will read, but it once again came down to the issue of hurt feelings for our sensitive little dude. But he made no bones about one thing: Daddy would read.

Every single night at bedtime in our house, children are cuddled close and read a story. I have been reading to them both since infancy, or if you count it, in utero. As time has passed and Noah has grown, it had become a divided event. I go with Joey and we read whatever chapter of whatever novel he's on, and my husband reads to Noah. Noah is very insistent that his dad read to him, and Joey prefers me at bedtime. I'm not sure how their preferences came to be so firm-lined, but it probably has something to do with routine and the way things have always worked out.

But this time, Joey was clear. Daddy would read to the class.

I don't want to say my feelings were hurt, because they weren't. I might have had an inkling that the choice was the wrong one, since after all, I'm the English teacher, the writer, the reader...I'm totally the best choice, right? But I completely understood that it would special for Joey to have this moment with his father. I also have a firm belief that fathers should read to their sons, should be seen reading by their sons, and should just all-around be actively involved in the readers their children grow to be. So I didn't argue with Joey's choice and I won't say my feelings were hurt.

Joey chose Zathura, a beautifully written and illustrated Chris Van Allsburg book I bought for teaching years ago (see? my book!). Joey loves this story, but because of its length his dad hesitated. "Won't that take up a lot of time, Joey?" my husband asked. Joey shrugged. "I can pick anything I want!" he declared. "And I want this."

And so it was.

We arrived at his classroom, "Right on time!" or so the teacher said, and the presentation area was made to accommodate us. The children were seated angelically on the floor (because they really are a nice class) before the teacher's rocking chair, a student chair, and a blank cushioned office chair.

"Who gets the rocker, Joey?" asked Joey's teacher.

"My DAD," said Joey, gesturing to the wooden chair with flourish. And just the way his voice carried the word--DAD--I felt his pride and thrill well up inside my own heart. Mommy comes to class often enough. But this was DAD. Dad left work. Dad, his baseball coach. Dad, his at-home science teacher (yes, they blow things up often). Dad, his protector. Dad...his most cherished friend.

"Really?" asked the teacher. "You're going to give this dinky old chair to your mom?"

I laughed like a good sport, knowing I could get emotional at any second because this whole event is a big deal to me even though it's fairly run-of-the-mill for everyone else involved (I mentioned in the previously mentioned previous post that every kid gets his shot at Star Student--it's not like it's earned). Any moment where I'm meant to reflect on how much I love either of my children causes me to well up and have heart palpitations; it's a combination of fierce motherly protectiveness and crazy, over-the-moon love. So I laughed at the teacher, at Joey, at the moment, and sat in the dinky old chair while my husband sat on Joey's other side in the rocking chair.

The children leaned forward eagerly as he held up Joey's chosen book. "Have you kids ever heard of the story Zathura?" he asked them.

Some said yes, some shrugged. It was clear they wanted him to just begin. And begin he did.

With wide eyes and a voice suddenly filled with magic, my husband brought the pages of the book alive for everyone present. Not a practiced teacher, he didn't show them the pictures until he was finished reading each page. (Reading upside down so kids can see the pictures the whole time is a difficult thing to learn.) Once, he even forgot to show the picture at all. It didn't matter--his reading was so captivating the kids barely noticed. With each page I watched their rapt faces change from surprise to awe to wonder--they loved it.

And I loved watching my husband.

At some point, Joey rose from his chair and tucked his arm around his dad's. He leaned on Big Joe's shoulder, adding appropriate comments that helped his father explain the more science-fictiony parts of the story.

For me, being pregnant and having a baby was more than emotional. It forged something inside me that made me possessive and desperate to earn the love my children gave so freely. It sounds like a contradiction, and it is...almost. But I never ever thought I'd feel so good watching Joey get so much from his father's presence, his father's love, or his father's, well, magic. I'm so proud to be married to a man who has all of those things, and has already begun to imprint them on our children.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Twinkle Little Star

This week Joey is the Star Student of his class. I don't want to say this is meaningless, because his awesome teacher makes the week extra special for each child whose turn it is, but it's not like he had to do anything to earn it. Everyone gets a turn, regardless of merit. At one point, Joey was all sad because he was told it was centered around when birthdays fell, and he's a summer birthday. I calmly explained to him that day that I was sure, absolutely certain, he would have his chance to be Star Student, and now that time is here.

I won't waste your time with how nervous I am because every plague-ish illness under the sun is rampant both at Joey's school and out in the world, or how unlucky things always seem to happen in our family at important times (Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays). Instead, I'll say how a lovely part of the Star Student project is that the parents are asked to write the child a letter.

I completely rock at writing letters. It's kind of my thing. It all started in high school when I wrote never-to-be-sent love letters to boys who would never love me back (except Joe, what a sucker). Then, when I found out I was having Joey, my mother gave me a book called, "Letters To My Child." It was blank inside, except for inspirational quotes and songs. I started writing to Joey while he was still in my belly. I know some people are a big fan of being surprised about whether they are having a boy or girl, but Joey's very existence was such a surprise to me that I kind of needed to know ahead of time that he was a boy. I loved knowing his name, and learning all about his personality while he lived in my giant round tummy. Our bond started very early, and has only kept growing.

It should come as no surprise then, that when I wrote his Star Student letter last night, I started crying. I cry at Kay Jeweler commercials and anything with triumphant, "You Did It" music, so it's not saying much, but clacking away at my keyboard and reflecting on the person I see in my son, I was just overwhelmed by how lucky we are to have him. He really is as close to an angel as any person will get. He's a little flaky, has no attention span or coordination, and trips over air, but he is sweet and considerate and generous. And I'm totally his favorite person. In fact, part of his project was to say who he most wanted to be like when he grows up. The answer was totally his dad, but because I was sitting there, he dutifully wrote "Mom" on his paper. I thought my heart might burst. "Joey," I said gently, "I bet you can't even say WHY you'd ever want to be like me."

He was offended. "Of course I can," he said. "Your favorite color is purple and you're the best mom ever."

"But you can't ever be a mom," I pointed out, "and your favorite color is red."

He looked away.

"What do you love about Dad?" I asked.

"That's he's an amazing scientist, is good at math, works really hard, and is the best dad ever."

I smiled. "It sounds to me like you have your answer."

He nodded and started to walk away, then turned back for a second. "It IS really cool that people are afraid of you, though," he said, and skipped off.


Anyway, in the interest of Star Students, and wishes that have come true, and the magic of everything special in my world, I thought I'd share my letter here. I'm a writer after all, so I don't mind.

Dear Supremely Awesome Child (Also Known as Joey),

Your teacher, Miss Teacher, has asked your father and me to write you a letter. You may not know this, but I have been writing letters to you since you were born. It is one of my favorite things to do, so I am thrilled for yet another chance to write to you about the person I see in you.

Every single day, you find some unique way to make me feel proud of you. You are generous, thoughtful, and loving. I can always count on you to do the right thing, especially with Noah. He is lucky to have you for a brother and a friend.

You are incredibly intelligent. When we read together, watch movies, or just talk about something we both find interesting, you always manage to impress me with some fantastic connection, or a new idea I never thought of. I feel so lucky to have a son I love talking with. I tell people all the time, and I believe it’s true: with how smart you are, and all the goodness inside of you, you are meant to change the world and make it better. In the words of Ollivander the Wand Maker: “We can expect great things from you.”

But none of these qualities is a match for the gigantic heart inside you. It is what I love about you the most. You love with everything you’ve got. You see the good in everyone and everything. It doesn’t seem to matter what challenges you meet, you always get right back up and smile. You are only seven, and you have more goodness and love inside you than anyone I have ever known.

I hope you will always know how very much I love you and always will.


P.S.—You’re also super handsome, but I didn’t want to embarrass you.

And yes, I typed it. Not unlike another letter from long ago, not written by me but TO me by my own crazy mom, which is a blog for another day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Making it Happen

I am procrastinating. Post-holidays, post-sickness, post-everything, I need to go grocery shopping AND get an X-ray. I should have already done one or both, especially knowing I have a deadline. I have to pick Noah up at 10:45. Well, technically, not until 11, but I have to lie to myself and say 10:45 or I will overestimate how long everything takes me. So 10:45.

Happy 2013!

I was thinking earlier this morning as Joey ran through the house chanting the year (I can only assume it was in preparation for chanting he'll do at school--chanting is a very big thing with little boys) about every year I've lived through that ends in a '3.' I'm horribly superstitious. I won't even bore you with all the weird things I do in full belief that they will make a difference in the outcome of any given circumstance--nothing dangerous or dealing with blood, of course, I'm not crazy. 

Odd numbered years are generally really good ones for me. But years that end in 3s? Well, in 1983, I was only three (I turned four in October), but I imagine things were great for me back then. I started nursery school, which must have been a blast--I definitely remember there being a snow table once, and I also painted the masterpiece of a lifetime, "Blue Gorilla," which some jerky classmate painted over when I wasn't looking and now the world will never know--and I remember there being a lot of parties. The parties aren't actually exclusive to 1983, but rather my entire childhood, but I feel it's fair to include them in the memory of this particular year as filler.

Then there was 1993, the year I graduated from eighth grade. This, I know, was NOT a good year for me. It's the Year My Hair Turned Curly, which can serve as a huge metaphor for everything that went on that year. Really, as I reflect, everything turned upside-down for me in 1993. It was also the year I started high school, the year I got my heart broken for the millionth time (I started falling in love in kindergarten), and the year of my great track injury. If you're interested in THAT, you can read about it here.

And, most recently, 2003. This might as well be the Year My Hair Turned Curly, too, but instead will call it the Year of Janus. Janus was the god of doorways in ancient Rome. He had two faces, and we get the word "January" from him, because January is a doorway to a new year. Ooh! Appropriate for January 2, and I didn't even mean to. So, yes. The Year of Janus. Some things ended, and it's also the year I started dating Joe. Like, officially. After a bowling event. Lots of bowling, and then, later, lots of declarations of feelings. Very monumental in my life. And at the end of 2003, I got engaged on Christmas Eve.

So what will 2013 bring? Many of you are snickering and saying, "A baby?" I snicker back at you, right in your face. No. 2013 will be the year I return to work and the year I turn 34, but I hope it brings much more. This year (and these are not resolutions, because I'm not really making any promises to myself about behavior changes with regard to any of this), I hope for a cure for germophobia. I hope for no kidney stones (which reminds me, I'm supposed to be getting an X-ray). I hope for great accomplishments and success. I hope for healthy, happy children. I hope for a fully fenced backyard, instead of a partially fenced one, and a dog that I can leave alone for longer than an hour (since I have to go back to work in September). I hope for a big trip. That'd be great. Maybe two. And...painting our family room. I can't do that myself because of the ceilings, but I hope it happens. A nice basil-y color, perhaps.

What do you hope for this year? Outside of your own resolutions and behavior-change promises, what do you just HOPE will happen? What will light your fire or make 2013 a great year for you? Because, ultimately, some years are good, and some years are bad, but it really is up to us to make it happen, I guess.

Welcome to 2013. Good luck making it happen.