“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

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Sibling Connection

I shared a room with my sister until I was twelve. This means that in conversations, I might say something like, "I shared a room with my sister, but only when I was little."

On the other hand--and my sister only just recently pointed this out to me--the six year age difference between us means that she had to share a room with me until she was eighteen. That's, like, a really long time. Poor Jane. No wonder she was so scarred. And rumor has it I was kind of annoying.

I do remember there being good times, like when she let me climb into her bed once during a violent thunderstorm (though if you think about it, over the course of twelve years, there were probably dozens of thunderstorms and she only reached out that one time). When I was six, she bought me my first Barbie and built me a dollhouse out of crates and boxes in our closet. A few weeks later she dismantled it because it was in her way, but still. The initial thought was so nice.

I always believed my parents put on the addition and gave us our own rooms because they simply felt like remodeling and having a fancy master bedroom. Apparently, this is not true. Apparently, they already had a perfectly lovely master bedroom and built the addition because my sister hated sharing a room with me so much she threatened terrible things. Like leaving home and going away to college.

And yet now, my insane sons want to share a room. They request it almost nightly. And it isn't just my own experience that makes this mind-boggling to me, it's how different the boys are. Almost incompatible. Joey is an angel sleeper, and Noah is...um, well, he's Noah. "Sleep is NOT my thing." He's always surprised when I announce bedtime, like perhaps I'll just see reason and understand that bedtime is a heap of nonsense. "Bedtime!" He scowls and scoffs. He rolls his eyes. He flops over backward, hand over forehead.

But while Joey bemoans his brother's noisy and annoying habits, they continue to enthusiastically request to sleep in the same room. At first I thought it could be for moral support, since they both suffer from vivid and terrifying nightmares (they must dream about losing me, poor dears). But then they both call out for me, anyway, forcing me to grumble and mutter sophomoric things like, "WTF" as I trudge up the stairs to save the freaking day. Again.

I thought maybe it was for company. Both boys wake up absurdly early every day (regardless of bed time), so I waited for them to chat and giggle with flashlights like they do before they fall asleep. Or something. But, no. They argued and called out, "Mo-om! Noah's shaking the ladder on the bunk bed!" or "Mo-om! Joey's cup fell off the top bunk and hit my head!" Nice.

So then I have to give up trying to figure out the details of why my kids are weird and just accept that maybe they really like each other. Jane and I didn't for a long time, but I guess that's where birth order and age difference come in. Or gender. But what really seems to matter is the connection. I find that when I take my boys out in the world and one or both of them has a friend to play with, they still look for each other. No matter where we are, one finds his way to his brother. I think they feel more secure that way. And I know that for me, even if sharing a room didn't work out for us, things are just more real when I share them with my sister. Favorite television shows, books, movies, secrets...everything bears more weight and substance after I've discussed it with her.

This is something my husband cannot understand, and when the phone rings for the second or third time in one day I watch him furrow his brow or roll his eyes. Sometimes he mutters a, "Didn't you just talk to her?" It's the same kind of thing that happened on a play date with the boys last week. Noah continued to wander away from his friend to go see what his brother was doing. Someone perfectly great was right in front of him, but there was this need to connect with Joey. It's what siblings are for, I guess, at least, it's always been that way for me. I would have thought it was weird if my kids were any different. God gives you a person who will love you no matter what you do, who will listen no matter how stupid you are, who will know you when you don't know yourself. Someone you can sit next to and not have to say anything. Someone who knows where you come from better than anybody else, who had the same crazy mother and the same father who called bathrobes "housecoats" and could never EVER be asked for homework help because he just gave you extra work.

I admit I sometimes feel left out when Joey and Noah form a sort of unit that I'm not a part of, but I also love when I'm just about to close the bedroom door, and in the glow of the twinkle lights wrapped around their footboards, I see two little blond heads peeking out from beneath piles of blankets in the bunkbeds. As I pull the door shut, I hear a whisper, "Joey? Are you awake?" and an answer, "Go to sleep, Noah." By the time my foot hits the bottom stair, there is giggling.

P.S.--If this post seems slightly disjointed, it's because my sister called in the middle of my writing it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


A lot of people might not guess this about my older sister, but she's very funny. And she's the best sort of funny...the kind that is so much in earnest, she doesn't mean to make anyone laugh.

Last night, for example, we were out for dinner together with our husbands at a local hibachi restaurant.  Hibachi was a good compromise for us all because the men could have their flame-thrown protein and rice and vegetable while Jane and I could have sushi. No one could have meat, as it was a Friday during Lent, but--major score--there were plenty of seafood options.

Jane always has a particularly difficult time ordering her meals because she has self-inflicted dietary restrictions. A lifelong victim of stomachaches (me, too, by the way), she narrowed down the more violent causes to dairy and gluten. This makes going to a restaurant with her a real treat. Especially yesterday.

When our server came to our table to take our drink order, I think we should have foreseen that Jane might have further issues. I tried to order Pellegrino water. A lovely young Japanese woman, she struggled to pronounce the name of the water. Not wanting to make her uncomfortable, I quickly switched my order to "sparkling water." Her eyebrows furrowed, though she continued to smile brightly, and then she thrust her pen and paper at me and said, "You write it?" at which point I said, "That's okay. Regular water is fine."


It was time to order our food. My brother-in-law, my husband, and I rattled off our requests with no trouble at all. When the waitress turned to Jane, pen poised at the ready, Jane said, "The spicy seafood soup, is that gluten-free?"

"Spicy seafood soup?"

"Is it gluten free?"

The server frowned. "Not free. You have to pay."

Jane leaned forward and opened her eyes wider, so that perhaps the server could see into her brain. "GLUTEN. GLOOOOOOOO-TEN. GLUTEN!"

"You write it?"

"No flour? FLO-UR. Wheat?"

"Flowers?" She looked at a vase behind my head, and for the first time appeared nervous.


"Okay, I tell him."

As the waitress scurried away, Jane leaned forward close to me, as if concerned the rest of the diners might hear her after she just shouted out her dietary limitations. She whispered, "I have to say, I was a bit put off by the language barrier."

Really? I don't think anyone noticed.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


My parents went out for dinner every Friday night for as long as I can remember. We never had the same babysitter--we were bad, I think--but my parents always made sure they had somebody lined up for the following Friday. I suspect my mother would have accepted anyone from the grocery store cashier to the garbage man if it meant she and my dad could be alone for a few hours. It might sound weird to some people, but as a parent I completely understand. It's something I've always insisted on since we had Joey, even if it can't be every week. In that moment where we first sit down in a restaurant, I swear that for one beat the world stills and my entire body instantly relaxes. For a short time, I get to just be a person. Not a mom, not a jungle gym, not a referee or a dictionary or encyclopedia or a bad cop...or a maid. Just me.

My children pretend to be annoyed when Joe and I go out, just as I used to with my parents, but the truth is, we all know it's fun. The kids get McDonald's or Wendy's and a fun babysitter (and unlike my own mother, I went out and conducted extensive searches for the world's best babysitters--you know who you are!).

Of course, it's these Fast Food Fridays that may have sparked my insane addiction to burgers and fries. It started off just Fridays, but then when I got my driver's license I became obsessed with taking myself to the corner Burger King whenever possible. I bribed friends to come with me. The employees knew me; I think they had my name on file because I was such a regular that when my meal was wrong I actually called them on the phone and requested that they prepare me a new one I could pick up. It was less than a mile down the road and I apparently had no life, so it was really no problem to do it. By the time I started college, I kept what I called "EBK" money--Emergency Burger King--in the console of my car. I'd zoom off the Thruway and as I neared the intersection by my house I could either turn left or swerve into the right lane to turn into Burger King. I'll never forget the day I was about to swerve right and I saw the boarded-up windows. No notice. No newscasts. No personal phone calls despite my special file. Out of nowhere, my Burger King closed. I almost got in an accident, and felt a little weepy the rest of the way home (I also got into a little altercation while driving because I'd swerved into the right lane and then had to quickly get back to the left--you'd think people could see I was grieving).

This didn't make me give up my love for Fast Food, however. My mom always said I was a person who "rolled with the punches," so I quickly switched my loyalty to McDonald's. I became a Big Mac girl and learned to love the special sauce the way I'd once loved the ooey-gooey mayonnaise goodness of the Whopper. When I finally graduated from college and then grad school and moved into my own apartment, one of its greatest perks was that it was a mile from McDonald's. Major score.

I wasted no time in introducing Joe to this crazed addiction when we began dating. No point in spending energy on a person who can't accept all of you, right? He was shocked. I think lots of people probably love McDonald's food, and also say that they can't resist it. I think he thought I was one of those people. Until he saw me eat. Then he knew I might be part T-Rex.

The reason I'm thinking of all this is because I was watching my seven, almost eight, year-old son yesterday. I just can't understand when his arms and legs became so long and gangly. When I fold laundry and I'm yanking on a pair of jeans whose leg is caught and twisted inside a towel or one of Joe's giant shirts, I tug and tug and the leg is so long I figure they must be mine. They finally break free and I look down and they are size 8 slim: Joey's jeans. I'm dreading the day when his clothes are the same size as his father's.

It seems like only yesterday that I was standing in McDonald's with my brand new husband, in line to order, and Joe said, "Are you getting the usual?" and I took a deep breath, using the moment to actually look over the other menu items. I'd always wondered why they'd even sell anything but Big Macs, but suddenly, out of nowhere, I found myself saying, "I think I want McNuggets."

Joe's eyes widened. He took a half a step back, then came close again to lean down and stare into my eyes. He was unsmiling when he said, "You're pregnant, aren't you."

It was less than a week later that we found out I was. And now my little McNugget is gigantic and excited for babysitters and Friday nights and good books. I'm sure this might be the strangest story some of you have ever read, but I love that my life began in a way that fit me so well. Standing in McDonald's, ready to take a leap with something new.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Sometimes, there's a time in life where everything screams that what you're about to do is logically and inherently a bad idea, and you do it anyway. And sometimes, it blows up in a million pieces. Other times, however, it ends up being just exactly right.

I learned in a pretty harsh and brutal way when I was twenty-three that everything I had believed to be true was...not. I learned that things I had either taken for granted or dismissed completely made the biggest difference not just to me but to life in general. But hardest of all was that I suddenly knew in the most crystal clear way that I was not the person I always thought I was. It was like every time I looked in the mirror I was meeting a new person. Of all the words to describe the feeling that evoked, I can only come up with...weird. Unsettling. Upsetting.

But there was this one night where I realized that all of that was okay. That I was okay, and everything else would be, too. You see, it was one those times where I did the dumbest thing possible. Having realized I knew nothing of myself or the world, I called up a boy. This would be the exact moment where a best friend or a sister or a mom would stretch their lower lip off to one side in a grimace and say, "Is that really a good idea right now?" And they did say that, all three of them. But I did it, anyway.

When I climbed into that boy's black Chevy Blazer, the strangest thing happened. It seemed that despite all my own personal confusion, he knew me. He knew all about me, including the mess I was at that very moment, and he could look me in the eye and say, "You look great." He asked, "Are you cold?" and pretended the button for the seat heater, located along the bottom side of the seat, would be impossible for me to find. He leaned all the way across me from the driver's seat, his arm across my waist, to flip it on for me.

Then, across the shadowed console of the dark car, he took my hand and started to drive. Red taillights glowed against our faces, and green traffic signals and white streetlights. We started at one end of Union Road and drove as far as it would take us. An hour and a half later, we were in another county. He swung the car through a U and headed back from where we came, stopping off at a Mexican restaurant that featured a mariachi band. He opened the car door for me, quickly grabbed my hand up again, and walked me inside.

I wasn't really hungry. He ordered himself some food, and when the waitress came over to check on us and asked, "Is everything okay?" he said, "No, it's really not good," because it wasn't and he's like that. The waitress walked away in a huff, and he looked over the table at me with his eyes all a'twinkle. He smirked, reached over and covered my hand with his. Almost more than anything, I remember how he just didn't want to let go of me.

Then the mariachi band took their break and regular music came through the ceiling speakers, probably a little louder than they intended. As the words to the song began and we recognized it, he started to sing. First quietly, and then a little louder and more boldly.

When I was a little girl, I always imagined that a boy would stand under my window with a guitar and sing to me. Then when I was a teenager, the fantasy changed to a boy in a trench coat with a boom box held up above his head. And now, I realized that the gesture was finally happening. Not outside my bedroom window, but in a Mexican restaurant whose food had not been good that night and whose mariachi band was on a break.

There's absolutely no reason that something so mundane should be important to me. But like everything in life, it was more about when it happened and how it lined up with everything else that was going on that made it matter. A long drive in the car at night, holding hands with an old friend, lousy food at a Mexican restaurant...so what? Except it was that night that I suddenly remembered who I was after all. Sometimes we have to remember we aren't just individuals struggling through a journey alone. We're meant to have right times, right places, and right people around us to offset the unfair imbalance that life often brings. They give us that small tilt, a shift, a nudge in the other direction, so that things fall evenly and we can say, "Hey. I'm going to be okay." So that in the middle of a big mess, we can get a...peaceful, easy feeling. ;)

I guess what I'm trying to say is, sometimes the thing that seems like the worst idea can lead to the best of everything.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Noah Stole Thunder

As it's close to Valentine's Day, and as I'm wonderful, my husband brought me flowers today. I had been in the kitchen with Noah when we heard the door open and the telltale noise of cellophane wrapping crackling in the next room.

"Noah!" my husband called. "Come here! Without Mommy!"

"Dad? Dad! Sure thing, Dad!" And off he went.

From the kitchen I heard their too-loud whispers, certainly deliberate on Joe's part. "Here. Take these in to Mommy."

"Aww, Dad, do I have to? Can't you do it?"

"No! You take them, Noah. Mommy will be so happy. Tell her they're from me."

"Ugh. All right."

I walked around the corner to meet him halfway. The bouquet was beautiful, all shades of my favorite color, purple, and wrapped up with curled ribbon.

"Noah!" I exclaimed. "How beautiful! Are those for me?"

"Yes," he said, slightly irritated. He really likes his Daddy time, and this was obviously taking away from it. "These are from--"

"I love them! It was so nice of you to get me flowers!" His eyes widened in surprised concern. "When did you buy them?"

"No, Mom, they're from--"

"And they're my favorite color, too! How nice you are to buy your mother flowers!"

"But, no! Mom, it was Daddy--"

"And look at these ribbons! Noah, you really are the nicest boy."

"But Daddy got the--"

"I love you so much. Since you bought me something nice, I think I'll buy you a toy."

Long pause.

"Mom, the flowers are from Daddy AND me."

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Broken Heart of a Preschooler

Driving home from preschool today, a little boy in the backseat had a sick little heart. He's a wonderful boy, the sort that other parents look at and say, "Golly, I wish he were mine." I know, fellow parents, I know. (But feel comforted by the fact that he wakes faithfully at 2 am every morning to sing "Video Killed the Radio Star." Everything's a tradeoff.)

"How was school?" I asked him.

"It was okay." But his voice was morose, low and quiet.

"Just okay?"

"Well, Hester* said she doesn't want to be my friend anymore."

I frowned. I'm never surprised by children and their school time drama, but Hester? Hester is a darling little girl who, as far as I know, is nice to everyone. Which can only mean one thing.

"Noah, what happened?"

He let out a huge sigh. "Well, I don't know. Nothing, I guess. She just doesn't want to be friends."


"What! Why do you always think I did something bad?"

Well. That's a question for another day.

"Noah, what happened that made Hester say that to you?"

Another huge sigh. "Well, I just told her I was in love with her. I wanted her to know that I love her so much, because she's beautiful, and I want to marry her. But...she wasn't into it."

I felt tears burn my eyes and my heart collapse a little as I peered into the rearview mirror to gauge the level of devastation in his expression. What I found, however, was a scowl.

"Don't look at me! Look away! Just drive!"

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I refocused on the road, but couldn't stop my chin from jutting in disbelief that ANY girl would not want to marry my Noah. I mean, he's a little high-maintenance. And narcissistic (what child isn't?). And loud. And fiery.

But he's also spirited and strong and brilliant (I could tell the moment I saw him in the hospital) and so, so full of love.

"Maybe you could bring her a special Valentine next week at the big party," I suggested.

"Ugh! Mom! Stop talking! You don't know anything!"

"I'm sorry! It was just a suggestion!"

"Oh. Well. I don't think it will work. I don't think she'll ever love me."

I ducked my head out of the mirror so he wouldn't see me cringe in empathetic heartbreak.

"Maybe," he said then, a spark of hope lighting up the car, "maybe we could have a playdate. You could call her mom and see if she can come to my house. And then she can see me rock out. That might make her love me."

"Oh! Um, well, I don't really know Hester's mommy, but I could see about something like that." But what I was thinking was, "Is that frowned upon? Boy/girl playdates following a confession of one's love and the other's refusal to return it?" Maybe that Hester's a bit of a brat, really. Maybe she could use some lessons in manners. And feelings.

"Yeah. That would be good. I could use my drums, or my guitar. I could sing on my microphone." His voice grew quiet again. "Then I would impress her. You know. So she can just love me back."

How could anyone resist this boy? :(

*Hester is a pseudonym to protect the identity of Noah's love. Pretty generous of me, all things considered.