“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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Little Ninja

I leaned into Noah's ear and whispered, "You know what I think? You can be anything you want. Because you. Have. It. All."

He said, "No, I don't. I don't have brown eyes or red hair."

I said, "No. I mean that to have a job, you need certain special things about you. Skills. And you have them all. You're very smart. You also have a great personality, which means that you could work well with people since they like you a lot. You're very creative, so you come up with new ideas that people think are interesting. And you're so handsome. Which means, you know. You could be a movie star. If you wanted."

He smiled and nodded knowingly.

"Oh! And you also have these careful little fingers!" I added, remembering that the other day, I showed him how to tie his shoes just once and he was instantly able to copy the task.

"Yes," he agreed. "I am good at everything. But I'm really just hoping to be a ninja."

Happy birthday, Noah. I already love you being six.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Someone In My House

I make really delicious ham. I feel like I can say that with confidence, because I've done it twice and both times, it turned out delicious. So. Good job, me. But that's not even the wonderful part. The wonderful part is that when anyone in our family cooks a ham, my sister takes the leftovers and creates the most magnificent pea soup in the whole wide world.

I made ham for Easter and was eager for Jane to take the ham leftovers yesterday, but she didn't come to my house to pick it up until exactly the time I was putting Max in for a nap. With his white noise machine. While he was crying. So I missed that, to both my and my sister's annoyances. She was annoyed about banging away on my door, probably, and I was annoyed that I had to wait even longer for my pea soup.

Today was the day the stars aligned. The ham was procured, the soup was created. I was on absolute pins and needles, I tell you. But when to get it? So much was happening. Report cards came home with my older boys today--the excitement was barely contained because I am and ever shall be a huge dork--I made a delicious dinner that my children actually ate, Max took amazing naps, and, also, and this may not seem like much to you, but I'm reading a really good book. It's hard for me to follow what's happening in the real world when I'm reading a really good book, and once you throw in report card day, I'm not ashamed to admit it's all too much.


Joey had baseball tonight, which meant that I set Noah up watching his favorite TV show (Ninjago, which I'd never even heard of until a few weeks ago) while I gave baby Max his bath upstairs. Max was exceptionally cute tonight, waving his naked arms all about and blowing raspberries and making all kinds of declarations in a new and bold way. I took a little longer than usual, then, because I couldn't resist kissing his big round cheekies and giving him raspberries right back. (Last night, as a complete off-topic share, I tried giving him a "big boy bath" in the big tub. He wasn't a fan.) Anyway, after he was all clean and smelling delicious, I bundled him up in his towel, a "baby burrito," I call it, and took him to his room for his pajamas. As I was dressing him, Noah appeared.

"Do you need something?" I asked, but I might as well have not spoken at all. Noah walked right on by, into his own room, and began searching. And I mean really looking for something, ducking down to look under his bed and peeking around the corners made by furniture.


"I'm looking for Janie," he called, but he didn't turn around. I could tell by his voice he was perplexed, though definitely not as perplexed as I was.

"Janie my sister?" I clarified.

"Yes. I'm sure I saw her pass by. She's got to be here somewhere."

Not knowing what else to do, I looked out the door of Max's room, side to side, understanding it was ridiculous but wondering if perhaps my sister was in my house without my knowing it.

"Noah, why do think Jane is here?"

"Because. I'm sure I saw her."

Now he came into Max's room, marched right past me, and flung open the drapes to see if her car was in the driveway.

"Well, that's weird," he said, his eyebrows furrowed. "Where's her car?"

"Noah, I don't think she's here."

"Huh. I mean, I guess I could have been wrong."

"Well, I'll have to call her and see what happened."

"Oh! Good idea! And have her come back with the cousins so I have someone to play with!"

"Noah, it's a school night. Jane is not bringing your cousins over."

"Oh. She should have brought them the last time she was here."

Right. During her fictitious visit to my house. The whole scene made me start to giggle, and in my head I couldn't wait to get my sister on the phone to tell her this story. I hoped my husband would be back from Joey's baseball practice so he could hear me tell the story and I wouldn't have to do it twice. It's always best the first time.

After I tucked Max into bed, it was Noah's turn. The whole Janie thing forgotten, I helped him into his jammies and read him the next chapter in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, and then tucked him into bed. It wasn't long after that that Joey returned from baseball. Once he was all showered and bejammied, I tucked him in (are you feeling the exhaustion of all the tucking? goodness!) and finally, blessedly, came downstairs to the quiet of my house at night. Grownup Time.

Excited to see my husband, I began crossing through the kitchen to the family room, when something stopped me in my tracks. A large Tupperware container on my counter. Not mine. Not one I'd placed there. And it was fancy Tupperware, which could only mean one thing. It was Jane's.

"Joe!" I hissed. "Joe! Where did this Tupperware come from?" Before he could answer, I lifted the lid. Sure enough, it was filled to the brim with tantalizing pea soup. "Jane brought the soup!"

"Oh," said Joe, distractedly reading something on his laptop.

"Was Jane at baseball?" I asked, frustrated that he wasn't paying attention to me. I'm always frustrated when people in my life don't pay me enough attention.


"Did she give you the soup?"

"What? The soup. Yeah."

I started laughing, looking around for the phone. "This is a funny story," I called to him, already dialing Jane's number. "You have to hear it."

When Jane got on the phone, I laughed hysterically while relaying the whole story.

Jane, however, was only politely laughing. Like, humoring me.

"But I was there," she said. "Noah is the one who let me in."

"WHAT?!" I said. "But...he was so confused while looking for you! And then I figured Joe must have brought the soup home from baseball..."

I shook my head. Joey had brought home this little beauty from art today:
So I thought maybe Noah had just drunk from the same water bottle. I mean, how could he not realize he'd got up from watching his favorite show, unlocked our door, and let a person enter the house? Especially his favorite visitor in the world.

But THEN. 

Jane said, "The weirdest thing is that he helped let me in. He unlocked the door and everything."

"Noah did?"

"No, Joe did."

"WHAT?!!" I whirled around, the phone still pressed to my ear. I shouted at my husband, twelve inches away, "Did YOU let Jane in the house??"

"Of course," he said calmly. "I thought you knew that. Now I see why you're confused."

Now Jane was laughing real, genuine laughter while I sputtered at both of them. At the whole situation.

"Ugh!" I shouted. "Nobody ever knows what's going on! Nobody gives good information around here!" And then, over Jane's giggles, I blurted the real truth: "I hate living with boys!!!!!" 

I hate it so much, I end up with pictures like this:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Going To Grandma's

My elementary school nurse was Mrs. Oliver. She had short gray hair and glasses, and she always wore sweaters and just-past-the-knee-length skirts. And ugly shoes. Really ugly shoes. In a school of what had to be about seven or eight hundred kids, she knew me by name. Because I was in her office every day.

I find this sort of funny now, because as a germophobic mother I tell my own children they must never, ever go to the nurse unless they are actually very sick. It's germ central! But nothing could have kept me from Mrs. Oliver's office when I was a kid. I knew all the tricks: Eyes half open. Droopy shoulders. Let your hair fall in your face a little. Furrow your eyebrows. And most importantly, never smile. Any sign of happiness will send you right back to class.

Sometimes Mrs. Oliver would get me crackers and juice from the cafeteria to help me "perk up." Sometimes she'd just let me lay there with a bucket we both knew I didn't need. But mostly, she gave in and called my grandma. And my grandma always--always--came and got me.

"One of these days," Mrs. Oliver said once as my grandmother collected me, "I'm coming to Grandma's with you. I need to see for myself why you seem to love going there so often!"

I hadn't been at all embarrassed (I rarely realized I should be). Instead I'd looked up into my grandmother's green, green eyes to find her smiling down at me. "Any time, Mrs. Oliver!" she'd said cheerfully. "You're welcome any time at all." Then she helped me with my coat, put an arm around me, and guided me out of school and down the front walk to where her big old Lincoln sat waiting.

My grandmother never drove the speed limit. Her fat car cruised along slowly to her turquoise split-level house in Lackawanna. I'd yank my backpack out of the car with me and as we walked up to the front door, we could already hear the loud, urgent barks of her pit bull, Shiner. Shiner was the fattest dog I've ever known, and was all white with a big black spot around his eye. He seemed to believe he was a purse-sized dog, and when we'd enter he'd hop and jump all over us gleefully. Grandma always had to shove at him with her hip so he wouldn't knock me down, all the while shouting, "DOWN, Shiner! Come ON, Shine! Get outta here!" The sound of his cord-like tail would be thwop-thwopping, and Grandma would guide me into the house and up the short staircase to her living room. It smelled like fruit and vegetables and whatever she'd cooked that morning. It smelled like Grandma herself.

She'd go upstairs and get me a pillow from her bed and set me up cozily on her satiny black and gold couch, easily the ugliest piece of furniture I've ever seen. My grandparents to this day insist that Shiner would curl up beside me for the duration of my stay, never leaving my side and growling at anyone who came near me. I don't really remember that. What I remember is leaning back against my grandmother's pillow, her covering me with a blanket, me closing my eyes, and knowing that no matter what had been bothering me at school that day, right now I was okay. Everything would be okay.

She served me fruit salad and sandwiches for lunch. Once, she made me a shrimp cocktail. We would pretend her house was a restaurant and she'd use a little notepad to "take my order." She liked to periodically press her hand on my forehead to check my temperature, something I think we both knew was just plain silly, and she would tell me stories about when my mom was a little girl. And I would listen, imagining getting to live with my grandma all the time, eating as much fruit salad as I ever wanted and never having to go to school because she clearly wouldn't ever make me go.

When my mom would come and pick me up later, dread would creep up into my chest. Not only did I have to go home, home to a brother and a sister and not being the center of attention anymore, but I was sure to get a good lecture on the downfalls of people who pretend to be sick to get out of school. I would sit on the couch silently while my mother tiraded on, until my grandmother would emerge from the kitchen and look at me fondly, saying, "Oh, Judy, she didn't feel good. She just needed a little day off. Right, Mary Pat?"

It wasn't just when I was sick that I got to spend time with my grandma, either. She was a very young grandmother compared to what my friends had. My memory tells me she was fifty-five the entire time I was in grammar school, which doesn't really make sense, but I know she was the only grandma who still had black hair and wore makeup, and definitely the only grandmother who ran (and won) marathons. Being so young, she took my brother, sister, and I everywhere, and stayed with us when our parents took their yearly honeymoon for a week. She bought us exactly what we wanted at Christmas, no matter how ridiculous, and she took us wherever we asked to go: Show Biz (which was around the corner from our house and pretty much a Chuck E. Cheese), Burger King, picnics at the Botanical Gardens. She drove so slowly but we laughed the entire time, because my brother was always teasing her and telling jokes. She once let my brother and sister roll down the windows of her car so they could climb in and out of it like they did in The Dukes of Hazzard. I wanted to so bad, but I was just too short to make the climb. My father would never have let us do something like that (he was big on taking care of his cars and we had a lot of strict rules, including never climb in and out of the windows). And of course, to add to the hilarity of all, my grandmother always did something ridiculous, like lock her keys in the car, or forget her entire wallet (she once asked a horse and carriage driver, "Do you take checks?"), or, to our greatest amusement, get really, really angry with one of us and yell at us the whole way to wherever we were going. When I think of every big moment of my childhood, the birthdays, the holidays, the Communions, even the proms and things like that when I was older, every one of those memories will show my grandmother in the background, always simply a part of the scene.

I've been thinking of these things a lot lately, these things and of how lucky I am that my own children have gotten to know and spend time with her. The first time I took Joey and Noah to Florida, Noah spent pretty much the whole trip in Grandma's lap, just chatting away, and those memories of my sick days at her house came flooding back. It wasn't ever anything particular that we did together, it was that whatever I said, she listened and responded to me like I was a real, interesting person. I love that Noah appreciates that in her, too. It creates an ache in my heart, though, because these days Grandma is having her own sick time, and I know she isn't faking just so she can get out of school or have a visit with her favorite person in the world. I also know that she's one of the strongest people I'll ever know...I mean, she doesn't run marathons anymore (she stopped just a couple of years ago; she's eighty-three now), but she does go to the gym every day and work out. Jeepers. If ever there was an eighty-three year old woman who was going to kick illness, it's my grandmother. Any time I start to doubt that, I'm going to picture the time she was shouting at her hundred-fifty pound pit bull, "Come ON, Shine! SHINER! Get outta here!" and whacking him over the back with her giant, gilt-paged Bible. (Don't worry; he barely felt it.)

Grandma, I love you so.