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Stomach Virus – You’re bugging me

There’s no one at our bus stop.

The yellow beast chugs toward the corner, heaving to a stop. Its loud industrial honk blares through the neighborhood three times before the sliding doors pull closed on no one and the machine ambles forward, on to the next street where a pile of children push each other and laugh and fight with delightful pre-school energy, straining their necks for that glimpse of yellow but also hoping never to see it.

The day is brisk and vibrant with shards of sun lighting the way. At the door, I have to shield my eyes from its brightness. I can’t believe how fresh the air feels, how invigorating, how healthy. I suck a deep breath in, letting it center me with its crisp cleanness, hoping it will help prepare me for my day. Greedily, I take another moment and another sublime breath.

My house reeks of stale and sick, sapped of energy and hope, piles of soiled laundry, children crying, husband lying in bed moaning. An alternate world exists outside this house, one full of life, with everyday problems and everyday troubles – Did you finish your homework, Will you stop torturing your brother, Should we have tacos for dinner or chicken cutlets. It all seems so bright and entertaining in the throes of misery.

I am one of the infected and so I must shut myself away from the outside world. I must lay on couches and beds, wrapped in blankets shivering, close to the cool, lovely bathroom tile, the swirl of infection billowing in the air.

“Mama?” I hear, but I can barely lift my head to address him.

“Coming,” I muster and lift my body, heavy with the effort of sickness, but weak with emptiness over to where he huddles.

“What can I do for you baby?” I ask, wanting to die, wanting not to catch any more of what he has or to give any bit of what I have.

“Water,” he croaks, “And hugs,”

The water is easy and he takes a halting sip before lying down again spent. In place of hugs, I curl up in his bed around his feet.

Now 36 hours later, my husband is off to work armed with a bottle of Pepto, Tylenol and a Ginger Ale and two out of three of my boys are in school. I am slowly recuperating. I know because I am actually thinking about lunch although not sure if I can actually stomach anything. Also, a shower. When before the idea seemed a fantasy I didn’t even have the energy to want, I am now craving it with every inch of my crawling skin.

My middle son relaxes on the couch complaining of a headache but asking to play a board game, and my cleaning ladies are just finishing up removing all toxicity from our house; the smell of organic chemicals a sonnet to my sniffer.

They leave and I toss the last load of laundry into the machine. Over the last few days, I have successfully washed every fabric in my house. I crack the windows to let the fresh air in, look over to my boy and breathe a little easier. We’ve made it to the other side. “Can I get you something?” I ask, feeling his head which seems slightly warm.

He gives me a wan, funny smile like he’s not sure how he wants to answer and then throws up all over me.

 

He's feeling much better now.

Feeling much better now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to the party is not half the fun

We’re going to a party! We’re going to a party!

We need to be in temple by 10:30am but I have an appointment at the hair place to blow out my curly curls and get trims for my boys at 9am. It’s 8:15am. We have a half an hour to get out of the house.

“These pants are too tight!” My son yells, and tosses them out of his room into the hall. I hop over, pulling up my tights as I go and get smacked in the face with the offending black pants.

“Didn’t you wear these last week?” I ask, untangling the inside out legs and searching for the tag. Not that it matters. At almost 13, things that fit one week, no longer fit the next.

“I’m ready!” My middle son announces; walking past in a shirt clearly buttoned by a drunk.

“Um, let me help you,” I say, starting to undo and redo. Another pair of pants flies out of my oldest son’s room and I hear him stomping around angrily.

My 7 year-old dances by in his pajamas. “Mommy! Watch my cartwheel!”

“Get dressed,” I order. “No cartwheels now. We’re late.”

I run back into my room to fix myself. My husband emerges from our closet. “This good?” he asks, holding a blue tie against his grey shirt.

I nod that it’s fine and run into the bathroom to play around with some make up my mother brought over.

“I know you like to be ‘natural’, but just something to brighten your eyes? And skin. And maybe a little lipstick?” She suggested so coyly, you barely knew you were being strong armed until you were pinned. Later, I would use a very similar tone trying to convince my son that slightly shorter hair looks better than never combed hair.

“I know what I’m doing,” I had snapped, and am happy she’s not here now to watch me put lip liner under my eyes.

We’re going to a party! We’re going to a party!

“I’m hungry!” My middle son barges in and announces as I’m struggling to close the clasp on my necklace.

“Get yourself some cereal. I need to get dressed.”

“I don’t want cereal,” he says. “I want pancakes.”

I look at him dumbfounded. Seriously?  “I’m not making pancakes right now.”

“Forget it! I’m not eating!” He huffs and storms out as my 12 year old storms in. He is frustrated to the point of tears.

I feel his pain.

“I’ll find you something. I promise. Just give me five minutes?” I ask, looking hopefully and reassuringly into his stressed face.

He calms down, gives me a hug and a blessed five minute reprieve to get myself together so we can get to the hair place and then to the temple for the b’nai (double) bar mitvah and then to the other one across town and the ensuing parties that follow.

“It’s raining out!” I hear my husband yell and a glance out the window confirms it. Freaking great. Did I mention the blow out for the curly hair?

My 7 year old cartwheels past, wearing only his Skylander undies.

We’d better get to that party soon. I need a drink.

Actual discarded pants

Actual discarded pants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Peeping Tom

I started feeding him about six months ago.

He sat outside the sliding doors of my kitchen window peering in as I shuffled half asleep through my early morning routine – turn on Keurig, take vitamins, feed Buzz, my old cat swirling between my legs, make the kids’ lunches.

It was Buzz who alerted me to his presence by howling and hissing at the glass screen loudly. I looked and saw him there, staring back unaffected, his coat scraggly but his stance proud. Immediately I noticed that he resembled a cat I once had many years before who had died.

“Well, hello Jeffy,” I said to the stray, making the mistake of naming him out loud. I may as well have bought him a collar. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“I’ve got to feed him,” I apologized to my own feisty feline, stroking her behind the ears and looking her in the face. “But don’t worry, you’re in here and he’s out there.”

I slid open the door and Jeffy instinctually peddled back a few paces. I placed a paper bowl filled with food down, introduced myself, then headed back inside. When the sliding door closed, Jeffy padded back and ate. The next morning, he greeted us again, and the next, and the next. He became a frequent guest at dinner as well.

Our arrangement continued through Fall with my kids now well aware of the new extended member of our family. “Jeffy’s here!” They’d cry excitedly and race to find me. “He looks hungry,” My middle son worried and I’d roll my eyes. We were feeding him twice a day. And not the cheap crap either.

Winter and colder weather arrived. It was freezing and I hunkered down, barely going out except when necessary. I couldn’t imagine Jeffy surviving snow and temperatures that seemed to never stop falling. Inch after inch, foot after foot piled up.

Many days, my kids and I stared through the glass doors peering out in the frosty night wondering if Jeffy would make it. At times, the snow was so high he was almost just a head. Other days he carefully careened the mountains of crunchy ice to reach us. Every time he did we cheered and I peppered his dish with fresh chicken or juice from the tuna can. It seemed so unlikely he’d survive the single digit temps and crippling wind, but storm after storm, we’d spy those little foot (and body) imprints in the snow. Somehow against all odds he’d make it to our door.

This last storm took us all by surprise. It came hard and fast. The two feet of snow already in my yard quickly turned to three. For three days, we didn’t see him and feared the worst, but then the sun came out strong and my town began to melt. People walked the streets in open coats and no coats. Everyone was smiling, stretching out and thawing after the long winter freeze. Within a day, Winter had retreated and Spring had unofficially arrived.

And there in my vision stood Jeff, his fur weathered and matted but his posture still strong and proud.

He had made it through.

And now he would feast.

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You really can’t dance in glass slippers

I can’t think.

My oldest, middle and youngest sons all have friends over. They are downstairs playing basketball. Boom boom boom. They are up in the living room playing SmashBrother on the WiiU while rummaging through leftover Valentine’s chocolates. Munch munch munch. They are up and down the stairs playing hide and seek. Stomp stomp stomp.

I go around picking up empty crushed water bottles and discarded heart boxes and am happy to find a few chocolates half hidden under the crinkly brown paper shells. On closer inspection, I notice they all have little finger indentures revealing brightly colored cream inside. Orange. Ugh.

The boys are loud, squealing with delight as they find each other hidden behind furniture and under tables, and they are loud, yelling with outrage over a missed turn on the X Box or a controversial point.

But they aren’t the reason for my poor cognitive functions.

I have a headache.

I don’t have a headache.

I have stress.

Jeez, I’m so dramatic. I don’t have so much stress. I live a cushy life, baking brownies for my kids, volunteering at the schools, watching their sport games and writing in between.  Occasionally I meet a friend for sushi lunch and indulge in a massage. I am like a princess. Cinderella? I do have an awful lot of laundry. Snow White? There are all those little people I cater to. Fiona? Well, I’ll just leave that one to your imagination.

No. I am princess Ice Scream Mama and my life is a fairy tale in so many ways but alas every fairy tale must have its wolf.

His name is dad.

More fiery than a dragon. More insecure than an evil queen. More suffering than any beast. He is dangerous and inconsistent. He is desperate for sorcerer’s magic potion or the kiss of true love. Who could blame him? They have the power to heal even the most wounded souls.  If you just click your heels and believe…

I wish I could but I lost my ruby red slippers trying to climb out of the tower I’ve been imprisoned for decades. If only I could let down my hair and just let it go, but this beanstalk isn’t going to climb itself. The sky is falling, the woods grow dark and it’s a long way up to a giant problem and believe me there are no golden harps to steal. Not that I would. Jack is a thieving, greedy pig.

Once upon a time I believed in magic, but now know that happily ever after is about acceptance and compromise, finding the good in the bad, not running away from either the old man and the old woman who want to save you, or the farmers, the bear and the fox who want to eat you. It’s about facing the truths in life and appreciating the reality, not the fantasy, but still leaving room to dream.

But what am I saying?

It’s all the noise.

I make no sense.

I think.

Dang! This thing doesn't work!

Dang! I need a new wand!

*Hey all, give a click here and check out my original essay up on Mamalode, A Mother of Mama’s Boys Grows Up. :)

 

For Today’s Kids, Distraction is the New Concentration

“I’m lightening on my feet! I’m walking cross the street, yeah yeah!” My middle son belts out, semi-massacring a Taylor Swift song as he head bobs and taps his pencil on the kitchen table.

He’s supposed to be doing his homework.

“I’m doing it!” He practically sneers and for effect writes one of his spelling words ‘demonstrate’ down on his paper. He presses the pencil point over the word a number of times ‘demonstrating’ his point.

I stand corrected. He is doing his homework, just very slowly in between singing songs, dancing, asking random questions and going to the bathroom.

“I’m writing this so neat,” he belts out. “I want something more to eat. Yeah yeah.”

“Can you please stop?” I ask through grated teeth. “Please,” I implore.

But he doesn’t stop and it takes an amazing amount of patience, lost tooth enamel and unnecessary calories consumed in rapid frustrated spoons to the ice cream tub before he finally finishes the homework that I believe could have been completed in half the time if not for the musical interludes.

It crosses my mind, not for the first time, that he’s trying his best to annoy me, but then his older brother saunters in, flips open his loose leaf and starts making weird noises which I believe is him rapping a beat but sounds more like farting of the mouth.

“Baby?” I question, dumbfounded. “What’s with all the annoying noise? I thought you had to study.”

“I am studying,” He says smiling charmingly and then resumes tapping and rapping as he reads.

I try to ignore him but all the noise is completely distracting and I’m just cooking dinner. How do they concentrate with all the feet stomping, singing, tapping and blurting of strange noises? They can’t even seem to sit. They prefer standing around a chair or on the chair, anywhere but in the chair.

I get media multi-tasking. Working and writing at the computer daily, I do it myself. I write a good paragraph, I check Facebook. I send out some queries, I write a text. I know that I am constantly looking for a little distraction at the detriment of my work, which is why I don’t allow my kids near their devices or unnecessary screens while doing homework or studying. But even without all the ‘iSores’, my kids seem to have their own personal distraction mechanism. And no it isn’t me. It’s themselves.

Maybe in this day and age, children’s brains work differently. They are so used to multiple stimuli that they need some distraction to concentrate, even if it’s only with their own brains. I find it really hard to believe, but when I test my son on his upcoming test, he nails it and my other son’s homework is perfectly done as well.

Dinner on the other hand is a little overcooked. Maybe I’m the one not paying attention.

Whatever. I’m just gonna shake it off. Shake it off.

Homework done. Time to put up those feet for some distraction that he can really focus on.

Homework’s done. Now it’s time to really focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Father, Son and Pokemon

“Please please pleeeeeease!” My youngest son begged; his small body rigid but his face stretched wide as his hope.

He was pining for an ultra-rare Mega Ex Charizard Pokemon card. He swore you couldn’t find them anywhere, unless of course you looked on Amazon and paid $50.

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Yup. Right here.

I gave him the noncommittal mom look. “We’ll see,” I hedged with a sideways smile; not quite giving away the prize but giving away enough to keep the dream alive. It’s hard to argue a 6 year-old’s most impassioned birthday request.

On the big day, the family gathered at our house. My father hadn’t made a birthday or holiday celebration in months. Despite having a door to door ride, despite the occasions being basically the only time he saw anyone besides his home health aide or a doctor, despite it being the one thing he looked forward to – on the day of the event his mental and physical health always seemed to stumble, sometimes literally. But today, even with the countless reasons he gave me over the phone why he shouldn’t and couldn’t attend, miraculously he was here.

He looked terrible; hunched so low it was painful to see; every step a struggle even with his walker. His hair was disheveled under a baseball cap. He had meant to shower he apologized, but his legs were bandaged due to severe edema and he had a hard enough time managing without the added complication.

“Hi,” I greeted with a quick kiss on the cheek. He was already turned away uncomfortable, looking for a distraction from the physical contact that made him emotional, and the house filled with laughing kids sneaking cookies and adults easily conversing, which made him feel even more alone. Usually he’d go missing, sneaking off to have a cigarette outside or fiddling alone with the books in my library, but today he made an effort not to run away and hide his discomfort on the shelves, instead hovering near me in the kitchen, engaging in small talk which he hated and joining the family for cake, which he loved.

When everyone departed and only my immediate family remained, I watched him, slowly and methodically move into a position near my boys, hoping for a meaningful interaction. I had seen the move many times and this under the radar approach generally yielded about a 15% success rate. It’s hard to catch shooting stars, especially when there are 12, 9 and a freshly minted 7 year-old with new toys.

Covertly I whispered in my father’s ear and slipped something into his hand. The next time my youngest bound past, he stopped him. “Hey kid, you want this?” He tossed the words out casually, a throwback to his former cool self.

My son stopped short and his face lit with glee. “The card!” He exclaimed and jumped up and down, threatening to knock my unsteady father over; but in truth nothing could knock him down because my father was lit as well. For that moment, a set of eyes looked at him with reverence and love. He was the most important person offering the most precious gift. He was a hero again, like the man he remembered; the one who was young and strong who could charm people with a smile.

I watched their interaction from the sidelines, trying not to cry. Given all his conditions, my father rarely sees my boys, much less experiences a real Grandpa moment.

That card was a gift to us all.

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Actual bonding occurring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even when your heart stops, the clock keeps ticking

“How much longer?!” My 7 year-old whines, even though we’ve only just arrived.

I check the car clock. 5:17pm. “Any minute now,” I say, watching a smattering of kids emerge from the Middle School gym doors.

We are right on time, actually ahead of schedule since I usually receive my 12 year-old’s ‘pick me up’ call at around 5:20pm. Tonight is one of those nights where the clock is ticking harder and faster than Marisa Tomei’s from My Cousin Vinny, although unless you’re over 40 you probably won’t know anything about that.

Basically, I need to pick up my 9 year-old from Hebrew School by 6pm, drop the 12 year-old off, and then shoot over to the 9 year-old’s basketball game from 6:30-7:30pm. Then the 12 year-old gets picked up at 8:10pm and goes straight to his basketball game from 8:30-930pm, but by then my husband has taken over and I’m home with the younger ones running in different circles.

“This is taking forever!” My little one grumbles. I don’t begrudge him. As the youngest, he’s a semi-hostile member of Team Mommy, we who schlep and spectate.

5:24pm.

Where is he? Usually he’s out by now. I had hoped to let them eat at Smashburger, but now it’ll probably be a car picnic in the Temple parking lot. Annoying. I send him a quick text. “Outside waiting.”

5:26pm.

The girls basketball and boys wrestling teams also let out and there is a steady stream of sweaty young teens. I squint to see if there’s anyone I know, but it is dusk and all I can make out is that they are all dressed inappropriately for winter.

5:27pm.

An uncomfortable thought creeps into my head. Typically, between finishing classes at 3:10pm and heading to the gym, he sends me a quick text “Going to volleyball”, but today he didn’t check in.

5:28pm.

“I’m soooo hungry!” My 7 year-old complains over and over but it folds into my rising anxiety.

5:29pm.

A few familiar looking boys come out. I open my window to ask if they’ve seen my son, but they are engaged with each other and I am embarrassed to interrupt and embarrass my son by being the crazy mom which I am totally being.

5:30pm.

He’s barely even late, I scold myself. What is wrong with my brain?!

5:31pm.

It is growing dark. The parking lot slows to an unsettling quiet. Kids still fill the gym anteroom waiting for their rides but the heavy doors swing open on slower intervals, like when you put the window washers on low.

5:32pm.

Why didn’t he text earlier? Why hasn’t he texted now? I call but it goes to his voicemail, which isn’t even set up. I call again. And again.

5:33pm.

My neck strains to see inside the school. My hand grips the door handle ready to jump out. Where? Where?

5:34pm.

There. Right there. Smile sweet as melted sugar and posture relaxed as a lazy bear, he saunters over. Of course. I breathe. Of course.

“Finally!” My youngest huffs, “I’m soo hungry!”

“Sorry, mama,” he says, throwing himself and his over-sized backpack into the car. “Practice ran a little late and then I forgot my book.”

5:35pm.

I tousle his hair and warmly chastise him about not checking in as I simultaneously throw the car in gear and set off to Smashburger, the pickups, drop offs and all the rest, more keenly aware than ever that every minute counts.

 

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