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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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Reflections and Ramblings

Staring out my kitchen’s sliding glass doors; I see the house behind us. Snow drapes off its roof and rises in small sloping drifts up the blue grey aluminum siding. A few months ago, I wouldn’t even have seen the house because of the fence, but the owners, two retired sisters who are looking to move, discovered that one of our fence poles was 6 inches on their property, and those 6 inches may as well have been 6 feet as far as the town was concerned. Yet instead of easily inching over the one pole, my husband, in one impulsive sweep, decided it was time for a backyard makeover. He removed the entire fence along with all the trees lining our yard, leaving nothing but mounds of dirt, which are now covered by mounds of snow, in between us and our soon to be ex-neighbors.

I am staring too long and the house turns ugly. I never really noticed the small windows, jutting air-conditioner or sad siding. I guess because it was never staring me in the face before. Or maybe it’s like when you say a word over and over and all of sudden it sounds ridiculous. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Ridiculous.

It’s been a mixed blessings kind of day. Like, we played Bingo at the temple and two out of three of my boys won! Two of three. And although there were no complaints from my two boys at their basketball games where both played well, there were many from the one who had to sit and watch both games. And lastly, my brother called to say he briefly spoke with my father who told him to call him back in a ½ hour but if he didn’t answer to call 911. When we called back, he answered. So the day was like that, kind of up and down, and I rolled along with it.

Out the window I follow a trail of little footprints stamped in the snow that lead off into nowhere. I’m relieved to see them. We’ve been feeding a stray for months now and worried whether he’d make it through the last big snow. Now I’m worried if he’ll make it through the snow predicted this evening. Being a stray isn’t easy.

Sometimes I feel astray. Especially in moods and moments like this, staring out windows, feeding my melancholy.  But then the chimes ring, my family barrels in and there is no longer time for musing and melancholy, or as my grandmother would say, “My head up my own ass.” My husband has made a special trip to KFC for Super Bowl Sunday and now it’s time to feed my family instead.

The kids are digging in, grease shining off their smiling lips. Well at least two out of three of them. One is a vegetarian, more accurately a ‘carbetarian’ and he is already scrunching up his face just from the smell.

I take a last glimpse of my demolished back yard that we’ll hopefully redo sometime, but the kitchen comes first and we were supposed to start that project two years ago. I no longer see the neighbor’s house. I see my family’s reflection in the glass; a bucket of chicken on the table, my husband at the head, my animated boys doing what they do; one singing, one laughing and one about to storm off in outrage.

It’s a typical evening in a typical life that is never typical, but perfect and imperfect, ordinary and extraordinary, and where at any given moment two out three ain’t bad.

All I need to be looking at.

The best view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait for it….

“I can’t believe he hasn’t called back yet.” My father says, his voice slow and heavy with the weight of his misery. “I’ve left multiple messages.”

I have as well but this doctor is notoriously bad at returning calls and his staff, one overwhelmed woman with an edge of defensive indignation is possibly worse. Yet for two years my father has been under their haphazard care. We should have found another doctor by now, but my father is kind of haphazard himself.

“I’ll try again,” I say, hoping to get some answers but really just wanting to get off the phone and get something done. It’s been 28 minutes on this road with little if any progress. Really it’s been 20 years.

“Okay, but wait…” he stalls, hoping to drag out a little more time with me. “I’ve got these papers we should talk about…”

I hear some shuffling and the phone drops.

“Ow!”He yelps from a distance and I hear more scurrying about. I make an effort not to roll my eyes while compulsively unraveling my third piece of gum. It’s better than the ice cream tub calling my name.

This doctor has one last carrot he’s been swinging over my father’s head to ease his chronic pain. It’s a new experimental drug; one that’s supposed to be even more effective than morphine. He brought it up in October, scheduled the trial a few weeks later then abruptly canceled it. Now three months of hemming, hawing and wait, wait, wait has left my father as wilted as the carrot. Still, he’s chomping at the bit, always looking for the thing that’s going to save him. I wish I believed something could save him.

“Dad,” I call out, even though I know it’s useless. Still, I’m slow to learn that nothing about him or our conversations can be rushed.

“Okay?” I ask after a few minutes when labored, exasperated breaths signal his return.

“No,” Is his immediate response, then “Yes. No. Yes. Hold on, I need to…”

“Dad!” I cut in before he leaves me hanging again, “I’m going to call him now. I’ll call you back,” I say and quickly hang up.

With one breath doubling as a stress reliever and a confidence builder, I go to dial the doctor on his personal cell. Even though he has been irresponsible returning calls and giving information, I’m still embarrassed about using the personal number he gave me awhile back. It makes me angry. Why can’t people just do what they’re supposed to do?

Amazingly he answers on the third ring. Although he is clearly not happy to hear from me, after months of runaround, I finally nail him down to a day for the trial. Right before we hang up I think to ask the name of the drug. I can’t believe in all this time I never asked.  But I actually can. Managing my father’s life is like throwing a sheaf of paper into the air. You just deal with the ones that fall in your lap first.

“I’m blanking on the technical name…” The doctor pauses and struggles until finally it hits him. I kind of wish I could hit him. “It’s Zinconosomething. Just look up Snail pain relief.”

“Snail pain relief.” I repeat and shake my head disbelieving.  Of course.

The Universe always knows when I need a good laugh.

 

Yeah, it's true.

Yeah, it’s true. Click if you want to read about it.

 

Exposure. And my moment in the sun

My house was as clean as it was going to be, but of course I was a wreck. Why did I agree to do an interview for the Today Show? Why?!

Well first off, it’s the TODAY SHOW! Not to discount my crucial role as the Tornado in my fourth grade production of the Wizard of Oz, but I never had any opportunity to feel famous for a minute. As nervous as I was, I wanted my minute.

A car pulled up to my house and a young cameraman and another producer got out. Neither looked like Kathy Lee or Hoda.  Damn.

“Mommy, we’re going to be on TV!” My middle son chirped, green eyes bright.

His excitement was adorable and I smiled at him until he said, “Now you’ll make more money, right?”

Hmm. Not as adorable.

But who had time for childish nonsense? I was going to be on television! So it was for writing an article about dressing my kids inappropriately in winter. Whatevs.

The camera guy set up, and finally a bright light stared me in the face.“Ready?” he asked.

Uh no. I’ve made a mistake. A big mistake. Definitely not. No way.

“Great!” He smiled, sporting an adorable dimple, “I’m going to ask you questions but don’t look at the camera or me when you answer. Look to the side.” He pointed to where the other producer stood.

“Um, I’ll try,” I said but when I started answering questions, I’m pretty sure I looked like I had tourrets since I kept twitching to keep myself from turning toward the sound of his voice. Still I babbled on, as I generally do, smiling too much, even playing to the camera. All of a sudden I was a 20 year-old flirt in a 44 year-old face that didn’t even have enough sense to put on any makeup.

Why didn’t I put on makeup??! I was so not ready for my close up.

Typically just saying my name aloud to a group gives me heart palpitations. The last time I put myself in a high pressure situation was at the Algonquin Writers’ Conference to pitch my novel to editors. There I felt like I was going to throw up, but right now I couldn’t seem to shut up.

Apparently I had become an attention whore.

On Monday I was happy enough to have a piece in the Washington Post on the bizarre trend of boys wearing shorts in the winter and when it started getting traction, I was thrilled. Then the editor at the Post emailed me that the piece was going viral. I never really understood exactly what that meant until the TODAY show called for an interview, even writing a copycat article citing me. Citing me!!

‘You’re famous!” a friend from another state texted after one of her friends unknowingly shared my article with her. And really I felt a little famous, lunching and taking calls, prepping for my interview and freaking out with friends.

My mouth hung in a perpetual state of fascination and for days my fingers also seemed stunned because I couldn’t write a word. I was too busy chatting and laughing, checking stats and appreciating my moment. I couldn’t focus on anything but my shining self.

By Friday, the article had run its course and the interview had aired. Even though I cringed watching and listening to myself – all 20 seconds of me – I’m proud that I did it and wrote it, and that my words sparked a conversation that led to a segment on a national television show.

It’s been a whirl, but I am happy to be yesterday’s news; once again in my chair in front of my computer, a blank page staring back at me.

It’s time to start again.

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Next time girl. I’ve got ice cream.

Especially if I hope to ever meet Kathy Lee and Hoda.

 

 

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