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Free to be You and Me

Every summer of my young life we’d pack up the car for our annual 2 ½ hour schlepp, whisking us away from the hot streets of Brooklyn to the cool mountain air. With my brother and me kicking each other in the back seat, unrestrained by seat belts or cars seats, we’d head over the bridges and up to the woods where summer officially began.

After driving what seemed like forever on the not so Quickway, we’d get off and ride for more forever those last five nauseating miles of rolling hills; passing a lot of old barns and nothing, ticking off landmarks and we sang 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.  First came Egg U then Lucky Dip and Davos which was also known as The Big Vanilla, until finally there it was, the big white sign reading Goodman’s – our bungalow colony, our safe haven, our freedom.

We’d pull onto that gravelly road, like crunching glass under our wheels, roll down our windows and hang our faces out the window to bear full witness to our arrival.

The back line of bungalows soon came into view, tiny little white planks of wood that would house families of four or five. Homes that were more like shacks that had nothing but everything we needed. I knew every family in every bungalow up the line till I reached my own.

My brother and I fell from the car like puppies and tumbled into the dewy grass. Woods surrounded us, closing us off from the world. During the summer, groups of kids would sneak away in those woods to a hideaway called the Bear Cave, climbing over the rock with the graffiti scrawled ‘Son of ’44’ that always gave me the shivers.

David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam had been caught by then but I was young and the idea of him and that rock created a feeling of danger that lingered. In fact, the Bear Cave itself, where the cooler, older kids hung out was foreboding enough without even the question mark of bears or serial killers.

There were other reasons to be wary of those woods. I had it on good authority that Old man Zuckerman had lost his arm chopping wood on account of being distracted by kids and was now running around crazy with an axe looking for children to kill. That was the story anyway.

The only time I ventured into the woods was with the camp after a rain to search for little orange salamanders that I would doom to a sad end on my bungalow porch in a plastic tub with air holes slit in the top. I loved those gentle soft bellied creatures.

On that first day up, I’d run from the car, sucking in deep breaths of mountain air and leave my parents to the job of unloading our packed up life and setting up our bungalow. I’d walk out into the large expanse of green lawn, hard back wooden chairs and picnic tables scattered about and watch other families hauling suitcases and boxes into their summer homes, knowing they were full of friends and that I’d be in and out of many of them over the next two months. I had been in and out of them since I was a baby.

That was more than 30 years ago, but I still see all of us there on the big hill above the concession, in the TL where our names are still scrawled, behind the casino on Morris’ side, on the S-line lawn and screaming at each other in Color War.

There was the boy in his parachute pants who my best friend loved and I did a little too; and my friend’s brother with a coil of purple rubber arm bands lazily reading a Richie Rich comic book in his bungalow. There was the girl with the wild kinked out hair and her strong older brother with his half shirts, wide smile and a voice as gravely as the road that led us into the colony. There were the sisters who intimidated me, the girl strutting around in the rainbow bikini and the boy who everyone thought was hot; the shy tall guy, his best buddy and the one I played Zim Zam with.  My cousins were also there with me to giggle under the blankets and have our run of the land.

We will forever be those children rolling down the big hill, playing Catch the Flag and May I, trading stationery and running free, full of life and possibility in a place that will remain forever idealized in childhood dreams; a safe place with bomb pops and bungalow bars and a sweet $1.25 lunch special, where the world couldn’t touch you.

The 70’s and 80’s were long ago. The emaciated, slightly hunched man with the tired old cowboy face who walked the colony picking up litter with a long pointed stick and rolling over the grass with his tractor sold our colony and sent us off.

We all grew up and the world did touch us.

But in Goodman’s we live forever.

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Someone’s going fishing

It was after 10pm and my husband and I had just gotten the three boys into bed. Summer it seemed had its own schedule which was basically no schedule.

I went into my 9 year-old son’s room to say goodnight but instead of a sleepy hug, he greeted me with a firm directive.

“I’m not going to camp tomorrow.”

It was not unusual for any of my three boys to randomly request a day off but usually it was more of a plea than a demand. I sighed. I wasn’t in the mood for negotiations. I really wanted to be downstairs watching Breaking Bad. My husband and I were in the final 3 episodes.

“Really?” I questioned. I was pretty adept at sidestepping this appeal and sending them on their merry way. They had a limited camp schedule to begin with, and I had no intention of losing a day to myself for no good reason. “Why?”

“It’s the fishing trip. I don’t want to go.”

“Why?” I asked again, searching for more.

“It’s boring.” He answered, but his tone was already exasperated.

“But you’ve never gone on a fishing trip. A lot of your friends love it. You might too.” I thought it was a reasonable argument, but I should know better than to reason with my middle son, especially after a long day.

“I don’t care what anyone else likes!” He yelled, sounding on the verge of tears. Then he flipped over in his bed to face the wall and ordered me out. I had lost him.

But instead of leaving him be as I should, I pressed on, hoping to draw him out.

“Is there a reason you don’t want to go fishing?”

“I just don’t want to!”

Feeling like there must be more to his adamant refusal, I continued casting questions aimlessly about to my exhausted, stubborn child, who I couldn’t even convince earlier on to try a cupcake I baked.

“Are you afraid of the water? Do you not want to touch fish? Or bait? Did something happen at camp today that upset you?”

“I don’t want to go!” He cried.

I stood there in the silent aftermath, staring at his back, considering my next move.

“But if…”

“Just go!” He finally yelled.

Annoyed at his tone but more at his unwillingness to share, I left frustrated.

This was my son who wanted to sing, played recorder, piano and was considering drums. He played soccer, tae kwon do, football, baseball, tennis, gaga and of course baseball. This morning he announced that he was also a runner and wanted to do our town’s annual 5 mile Thanksgiving run with me this year.

I just didn’t understand. He was always up for anything.

Except fishing.

I wanted to delve deeper and get to the bottom of things, but I apparently I couldn’t hook him.

Today just wasn’t my day. Maybe tomorrow.

I could wait.

The only fish that's happening around here.

Home fishing

 

*Hey all, I may not be around as much this month with all the summer crazy. I’ll still have an occasional essay on Huff Post, Scary Mommy or WhatToExpect.com, so if you’re interested, please like me on Facebook over there on the side and you’ll be able to see what I’m up to. Thanks! Just in case, have a happy August. See you around the ice cream store! xo

Teen interrupted

“Mommy, there’s a problem,” My newly minted 12 year-old says, plopping down on the other side of the couch, interrupting a rare moment of quiet where I am actually relaxing with a book.

This better be good.

I look up at his greasy hair, clothes dirty from a day at basketball camp and face still unnaturally sheened by sweat and sun block. “ls it that you desperately need a shower?”

“Silly Mommy,” he says, flashing me his goofy grin. “No. It’s that I’m bored.”

Well stop the presses.

“Should I mention the shower again?” I ask.

“Later.” He says, and absently starts twisting the top of his hair in his fingers.

Oh. My baby is tired. The simple gesture says so, immediately tugging at my heart and taking me back at least a decade. I see him in his crib putting himself to bed, his fingers twirled in his hair. I see him at nursery when I sneak peeks through the door before pick-up, drowsy on the camp bus after a long day, at the breakfast table the morning after a late night, in bed before sleep. I see him a thousand times, his eyes a little heavy, his fingers going round and round.

A dozen times over the years I told him to stop because he was making knots in his hair. He never listened, but then he did, just by growing up I guess. I almost forgot this little signal that had me nodding and knowing that it was bedtime. God, it’s sweet.

I smile, so happy for this intrusion to my moment alone to have this moment with him. My husband and middle son are off at his baseball game. Tonight I have elected to skip the 8:30pm game, yes that’s 8:30pm for a 9 year-old, and stay home with the other boys who have been out almost every night this week. It’s not often these days that we have this quiet. It’s always race race race.

“So how was camp?” I try, although I already asked this question earlier and received the standard blank stare, followed by the standard “fine,” which seemed an effort to extract.  But now he starts talking, telling me about his day, his birthday, his last baseball game; twirling all the while.

I eat it all up and then say, “You’re tired, baby.”

“There’s a problem,” He continues and lifts his feet up so they rest on my legs. “I need a snack.”

Even through his socks I can smell them. “Oh, there is definitely a problem here.” I agree and push them off. “Come on, go shower.” I gently order and he slowly gets up to go but stops, bends down and rests his head on me for a hug. A warm, greasy, stinky hug.

I watch his hulking, itching to grow pre-teen body go. He’s so far from that little boy in the crib, but there’s still some baby left in there. And just like with all the milestones, this leap to teenager is bittersweet. I love watching him grow physically, mentally and socially, but of course with every step he takes and every inch he grows, I lose another piece of my baby.

I hear the shower go on upstairs. Afterwards, he will wash up and then retreat to his room either to read or play on his phone. He’s disappearing more and more these days, with friends, school, sports, life…

Putting my book aside, I get up as well to slice him an apple, cutting off the skins just like he likes it.

It’s not a problem.

Don't get too close

Don’t get too close

My mom is hotter than your mom

Every single time we are out together it happens. We could be walking, shopping or at a school function when inevitably someone will ask, “Are you guys sisters?”

When we reveal that she is, in fact, my mother, there is a whole lot of shocked gasps. “No way!’ They say, “You totally look like sisters.”

As you’d expect, my mom basks in the glow, while on the other hand, I want to scream – very quietly, because I don’t want to hurt my mommy’s feelings – “HELLO PEOPLE! I’m more than 20 years younger!!”

Now I realize it’s not about me looking bad at all. It’s all about her looking good. Which she does. In fact, she looks fabulous. Ridiculously fabulous.

But being a girl, uh, woman, new – okay, relatively new – to middle age is difficult enough; compile it by being the daughter of a hot mom and it’s even more challenging.

When I was younger, having a mom who was constantly playing paddle ball in her bikini, sexy dancing the night away or reminding my chunky teen-aged self, that I didn’t need the ice cream was a little hard to appreciate.

So like many rebellious daughters, I went in the opposite direction; no make-up, hair in a ponytail, baggie clothes and a few pounds to lose. It took me awhile to realize that I didn’t have to be unattractive because she was attractive. That while it can be a little annoying, her being hot was actually the best thing for me. Welcome to my middle-aged clarity, where I can see things more clearly mentally but not literally.

While I once turned up my nose to her constant exercise and irritating, rigid eating habits – steamed tofu and veggies or Cesar salad, no croutons or dressing – uh, that’s plain lettuce mom. I now model a lot of my behavior after her.

My older self sees the value in being a fit, healthy, attractive person; although maybe not to her extreme. Daughters can only allow their mothers to be 75% right, retaining the last 25% for their own self-respect, individuality and superiority. It’s a girl thing.

Her hotness makes me try a little harder. Run a little farther. I’m still eating my ice cream, but I’ll make sure to eat those veggies as well. She keeps me in check, because life’s a competition baby, and I’m out to kick her cute little ass. No, I’m kidding. Sort of. I mean, I don’t want to kick her ass, but I do want to look as hot, maybe hotter. Someday, I will. When she’s like 80.

So the other day, when my brother asked my young nephew to hand something to grandma, and he walked right over to me, I didn’t scream, even quietly, I reminded myself how lucky I am to follow in her footsteps. Hopefully, I will grow up to be just like her – beautiful on the inside as well as the out.

Yup, that's my mom!

 

*A variation of this essay originally appeared on BonBonBreak.com

Mom on the sidelines

So I’ve been officially banned from the baseball field today.

Apparently I make my kid nervous. That’s what he says. I don’t completely understand it because my husband is the coach, the baseball guy, the one who wants him to play his best and be his best. I of course want that too, but I’m happy just to watch him and his team play, be among friends, hug him when he’s done and go for ice cream. I’ve even been known to bring a book to the game. How am I the intimidating one?

Half the time I’m bitching and moaning that I even have to go. With three boys, it’s all baseball all the time. There’s always another game on the horizon. So why do I even care? Why am I stomping around, huffing and puffing like I’ve just been benched?

Because I’ve just been BENCHED! Damn it. Who wants to be sidelined?!

I feel like I’ve been denied something owed to me as baseball mom; the reward for schlepping them all over, for the mounds of laundry, for the days and nights sacrificed for the game.

And yeah, I love watching him play… well, usually. Sometimes I’m cringing and my stomach is in knots and I kind of want to throw up. And I’m not even the one playing!

Wait a second. I’m having an epiphany over here….

I’m not the one playing. It’s not about me.

Crap. Well that’s annoying.

Fine.

My oldest is my most competitive. He likes to be the hero, the star. We’ve never put those labels on him, but he’s a natural athlete and puts them on himself. And for some reason, his need to impress me just adds to the pressure.

No matter how much his dad and I explain that no one hits home runs all the time, or even most games, that sometimes the balls just don’t bounce your way, his confidence is still wrapped up in his performance.

My middle son is the total opposite. His team has lost practically every game this season by mercy. It’s cover your eyes, slap your head painful to watch, but he still loves having as many people come and cheer him on as possible. He wants to win, but he can laugh about it too. His temperament can take it and move on. He doesn’t beat himself up like my oldest.

I wonder if all goes back to the birth order thing? Firstborns must succeed. Middles must mediate and negotiate (and sometimes throw tantrums). Babies go with the flow. There’s no exact science there for sure, but it definitely holds true for my boys.

A few moms have told me to ignore my son’s wishes and go to the game anyway but I’m not going to do that, at least for now. This is a big game and he has enough mental pressure without me adding to it.

I know it’s easy to say, “It’s just little league.” Or “You won’t even remember this when you’re older.” But whether your 12 or 22, when you’re in it and it matters to you; the pressure is real and should never be minimized.

These teams work hard together and as individuals. They support each other on and off the field. They play to have fun and they play to win.

Of course it matters to them if they lose.

Of course certain games make them more nervous than others.

And of course I will be there beside him even if it’s only in spirit; because my job as a mom is to be my kids’ best cheerleader, no matter where I’m doing the cheering.

jack bball

Shhh… I’ve discovered iscorecast.com, where you can watch the games LIVE on your computer or phone! It’s genius!!

 

Sick days, Blue days and Birthdays

I really want to write something right now but I think I may be getting sick. My throat is scratchy and I’m feeling so tired. No matter that I got up at 5:45am because the cat was crying loudly again at the foot of my bed.

She’s old, pushing 18, and it’s like every morning she’s announcing, “I’m still here!” I’d like to toss her across the room and throw her the hell over there, but instead I get up with a heavy sigh and pad downstairs alongside her. We are both a little slower and more creaky than we were just a few years ago.

I give her fresh food as she twists through my legs. This used to be no big deal, but now half the time I almost trip on her. My cat’s cat reflexes have also gone to the dogs and she is no longer adept at darting out of my way.  We are two clumsy old broads.

My throat really is sore and I grab a piece of cantaloupe from the fridge, hoping the juiciness will soothe it. It does for an eighth of a second and then I’m back where I started, but now I’m thinking I need some Advil. I know it’s bad to take on an empty stomach but it’s barely 6am and I can’t think of putting anything in there except my coffee, irritating or fruit, acidic.

I take another piece of cantaloupe, sip my coffee and consider it all while I rest my head on my desk instead of typing brilliant, entertaining prose like I’m supposed to be.

When I pick my head up it is 7am and my middle son is looming over me. He wants a morning hug, pancakes and to know whether he needs to wear his blue or white shirt for his baseball game later.

I check the calendar and confirm that it is in fact a blue day and then realize the date. July 10th.  And now I feel a little sicker. It is my grandmother’s birthday. She died two and a half years ago and would have been 93.

I know she’s hovering around, watching me, tsking when she sees my boys running outside without shoes, invisibly rubbing my hand in that circular comforting way that she had when I’m on the phone with my father, wishing she could send over some lobster Cantonese, fried rice and an egg roll because right now I know she wants to fatten me up.

She took such joy in life and in the challenge of life. She was a lawyer without a license, a psychologist without a degree. A lover of babies, a card shark, chicken soup maker, a shoe thrower, a piece of work, a force to reckon with, a giver of jewels, words of wisdom and tough love; a matriarch, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother.

From her first “Helloooeee” to her last “I love you more” and every affectionate “You rotten bitch” in between she captivated you with her commanding tone and raspy voice.

I wish I could do her justice but no one could.

I still hear her and think of her and wish she was here with me to enjoy my boys and tell me in person everything I’m doing wrong and how exactly I should be doing it. We would laugh over a bagel and lox, a good cup of coffee and lick our lips before we dove into our bowls of chocolate ice cream. We would talk for hours, but mostly I would listen, because she was a fascinating woman who led a fascinating life.

It’s July 10th and it’s a blue day. My throat hurts and now so does my heart.

Damn I miss this woman

Damn I miss this woman

Last pitch (promise) – It’s the windup

Yesterday…

The smell of urine overpowered my bathroom, courtesy of a cat litter box in need of changing. The laundry basket sat empty because apparently the new laundry basket was the house. There were a few licks of milk left but no juice, and I had just used the last two eggs to scramble a hasty breakfast for my son who I begged every morning to eat eggs but always chose Honey Nut Cheerios; yet on this morning with the cereal already mid pour into the bowl and 19 minutes to catch a train, he decided maybe he would like some eggs. And toast. Cut diagonally with butter, no crusts.

I don’t even bother with a deep calming breath, who had time for that nonsense? I quickly got to work preparing a nice warm start of the day so that he’d remember his mother kindly after she bolted for the door.

My own snacks had already been neatly packed in my keeping it classy H&M shopping bag alongside a slim folder holding copies of my pitch, backup pitch and sample chapters of my novel. I had been out of bed since 5am, ready for my fourth and final day at the New York Pitch conference.

The conference wasn’t at all what I had expected that first day as I sat in my seat sweating; my laptop at the ready. For some reason I thought we would be writing more, but quickly learned that this wasn’t your typical writing workshop. In fact, it wasn’t a writing workshop at all.

We were there solely to hone and sell our pitch; three paragraphs that encapsulated all the plot and intrigue, the conflict and characters, the style and setting, and also left them panting for more. Just whittle those 100,000 words down to 200. Go.

I had been extremely lucky that right from the beginning my pitch was good, so I didn’t have the extra stress of revising like many others. I gave them so much credit. Editing under deadline is when the pressure gets real, man. But where else would we get the opportunity to meet editors, hear their insights and possibly sell our stories? That was the pitch of the conference and clearly we all bought it.

My group bonded easily, milling about the hallway, compulsively checking the list of names posted outside the door for our five minute turns with an editor; some of us nervous, some shoulder-shrugging calm – a bra-tender and a preacher’s wife, a whirling dervish, a soft-spoken Indian woman and an ingénue. There were the moms and the survivors; such an interesting and eclectic bunch, which I guess could be said for most random people thrown together united by passion and panic.

As different as we all were, these were my people and I was honored to be among them. No matter how stressful, it felt good not to be alone in the struggle.

Today…

My house is almost back to order. The litter scooped, the washing machine churning, the fridge filled. I am rallying my three boys for their first day of baseball camp; back to life as I know it, racing around doing everything for everyone.

But as I hastily apply sunblock to each sweet, scowling face, pull water bottles from the fridge and double check their packs before ushering them to the car, my heart twists wistfully for those past four days when I put everyone else’s needs aside and was racing out of the house for me, chasing my own dream.

 

nypitchpix

 

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