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Play Ball!

I interrupt my son and a bunch of his friends unwinding after a hard day’s school; lounging all over the grass like beautiful wild colts, playfully running around and taking swipes at each other.

“Your mom’s here,” one of the boys call out to my son. I know that boy, I think, squinting for a better look. In fact, I know all these boys, but they only remotely resemble the children who once played on my lawn.

Thirteen is almost an unrecognizable age. Faces morph, becoming more angular, bodies lengthen, voices change, along with dress, hair styles and personalities. When they greet me these days, I always need a second look. And it’s usually up.

His friends have grown, not only in stature but socially – most have or have had a girlfriend (I know!), all text, Instagram and Snap Chat. My son isn’t there yet; lingering a bit on the outside throwing free shots, cruising round their savvy on a ripstick, dashing through their long legs like a pup. At times I worry that he doesn’t quite fit in, but he has something in common with all these boys that links them tighter than their years of elementary friendship.

He is an athlete.

Even though they play a myriad of sports: baseball, lacrosse, basketball, football, whatever, they are all competitors who play hard and play to win. They respect that in each other, as friends, teammates and rivals.

There’s been a lot written lately about youth sports, about diehard coaches exceeding the limits of responsibility, about parents and their crazy antics from the sidelines, about kids pushed to be too much too soon.

Of course all that stuff exists. There are assholes out there both on the field and off. I’ve seen them white knuckled and pacing, heard their megaphone shouts. But they are by far the minority.

With three boys, I live sports, baseball especially. My husband coaches and he wears his cap with pride. I watch him on the fields with all his boys and am in awe. The way he brings them up but doesn’t baby. The way he unites them as a team but works with them individually. The way he volunteers his time to instruct, guide and encourage. The way he shows up for the games and practices, even if it means his wife might be waiting in the bleachers in a pretty dress to go out for their anniversary (or something like that). The way he supports them emotionally and watches out for them physically. The way the boys all look at him, and whether they say, “Thank you, coach,” or not, I see the respect in their eyes.

As I am leaving with my son from his friend’s house, the ice cream man’s merry song fills the street. Hypnotically, all these Kings horses rise and start a slow gallop toward the sweet promise. They laugh and shove each other almost tripping over their new limbs.

I am so thankful for these boys and for coaches like my husband who ground them with positive, productive and life learning experiences that bond them at an age where everything is changing and growing, including their characters.

Because as enigmatic as they now seem, I know that these young men, these young athletes are my son’s team, his tribe and his friends; that they have his back and that for years to come I’ll be seeing them in each other’s backyards, lives and out there on those fields of dreams.

 

Let's hear it for the boys!

Let’s hear it for the boys!

The road I didn’t want to travel

I stand at a crossroad.

There is no surprise. For years I pretended not to see it, concentrating on my own road full of twists and turns, dips and potholes; distracted by precious cargo, flowers blooming along the path and long easy stretches walking in the sun.

But now a new direction looms before me. It is dark and unknown, filled with landmines and difficult terrain. In fact there’s a glaring neon sign screaming, “WRONG WAY!” Yet, here I go, right or wrong, ready or not.

LEAP!

Even though it’s cloudy and hard to see, I continue on, reckless and hopeless trying to find my way. The rain pours down and I am in uncharted territory, lost and scared. Oh my God, what was I thinking moving my father from NJ to NY?! I spent forever getting him set up with all those benefits and a home health aide who does all the stuff I don’t want to do!

But, at least he’s not two bridges away.

Oh my GOD he’s not two bridges away! He’s going to be right here!

Air. I need air! ARGH!!! Who put this walker in front of me! F%*#&!@!

Wait… that’s why we’re moving him. So he can be closer. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing.

There are just So. Many. Doctors.

Internist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, podiatrist, vascular, dermatologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, oncologist, pain management…

Who are just So. Done. With. Him. He needs new ones.

Oh jeez! I have to find new ones!

Tape, red and hot, strangling me. Can’t breathe.

No! I will fight my way through, battle social services, find a kind, reliable and capable new home health aide. I’ll get the benefits straightened out and, and, I won’t even look at the mountain in front of me. I’ll just keep climbing up up up.

Get him packed and moved. Buy a ton of new (nice) shit (that he will destroy). Organize everything. Make sure we find the right person to manage his meds.

Don’t think. One step at a time. Call electric, cable, phone, movers.

Social services. Advocates for the aging. Medicaid.

Things will get done. We have already made some progress.

The rain drizzles down but the storm cloud lifts just a little. Even though it is dark, the mood has lightened, brightening the landscape. I can still make out the blur of the neon sign flashing ominously in the haze but there’s no turning back now. For better or for worse we are on this new road.

Maybe, just maybe we are headed in the right direction.

I hope I’m wearing good shoes.

Gee, this road looks pretty. Lets go this way!

Gee, this road looks pretty. Lets go this way!

 

Passing Me By

I caught a glimpse of her pushing her double stroller along the side of the road as I sped by in my car on my way to crossing things off my list and getting things done.

The baby slept while her toddler twisted around in her seat. The woman, who seemed more a girl with her pony tail and workout clothes, slowed her pace then reached down into the basket underneath and handed her a sippy cup. Satisfied, the child sat back down and enjoyed the scenery while her mom strode onward to some unknown destination, the exercise and fresh air the most important part of the excursion.

My heart smiled, remembering that time both long ago and only yesterday when just getting out of the house was an accomplishment. When I couldn’t let my kids go without a good cry, stalked the nursery school, reveled in my martyrdom, ate up every bit of deliciousness and mourned the passage of time.

I loved being that mom. I loved her so much. And I loved those babies in an almost cripplingly powerful way. I wanted nothing for myself but to peacefully drift into the overwhelming tide, going under without struggle and no intention or interest in coming up for air. At times it seemed stressful, caring for these needy, fragile creatures but mostly we rode our days along peacefully with a few good friends who made all the difference.

But now, I’m different. I’m older. My babies are no longer babies. They are 7, 10 and almost 13.  I no longer have time to stroll, or even a stroller to push. My sippy cups have been replaced with sports bottles. I drive because my world has kicked into a higher gear and I need to keep up the pace. Beep beep, chop chop, let’s move it along, lady.

And I like it; the constant motion, the shift in priorities – I’m almost a person again! Having children that can actually (when they decide to) communicate and express themselves. Who are complicated, interesting and (when they decide to be) capable. Who are smart and strong and (except to each other) kind. Who are growing into young men I like, who make me proud and happy and grateful.

But I guess like with most things past, I’m sentimental. It was an age of innocence, theirs and mine. A time to laugh when you’re late for a music class and you just dropped your coffee on the floor and your baby pooped through his clothes again. A time to cry when you’re working on three hours of sleep with a newborn and your oldest sneaks into your bed in the middle of the night and throws up on you. A time to dance to Laurie Berkner and giggle with the Wiggles. And a time for endless walks with a good friend, a stroller stocked with goldfish and lollipops and your babies at the center of your world.

And you still at the center of theirs.

IMG_2663

Happy Mother’s Day! No matter what stage you’re in, it’s a beautiful place to be.

 

But there's this too

Finally, My dead grandma has come for a visit. It’s about time.

I am searching. Slowly, but purposefully, walking down a line of closed apartment doors that feel distantly familiar. I am also distracted; talking on the phone with my mother and trying to untangle plastic shopping bags twisted uncomfortably around my wrist when I reach the right door.

It is the only one open.

I recognize my aunt’s body moving around inside, hunched over, cleaning up. She sees me and brightens but quickly turns solemn. “There’s not much time,” she says. “We’re going now.”

I am trying to figure out what my aunt is talking about when I catch another person’s movement off to the side. “I’ve got to go mom,” I say and hear the touch of disappointment her voice gets whenever I have to hang up. “There’s not much time,” I repeat my aunt’s words, “I’ll call you back.”

I watch her come toward me; her red hair darker than I remember, thick and vibrant, piled high on her head, her makeup perfectly applied. She looks trim and ready to go out, dressed in a fashionable printed button down hanging long over a pair of pants. The smile on her narrow face broadens, revealing strong white teeth. “So good to bite you with,” she used to say before taking a little nibble from my arm, thigh or any bit of revealed skin. Why was she going now, I worried momentarily, with some vague feeling that all was not well. She didn’t look sick. She was beaming.

“My Alisee,” She greets warmly, the way she always has and reaches out to me. I stand on the outside of the doorway and lean in to hug her, my absolute joy overwhelming. Her body feels surprisingly small, but my happiness at seeing her face fills me with such emotion, such elation, that I give her slender body another squeeze and instantly explode into tears so strong I immediately wake up.

I lay in bed feeling her presence, wanting to go back to my dream in the worst way; closing my drowning eyes, trying to hold on to her image, her smile, her love that filled me, trying to continue a conversation that we didn’t even start. “My Alisee,” She had said and I replayed her warm, throaty voice over and over in my head like a lullaby. But there was no way I could go back to sleep or back to her now.

From the moment she died, I wished she’d come ‘visit’ me. Somewhat psychic in life, seeing dead people and knowing things before they happened, I trusted her when she threatened to haunt me. “Promise?” I’d reply and receive a small smack on my thigh.

It’s been over three years. Finally she has come but my aunt was right. There wasn’t enough time.

Don't be a stranger

Please come back. I have chocolate…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve got a minute, check out my new essay up on Kveller. Click here… It’s middle school angst -mine. :)

 

Mother Load

I pull up to my house and see our pitch backs and goal nets arranged in a way that suggest that my oldest son had concocted some creative and convoluted new game for his brothers to compete in. The front lawn with balls and equipment strewn about, looks so lived in and loved. Granted, on a colder not as bright day, it might instead look like we’re a bunch of pigs, albeit, athletic ones. But right now, blinded by sunshine, the thought of them out there fighting, I mean, playing together gives me the warm fuzzies as I open the trunk to retrieve the groceries.

Through the open screen door, I hear my husband bellow, “Boys! Go help your mother!” For some reason it strikes me funny that he is talking about me. If he would have said, ‘Go help mommy,” I probably wouldn’t have blinked. I’m used to being mommy, but somehow, it feels odd to realize that I am in fact the ‘mother’.

I stand by the trunk gleefully waiting for the mess of them to tumble out – My nearly 13 year-old with his surprisingly strong body and sweet baby face, my 10 year old, full of sass and sparkle and my 7 year old with his mop of curls that mirror my own and a face that everyone wants to squeeze. My boys, I think sentimentally, coming to help their mother.

Any second the screen will fly open. Annnnny second. Maybe they can’t find their shoes? I think but discard that theory immediately. Who am I kidding, to them shoes are an overrated, optional accessory.

I wait another 30 seconds, sigh and gather up the bags. Slinging my pocketbook over my shoulder, I rest the two heaviest in the bend of each arm, carry two more in each hand and lumber toward the house like one of the monsters in an episode of Scooby Doo.

Opening the screen requires acrobatic maneuvering and strength that only two day a week attendees of Parisi sport training classes can master. I am crouched down, the bags that I refuse for some idiotic reason to put down, cutting off circulation in my arms. My thighs give a little shake just to let me know how vulnerable I really am, but I overcome and somehow manage to get my middle finger, white from asphyxiation, to pull open the door.

It is remarkably quiet in a house which should be a flurry of activity in their race to get out to me. “Tell the boys to help,” my husband calls to me from the office. I can’t even answer as I lug the bags to the kitchen. Of course the boys are nowhere to be seen, which means one thing. I listen by the basement stairs. Yup, Minecraft.

Hurmph!

Automatically I start unpacking the groceries, the Norman Rockwell image vanished. At this point, it’s just easier and more relaxing than calling the boys up. Besides, if I really want support I know exactly where to find it.

I remove the tub of Rocky Road from the bag and instead of putting it in the freezer, get a spoon and plop myself down at the table.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to help yourself.

 

Sometimes, you just have to help yourself.

Helping myself some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guilt – Chocolate and Family

My husband must feel really guilty about not stopping to get me ice cream last night because now, driving back home after a week of vacation, three days in Washington DC, trekking our boys from monument to monument, in and out of museums where their glazed over eyes looked only to get back out to the sunshine to complain about walking from monument to monument, and then three days in Maryland for a two day baseball tournament in the cold and rain where we lost but went down fighting, he has just asked me, with no arm twisting or reasonably subtle hinting on my part, if I want to stop to visit my father.

Of course I don’t want to stop. We’ve been on the road for hours, but I know it would perk up his day, maybe his week. So I accept the bone my husband has just thrown me, because even though it doesn’t come with chocolate sprinkles, it was very sweet, and not an easy gesture for him.

Emerging from the car, we stretch out like newly popped corn then make our way to his apartment. My boys look at each other with crooked sideway smiles while we wait, listening to the clanking and shouting coming from the other side of the door to let us know that he’s having some troubles, that he can’t even manage to open the door without issue.

Finally, the lock turns and we stand face to face; the five of us looking in on a narrow, cluttered hallway with my father blocking the way, not really meeting our eye since he is hunched over his walker and turned away.

“Hi dad,” I mumble, wanting to kiss him hello but there is some kind of chocolate smudge around his mouth that makes me not want to. Thankfully, the children barrel in and divert his attention. I am saved.

“I have comics for you,” he says and awkwardly moves to follow them, but the wheel of his walker catches on one of the many stacks of books carpeting his floor and he almost pitches over.

“Dad!” I call out, even as he rights himself. As usual, I am tense being here, even more so, watching him maneuver in this unmanageable space. “You have too much stuff on the floor.”

“I know,” he says. “I fell again yesterday.” The ‘again’ hangs like bait but I grind my teeth together.

“Can I move them?” I ask, sucking in deep breaths.

“Hurt myself bad…” He mumbles, talking more to himself. “Not as bad as the other time…”

“Can I move them?” I ask again. This time he hears me and shakes his head.

“No. I’m working through them. They’re not done.”

I sigh but let it go. He’s been ‘working through’ his thousands of collected books and tapes for decades. It’s a tired, old argument.

“I have comic books,” He repeats and my oldest son, bless him, comes over and feigns interest, but unfortunately my father is too busy searching for approval, for something to offer, to notice.

I follow him as he hunts while my family huddles uncomfortably in between chairs, books and boxes, looking for somewhere to escape but there is nowhere to go.

“Dad,” I suggest, and will myself to infuse some warmth into my tone, “Why don’t we go down to the community room for more space.” I’m not sure if I succeeded.

“Okay,’ he agrees and before he can even swivel his walker around, my husband and children have bolted. I wait while he looks for his keys, muttering something about the lost comics. I don’t hurry him. It only stresses him and doesn’t make things go any faster. Finally, he finds them and I step into the hallway to push the elevator button while he locks up.

I watch him, fiddling with the keys, his elbows leaning heavily on the handles of his walker, and even though I know it’s him, I don’t recognize him. He is old at 71. He is unwell, both physically and mentally. He is struggling to hold on but keeps falling.

He wheels himself down toward me, his face lined but full with excess weight, his eyes a murky green, his body hunched and twisted. I am sad for him. So very sad. I might not even be able to wait until I’m alone to cry.

The elevator door opens.

I want to kiss him but I let the chocolate stop me.

Bittersweet

I wish things were this simple and sweet.

.

 

 

 

 

Finding the middle ground in 7th grade

“It’s 7:30am!” I call out to my oldest son, meaning that it’s time to go.

“Are your books packed?” I follow up when I receive no reply.

“Are you ready?” I shout, already annoyed on at least three levels. First, I am before coffee and racing through the morning routine of lunches and whatnot. Second, there is a binder on the dining room table that I know needs to be packed away in his book bag where I have already placed his charged phone (your welcome) and his lunch (your welcome again) and third, my son doesn’t freaking answer me.

Slowly he saunters into the kitchen. His sneakers aren’t on.

I grit my teeth, corralling my tongue, “Baby, I called you three times and you’re not ready.”

“What do you mean?” His voice flares a notch, “I’m ready.”

I point to the book lying open on the table.

“Oh my God, mom!” He huffs, “That will take like one second!”  He moves in on the binder and shoves it in his bag. He forces the zipper closed, jerks his head to the side to get the hair out of his face just enough so I can catch a glimpse of his rolling eyes. “See!” he challenges.

Yeah I see. I see he needs a haircut because even though he wants long hair, my boy doesn’t want to take the effort to use a comb or a little water or gel to make it look more like hair and less like a mop. I see that he needs to straighten his shorts, put on his sneakers, grab a zip-up jacket, and that we have very different ideas about what being ‘ready’ means.

I realize that this moment hits the crux of our relationship issues for the last year or so. I ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer and ask him to do things he doesn’t want to do… “What’s taking you so long? Put away your phone. Don’t you see your friends look people in the eye? Can you not forget your  book/sweatshirt/shoes/whatever? Is your homework done? Must you jump around like a puppy? No one else has blah blah blah. Did you do this that and the other thing…?”

It’s my job, of course, to help this growing up person act more grown up, to follow certain rules of behavior. Simple ones like responding when someone speaks to you, being respectful, taking pride in his appearance or being responsible to more complex ones like standing up for what he believes in, being extra kind for no reason and every reason or getting out of his comfort zone to try new things.

But what I also realize is that my wanting to help prepare him for being an adult is at odds with the person who he is. He is not a grown up yet. He is a barely a teen who has matured and progressed tremendously in the past year. He may not have his back pack ready in the morning on my clock, but he is doing awesome in every class at school. He plays team sports year round. He is practicing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He is fumbling through the social tornado which is Middle School. He still generally always has a smile on his face.

When we get into the car I ask him if he’s got everything.

“Yeah,” he answers without thinking.

“Your phone?” I prompt, forcing him to double check his bag. I’m being a bit of an ass. I know it’s in there, but I want to remind him that he doesn’t know. That he needs to be more prepared.

Growing up isn’t easy or immediate. Every day there are moments that make me quietly cheer and setbacks that make my eye twitch in frustration. It’s an entertaining, maddening road from here to adulthood, but it’s a process that necessitates patience and understanding. It can’t and shouldn’t be rushed, although I often have to remind myself.

After searching around, my son pulls out his phone from his backpack and I can see the boyish relief behind the teenage smirk.

He’s got it.

But we won’t really know until tomorrow.

Meeting in the middle

My baby, baby no more

 

 

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