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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Mr. Baseball

I guess I never thought of Howard as a man who would cheat. I always smugly assumed that if any cheating were to be done, it would be me. He’s loyal to the core.

I remember back 100 years, when we were in our early to mid-twenties. It was dawning on me that basically my first boyfriend might be my only boyfriend, so I started probing the boundaries of our bonds, until finally in Switzerland, of all places, on New Year’s Eve, of all nights, I gathered the courage to talk about a possible break. I mean, he had pretty much the same lack of experience that I did. Maybe we could mutually agree on a short hiatus? The idea that he might want a little freedom as well, excited and terrified me. Here’s how our conversation went…

Me (Stunning, snow-capped Alps in the background) – So I was thinking… we’ve been together so long. Do you ever wonder about if we’re really right for each other?

Howard – No.

Me – I mean, we really never dated other people. You’re not curious at all?

Howard – No.

Me – Don’t you think it might be good for our relationship to, I don’t know, see what’s out there, just to make sure…?

Howard – No.

Me – “I worry that we started so young and don’t really –

Howard (Firm, confident and kind of cute.) – No. We’re good. There is nothing we are missing. Do you want to share the calamari?

He flatly refused even the discussion, and me, not really wanting to go, never did. That’s why I wasn’t prepared for his obsessive love affair that has only gotten stronger in recent years. I should have seen it coming. It’s been there all along. Oh, yeah, I’m talking about baseball.

I guess I should be happy that my initial assessment of my husband has held true. He’s not interested in other women. He is, however, interested in little boys and grown men in uniform. Okay, that didn’t come out exactly right, but you know what I mean. Anyone holding a bat, on a field has his attention. He’s a coach. He’s a player.  He’s a fan. He is Mr. Baseball.

When not coaching our sons on the field, at one of their many games or practices, he’s painfully begging them to play with him on the lawn. “Come on Tyler, let’s get in a few throws.” Tyler, after initially rebuking most of his overtures, has now gotten with the program. Throw daddy a bone, or more accurately, a ball. So, when the request comes, Tyler will look up from the television or game that he’s contentedly involved in, and generally look to me with a patient, knowing little smile, that says, “Okay, I’m going to play with daddy. Daddy needs to play.”

Overall, Michael is more eager for the practice time, but he too, can be fickle and deny Howard his play, leaving him at the door like a dog with a leash in his mouth. At least, little Julius is always at the ready, and Howard is happily prepping our youngest on the lawn to soon take over on the fields. He has high hopes for that one.

Every time they have one of their “sessions.” I am inevitably called out to bear witness to his amazing 4 year-old potential. “Did you see him self-hit??” Howard will ask with amazement. “Eight year-olds can’t do that.” I watch. It’s cute. I’m duly impressed, but Howard has a momentous, lit expression. He’s nodding like a bobble-head. “Did you see that? Amazing, right?” Of course, I agree. Julius is amazing (they’re all amazing – sorry, equal billing), but to me baseball is a game. To Howard, it’s life, and as such, it’s my life, which makes it a little annoying.

Baseball in the morning. Baseball in the afternoon. Baseball on the television all night long. Howard is making the roster. Howard is coaching the team. Howard is at the field. Howard is playing his own middle-aged softball version of the game he used to love. Howard has board meetings. Howard has coaches meetings. Howard, who can’t pack a lunch, lovingly packs the baseball bags. Annoying. Oh, I said that already.

I am far from the only wife to take the aggrieved cheerleader role in her husband and children’s sport experience.
I am on this bandwagon with many friends. It’s a support group.

“I’m doing laundry every day!”

“I had to drive to Syosset yesterday at 7am.”

“My husband had them out playing on the lawn till 11’oclock at night.”

“My husband had them doing drills.”

“My husband had them doing drills, at 11’oclock at night, with a broken arm and saddle bags tied to their legs.”

We dutifully pull our chairs and our other children to the fields to shout and applaud. Root, root, root for the home team.  Watch my boy on the mound. Hold my breath. Jump and cheer. God, he’s gorgeous. Okay, fine, so I love watching them play. I never said I didn’t. I just was annoyed I couldn’t go to the gym this morning because it rained last night, and Howard had to leave extra early to check the field before the game. There you have it. The selfish truth.

Howard may be a bit over-enthusiastic, but there are dads on the fields far crazier. I see them. You know who they are. So while baseball may be overwhelming to me in my house, I recognize that I am a mom of boys and I married a ball player. I am proud that my house regularly has my husband on the lawn playing with the boys. He’s a really good dad. It’s a feather in my baseball cap.

Often, when Howard’s leaving for work he’ll say, “Why don’t you have a catch or practice hitting with them.” I roll my eyes. “Your job.” I say, and shove him out the door. But when he’s gone, and we’re all out on the lawn, a funny thing always happens.

“Pitch to me mommy.” They chant.

And happily, I do.

I Had A Great Title, But I Forgot.

I’m at the supermarket, about to pick up a cantaloupe, when a woman I don’t recognize walks directly toward my cart smiling.

“Hey,” she says, calling me by name. “How are you? How’s Howard and the boys?”

I stare a little too deeply into her face. Nothing. No recognition what-so-ever. I stall. “Good. Good. How are you guys doing?”

“Fine.” She goes on, not noticing my plastic smile and discomfort. “Jake is really liking camp.” Jake, I think, my brain fluttering at hummingbird speed to cob-webbed reference pockets for a connection. I wonder if he’s a friend of Tyler, Michael or Julius? Jake? Jake? I come up blank.

“That’s great.” I stall. An awkward silence follows. I focus my attention on squeezing a cantaloupe and gravely consider its worth, like I have a clue what a cantaloupe is supposed to squeeze like. Why doesn’t she just leave? Can’t she see she’s killing me, here?

“Ok, well. It was nice seeing you.” Finally, the torture is ending. “Call me up and we’ll set up a play date.” She sing-songs, then rolls away.

“Absolutely. Sounds good.” Waving her off, I chuck a random cantaloupe in my cart and move on, hoping not to bump into anyone else. Given the size of our town, however, the probability is more likely that I will than won’t. Come to think of it, I actually don’t think I’ve ever gone to the supermarket without seeing someone I know, or at least, someone I am supposed to know.

What is wrong with my brain?

This is a typical, recurring theme for me. I’m somewhere in town and a woman will approach me with a wide smile of recognition on her face. Sometimes I recognize them but can’t place where. Sometimes, I just don’t remember their name, and sometimes, I just have no idea. When we are out, Howard is constantly whispering in my ear, “You know who that is, right?” A good 90% of the time I don’t. The other 10%, he’ll be testing and teasing me. “Come on. Give me a break. I know who our next door neighbor is.”
“Just checking.” He’ll say with a wink. I did forget who his boss was three times already, maybe four.

It’s a running joke, but I worry.  Why can I remember where the mask is to the batman costume we haven’t put on in over a year. Or the grey army man with the black gun. Or the fork with one bent prong. Why do I know where everything is but not who anyone is?

I can’t even say I know who my kids are all the time. “Don’t do that Howard!” I yell. “I mean Julius! Tyler! Crap!” Of course, you know, the kid standing before me is Michael, grinning like cat. Arggh!

When I meet someone now, I consciously try to remember their name. I verbally repeat it, like the memory experts say, knowing full well I sound like an idiot, or an anchorwoman. “Yes, Susan, nice to meet you too. And now, the weather.” We will chat for a few minutes, then Susan departs. “Who was that?” Howard will ask, coming up next to me. “No idea.” I answer, and I really don’t. “Something with an N, maybe?”

Oh, there's the problem.

Why is this picture here again?

So today, I had another one of those moments. I’m at the gym and a blonde woman, who looks familiar but I don’t know where from, corners me on the elliptical machine and starts chatting happily. “So how’s Julius doing? Does he like the camp?” I nod as I always do. She must think I’ve overkilled on Botox, the way my face stiffens up. Finally, when she asks after my mother, I have to interrupt. Who is this chick? “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.”

She gives me an assessing look, but is still smiling when she says, “Of course, I’m terrible with names too. It’s Kate.”

“Of course, Kate. Sorry.” Who?

We chat a little more (Kate apparently is having a great summer and we are so setting up lunch!) and after she leaves, I’m left wondering. Kate? Kate? I keep thinking through the day. Who is Kate?

Later that night, I tell Howard about my experience, and how frustrated I was that I couldn’t place this woman and how uncomfortable that she knew so much about us.

“What was her name again?” He asked, poking his head out from behind his iPad.

I take a moment. I take another. I have no idea.

Can’t Get You Outta My Head

It’s 7am and the phone rings. Everyone is still asleep in my house, but I, of course, am up, straightening things, preparing breakfast, doing laundry and making sure the camp backpacks are ready. There’s a half an hour of quiet before I’ll wake the boys. The phone is not supposed to ring.

“Hey!” It’s my friend Danielle.

“What’s up? Better be good for a 7am call.”

That throws her for a moment. She didn’t realize it was too early to call. Mommy brain has its own clock.

“Oops. I didn’t realize. My kids have been up for a while.”

“No big deal.” I chastened, now I can be magnanimous. “What’s up?”

“What does lice look like?” she asks innocently.

Oh no. I grimace. She did not just say the “L” word.

I remember back six months, when it was going around Julius’ nursery class. For months, I preventatively treated myself and all three kids. I even got myself double checked at a salon. Even though they said I was fine, I just couldn’t stop scratching my head. My family didn’t even have it, and I was obsessively checking and feeling bugs on me. It got to the point where Howard refused to even look at my head anymore. He called it, “Not enabling my crazy.”

“Crazy!” I screamed. “Two kids in Julius’ class have it and so do their moms!”  I was pulling up pieces of my scalp, and then examining the skin under my finger nails like a gorilla.

“It’s no big deal.” He shrugged. “We have boys. We’ll just cut their hair.”

I looked up at him, eyes wide. “Just cut their hair?! Just cut their hair?? First off, one of our boys has the hair of a lion, and another cries when we even give him a trim.”

“Okay. Whatever.” Howard conceded, backing off and slowly backing away.

“And have you noticed,” I yelled after him. “We are not ALL boys in this house!”

Howard had left the room and I went back to pulling off bits of my scalp and muttering to myself.

I did not want to go back there.

My brain returned to Danielle, hanging on the phone, awaiting my reply. “Well,” I answered slowly. “Lice are tiny black bugs and their eggs are tiny, oval shape opals that stick to your hair. You can’t blow them off like dandruff. You have to pull them from the strand.”

I wait a moment as she assesses. “There are a lot of little white things.” Pause. “I think he has it.”

I’m sure he does. Just the other day, we got a note home from the camp saying that there have been a few reported cases of lice. It happens constantly in the schools and camps so I chose to hope/pretend that it was another group. No such luck. Lucas, Danielle’s son, is in the same group as Michael. They are also on the bus together. A mini-bus.

“Oh no. That’s not good.” I say and begin scratching my head. “I’m sorry.”

I hang up the phone, after offering my condolences and a referral to her neighbor, the ultimate lice specialist – Joy has three girls and a penchant toward meticulousness. So when they got lice, and couldn’t get rid of it, it was a shocker. Night and day, Joy checked and combed. She bought up all the anti-lice Fairytale hair products in our local drugstore. The girls wore their hair greased back in braids, and slept in olive oil and shower caps for weeks. And yet, they got it and got it again. And then, again. If she and her family could contract lice and not get rid of it, the rest of us schlubbs were in big trouble.

The minute my kids woke, a half an hour later, I was on them; sticking my fingers in their hair and inspecting their parted scalps. All of them, brushed me away like one of those giant horse flies, but like those flies, they couldn’t get rid of me. Until finally, while Michael was peeing and still barely awake, and I was behind him pulling at strands of his hair; he turned on me, figuratively and literally. “Stop it, mommy!”

“Arrrggh!!” I yelled, jumping backwards. “You peed on me!”

That woke him. Laughing uncontrollably, Michael finished peeing on the floor. Tyler and Julius, who were also in the bathroom brushing their teeth, almost fell off their step stools in hysterics. Julius gleefully pulled down his batman underwear and walked toward me. “I pee on you too, mommy!” he said, which caused another fit of giggles all around.

“No more peeing!” I announced loudly, which only added to the hilarity that was already going on in the bathroom.

“Ever?” Tyler asked. Eyes lit with merriment, his hysteria mounting again, starting a chain reaction through the mostly-naked boys.

I suppressed my smile. There was important business at hand here. “Come on guys! This is serious!”

“Yes.” Tyler happily mimicked to his 7 and 4 year-old audience. “This is serious. No more peeing ever!”

I left them in the bathroom, doubled over with laughter.  I had to go change my clothes now anyway.

Downstairs at the breakfast table, I subtly poked at their heads while they slurped their cereal. I was a little less subtle when I sprayed the lice repellent leave-in conditioner. Michael, my gagger, almost threw up. I guess I should have waited till they were done eating.

I finished my preventative treatment outside, using lice repellent gel on Michael instead.  I tried to pull Julius’ mass of hair into a bun in the back of his head, but he balked. I had done this less than a year ago, when we went through it at the nursery school. Back then, when he complained that it was a girl thing, I convinced him that it was a “boy bun,” and that only extremely cool boys could wear their hair that way, like rock stars. Now, six months later, he looked at me with outright defiance. I believe what he said was, “No way, mommy!” and began to run for the hills. With five minutes before bus time, I had to settle for hats (sprayed, of course, with lice repellent).  

When their busses pulled up, I ushered them each on, whispering in their ears. They were not to touch heads with anyone or wear someone else’s hat. If possible, they should not sit next to anyone on the bus. They nodded, got on, and I’m sure ignored me.

“I love you!” I yelled to each of them as they stepped up onto the bus, using the more popular and certainly more favored “L” word. Thankfully, we aren’t yet at that place where yelling “I love you” is embarrassing to my kids. “Remember,” I screamed at the bus window, touching my hair and shaking my head, “Don’t touch other people’s hair!” Obviously, I had plenty of better ways to embarrass them.

Back in my house alone, I scratched my head and considered what I was doing. I should move on with my day and go to the gym as planned, but visions of lice danced in my head. I am not crazy! I yelled at the air, but really it was an image of Howard’s face in my brain. I’m not!

It had only been an hour and a half since Danielle’s early morning phone call. One short conversation, but really just one little word, had changed everything. Back and forth I went, finally giving in, going upstairs and stripping all the beds. I will have the olive oil and shower caps ready when they got home. Later, I will stop at the drugstore and pick up another bottle of anti-lice solution.

The troops may rebel a bit, but this is war, and sacrifices will be made. We spray in the morning. We check in the night. We never touch heads. We will triumph. The only “L” word allowed in this house is reserved for me, the lunatic. I can already see Howard, shaking his head with disapproval. It’s really going to bug me.

My Labor of Love

Below is an excerpt from my journal about the day my son was born, 10 years ago today, on July 24, 2002 at 6:24am at 6lbs. He is as sweet and delicious today as he was as a baby, only a little more messy, if you can believe that. Happy Birthday baby love. I celebrate you every day since your first. You are, and always will be, just too good to be true.

July 23, 2002 – 2pm

My latest appointment with Dr. G – I’m effaced and 2 cm completely dilated. Dr. G said I’ve made progress and can go at any time. She said if I don’t go by next week, we could schedule an appointment for the end of next week. Uh oh. I don’t want that.

July 23rd – Later…

When she said I could go at any time. We really didn’t think she meant that night, but it turns out that’s what happened. Howard and I left the doctor and went about our normal day – me to the gym, busy contemplating the ultimate end of my pregnancy; and Howard off to work – looking so shell-shocked that I hoped he wouldn’t get lost on the way. We both knew I was pregnant. We had focused so hard on getting pregnant, and then on being pregnant, that  the idea that we would very soon have an actual baby, was, well, inconceiveable.

Later, we sat in front of the TV watching American Idol, another dumb Fox show that we had become addicted to (*it was its first season –who’d have guessed). I started feeling kind of funny and told Howard. We weren’t really sure at first, but when I started leaking, a call to the doctor seemed obvious. He told us to come on down. In less than two seconds, Howard was dressed, stop watch and overnight bag in hand. Off we went.

Hooked to many monitors, Dr. R (of course Dr. G wasn’t on call) confirmed it – my water had broken. Leaking like an open fire hydrant, I was officially admitted. In the beginning, the contractions seemed manageable, and Howard and I waited with anxious anticipation for what would happen next. Turns out, what happened next was an enema to speed up and intensify the contractions. I don’t know who thought up that medieval torture, and I don’t know how I agreed to that without any drugs in my system, but obviously I was vulnerable to figures of ‘doctorly’ authority, even ones over 70 with a bad comb-over. So along with my first labor, I had my first enema, and spent the next 30 minutes in the bathroom, doubled over in torture. Someone was pulling my guts out one by one! Was I going to have this baby in the bathroom?! Never have I experienced such constant, intense pain. This couldn’t be right. All those ridiculous Lamaze classes in no way  prepared me for the twisted anguish that was going on in my body. Deal with pain by massage? Breathe? Take a walk? BULLSHIT! F*&!* YOU lamaze lady!

The woman next door was screaming her head off, sawing on my last nerve. OMG. Was that where this was headed?! I asked for an epidural. Actually, I begged for it. I was blinded by pain by the time the man came and stuck that blessed, beautiful needle, that I had so dreaded, into my back. About 20 minutes later, all was good again.

It was 4am. I hadn’t seen the doctor or had an internal since I had arrived. They told me that the risk of infection with internals increase after you break your water. They also told me that according to the monitors, I wasn’t having very strong contractions. Howard and I were finally resting comfortably. We decided to believe them, even though we weren’t sure we did.

At around 6 am, I began to feel overwhelming pressure ‘downstairs’. I told the nurse, but she again told me that while I was having contractions every minute or so, they weren’t that strong.  I begged to differ. The doctor came in and confirmed it, there was a bowling ball that was about to come out my ass. Actually, he said, I was 10 centimeters dilated and ready to go. The nurse shrugged and said that the monitors didn’t always register so well.  Bitch.

Dr. R told me I was ready to push whenever I felt pressure, then promptly left the room. Huh? For about 20 minutes, Howard and I sat alone unsure of what to do. I quietly, half-heartedly pushed with my contractions wondering if that was what we were supposed to do. When the nurse came back in, I told her again of the overwhelming pressure and asked what Dr. R meant about pushing. She casually told me he’d be in soon, that we’d all push together and not to worry. “Pushing can take a while,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. To set my mind at ease, she took a look at my progress. Well, I wasn’t feeling too at ease when she screamed, “Get the doctor! The head is coming out!”

Within seconds, the bed was broken down (into a delivery bed) and the doctor was back and in catching position. Approximately three minutes and five good pushes later, little Tyler fell out into the world. He was a perfect mini-Howard, (thank God it was a boy!) and the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

Now two weeks later, I’m still in awe that this beautiful, fascinating little creature is mine. My days are filled with feedings, my nights with, well, the same. My satisfaction is a good burp. My nipples are mutilated. I love every minute of it. Okay, almost every minute of it. I could do with a couple more hours of sleep. But, how incredible is this journey. How life altering. How unimportant everything else seems when his eyes study mine, when a sly looking smile crosses his meaty little lips, when his brows wrinkle in expression just like his father’s. After two years trying, Howard and I and baby Tyler are a family. I’m truly overwhelmed.

A Boy and a Girl in a Little Canoe with the Moon Shining All Around…

The Beginning

I’m not even sure how much I really like him.  He looks cute enough, with his Top Gun crop of hair and a matching Tom Cruise smile. All the other kids seem to defer to him. He’s their leader. I can tell. I shouldn’t have fooled around with him behind the concession. That was bad, kind of skanky, but I had too many wine coolers, and, well, I guess that’s what happens.

My decision-making ability was highly questionable long before I even drank wine coolers; having walked to Tags, the local bar down the road, with my accomplice Farah and using a fake ID to get in. It was an expired, worn temporary license from my older cousin that didn’t even have a picture, but they didn’t care. The skinny, old man with the scraggly hair and stained, crooked teeth, barely glanced at it. He did, however, take a full examination of my 16 year-old boobs. Ew.

I’m nervous, yet buzzed from the high of just being in a bar, and I haven’t even sipped my Seagram’s tropical cooler yet. Oh, it’s good. I look around the sketchy joint filled with a local crowd, that we summer kids called hicks. How did I let Farah talk me into this? She’s the brave one, leaning her sexy, slim body into some townie as she sips her gin and tonic flirtatiously. I was shocked at her drink choice. I had only sampled coolers and beer so far, but she knowingly said, “This is what my mom drinks,” and confidently sucked it down. I took a taste. It wasn’t bad, sweeter than I expected, but, man, did it smell.

I keep nudging Farah. The guy she’s toying with looks in his 20’s, not terrible looking, but intense in his tank top displaying reed thin arms and wife beater muscles littered in tattoos. His hand is rubbing the hand she has resting on the bar and when he stares at her, it’s like when my cat stalks our fish tank. I wish she’d stop talking to him. I may be 16 and in a bar, but I know the difference between bad and real bad. I’m standing next her drinking another cooler, avoiding any eye contact when Farah and the guy start making out – heavily. Farah is pushing up against me and it’s definitely time to go home. I pinch her side hard. “Hey” she cries out offended. “Why’d you do that?”
“We need to go. Now.” She assesses my seriousness in an extended drunken moment where she looks deeply into my eyes. I nod. She nods. She turns to the man, whose spit she probably still tastes, and flashes her 100-watt smile, registering in at a crooked 70% with the gin. Then quickly, she grabs my arm and we race toward the exit laughing.

It’s about 11:30pm and about a ¼ mile walk down Route 42 back to the bungalow colony where we stay. It’s dark but the cars speeding by flash lights as they go. We trip dangerously on the side of the road and laugh all the way back to safety.

We reach the gravel, dirt road that is the entrance to the colony, and see a bunch of our friends and others, milling about and hovering on the front steps of the concession like they are waiting for a bus. Everyone I see falls between the angst, high-hormone ages of 15 and 18. During the days, the concession is a luncheonette and general community area. You can play pool or video games, have a lunch special of pizza, fries and a drink for $1.25, and check the mail basket for any communication from the outside world. (All of 150 bungalows on the colony have their mail delivered to the concession.) The back side of the concession is called the casino and is used for Saturday night shows, card playing and colony meetings.

The front steps are where the kids hang – day and night. Since this is late Saturday, the concession is closed for the night, but the back side is singing with business. Most of the adults on the colony can be found inside, drinking (gin and tonics?) and watching whatever the show du-jour is for the evening – bad comedy, bad singing, a band?  It doesn’t matter. Soon they will all stagger out and walk back up the little hill to their bungalows, where many will continue the party, drinking and laughing it up like the teenagers.

He is sitting on the steps of the concession when I stumble in, wearing denim shorts and a tee shirt; his hair partially covered with a red bandana called a do-rag, across his forehead.  I like how he looks. I know his name, but I can’t remember it. It doesn’t bother me. I plop on his lap and giggle.

He doesn’t say much but I know he likes me. I can tell by the protective way his arm is wrapped around my waist, keeping me from getting up. I feel rooted to his leg. We stay like that for a bit, watching our friends doing stupid crap. Some are huddled at the side of the concession smoking a joint. This boy Jimmy is making up some rap about the bungalows, while one guy, I don’t really know, is chasing another, trying to put something disgusting, that I can’t make out, on his head. Everyone is stoned, drunk, laughing and pretty happy.

“What’s your name again??” I am slurring a little, I can hear it, but don’t care.

He looks at me funny. “Howard.”

I laugh. “That’s a terrible name!”

“What?” He is amused and playfully tickles my side. We go back to watching the group entertain themselves and us. He’s not from the big talkers, I can tell.

Finally he asks, “Want to go for a walk?” This is code for, “Let’s go make-out.”

I agree and we walk around for a little, hand in hand, until finally winding up on the steps behind the concession.

This is not the casino (I couldn’t find a picture), but it is the bungalow colony.

It’s private, but yucky, and even as we are kissing, I’m thinking, this is skanky. His hand starts aggressively pushing up my light pink dress, the one I borrowed from my mother’s closet without her knowing. I push it away. I am now wondering how I get out of this. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wonder long. It turned out, that while Howard’s family did stay at the colony for the summer, Howard and his  friend were working and staying at a sports camp down the road. Midnight was their curfew and we are interrupted by whistles and calls of his name.

We sheepishly emerge from the back of the concession. His friend is in his car already waiting. Howard leans over and kisses me lightly on the cheek. His eyes twinkle, and even at 17, they crinkle up in the corners. I give a shoulder shrugging wave, smiling smug, smiling like I am above it all, before my gaggle of girls drag me away for details. I wonder if I’ll see him again next week.

The Middle

“So, when are you guys going to have a baby?!” my girlfriend Lily asked again. Next to my in-laws, she was the most interested, but unlike my in-laws who knew better, she just loved to beat the dead horse. She also liked to do it publicly like this, every so often, just for effect.

We were at dinner with Lily and her husband Joe, and Cory and Alison, another of our married couple friends. Both already had two year-olds at home. Howard and I had been married for three years now. After our adolescent beginning, we flirted on and off for years, before finally embarking on a real “relationship” when I was 19 and he was 21.  Eight fabulous years later (yes eight – who are you, my mother-in-law?), on the most glorious 75 degree, no humidity day in July, we married. We danced to, ‘You’re Just Too Good To Be True,’ by Frankie Valli, ate the strawberry soup appetizer, (an idea we had stolen from Lily’s wedding) and generally gazed with sparkly-eyed amazement at each other. No day was more perfect. No couple more complete. We traveled and skied, played tennis and glammed around NYC. We had stretched the band of courtship as far as it would go without snapping back on us. The time was right, and now, three years in, it seemed it was time for a baby. Everyone thought so. We thought so. The only one who didn’t seem to think so, was the ‘Baby’ who wouldn’t come.

At the table, I laughed. “Don’t you wish! You guys are just jealous that we sleep at night and can talk about something other than poop.”

Both Lily and Alison looked down their chicken parms at me. “You don’t know what you’re missing”

Big behinds, I thought nastily. But that wasn’t fair, they had no idea of our struggles and their behinds really weren’t big. I looked at my vegetable plate.

It had been more than a year already and I felt no closer to achieving a pregnancy. Who was I kidding, I couldn’t even count on a consistent period.  After putting on almost 10 pounds and dropping my exercise regime to four days a week, old Aunt Flo still proved elusive. She came back. She disappeared.

So after the usual husband/wife “let’s have a baby” stuff proved unsuccessful, I started going to a fertility doctor to be monitored. Every month now for months, I’ve been watching the sonogram machine with my new best friend, the ever-popular vaginal stick, as we chart the growth of my follicle (that’s fertility talk for potential egg). It needs to be at least 18mm to be viable for ovulation and fertilization. Some months I don’t have a follicle to watch. Last month, my follicle grew to an exciting 16mm. We thought the next day it would be at least a sustainable size, but no, the next day my follicle was down to 14mm, then 12mm, and then it disappeared, taking my hope along with it.

“You guys are worse than my parents.” Howard chimed in, sensing my vulnerability and need to be rescued.

“I’m ready to go.” I smiled, ending any further conversation.

“I’m not going home yet!” Joe exclaimed. “We have a sitter and this is our first night out in a while. Let’s have another round.”

“You guys go ahead. I’m really tired.”

Lily’s eyes perked. “Tired you say? Hmmmm. And you haven’t touched your wine either.” The wheels were turning and you could hear the train pulling into her station. “Is there something you want to share?”

I leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “I’m going to share with everyone how much you weighed when you were pregnant, if you don’t just let me just go home.”

She just looked me up and down slyly, and feigned offence. “Ouch. Okay, you win. Go home and rest.” She cocked a brow and used her nurturing voice. “It’s important to get plenty of rest. Take care of her Howard.”

“Don’t worry, I do.” He said and put his ever protective arm around my shoulder.

We said our goodbyes and headed out into the night air. It was fresh and crisp for June and we walked the 12 blocks and two avenues back to our apartment. “Lily was an ass.” Howard declared

“Ah, she was just being Lily.” I defended, although I didn’t know why.

“Yeah, an ass.” He insisted, but was smiling that crinkly smile. “Let’s just forget them.”

I returned the smile and snuggled under his embrace. He kissed my nose, then my lips. “It’s just about you and me, baby.” He said.  My guy, who didn’t typically have much to say, generally seemed to say the right things when he did.

“But what if…?” I could barely say the words. “What if, you know, it never works?”

“No matter what happens, remember, It’s you and me. That’s all that matters. Besides, it’s going to happen. I know it.” I nodded, so happy I married this man I knew as a boy. He was concrete under my feet. A smile in the dark. A shoulder in a storm.  He loved me beyond words and I loved him with many.

Without needing to mention it, we headed straight to my favorite yogurt store, where Tony, the manager, greeted us happily. “My favorite couple! How you doing? What can I get you guys?” After making our selections, we walked the last two blocks home.

Once in comfy clothes, I plopped down on the couch, and flicked on the television. While Howard got the cards, I opened up my yogurt and took a spoonful of happiness. We spent the next hour engaged in a heated game of Rummy 500 that turned into Rummy 1000. For the record, Howard beat me, but for once, I didn’t care. I had my mind on other things.

I got up to clean up our finished yogurt (and the chips Howard had eaten afterwards) and get ready for bed. Howard moved behind me and whispered suggestive husband things in my ear. My body relaxed into his, but my brain was still feeling tense. “Let me shower.” I said, needing a moment. “I’ll meet you in bed.”

Stripping off my sweats, tee shirt and underwear, I stepped into the steamy shower and breathed deeply. It had been a long night and an even longer year. Except for the fertility issues, everything was so good, but those issues weighed on me more and more. I felt so tired. I was in no mood for sex. Lately, it was almost a chore. “It’s day 16, come home.” “We have a follicle that may ovulate, hurry up.” Kind of kills the fun factor.

Like for instance, I know that on this day, day eight, there was practically zero chance that I could get pregnant. Hot water dripped down my face. I remembered back, well over a year ago, before the doctors told me I had the hormones of a woman in menopause, when had decided we would “try”. It was so exciting and wonderful, just deciding to do that made everything first-time special. Even though at that point, I hadn’t cycled for over a year, there still seemed so much possibility. We were so innocent. Two kids wanting a kid. So hopeful, so happy, until months turn into more than a year, and the promise of hope became tainted in reality. And here we were. Doctors, sonogram sticks, blood tests. I wanted a baby. Howard wanted a baby. He would be such a good father. He would love me no matter what. I want a baby. He would love me no matter what. I want a baby. Water, water everywhere. Babies, babies everywhere. I couldn’t stop the tears.

The (Never) End

“We have a baseball game tonight, so I got all Tyler’s stuff together by the steps.”

I nod, barely listening. He says this almost every day. I’ve got to get breakfast on the table, switch the laundry, pack the backpacks and get the boys down all in seven minutes.

“Are you listening?” Howard asks.

“Not if you’re telling me where Tyler’s baseball things are again.”

“Fine.” He grumbles. “Just remember to get him down to the field by 5:30pm.”

I nod.

“You’re not listening.” He accuses.

That makes me smile. “I am listening, I’m just ignoring. There’s a difference.” I brush past him to the steps. “Boys!” I yell up. “Brush your teeth and come on down!”

He stands, leaning up against the kitchen counter drinking some orange juice and chewing on a piece of whole wheat bread. He’s not finished. “And don’t be late. Get there on time.”

I raise a brow and roll my eyes, if I could, I would roll my entire face.  “Yes, coach.”

Baseball was always important to Howard. When we were teens, he was already a serious player and working as a coach at a sports academy. In college he was a pitcher, and Captain of his Division I baseball team. He had hopes, like so many other young, talented athletic men, but that’s all they turned out to be. Now, decades later he has a new field of dreams, and at this moment, they are stomping down my stairs.

Boy one. Boy two. Boy three. Three boys. Three beautiful boys. Tyler, Michael and Julius. My joy. My happiness. My life. They roll into the kitchen like tumbleweed, tracking bits of garbage as they go, and barreling over anything in their paths.

“Mommy I want…!” They say simultaneously, each with their own unique requirement.

7 year-old Michael – milk.

4 year-old Julius – gummy bears!

9 year-old Tyler – hug.

I go about satisfying each of their requests. Michael gets a cup of milk with his pancakes. Julius gets vitamin gummy bears with his cereal. Tyler, my sweet first baby, gets a hug.

“I want a hug!” both Michael and Julius cry, leaping from their chairs and attacking us. Tyler complains. “I was the one who wanted a hug!” They are still all piled on top of one another, no one refusing to give any edge to the other.

They’re such copycats!” Tyler whines. He wanted milk!” He points angrily at Michael.

“I want milk too” Julius squeaks. He is around my legs. I try to extract myself from everyone. “Okay guys. Let’s sit down.”

Howard is eyeing us with amusement that borders on annoyance. “Mama!” He calls out. “Stop mama-ing them!”  I look at him. I am a statue and they are like ivy wrapped around me. It’s annoying and I love it. I can’t help it. I smile at him like I have the best secret. It’s Howard’s turn to roll his eyes, but still, he kisses me on the cheek, then ravages the boys, who run away screaming.

Settled in their seats, semi-eating and fully annoying each other, I quietly give Tyler an extra squeeze which I know he appreciates.

“Okay, I’m going.” Howard calls out. “I’ll meet you at the field.”

“Have a good day.” I call back. I feel very 50’s housewife every time I say it.

“I’m going!” He yells once more.

“Have a good day!” I yell back and glare at the children.

“Have a good day daddy,” They immediately sing song, and like a puppy waiting for a whistle, he comes back to the kitchen to ruffle their heads and give me a kiss, before disappearing.

Once he’s out, I get the kids together much easier. We are fed, packed, sun-blocked and outside waiting for the parade of big and little yellow buses which run up and down the street collecting all the kids who go to different summer camps. Fifteen minutes, and a lot of hugs and arm waving, later, I am alone. It’s the first time in almost ten years that I have over five hours to myself. It is strange, exciting and sad, and I slowly make my way back into the quiet of my ransacked house.

I gym, run an errand or two, then come home, shower and write. 2pm comes pretty fast, and before i know it, I am carrying a sleepy Julius off the bus. At 4:30pm, in comes Michael and at 4:45pm, Tyler arrives.  We talk about camp a bit, but it’s rush time again. Tyler must change, eat and be at the field by 5:30pm or I’m going to be in trouble.

At 5:20pm, we’re in the car. “We’re going to be late, Mom.” Tyler concludes.

“The field is five minutes away. We’ll be fine.” I assure him, but I’m a little nervous. It’s more like eight minutes, and Howard will be on the early train. He could beat me there. It’s not my fault Julius had to make a last minute poop, but I probably shouldn’t have taken the phone call from my mother. We are all buckled in and I turn the key. The car makes a sputter sound and the engine does not catch. Uh oh.

Michael says it, “Oh no. That’s not good.”

I turn the key again, give it a little gas and pray. The engine turns. “See, we’re fine.”

“Nine minutes.” Tyler reports.

We don’t get two blocks before a car pulls in front of me – a police car. I automatically slow down below the speed limit, stopping an extra full second at each stop sign until finally, he turns and goes down a different block. I do a little speeding (just a little) to make up a minute or so.

“Five minutes.”

“Stop it Tyler.”

We are on a roll until – and you’re not going to believe this, but it is true – we turn and a student driver is right in front of us. He doesn’t stop three seconds at stop signs, he stops thirty. And he doesn’t drive 20mph, he drives 2mph. I mutter some frustrated words that probably weren’t child friendly, causing my children to giggle. It was all I could do to keep from slamming down on the horn.

“We’re going to be late.” Michael teased. He was right. It was 5:27pm.

I control myself, which isn’t easy, and don’t race around the impressionable, young driver. I don’t want to freak him out and besides that cop could be nearby. We arrive at the field just as the clock turns and I hear Tyler announce, “5:31pm. We’re late.”

I see Howard. He has beaten me there. I’m in trouble.

The game won’t start until 6pm, but Howard likes them there early to warm up. Michael, Julius and I get out and go over to the bleachers to watch for an hour or so, until I have to get Michael to his TKD class. Besides the gnats, it’s a gorgeous night and Tyler is pitching, a chip off his daddy’s block. He looks beautiful out there and for three innings, he strikes out each player as they come up or they pop up into an easy fly. When he comes off the mound for the final time, Howard catches my eye and nods. He’s saying, did you see our boy?! He’s so good. I nod back. I know. I know. From across the field, we are connected in parental pride.

Julius and I leave to take Michael to his TKD class. Howard and Tyler finish the game. We both get home around the same time and it’s an explosion of voices and activity and excitement. Tyler goes over, in great detail, his pitching stats and then his hitting – an impressive base hit, double and a triple. Michael is equally proud. Tonight he has received another stripe on his TKD belt. He’s only seven and a brown belt. If a strong wind doesn’t blow him over, he will kick your ass. Julius bounces back and forth between his older brothers, just excited to be there and be awake.

After some kitchen action and then some shower action, we finally get the boys to bed. It’s almost 10pm and we are ready to crash on the couch. I run into the kitchen for a cup of frozen yogurt for myself and a bag of pretzels and hummus for Howard, who is mindlessly flicking through the channels on the television. We eat our snacks for a bit and stare at the 10 o’clock news in silence. Finally, Howard says, “You were late.”

“One minute.” I protest.

“Still late.”

I can’t argue that, so I argue something else. “Are you going to eat the whole bag of pretzels?”

Thankfully, he sort of laughs. “Someone cranky?”

“Maybe.” I concede and he snuggles me under his arm

“Well, don’t be cranky tomorrow.”

I smile, what I hope is a shy, cute smile, but I’m not 16 anymore.  I’m 42. And I’ve spent my whole life with this person beside me. He’s knows my good. He knows my ugly. He is still my rock when I’m in a hard place. The arm around my shoulder. The man I love deeply and sincerely, without reservation, even when he is so unbelievably annoying. We’ve made a life together, and it is good.

Happy almost anniversary.” He says and kisses my lips.

“Happy almost anniversary.”  My forever.

Ride of my Life

It’s dark. My shirt shines an unnatural fluorescent purple under the neon glare and I can see 1,000 little pills of fabric that don’t show up in every day light. People are sweaty, music blasts and a woman wearing a lot of lycra, screams  “Are we ready!?”  way too energetically in my ear. We haven’t even begun and I just want to go home and shower. Welcome to my Tuesday spin class.

Class starts and we’re just warming up to “I got a feeling” from the Black Eyed Peas, stretching out our arms, loosening our joints and getting our legs ready for the ride. I ease into my pace and mentally tune out. What do I need to do when this is over? I go thru my check list. Supermarket – milk, OJ, detergent, remember pancakes for Michael. Call Dad. Shower. Pick up crickets for Smiles, our bearded dragon. Baseball practice later. Get Gatorade.

I return to my father. He’s having a rough week, extra miserable and depressed. His doctors aren’t getting back to him and for a reason that is correlated with his misery and depression, he will never just pick up the phone and call them again. Instead he just sits, waits and bemoans his sorry state. Our last conversation was an hour of me shushing my children away, trying to help him find a reason to live, while he explained the intricacies of how to take enough pills to get committed in a psych ward but not enough to kill himself. Good times. Good times.

Call Dad’s psychiatrist, I add to my list before hunkering down, turning up my gear and preparing for the first hill. “It’s coming!” Judy, the instructor, calls out like a voice from beyond. “You’re almost there. Turn it up!”

“Staying Alive” from the Bee Gees pumps motivation, and my legs slow down as the harder gear makes it, well, harder. One. Two. One. Two. What am I going to eat when this is over? I wonder. Should I have frozen yogurt for lunch? Or food? One. Two.  Maybe I’ll drive to the yogurt store. One. That’s bad. I should eat something healthy. Two. I did have cottage cheese, Fiber One and blueberries for breakfast, I remind myself, that’s healthy. Frozen yogurt for lunch!

“Put on another gear!” Judy yells. “And take it up!” I grunt and stand. Katy Perry’s, “Fireworks” is sparking us into action. I’m nearing the top of the hill and I’ve turned up the gear yet again. My legs feel leaden, like concrete slowly hardening. I pedal on. Almost there!  Al mo st there. Even my thoughts are taking heavy breaths. I c a n d o i t !

“Hungry like the Wolf” kicks in to help us make it to the top. Wolves have always reminded me of my father. They used to call him Grey wolf for his sharp, bright green eyes and, yes, hair that was almost fully grey by his early thirties. And he was clever, with a joke or a line. The ladies loved him, but why am I still thinking about him?  “Love Shack” is pumping through my ears straight down to my legs and I’m racing down this hill like my love is at the bottom and I haven’t had sex in years! “It’s Love Shack Baby! Everybody’s moving, everybody’s grooving, around and around and around and arouuuuund.” I’m singing in my head and between breaths it sometimes comes out my mouth. I can’t help it. I’m flying. Judy has challenged me to beat out the other spinners in my line and I’m going to kick their asses!

I’m sure I won the race to the bottom, but now there are sprints and jumps. I hate sprint and jumps. And even though I love “It’s my life” by Bon Jovi, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to get me through those up and downs. At least I have no energy to think. I’m a tight focused ball of keep on keeping on.

We finally finish the drills, and I’m hunched over in third position just riding my pace for the next few minutes of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The final hill approaches.  “I want you to want me,” by Cheap Trick is playing and I’m in the moment until somehow it leads me to my husband and I begin to mull over how our relationship has changed since we’ve had the kids. It makes me sad sometimes that it’s no longer about us. At times I feel like the fourth in line – fifth if you count baseball – for his attention when I used to be solidly first. It’s embarrassing to admit being jealous of your husband’s amazing focus on the children, but it’s true. Then I think how I am now the selfless parent (although maybe not so much considering my last statement) and not the selfish young thing, and both thoughts make me want to have a tantrum.

“This is your hour!” Judy screams. “Make every minute count!” Nothing is about me any longer. Nothing. Judy is right, this will be my only real hour and it is torture! I’m feeling a little choked up and am in danger of having a What Alice Forgot moment. I do not want to fall off my bike. A tear mingles with the sweat running down my face. I need to get it together. Breathe. I can’t breathe!

“It’s your final hill!” Judy encourages. “It’s here! Take it. Take it straight to the finish line. Don’t waste a second. Give me everything you got!” “People are People” by Depeche Mode is guiding us along and I’m back trying to climb a mountain. I really need to remember to call my father’s doctor. Not that it’s going to do any good. Like he says, his pain is like an onion, deal with the top layer and there’s another problem right underneath, all fresh and shiny, and just waiting to make him cry. He is my never-ending onion. A mountain with no peak. My brain is on replay, “People are people…” That’s right, and my father is never going to change, and I am never going to desert him and leave him alone, like I probably should, but I’m not, because “people are frickin people!” I’m crying now, my breath ragged, my huffing and puffing closer to hyperventilation. I’m close to losing it as we finally mount the hill, turn down our gear and sprint to “Free Falling” by John Mayer. Breathe. Get it together. Sing. Don’t think. I calm. I ride. I remember I need to pick up dry cleaning. And stop at the post office. And Michael’s pancakes.

Christina Aguliera belts out “I am beautiful” and I am caught in her chords. I’m steady and on pace. The finish line is in sight. “You’re almost there!” Judy screams. “One more minute and we’re racing to the finish! No one gets left behind! We go thru it together! Now GO!”  I pedal furiously. The end is in sight. I’m almost there. I see nothing. I think nothing. I am a machine! I am beautiful! I am across! I made it! The music changes to “Time of my life” and I lower my gear so that I’m back on flat, easy road. My legs move automatically on the light gear and I guzzle down half my water. I am emotionally and physically spent and I am feeling… good.

After we stretch and clap for ourselves and Judy, I wipe off my face and then my bike and ready myself to leave. The spin shoes I shelled out $100 for go back in the bag. For now, the ride is over, but my head is still spinning.

Smells like country air

We make the pilgrimage at least once, but generally twice, in a summer. I pack bags filled with our most ratty, hang-around clothes, bug spray for the mosquitos and a golf bag full of hopes and dreams for Howard. We are on our way to the Catskills, and although some say it’s dead, I’m here to tell you, it’s merely on life support, much like the age group it now caters to (sorry mom).

Howard and I both grew up summering in the mountains, or the country, as we call it. We were bungalow babies of the seventies, independently roaming and playing on the grounds while the adults did the same. At that time we were on “rival” colonies, but by 1984, like so many others, my colony was sold to the Hassidic. My family and many of our friends were forced to wander like the Jews (and Italians) that we were, ultimately re-settling on my husband’s colony. I was 15. He was 17. Bungalow life was still a Dirty Dancing time capsule, and our beginning had begun.

You’d think having such a history with the mountains, and both Howard’s and my family still up there, that our conversation wouldn’t go like this –

Howard – We’re going upstate this weekend.

Me – Really? Awww. Why?

Howard – You know why.

Me (whining like a baby) – I don’t wanna.

Howard – There’s a pot luck lunch.

Me – (brow raised) – Seriously, that’s what you got?

Howard (firm) – Too bad. Pack.

I don’t know why I give him a hard time. I love the people and I loved the bungalows growing up. Still this colony is nothing like days of old – the children are gone, the surrounding area is a disaster – but for our parents and their friends, it’s still the good old days. It’s hard to watch their enjoyment and not love it, but for me those good old days are long gone.

Howard and I and our three boys pile in the mini-van with all our crap and drive the 2 ½ hours of “Are we there yet?” torture. My two sisters and brothers-in-law and their children are headed up as well. It’s a lot of people in a 15×15 space, but that’s what bungalows are for. Besides, most of the time you’re outside playing ball, floating on noodles in the pool or reading Shades of Grey while turning shades of brown.

We arrive and there’s a lot of hugging and kissing. Howard breathes deep, “Ah, smell that country air!” The boys dutifully follow. “Smells like meatballs.” Tyler, our oldest, correctly identifies, then wrinkles his nose. “And smoke.” Correct again. A smiling shirtless man with a round belly and a cigar takes a step back.

Other bungalow families are there with their kids. As is customary, we all enter the lounging circle of yentas to pay our respects and be kissed by women in house IMAG2583-1 (1)dresses/bathing suit cover-ups and bronzed bare-chested men who knew us when we were in diapers. After the formalities, we traipse back to the bungalow to participate in the second customary act – eating. We ascend upon any food my mother-in-law has prepared, like a beast to a bone. No matter whether you just came off the buffet line at the Big Bob’s BBQ, you’ve just started weight watchers or just plain aren’t hungry, it doesn’t make one bit of difference. You will eat.

Having completed the reception and consumption, we now looked to each other for ideas. It had just rained, so no one was interested in the pool, and since the grounds were swampy and buggy, wiffle ball on the lawn was also out. Before the kids could open their mouths to cry “iPad!”, “iTouch!” or “I want to go home!” Howard had a brilliant idea.

“Who wants to go salamander hunting?!” He boomed, and six gleeful voices boomed back.

Capturing the little orange creatures that crawl out from under rocks to drink and eat from the damp moss is a fond childhood summer memory for me. I was thrilled my children would experience wandering and searching in the muddy woods with their cousins while my sister-in-law and I played scrabble and contemplated wine. Why do I resist coming here??

They returned not too long afterwards with small, plastic cups, each holding a salamander of their very own. It had been awhile since I had seen one (I am a bearded dragon girl now, but that is another story). They were just as cute as I remembered, but when four year-old Julius proudly picked his up to show me, squeezing his little body round his soft center, I also remembered how delicate they were.

“Julius, you need to be gentle when you’re holding him. He could get hurt if you squeeze his stomach like that.”

“Okay, mommy.” He nodded happily and his curls nodded along. “So I hold him like this?”

Before I could correct him, Julius had picked up his salamander by the head. “No honey! No.”

I took the poor little guy from him. “Like this.”

I showed him how to hold him in his open palm and cover his hand over the top to keep him from falling. Julius again nodded. “I can do that mommy.”

He took his salamander and copied what I did, only his little hands were closer to a closed grasp than a protective cave. Oy.

“Not too tight.” I advised, gritting my teeth, as he walked back toward his cousins so his new pet could play with the other little orange victims.

“Hey, Julius.” I called after him. He looked so darn cute as he walked off suffocating that poor creature.

He turned toward me, smile lighting his eyes. “Yes mommy?”

“You didn’t tell me his name.”

“Oh. It’s squishy.” He said, without a trace of irony. “Cause he’s so squishy.”

I nodded, holding back a head slapping, well, duh . “Good name, honey.”

He bounced off. His hair followed.

Squishy lived a life no other amphibian could claim. He took a ride down a slide, bungeed off the porch and was introduced to many wide-eyed witnesses from in between my son’s two stubby little fingers. Occasionally, he’d remember that it wasn’t the correct way of holding him and would promptly drop him on the floor before picking him up for a more proper display. By the time, we convinced Julius that Squishy was very tired and needed to go back to the woods to nap, he was well beyond ever waking up.

We distracted Julius with a trip to the pool where he giggled along with his brothers and cousins playing on rafts and shooting each other with water guns. Their favorite target was their unflappable grandpa Earl who sat at the edge of the pool reading his paper. Even as it got more and more drenched and I watched him barely able to separate the stuck pages to turn, he continued. The kids cracked up. He barely realized.

Once dried off, Julius once again remembered his pet. It took a visit to the lollipop lady’s bungalow to soothe him, but conveniently after he was done, he again badgered Howard into going back into the woods to find Squishy. Finally, Howard caved and off they went. They returned, Julius once again cheerful. “We found him!”

I looked in the cup and saw another orange salamander, except this one was smaller and skinnier. Apparently Squishy#2  had seamlessly assumed the identity of Squishy #1 without much fanfare, kind of like Darren on Bewitched.

It was time to say goodbye, so we made our way back to the circle where the mamas and papas kibitzed and noshed on coffee and cake. We lingered of course – there was coffee and cake – but then returned to the bungalow to pack our stuff.

Julius was busy, with the help of his grandma and grandpa, making a Tupperware house to transport his new pet home. The other kids with living salamanders were doing the same, and soon there were three little houses filled with water, dirt and moss.

We walked to the car, schlepping our bags, Julius carrying his beloved Squishy soon to be renamed Jumper. (Jumper? Really?) He looked so proud and happy, yet a salamander was the last thing I wanted back at the house. First off, it belonged upstate where it would live, and second, we couldn’t just get another one if Jumper also took a “nap.”

Home two days now, and I’m (semi)happy to report Jumper is doing fine. He has a new Tupperware penthouse and it’s filled with all the latest in bugs and rocks and moss. Julius has checked on him morning and night and is careful to keep the handling to a minimum.

Last night, my three underwear wearing boys came down from Planet Wii to find me as I was cleaning up in the kitchen. They had something on their minds.

“Yes?” I questioned. This could be trouble.

Tyler the oldest, with nine years maturity and obviously their chosen leader, spoke for them. “We want to go back to the country.”

“Really?” I asked, amused. You had a good time?”

Three heads bobbled, one’s hair bobbled too. “So much fun!” Michael, my 7-year-old squealed. “And all our cousins too!”

I sighed, but it was a smiling, reminiscent sigh. There was something about the bungalows. Freedom. Innocence. Coffee and cake. Once it had you, it didn’t let go.

“Of course. We will. In a few weeks.”

“A few weeks! That’s too long!” They communally chorused, stomping a little and spreading their arms in exasperation.

“It’ll go fast.” I assured them. “You’ll see.”

They grumbled and shuffled happily off with consolation cookies, but then Tyler turned, a bright smile lifted his face when he informed me, “Next time we go, daddy said we can catch frogs!”