RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Three Hour Tour…

A Three Hour Tour…

“We’ll be there in about an hour.” Howard says over the phone to the Kittatinny registration woman. “Yeah, the three-hour tour. The three-hour tour.” Howard sings it the second time to the tune of, what else? Gilligan’s Island. Amazingly, she had never heard that before. Why is everyone getting so damn young?

Howard hangs up and addresses his troops.

“We’re going rafting!”

Howls and cries of pain answer him. Both Michael and Julius vie for loudest dissident, only Tyler is on board. “I guess I shouldn’t have told them all those “scary” river rafting stories this week.” Howard quietly confesses.

I’m appalled. “You did not!”

Howard shrugged. “They wanted scary camp-fire stories so I thought since we were going rafting this weekend, I’d make it…”

“…Frightening?!” Ugh.

“It wasn’t so bad. I had some people falling out of the boat. Maybe one of the boats got away with just the kids, losing them down river…”

“Good going dad.” I am shaking my head so fast I look like I’m shivering. “Well this is going to be fun.”

“You hear that boys!” Howard yells loudly and winks at me, “Mommy just said, this is going to be fun!”

I shiver some more.

Somehow I manage to get them dressed, fed and into the car. I sucker my mom into coming. It wasn’t hard, she’d do almost anything to hang out with the boys. It’s mostly for my entertainment though. My mom’s a screamer, and I was pretty sure I’d need some humor stranded on a raft for hours with crying children.

We drive the half hour or so, cross over into Pennsylvania and arrive at Kittatinny Tours, where a very serious safety rep informs a busload of us antsy adventurers the rules. “We are heading six miles up the river. You will be given life vests and a raft/canoe/kayak. Wear your life vests. Always. Normally the six miles takes around three hours but because the water levels are low today, it could be more like four. When you go under the black bridge you’re almost done. Wear your life vests. Have a great trip.”

The bus peels out of the parking lot. We’re on an amusement park ride called Crazy Bus Driver. We speed the 15 minute drive with a mountain on one side and the river looming below. The road is a never-ending series of S’s which she takes like an Indy 500 hopeful. There may be life vests for the water, but there are no seat belts on the bus. So apparently it’s okay to die on the road.

We make it alive, and are rewarded with a raft and vests. After a series of false starts, we are off. Julius, usually so tough, was very afraid, mostly of the rocks; especially after the first few times Howard and I rammed directly into one, got stranded and had to propel ourselves off with our oars. He kept crying and saying over and over with obvious distress, “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

“My story may have had rocks tipping the boat,” Howard whispered. I grit my teeth. It just keeps getting better.

My mom is cowering in the back of the raft. When she came aboard in her cute gold sandals, jeans and perfectly applied lipstick, she didn’t realize what she had signed up for. “Maybe you could drop Julius and I…?”

“On the side of the river, mom?” Her face fell. She was crying on the inside.

Hours and hours of peace and crying children

For the next few hours, we float and row. Row and float. The rapids are not really rapid, but it is a long trip and each child does his part to add to the crying. Occasionally my mom screams. We pass time trying to assess how long we have to go. We know we’re in trouble when Tyler breaks down. He had been the lone supporter on the escapade and watching him crumble was unnerving. “I just want it over already!” He bawled. “It’s forever!” We all agree and blankly set our sights ahead on the same tired, gorgeous scenery.

Then out of nowhere, Michael bursts with excitement and we all turn. “It’s the bridge!” We all cheer. With renewed energy, we plunge the oars into the water. Almost there! After four hours, I can no longer feel my arm, but I row, row, row my boat, to get myself off this river!

Okay, this isn’t the real black bridge but my mom couldn’t find my camera in the bag under all the soaked towels and then thanks to my massive arm strength, we passed it.

And then, cheers again from our boat. We see the parking lot. We have survived! We steer our raft to the gravelly shore. Rubber kisses rocks and we have docked. Howard takes one last poll before we depart. “Come on everyone, who had a good time?” Julius tentatively raises his hand and the other boys slowly follow. “Really, Julius? Would you want to go with daddy again?”

Julius quickly shakes his head. “No way! But at least no one fell in!

“Yeah, no way daddy!” Michael and Tyler concur.

“Let’s plan another adventure!” Howard suggests.

“No way!” We all chant, but I sense something brewing in the back of that man’s head. I really wish I could lift my arm to hit him with an oar.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/daily-prompt-nature/

The Sounds of Silence*

The Sounds of Silence*

My house screams with quiet. There are no feet stomping down the stairs. No yelling for the bathroom, or at each other for stealing a toy, or a friend. There are no iPods singing or ICarly chatting on the television. The Wii dance party has shut down and someone else will have to help Mario save the princess. The whirl of the electric Sponge Bob toothbrush has ceased. The crack of my son’s bat hitting a home-run, just an echo. No hamburgers sizzling or Kung foo battles. No sing-offs, or screaming fits over homework. No honk of the bus or for the friend being picked up. No more reading The Three Little Pigs over and over. No more tantrums for treats, or crying while washing hair. No more slammed doors, loud farts or chanting for “Ice cream!”  No more calming their cries. No more, “Mama, come.”

I can almost hear the cock of the Nerf gun, right before one of my little boys shoot me in the back; and my own voice as I sing my babies to sleep. Almost. The giggling and tickling, laughing and whining is gone. My feet scrape loudly in empty silence. It’s just so quiet now. It’s almost as if it all never happened.

*This is a response to the weekly WordPress writing challenge on the role of sound in writing.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/the-sound-of-silence/

Are We There Yet???

We were in the car for two and a half hours already. Howard, me, the three boys, Smiles, our bearded dragon and two salamanders we had hijacked on our last visit, who we now intended to return to the wild. The boys had played their video devices and watched a movie. It was time for the badgering to begin.

“Are we almost theeeeere????” Michael whined loudly.

“About 20 minutes.” I called back.

“Lizard check!” Howard yelled.

Smiles tank was precariously positioned in between seats and luggage, with an overhead heating lamp plugged into the cars’ adaptor hanging over it, since it should never be below 80 degrees. Howard had been randomly calling for checks on Smiles every five minutes or so.

 

“I can’t take it!” Michael cried. He was not a great traveler. None of the boys were but Michael was the loudest. Plus, his distress seemed to morph into physical symptoms. “My belly hurts!!!”

“We’re going to stop at the next exit. You can use the bathroom.”

“Lizard check!” Howard yelled again.

“No!! I don’t want to stop.”

“You can go to the bathroom.”

“I just want to be there!” He howled.

“Lizard check!”

We were stopping at the next exit whether he liked it or not. Already I could feel a restless excitement, my mouth watering in anticipation. It was like, how you can hold in your pee until you finally get to the door of your house, but then the urge becomes unbearable. Getting your keys out, opening the door, it’s almost as if there’s no way you can hold it one more minute when you’ve been holding it for an hour. That’s how I felt one exit away from Twin Cone, my country crack.

Twin Cone is one of those off-the-highway, stand-alone ice cream joints that scream 1950. It has flavors like Panda Paws and Play Dough. We pulled in and I took everyone’s order. My family is too lazy to even get out of the car. The waitress must deliver the goods to their waiting hands. Michael decided it was too much work to even go to the bathroom.

I get in line and tap my foot impatiently till I finally place my order – a cup of vanilla, a cone and a cup of peanut butter chocolate chip, a Play Dough, a Sponge Bob pop and sides of chocolate sprinkles and crunch. I run each ice cream over to the car as it’s completed. I also try a sample of low-fat chocolate yogurt. It is adorable on a mini cone, but tastes borderline disgusting. I dip it in sprinkles and eat it anyhow. I’m not one for waste.

Aww. Isn’t it cute?

I settle in the car, positioning my cup and the side of topping for optimal dipping. Everyone is busy licking and getting sticky. I place a spoonful in my mouth and let it melt on my tongue. Ah. I’m ready for another hit when Tyler asks for water. I pass it back and go for my spoon again.

“Mommy! It’s dripping!” Julius calls out and I place my ice cream down to rummage through my bag for wipes. I clean his lap and then his face.

“I need one too!” Tyler says. Why does my 10 year-old look worse off than the 4 year-old?

“I’m good” Michael says, by far the neatest of the three.

“Can you check on Smiles?” Howard requests, apparently his scheduled “lizard checks” from the boys not sufficient. His cone is almost polished off, while I’ve barely begun.  Checking on Smiles would require a trip to the back of the mini-van, kind of like walking through an airplane mid-flight with everyone’s luggage stored in the aisles.

“Can I eat my ice cream first?” I snap. There was a rising pool of melted vanilla around the edge of my cup that was making me edgy. My crazy needed to be fed.

“My belly hurts!” Michael wails. “I can’t eat this!”

I turn around and see his ice cream teetering on the edge of the seat. One bump and it’s on the floor. “Tyler,” I say nervously, “get me Michael’s cup please.”

After an exaggerated “why do I have to do everything” grimace, he hands it over where I place it safely in the garbage (Howard).

I get two spoons in before the calling winds up again.

“Mommy it’s dripping!”

“Mommy I’m done!”

“Oh no! I spilt!”

“Lizard Check!”

I’m about to explode, but decide to just ignore everyone and drink my ice cream. I stir in some sprinkles. It is cool, creamy goodness. I’m not answering anyone for a few minutes. I’m on a break.

“Are we almost there?!” Michael whines.

“Almost.” Howard says. “Less than 10 minutes to the bungalows!”

“Yay!” The boys cheer.

“Who wants to go river rafting?!” He booms.

“NO!” The boys protest.

“Then it’s settled!” Howard roars, with that crazy glimmer in his eye. “We go rafting!”

Everyone in the back seats begin to cry.

I continued eating. There was nothing I could do anyway. We were almost at the bungalows. The fun was just getting started.

The Cat Whisperer

Michael and Julius have a new friend. She’s about 75 years-old and lives on our block in a semi-rundown house. I have heard random gossip from the morning dog walkers that her recyclable garbage contains only wine bottles. Another neighbor labeled her a nasty, old lady.

Until recently, I had never met her. I knew her house, but like so many people who are close enough to touch, our paths never crossed. Then one day, while playing on our lawn, Michael and Julius spotted a black cat across the street. It became our activity for the next ten minutes to follow it. No matter how it scampered from us, we pursued. At least they did. I pursued them.  Finally, the cat stopped at her driveway, walked up toward the porch and laid out on the concrete, stretching like he owned the place, which he obviously did.

Photo of Marina by Michael

“Her name is Marina,” said a quiet voice off to the side.

I turn my head and notice a woman in a blue, flowered housedress sitting on an old kitchen chair on her porch. It’s not even a porch really, just a small, guard-railed area to stand and get your key out for the door.

“She’s a little skittish, but mostly playful. Come around to this side of her and pet her head.”

My boys listen and beam proudly when Marina rolls over for them and sticks her head under Michael’s hand for continued pleasure.

The woman goes on like she’s talking with a friend over tea. “I took her in. She was a street cat and it took a while to get her to trust me, but now she’s very comfortable. Not like that one.” She points, and we all turn to see another cat strut out of her open door, rub up against the leg of her chair and saunter down the steps. “That’s Valentine. He’s not nice.”

Valentine had Garfield’s body and Cujo’s expression. “I think he was abused.” The woman said and Michael and Julius automatically take a step back. Marina did as well. “You never know the story with rescue cats. Where they come from, what’s happened to them.”

Valentine photo by Michael

Two more cats emerged from the house, and Michael and Julius stared in awe. “Are they good?” Julius asked.

“That one’s Cocoa. She’s very friendly. And this here is Pumpkin, she’s sweet but very shy. I don’t think she’ll let you touch her.”

Michael and Julius slowly approached, with cartoon-quality, quiet faces and matching exaggerated, quiet steps. I almost expected them to turn around with a finger to their lips and go “Shhhh. I’m hunting wittle cats.”

Cocoa loved up their loving and, Pumpkin, as expected, stayed a safe distance away, jumping backwards anytime one of the boys invaded her space.

Photo of Cocoa by Michael

We stayed too long, the boys obsessed with the felines running round, and watching Valentine (“the meanie”) mess with the other cats, stalking and then pouncing on them. I said a few words to the woman, and she acknowledged me, but spoke mostly to the boys in a soft, adult-voice, schooling them on each cats temperament and history. The boys were fascinated, asking questions, listening, not just politely, but with interest. Wow.

There was no condescending baby talk. No, “Oh those are cute kids.” She spoke with my four and seven year-olds as equals. I wondered about her. Alone, in her house with her rescued cats and a reputation. I remembered she gave out inappropriate candy on Halloween the first year we lived here – sticky, wrapped hard candy, probably from a bowl sitting on her table for 5 or 50 years.  We never knocked again.

It was getting late. I was getting bored. “Guys, come on. We’ve got to go home.”

“That was so cool.” Michael exclaimed as they skipped back towards our house.

“Yeah!” Julius chimed in.

“Can we go back later?” Michael asked.

“Yeah!” Julius again concurred, nodding expectantly.

“No, not today guys. We were there long enough.”

“Can we get a cat?” Julius asked hopefully.

“Uh, we have a cat. Remember? Fuzz.”

“Yeah, but he’s boring.” Michael said glumly.

“He is not.” I defended poor Fuzzy. “Come on. Let’s go play with him”

We walked in our house and neither kid showed the slightest interest in Fuzz. “It’s okay, boy. I’ll play with you.” I cooed and stroked his fur.

We’ve been back to the cat lady at least half a dozen times now. She always steps out onto the porch in her house dress, like she’s been waiting for us. I know as little about her as I did the first day. The boys love going. They enjoy her conversation. They love her cats. They’ve won Marina and Cocoa over completely. Pumpkin is still a spectator but a less jumpy one, and “Meanie” Valentine is still not showing the love. I’m the real outsider. Watching. Waiting. Wondering. Do I really know any of my neighbors? Not really. So close. So distant. Who was she? Who is she?

Every so often I run in my neighborhood and sometimes notice her door left wide open. The gaping hole looks dark and empty and full of quiet, and I wonder, is she the one who needs to be rescued…?

They Say “Nay” to the Pony

They Say “Nay” to the Pony

Unofficial scientific research alert – boys don’t like pony tails.

At least mine don’t. And I’ve got three of the younger set, uninhibited by societal constraints. Unlike my trained husband who might just shrug and say, “It’s fine” to avoid confrontation, the boys tell it as they see it – the truth, in all its naked, cellulite reality.

Like when Michael was five and met an older neighbor walking in the street.

“Wow, you’re 90!” He exclaimed and the lady’s face lit up.

“You’re almost dead!” He continued and she seemed to die right there.

Or, like last night while snuggling with little Julius at bedtime, he’s happily squeezing my stomach, plumping it into a nice pillow. “Mommy,” he says adoringly, “your belly is so squishy like your boobies. I just love them.”

Thank you Julius.

For creatures who don’t notice the clothes I place before them, or that I’ve been asking them to do the same thing for five minutes, they seem to see things others don’t.

“Mommy, why does your stomach fall down like that?”

“I can’t go in the kitchen, what you’re cooking stinks soooooo bad!”

“What’s that big red bump on your face?”

And my ponytail? Michael, my most articulate child, says it best, “Mommy, you don’t look as pretty like that.” Well, thanks for sugar coating it, honey.

I’ve supported the pony look back in many incarnations; the banana clip, the scunci and scrunchies, the hair clips and clappers -anything to pull back my hair. I have even resorted to using those ridiculous ‘silly bands’ when desperate. (At least they’re good for something.)

I think of it as the hairstyle for the aesthetically lazy and/or overwhelmed, both me. I mean who knows what would happen if I just let my hair run wild at the supermarket? I might just pick up regular milk instead of low fat, organic or fricken Oreos instead of Annie’s Bunny Crackers.

Although the boys don’t like the style, I still wear it daily. Generally no one notices, but that’s only because I’ve realized that no one really notices me at all, but when they do, they don’t like it. 100% of the time.

Yesterday, Julius put a necklace he made at camp around my neck, then stepped back to survey his work. His expression read like an unsatisfied artist scrutinizing a canvass. “Take your hair out,” he ordered and I complied. He mussed with it a bit, and then smiled before finally nodding in approval. “Much Better.”

Whenever Tyler looks up from his haze enough to notice that I’m wearing one, he’ll wrinkle his nose and point. “I don’t like those.” When I go in to snuggle before bed, he’s apt to pull the band from my hair. “Better.” He’ll sigh.

I don’t know why, but I decided to stand in front of the mirror and I really study the look. I mean three boys were out and out saying they didn’t like it, I should it take under consideration.

Look A with hair down – I’m young and carefree, pretty and relaxed. I smile.

Look B with hair back – I’m busy. I’ve got things to do. Hurry up, I’m saying. This is serious. Chop chop! I’m a librarian, a school teacher, an ugly mom. Ew!

I flung the band from my head. They’re right. How could I not have seen this before? I blew the curls away from my eyes. Probably, I just didn’t care. And there again was the truth, I realized, and I tied back my mop, because ugly or not, I ain’t putting this pony out to pasture.

Fabulous

Hmm…

Mornin’ Sunshine

Mornin’ Sunshine

It’s the first thing I want to see every morning. I’m drawn to it like Jen to Brad, like Brad to Angie, like Angie to voodoo. Usually I could find it in the dark, with my eyes half-closed and make it work its magic, but not this morning. This morning, the worst thing has happened, my Keurig is on the fritz.

My Keurig coffee maker has been my morning happiness for over five years now. I see it and Om, which is the exact opposite of my state at present. I’m desperately opening the front hatch and closing it, ineffectually pulling out the plug and restarting, but so far, my dealer won’t deal. I shake it. Where’s my cup full of happiness, damn you!!!

Wild-eyed, I’m staring at the little coffee pods, trying to figure if I can open one, dump out the grinds and just add hot water.  It could work, I reason.  I’m in the process of ripping off the top of one with my teeth, when Tyler catches me.

“Whatcha doing mommy?” Tyler asks, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Maybe he’ll just think mommy’s madness is a bad dream. “Nothing.” I say in a high pitched voice. I sound wired, when I am anything but. “I just can’t get this dang thing to work.” I fake a weird laugh. Now I’m Snow White meets Marilyn Manson.

“Oh.” He is unaffected. “Can I have breakfast?”

“Sure.” I distractedly put a bowl, a carton of milk and a box of cereal on the table in front of him and turn my aggravation back toward the machine.

Two minutes later, I’m still futzing, repeating the same obsessive tactics to no avail when I again hear, “Can I have breakfast?”

I turn. “Tyler. It’s right in front of you.”

He doesn’t even look at it. “But you usually pour it for me and everything.”

I do? Hmmm. Suddenly even with the fuzzy, caffeine-withdrawn head, I’m having a moment of clarity. “Uh baby, you’re 10. I think you can pour your own cereal.”

“But you do it better.” He almost whines but manages a cute, sleepy smile again.

Two other boys bound in. “Hi mommy!” They chime. “Mommy I want pancakes! And bring them in the TV room. With milk.” Michael orders. “Me too.” Julius mimics. “And I want cereal too. All kinds, mixed together.”

They bound out. I look around confused. Did they just place their order as if I am their waitress? I look to Tyler for validation. He looks at me with an equally dumbfounded expression, then says, “Uh mommy. I’m waiting. And you forgot the spoon.”

Wow. I’m still reeling from the breakfast orders when Howard strides in, talking full steam ahead. “You’ve got to pick up the dry cleaning today. And do you know where Tyler’s chest guard is? If it’s in the dirty laundry you need to have it clean by tonight. I might need you to pick me up at the train and bring a sandwich or something. And remember the bags and water and stuff.”

I nod absently as he rushes out, places a quick kiss on my cheek. “See you later.” He pops his head back in. “We also need crickets for Smiles.” Then he’s gone.

I’m processing my second set of orders when there’s a yell from the other room.  “Mommy!  Where are my pancakes!”

“And cereal!” a little voice adds.

Tyler is still looking at me expectantly. I ignore him. I’m having a moment. I might explode. All it will take is one more…, “Mommy,” Tyler interrupts. “Did you charge my iTouch last night?”

That was it. He has no idea what he’s in for. I’m about to tell him that that if he can’t pour his own cereal, he certainly can’t have an iTouch that he can’t even be responsible to charge! He needs to start doing things for himself. I can’t believe I let this go on so long. What was I thinking?!

“Tyler,” I open my mouth to speak and simultaneously hear the sound of liquid dripping into a cup. I quickly cock my head like a soap opera character listening to her contemplative inside voice. Something is calling me. I cannot resist. I move in and smell the warm, rich aroma filling my cup. Breathe. Breathe. I watch it gurgle to its finish, add a splash of milk and sip. Mmmmm. Om. Happiness. I lean up against the counter, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, just enjoying my moment. I am right next to the silverware draw. Unconsciously, I pull it open and take out a spoon for Tyler. It’s all good.

Mornin’ Sunshine.

Grandma Has Landed

There’s a fly buzzing around my kids’ heads at the kitchen table. They jerk reflexively out of its path, but know better than to swat at it. “Is that Grandma?” My eight year-old asks.

I shrug a knowing, little smile. “Could be. Either way, the fly is our friend.”

“But grandma keeps going around my head. It’s annoying,” complains my oldest son.

“Maybe she wants to say she’s thinking of you.”

He nods, somewhat appeased.

“Or,” I reconsider. “That you need a haircut. Yup, that’s it.”

“Aw. Come on!” He protests.

“Blame Grandma.” I say and push the hair from his eyes.

“I want gramma!” mumbles my five year-old with a mouthful of macaroni.

I look at them warmly and feel a spark of my grandmother’s pride. I am now the matriarch of my own beautiful clan. Beautiful and innocent. It is the gift of childhood; my stuffed animals are really alive, why can’t grandma be a fly?

Of course, she wasn’t always a fly. For all my years, she was the Queen Bee. Grandma Bebe – the most wonderful, fascinating and formidable woman I ever had the honor to know, love and be loved by; a woman from an era of class and balls rarely seen today.

For years before she passed, she was home bound, long-suffering with her hip, back and other calamities of age that do its best to damage life’s dignity. My grandmother refused to be diminished, certainly not in people’s eyes. Instead, she refused visits and exercised her influence from the phone.

It was she who insisted, wistfully when she longed to see me or my children or spitefully when I was brave (or stupid) enough to poo-poo her power, that she would return as a fly on my wall and make sure things were as they should, meaning as she liked. If they weren’t, well, the implication was threatening. I wondered if she could still throw shoes from the after-life.

It was a month after she passed, on a cold winter day that brought night before its time. I was on the phone with my father. He was troubled, which meant trouble for me. As I heated up with frustration, a fly from nowhere, circled my body and landed on my hand. It rested there and as I gaped, it stared back. Grandma had come to comfort me. I accepted it as I accepted the sun.

So grandma is a fly, as well as the lox on my bagel, and licking my lips before chocolate cake and scratching the backs of my boys. She’s living and breathing in my heart. I hear her smoky voice in my head, or her words coming from my cousin’s mouth. I miss her presence, but I do love knowing that sometimes she’ll still fly down for a visit and buzz “What’s doing, pussycat?” in my ear.

My door is always open, Gma.