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Monthly Archives: November 2013

You have to read to understand

Spoiler alert: This post reveals plot secrets from The Fault in our Stars.

Last night I lost someone dear to me. He was young, not yet 18 but cancer doesn’t always care for age, or for charm or for a life worth living. I spent only a week or so getting to know him, growing to love him. His name was Augustus Waters, a boy fashioned from runaway words and grand gestures, who taught me that there can be an infinity of life in only a few breaths of time, to see the vigorous green of grass, the beauty of a blind man tossing eggs at an ex-girlfriends car, and that the loss of limb doesn’t mean you lose the sparkle in your eyes.

I admit I never actually met Augustus. I only got to know him in my head, a voyeur on a life I wasn’t really a part of, eavesdropping on private conversations and inner thoughts. But I loved him, because really, you don’t have to meet someone for their story to touch or move or change you.

Today, I still think about Augustus because he was so special, but I have new lives to distract me. Lenke and Josef, who met and married before WWII, lost each other and have somehow, through the unexplainable beauty of the universe re-found themselves in the golden years of life.

I am just getting to know them, but soon, they will be rounded out and real enough to hug. I will learn their full story, and I will cherish them as I have Augustus and so many others. Because each book I read is a secret window into another world, with some fascinating people but often with ordinary ones, but always ones who capture my affection and my imagination.

I don’t know where I’d be without the comfort and joy of books. They are a gift in my life that sheltered me when I was young from the shouting in my house and the noises in my head. From the first, my palette was insatiable. Truly, I cannot be without a book. It makes me edgy, not to have a place I can run to and hide or fly or laugh or cry.

I open a book and I open my life. So thank you Madeline L’Engle , Judy Blume, Jonathon Tropper, Herman Hesse, Ayn Rand, Larry McMurtry, Jean M. Auel, V.C. Andrews, Sydney Sheldon, James Michener, Ken Follett, Jane Austen, John Green and so so so many others for creating stories and lives that inspire and engage me; for lifting me up and bringing me down just when I needed them, for making me see the world through someone else’s eyes, challenge my mind and grow my heart.

I know the sun will rise and fall on every life someday. We are just breaths of air, but pages are breaths filled with cinnamon and spice that draw you in and make you want to take their face in your hands and kiss them, whether on each cheek or full on the mouth.

Even when I turn that final page, I carry you all with me.

Augustus has died. Long live Augustus.

fault in stars

You got to go with Aunt Flo. Or she will destroy you.

My Aunt Flo is due to visit tomorrow, and I have to say I’m just a bundle of anxiety. I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s always like this, even though she comes every month. Still, somehow I’m consistently taken off guard and unprepared for her visit. I fidget nervously. I’m a bit on edge. Nothing seems right and I have to fix everything before she arrives. Everything!

The pictures on the wall have magically all tilted overnight, and there’s cat hair all over the place. It’s also apparently too difficult for anyone to put their cereal bowls in the sink, or manage to reach the hamper with their dirty underwear. Seriously, are those extra two inches just too much?

Don’t they realize the stress I’m under? She’ll be here any minute.

“Is something wrong?” My husband asks, as I straighten the toys up for the kabillenth time, huffing and puffing and deep sighing, tossing toys with gusto into their bins. Stupid Superman figure. His face is so annoying. He makes me sick. I hurl him into the bin.

“What do you mean?” I snap. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s the same old wrong of every day. Why are you badgering me?!”

He looks afraid, and slowly backs away.

“Where is the freaking phone?” I yell to the air. I was holding it a second ago. A second! Oh, it’s still in my hand. My bad.

There’s too much to do. I need something to eat. And it has to be sweet. I need it right now. I head to freezer and take out my ice cream tub and spoon out five scoops to my usual three, then reconsider, and add another scoop.  I shove the container back into the freezer but something is wrong. It doesn’t close properly no matter how much I slam it. I slam it again! It’s not closing! I can not deal with that right now! I need to eat.

I’m consuming my bowl unconsciously; my brain thinking ahead of all the things that need to be done that aren’t done, and all the things wrong that might never be right, when my son comes in and asks for a cup of milk.

I nod, and reach into the fridge, but there is no milk. There is no milk! How did I let that happen? I’m usually so on top of stuff like that. I am a terrible mom. How do I not have milk for my children?

Tears start to well.

“I’ll have juice, mommy.” My son says, sensing my distress. Overwhelmingly grateful for my sensitive child, I hand him a little box of juice and he runs away happy. He’s so good and sweet. I’m so bad and disgusting.

When my husband comes back in, he finds me sobbing, kicking the freezer door trying to close it.

Tentatively, he steps towards me.

“There’s no milk,” I say.

“It’s okay.” He soothes. He’d better not laugh. If he does, I might kick him next.

I take a deep breath to regroup, and find my ice cream.

It’s all Aunt Flo. She’s making me crazy.

Because the only thing worse than waiting for Aunt Flo is when Aunt Flo is late.

Sometimes, you’ve got to go with the Flo. 

photo credit:


Sometimes, you just got to take a shot

“Get your shoes on. We’ve got to go.”

This is the way it has to work. No explanation. No sweet talk. All business.

My three boys casually ignore me, focusing on SpongeBob.  Sometimes, I really want to wring that sponge.

“Ahem!” I say loudly. “Let’s get a move on. Now!”

My “Now” sounds like it looks, all exclamation points, but amazingly, they don’t hear it that way and slowly amble toward their shoes.

“Where are we going?” my oldest asks, but I brush off his question.

“No questions. Time to go.”

My two youngest race out the door.

“So where are we going?” My oldest persists, and because he’s eleven and has showed progress and maturity these past couple of years, I tell him.

“Oh.” He says anxiously, eyes wide.  “Do they know?” He gestures toward the happy faces climbing over each other in the minivan.

I shake my head no.

“Can I tell them?” He asks, eyes glinting.

“Wait till we’re closer. The less crying I have to hear the better.”

He nods happily. We’re in cahoots now.

During the seven minute drive, the secret spreads like a low hum across the car, reaching my youngest as we pull in, his eyes alight with panic. While the other boys wait, I patiently try to coax him from the car.

“Come on,” I plead. “It’s so quick. You didn’t even cry last year.” Uh, except for the half hour preceding it, of course.

He backs away, deeper into the third row.

Realizing negotiation was futile, I not so patiently pick up his flailing, twisting body and carry him. Once inside, he calms some, until the doctor appears smiling, with his Tweety and Sylvester tie and a syringe. It is a semi-creepy combination.

Oldest boy goes and takes it in arm like a pro.

Middle boy goes and barely bats one of his ridiculously long lashes.

Youngest boy… where is youngest boy? Sigh.

I pull him out from under the patient table and talk gently to him as he struggles to pull away. I show him how happy his big brothers are and he kicks at the doctor. I promise him treats when he’s done, but he is like a rabid baby bear covered in butter in my arms.

Finally, I restrain him enough for the three seconds it takes the doctor to insert the needle and it’s over.

My boy takes his time breathing heavily, recovering from his experience. “See, it’s really not that bad,” I coo, petting his curls. “It’s over so fast. You were very brave.”

He looks up, baby brown eyes still moist with tears, and utters two words full of indignation, “Toy store.”

I nod in agreement.

“Then treat!”

The kid may not be good at taking shots, but he’s certainly good at calling them.

Just hold still. This won't hurt a bit.

Just hold still. This won’t hurt a bit.

What’s really wrong with men

My head is cloudy. My body aches. I’m a drippy, stuffy mess, but as mom, there’s no time for that, no time at all. Children must be corralled, lunches made, activities organized. So even though I’d like to lie down, close my eyes and nap, I’m moving and shaking, although the shaking might just be from the chills.

My husband comes downstairs, a look of exhaustion fixed on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, busy doing what needs to be done.

“I can’t breathe,” he says. Can you hand me a tissue?” He looks at me pleadingly, like a little boy.

“Here,” I say annoyed and hand him the tissue box. Can’t I have this sick day? Can’t being sick even be about me?  “Would you like a sticker now?” I ask sarcastically.

“Maybe some juice?” He makes puppy eyes, but at the moment, I just think he’s a dog.

I try to take a deep calming breath but my nose is stuffed, so I just swallow a little mucus and choke, but no one notices. If I wasn’t so weary, I might have something snarky to say. Instead I just hand him a cup of juice, but I do it with a scowl.

Because if he has a cold it seems like pneumonia.

If he’s nauseous, he’s hacking in the bathroom some inhuman sound reserved for dying animals.

If he’s under the weather, it’s a blizzard in Minnesota.

So  while there’s definitely something wrong with my husband, mainly he just sucks at being sick. And if I’m not feeling well, his symptoms somehow worsen. Not that I think he does it consciously, but…

Me- I don’t feel so well.

Him – Me either.

Me – My head hurts.

Him – Mine too. And my throat.

Me – That’s weird.

Him – Yeah, I’m really achy.

Me – Really?

Him – Yeah, In fact, I think I need to lie down. Could you make me soup?”

Apparently, women aren’t allowed to be sick. Ever.

And it’s not just my husband. I’m prepared to throw all men under the bus here. According to women everywhere, men just can’t handle the pain. They wheeze and whine, they moan and complain, they need lollipops and cool compresses, while the wives nurse the baby while standing up, cooking dinner and overseeing homework, all with a 103 temperature, a broken leg and three broken arms. Yeah, three.

It makes me re-think some of the turns of phrase I randomly use without thinking, like “Take it like a man” or “Man up.”

How did these become part of the vernacular? I think ‘Take it like woman’ is more appropriate and from now on I’m telling my boys to ‘Mom up’, because if there’s something we know how to do, it’s suffer.

Don’t bother passing me the tissues, I’ll just get them myself.


Marital Disclaimer: Just to be clear and not because he’s reading this, my husband is very manly. He’s the coach of everything, he kills spiders, climbs ladders, fixes stuff and likes nothing more than chips on the couch and sports on the TV. In fact, my husband can beat up your husband, unless of course he’s sick.

Meet Prince Charming

“I did not eat the chocolate!” My five year old insists, brown smudges decorating his face and hands.

“Are you sure?” I question, my eyes pointing at his conscience, trying to pierce his resolve.

His smile is wide; little white baby teeth dirty with his lie.

“I’m totally sure, mom. Totally!” He brings his face of evidence near mine and even though he smells delicious and looks delicious, I push him back a little. I don’t want chocolate on my shirt. It’s only 8am. I try to wait until at least 9am, once I am out of the house and in public to get stained.

His mouth is sticking to his story but his eyes, as always, twinkle with mischief. They speak the truth. He knows I know. If he knew how to wink, he would.

“So, how did you get all that chocolate on your face,” I ask.

“What chocolate, mommy?” He laughs. “There’s no chocolate on my face.”

“What about your hands.” I say. “What’s that?”

He looks down at the brown stains and jumps up and down with uncontrollable glee. “That’s dirt mommy. I’m very dirty.”

“Well that’s true at least.” I nod. “Now go take your dirty hands into the bathroom and wash them.”

He flashes a smile like Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise before he sleeps with Thelma and steals all her money, then skips away.

I know the smile well. His two older brothers share the same gift.


In less than 10 seconds, he’s back. “Look, I washed my hands.” He says and shoves wet little fingers, still smudged with chocolate in front me to drip on my pants.

“Great.” I say, getting up to retrieve a paper towel. “I think you forgot to dry them.”

He stands in front of me waiting, a smile playing on his lips.

“Yes?” I ask, amused.

“I found something.”

Immediately my brow arches. “Really?”

He runs off, his voice trailing behind him, “And I didn’t take it from your bag.”

He returns with a dollar bill.

“Hmm. Where did you get that?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” He sings, “But I didn’t take it from your bag.”

“That’s good because if I check and see it’s missing, I might think you took it and then you’d be in big trouble.”

A furrow crosses his brow.

“I’ll be right back.” He says and runs off again.

I wash the dishes while I wait, and wonder what was in that stolen contraband he ate this morning.

“I’m hungry.” he says when he returns.

“Well, you didn’t have breakfast. Want cereal?”





“I want these!” He produces two chocolates from his Halloween bag.

Of course.

“Pleaseeee! I’ll have them with pancakes, eggs and cereal, and then I totally won’t have any more snacks today.” He oversells his smile, his eyes glinting with delight. I can only shake my head, enchanted.

Watch out girls.

I can tell, he's got you already.

I can tell, he’s got you already.

Hanging by a Thread

The last time I remember wearing the skirt was almost 12 years ago. I was not quite three months pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were at a birthday dinner for an old friend. I think it was his 35th. We sat in a u-shaped formation where everyone laughed loudly and talked over one another; dishes of Italian specialties spread across the table on steaming, over full plates.

I picked at my pasta merrily. The waistband of the skirt wrapped snugly against my middle; and for the first time I wasn’t worrying about holding in my stomach, just about holding in our secret. I looked around at all the faces animated in happy excitement; people more like family than friend. My cup was void of wine but I felt drunk on love.

I had worn the skirt before. It was one of those items that seamlessly blended into life outside my closet. I wore it to parties and to meetings at work. I wore it to wakes and showers. As time marched on, I wore it less and less. Yet, on the right occasion it would make an appearance. “Can you believe I’ve had this skirt since before I was married,” I’d say and twirl around, so everyone could see how fabulously practical and cute I was, and how it still fit.

Today, twelve years after my last vivid memory in it, I wore it to a funeral.

I sat in the pew, looking down at my hands, and picked at the threads of the skirt that I had noticed were beginning to fray. So many familiar faces surrounded me, there to pay respects to my step-father’s brother, who died too young after suffering with a long illness. We were all older, sad. We looked more worn; the wrinkles beginning to show and in some cases crease from the wear and tear of everyday living.

I listened to the kind, sorrowful words about a good man from his loved ones left behind. I looked in front of me, where two brothers sat and the third now lay. Tears slipping silently, I tried not to think of the dark reality of life and played with a string on the hem of my skirt, trying to pull it off and instead making it unravel even further.

Life just keeps going.

All of these people here are the faces who had been there through the moments; the big ones like weddings and holidays; the small ones like playing a round of golf and having a good pastrami sandwich. They are a comfort that you wear like a favorite tee shirt.

Or an old skirt.

My step-father’s brother is gone, along with so many others, like my friend whose birthday party I celebrated back then. He died just seven years later.

But the skirt is still with me.