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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Meaning of a Kiss

My father calls just as we are about to leave the car.

It’s his third call of the day.

“Don’t pick up,” my husband instructs, fixing me with a hard stare.

But I do, immediately rummaging through my bag for a chocolate kiss and popping one in my mouth. Sugar calms. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“Hi Dad,” I say pleasantly, the sweetness softening my tongue. “You’re at your doctor appointment?”

“Yes,” he grumbles dejectedly, sounding lost and faraway, which he is. “But they are taking a long time.”

“Let’s go,” My husband interrupts, exiting the car and opening the back door to release the children. I shoot him my nasty eye glare, which he returns to me with his own give-me-a-break eye roll. Touche.

“Don’t worry,” I hurriedly assure my father, the last bits of patience dissolving in my mouth. “There’s plenty of time.”

I hang up mildly abruptly, the only way with him, and hurry to catch up with my husband and our three boys who are already headed into the hospital to visit my husband’s aunt.

She has some health problems, but the biggest is her progressing dementia. Still, she nods pleasantly when we arrive; possibly happy to see us, possibly uncertain who we are.

We try to prompt some conversation but quickly realize that a polite, vacant, ‘No thank you’, ‘yes’, or ‘I don’t know’ is as much as she’s capable of giving. It’s uncomfortable and ultimately we give up on talk, instead opting to hyper focus on our blissfully ignorant boys as they spin quarters across the table.

They are too wild, but she doesn’t really seem to notice; her line of vision both straight ahead and internal. Remembering her fondness for sweets, I find some more chocolate kisses and set them in front of her. Slowly she reaches for one, automatically unwrapping it, and placing it in her mouth. I feel a childish pride in her acceptance and wish I had something more to offer.

Suddenly without prompting, she announces to everyone and no-one, “Time for bed.”

My husband and I look at each other startled. Was she asking us to leave? Were my boys too loud? I immediately stop the game of quarters.

Shortly after, we say our good-byes and leave her sitting in the same seat we found her, still staring straight ahead; her aged fingers slowly working the silver foil of another chocolate.

Back in the car, I notice a missed call from my father. Taking a deep breath, I dial his number and unconsciously search my bag for another kiss, which soothes me the moment it touches my lips. It makes me think of my husband’s aunt, sitting straight and placid; seemingly unaffected by our visit, her mouth full of chocolate but no words, and wonder if she was doing the same with us.





You say middle. I say center.

When my middle son was born, he wasn’t yet my middle son, he was the baby. Yet even then, some of his strong characteristics seemed to foreshadow another baby in our future. Like tantrums. Serious tantrums that would leave us with our heads cocked like a retriever or wondering if he needed medical attention. And social acuity. He would chat up the postman, a dog walker, a teacher. He was always finding a lap to sit on that wasn’t necessarily mine. He was the boy I worried would happily get in the car for free candy. He didn’t even need the candy, just a ready ear for his chatty little mouth.  And negotiation skills? Dang if that kid couldn’t sell a fur coat to a cat.

He had middle written all over him.

Two and a half years later, he officially was a middle child, and not just a middle child, a middle boy between two boys. Double whammy. I focused all my attention on giving him attention. I would ignore the baby in front of him and say things like, “He can wait. What do you need?”I carved out time especially for him. “Just you and me.” Wink wink. “Let’s go get donuts.” I allied myself with him. “We’re the only ones in the family with green eyes. We see better in the dark. We’re like super heroes.”

I thought that if I was careful of his feelings and was extra attentive, that we would sidestep the middle child syndrome altogether.

But he wouldn’t let me do it.

When I ignored the baby, he’d remind me that I should check on him. When I offered time alone, often he’d turn me down or enlist one of his brothers to come along. When I allied myself with him, he’d call me out. “That’s not true mommy.”

I wanted to protect him but the more I focused on him, the more he fought it off. It was like he already had a shield of armor around his heart which pretty much broke mine. I thought I had sealed his fate and he was punishing me.

But really he was unconsciously fighting against this notion that there was something wrong with him or at least his lot in life. Always the defender of justice, he wanted what the other boys got, no more, no less.

I had made a mistake. I was so worried, I was over doing it. He fit in just fine with his own unique gifts; his own strengths and weaknesses.

There is nothing wrong with being a middle child. It’s the center of things. And that’s usually where he is in most situations, right in the center. If his older brother is having an argument, he’ll interject himself into it. If his younger brother is vying for another snack, he’ll point out why I should give him one. If there’s a playdate somewhere, he needs to be on it.

He’s the only one of my children to really put himself out there and take chances. He’s the bold one; the one who will try things (Well, except food, but that’s a whole different topic.), the one who speaks his mind; who isn’t afraid of mistakes. He’s super stubborn, independent, responsible, a skillful manipulator, sensitive and full of fire.

No matter the labels, my kid knows who he is.

He is my baby.

And he’s right where he belongs.

Beginning, middle and end of story.

Go the F%$! to sleep. Oh, fine. One more hug.

“Mama!” I hear him yell from his bedroom; his need finding me, even though I’m downstairs in the kitchen cutting an apple for my older son.

“Mama!” He yells again and I roll my eyes. I’ve specifically told him not to call for me, that I will be there shortly.

Even at six years-old, lying with him at night is a non-negotiable. I love it more than it annoys me, which I repeatedly remind myself as his calls become more insistent.

I could enjoy relaxing with him more if I didn’t feel anxious about also getting the other boys into bed. If I didn’t hear the loud tick-tock of the clock in my head, announcing with every beat that it’s getting later and later; that I won’t have any time for myself and my husband, that they will not get enough sleep, that they are stomping on my last nerve and I might just snap, ruining a perfectly good day in the very last minutes.

I finish slicing and trudge upstairs to my oldest son’s room where he is reading a Tom Green book and happy for the snack. I note that he is fully dressed, and even though I’d rather he be studying his vocabulary for a test tomorrow, I hold my tongue on both counts. He’s eleven. I need to cut him some slack. Besides, I’ve told him twice already.

I stop in my middle guy’s room to tell him to stop shooting basketballs and get in bed. He continues shooting, so I tense, preparing for battle. “Just let me make this shot!” He bargains, sensing the imminent loss of his ball. I accept his compromise thankfully, confrontation averted.

Finally, I head to my youngest son’s room. He’s hiding under his covers, preparing to jump out and shout ‘BOO!’ He does it every night. I used to feign surprise but now I just tousle his head. “Boo yourself.”

“I wasn’t supposed to call for you.” He admits. “But I did.”

“I heard you.”  I say, pushing a long dark curl away from his face.

“But you took sooooo long.” He complains.

“You were supposed to be relaxing.” I scold, but not really.

He nuzzles closer, unzipping the extra sweatshirt I’m always wearing because even in the house I’m cold, and tucks his little arms in and around me.

“Stay for 10 minutes.” He coos, snuggling his face against my chest.

He still loves squishing into my boobs. Since he was three, he’s been trying to cop a feel.

“Two minutes.” I whisper, feeling my insides go mushy at the soft curve of his cheek, the long lashes, and pouty mouth. With his eyes closed, he still looks so much the baby and I tenderly kiss his fat cheek that’s not as chubby as it used to be.

“Mama!” My middle son yells. “Tickle!”

“One minute.” I call out.

My baby instinctively pulls me closer. “No, not yet.”

I pet his head and kiss him again, knowing it’s time to go, wanting to go, but afraid of the day he’ll just let me, so we cling to each other a little more.

“Mama.” I hear the voice of my oldest. “Come.”

I really want them all to be sleeping. It’s late. I’m tired. I want to relax and watch Modern Family. But I can’t stop myself from taking the moment to baby each one of them; to remind them that they’re still little and special and mine.

It’s time to go, and I gently but forcibly extract myself.

There are still two more rooms to visit.

Sweet faker

Such a faker

Such a faker

Say Cheese!

I know some just think it’s a rat hole, but for years Chuck E. Cheese was my saving grace to save my sanity.

The boys may have been having a day where every word came out a wailing cry of whine, but the moment we stepped foot into the Cheese, all tears were dried, all woes forgotten, all snot just a smear on a sleeve.

They would take their golden coins and scamper away; walking up the skeeball machine to plop their balls in as high as they could reach, going from game to game swiping off any leftover tickets, getting stuck in the habit trail, forcing me to push another child up there on a search and rescue mission, before ultimately having to squash up there myself to save them both.

We’d be the first ones there, lay claim to a booth in the back and get deep-dish pizza to share even if it was only 10am. By the time the crowds piled in, just before noon, my kiddies and I had already retrieved our prizes and grabbed either a dollar ice cream from the machine or a bag of cotton candy to go. It was all sugary smiles, crappy toys, and children falling asleep in the car on the way home.

Cheesy heaven.

But that was a long time ago.

With all the kids now in full time school and the strict never on weekends rule – I may be crazy but I’m not that crazy – we hadn’t been there in close to a year. So when we had a random day off last week, I decided to surprise them with an impromptu visit. By the time we hit the parking lot there were cheers of ‘Best mom eva!” and I parked the car trying to see past my own giant head.

We walked in and stopped cold, our mouths hanging open in ‘Waaaaaa’. This was no Velvetta, this cheese had gone organic. The place had been renovated completely. It was shiny and new. The hamster tunnels were no more. There was open space and new games sparkling through the sun drenched windows.

My boys had a beat where they almost couldn’t move, then with frenzied joy tripped over themselves in excitement. I handed them each 50 tokens and didn’t see them again for two hours. Okay, not true. It took them less than an hour to burn through those tokens, but it was a damn good hour.

We had the run of the place, with only two other families to share the space with us. One was a mother and a four year old bouncing around from game to game. The other was a mother pushing a baby carriage and dragging a screaming three year old. She was so stressed and miserable, even more so than her boy in the midst of a meltdown.

I felt bad for her. I really did. I understood perfectly the stress of an overwhelmed mom. I mean it wasn’t that long ago that I was somewhat in her shoes, but she was barking at him, “You brat! Stop it this instant!” over and over, like yelling at him was going to make him stop crying, instead of making him cry more, which is exactly what he did.

I tried not to focus on them, and instead on my happy day with my boys; although every now and then I’d sneak a glance. It was hard not to, the kid was losing it and the mother was having a nervous breakdown among a thousand happy blinking lights and bleeping games. It was almost a cinematic masterpiece.

I wanted to tell her to calm down. To let him have his tantrum. That it would be okay. That she would be okay. And losing it and lashing out at a three year old wasn’t going to make him or her feel any better. But I didn’t know any of those things really, so all I did was smile encouragingly, and make a light handed comment about kids being counted on to crack just when you needed them to stay glued together. She didn’t respond. I saw the furrow of her brow, the tight hunch of her shoulders, stress dripping off of her and knew she was in a really ugly moment.

I caught a glimpse of them leaving; her pushing the carriage with one hand, dragging her wailing son with the other as my son pulled me away to a machine which was spitting out a million tickets; his face lit brighter than the game. “Mommy! I won!” I smiled indulgently; so much happy for so little invested.

We stayed for another half hour, going through 20 more tokens each. before we redeemed our tickets, got some sweets and skipped out the door. It had been a perfect morning. As we drove away, my boys busy breaking the trinkets they won, sticky sweets on their hands and faces, talking loudly over one another with residual excitement; I looked back at them lovingly through the rear view mirror.

At 6, 8 and 11, they are growing up so fast. Soon they’ll probably only hang out with me kicking and screaming, or at least muttering and eye-rolling. But I’ll take it. I’ll take every day I’ve got with them. The good, the bad, the ugly.  I’m going to appreciate it all.

Cheesy as it may sound.

Never follow men with candy, but always follow mice with tickets.

Never follow men with candy, but always follow mice with tickets.



Burnt pans, burst bubbles and a visit to the dark side

I am hunched over the sink, applying heavy pressure on my dishwashing brush to rub the burnt remains from the skillet; yet no matter how much or hard I scrub the dark coal like coating refuses to budge. 

Frustrated, I search impatiently under the sink for scouring pads, hoping the extra abrasion will do the trick. All the while, I’m cursing myself for forgetting about the chicken stir fry on the burner when I ran to bring my middle son a cup of milk, and got distracted by the toy explosion on the carpet when my bare foot met the wrath of Lego Luke Skywalker.

My middle and oldest sons staring blankly at the television screen don’t even bat an eye in my direction as I yelp like a cat whose tail just got stepped on and hop carefully to the couch, avoiding the Lego Storm Troopers strategically scattered for optimal injury. As I plop down and clutch my foot tenderly, I hear my youngest cry accusingly, “You stepped on Luke!”

I’m raising such compassionate children.

Hobbling back toward the kitchen, my crushed tail between my legs, I heard my oldest son yell “Hungry” and smelled before I saw the dinner that would never be. And so I scrub, my hair falling in my face which I brush away unconsciously with hands I forget are wet.

Sighing heavily to myself, I push on, attacking the char with a vengeance while contemplating whether I should just give up and order a pizza or make it a breakfast for dinner night.

Of course I decide to make eggs; not allowing myself the comfort of easily solving a problem with a phone call.  That would be weak and doesn’t work with the martyred status I have going on in my own head.

A thought bubbles to the surface as it does sometimes when I’m folding endless laundry, or negotiating with my children to do their homework, or scrubbing a pan, and I wonder, is this really me?

How did I get to be 40 something? Where did these children come from? Wait, I’m married? It wasn’t so long ago that I fluttered through my days carefree and open. There was youthful insecurity of course, and uncertainty, but my face glowed with freshness and my eyes twinkled with possibility.

I didn’t know exactly who I was back then, but I knew I could be somebody. Somebody smart, successful, important…something.

Yet, here I am.

I realize I’ve tainted the picture with my negative tone; that if I just cast a rainbow filter on the scene, I could make it look comical or at the very least just an average mom day. The right lighting shows off the best side of things. With good lighting you don’t see all the wrinkles.

It would help if one of my boys came in right now to give me a hug, just because. It happens sometimes.

But not today.

So it seems that besides the scrubbing, I’ve also got some ironing to do.

I will not go to the dark side.

Among dancing queens, I am the jester

I snuck in the back, hoping no one would notice me. Not that they would. They reeked of confidence in their best Lululemons, while I probably reeked of something far less appealing in my sweaty maternity clothes circa 2007.

But I was here none the less; finally finding the courage to try the class I spent months peering at longingly through the glass partition, somehow always managing to catch the eye of this one girl who definitely thinks I’m a stalker.


It was even more intimidating on the inside. I watched crowds of ladies trying to muscle for prime position in front of the mirror.  They were lionesses, and standing center stage, prowling back and forth in purple stretch pants was the pride of the pack.

The music began and the class automatically started moving. I searched frantically for Purple pants for guidance, but she just paced the front line of her domain, relying on her pack who knew every move. Except of course me, a girl in front of me, and one girl two rows up who seemed always to be going left when everyone else was going right. I loved that girl.

There were no prompts or instruction. It was survival of the fittest and it soon became clear that I wouldn’t survive. Still, I huffed along, semi-following, jerking my body this way and that.

Arm up. Hip swivel. Step step. Swivel. Arm down. I mean, Arm down. Hip swivel. Step step step. Arm up.

No! It’s arm up then down. Hip pivot left. Pivot right. Step step. Arm. Kick? How’d I miss the kick? Okay, again. I think I almost got it. Wait. No! Not a new move! I was 10 seconds away from getting the last one!

Just keep moving. Puff. Huff. Man! I can’t even huff and puff in the right order! Pretend to follow along. Turn left. Turn right… into the flowing hair dancing queen next to me. Oops. She doesn’t miss a beat or acknowledge. Wow. Ain’t nothin gonna breaka her stride. Oh no.

The whole class is a bunch of gyrating hips, swinging like wild. Even Purple pants. I can’t stop staring at one girl near me whose butt just naturally rotates on spin cycle while I feel like I am trying out for a bad porn movie that I definitely won’t get cast in. Her butt swivel is beautiful and hypnotic. All of a sudden I’m craving a milkshake.

The move suddenly changes and she and everyone else flip around. I’m now face to face with the girl who thinks I stalk her. Greaaaaat. Brief awkward smile and the dance flips again. I watch her conspicuously drift right and a lot further up front. Really?

I continue pretending to follow along feeling bursts of affection every time the uncoordinated girl obviously does the wrong move. Poor girl, I think happily, watching her do her moves without out the slightest inhibition.

By the time the class is over, I had redefined the word spastic, bumped into the woman next to me twice, peed my pants just a little, and realized that while I thought I could dance, I actually could not.

So now, while I still have a shred of dignity and anonymity, I’m going to sneak back out the way I snuck in, unnoticed – except of course the girl who’s probably calling the police right now .

A monkey has no business hanging with a pack of lions.

Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.