RSS Feed

Category Archives: Crap that makes me eat too much ice cream

The general insanity – father, children, brain – that sends me straight for the carton.

Once upon a time

My home was broken.

But I was used to it. For years, my parents clumsily taped up the holes with transparent truces, sucked in offenses and alcoholic avoidance. Still, the anger and disappointment always leaked through, pumping like contaminated air through the vents, infiltrating every aspect of our house.

Their fights played like music in the background of my life. When the end officially came no one was surprised or sad, certainly not me.

My father moved out, but still hung around, taking me and my brother out for a movie or to his racquet club. It was only when I passed my parents’ room and took notice that there was no lump in the center of the bed; no giant bowl of salad with smelly dressing on the night side table that I realized he was gone.

I was 10 when they divorced, by the time I was 12 my mother had remarried.

It was December and the wedding was a small affair at my new step-father’s house. It came up quick, somewhat of a surprise, although my mother will jokingly remind me how if anything the whole thing was my fault, she asked me if she should marry him.

He lived in a big house and had a pool.  I was 11.

I was given the option to finish out my 6th grade year and live with my grandparents in Brooklyn or move mid-year to Long Island. My science mid-term was coming up, and it terrified me. I was averaging a 75 in the class when all my other grades were up where they should be in the 90’s. I couldn’t handle the thought of flunking a test.  In a half a second I jumped on the move, deserting my friends, my grandparents, my life, all in the name of science.

We moved into our new home unceremoniously and awkwardly. None of us knew what we were doing; certainly not my mother or new step father; certainly not my younger brother or my two new younger step-brothers. The only person who rallied with contrived enthusiasm was the live-in housekeeper who showed off the house like it was hers.

I was shuffled off to my room and left with another young girl whose name was Gia. She was the housekeeper’s daughter who had apparently come to visit months back and never left.  She was a year younger and I was a year shyer, but we still didn’t even out.

“This is my room.” She said. “You can sleep there.” She pointed to the second bed. “Don’t touch my stuff,” She commanded and huffed out.

My brother and new step brothers were also trying to find their way in this new dynamic, while my mother and step father circled each other uncertainly, and the housekeeper kept us all in a tight divided line of us against them.

I looked out the window into the backyard. The pool was covered for the winter. It looked dark and dangerous.

My home was broken.

There Are No Fairy Tales

It is night and I am sitting on the edge of my child’s bed, exactly where he insists I sit, in between the old cat laying by his feet and the team of stuffed animals encasing his body like a frame. I am about to read him The Three Little Pigs, one of his favorite books, and even though we have gone past bedtime into my time, he still insists and I comply because I am worn down and feeling both melancholy and appreciative of my gifts, which of course, he is one.

We have at least five different versions of the book. In some, the wolf gets eaten, in others he is merely boiled, and the kind gentler versions spare his life and allow him to run away with only a bit of singed fur. But in all, the message is clear, at least to me, life ain’t no fairy tale. In fact, I’m not sure fairy tales are fairy tales. Even the ones where the princess gets her man, there’s an awful lot of suffering involved.

It’s been a tough week in Suburbia. Not the usual ‘can’t get to my gym class’, ‘I stained my favorite shirt’ or ‘I need to make 50 cupcakes by morning’ tough. Real life tough; the kind that breaks down barriers and breaks your balls, that doesn’t care if your lawn is manicured or your nails, who you are or where you come from. The kind where children suffer and their parents suffer, where people die expectantly and unexpectedly and both are horribly shocking. Marlboro man tough, human tough.

It’s those times that make you wonder about life; want to rage and cry at the sky above, like it holds any power and say, ‘You suck! What is this? This is not okay!’ But the sky doesn’t care. And life doesn’t care. It just keeps on going and going like the wheels on the bus, showing off with its casual beauty thrown haphazardly about. Look at that snowcapped mountain in the sunset. Look at that wild haired child who can’t stop giggling long enough to blow his bubbles. Look at those skyscrapers soaring into the horizon, and the perfection of a rainbow.

So much magnificence, to say yes, there is suffering but there is also splendor to distract you; to mock the heart ache, but also to ease it a bit as well.

Life is beautiful, even though it is pain and death, and no one – not Hansel or Gretel, Snow White or the doomed gingerbread man – can escape unscathed.

No one.

We are all in this together till death do us part. We cannot out outrun life, even when the sky is falling, or a wolf is banging down our door.

Life is tough, meaning rough, dangerous and difficult, but we are also tough, meaning strong, sturdy and resilient.

We have to be.

Because there isn’t always a happy ending, sometimes there’s just the end.

 

 

Good Enough! vs Good Enough?

When I’m in one of my gym classes, I can’t help but assess the assets in front of me. I size them up. Not to judge them in any way. It’s not about them at all. It’s about me. It’s about how I stack up.

Almost always I’m on the losing end of my self-assessment. No matter if I’m at my heaviest or at my most fit, I’m never good enough.

I’ve done this for as long I can remember. As a teen, I remember myself as the cute girl’s side kick; my best friend was really the one to want. I was always smart but never remarkably so, if you ask me.

20 years later and I haven’t changed. When I make cupcakes for my kids, I’ll always nod semi-approvingly and say, “They may not be so pretty, but they work.” When I put on a pair of favorite jeans, the best I can manage is, “They don’t look terrible.” When I size up those behinds in front me, I’m always shaking my head and accepting that while I could look worse, I don’t look all that good either.

Even with my latest manuscript, I have a very difficult time just admitting I think it’s good. If you ask me about it, I’ll first need to go through a bunch of hedging… “It’s not the same kind of writing as my essays… It’s just an easy beach read… It’s not going to win any awards or anything…”

Why do I undersell myself every chance I get? How can I expect anyone to take me seriously when I can’t even take myself seriously?

I’m always in awe of the people around me who possess the confidence to sell themselves. I remember at work watching guys march in and strut their stuff. Generally I never thought their ideas were any better than mine – often I didn’t think much of them at all; but they walked the walk, while I slouched and stumbled.  They believed in themselves, while I always felt a bit like a fake.

Yet, day in and day out, I sit here and type away my thoughts, my stories, my life. And almost every day, I’m at that gym working my tail off, although mostly it stays on. I must think it’s worth something; I must think I’m worth something to keep at it.

And I guess I do. I mean, I do.

But admitting that puts all sorts of expectations out there. If I told people my book was great would they agree or be disappointed? I couldn’t stand the disappointment.

I read posts on Facebook by bloggers who confidently say things like, “I’ve written this really important piece that we need to be talking about.” And I’m fascinated. How do they say that about their own work? How do they put themselves on such a high level? Not only is their work ‘important’, but we, as a general population, should be discussing it?

Sometimes it makes me roll my eyes, embarrassed by their self-serving assertions, and other times I’m beyond impressed. Go them, I think. Kind of like when I first watched Lena doing her naked all over TV thing.

Like my grandmother would say, “No one’s gonna toot your horn but you.”

I think I need to start trusting myself and my talents. I need to start thinking that I am really good and worthy and deserve success. I mean, I’m smart, I’m funny and gosh darn it, people like me.

It’s true.

Now I’ve just got to believe it.

toot toot

Toot

 

 

 

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.

 

kisses

 

 

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.

Help

He walked out from the school, his backpack slung behind him looking sweetly melancholy or merely just exhausted. It was hard to tell in the dark.

Usually, my husband did this late night Hebrew school pick-up, but tonight he was working late. So at 8:10pm, I was in the car on a cold night with my two younger boys instead of  in the middle of our stalling before bed routine, probably somewhere between whining for snacks and whining to brush teeth.

When he opened the car door, the noise of his brothers tackled him and he flung the door too hard and hit his hand on the car parked next to us. Not too bad, but enough to make him grimace. He didn’t cry. Instead, he decided to inflict some pain on his brothers. “You guys have nothing better to do than yell and play video games!” He lashed out at them. “Can’t you do anything else?”

“You okay?” I asked, a little concerned by the desperation in his voice.

He just nodded but didn’t say anything more.

Back in the house two minutes, he lost it again when his youngest brother complained that he pilfered one of his goldfish crackers. “You’re so sensitive!” he yelled and then stomped into his room.

Uh oh. Something was wrong and it wasn’t the hand.

I got the two younger boys in the shower and went in to see my oldest son. His room was dark and he was lying under his covers fully dressed, clutching a favorite old dinosaur toy, feigning sleep.

“Baby?” I questioned and rubbed his back soothingly. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” He muttered.

“I can tell something’s wrong. Please tell me.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He insisted; his eyes squeezed closed so not to face me, his mouth twitching emotion.

I sat next to him in silence, studying his heartbreakingly sweet face obviously in the midst of some internal struggle. Do I respect his space or probe deeper? Where is that parenting book when you need it?

“Did you get in trouble in class?” I asked gently.

He shook his head.

“Did you get into a fight with someone?”

More shaking.

“Were you embarrassed or hurt in some way?” I persisted.

“Stop!” He almost cried, burying his face in his pillow. “You’re making it worse.”

I guess I should have chosen space.

“Okay.” I conceded. “I’m sorry. I just want to help.”

I rubbed his back a little longer; not wanting to leave him, dying to know what was upsetting him, but uncertain what to do. The idea that someone would put him in this emotionally vulnerable place was too much for me. No one was allowed to hurt my baby.

“You can’t help.” He said into his pillow.

What? Untrue! I can help! I need to help. I’ve always been able to help. Don’t shut me out, I wanted to cry. Instead, I left him to get the other boys into bed; the ones whose biggest problems were if I had pirate booty to give for snack the next day and if I could secure a good play date.

By the time I came back to his room, he was asleep.

But I would be up all night.

Back when it was easy... sigh.

Back when it was easy… sigh.