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Isn’t it romantic…

7am. Cat is crying loudly for food, husband can’t find son’s baseball chest guard. Hello, morning.

8am. Finishing laundry, making breakfast and organizing our clothes for later. My husband and oldest son are already at the baseball fields.

8:20am. I’m pestering my middle son who doesn’t eat to eat something, while trying to get my youngest son dressed as he twists and turns in circles to see if I can ‘win’ the getting him dressed game. I blow a puff of hair that escaped the pony tail out of my face and focus. Aha! Got a leg in! But then, the pancake I tried to gently force into middle son’s mouth, winds up on the floor. You win some, you lose some. In between, I’m throwing some last minute items into our overnight bags that are set by the door. After we come back from baseball, we’re outta here.

8:40am. Ready to leave the house.

8:53am. Actually leave the house.

9:02am. Arrive at the local field, just in time to miss my son’s first inning pitching. Apparently 8:50am is the new 9am.

11am. Back at the house, collecting the overnight bags, washing up, grabbing some car snacks and heading right out the door.

Noon. Actually head out the door.

Noon – 2:30pm. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

230pm. We arrive upstate. My three boys jump from the mini-van and head straight for the bungalow, where the grandparents and salamanders play. Also, present are my two nephews and niece. My sister and brother-in-law had dropped them off the day before for grandma and grandpa to babysit for the weekend because they wanted some alone time for their 10-year anniversary.

Anniversary… hmmm… that reminds me of something. What is it? Oh yeah, it’s my anniversary too. We’ve been married 16 years. Yes, same day.

4pm. With the initial bungalow gorging complete, my husband, three kids, two nephews, niece and I roll on over to the local pond to catch frogs. Baseball, long car ride with kids, frogs… could this day be any more fun?

“Why aren’t you guys doing anything special for your anniversary like my mom and dad?” My nephew asks.

“F*%! if I know,” I’m about to say, but before I do, my husband pipes in, “What do you mean? We’re with you guys. That’s special.”

Damn. That was a way more appropriate answer than mine.

someone's going in...

Someone’s going in…

4:10pm. My youngest has fallen into the muddy pond.

Yeah. It's me.

Yeah. It’s me.

4:45pm. We have a bucket full of fully formed, half formed and deformed frogs. Looking at the majority of one-legged/one-eyed deviants, you have to wonder if there’s a joint up here selling frog legs, an audition for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or if this pond somehow connects to Three Mile Island.


Don’t look too closely…

Regardless, we also have six giddy, muddy and gross children. I am just grossed out.

5:30pm. After some drama and a few frogs in danger of losing their only mode of jumping to children more jumpy than them, we successfully released the poor creatures back into their, uh, natural habitat.

Look out below!!

Look out below!!

7pm. My hubby and I go to our Anniversary dinner. The children are left in the care of grandparents. Ha. Good luck grandparents.

9pm. Anniversary dinner over. Back to the beasts.

10pm. Squashed in a twin bed with my five year-old, I am listening to my husband snore, comfortably alone in the bed across from us. I am not thinking warm anniversary thoughts.

10:30pm. My 8 year-old steals me away into his bigger bed. I’m not sad to leave snoring husband and five year-old who one moment throws his arm across my face and the next has flipped and kicked me in the stomach.

Luckily, 10 year-old is fast asleep on the floor, or that would have been the next stop.

11pm. Sleeping. Visions of one-legged frogs dancing in my head.

Well, there was dancing… and green is my favorite color. He knows me so well. Sigh.


Set Them Free

“Okay boys, time to go.”

My boys continued staring at the television, transfixed by a sponge wearing pants.

“Hello? Boys?”


I sighed, but wasn’t surprised. I was used to talking to myself. It seemed I could speak directly to my children, literally in their faces, but if the TV was on, their brains were off, and they could completely block me out. It’s both amazing and extremely annoying.

Outside Howard was beeping the car horn like he had every answer on quick-fire jeopardy.  We were going upstate to visit the grandparents and to return the salamanders we captured there over a month ago to their natural habitat; but first I had to get my children out of the house. It’s an everyday battle.

“Michael, let’s go bike ride.”
“I want to stay inside!  Call Noah to come over.”

“Tyler let’s go play ball.”
“NOOOOOOoooooo….” Return to blank TV stare.

“Julius, how ‘bout a walk around the block?”
Foot stamping, arm folding, “I don’t wannna! I wanna play Gold Fish!”

I may be partly to blame for their homey natures, but I prefer to blame society. When I was growing up, I had the run of my neighborhood; while at 10, Tyler isn’t even allowed to walk down the block to his friend. It’s the culture of the day to keep them close, protected. So while I do push them out on the lawn (where I keep watch), and have friends over (where I keep watch), and have them involved in many sport activities (where I drive, Howard coaches and I, you got it,  keep watch), they are now creatures of habit and home. It’s just not the same world anymore.

We make it to the bungalows. The boys are like panting pups, ready to race outside to run wild, but Howard grabs the salamander container. “We’re going to release these guys first.”


“Can’t we do it later?” Michael whines.

“We want to go by the paddle courts.” Tyler moans.

Julius stands in between his big brothers, looking supportively whiny.

Howard shakes his head. “Release first, play after.”

We traipse through the woods behind the bungalows. Howard lugs the heavy Tupperware filled with the salamanders who had ‘summered’ in our backyard on Long Island.

After being coaxed, a.k.a. tortured thru whining, into taking them home, Howard and I had every expectation of soon burying them. There seemed no way for these guys to survive so far from their natural habitat. Regardless, Howard and Julius created a salamander wonderland filled with moss, sticks and a big rock. It was very damp with ‘pools’ of water. Howard constructed a special mesh cover for better ventilation. We had no idea what to feed them, so Julius and Howard packed the container with bug filled mud and we hoped for the best.

As it turned out, it was even better. The salamanders fed on some kind of larva that seemed to mysteriously grow in the water. They lounged on the rock. On many occasions, I saw them tucked neatly into a moss cave, one on top of the other, two little orange heads, almost unnoticeable. We did nothing but look at them every few days, and then not even that.

Looking now at these luxury accommodations, our Tupperware penthouse seemed damp and homey; the perfect place for two little, orange creatures to happily lounge the day away, while the woods seemed vast and dangerous. I had a moment of regret. Maybe we just should have left them in our yard.

Didn’t matter now; we were here and it was time to set them free. We placed the Tupperware near a tree and added a thick branch so they could walk out on their own. We watched for a while, but the salamanders made no attempt toward escape. Howard placed them higher on the branch to show them their surroundings. The salamanders turned and crawled back into the Tupperware.  After repeated attempts to ‘guide’ the salamanders to their freedom, we ultimately had to physically place them into the woods.

We left them there, looking so small and lost. I felt guilty, which was ridiculous. This was where they belonged. Right?

Our boys quickly forgot about them and ran from the woods back toward the bungalows. “Release the hounds,” I mocked as they galloped past, tongues lagging. They were so happy here, despite the morning difficulties getting them out. The bungalows had always been a cocoon of sorts, filled with family, friends of family, grass and freedom. Here, kids can be kids, like the old days.

“We’re going to find grandpa.” Tyler announced, using his upstate independent voice.

“I think he’s down by Sandy’s bungalow playing cards.”

“We’re going to find him.” He reiterated confidently.

“Okay, watch your brothers.”

They headed away from us, each walking with a little swagger, down toward some bungalows about 100 feet away, but out of my vision. Howard and I smiled at one another and I almost welled with tears. Letting them go was scary, but they were good. Howard would follow them shortly, just to make sure.

I still wonder about the salamanders.

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.

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.

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!”