RSS Feed

Tag Archives: family

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.

Making waves…micro ones

I walked their new house, clutching my Dunkin Donuts’ coffee cup and taking it all in. The Great room was great, spacious and bright. There were accents all around the house that suggested that its previous owners were modern back in the seventies, which was the last time anyone had done anything to the place. There was a scary open staircase that freaked me out because I had young kids. Almost everything needed updating, but there were a lot of rooms and a lot of potential.

I hadn’t taken off my jacket yet, and my sister and brother-in-law were walking around with sweaters, hats and scarves. Okay… apparently there was some insulation work that needed to be done as well.

The tour ended in the kitchen.

“Hey, where’s the microwave?” I asked my sister-in-law, “I want to heat up my coffee.”

“We don’t have a microwave.” She said, “You know Corey, he thinks they’re no good. Here, give me.”

She took what was left of my coffee and poured it into a pot on the stove.

I felt like I was on the frontier.

Now I know these people. They didn’t have a microwave in their city apartment. But that kitchen was small and stylized in a way which would severely limit their already limited space. I thought for sure, they’d have one here. Who doesn’t have a microwave these days? I wondered, somewhat disapproving. Oh, yes, I can be holier than thou, just check out my socks.

I knew my brother-in-law could live in a cave as long as there was the NY Times and an AM radio.  That being said, my sister-in-law is a gazelle who fancies expensive boots and fabulous haircuts. I figured they’d cancel each other out and maybe produce a cute, baby microwave. No. Not the case.

“Where’s the Keurig?” I asked, referring to a change of life coffee maker I had gifted them when I realized its magnificence.

“Oh, that.” She gestured with a wave of her hand. “He returned that immediately.” She shook my re-heated coffee in the pot. “Really, this is fine.”

I’m lucky my eyes didn’t get stuck behind my head for all the judging I was doing.

That was years ago, but now I’m officially here to say that I’ve seen the light. Well, it was more of a spark, actually. And, yes, it came from inside of my microwave.

The offending beast

The offending beast

I was heating up some leftover pasta when a flash caught my eye. Was that fire? Electricity? I don’t fully understand what “micro waves” are, so I was naturally a little concerned. The only other time I had witnessed something like it was when I accidentally left a fork on a plate in there. Uh, don’t do that.

Needless to say, I pulled the plug on the microwave. For a moment it was like all the light in my world went out. How would I heat up Michael’s pasta? I stood in my kitchen momentarily confused. It was like the time the ATM didn’t work and I had to withdraw money from an actual live teller. I blanked then too. Technology had been doing it for me for so long, I simply forgot how.

Wait! I had a stove. I had a pot. I could just put the pasta in the pot and heat it! Revelation. And it worked, sort of. Some of the re-heated pasta did come out a little hard, which Michael immediately shunned, but it was mostly okay. I felt powerful. I didn’t need no stinkin’ microwave.

For the first couple of days, I managed fine, until I realized that you need a microwave to make microwave popcorn. That kind of stumped me. We loved microwave popcorn. Another flash, although this one didn’t come with radiation – I would buy kernels and pop it on the stove. I would make Potcorn! I was just bursting with excitement.

After shopping for special popcorn oil, seasoning and spray butter to help the seasoning stick, I was ready. The boys and I watched eagerly, shaking the pot at regular intervals until our eyes and ears witnessed the miracle transformation from kernel to corn. It went on for about a minute or so, but then abruptly stopped. We continued shaking the many kernels left in the pot, but all we wound up with was a burnt pot and burnt potcorn. Bummer.

burnt popcorn

The next snack disaster happened a few days later. Smores. I make smores a lot for play date snacks. It’s always a crowd pleaser. 30 seconds in the microwave and the chips are melty and the marshmallows puffed with gooey softness. Then you just do the graham cracker clap and done. I had six kids chanting for them. Could I make them in a toaster? ‘

burnt smore

Uh, no.

This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my month playing pioneer woman, but the real reason I didn’t just run out and buy a new one was because our microwave is built into our wall unit and we’re considering re-doing the kitchen. So I just wound up waiting, which turned into major procrastination, which resulted in burnt snacks and a lot more pots and pans to clean.

So while I will ultimately be getting another microwave, I did gain a new understanding of where my brother and sister-in-law are coming from.  I’ll roll my eyes no more. Except, of course, when I want a hot, fresh cup of coffee.

I couldn't go a day without this baby!

I couldn’t go a day without this baby!

Hurricane Sandy Wrap-up

The other morning, I awoke in my own bed, snuggled under my own covers. I went downstairs and made myself a hot cup of coffee and prepared lunches for my kids for school. School!! After almost two weeks, except for two days where I schlepped back and forth from my moms, my boys were going back to school. I could dance with glee.

When Hurricane Sandy whipped through our town, taking down trees and flooding houses, it left my town cold. Literally, our entire town was without power. Days for some, weeks for others. Many, still are in the dark. And up until yesterday, there was a gas shortage. Most days, there was no gas to be found. It was beyond odd. Even if the stations had power, they had no gas. If you were lucky enough to find an open station, you could wait on line for an hour or two.

But the experience has not been without its benefits. For the first week, I really enjoyed the adventure of it all. The brush with disaster left me filled with appreciation. It could have been much worse. But, after days in the dark and cold, and then days cramped at my in-laws and finally, at my mom and step-father’s, it was enough.

We were all off schedule, out of sorts, pent up with energy and frustration. We missed our friends, we missed our lives. Some of us, ahem, missed our freezer full of ice cream.

And then Thursday we were told power had been restored to our house, so we packed our kids, cat and lizard and drove back home. Pulling up to our house, we stared out the car windows, moving in slow motion with faces full of anticipation and fear. It was day time and no discernable lights could be detected.

Oh no, what if we didn’t have power. I steeled myself. Whatever it was, we were home – and we weren’t leaving. We pulled around to the garage. It was the moment of truth. Howard pushed a button, and… the garage door rose. Like magic. Like electricity. Like wow!

We gaped, oohed and ahhed. We had the Power. We all tumbled over one another to get in and flick on lights. Gee, in the light, my house was, well, disgusting. The mattress we had slept on covered our living room floor and was blanketed in toys. In the kitchen, some congealed something was spilled on the table, along with a leftover piece of cold half eaten pizza. Dirty clothes were littered everywhere. Or maybe they were clean, didn’t matter, they were certainly dirty now.

The next hours, days even, was a return to order. Or at least what normally passes for order in my house. So, I thought I’d share a few of my highlights and nolights (tee hee) of the past 2 weeks.

* Taking a run with Howard to Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay while at my MIL. At Coney Island, the boardwalk couldn’t even be found, nor the street or some cars, under mounds of sand. At Sheepshead Bay, the businesses that line the Bay were literally drowned. Horrible.

* Waiting on line for gas in my town. The local deli had a guy taking orders at people’s windows. I got some hot coffee and read my kindle for an hour. Not so terrible.

* Seeing the trees that crashed literally through houses and onto cars! One even on our lawn.  Insane!


* Eating at Franks, a local pizza place, where Linda, the owner pumped out pies in semi-dark with an oven and a generator.

* Our children, playing through the house with flashlights, giggling the whole time.

* Trick or Treating (against the police commissioner’s orders) over the trees and under the wires to houses for candy we go…

* Going from neighbor to neighbor, checking in, offering a hand or anything we could. It was like Hurricane Caroling.

* My first after power shop!

It is a whole other post about how LIPA dropped the ball. At first, everyone was supportive and sympathetic to the overwhelming need and disaster, but after a week or so of absolutely no presence or seemingly any hope of power, the tides began to turn. People became angry, and loopy… no one was fixing anything. At night, there were no lights to be seen. Our town was a black hole in space. Gas became scarce. Then there was another storm…

Overall, it’s been crazy, but not as crazy as for some. So we are thankful that the disaster was not a complete disaster for us, and praying that those still in need are somewhere warm while they wait for their lives to return to some kind of normal.

LIPA – Grrrrr. LIPA workers – Thank you!!

 

My Mom and Me… We’re a match.

Hurricane Sandy, day seven, still without power. We spent the first three nights braving it out in the cold and dark, then the second three nights at my in-laws in Brooklyn. Yesterday, we packed the car and the kids, the cat and the lizard and headed to my mom and step-father’s house.

The kids stretched out like lazy cats with all the new space. We played cards and chess and they ran in circles, up and down the stairs. They had baths in their giant whirlpool tub and we had to fish them out using chocolate marshmallows as bait. Shiny and towel fresh, we plopped them on the couch for a movie.

In the morning, we woke up and my mom had set us up with a tennis court. Disaster? What disaster? Why don’t I come here more often?

It had been quite a few years since my mom and I found ourselves in this position. Back when I was young, we used to randomly play, but I was always so incessantly aggravated by her competitiveness, that I could never play well. Every point she’d get, she’d call out the score, which unnerved my every nerve. Plus, she was hot and sexy and I always had a few pounds to lose, which made watching her bounce across the court in her little short shorts extra annoying.

Back then, I was so wrapped up in killing her that I tried to kill every point, and ultimately killed my game. We were two opposing forces posturing for power. I was 20 years younger, but she had, and still has, a fortitude and vitality that you simply don’t find in average people. She’s a spit fire. A fire cracker. A hundred pounds of boogie-oogie-oogie. You’d think she was made of Red Bull instead of whipped cream, sun flower seeds and garden burgers. In an average day she might play tennis, go to the gym, take a long walk and dance the night away. Did I mention, she runs her own business as well?

The only time I see her sleep is when she comes to babysit and by some unknown circumstance actually sits down. One minute, she’ll be crawling the floors with the kids on her back, running up and down stairs to get them snacks, begging them to dance and play with her; but when they’ve finally tired of her and turned to their iTouches or SpongeBob, she might discover the couch under her taut behind. Almost immediately, she nods out.

So here we are again, across the court from each other, a mother and a daughter preparing to face off. It should be no contest, she’s a league winning player, while I’m scrappy, inconsistent and haven’t played in years, but… I’m younger and faster. She hates that. It makes me smile with affection. My mother is like no other.

I suggest just volleying back and forth for practice and exercise, but my mom just can’t. She needs to keep score. So we play. I know her game – she’s very consistent and is great at returning shots, but doesn’t have real power. I have always been a reasonably strong player; my inconsistency and emotions, being my greatest obstacle.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, or because our relationship is wonderful and no longer filled with angst, but I’m calm and controlled. I play easily, not great, but with few mistakes, and soon am winning five games to love.

I see the panic and frustration across the court. She’s stomping a bit and Oy Veying here and there. If there were a can, she’d kick it. She can’t help herself. Losing is not something she does with grace. But she sure is cute.

We get down to the final point and I’m torn. Knowing her battle, a big part of me wanted her to win. But I wanted it too. I no longer take her win-at-all-costs personality personally. I’m secretly cheering her on. I think about throwing the game. Just one game, so she could have a little something to hold on to.

I toss the ball, ace out that last point and smile happily. Turns out, I’m just like my mom. Lucky me.

Go Cougars!

Go Cougars!


I was going out for my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in two hours, and was curled in the fetal position on the living-room floor with barely enough energy to lift my head. One minute I was battling dragons with Julius; the next, my eyes were drooping. When Julius’ dragon swooped in for the kill, I fell over onto the carpet. It was one of those exhausted mommy moments, where even trying to stay awake was torture. I needed to sleep. I would cry if I couldn’t.

I closed my eyes. Semi-conscious, random thoughts ran thru my brain. What will I wear tonight…? How much did I eat today…? I must have dozed, (probably because of my boring thoughts) because I was startled awake by someone sitting on me. It was Michael. “I want milk, mommy.”

“Go way.” I mumbled, but he may not have heard me, as my face was mushed into the carpet, slightly dampened with my drool.

“Mommy I want milk,” He repeated and started bobbing up and down.

“Get off.” I complained in an unflattering, whiny voice. Michael just continued rocking back and forth. “Okay. Okay.” I shifted my body, causing Michael to slide off and sat up. Adjusting my eyes, I looked at the clock. 5:48pm. Crap! That woke me. I was supposed to leave in less than half an hour. I picked myself up and went to dress. (Yes, I got Michael milk, don’t worry.)

It took 15 minutes to get myself to the door and the next 15 minutes to actually step outside it. At 7 and 10 years-old, Michael and Tyler, are better about me going out than little Julius. With him, there’s a drawn out routine of mounting anxiety, 20-50 massive hugs and kisses, until he finally puts on his brave face and backs slowly away waving “Bye-Bye.” He looks like a water fountain with someone holding their thumb over the nozzle, one second away from bursting.

Finally, I closed the door on Howard and the boys, and walked to the car swinging my overnight bag. My former fatigue had abated and was replaced with the caffeine-crack called FREEDOM. I was liberated! No making dinner, cleaning up, getting milk, playing dragons, mediating arguments or bed-time duty tonight! I picked up my sister-in-law and friends and drove to the Gansevoort Hotel on Park Avenue, singing the whole way.

We are checked in by a pretty girl with an accent (Scandinavian?) and go to the room to drop our bags. The room is modern art deco, but all the pictures on the walls have a similar theme – sex. A little weird, but the mattress is cushy and plush. I could be happy just staying here and going to bed. Now that turns me on. I am old. I am tired. I am a loser. Now just hand me my book and bowl of ice cream and get out.

I don’t say this of course. We’re here to celebrate. Howard’s baby sister is no longer the teenager with dark lipstick, bad bangs,  oversized clothes – and the messiest room. Now she’s a natural mom, with the most gorgeous hair, genuine style – and the messiest room. Some things don’t change.

After visiting the roof bar and going to dinner, we are finally ready to go out. It’s 10:45pm, my usual bedtime. The night is gorgeous. There’s a huge line to get into the club at our hotel. Pause. Should we even leave the hotel? It seems pretty popular. Why waste time and money to do the same thing we’d do right here? I look to my cohorts. They are already stepping into a cab. Apparently, I think like a suburban mom.  We head downtown.

I remember a time when getting proofed was nerve-wracking because I was using a fake ID, then there were a few years of smug pride after I turned 21 (take that bouncers!). By the time I was 30, I was pleased to be proofed, and that warm, appreciative feeling lasted for years (Yes, I’m over 21. Giggle giggle.)

Tonight, when I handed my license to an oversized, young man who shined an interrogation light in my face, I was a cougar in a bar filled with drunken cubs. He knew it. I knew it. It took a few nasty tasting shots before I was ultimately able to erase my shame. We popped in to a few more places, then hailed a cab back uptown to our hotel. Practical, suburban mom secretly tsks.

The line at our hotel’s club is still out the door, but we are guests and get right in. It is loud, dark and crowded. Everyone is young, drunk and dancing. We get drinks and dance a little too, but I am very aware that my knees ache and the high sandals I am wearing are no longer comfortable. The 25 year-olds around us don’t seem affected by the same casual complaints. I appreciate watching them. They are at once, insecure and over-confident, trying too hard or too little. Who are they? Who will they be? Their world is still a frightening and fascinating open highway.

We dance some more and then there’s the collective nod all around. It’s time to go. It’s almost 2am. Respectable. I give an inner cheer.  I made it and had fun. I look to my sister-in-law and friends. I remember back when we were the ages of the people in these bars; throwing up in the bathroom and making out with the bartender (Uh, them, not me. 😉 ). It is a long time ago and a minute. Very much changed and all the same. Time is a funny thing.

At 40, some might say it’s all down-hill, but I say, the view is better and it’s a lot easier than climbing to the top, especially with these knees.

Hineni – “Here I am”

I rummage through my closet looking for an appropriate outfit, not an easy thing for a girl who spends her life in gym clothes and sneakers. I try on at least three different ensembles, but ultimately settle on a 15 year-old black dress that I have worn for pretty much everything from bridal showers to funerals. Today, it’s my fall-back temple dress. Thank goodness for Express in the 90’s.

Shalom! School has begun. Fall is almost here. I am Jewish.

Of course I’m Jewish all year round, but in September we celebrate the high holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, we reflect on the past year, and on Yom Kippur our fate is sealed. Simply put, it’s finals week and report cards are coming.

Today, I’m supposed to be at the temple by 10am because I’ve been given an honor to open the ark encasing the Torah. It’s nice to be acknowledged, but I’m really no good at the religion stuff.  I mean, I send my boys to Hebrew School, attend temple on the holidays and of course, wear my “I heart Jews” tee shirt (kidding); but I can’t read Hebrew, never was a Bat Mitzvah, and feel generally uncomfortable with all things religious. I once said “Jesus Christ” as I tripped into temple and practically fell into the Rabbi. Apparently, I am capable of offending multiple religions simultaneously. I also have said “Amen” to the Rabbi after he sneezed, and once in my flirty, uncomfortable-with-authority awkwardness, suggested to him that the reason it was hot in the temple was because of me. Oh yes I did.

I can’t imagine why they would put me up there on display, and I’m conflicted about why I even accepted. I don’t really want to go, but all I can do now is accept my honor, hopefully not fall off the stage, and then slip quietly into background, which is where I really wanted to be in the first place.

I glance at the clock. 9:45am. Crap. Howard and the boys will just have to meet me. It’s a seven minute walk, but I’m in heels so it’s more like 10 minutes. I start with a brisk pace, but slow down when I trip over the sidewalk and slightly twist my ankle. At 9:58am, I limp into the temple sanctuary and check in. “I made it!” I announce and the administrator hands me a card that says my time is 11:15am. What?? My paper said 10am. I show it to the administrator and he shrugs. What kind of racket is this?

I grab a prayer book and sit down in a semi-breathless huff. I notice the book is new and remember that the temple purchased new books a month or so ago, and that in a moment of sentimentality I had even donated $54 for one of the books to be dedicated to my grandmother who had recently passed.

I flip it open absently and there it is; my grandmother’s inscription. Out of 300 random books, I find my grandmother. Or more accurately, my grandmother finds me. I smile and look around like she’s just placed the book on my chair, but of course, it’s our secret.

The temple president is speaking, and I’m instructed to wait for her to finish before ascending the Bimah (platform). Her running theme is “Hineni” which translates to “Here I am.” She’s trying to inspire people get involved, while thanking the people who do. Hineni. I like it.

She finishes and up I go with a handful of other honorees. I open the ark, the Torah is brought forth, and we are instructed to follow the procession around the congregation. What? Me? No. I didn’t sign up for that. Open. Close. Done. But I’m ushered forward and immediately overwhelmed with people shaking my hand and offering Shana Tova.

Like writing LOL, I have never been comfortable saying Shana Tova. It always felt like I was pretending to be something I’m not. Happy New Year I can say, but here I am clasping hands with dozens of people and Shana Tova’ing like a game show host.

We finally end the procession back on the Bimah. The Torah is put away and the arc closed. I look out from the stage and see my boys, front and center watching me. Julius is dancing a little dance, Michael is bright-eyed and Tyler is smiling wide. I smile back and realize his fly is open. Oops, I think. Hineni.

I return to my seat, flushed and happy to be done. Howard and the boys are there and together we finish out the service. I look around at the congregation and see so many friends and familiar faces. My prayer book with my grandmother’s inscription rests on my lap. I feel warm and connected. Hineni. Here I am.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/daily-prompt-faith/

Grandma Has Landed

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

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

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

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

He nods, somewhat appeased.

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

“Aw. Come on!” He protests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My door is always open, Gma.