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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.

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right

I had just returned to the kitchen, having settled a dispute between two warring Jedi knights in the other room, when my friend’s accusatory gaze pierced me like a light saber. She stood over my open freezer looking at me with raised brow. “You want to explain this?”

I averted my eyes. The “this” that she referred to was eight half gallon containers of Edy’s Grand Light Ice cream of various flavors lining my freezer. “What?” I shrugged defensively. “There was a really good sale.” I hoped she wouldn’t notice the four frozen yogurt cups resting comfortably on the shelf above.

“That does not explain this.” She snorted. “Have you taken up competitive eating?”

“You know I love ice cream. What’s the big deal?”

She looked at me almost sadly. “Really? You don’t think there’s a problem here?”

Clearly she did. “No. Like I said it was a good sale, two for $5. You can’t beat it, except once. It was amazing! I got them for $1.99.”

“Oh my God, your eyes are glazing over like donuts! You need to see someone.”

“Please. I mean, yes for many reasons, but not this.”

“Fine, then let me see your bag.” She held out her hand.

“Why?” I clutched the bag closer. Obviously, there was something in there she shouldn’t see. What? I wondered, as she grabbed it from me, fishing around my Let’s Make a Deal sack. Then, a superior sounding, “Aha!”

Uh oh. That didn’t sound good for me. I looked up to see her waving a small container and cringed. It was my “emergency sprinkles” cup. You know, for when you’re on the go. You know, right? Uh oh again. I decided to take the offensive defensive and jutted out my chin.  “I like to be prepared. So what?”

“So, you don’t think there’s an issue here?”

“Of course not.” I choked, sounding something like a dragon with flames stuck in her throat.

“Fine. Then, stop eating ice cream for a week.”

We stared each other down. As if on cue, children’s screams sounded from the other room and we both ran, okay walked with powerful stride, into the living room. Thank God, I thought, saved! I was never so happy to see a child laying on the floor whimpering and the rest jumping from one of my couches to the other.  In the mayhem, our conversation melted softly away.

At the gym at 6:45am the next morning, in between knee shaking lunges, I replayed my friend’s impromptu intervention and honestly assessed my unusual attachment to my daily treat.

Hoarder – check.

Indulged more than once a day – double check.

Ate alone, with company, for emotional comfort, reward, misery, joy –checkcheckcheckcheck.

On a first name basis with yogurt store owner – Joe check.

I want it. I need it. I have to have it – big screaming check.

Well there it was, plain as vanilla . I was a creamaholic.

Clearly my consumption was out of control. I would do it, I decided then and there. I would get the monkey off my back, or out of my mouth for that matter.  Of course, this was all just sugared up swagger since I still had eight containers (two Rocky Road – mine, two Cookies and Cream – mine/kids, French Silk – mine, Chocolate – mine, Vanilla – kids, Fudge Tracks – kids) as well as the frozen yogurt cups (mine) waiting for me in the freezer. Mmm. Just the thought of them made my salivary glands sweat. I had to get rid of them, fast. So I fixed my jaw and set about with great determination the terrible task of polishing off my goods one by one. Only a scoop left in the container? Might as well add it to my bowl.  I took to the task like a Roman at his last orgy.

When I got down to less than two tubs, something in the dark recess of my brain cracked, transforming me from typical suburban mom into a love struck teen, I began stalking the yogurt store, manufacturing reasons to be “in the area”, sitting in the car talking myself out of going in, only to trip over myself (and some other sugar crack riddled mom) in mad rush to heaven’s door. Floating out on a cloud of peanut butter cappuccino topped with chocolate crunchies, breathing deep contented sighs, I gained some insight to my pharmaceutically dependent father. It was not a proud moment.

As a child of divorce (see above) followed by a hasty and tumultuous remarriage and two additional step brothers to the one I already didn’t want, ice cream soothed and numbed me. As I developed from child to budding young whale, it became clear that ice cream, might not completely have my best interests at heart. In high school, I can mortifyingly attest that the boys all found my carrot eating, paddle ball playing mom way hotter than me. Cue two to three years of resentment binge eating.

“You really don’t need that,” short shorts mom says.
“You’re so right,” muffin topped, hanger-zipped jeaned 16-year-old responds, placing scooper deeper in the container for an extra big helping, licking the spoon for the most obnoxious effect.

It took some maturity – and a bunch of skinny/bulimic college friends – to realize that I needed to exercise more and switch to frozen yogurt, because even though my mother was annoying, she really was hot.

That night, after consuming the last of the Fudge Tracks (my kids’ container – yes, I have no shame), I had done it. I had rid my house of ice cream. It had taken more time than expected given all those extremely unfortunate, yet unavoidable stops at the shoe store which happened to be next to the frozen yogurt shop. “I just must have navy Espadrilles today!” But now my freezer was empty. I lay on the couch bloated and satisfied. Tomorrow was so far away.

Day one on the wagon, I woke with determination. I would do it. I would not waffle!* I had a nice healthy breakfast, followed by a nice healthy lunch. Around 4pm, the anxiety set in. “What have I done?!”  At 5pm, panic. “Get more!” followed by a body chained to table effort to suppress the intense desire to run to the store. I breathed deep and imagined popcorn. Or a nice cookie. Feh! Popcorn had no pop, cookies were crummy! Ice cream! My brain screamed. I scream for ice cream! I heard my father’s thick, semi-conscious voice in my head, “Addiction runths in our family.” It’s not nearly the same, I reasoned, uneasily recalling my friend’s disapproving judgment.

Then, it was dinner time and we were in the house for the night.  Now I’d done it, if I wanted something I’d have to drag my three children out with me, luring them with postponed homework and treats of their own. Definitely pathetic. It screamed addict. They’d probably see right through me too. It was even possible that they would say no and I’d have to make an extra trip to the candy store to bribe them. Even more pathetic. But I really REALLY wanted it.  Desperate, I wondered if i could get someone to deliver it to me. Not my husband.  He was wise to my game. What friend could I call…? My seven-year-old son Michael called down for a cup of milk. “Get it yourself!” I snapped up at him. Crap. I was strung out.

It continued like that for the next seven days. Cranky, anxious and reeking of cinnamon mints, I survived. By week’s end, I felt healthier, was two pounds lighter and the intense cravings had somewhat subsided. I managed emotionally torturous conversations with my father without my crutch and the freezer held, wait for it…. actual food!

That’s why, when lunch time rolled around, I bee-lined straight for my yogurt store and bought myself a beautiful cone of peanut butter and chocolate covered in sprinkles. Reward! Euphoria. Blissed out on my drug of choice, I decided that my pleasure outweighed my pain. My booty would continue going to boot camp. I would battle an extra few pounds. It was just too good. Besides I was not my father, I could lick it if I wanted to.

*Just so you know, it’s not like I have never gone a day without ice cream or frozen yogurt. When I travel or when I’m sick, I almost never have it. And there have been snow storms…

4th of July, Coney Island, and my family explodes.

To hear my husband tell it, it was something he wanted to do his whole life; an easy bucket list experience that although he was a Brooklyn boy had somehow eluded him.

That would sort of explain why on this Fourth of July morning as we sat together – me on the computer and him reading the paper, casually throwing ideas around about what to do, our children upstairs happily playing their Wii game – he almost jumped out of his seat with excitement.

“It’s the Nathan’s Hot dog Eating Contest!”

That didn’t even register a response from me, but he went on. “The women compete at 11:30am and the men at Noon.”

Again, I didn’t look up until I saw him quickly glance at the time on the computer. Uh oh.

And then I heard it, “I think we should go.”

“Bad idea,” I said too fast. We had been to Coney Island and the aquarium many times since his parents still lived around 10 minutes from there. I was beyond over it, and on a holiday weekend in 90+ degrees, the idea seemed like a joke.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “We’ll go to the aquarium and the beach! It’ll be great!” I looked up at him from my computer, my eyes full of skeptical negativity. His parents weren’t even in Brookly, having already migrated to the bungalows for the summer. We would by driving down the Belt parkway to mill with thousands for fun?? Had a fire cracker gone off in his head?

“We’re going!” He announced.

I breathed deep. Please make this go away.

No such luck. “It’s 10:15am.” He stated. We have exactly 10 minutes to get out of here!”

“Honey,” I began gently, using my best talking a guy off the roof diplomacy, “I don’t know if it’s such a good idea. And to get out of the house so fast to race there…”

He cut me off. “I don’t hear you coming up with better ideas. And this is something I want to do!” He puffed pent up frustration. “I mean, I really want to do this! I’ve always wanted to do this! And now I open the paper and there it is and we can make it there. Come on!” He looked so serious and earnest, I could only cave.

Sensing victory, he grinned and barreled up the stairs, “BOYS! We’re going to Coney Island!”

If he thought I was a hard sell, he was sorely mistaken. A chorus of protests immediately followed. “Noooooo! We don’t want to go!”

“We’re going!” He confirmed and three underwear clad boys jumped up and down in complaint.

Our nine year-old pouted. Our seven year-old outright refused to put on his bathing suit, after having the Wii control forcibly removed from his little hand. Always the most dramatic of the boys, he screamed the whole way to the car, while our four year-old skipped happily into the car with the promise of cotton candy. It’s nice to have one kid who can still be bribed.

We made it to the car in under 15 minutes with my husband barking orders like a soldier. “Don’t worry about food. We’ll get something there.” I struggled against my inner hoarder and pretty much listened, just grabbing a few granola bars and shoving them in my bag.

The car ride was an exercise in parenthood patience. The minute we pulled away from the house, all the boys complained of hunger and I gave my husband a look as I passed out the bars, although my seven year-old was on a hunger strike and screamed when offered his snack.

My husband, typically a stickler for the speed limited, today is a man on a mission. He flies down the highway doing 70mph and when we hit traffic at around Flatbush he takes to the streets. Like a mouse in a maze, he worked his way toward his, uh, cheese covered hotdog?

Streets were blocked off. There was no parking. The minutes ticked by. Only 15 minutes before the eating extravaganza began.  He swerved. He honked. He threatened to leave me to search for a spot while he took the boys to the show. I raised a brow. There was no way I was comfortable driving around the streets of Coney Island, but had I known what was coming, I would have taken him up on it.

We found parking around 10 blocks from Nathans. My husband saddled himself with a chair, umbrella, bag of towels and clothes and started off in a sprint. The older boys somewhat kept pace, but my little one, trying to keep up, tripped and fell on the sidewalk, skinning his knee.  Now I needed to carry him, in addition to my 10 pound bag and also desperately needed to pee. My husband took no mercy on either of us and forged forward, following his nose toward the famous franks.

Pant pant, can't keep up!

Pant pant, can’t…keep… up!

Sweating and some of us bleeding, we closed in on Nathan’s. Hundreds, maybe thousands of others moved in as well. A man’s voice boomed through the loudspeaker – “Sonya – The Black Widow – Thomson has just eaten 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes!” I looked up over the heads of the crowd to see a diminutive woman with her arm raised in victory.  I gain five pounds eating one hot dog. Apparently, the trick was to eat 40.

The sun beat down on my husband laden with chairs and bags. My seven year-old’s face was bright pink, eyes rimmed red with tears and rage, and possibly some malnutrition. My nine year-old was miserable. And I held my bleeding 4 year-old. Sweat pooled between my boobs and trickled down my back as my wild eyed husband stared desperately at televised JumboTron, pretending family didn’t exist.

Why am I standing with 10,000 people watching it on TV?!

Why am I standing with 10,000 people watching it on TV?!

The men were not set to compete for another half hour. I said the only thing I could think of to soothe the beasts, “Who wants ice cream?” This was Coney Island, ice cream, hotdogs, cotton candy and pretzels were sold in every other shop. As expected, my oldest and youngest immediately nodded and my middle one shook his head with distaste. “I’m not eating!”

Deep sigh. He was one tough kid.

“Why can’t we just go?! This is stupid!” My nine year-old complained. There was no argument from me. This was a disaster, I handed them their cones and said, “This is something daddy wants to see and that’s it.”

“But we can’t even see anything!” He argued with self-righteous frustration. “We may as well be home watching TV.” Another point for the smart kid.

“Oh just eat your cone before I eat it,” I warned, which shut him up fast.

We stayed, sweating in misery until finally Joey Numnuts, I mean Chestnuts, swallowed down 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, tying his former world record. With the JumboTron, we could see close-ups on Joey as he shuttered and shook down each of his dogs. Each of his multiple competitors was equally engrossing, heavy on the gross.  It was fascinating. It was disgusting. It was over. Thank the lord.

We quickly gathered our stuff, meaning our disgruntled children, and pushed through to the open street. “Now can we go to the beach?” The kids whined, but because he was clearly possessed today, my husband had other plans.

“We’re going to the aquarium!” He announced, and there was a collective groan before my middle son started screaming, “I’m not going! I’m staying right here!” He sat down on the sidewalk, refusing to budge. With the diverse crowd and a history of freak shows, he drew barely a glance.

“Come on!” My husband threatened.


“Get up!”


He tried another approach, “Come on, we’ll do this and when we get home we’ll play Playstation.”

Negotiations in progress

Negotiations in progress

My seven year-old lost it, “That’s all I wanted to do on my day off! I just wanted to relax!”

“Come on,” My husband softened, “we’ll play two games when we get home.”

But he was beyond reason, and sat himself on the boardwalk and refused to budge. “I’m never going home. I want to stay here now forever!”

My husband gave up and I somehow got him to  move by taking him by the hand and just walking, forcing him to get up and move with me. He complied, spitting fire like an angry dragon the whole way.

By some miracle, we made it through the aquarium without drama. It was 40 minutes of sweat gazing at walruses and sharks and jelly fish and we fit in the (boring) 15 minutes sea lion show.

Hot dog contest – check. Aquarium – check.

Next up – beach.

We trudged our way up to the boardwalk and looked down at the overcrowded beach. It was after 2pm, and we were all exhausted and hungry. We sidled up to the nearest take out joint, specializing in everything, and ordered 2 slices of pizza, a hot dog, knish, chicken fingers, French fries and a lemonade. Not a thing here that I would eat and my sadistic seven year-old of course refused nourishment.

Looking around anxiously, we surveyed the area. There wasn’t a table or bench unoccupied. The beach with this food and kids would be a disaster, so we did the only thing a family with no shame and Brooklyn roots could – we broke out our blanket and lay it down on the concrete next to a fence that overlooked Lunar Amusement park and the boardwalk.

My husband stood up, holding an umbrella for shade as two boys ate and one sulked behind a chair my husband had opened up for me, but I would never sit in.

Cement picnic. Lovely.

Cement picnic. Lovely.

We were all so done, but my oldest had been waiting all this time for the beach.  Did he actually still want to go?

Yep. He did.

Cue the screaming and pouting and internal dying.

“Okay, then we go,” I said and stood up to throw out our garbage and gather our things. My wise oldest boy took a long, hard look at the beach. Scores of people, many of them crazy looking, passed back and forth before us like cars on a highway. We were the frog in Frogger. Would we make it over to the overcrowded sand?

We would never find out.

“I want to go home.” Her said.

“We’ll go if you want to honey,” I soothed, while holding my breath.

“Let’s go.”

Huge, inner exhale of relief.

It was walking toward the exit of Lunar Park and the street, that I heard the howl. There were so many spinning rides, it could have come from anywhere, but there was only one mouth that could wail like that – my 7 year-old. My eyes so far behind my head, I could still see the beach, I sighed, “What is it?”

I should have known it was coming, but I was still surprised when I heard him cry, “I waaant to goooo to the beach!!!!” I almost laughed. It was too much.

“Sorry Charlie, that ship has sailed, my friend.” Good mommy had left the building when we lay the picnic blanket on the steaming concrete next to garbage and near-naked, tattooed girls scarffing, what else? – hot dogs.

When he refused to budge, I promised very bad things in the near future. He budged.

With a small child on my back, we made the pilgrimage back to the car. Heaven.

With the air conditioner on and the DVD entertaining, my husband and I relaxed and breathed.

“Well, that was….”

I smiled, speechless. In truth, despite hating almost everything about the day, it was so unbelievably bad that it was comical.

I tried again, “Actually, I loved it almost as much as I hated it.”

He agreed. “I’m re-thinking  the river rafting trip down the Delaware I was planning this weekend.”

Oh my God. Was he kidding? A trip down the Delaware with the three kids definitely terrified me. So I just shrugged and made light, “We might be a little ahead of ourselves. Our kids are not that adventurous.”

Once home, our children happily back in their underwear playing Wii, me back on the computer and my husband flipping between the news and a baseball game, peace and normalcy had returned. The world was right once more.

Suddenly, my husband’s voice called out, loud and excited. “Everyone! Everyone! Come quick!”

I barely picked my butt off the seat, when I realized what the commotion was – the Nathan’s Hotdog eating contest from earlier was taped and showing on the news.

Three boys and my man rapturously watched Joey Chestnut devour his competition.

“We were there!” My husband beamed. “We were there!”

And finally, three little boys beamed back.

Mom Gets Lizard. Mom Loses Lizard.

This is the day I lost my Smiles.

For clarification, Smiles is our new baby bearded dragon. Also, Smiles isn’t technically mine. My nine-year-old son Tyler is his official owner, as he’ll happily declare for all to know. He was the one who begged for him mercilessly, who cried when we said we would think about it, who brought out the big guns and lamented his first born status of having to share everything with everyone, namely his two annoying brothers. Smiles, named for the wide, open mouthed expression on his face, was his – except when it became necessary to feed, care or pay any general attention to it, then as it turns out, Smiles is mine.

I can’t say I mind, I took a quick liking to the reptile. Maybe it brought me back to my younger days, scanning the bungalow colony woods in summer scouting for those bright orange salamanders. My friends and I would catch them, count their spots, declare their age, and put them in pitiful little Tupperware tanks that we would decorate with grass, dirt and rocks. No animals were ever so loved by their captors, who routinely forgot to feed or give them water. Or in the case of my sweet younger brother – or at least sweet in this retelling – forgot to punch air holes in his plastic home. It took him awhile to figure out that his prized critters weren’t actually sleeping. I remember once leaving them out on the bungalow porch too long in the sun. You don’t want to know what I found when I returned from camp later that day. Let’s just say, to this day I don’t eat dried apricots.

Even with the 30 year time passage, I should have known better, but I guess I’m just an old nostalgic sap, I liked him. I really liked him. He isn’t orange or spotted like the “Sallys” of the old days. He’s a more lizardly grey brown, all the better for blending my dear. And he’s not smooth bellied and sweet; Smiles is a predator. Just watch him catch a cricket. Even lounging on his branch feigning sleep, in a flash he’s on the move. Snap, there go another cricket. I try not to think too hard about my transition from loving the innocent soft salamanders of old to the wizened, scaly dragon I identify with now. There’s something frightening there but again, I’m not thinking about that. Smiles knows what’s what. You’ve got to appreciate that.

In the week we’ve had Smiles, we have definitely bonded. I talk to him, bring him fresh vegetables, stroke his head, take him out to cuddle – don’t judge me, my boys are getting bigger. Sometimes, when I come close to the tank, Smiles runs up to the nearest branch and stares at me with a gaping smiling mouth. At least that was how I perceived it, until I read a book on bearded dragons that said that they sometimes show dominance and aggression with their wide menacing expression. Ouch. I don’t care what that book say, Smiles loves me.

So on this gorgeous May morning, I decided that Smiles should feel the real sun on his back instead of the infrared light bulb that heats his cage. Tyler was in Hebrew School already and the other boys were occupied with a video game. It was just me and Smiles as I walked out my front door into the bright happy morning.

At first, it was a Norman Rockwell picture. Me and my lizard on the green green lawn, under the blue blue sky with the yellow shining sun, so pretty. We basked as Smiles slowly scampered from my hand to the grass and back, until I got distracted for one damn second when my neighbor’s son biked past. I wanted Julius and Michael, my other boys, outside biking as well, and turned my head to call into the house for them.

That was when it happened. Smiles took two quick leaps and scooted right into the bushes that line my front lawn. It was my turn to have a mouth open and wide and my eyes as well. “Howard!” I screamed for husband, lunging for the plants. I was quick but he was quicker, and within a second, he was gone.

The person who would throw a paper towel at a spider and then run out of the room screaming was now full body deep in the bowels of a bush crawling with creepy creatures. I was beside myself. I could not believe what I had done. What the hell was I thinking bringing a small lizard outside without boundaries? All that went through my mind as I clawed helplessly through the mulch and dirt, scratching my arms on the branches and staring maddeningly at the leaves was that Tyler was never going to forgive me.  I could see it. On my deathbed, he would bring it up… remember when you lost Smiles?

Full on panic set in as the minutes passed and I realized my hope of recovering my baby dragon was as fleeting as he was. Howard was pulling apart our front shrubs. I had my face nose to nose with a giant spider and merely blew it aside. Things were crawling on me and I pushed my face lower to the ground and deeper into the bush. The shrub thinned out and I could see through it to the other side and Howard’s face staring back at me.

I was crushed. For one of the only times I can remember, Howard had the decency not to pour oil on the fire with, “Why would you do something like that?” or “What were you thinking?” I can only imagine how desperate I looked. Although, I got some idea by my father-in-law who was there as well, slowly circling the bushes with very large feet. Every time he caught a glimpse of my crazy eyes, he started repeating this tense, optimistic mantra, “Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him. Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him. Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him.”

That was when Julius and Michael decided to make their appearance running from the door. Howard and I halted them immediately, both afraid they might step on Smiles and wanting to keep them unaware of the situation, but it was useless, the little lizards were on to our game. “Why’d ya take him outside?” Michael wanted to know. “You lose Smiles?” Julius asked. Crap. There were no secrets now. In my mind I had already jumped ahead to the pet store to buy a replacement baby bearded dragon, but now with the boys in the know, there was no way out for me. The gig was up and I was officially the worst mom ever.

We continued like this, gently circling the shrub, staring hard at every branch – who was I kidding? He was four inches long and the color of bark.  I sometimes couldn’t find him in his cage. I pictured his little face that was either happy to see me or territorially posturing for dominance. I was on the verge of heavy tears. Suddenly, Howard whispered something like, “I see him.”

There was no way. On my lawn of a thousand plants, a million blades of grass, Howard had found him, sitting in the center of the shrub next to the shrub that we had just mutilated. Slowly we closed in. Howard attempted retrieval but Smiles was deep in the shrub and he couldn’t get his hand around him. He tried coming in from behind but was afraid his tail would pull off if he tugged at it.

Barely breathing, I pulled apart the bush the best I could. He really was in there, deep in a crisscross of intersecting branches, his little face looking straight up at me without the hint of a smile. A large spider crawled over his back. I waited a second hoping he’d eat it or something. No such luck. Feeling like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, I slid my hand down and around, praying that he wouldn’t bolt. He didn’t. I pulled Smiles out and into the cave of my shaking hands. Gently hugging my hands to my chest, I walked into my house, placed Smiles back into his tank and cried.

All day, I watched Smiles closely for signs of stress, but he was fine. Only I spent the rest of the day in a state of shaky exultation. We found him! In all the bushes and all the grass, we found him. It was a near disaster. It left me thankful and vulnerable. I had almost committed one of those parent crimes that children carry with them for the rest of their lives, or at least thru therapy.

When Tyler found out what had happen, his mood was light and airy. “You lost Smiles.” He almost joked. He had no idea of the tragedy averted. Later, Howard and I reflected on how differently the day could have gone. If he hadn’t looked in that bush… If he had run… we would all be without smiles for a long time. Thankfully we survived our first week as baby bearded dragon owners, and now I’m just going to shed this day like reptile skin, smile and move on to the second.