Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tao of Christmas Tree Decorating

In retrospect, I would have done three things differently:

1. Strung the lights the night before when the children were sleeping.

2. Had a very clear plan as to what the “Tree Decorating Teaching Moment” would be.

3. Said, “No way in hell,” when Thad asked if, in lieu of decorating, he could go to the gym.

And still, even without the benefit of hindsight, it seemed like such a good idea at the time: placing several three-foot high stools around the tree and stepping from one to the next while artfully arranging the lights at the top of the tree as my helper--4-year-old Blair--followed behind on the floor, carrying a nest of lights that was three times the size of her head.

“Can we hang up the ornaments?” she asked.

“After we finish the lights.”

Eleven seconds later:

“Can we hang up the ornaments?”

“After we finish the lights.”

That, of course, was a lie. Because after we finished the lights, we had to hang up the garland--a 10-foot long necklace of tiny silver balls--which wouldn’t have taken long, if 2-year-old Drew hadn’t secretly confiscated them for her first-ever attempt at jump rope. Under my breath, I cursed Thad and that gym. It took one-and-a-half episodes of Dora to untangle them.

“Can we hang up the ornaments?” Blair asked.

“Can hang hornmats?” Drew asked.

“Sure!” I yelled, loud with the joy of the season, gleeful with timeless beauty of this holiday scene--two loving little girls decorating the Christmas tree with their loving mother, who never anticipated what said tree would look like when decorated by people who are barely three-feet tall.

I found myself, yet again, at a maternal crossroad.

If I were the kind of mother who wanted to teach her children that there was no right and wrong when expressing oneself artistically, I would have simply let it be--six ornaments above waist-level, 67 below waist-level.

Unfortunately, I am not that mother.

If I were the kind of mother who wanted to teach her children that all good things come to those who wait, then, much like my friend Sally who waits for her kids to go to bed and then throws away all of their artwork, I would have waited until Modern Family was over before I reapplied and rearranged.

Unfortunately, I am not that mother, either.

I am this kind of mother: one who managed to convince herself later--after, in full view of the minors, I plucked some of the low-hanging ornaments and placed them in the higher branch zones, which led to two girls in tears, one biting me on my thigh, one time-out, and me, aloud, cursing Thad and that God-forsaken gym and all of it’s God-forsaken thin and toned patrons of avoidance behavior--that the best teaching moment of Christmas-tree-decorating was the art of properly decorating a Christmas tree. (In some cultures, this lesson might be translated, “You can’t always get what you want, unless you’re me.”)

I should, however, have thought this through beforehand. If I had, I’d surely have been gentler when passing on the wisdom. I’d clearly have avoided the shock, the fear, the residual trauma sparked by my spur-of-the-moment explanation: “Girls, it’s like this: If your ornaments aren’t evenly distributed on the tree, Santa won’t come.”

***A NOTE TO MY FAITHFUL SUBSCRIBERS: I have found that subscribing to a blog through the Networked Blogs option on Facebook pretty much stinks. (Since it doesn't alert you to when I've posted, I'm not sure what the point is. You?) I made it easier. On the upper right hand side of my blog page, you now have two options: 1. subscribe via e-mail (when I post, you'll get an e-mail) or, 2. subscribe via a reader, like Google or Bloglines or Yahoo or whatever you "do."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I thought I’d convinced myself--thanks to the recent swirl of requests from Facebook friends to vote for their various children in various cutest-child-on-earth contests (The cutest baby smile! The most-cutest-ever GAP kid!)--that I’d not stumbled into the Gosselin circle of hell for pimping my kids’ cuteness on a TV show. I mean, it wasn’t like they got paid. Or that I forced them to pretend they were trapped in a flying object.

All I did was write an article for Philadelphia Magazine. It was about Sprout, the new preschool channel for kids based in Philly that runs live shows and uses local kids in promotional spots. When the head of Sprout e-mailed to tell me he liked the story, I responded with a P.S.: “If you ever need any cute girls for promos, I have a couple.” As it turned out, they did.

The shoot? A promo for Thanksgiving to air during Thanksgiving week.

The instructions? “We'll be asking the girls about the Thanksgiving holiday and 
what they are thankful for.”

Sitting around the dinner table last Monday, I posed my first prep question: “What are you girls thankful for?”

“My little sister,” Blair said. A tear bubbled in the corner of my eye. My first thought: She is the sweetest four-year-old who ever walked. My second: Sprout will eat that shit up. But, then, Blair went on: “And my fork. I’m thankful for my fork. And my chicken. And my salt shaker. And my rug. And my door….”

“Drew,” I said. “What are you thankful for?”

“My poppy,” she said. Again: the bubbling mommy tear. Unfortunately, only three people on the planet could translate what Drew had just said, and they were sitting at this table. When she said it on national TV, the world would hear, “Ma poopy.”

Against my better judgment, I decided not to read aloud to them from Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares.

A few days later, the afternoon before the shoot, I called my mom. I was driving home from Marshalls, where I’d gone to look for shirts for the kids to wear on TV, since I wasn’t satisfied with the two shirts each I’d bought for them to wear on TV at Kohls the day before.

MOM: “Have you coached them on that they’re thankful for?”

ME: “I’m SO not doing that. I want them to say what they’re thankful for, not what we told them to say that they’re thankful for.”

MOM: “But what if that means Sprout doesn’t use them?”

ME: “Then, Sprout doesn’t use them.”

(Long pause.)

MOM: “I hope the shirts you bought are fall colors, at least.”

On the morning of the shoot, the girls and I left the house at 9:36, which meant we were already six minutes behind schedule. I was drinking my sixth cup of coffee. The girls were in their car seats—Blair wearing a Kelly-green shirt with an abstract apple design on the front, Drew in a purple shirt, which complimented the thin purple stripe in the abstract apple. Hanging on hangers, were an additional five shirts for each of them, two sweaters for Drew, and one for Blair. In a bag on the passenger seat--since the producer told us to bring any specific items the girls were thankful for--were their blankets (a.k.a. “cakeys”), a pair of drum sticks, and a ukulele with a hot pink pick.

I took inventory in my head. Outfits? Check. Things they are thankful for? Check. Factoids about the Thanksgiving holiday? Um….


ME: (deperately) “Blair? Where do we eat Thanksgiving?”

BLAIR: “Turkey.”

ME: (more desperately) “No, where do we celebrate Thanksgiving?”

BLAIR: “After Halloween.”

Crap. Crap. Crap.

ME: (like a woman in need of lithium) “Who is coming to our house for Thanksgiving this year?”

BLAIR: “To our house?”

ME: “To our house.”

BLAIR: “Nana and Poppy, Grammy and Pappy, and Barack Obama.”

And, with that, suddenly, I transformed. Hearing that line--imagining Blair delivering that line...that most-honest, most-perfect, most-marketable line...on a Sprout Thanksgiving promo--extinguished my soul. Immediately, it was replaced by the spirits of the Holy Trinity of Vicarious Living--Dina Lohan, Kit Culkin, and Mama Rose Lee. (“Sing out, Blair! Sing OUT!”)

“Blair...tell me again...what are you thankful for?”

“My sister. My cakey. My thumb.”

“Brilliant! Say it again! Say it again!!!” I wondered how long it would be before she was cast in a major motion picture movie as the charming and wise-beyond-her-years daughter of Bob Saget. No, of Bradley Cooper. No...of Brad Pitt! “Who is coming to Thanksgiving dinner, Blair? Who? Again! AGAIN!”

We arrived at the shoot. There was a producer, a director, a camera-man, a grip. Blair and Drew were instructed to sit at a table that was covered in very-carefully placed craft items--crayons, construction paper, pipe cleaners, mini pom pom balls. In the middle was a little turkey, made by tracing a hand on a piece of paper and cutting it out. The director pointed at it: “That’s what you’ll be making, girls. You need to trace your hands.” And the camera started rolling.

Drew was far more interested in trying to consume the mini pom pom balls. Blair grabbed a purple crayon. She flattened her little hand on the paper. She traced. She proved to be a very serious tracer, unaware of the cameras, of the crew, of anything but what was right there in front of her.

“Look mommy!” she said, holding up her traced hand. “Look!”

“Perfect.” I said, seeing, too, what was right there in front of me. "Perfect!"

Only after the shoot was over, after we left, did I realized it: the girls weren’t asked to recite a single word.

Monday, October 12, 2009

She Talk Pretty One Day

When I pulled the note out of Blair’s folder at school, I decided that the future of human civilization was crumbling right before my very eyes.

Here is what it said:

“This is a reminder that all children must get there Flu Shot by the end of December.”

I tried to convince myself that it was merely an innocent typo. But then, I read on: “Please bring in there immunization records with proof of there flu shot.”

I knew that my gasp of horror (because I gasped in horror) was slightly unfair, for several reasons:

1. I am a writer. And, before that, I was an editor. And before that I was an English major. And before that, I took No-doze to properly cram for spelling tests. If I didn’t know the difference between “there” and “their,” I should be forced to parade through the Acme wearing nothing but pages ripped from Strunk and White. Or something.

2. Even spell-check can’t tell the difference. And spell-check is God.

3. I figured out “that” and “which” only last year, though I suspect that I use a rule--“which comes after a comma and that doesn’t”--that I made up.

4. I needed an ex-boyfriend--a college-drop-out, stoner, ex-boyfriend--to explain to me when to use “it’s” and when to use “its.” (“Think of the apostrophe as replacing the ‘i,’” he said. And I do that. Every time. For example: “It is hard being so smart and important” can contract into “It’s hard being so smart and important.”)

5. Words I write are typically copyedited. By professionals. So there will never, ever be proof. Like in a note. From a school.

But this was in a note! From a school! And not just any school--the school where my kids go daily! To be schooled! Okay, it’s technically a “learning center.” But we pay big bucks for the learning center’s learning. I may be able to look beyond some of the things Blair brings home, things that are wrong on far more complicated levels. (For example, “Firecracker, firecracker, boom boom boom! The boys got the muscles. The teachers got the brains. The girls got the sexy legs. And we won the game!”) But I can not sit idly by while my child (who, incidentally, can't yet read such notes) even breathes the air where such affronts to the English language are left unproofed and unfettered and unabashedly written on notes to the very parents who are writing the checks.

The larger question was this: what should I do about it? In fact, I was puzzling out this very issue--my best plan, so far, was to write a note about it to the owner, though unsigned, perhaps using letters cut out from magazines, in order to protect Blair and Drew from any “their mom is a total bitch from hell” retribution--when I got an e-mail from a friend. She was passing along a note that one of her friends had just received from a preschool teacher:

“E. has not been wanting to participate in Music--she removes herself and set out when she decided she is not like the song. M. follow her. I spoke to them early on--telling them this was not an option and that if it happened again not only would Mom’s be told be them would be remove from Music. So yesterday the teacher brought both of them to the class room where they laid their heads down until the class returned. E. also lost her job. In taking her job I'm hoping she understands her actions had consequences.”

And, with that, I suddenly felt better about everything--our learning center, “their vs. there,” the future of human civilization. Because, now, I knew one thing for certain: Thirteen years from now, Blair and Drew would totally kick E. and M.’s asses on the SAT.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If You Must, Bite Your Sister

When I arrived at school to pick up the girls on Drew’s first day, the teacher immediately gave me the dreaded Teacher Look--a cross between “You’re lucky I didn’t kill your children today” and “You’re a bad mother.”

“Drew bit,” she said, her voice filled with such reproach, I fully expected her to complete the sentence with “...somebody’s nose off” or “...into a live electrical wire” or “...her tongue clean through...and here it is” as she handed me a bumpy, bloody napkin. But she did not. She simply let the words--“Drew bit”--hang in the air, like fart.

Drew, as if to prove she wasn’t entirely maladjusted, began to embrace me so tightly it felt like she and my leg were reenacting the kissing scene in The Notebook. I have never before witnessed her so happy to see me, and I might have appreciated it had I not been momentarily paralyzed by the words running through my mind: Please let her have bitten Blair. Please let her have bitten Blair. Please let her have bitten her big sister and not the little boy whose daddy is an attorney.

In this brave new world of parenting, I have discovered one inalienable truth: biting is bad. It is bad enough at home, where Drew does it quite a lot. But amongst the children of others, biting is worse than all other offenses: hitting, spitting, touching bathing-suit parts. It is the preschool-version of first degree-murder. And now, in just a single day, Drew had been cast as the two-year-old Hester Prynne of Tiny Treasures Learning Academy, emblazoned forever (or at least until she left for kindergarten) with a scarlet letter “B.” The Kid Who Bites. The Biter. The Bad One.

“Look Mommy,” Blair said, as she crossed the room, lifting up her dress to reveal her new Ariel big-girl panties and a circle of dark red tiny teeth marks. On her back. “Drew bited me.”

“Oh...you poor thing,” I said (though I was really thinking Thank God) as I leaned down and examined her wound. Drew hadn’t been messing around. Skin was broken. There would be a significant bruise. Blair looked up at me with her big blue eyes and shook her head in four-year-old disgust. I looked down at Drew who was still melding with my thigh.

“There is no biting, Drew. We don’t bite people,” I admonished, using the pronoun “we,” which has become my odd parenting habit. (“We don’t eat Doritos for breakfast.” “We don’t put My Little Pony in the toilet.”)

Drew looked up and me. Then at Blair. Then at me.

“But I bite Blair,” she said. And then she grinned, which made one teacher put her hand to her mouth in alarm. I didn’t wait around to see her reaction to what Drew did next.

Because, next, Drew growled. Like a dog. An angry dog. And then--as if she hadn’t quite made her point--she pretended, with her teeth, that she was yanking beef off of a bone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mommy Goes to The Dark Place

It seemed like such a good idea, going to a real Italian restaurant in South Philly where the waiters and waitresses sing opera. Our 17-year-old niece was in town, and we wanted to take her some place Philly-y. We'd already done the Pats/Genos cheesesteak stand-off for lunch, plus pasta was the one foodstuff that both Blair and Drew actually ate (provided it had no sauce, no spices, and nothing "slippery" on it, like butter). Victor's Cafe had pasta. And entertainment. And white tablecloths. And wine. Lots of wine.

I thought it was very wise of the hostess to seat us in a corner, as if she knew what I knew: that my 4- and 2-year old, upon hearing music of any kind, were accustomed to singing along. And making up their own words. And occasionally shaking their butts a little. But wasn't this what it meant to be good parents? To expose our offspring (including our niece from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania) to the world? To fine dining, and culture, and cloth napkins? To make sure they knew that there was more to music than "Big Red Car"?

When the girls first heard the bell ring--the signal that someone was about to sing--they got so wiggly and bubbly I thought they they might knock over their Shirley Temples. Throughout the entire aria, they stared at the waitress singing, completely still and quiet, totally awed but the very fact of it all. When the waitress hit the ridiculous high note at the end, Blair turned to her cousin and made a face that I can only describe as, "Holy Jesus!" I was proud.

And then he came in.

I thought it was very unwise of the hostess, in a room filled with empty tables (besides one four-top of gray-haired ladies who were exchanging gifts) to seat The Man, his wife, and their two friends next to us. But they seemed grandparent-y enough. They were my parents' age--in their late-60s. Or, at least, he was. They saw us there. They knew what they were getting into.

But, the next time the bell rang (and our meals had still not arrived), Drew was growing a little tired of her crayons (which I'd brought), and her Shirley Temple (which she'd spilled half of), and her bread (which I was feeding to her like it was Valium). She started whining.

The first time during the song that The Man turned around and gave Drew the stink eye, I ignored it. I decided he was looking over to see the sweet sisters dressed in sweet twin sundresses, inspired by the wonder that is a child experiencing something for the first time.

The second stink eye pissed me off. Granted, Drew was now fake-crying and trying to climb onto me, but not very loud. I knew she'd calm down in a second, once the food came. She leaned into me and started talking. I shushed her. She wouldn't be shushed. Finally, I translated what she was saying to me: "I want sing, mommy! I want sing!" Unfortunately, at the exact same time she was saying this, the man was stink eye-ing her, straight on, while simultaneously shaking his head. I should have controlled myself. I did not.

"Stop shaking your head," I whispered to him. The Man turned and looked at me as if he just discovered I was topless.

"Why don't you take your kid for a walk?" he whispered back, spitting on Drew a little.

"Why don't you go f@*k yourself?"

[Note: When I relayed this story to my friend April the next day, she said, "Boy, you went there fast." She was right. I knew it even then, at that moment, as the words were coming out of my mouth. But, no matter how many times in the days after The Opera Incident that I come up with comebacks that were far more eloquent and biting (i.e. "I brought my kids here to learn about opera but it seems they're learning much more about crotchety old men"), the words were already coming out of my mouth.]

"Wha..." the man said, his mouth literally hanging open, looking around the room, as if he was trying to find someone who had heard me so he would have a witness. There was no witness. "You are such a lady," he said. The first thing I thought? This is the first time in my life anyone's ever called me a lady.

After the song, as he was regaling his dining companions with the play-by-play (which ellicited at least one, "No she didn't!"), I turned back to him and said: "I'm sure the hostess would be more than happy to move you to another table."

"You can go to hell," he said.

Thad (finally) piped in: "Sir, our daughter's only two."

Man: "Exactly!"

Me: "Are you saying that we've done a bad thing by bringing our children here to hear opera arias?"

Man: "You really are quite lovely."

Me (in my head): "Don't make me have to kill you...you son-of-a-bitch, bastard, poopy-diaper, jerk-man."

And that was the end of it. The Man stomped to the hostess, she moved them to a completely different room, and I sat there for the rest of the meal, dazed. What was wrong with me? Why was I so angry? How did I accelerated so quickly from "zero" to "homicidal?" What kind of lesson did that teach my girls?

One of the women from the table across the room started walking towards our table. She was older than The Poopy-Diaper Man. She was wearing a pink shirt. And she was clearly prepping to say something to us, probably about the fact that Blair was moaning, loudly, about how she wanted Drew's pasta (which was exactly the same pasta she had). I steadied myself. I would not attack her. I would not scratch her in any way. In fact, I would not say anything at all. I would just nod. And smile. Pleasant and neutral,Vicki. Be pleasant and neutral.

"I have to tell you," pink-shirt lady said, "your girls are so well behaved. They're just delightful."

I should have felt vindicated. Instead, I immediately formed a fantasy in my brain, in which I picked up my plate, walked into the next room, located The Poopy-Diaper Man, and poured the remains of my Linguini with Clam Sauce on his lap while simultaneously giving him the finger.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When It Comes to Having Babies, People Lie

You know what's extrasuperfabulously cool about Laurie Puhn's website for parents-to-be, expectingwords.com? That it's for BOTH dads-to-be AND moms-to-be. (Because, contrary to popular belief--translated: the millions of new MOM sites out there--we are in this together. Right? Right????)

Laurie asked me to post a guest blog today, which you can check out on her site, or right here:

The Top Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me BEFORE the Baby Came

1. Embrace your maternity clothes

Six weeks in with new baby, I decided to go out in public officially to a Baby and Me meeting at the hospital where I delivered. I pulled out a pair of shorts, previously known as my "fat shorts." I couldn't squeeze one thigh into them (then proceeded to blame my husband for drying them all the way in the dryer). I tried a skirt with a drawstring waist--no go over my hips. I tried a beach cover-up--nursing boobs too big. After trying on just about ever item of clothing I owned, which left my bedroom looking like it used to the night before a high school mixer, I opened the drawer with the maternity clothes. I wore those clothes for the following six months. SIX months. My mother reprimanded me for complaining: "You know why your body is beluga whale-ish." Yes. I knew why. I wouldn't have traded that baby for anything. But, two months in, when you're still hoisting in your gut with eight-inch-wide elastic bands, it can feel like the end of the world.

2. Babies cry

Like, a lot. You will try everything—feeding, sleeping, finger-sucking, binkies, bouncing, rocking, baby-wearing, placing car seats on the dryer. And, sometimes, nothing will work. And you will feel like something is wrong with you, because parents are supposed to be able to calm their babies, to stop them from crying. Well—there is nothing wrong with you.

3. You will want to kill you husband

Here is something I learned last year, when my older daughter was three: studies show that the first year with new baby is the hardest on a marriage. Well, that would have been a helpful bit of intel. Because I thought there was no place to go but divorce, what with me needing him to help more, and him not knowing what I wanted him to do because I didn't know what to do myself, and me listening to him sleep while I nursed half the night away every single night for almost a year, and him thinking it was still okay to go to the gym after work everyday. I threatened to leave him. Literally. Packed bags and everything. (I never intended to go. Just wanted to get the point across.) I'm certain we would have been easier on each other had we known this.

4. All the time, people will say to you, "Call if you need anything." Call them.

Repeat this to yourself: "asking for help is not a weakness, asking for help doesn't somehow prove you're a bad mother, asking for help may actually get you a home-cooked meal, brought to your door by a neighbor, who will hold the baby while you eat it." This is good.

5. You are not alone

You will wonder if you might be the only person on the planet who doesn't have the parental gene. You will watch other parents and you will think, "Why do they have it together, and why am I sucking?" Here's the secret: all new parents are freaking out. This is the biggest-ever transition in your life—yesterday? No baby. Today? Baby. It's big for everyone. If they say they aren't freaking out...not even a little...they're lying.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Other Uses for Everyday Household Items

It woke me up at 2:30 in the morning two Saturdays ago. I shot up in bed, tears instantly spilling out of my eyes, and stared down at my right shoulder where a sudden, burning, debilitating pain emanated out of some deep dark place. In the core of it. Or the heart. Or something. I half-expected to see a spear pierced thought it. Or a hot curling iron. Or Eric from True Blood biting me, which would be…you know…the good kind of hot.

It was not Eric.

It was, however, like no sensation I’d ever felt before (and I’d had two babies naturally…though…um…not by choice). It was constant. It was angry. And, no matter how I moved, or didn’t move, it would not subside. I woke up husband Thad. (I’m a firm believer that, if I can’t sleep from agonizing shoulder pain, no one should sleep).

Thad fed me Advil. It didn’t work. He massaged my shoulder. It didn’t work. He grabbed the laptop and began diagnosing me from Web MD—a pinched nerve, we decided.

The next morning, pre-coffee, I’d speed to the chiropractor. And he’d tell me that I was too stressed. That I’d finally pushed it over the edge. That the stress had no place left to go but into my shoulder and lodge there, like a tick. Or, maybe, eventually, shoot down my right arm. Maybe make my hand numb. And limp. And useless. The chiropractor would give me a neck brace to wear, which would elicit much sympathy from Thad, my mother, and the four houseguests from France who were arriving that afternoon. (Because of course you have houseguests from a foreign country coming the day you get a pinched nerve in your shoulder and have a freaking lasagna to make, else everyone will starve and you’ll never get invited on a reciprocal visit, which you already planned on taking advantage of in the spring, without kids…and maybe, just maybe, with husband.)

But, at 2:30 in the morning, that appointment was still many hours away.

I spent the night lying on my stomach in bed, wide awake and crying in that sobby way you see in war movies and think “no one really cries like that," with a heating pad duct-taped around my shoulder and--because where I really needed to be was on a massage table--my head, face-down, in the hole of my daughter’s Dora the Explorer potty seat.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Wouldn't You Like To Be A Pooper, Too?

Thad and four-year-old Blair traipsed around in the twilight two nights ago, catching fireflies in a mason jar.

It was very cute.

It was so cute, in fact, that I decided not to be a firefly-party-pooper and point out that the breathing holes Thad had hammered through the metal cap on the jar seemed rather large.

It was a huge accomplishment for me to restrain from being a firefly-party-pooper since, when it comes to Thad’s initiatives with the kids, I am often a pooper—a chocolate-chips-for-breakfast-pooper, or another-new-outfit-from-Target-pooper, a teach-them-all-the-lyrics-to-For-Those-About-To-Rock-We-Salute-You-pooper. Don’t be a pooper, I said to myself, as Thad and Blair and I sat on her bed, in the dark, and watched the 10 fireflies they caught light up their little firefly butts. Blair wanted to sleep with the firefly jar. We compromised by setting it on her dresser.

“You two were sweet to put the blades of grass in there,” I said, noticing that there were some really tiny fireflies in that jar. Like, really tiny. And thin. And agile. Likely a special species of contortionist fireflies that can wiggle through small spaces in the dark of night. Don’t be a pooper.

Of course, the next morning, Thad had already left for work when Blair started yelling. Screaming. Like she was under attack. I ran down the hall, burst through the door into her room, and found her with her head under her rainbow kitty pillow. I was not surprised to see the firefly on her ceiling, the firefly on her wall, and the firefly clutching to the inside of the pink canopy netting surrounding her bed. There were three fireflies still in the jar.

This left four fireflies unaccounted for. I immediately felt itchy.

“Get them, mommy,” Blair said. “Get them!” She wasn’t afraid, she explained. She was simply concerned that they’d been separated from their firefly mommy who, she said, was still in the firefly jar. I, on the other hand, was very much afraid. I did not want to touch them. But, in this new anti-pooper phase of motherhood I'd entered, I didn’t want Blair to know I didn’t want to touch them. I wanted her to see that I thought fireflies roaming free in our home was the coolest thing since teaching her how to hold down her middle and ring finger with her thumb and shout, "Rock on!"

Which became less convincing when the firefly on the wall took off and buzzed by my head, causing me to squeal and flail and clap my hands over my ears to, presumably, protect my brain from being invaded.

“What’s wrong mommy?” Blair asked.

Your father made the holes too big and now there are bugs loose in the house, hiding in corners, waiting to attack us because they are SO pissed that they had to spend the night in a glass jar with a blade of grass and they’re probably going to summon all their firefly friends to suicide-bomb the screen door so we’ll never be able to leave the house again, ever!

“Nothing’s wrong, sweetie,” I said instead, as calm and non-pooperly as I could. “Nothing at all.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Just Throw Me In Front Of A Train

This is what my mother’s been telling be lately, as she and my dad juggle a slightly-demented uncle in a nursing home, his spunky wife in assisted living who insists on going home and, now, my grandmother—my dad’s mom--92, suffering from congestive heart failure and recovering from intestinal surgery at a nursing home, sharing her room with a women who has been on a feeding tube for 17 years and yells out, periodically, “Help me!”

“Just throw me in front of a train,” my mother says.

“Right,” I say.

“I mean it,” she says. “Really.”

I flew to my hometown, Erie, PA, last weekend to see my grandmother. It was a last-minute trip, after several updates from my dad that made it sound like there wasn’t much time. My grandmother wasn’t eating. I knew what that meant, only because we’d gone through this whole thing last spring, with my mom’s mom. Her Hospice nurse explained the eating thing early on—before my mom’s mom left the retirement home she’d lived in for decades, before she moved into the nursing home with all of her clothes marked with her name and her cassettes of the music she’d taped off of the oldies station and a bulletin board filled with photos of all of her 13 grandchildren. It was before she moved from that place after barely two months, and went to the Hospice house where, two weeks later, she died. The Hospice nurse told us that not eating is a sign.

When I got to the nursing home in Erie, my grandmother was sleeping with her mouth hanging open, an oxygen tube in her nose attached to a machine that hummed so loud it sounded like it might just up and take off. She looked better than I thought she would look. She had color. Her hair was done.

My cousin Melanie was there, sitting in the Lazy Boy beside our grandmother’s bed. She and her family had flown in from Texas. Melanie immediately began to describe, in detail, what my grandmother had eaten for lunch: a few bites of her applesauce, some of the pork chop, a whole glass of the Boost nutrition drink that she loves.

“They forgot to bring her the Boost at first,” Melanie said. “So I told her I’d only ask for it after she ate two more bites of her pork chop.”

“Smart,” I said.

I felt sad for both of them—my grandmother having her granddaughter cajole her into eating as if she were one of Melanie’s kids, and Melanie believing that, if she could just get Grandma to eat, everything would be fine. The surgery scar would heal. The swelling in her legs would go down. She would get better.

I vowed, when I stopped by to see Grandma the next day, I wouldn’t do this, I wouldn’t coax her to eat, I would let it be what it was. Whatever it was. A sign. Or not a sign. Here was what I knew for sure: A 92-year old woman could decide for herself if she wanted to eat. Out of nowhere, my grandmother’s roommate shouted: “Help me! Help me!” I wondered what she meant. I wondered what “help” was in a place like this. Did she want the food in that IV of hers? Or was she wishing she’d told her daughter what my mother’s been telling me? I wondered if, maybe, I didn’t want my grandmother to force herself to eat anything at all, but just let this life of hers run its course. Let it go.

She slept almost all of the three hours I was there, and I found myself sticking around because dinner was going to be served. She shouldn’t eat alone, I thought to myself. That’s why you’re staying. And then, the sweet nurse who’d earlier brought be a pack of Lorna Dunes, brought my grandmother’s tray. A potato pancake. Cottage Cheese. Canned pineapple.

“Grandma, why don’t you sit up a little, so you’re closer to the tray,” I said.

“Okay, honey,” she said, as I pressed the button on her bed that raised up her torso.

“What do you think of this?” I asked her, pointing to the tray.

“Looks good.”

“It does?”

“Yeah, honey.” She reached for the Boost. I watched her. I watched hands all gnarled with arthritis wrap themselves around the little plastic cup. I watched her twist her hips a little to alleviate that constant pain in her back. I watched her eyes almost start to doze off again, right in the middle of a sip. I knew what I should do. I knew what I wanted to do. But I was too selfish.

“Grandma,” I said, picking up the fork, “how about you take at least three bites of that cottage cheese.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We Are Unclean

There are ants in my kitchen--twenty or so of them. No matter how many times I murder them, they will not go away. They seem to send reinforcements, daily, on some late-night express-train from the yard, apparently wearing teeny-tiny haz-mat suits in order to penetrate the Fresh Linen-scented Raid I’ve sprayed along the edges of the doors and windows, like a toxic moat. And, still, they risk their lives, the Raid, the bottom of my flip-flops, me swearing at them, to search out the one thing that ants (and me, for that matter) are powerless to resist--a Cheeto.

When I woke up this morning, that was exactly where they were, crowded on top of a stale orange nub left on the floor overnight, all 20 of them, humping a Cheeto. I knew that the real problem was that there was a Cheeto left on the floor in the first place. And a fingerprint of Nutella. And a splotch of Raspberry Ice Crystal Light (which they loooooove). And various other crumbs and drips, which proved that, as a housekeeper, I was a lazy sow. While I wasn’t exactly okay with that title, I’d not quite evolved to the point where, after the kids went to bed at night, I’d roll my lazy sow butt off of the couch and pull out the Swiffer.

Until this morning. When my four-year-old woke up and, upon dragging her blanket across the kitchen floor—the blanket that she carries everywhere—invented a new game: Ant Spotting.

“There’s one, Mommy!” Blair shouted, proudly.

“There’s another one,” she shouted, even more proudly, as if two ants were better than one.

The time had come. I needed to open up a big can of Whoop Ants.

The trick, I learned by googling “Kill Ants,” was to locate their source, which I knew was a patch of dirt under the kitchen window that contained what I decided was, roughly, 834 million ants. To destroy the hill, I had to destroy the queen. But destroying the queen wasn’t so easy. There were many suggestions online, ranging from dousing the hill with the hose, to pouring undistilled white vinegar all over it, to setting it on fire. I liked the idea of setting them on fire best, but I thought it wouldn’t be wise. And, while there were remedies that involved products like Boric acid, I didn’t have Boric acid on hand, and thought that walking three blocks to the Ace Hardware would take too much time. I wanted them dead. Now.

“What are you doing, mommy?”

“I’m boiling water.”


“To kill the ants.”

“How will boiling water kill the ants?”

I paused. I thought about being honest about the sure-fire method I’d read about online, which included the phrase “scald them to death.” I thought about explaining that I didn’t plan to stop after pouring bubbling, boiling water on them, that I would then sprinkle grits all over the dirt, which the hangers-on would pick up and eat and carry to their queen, if she wasn’t already vaporized, for her to eat. Then, the next time they took a sip of water, the grits would expand in their ant-tummies and they would explode. Pop.

“Oh sweetie,” I said, instead. “The ants will just float away.”

It took me one hour, six pots of boiling water, two splashes onto my right ankle (leading to a 2nd degree burn), one full can of quick-cooking grits, and seventeen F-words, but I did it.

Or I thought I did it.

The next morning, as Blair and I sat on the couch watching Blues Clues, she pointed toward the sliding glass door and screamed: “Ant! Mommy! ANT!” I leapt up as if I was a vampire frenzied for blood, practically levitating over to the door, where I began to stomp. And swear. And stomp. And swear.

“Did you dead it?” Blair asked, after the crazy left my eyes.

“Yes, I dead-ed it.”

“Can I dead the next one?”

I paused. Again. Debating which might be the more valuable lesson. Then, I answered her:

“Only if you put your shoes on.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Poop, There It Is

I don’t think I will ever fully understand the lure of the toilet as a plaything.

I get the water part. And the associated splashing. And the way the toilet paper, upon stirring it around with your Elmo toothbrush, disintegrates into a kind of flaking cloud of slop and paste and pee residue. Especially when you put lots of toilet paper in there. Like, say, 13 or so feet of it. And then pull it out and fling it, dripping, onto the wall behind the tub where it sticks. And hardens. Into something wholly unnatural.

I mean, I get that. But does a two-year-old girl have to do it every day? Right after I dress her? In both bathrooms?

I remember the first time Drew discovered the toilet. Actually, it wasn’t the toilet toilet. It was the training toilet, the one that took up permanent residence next to the Sit ‘n Spin in the family room, the one her big sister was getting applause and standing ovations for just sitting on. Toilet equals joy! Toilet equals M and Ms! Toilet equals parents doing happy dances!

Looking back, I can see what a confusing time it was for little Drew, learning to crawl, discovering a whole new world that exisited eight inches off the ground. Like the bottom drawer where we keep the restaurant menus that needed to be removed hourly. And the shelf in the pantry where we keep bottles of booze. And the training potty.

Had I been a sharper mother, I probably would have seen it coming. But Blair was so elated, jumping around with her pull-ups around her ankles, pointing at her biggest accomplishment yet—poop in the potty! There was much rejoicing. I think we may have pulled out a few musical instruments. And had a small parade.

Which made it all the more disconcerting when, upon returning to the family room, we found Drew there, sitting in the middle of the floor, clapping along, and chewing on something. I tried to convince myself that it was a Tootsie Roll. In fact, I went so far to rationalize how she could have gotten a Tootsie Roll, from the ceramic bowl, on top of the red cabinet that is five feet tall.

It was not a Tootsie Roll.

There were no happy dances.

And, yet, she doesn’t seem to remember. She keeps going back to the toilet. For fun. This I do not get.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Maybe Barbie Should Keep Her Mouth Shut

I cornered myself into buying a Barbie for Blair yesterday.

I needed to go to Kohls. Thad wanted to go. In order to get buy-in from a four-year old, we needed to make promises. If we couldn’t promise ice-cream with rainbow sprinkles, a moonbounce, or Santa, we had to promise a surprise. The surprise was this: “We will buy you one thing.”

As I waited in line at customer service, Blair ran over with two boxes. One contained a My Little Pony. I thought the My Little Pony would surely prevail when faced with a choice between the two. It did not. Blair, instead, chose the other box. It contained a Barbie doll dressed in a pink flamenco dress, complete with a stand-up dressing mirror, brush, compact case, and jeweled necklace. Blair would show me later that the only accoutrement her Barbie did not have was panties.

When we got home with Vain and Slutty Barbie, Thad spent approximately eight and a half hours untwisting, untaping, and unstapling her from her pink, cryogenic Vain and Slutty Barbie box. Once she was free, Blair asked the most terrifying question she’d ever asked: “Mommy, will you play Barbies with me?”

Back in the day, I wasn’t just a Barbie-player, I was the mac-daddy of Barbie-players. I had the pink Corvette and the ski chalet/beach house combo. (I did not have the Barbie Dream House. Its absence in my life, I tell my mother to this day, left a deep and hollow void in my soul.) I would turn my entire bedroom into a Barbie castle using wash cloths for rugs and dove-shaped candles for chairs and toothpaste caps for cups. I occasionally washed my Barbie’s clothes, and then hung them on those little black hangers that came with socks. I once stole a shopping cart just to have the means of transporting my Barbies to and from my BFF’s house across the street. Barbie and I had logged some major together time.

But that was then.

This was now.

Now, as I grabbed hold of the Penn State Barbie my mom bought me a few years ago as a joke, and I placed her, standing on her little pointy toes, on the ottoman in front of where Blair had placed Vain and Slutty Barbie, I did not know what to do. I stuttered, then looked behind me to see if Thad was still in the kitchen—not because I was embarrassed, but because I thought I might be able to convince him, perhaps with the guarantee of sex later, to take over this “playing Barbies” thing. It wasn’t the Barbie part that was problematic. It was the playing part. This was real playing. Make-believe playing. Imagination-run-wild playing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d played like that, which was scary enough. But, even scarier, it seemed I’d totally and completely forgotten how.

Blair stared, waiting for me to do something. She didn’t know what to do, either. She’d never officially "played Barbies" before. She needed me to guide her, to open her up to the world of creative play, to unlock the wardrobe and point her toward Narnia, to slide the Ruby Slippers on her feet. This was part of being a good mother. A fun mother. A Barbie-playing mother. The time had come.

“What’s up?”

There may never have been a longer, heavier silence in my life than the one that followed this enticing piece of dialogue, which I came up with to begin a conversation between Penn State Barbie and Vain and Slutty Barbie. What's up? Though the effect of that silence was topped, rather quickly, by Blair’s face that carried an expression akin to one she might make if I told her that the Easter Bunny had been hit by a car.

“I know, mommy,” she said. “You be the prince. I’ll be Sleeping Beauty. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, relieved that the kid found it in her heart to give me a second chance. This was it. This was really it. I took a breath. I coughed, trying to clear the bad, no-fun mother out of my throat. Then, I started again:

“What’s up Sleeping Beauty?”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There Is No "I" In Motherhood

It would seem that six and a half hours away from husband and kids on a Sunday in April to spend time with friends—friends who did not have children--was a gift handed to me directly from the bosom of God.

Here is what we did: We waited one hour to have brunch at a restaurant where it’s worth it to wait an hour to have brunch. (I had Mahi Mahi fish tacos and the kind of fountain Diet Coke that makes you believe that there actually is a God who gives gifts from his bosom.) Then, we attended an opera.

An opera?

An opera. One of my friends had directed it. It was The Marriage of Figaro. This was the second opera I had seen in my life, and being there broke the promise I’d made to myself after seeing the first opera: never go to an opera again. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I love musical theater. I force my kids to listen to the show tunes channel on our digital cable, which really means I force them to listen to me sing every single song. At full belt. Occasionally with choreography. My husband believes that, no matter the situation, I can pull a show tune out of my bum that’s entirely apropos.

But this was opera. A very well-done opera. But still: All singing. All Italian. All three-and-a-half hours.

As I drove home (after two voicemails from Thad saying, “Where in the hell are you? I’m about to throw these kids through a wall!”) I wondered what I would do if one of my girls decided her one dream in life was to become an opera singer. I pictured Thad and I, from here to eternity, sitting in too-warm theaters on Sunday afternoons, listening to our baby, in her Viking hat, vibrato-ing her little heart out. This, I think, is what people mean when they say, “Love stinks.”

Back when I was in fifth grade, I joined the swim team. I remember seeing my parents sitting way high up in the bleachers at the swim meet, cheering for me during the 72.3 seconds of the four-hour event, when I backstroked the one length in my relay. I quit swim team the following year, though I can’t quite remember why. I do remember, soon after, my mother driving me to auditions for The Sound of Music.

Only much later, when I was in my early 30s, did my mother tell me the truth: “I hated when you were on swim team. We couldn’t even see you. And it was so hot. And long. I thought I would die.” Did she have anything to do with the end of my swimming career?

“Oh,” she said. “The theater was so much more fun…for you.”

She came to every show.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cute Child Abuse

Here is why my husband is a good man: he takes the girls to get their hair cut.

Here is why my husband is a terrible man: he takes the girls to get their hair cut and they come home looking like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.

It’s particularly bad for the two year old.

“It went really well this time,” Thad explains last Saturday when he and Drew walk through the door. I wait for the punch line. I’m assuming there’s a punch line coming because, when I look at Drew, I have to squint my eyes to actually see her bangs. They are so short, they almost don’t exist from a straight-on view, instead sticking out from her hairline like a shelf.

“This is ‘going well?’” I ask, as I do one thing I swore I would never do as a mother, and wet my fingers with spit, patting it on her quarter-inch-long bang-remnants to see if I can convince them to stand down. They will not stand down.

“Well,” Thad explains, “the problem is, she just keeps turning her head, so the girl has to keep cutting it shorter and shorter to make it even.”

“This is not even,” I point out. “This is child abuse.”

“But it’s such cute child abuse!” says Thad, a man whose own mother used to tame the cowlick above his forehead by forcing it down with masking tape.

The truth is, though, it is cute child abuse. The way her face is now literally consumed by her eyebrows as they wiggle up and down like worms? Cute. And the six-mile-prairie of forehead visible between those eyebrows and her hair? Cute. And the hair shelf? Cute, especially when viewing it from the side, where the horizontal-ness of it truly shines.

I tend to roll my eyes about such abuses to other moms. Oh she’s wearing her dangly, clip-on, plastic-diamond earrings again. Eye roll. Oh, she insisted on turning this empty Tampax box into a hat. Eye roll. Oh, her father took her to get a haircut again. Eye roll.

But I secretly love it. It’s kind of like putting pantyhose on the dog’s head and watching him try and get it off. That haircut? It equals a month of parental entertainment. At least. If that's abuse, I'm guilty.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Little Lemonade Girls

Blair had a lemonade stand last weekend. Actually, we had a yard sale, and set up a lemonade stand for Blair to run so she would tolerate being at the yard sale instead of watching Wow Wow Wubzy. She thought the lemonade stand was the coolest thing she’d ever done in her life, all four years of it, which was saying something.

I decided that this was an opportune “teaching moment” and explained to Blair how we’d give all the money she made to Alex’s Lemonade Foundation, the charity started in Philly years ago by a four-year-old named Alex who had cancer and held a lemonade stand to raise money for her hospital to help find a cure. Alex didn’t stop at one stand. In fact, over four years, she raised $1 million, declaring that, the following year, she’d raise five times that.

Then, Alex died. She was 8.

Not long after, I interviewed her parents for an article I was writing for Philadelphia Magazine. We were naming Liz and Jay Scott “Best Philadelphians” for 2005 because they'd decided to continue their daughter’s mission—raising $5 million through lemonade stands—by quitting their jobs and focusing their lives on what their daughter had begun.

I was pregnant with Blair as I sat in the Scott’s living room with my tape-recorder running. Liz talked about how she could tell, early on, that Alex was sick. I asked her to explain that in more detail, thinking not about the article, but about the baby in my own tummy, wondering how would I know if she ended up being sick. Liz cried only once talking about her daughter Alex—not about the illness or about the lemonade stands—but about the little girl who liked the color purple. She missed her daughter. She missed her. I couldn’t fathom it—missing a child who had died. I couldn’t even fathom having a child. I had no idea how enormous, how consuming, how life-changing my love for that child would be. I didn’t understand.

“Who wants lemonade?” Blair yelled--screamed, really--to people on Saturday as they were getting out of the cars, as they were browsing our card tables set up in the driveway, as they were standing right in front of her with quarters in hand.

“She’s really learning how to be a savvy business woman,” more than one person said to me. Each time, I thought how Blair was the same age Alex had been when she had her first lemonade stand—both of them so alike, two little girls who believed that selling lemonade was the coolest thing they’d ever done. I couldn’t allow myself to think beyond that—to think about what happened to Alex, to imagine that happening to Blair. I couldn’t. Because that would mean I’d have to imagine missing her. Missing her.

I realized now, finally, I understood.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When Mothers Attack

I know what the woman behind me has just said to my mother.

We’re walking though an arts festival in Florida last month. Thad and my dad are a few yards ahead, pushing the stroller with Drew in it. I’m hanging back, watching Blair as she gallops back and forth between her father and me, like a dog does—back and forth, back and forth—covering twice as much ground (meaning one very important thing: guaranteed nap). My mother’s a few steps behind me.

The woman leans over to my mom, nods to Blair, then whispers: “Mothers these days just don’t watch their kids.”

I don’t hear this. Or see it. (My mom fills me in later.) All I hear my mother’s response. And I know.

“What?” my mother says. I assume she points at me. “Are you talking about her? Because I’m her mother.”

I love this moment. I can’t see it but I know that, if I could, I’d freaking love it: watching all the color drip out of the woman’s cheeks, her mouth hanging open, where she’s about to insert her big fat foot. You judged the wrong woman today, I think. Prepare to receive the wrath of a woman whose daughter you’ve just scorned! Ha. HA!

But, then, my mother speaks:

“My God, you think this is bad? Yesterday, we were at the beach and, the next thing you know, a lady comes up to my daughter and says, ‘I think your little girl is chasing that bird way down there.’ And we look, and there’s my other granddaughter. She’s about five blankets away from us, running down the beach after seagull. Four adults and we couldn’t keep track of a two year old!”

My mom stops. Then, as if she hasn’t made herself perfectly clear, she decides to add one more point: “We lose those kids all the time.”

Monday, April 20, 2009


My four-year-old Blair came home from school a few months ago with a new word: “Huggies.” From that day forward, when she fell, or tripped, or stubbed some appendage, she'd turn to me and shout, desperately, “Mommy! Huggies!” The goal, of course, was for me to hug her.

Obviously, the hugging part of “huggies” was delicious.

But the word itself--"huggies"—made my skin bunch up around my neck. I literally shivered every time it was uttered allowed. Which, as the weeks progressed, ended up being roughly every other word out of her mouth.

For me, coming home from school one day demanding “Huggies,” was almost as bad as the day she came home calling me “A poopy diaper” or the day she came home and “tooted” (our word) long and loud, then announced, “I farted,” (the school word), followed by 10 minutes of laughing, all fake and maniacal, like she knew she’d figured out I had a button. And that she could press it.

This was why: Before I was a mom, I promised myself I would not turn into one of those mothers who attached the suffix “ies” to every word. “Stinkies.” “Poopies.” “Peepies.” “Juicies.” “Milkies.” “Beddies.” “Nummies” (a.k.a. “Boobies”). Granted, I also swore that my kids would never watch Dora. Or eat at McDonalds. Or misbehave at Target. (I also swore I would never, ever blog about motherhood.) But, still…I had control over the “ies”-ing of things. I could resist the “ies”-ing.

I was wrong. Because, soon, our house was ringing with “huggies.” Blair demanded “huggies” from me. From her father. From her sister Drew. From her best friend Haley. From her best friend Abbie. From her best friend Shirley. We needed to have “huggies” before dinner, before bath, before bedtime, before story, and before back-rubbing. She yelled for me to come back into her room after I finally convinced her to close her eyes. For “huggies.” More “huggies.” “Huggies.” “Huggies.” “Huggies.”

I actually cringed last week when I was out of town, and called home before bedtime. Thad was wrangling the girls for bed.

“Do you want to talk to mommy?” he asked them.

“No,” Blair answered. (Translated: “Bare chest. Insert knife.”)

“Drew, wanna give mommy huggies?” Thad said. Oh Thad, I thought. Please! No! Et tu?

I heard Drew bumble her little two-year-old feet to where Thad was standing. I heard her mumble something, then the connection sounded, suddenly, muffled. Thad yelled in the background, so I could hear.

“Drew’s giving the phone huggies,” he said. And I realized what she’d been mumbling: “Huggies! Mommy! Huggies!”

I decided, maybe, “huggies” weren’t so bad after all.

But, with "kissies" I am so drawing the line.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rabid Mother Loose

I'm afraid I might kill someone.

This is not good.

Especially since I started off the day feeling rather good-mom-ish since, before 10 a.m., I packed my girls (and lunches that I made for them) into the minivan to go to the Please Touch Museum in Philly--one of those interactive kids museums where they can play in water and climb in race cars and pretend they work at McDonalds by hammering on a working cash register that will inspire them to be cashiers when they grow up. (Or, at least, when I was four, that's what I told my mom I wanted to be when I grew up).

Blair spies a machine. It's a back-hoe, bright gold-yellow and everything, where you can maneuver these little levers to pick up plastic, multicolored balls, move your balls, then dump your balls. This machine...using this machine...becomes the goal of her life. If she doesn't get to do it right now, she will not be able to go on. She informs me of this, then takes off in a sprint, running up the steps to the platform where the machine is, cutting ahead of about nine other kids who are in a line waiting for the machine, certain that they, too, will cease to have a reason to live if they do not play with this thing immediately.

"Blair, you have to wait in line," I say, smiling at the other moms in that "Don't worry...I know the rules" kind of way, despite the fact that Blair's reaction to my words would make them suspect I'd just told her she would never see her father again. Still, she waits. We wait. It takes approximately 47 hours to get to the front of the line. But, we make it. Blair stands at the bottom of the steps, waiting her turn. Beaming.

Then, he arrives. No, he doesn't arrive...he swoops in like a jackal, clawing up the steps, pushing people out of his way. He was big. And tall. I swear he had to have been at least 6 years old. Blair cowered away from him like he was a shark.
And that's when I felt it--the mama bear. Rising up, fast, like a geyser in my blood full of fury and hell. My skin seems to expand, puffing up from muscles and thick blue veins that are popping out of me, making me want to lean down to this kid, my eyes green and shaking, and whisper, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Except, it's too late.

"You need to wait in line," I say to the kid with so much acid in my voice I'm sure any spit from my mouth landing on him would sizzle his skin. I think about roaring. I want to roar. Roaring seems appropriate, somehow. But I don't. The kid moves. Blair gets her turn. All is well in the world.

But I can't quite decide what this means. Am I a good mom for wanting to protect my child? But, at the same time, am I a bad mom--a bad human--for feeling that I was just one roar away from pulling apart a six-year-old, limb from limb?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Quickie

I got to leave town today, to sneak off on assignment for an article I'm writing, leaving the kids for 24 hours, and Thad for 24 hours, and life as I know it...for 24 hours. Which means I get to do the one thing I love to do more than anything in the world.

Listen to a murder mystery book-on-tape as I drive alone in my minivan.

In my previous life, there were far more devious things I loved to do more than anything in the world. But, that was before the minivan. Now, the thing that functions as currency in my marriage, the thing that my husband and I trade in, that we barter back and forth, is "alone time."

Because even showering is not alone time. Showering is me standing in the tub while my two-year-old climbs up on the toilet and turns on the water in the sink, which makes her sleeves soaking wet (sleeves of the shirt that I gymnastically dressed her in roughly six minutes before) and makes the water in the shower hot as exploding lava bubbling up directly from hell. And pooping? There is no "alone time" in pooping, considering my four-year-old inevitably barges in, stares at me the entire time, then asks, "Can I see it?" Even on weekends, when Thad and I sneak away for a little nooky when the kids are napping is not alone time. Because Thad is there.

So, we do what we can. We each take a turn sleeping in on one day over the weekend. It's not that I'm sleepy. It's that I get to be all by myself. He plays X-box late into the night. And, sometimes, I pretend I don't feel good on Sunday afternoons just so I have an excuse to "go lay down," like some kind of 1950s housewife who drinks too much.

I walked into the library this morning all giddy, like I suppose people feel when they're meeting a lover for an affair, and scan the books-on-tape. I pick a James Patterson book. He never lets me down. And this one seems like it can't fail. It's called "The Quickie." I literally can't wait to get in the car, to get on the road, and put the first CD in. The narrator is Mary Stuart Masterson (who had me at Some Kind of Wonderful.)

Halfway through my drive, as I switch from CD1 to CD2, sad that I'm actually that far through the story, it occurs to me--I think I prefer this "Quickie" to the other kind.


I know I do.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bourne Again

I dreamt last night that I had an affair.

With Matt Damon.

This is a recurring dream--me having an affair with Matt Damon. Except, in my dream, he isn't Matt Damon. He is "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne." Last night "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne" was in Philadelphia filming a movie. We ran into each other, of course, and immediately remembered each other (presumably from my last dream where I had an affair with "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne"). He and I never have had sex in my dreams. We just randomly find ourselves meeting on the street, where we have that awkward "We have to pretend we don't know each other even though we've been having an affair ever since The Bourne Identity was released" moment. That leads to the dream "flashback sequence" where I remember that great date we had where we connected and he listened to me, really listened to me, in between killing people by snapping their necks with his big toes.

Oddly, my husband Thad is also in my dream. And he is always walking around with a dish towel hanging out of his pants, as if he just spends his days doing dishes and cleaning up after the girls. Which is not how he spends his days. And I wonder, maybe, if the message of the dream is this: If Thad actually did the 4 million things that I complain that he's not doing, maybe I wouldn't like him anymore, and be forced to have an affair with "Matt Damon as Jason Bourne."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Maybe We Should Just Get A Fish

I seriously thought my ovaries were going to explode out of my body.

I was walking out of the OBGYN's office after my annual and all that small-talk during the breast exam. I checked out, paid my co-pay, and then I heard it. A baby crying. It wasn't even a cry, exactly. More like that twisting, cranking yelp that babies make in those first couple of weeks. I knew that sound very well--I had two daughters, Blair, 4, and Drew, 2. And I knew that I never, ever wanted to hear that sound again.

Or so I thought. Because, when I heard that cry, my ovaries immediately started to pulse. Like they were on speed. I pulled out the cell and called my husband, Thad.

"I have to have another baby," I said.

"What?" he said. He was a country away from me, on business in California.

"I HAVE to have another baby," I said again, and I knew exactly what he was thinking: That means some sex when I get home.

The weird thing was, I was carrying a pamphlet on an IUD. I'd asked the doc about it, thinking that it might be a good idea to stop the pill that I'd been on, pretty much, since I was 19, and try something else. Yes, it freaked me out a little that the thing looked like a Mini Pet Shop bow-and-arrow and would be placed somewhere up there in my lala. But it had to be better than hormones. I did NOT need any more hormones.

However, my body didn't seem to want a bow-and-arrow. My body wanted another baby. My brain did not.

I called my friend Lynne. She has two daughters who are 15 and 17. I knew she would say what she said: "Are you freaking kidding me???? You do NOT want another baby. Wait a few minutes and it'll go away."

She was right. It did. Especially when I picked up Blair and Drew at school and neither had napped, and they were covered in what I hoped was chocolate, and they refused to eat any dinner, not even ketchup.

No more, I thought. Noooooooo more.

Until the next morning. When I put their chocolate clothes in the washer. Their skin had been so dry and sensitive all winter, that I decided to buy Dreft, the baby detergent. I started the water, I packed as many kids clothes as I could find into the machine, and then I opened the bottle of Dreft. The scent shot up into my nose like a train.

And there it was again.

That aching. That pulsing. Those ovaries telling me what was not in my master plan: You are not done.

Monday, April 6, 2009

She Gets Her Drama From Her Mama

Today, at 4:00, while I was watching myself on Oprah, my 2-year-old daughter was at the sitter's where she is every day when I work, watching me on Oprah.

The sitter thought Drew would love seeing mommy on TV. Plus the sitter wanted to watch Drew's mommy on TV. Everyone was excited that mommy was going to be on TV. On Oprah, no less.

As soon as Drew saw mommy's face on TV, she ran up to the TV, yelling, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then mommy went off the screen. And Drew started wailing, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then she started clawing at the screen, "Mommy! Mommy!" Then she fell down to the floor in her very dramatic Drew way, which involves balancing, somehow, on the tip of her head and the tips of her toes, in an inverted-V shape. It didn't matter that, a few minutes later, I was on the screen again. Drew couldn't see me through the tears, dripping off of her upside-down head.

The sitter turned off the TV.

Drew cried for an additional 27 minutes.

It is possible that Drew will never watch Oprah again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

This Is My Dance Space

I'm addicted to Dirty Dancing.

When people ask me which movie I'd take to a deserted island (and, strangely, people ask me this a lot), I say, without shame, "Dirty Dancing." They wince. They laugh. They think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding. No matter where I am, in what state of feeding, clothing, bathing, coloring, or pretending-I-think-building-forts-is-fun with my kids, if I come across Dirty Dancing on TV, I am compelled by some inner force to watch.

Just yesterday, after Thad and I put the kids down for a nap, we were flipping through our 843 HBO channels and...there it was. Of course. As if a day goes by in the turning of the earth where Dirty Dancing isn't on a channel. Somewhere.

"Keep going," I said. He clicked past it, past 27 Dresses, Harold and Kumar, Terms of Endearment, 27 Dresses in Spanish....

"Wait!" I yelled, too loud. "Just go back and see what scene it's on."

I remember the day when I was 16 and my cousin told me I had to see this new movie, Dirty Dancing. I wasn't interested, and not just because she lived in Texas. I mean, she'd recommended La Bamba. I saw La Bamba. I liked La Bamba. But Dirty Dancing? People grinding against each other in a Catskills resort 20-plus years before I was born? I'd never been to the Catskills. I didn't even know where the Catskills were. I'd barely even been to overnight camp, especially if I didn't count that week at Church Camp, where I had to sing the lead in the Church Camp musical, "Down By The Creekbank," which completely ruined all chances of having any kind of romance with the blond boy named Scott who was a year older than me and infatuated with my blond friend Jodi who actually looked like I girl and didn't have to belt about crickets and tadpoles and frogs "down by the ole holler log."

But I saw Dirty Dancing anyway.

My life, henceforth, was never the same again.

At the time, I assumed my obsession was because of Baby's hair. Because Baby had the best hair. And she got to wear cut-offs. And she learned to do that lift in the water with Patrick Swayze. A few years later, I liked it because she got to have sex with Patrick Swayze. Then, a few years later, it was because Patrick Swayze came back to get her, and pulled her out of the corner, proving that it's always wise to wear a lovely low-backed dress to any end-of-the-season gathering. I wanted to be Baby. I would have killed to be Baby. And I was Baby, except things for me never progressed much beyond walking into the cool dancer's cabin with a watermelon in my arms.

So Thad clicked back to Dirty Dancing. It was at the scene it seems to be at about 87-percent of the time when I randomly come across it on cable, where Baby and Johnny are dancing together in the studio, post their big sex night, singing "Come HERE loverboy," right before Neil walks in on them and says, "Hey Baby...I could teach you a few moves," which, to this day, still made a little puke swirl up in the back of my throat. We watched it to the end, with not a single protest from Thad, who I suspect harbors a little fantasy himself of being Johnny Castle in the rain, who unlocks the door to his Chevy by breaking the back window with a cement pole.

I know I'll make my girls watch this someday. And I know they'll roll their eyes like I did that time I was home with the flu during high school and my mom brought home Breakfast at Tiffany's on video. It was cool and all. But it was no Dirty Dancing.