Monday, June 12, 2017

Like an echo, like a photograph

I miss pictures.

Ya know? Real pictures. The ones that are printed out on shiny photo paper, that have pin-holes in the corners from being tacked up onto bulletin boards, or tape remnants from being stuck on the wall.

When I was growing up, my father was the Official Family Photographer, and he took his job seriously. In my parents' family room, an entire wall is bookshelves, stocked with hundreds and hundreds of books - history, political analysis, sociology, some literature - and then a couple of shelves dedicated to photo albums.

There are at least twenty of them, maybe more, ranging from pictures that my grandparents had of my parents growing up, baby books, wedding albums, and then chronicling the years as Josh and Sam and I grew up, and some as my parents were empty-nesters.

One of the things my brothers and I do every Thanksgiving is sit down and look through a bunch of the photo albums.

I can't imagine losing them.

I guess it would be worse to not have them at all, ever. When I lived in Atlanta in my 20s, my boyfriend's parents had a beautiful house, full of gorgeous furniture and art and books. And one day when we were there, I said, "I don't see any family pictures. Where are all of your parents' picture albums? I want to see pictures of you as a kid."

"They don't have any albums. They never really took a lot of pictures of us."

I found this baffling - and sad - on so many levels. The visual record that my grandparents and parents have of our family, and that my brothers and I continue to add to, is an essential and cherished element of our shared bond and history.

(Also, what the fuck kind of parents don't take a jillion pictures of their kids??)

That's why I'm so adamant about taking pictures, preserving old ones, and presenting them in a way that's digestible - not just a series of files on a phone or computer, but something that is tangible and somewhat curated. I do this by making photo books, including of old photos that I've scanned. One year I borrowed the cracked, falling-apart baby album that my parents assembled in the year after I was born. I scanned all the photos and printed them in a photo book that recreated the album page by page. The last couple of pages had some completely random photos that had nothing to do with baby me - pictures of them and their friends at a wedding or something like that. I always thought it was funny that those pictures got shoved in with the baby pictures, so I included them in the photo book as well.

I don't want to lose these memories. I nag my mother about getting the old family photos scanned.

But then I neglected my own advice.

So, we have this cat that I got because the kids wanted a pet. His name is Scooby.

The kids adore him.

I like him fine. He's fine. He's a nice cat. Whatever.

I'm generally indifferent to cats, and that feeling hasn't changed. If someone came along and said, "hey, I really love cats and I want your cat and I'm taking him off your hands if you don't mind," I'd be all, "OK, sure," and I wouldn't ever think of the cat again.

I can't really see this actually happening. It would be super weird.

But assuming it did, and assuming it were a friend or someone who I didn't have reason to suspect was a cat abuser, I'd be cool with it if I didn't know that the kids would freak out.

Anyway.

The cat chills out in my room a lot, frequently under the bed. He is generally unobtrusive. When he comes to hang out with us, he is friendly and cuddly and purr-y. He has some toys that he usually ignores, but sometimes likes to play with.

And then over the weekend, he went kind of nuts.

The kids have this stuffed snake that had fallen on the floor. It had a slight split in the seam, so some of the stuffing was poking out, but it was a small split and easily fixable.

Until Scooby got hold of it and murdered that poor snake.

Zeke told me about it before I saw it, so at first I didn't realize the extend of the destruction.

"Don't worry, honey, I can sew it up."

"No, it can't be fixed. All the stuffy-fluffy is out."

Indeed it was.

R.I.P.
Then later I went into my room. A picture frame that had been on my night table was on the floor, with the glass and the backing separated from the frame.

Next to it was a photo that had been ripped to shreds.

It took me a second to realize that the photo was one of Emma and me.

It's one of my favorite pictures of the two of us. We're at a beach house on the Outer Banks, I'm sitting in a chair with my feet resting on a ledge, and she's sitting on my lap. She's two or three, wearing shorts, hair in pigtails, rocking an impossibly gorgeous tan. She's telling me something and I have my head cocked to the side as I look at her and listen to her story and smile and marvel at how adorable she is.

And that picture in the frame was the only copy I had. My heart sank. Even though I have so many pictures of Emma, that one was special, and the idea that it was gone, never to be recovered, gutted me.

But it's just a picture, right?

No. It's not just a picture. It's family history. It's irreplaceable.

This is why when people are asked what they would save from a burning house, it's almost always family photographs.

Had I scanned the picture? Maybe I had scanned it.

But I couldn't recall ever scanning it. I looked through my computer, my phone, thumb drives, external storage devices, old discs with pictures on them, anything I could think of. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I was despondent.

Then I remembered. I wrote about it a year ago. And in doing so, had to have scanned a copy to upload it to the blog post.

I still haven't found the file from when I scanned it last year. But I was able to download it from the blog post.  Here it is.


Phew.

So, scan your old pictures. Or write a blog and include pictures on it.

Also, anyone want a cat?


Thursday, June 08, 2017

The summer of love

The sun was shining and the air felt pleasantly warm, but not too hot, as I walked across the street and into the YMCA to pick up the kids. It's already mid-June, but there's always a feeling of "already?" when summer weather finally hits. Invariably, there's a snow storm in mid May (as there was this year), and then the lingering chilliness of spring that lasts right up until the time that it's 60 degrees and cloudy one day and 90 degrees and sunny the next, and then it's summer.

Last Friday was the last day of school, and this past Monday was the first day of camp. The kids were excited. They like school, but they were ready for a break from the grind, particularly Zeke. Summer is when they get to go to YMCA camp, where they hang out with friends and have a different fun field trip every single day - "and we get to do lanyards, Mama!!" They get to ride their bikes around the neighborhood and hang out at the pool, which is three blocks from my house and one block from their dad's. They get to go on vacation - the Outer Banks with me, and then somewhere else with dad. We go hiking and camping in the mountains. I take them to a Cirque du Soleil show.  On super hot days, we might seek refuge in the air conditioning of the the art museum or the science museum or the movies.

Done with school and ready for summer.
And even though my life doesn't change that much during the summer - I still go to work, I still have the kids according to the same schedule - the kids' sense of happiness and relaxation makes me more happy and relaxed, and nowhere is that more evident than in our morning routine.

Here's what most mornings are like during the school year:

I get out of bed at 6 to exercise. I shower. I try to wake up the kids.

"Good morning, kiddies. Time to get up."

"Mamaaaa..." Zeke will groan.

"Come on honey, it's time to get up. You too, Josie."

"No. I'm tired." She burrows under her blankets and sticks a pillow on top of her head.

"I know, sweetie, but it's time to get up. Come on, I'll get you some clothes to put on."

I go pick clothes out for them.

"Come on, guys. Let's go." My voice is not quite as sweet as it was before.

They flop around in bed, moaning about being tired.

I tell them to get up and get dressed, and then I go to brush my teeth.  When I come back, no one has stirred.

"Guys!! Let's go. It's time to get up!"

I get dressed, go downstairs to make myself some coffee, assemble lunch for Zeke (Josie likes to buy it at school), find socks and shoes and books and jackets.

I look at the clock and realize we need to leave the house in 20 minutes if they're going to be on time for school.  I run upstairs. They're still in bed.

"CHILDREN! YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF BED! IT'S TIME TO GET UP!"

"You're so mean!" they respond. But they finally get up.

The next 20 minutes is a flurry of me making breakfast, drinking coffee, putting on my makeup, finding my car keys, "shoes! where are your shoes??" "where's your backpack?" "do you have your Thursday folder?" "the bell is going to ring in 8 minutes, WE HAVE TO GO!!!"

They bicker and dawdle. As we're leaving the house, someone decides to race upstairs to find three things they need to put in their backpacks. Without fail, they are things that do not need to be taken to school.

We finally get in the car and I drop them off with no time to spare, feeling frazzled and tense. Every day, no matter how early I get up, no matter how early they go to bed the night before, no matter how organized I think I am, it's down to the wire every. single. day.

In contrast, this is what it's like in the summer:

I get up at 6 to exercise. Then I shower. By the time I'm out of the shower, they're up, bustling around happily.

"Hi, kidlets! I washed your camp shirts and they're downstairs. Don't forget to brush your teeth."

"OK, Mama!" they chirp.

They get dressed without incident, they eat their breakfast without incident, there's no bickering.

"What are you guys doing today at camp?"

"We're going to Garden of the Gods to go hiking. Yesterday we got to go to the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder. It was awesome!"

"Oh yeah? what was it like? what did you see?"

"We got to taste different kind of herbal teas. And we got to go in this room where they process peppermint leaves - it smells so strong that my eyes watered."

"Cool!"

We walk out the door and head to the bus stop. We leave early because the kids like to get to camp with enough time to play before the day officially starts.

"Love you, Mama!" Zeke says.

"I love you too, babe."

"Mama, did you know that herbal teas aren't actually tea?"

"I did know that. They have different kinds of plants and flowers in them."

"Yeah, tea is actually a plant that grows!"

We get on the bus. Sometimes we chat, sometimes the kids strike up conversation with other riders, sometimes they read books, sometimes they play on my phone. We get off at my stop downtown, I walk them to the YMCA, bid them good-bye as they ignore me and race off to see their friends, and then walk across the street to my office.

Everyone is happy and relaxed.

Josie chills out on the sidewalk and plays with her fidget spinner as we wait for the bus.
Yesterday was the first day I had the kids since camp started. I picked them up and they were playing cards and making lanyards with their friends. They were happy and a little tired. We rode the bus home and they told me about their day. We went to the Greek diner on the next block for dinner. No one fought or bickered. Everyone was cheerful. Lovely manners were used at every turn.

Back at home, we watched a little TV (they're obsessed with World Wide Dance), read books for awhile, and went to bed early.

They were content so I was content. There's a sense of calm and peace in the house. I didn't feel as anxious.

When I'm with my children, they center me. They make me laugh and smile.

I'm working the knots, just a little bit.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Loosening and untying

Hi.

It's been awhile, I know. And I'm not sure why.

Normally, I feel like I have things I want to write about - things I'm thinking about, things I'm experiencing. I have done this for almost 11 years. It has been an emotional outlet and a connection with the world - the readers I know about and those that I don't.

But for the past few months, I have felt paralyzed, communicationally-speaking. There are so many areas of my life that I'm trying to sort out from a psychological perspective that the various strands have become entangled and knotted, like necklaces carelessly tossed into a box. Writing about them seems impossible, both because I'm still sorting them out in my head, but also because it feels too personal.

I feel those knots physically. My chest is always slightly tight, my breathing isn't as deep as it should be. I'm perpetually anxious. My heart feels like it's beating too close to the surface of my skin.

Exercise helps. I find that when I wake up in the morning feeling like I'm two steps away from being in the throes of a full-blown anxiety/panic attack - and I feel this way almost every day - the exertion from a super strenuous workout can push the anxiety in my chest to the side. It doesn't go away altogether, but it's abated somewhat.

If I have to be anxious and nervous all the time, at least I'll be in shape.

It's not like I'm particularly unhappy. The kids are great. It's summer, so we've got our annual Outer Banks beach trip coming up in a few weeks. The mountains beckon with beautiful hiking trails. The neighborhood pool opens this weekend. I've got tickets to Red Rocks shows.

But I have an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about where I am in my life, and where I want to be. I know I'll figure it out, but it's a hard process.


Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Twenty

Dear Emma,

Today is your twentieth birthday.

This one is hitting me hard. The big roundness of that number.  I know that twenty-one is the big milestone for adulthood, but twenty still feels grown up to me. You would be finishing up your second year of college, getting ready to head out to work and play and enjoy the summer. I see you facing up toward the sun with your eyes closed and your arms outstretched, letting it warm you, filling you with life and hope.

Every year I think about what you would be doing. What would you be majoring in? Would you do a semester abroad? Would you be seeking out internships? Would you be traveling? Would you be in love?

Right now it's playoff hockey season and I keep thinking of Thanksgiving the last year you were alive. You came with us to the hockey game, wearing your dad's Bob Mason sweater. We ate dinner in Chinatown at Tony Cheng's before heading over to the Verizon Center. My dad had bought extra tickets because we had a bigger group than usual, and the two extras were separate from the original four, so you and Jason sat in the extra seats and had a great time together. The two of you always had a special bond that made me smile.


We're heading to the Outer Banks in a couple of months - another place where the memories of you flood over me. Your two year old self dancing naked in front of the TV and singing along to "I Wanna Be Like You," from The Jungle Book. Going to see Blue Crush with you when you were five and then, back at the house, pretending we were surfing. The summer after your accident, with your short pink hair, you and my mom walking to the roadside market in Corolla for corn and fresh fish. The last summer, a month before you died, watching the World Cup with you, even though you were spending most of the time on your phone chatting with a dude.

Those snippets of memories keep you with me, particularly when I write them down every year.

We all miss you and think of you every day.

Love,

Wendy


Friday, March 24, 2017

Tell me about it, dude

When Zeke was in his room getting dressed this morning, he pulled out the old "all about me" poster than Jason and I made for a daycare project when he was still a baby in Hawaii. It had been stashed behind Josie's dresser and I guess he never noticed it before now.

He and Josie and I looked over it, marveling at how cute he was.

"Awwwww, look at that picture of him as a tiny baby!" Josie cooed.

"I know, wasn't he adorable? That picture was taken the day he was born, when we were still in the hospital."

That led to a conversation about hospitals.

"Were you born in a hospital, Mama?"

"No, I was born in a clinic in Cyprus. It's like a doctor's office, much smaller than a hospital and without a lot of the services that most hospitals have."

"So you've never been in a hospital??"

They were incredulous.

"Of course I have, you silly monkeys. You were both born in hospitals, and I was there when you were both born, right?"

"Oh, yeah," Zeke said, kind of chuckling to himself.

"Plus I've had a few surgeries, and I was in hospitals for those."

"What kind of surgery did you have? Butt surgery?"

Nine year old boys. So predictable.

"As a matter of fact, yes. When I was your age, Zekey, I had a mole at the top of my butt-crack that the doctors didn't like the look of, so it was removed."

"Really??"

"Yes. And I had back surgery when I was 29, and then surgery to make my boobs smaller when I was 35."

Their eyes grew wide.

"WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?"

So I explained how the doctor did the surgery and showed them the very faint, barely visible scars that are left.

Zeke was gob-smacked.

"You had them made smaller?"

"Yep."

He shook his head.  "So they were even bigger than they are now?!?"

"Yep."

"Wow. Just wow."


Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day

Let me start by saying that I think that bitching about Mondays, or doing something like responding to a "how are you" with something like, "well, I'm alive, which is all I can ask on a Monday," irritates the crap out of me. It's boring and demonstrates an utter lack of imagination or conversation skills. You will never hear me say anything in the neighborhood of "someone's got a case of the Mondays!"

Image result for someone got a case of the mondays gif

But good lord, today tested that.

My kids had a hard time falling asleep and thus had a hard time getting up and so the morning routine was a lot of "pleeeaaase, Mamaaaaaa ... five more minutes....." while I ran around getting them clothes and breakfast and then herding them out the door. I take great pride in the fact I pulled up to the school exactly as the bell was ringing.

In the meantime, I inadvertently outed myself to Zeke as the tooth fairy. He pulled out a loose tooth last night after I had fallen asleep. He came and showed me and told me about it, but I was half asleep during the conversation and went back to bed and promptly forgot about it. So when he woke up this morning and saw that his tooth was still under his pillow, he was all bummed, and I blurted out, "oh, honey, I'm so sorry, I forgot!"

D'oh!

"Mama, what do you mean? Is the tooth fairy not real? Is it parents?"

"Weeeeellll...." I sighed. "Did you really still believe in her?"

He's almost 10, for God's sake. I don't think I believed in the tooth fairy past the age of 5.

He shrugged, but looked defeated.

I'm an asshole.

Anyway, after dropping the kids off, I parked at home and got ready to catch the bus to work (I didn't have time to walk). But couldn't find the little plastic sleeve that holds my bus pass, my work ID, and my magnetized pass for my office building that lets me into our suite without a key.

I always place it in one of two places when I get home from work. It was in neither of those places. It wasn't in my bedroom, the bathroom, the laundry room, under furniture, on a bookshelf, in the kitchen, in any of my purses, in the pockets of any of my jackets, or in the car. I looked everywhere a million times and couldn't find it.

Meaning that I had to scrounge around to find exact change for the bus. I rarely have cash or exact change for anything. But after going through various baskets and junk drawers and old purses and the bottom of my backpack, I had $2.60 to get to work.

I walked outside, locking the door behind me.

"Shit, I forgot my coffee mug," I thought.

And then realized, as I headed back to the house, that I had locked my keys inside. And I had given the spare key to the cat sitter that I hired yesterday to take care of Scooby while we're in California for spring break.

At least I still had my phone. So I texted the cat sitter and asked her to please leave the key I had given her in the hiding spot so that I could get into the house later.

I went to work and began the process of replacing my various ID badges and my bus pass.

The building was able to issue me a new badge within minutes. But it cost $10 to replace it, so I was going to get some cash at the ATM.

But my wallet wasn't in my purse where I was sure I had put it.  The same wallet I had lost skiing at Vail a few weeks ago, so I had just gone through the hassle of replacing my driver's license and all of my cards.

And in addition to needing cash to get my passes replaced, I had a waxing appointment at noon, and I doubt my waxing lady would have been ok with an IOU.

At this point, I felt like I was losing my fucking mind. The thought of having to cancel and replace my cards again and show up at the DMV at 7 in the morning to replace my driver's license again was almost more than I could bear.

I scrounged around my office and managed to find another $2.60 to take the bus home.  The cat sitter hadn't been by yet, but then I remembered my neighbor has a key, and she happened to be home, so I got into the house. My keys and my wallet were sitting on the table.

I went to ATM at the market up the block to get cash, including money for bus fare.  But the ATM was broken.  So I went back home and went through couch cushions and coat pockets and found another $2.60 and took the bus back to work.

Finally, I got my building pass, went up to the state general services office for a new work ID, and then got the bus pass replaced.

Then I went and got waxed (the first of the spring - bathing suit season is approaching). It hurt.

So really, all is well and everything was fixable. Except the tooth fairy part. But he'll survive, right?

Long story short - holy shit, what a Monday morning.


Friday, March 17, 2017

I'll have what she's having

At first glance, I thought she was drinking out of a wine glass.

I was in the elevator at work at the end of the day, sharing a ride down to the lobby with a woman who looked to be about my age, maybe a few years older.  Turns out she was drinking water our of a clear water bottle, but for whatever reason - the way the light hit the water, who knows? - my eyes had played tricks on me at first.

Making conversation, I told her about my initial confusion. She laughed uproariously, and we had good chuckle as we walked out into the lobby together.

"Now, if it were Friday, you might be on to something!" she exclaimed.

"I hear you," I said. "Keep a flask in your bag to start the weekend early."

"Exactly. If it were Friday I'd be getting drunk."

I am not one to either "start the weekend early" in such a manner, nor do I generally drink on Friday nights, but again, I was making conversation.

"You know who has a great happy hour around here?" she continued. "That Lime place."

"Oh, you mean that Mexican place up by the movie theater? Yeah, I've been there. They have good margaritas," I recalled.

We headed out of the building and down the escalator to the street.

"Their drinks are strong!" she said.

"You know, I've only been there once, but I remember thinking that. You definitely get some bang for your buck."

"Yeah, that's not something I'm going to complain about, but I definitely noticed it."

I nodded in agreement.

She went on, "I was there last weekend with some folks after work. I got totally fucked up. Fell down and hurt my hip."

Why do complete strangers tell me things like this?

"Oh, that's terrible! Sounds paintful!" I responded.

"Yeah, I threw up. Pissed on myself and everything."

At this point I didn't have anything to say but "oooooh..."

"Yeah, but the guy still wanted to go home with me.  Well, bye! Have a good night!"

Indeed.





Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Stabbing monsters and dancing around poles on a perfect Colorado day


"Mama, are you still the 20 year old surfer chick named Tammy?"

Josie grinned up at me, a cheerful little Easter egg in her purple helmet, turquoise jacket, royal blue pants, and bright pink mittens.

We were at the top of the Strawberry Park Express Lift at Beaver Creek, getting ready to take one more run down the mountain before calling it a day.

And it had been an amazing day.

I had the kids for the weekend and the weather in the mountains was forecast to be beautiful, so I decided to take them skiing. They were excited to go, but they wanted me to teach them how to use poles.

I had been reluctant to teach them for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not a ski instructor. Second, I'm their mother. It is a truth universally acknowledged that children learning a new skill should learn from someone other than a parent. They're going to listen better - and have more fun - learning from some 25-year-old stoner named Tristan than from mom or dad.

But they really really really *please mama please* wanted to learn how to use poles, and ski lessons are expensive, and I figured I could give them the basics if they were willing to listen to me and not be all, "OKAY I HEARD YOU I'M DOING IT LEAVE ME ALONE!!" as they careened down the mountain doing the opposite of what I had instructed.

I decided that an alternate persona was in order.

"All right," I told them. "I will get you poles and teach you how to use them."

"YAAAAYYY!!"

"BUT..."

"What?"

"But we are going to treat this like a proper lesson. I am your ski instructor and I'm going to teach you what to do, and you are going to listen to me, do you understand? No arguing with me."

"Yes, Mama."

"And in order for it to be a proper ski lesson, I'm not going to be Mama."

"Who are you going to be?" They were intrigued.

"I'm a 20-year-old surfer chick named Tammy. I'm spending the winter in Colorado as a ski instructor so I can make money to go surfing in Tahiti this summer."

"If you're a surfer, wouldn't it make more sense to be a snowboarding instructor?" Zeke asked.  They were already buying into the concept.

"Perhaps," I responded. "But I happen to ski as well as snowboard, so this winter I decided to teach skiing."

He shrugged agreeably.

We went to a ski rental place and got some poles for them. Places like that order cheap poles in bulk and include them in a ski rental package, so if you're going in just needing some poles, they will often give them to you for free or for a nominal charge.

The guy said, "sure, 'rent' the poles for the weekend. No problem."

"How much is it?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing, don't worry about it."

"Wow, that's great. Thank you! Do you need my name or contact info?"

"No."

"When do you need them back?"

"Whenever."

See what I mean?

It turned out the hardest part about skiing with poles was not losing them.

We parked and caught the shuttle bus to the lift. After we got off the bus and were buckling our boots and putting on mittens and such, Zeke said, "OH NO!!"

"What happened?"

"I left my poles on the bus."

"Oh for God's sake, Zeke."

"There's a rental place right there. Let's go get some more."

So we got some more. The guy charged me $5.

Later, Josie dropped one of her poles getting on the lift.  The liftie gave it to a guy on the chair behind us so he could give to us at the top. After having lunch, when we went outside to retrieve our gear, Zeke got confused about which poles were his and almost took the wrong ones.

Chair lift selfie. Miraculously, we all have our poles.
But the lesson itself went swimmingly. Skiingly?

"What's my name?"

"Tammy!"

"OK, kiddos. Here's what you do..."

And I showed them how to hold their arms out and to use the poles to guide their turns.

"Just kiss the tip of the pole to the snow..."

They followed my line down the hill, giggling and kissing.

"Mwah! Mwah!"

They thought it was hysterical. But they learned to do it properly,

Borrowing a trick from my friend Christin, I explained how to use poles on moguls.

"Pretend the top of the bump is the eye of an evil monster. You need to get around the monster, and in order to kill it, you need to stab it in the eye. So as you're going down, reach forward, stab your pole into the monster's eye, and then ski around it."

Zeke practiced a few times and proceeded to bomb down a black mogul run, woohoo-ing all the way.

"I think I nailed that one," he told me afterwards.

We used a different idea on steep groomers. Josie and I were at the top of a run with a pretty intense pitch, and she was nervous.

"Mamaaaaa..." 

Her voice wavered.

"I'm not Mama. I'm Tammy, remember?"

That made her laugh.

"You're going to do fine. Touch the pole to the snow and turn around it. Just dance around the pole. I'll be next to you the whole time, doing the same thing."

She took a deep breath, pointed her skis down the hill, and did exactly what I told her.

By the end of the day, she and Zeke were zipping through the trees, doing little jumps, and shaking their butts with glee as we explored the different parts of the mountain. Zeke even tried some tricks in the terrain park.

Blue skies, perfect temperatures, and beautiful vistas. And for some reason, Josie insisted on holding her poles up over her head like that every time I took her picture.
Finally, they were ready to go home.

"Mama, are you still the 20-year-old surfer chick named Tammy?"

"Yep, for a few more minutes," I answered.

"Well, Tammy, you're a good teacher."

"Thanks, chicklet. Let's head on down and you can show me your stuff."

We drove home, tired and happy, ready to call me "Mama" again.


Friday, March 03, 2017

A Jewish kid with a rosary walks into a bar...

I get a lot of phone calls from my mother while she's in various business class lounges in airports around the world. The other day it was from Melbourne, as she was getting ready to board a plane that would finally bring her back stateside after a two-week jaunt confabbing about international adoption through various countries in southeast Asia and Oceania.

I was relaying to her the email I got from Zeke's teacher about the difficulties he's having in school. Not with the content or curriculum, but with behaving. He's been defiant, argumentative, occasionally destructive (not majorly, but doing stupid shit like breaking pencils and ripping up assignments when he's pissed off), doesn't always focus on his work and is lazy about finishing it, and it's affecting his grades.

It's obviously very upsetting to me on a number of levels - I hate that he's having a hard time, I hate that he's being a dick to his teacher, who is really good with him. I also find it utterly bewildering. As a child (and throughout my entire educational career, actually), my self-worth and self-identification were very much immersed in living up to the expectations that my parents and my teachers had for me. I was lauded for being smart and good, for the teacher's plaudits during parent-teacher conferences that "she's such a pleasure to have in class," and I basked in that praise like a flower rotating to catch the rays of the sun. The notion of angrily rejecting a teacher's demands, or of not working hard enough to get good grades, was anathema to me. I would have sooner drunk a bottle of Windex than disappoint anyone.

But my son. My dear sweet, bright, exuberant, difficult son. My son who is so much more emotionally fragile than his sister or I are, with his mood swings and overdeveloped sense of righteousness. Lately he seems immune to such concerns.

The latest incident involved a rosary that he was wearing around his neck. He would get fidgety in class and take it off and start swinging it around, annoying the shit out of everyone in the vicinity and disrupting the teacher's ability to maintain order and keep everyone focused on their work.

He was repeatedly asked to stop. He didn't stop. He was told that if he didn't stop, the rosary would be taken away. He refused to hand it over. He was told to either hand it over or miss recess. He opted to miss recess. He yelled at his classmates and broke pencils and ripped papers and at one point when they were outside, took off his shoes and threw them at the wall.

The teacher gave him space to cool off, and he did. She then told him that he needed to write a letter of apology reflecting on his behavior, identifying different choices he could have made, and expressing contrition. He refused to do it in school, so he was told he could do it at home.

That's what prompted the email to me - she wanted to tell me what happened, but also ask for my support in making sure the letter was written. I told her that of course I would make sure it got done.

"Another thing I couldn't figure out is why the hell he was wearing a rosary, given that he's Jewish," I told my mom.

"Where would he have gotten it?" she asked.

"No idea."

"So what are you going to do?"

I sighed. "Make sure he writes the letter. Talk to him about what's going on with him, figure out if there's something bigger that's upsetting him."

"Oh, my poor Zekey," she said. "I hate that he's going through this."

"Me too. But I'll tell you what, that behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Whatever he may be dealing with emotionally, he can't act that way in school. He and I are going to sit down and have a real 'come-to-Jesus.'"

"Absolutely. Particularly if he's wearing a rosary."


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

It's all Greek to me

Growing up the way I did, my family and I were immersed in other cultures. We experienced non-American holidays. We traveled to far away places. We had friends from all over.  We learned languages.

My first language was Greek, though I don't remember any of it anymore. I still speak Spanish and though I was conversational in Hebrew when we lived in Israel during my early teens, I haven't retained it at all except for a few words (but I can still read it, oddly enough). 

My dad is also pretty good at languages, and he still speaks some Greek and Spanish. 

My dad is, shall we say, not a shy, retiring type. He is gregarious and talkative and likes to connect with people. He is a congregant in the church of finding common ground - you know that guy? He's a friend of mine! You're from that place? Hey, I've been there! You're Salvadoran? Let me speak to you in your language!

It's a wonderful quality. I am a sociable person, but it's not in my nature to strike up a conversation with strangers wherever I go. It makes me feel intrusive. My father, on the other hand, is more of a hail-fellow-well-met, unencumbered by an overdeveloped sense of embarrassment.

We like to go to Greek diners. There's one near my parents' house in Virginia that we go to for breakfast every Thanksgiving after the SOME Trot for Hunger. There are many near where I live, owned by a Greek guy who has a bunch of local diners and restaurants. We hit them up when we are all in New York City together.

And every damned time, my dad walks in and starts speaking Greek with the waiter, or the hostess, or the busboy, or whomever we happen to encounter. And almost every damned time, the person is from Guatemala or Minnesota or Long Island, and they have no fucking idea what he's talking about. 

My dad shrugs it off. It makes my brothers and me cringe. 

This past weekend I went to a play with my friend Christen, and we had dinner at a Mexican place beforehand. 

Our waiter was a young black-haired, olive-skinned guy who spoke with what sounded like a Hispanic accent. Denver has a large Hispanic community. We were in a Mexican restaurant. I felt like it wasn't a stretch to assume that he spoke Spanish.

When Christen ordered the chile relleno, the waiter asked if she wanted it crispy.

Bouncing with certainty and confidence, I asked, "como se dice "crispy" en espaƱol?"

He scowled at me and barked, "I have no idea."  I recoiled like a toddler who reaches for that second cookie, only to have her hand unceremoniously slapped away.

This is why I don't talk to strangers.

And apparently, I have become my father. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

There's no time to cry, happy happy

Inevitably, I had another birthday last week.

Though I am long past the age when I get excited about birthdays, it was a lovely day, full of birthday wishes from family and friends near and far. My mother called me from the airport lounge in Abu Dhabi to tell me the story of the day I was born, and even though I have heard the story a million times (or more accurately, about 42 times - I doubt she was telling me the story before the age of 5 or so, but who knows?). I actually learned something new - apparently, even as late as one day before I was born, and when my mother was already in active labor, she and my dad hadn't discussed names for me. If I was a boy, my dad was a big fan of Irish names - Kevin, Seamus, that sort of thing. But they didn't have any names picked out for a girl.

"What about Irish girl names, like Siobhan or something like that?" I asked.

"We wouldn't have known how to spell them," she responded.

They ultimately settled on Wendy, because - and this part I did know - my mom liked Peter Pan (the show) and thought it would be nice to have a "Wendy Darling" of her own.

What was cool about my birthday this year was the gift from my parents - a trip to New York to see Hamilton on Broadway.

I remember hearing a couple of years ago that there was a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. It struck me as odd, and an implausible story for a good musical. But it kept gaining traction in the cultural conversation. Friends kept saying, "you've GOT to listen to the soundtrack. It's so, so good."

I pulled up the album on Spotify and started listening to it as I drove from DC to Charlottesville for my reunion last summer. And I didn't stop listening to it for about four months. And continued to listening to it periodically after that. I still do. I love it that much. I know all the lyrics and, except for not being able to rap as fast as Daveed Diggs, I can sing along with the entire soundtrack. It really is that good.

So it was amazing to see it on Broadway, and to spend time with my family. I love New York.

And now I'm home and dealing with being 47. Generally, I feel good. I'm healthy and strong, both mentally and physically. Except for a few more lines around my eyes, I don't look or feel much different than I did when I was in my 30s. But it feels weird to be officially in my late 40s. As my brother Sam said, "fuck, you're old."

Dude, tell me about it.

The only thing that really bothers me about it is in the dating world. Men, including men in their 50s who have no business being too choosy, tend to use the age of 45 as an arbitrary cut-off in the women they are looking for. Like I'm a carton of milk that's been left sitting in the fridge, well past the sell-by date.  It annoys the shit out of me - it's not like these guys are George fucking Clooney.

But there's nothing I can do except continue to be optimistic. So I am.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

What's new, pussycat?

Occasionally, it gets really cold in Colorado.

This may seem like a statement by Captain Obvious, but the weather in Denver is actually pretty mild, even in the winter. We get occasional patches of insanely cold temperatures, when the high is in the single digits (Fahrenheit, that is, so well below freezing), but most days in the winter the highs are in the 40s.

Anyway, when we get these superduper cold stretches, cute little mice make their way into my ancient house to keep warm. They are small and unobtrusive. We only see one or two. They seem harmless.

But still, they're mice, and I don't want them in my house.

So last week when it was freezing and the kids and I saw a mouse running under the couch in the living room, I said that I was going to get some traps or poison and get rid of them.

Josie immediately burst into tears. She loves the mice, thinks they're adorable, and wants to give them names. If she thinks there are mice downstairs, she'll descend from upstairs slowly so as not to startle them.

To memorialize the extent of her determined opposition, she went to my desk and started writing me notes.


I asked, "what about traps that don't kill the mice, but just enclose them so we can release them outside?"

"NO! I don't want them to be cold."

Sigh.

I posted about this exchange on Facebook, and after many suggestions from friends, I decided that the thing to do would be to get a cat.

I have never been a cat person. I don't hate them or anything, but I grew up with dogs and I love them and I understand them. I like my pets to be demonstrative and loving - big, dumb, slobbery and affectionate (like my men, right ladies?).

But the kids have been clamoring for a pet, and while I love dogs, I don't have the energy to take care of one right now. So a cat seemed to satisfy multiple needs - the kids' desire for an animal in the house, and my desire to deter mice from coming into the house, in a way that won't incur the wrath and disapproval of my daughter.

I don't know where to start, though. How does one pick out a cat? They're notoriously aloof, so how do you know which one to get?

I contacted a cat-owning friend of mine with these questions. He laughed at me.

"Are you picking out a cat or a Bengal tiger? The truth is, you don't really know what you're going to get. Go to the shelter, interact with a few of them, get the one you like, and hope for the best." He gave me pointers on litter and litter boxes, and the importance of having a bottle to spray water on the cat if it does something it shouldn't.

Friday night I went to Pet Smart and bought all the supplies. Saturday morning I went to the Dumb Friends League to pick out a cat. The nice lady sent me back to one of their big rooms where, she said, some of their friendlier, more mellow cats hang out. I walked in and was immediately drawn to this one:


I thought he was beautiful, and he was hanging out, purring and letting me scratch his head, leaning into my hand as I did so. I asked some of the volunteers about him, and they raved about how sweet and affectionate he is.

So I decided, "yep, he's the one." His name is Scooby (which is kind of a dumb name, so the kids and I are thinking of a new one - I don't get the sense that he gives a shit one way or the other). He's a year old. He was adopted and then returned to the shelter because the lady didn't like the fact that he's so affectionate.

After taking a day to wander around the house and get a sense of his surroundings, he has settled right in. He's lovely and likes to lie with his head in my hand. Occasionally he'll do something very cat-ish, like I'll move my arm an inch and he'll jump up and bolt out of the room, but I find it hilarious and charming.


He uses the litter box and behaves himself. I can leave the house and go skiing for a day, and I don't have to worry about him. As a former dog owner, this blows my mind.

And holy shit, the kids ADORE him. Like, Zeke couldn't go to sleep until after midnight last night because he was so pumped about the cat. We were late for school this morning because I couldn't get them to focus on getting dressed rather than on the cat.

"Mama, I can't focus on my clothes! I'm focusing on Scooby! He's so cute!" Josie gushed.

Plus I haven't seen a mouse since he arrived on the scene.

I kind of dig him.


Monday, January 23, 2017

How many people can you cram into an SUV, and other lessons I try to teach my children

Being a parent, especially a single parent, is hard.

And I don't really mean the day-to-day part of it. That can be hectic, and often I feel like I'm lurching from task to task in my efforts to keep my children's world (and my own) spinning, and not doing any of it particularly well. But complaining about stuff like that is boring, and for the most part I've got it down. I have a steady job and a roof over my head and I don't worry about keeping the kids fed or clothed or safe - in the grand scheme of things, my life is easy.

But I worry about making sure they grow up to be good people.

Different parents have different approaches to this. The kids' dad is more of a disciplinarian than I am - the rules at his house are very strict. There are bright lines drawn and time-outs meted out for crossing them. And I don't have a problem with that. The kids bristle at it sometimes, but there are worse things in the world than learning how to follow certain rules.

But that kind of regimentation has never been my style. It's not how I was raised, and as a result, trying to set up a system of tokens or rewards and sticker charts and the like - in addition to being a pain in the ass - feels foreign to me.

Instead, I do what my parents did - I shower them with love and affection and hugs and kisses and snuggles, while maintaining certain baseline expectations for behavior and rules pertaining to safety and manners and decency. Some of it is practical in nature - brush your teeth, wash your body, flush the toilet, put your clothes in the laundry hamper, put your shoes in the shoe basket, put your dishes in the dishwasher, wear your seatbelt, don't juggle knives - but most of it is big-picture stuff that boils down to "don't be an asshole."

I firmly believe that if everyone adopted that as their mantra, the world would be a great place.

I talk to the kids a great deal about kindness. I tell them all the time that I want them to be smart and accomplished and to get good grades and be good at sports and all of that, but what I want more than anything for them is to be kind. To have benevolent, generous instincts towards other people. They have it drilled into their heads that there is nothing they could do to upset me more than to be a bully. I talk to them about the importance of sticking up for kids who are being picked on, or who might not be able to defend themselves.  I've even done role-playing exercises with them, practicing how to respond to people who are picking on them or someone else.

And when they are bickering, my admonishment is two parts "quit fighting over dumb stuff" and one part "be kind to each other." In the moment, they usually keep fighting over stupid shit, like whose head is taking up too much room on the center armrest/cupholder in the back seat of the car when they're trying to grab some extra sleep as we drive to the mountains at the crack of dawn.

"Josie, quit moving your head so it bumps against mine!"

"I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING!"

"CUT IT OUT! YOU'RE DOING IT ON PURPOSE!"

"NO I'M NOT I'M NOT I'M NOT! MAMAAAAAAA!"

"Guys, why are you fighting about this? Switch positions so your heads aren't touching! And be kind to each other - you're both tired, try to recognize that and be gentle with each other!"

Eventually they settle down. And it doesn't feel like it right then, but my hope is that some of the "be kind" message sinks in, bit by bit.

And I think it does. I was talking to Zeke's teacher last week, and she was telling me that there is a child with a disability in their class and that Zeke is incredibly sweet to him - he always offers to help the boy out and makes an effort to include him in class discussions and activities. Similarly, Josie is jokingly referred to as "Mama Jo" by her teacher, because of her maternal way of trying to take care of her friends.

Hearing this makes me proud, and gratified that maybe I'm doing an OK job.

We've had lots of conversations about kindness and respect and tolerance in the aftermath of the election. And Zeke's class is learning about the civil rights movement, so we've talked about racism and equality and the politics of both. When I told them that we were going to participate in the women's march in Denver, they were excited but unsure of what it was all about.

"What does Trump do that's bad against women?" Zeke asked.

"Well, he has a history of not respecting women, and many of the things that he wants to do as president aren't good for women."

He burst into tears.

"Honey, why are you crying?!"

"I don't want bad things to happen to you because you're a woman!" he wailed.

He really is a big marshmallow.

I assured him that I would be fine, but that we needed to speak out to protect not only the rights of women, but the rights of everyone to be themselves, no matter what color or religion or ethnicity or sexual orientation. He and Josie were on board.

We made our signs. I knitted pussy hats for everyone. We met up with some other families from the neighborhood and headed to the march, along with nearly 200,000 other like-minded folks. When the buses were so packed that they wouldn't even stop to pick us up, and the Uber rates were through the roof because of the demand, we loaded everyone into an SUV and drove downtown, taking care to keep the windows up so as not to attract attention from the police.



All the kids were adorable with their signs. We explained to them that in marching for equality and freedom, we were participating in a sacred American tradition - that we are fortunate to say what we believe, even if it means criticizing the president. My kids were a little bit cold, which made them grumpy, but I think they appreciated the experience.

When, after marching for about an hour, we went to the library to get out of the chill, Josie said she wanted to check out books about American history. I considered it a win.

Cold, grumpy Josie


My hope is that if I'm doing anything right as a parent, it's teaching them about kindness and decency and tolerance and sticking up for what's right.

And also that if you're in a jam, need to get a group of people downtown, and have a big SUV with a third row in the back, you can fit 13 people in there, no problem.