The Big One:40

I am not a glass is half full kind of gal. Which is why, when my fortieth birthday arrived last week, my reply to well wishers was “Yup, it’s the big one. 40. Halfway to dead.” Although this is a rather pessimistic view of my impending mortality, not everyone agreed with me. One friend noted that I usually put myself in the grave any minute, so she was actually quite proud of my outlook. Another noted that it was optimistic for to think that I would live to eighty. What I meant, though, was actually quite glass half emptyish. The first half went so quickly, I imagine that the next half (if indeed it turns out to be a full half) will speed by. I don’t really have to imagine; parents with college students and grandparents in the supermarket love to tell me to enjoy every minute of my children’s youth, because “they will be grown before you know it.” And if they are grown, where does that leave me? I shudder to think.

No other birthday has had quite the same impact on me. Something about forty feels downright old. Perhaps this is because my mother died in her forties, so I wonder if this, too, will be my last decade of life. Or, perhaps it is because by forty one has really run out of excuses. You can “find yourself” in your twenties, while you hide behind graduate school and selfish splurges on vacations or designer boots. For many it is acceptable for the quest to continue into their thirties. And for others, like me, the thirties is a whirlwind of pregnancy, motherhood, the defining the work-life balance. But by forty, you’ve had the career, you’ve had the kids. Most everything should be accomplished. Our president and first lady are in their forties. You can’t get more grown up than that!
I won’t pretend that I have ambitions to be the leader of the free world, but I have ambitions none the less and I can’t help feeling like the clock is ticking. A glass half full person would argue that I have actually accomplished quite a bit. I imagine that self- reflective conversation with one of my more optimistic friends to go something like this:

Half Full: You could paper your walls with your degrees! A BA and two Master Degrees.

Me (From now on to be referred to as Half Empty): True, but what about that PhD I have always wanted? Can’t justify spending the kids college tuition on some self fulfilling intellectual journey that will only result in one last opportunity to march down an aisle to the tune of pomp and circumstance. And talk about no return on my investment! I will be more likely to lose money than make it.

Half Full: Okay. Okay. Well, you could actually write that book you have been talking about…

Half Empty: I am. As we speak. But the publishing industry is down the tubes. Really, what are the chances?

Half Full: (One of my half full pals who passed forty years ago.) The forties is a beautiful time when you really come into yourself, embrace your strengths, and appreciate all you have.

Half Empty: I bet you did not say that six years ago, when you turned forty. Forty looks good as fifty creeps up.

Half Full: Look, you have three beautiful children who are healthy and wonderful.

Half Empty: I started the decade thinking I would have no kids. Now I have three. I am forty. And I have a two year old. Think about that…

Half Full: It’s wonderful! He keeps you young!

Half Empty: He makes me tired!
I don’t resent my children, although it may sound like that to the reader. If I did not have them, I would be just as gloomy about this past birthday, but it would be their absence which caused me consternation. No, it is quite simply the fact, that even if I admit I am not old, I can’t deny that I have earned the title “middle aged.” And the middle is closer to the end. And this is an end that I don’t care to reach, so while I really don’t want to race, I know I have things to do. And maybe that pain in my hip is really more than a pain in my hip. Which would mean that I really need to get going. To the Doctor. Which I seem to be doing a lot more of these days…

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 9:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

When We Were Kids

When we were kids I loved Halloween. The costumes, the candy, and the shaving cream we secretly slipped into our bags. One of the greatest joys was getting home and counting my candy, trading up with my sister and procuring a hiding spot for my secret stash before my mother assigned a permanent home in the kitchen for the rest of my stock.

When we were kids. But now we are adults. I had heard that having one’s own children was a way to recapture the thrill of childhood and perhaps enjoy activities like Halloween even more than when we were young. Our children’s excitement should be contagious, and the thrill of watching them choose a costume and run from door to door squealing as a snickers bar is dropped into their bag should be blissful.

I was reminded last weekend, though, that Halloween, for a parent, is overrated. Am I happy for my kids? Sure. Do I feel their excitement? It would be impossible not to; they make it quite clear. But the adult reality of Halloween just doesn’t live up to my early memories. Is it spooky? Yes. But for entirely different reasons, most of which have to do with my kids transforming from relatively reasonable people into sugar crazed monsters.

When we were kids discussions on October 31st began on October 29th. Now, Halloween starts at the end of the August.  While I am thinking about backpacks and sneakers for the new school year, the advertising industry has moved on to Halloween. As far as they are concerned, the first day of school is over in July, and Halloween is next. But since they have arrived, so have my kids. And so the fretting begins. What to wear, what to wear! My daughter spent more time on her costume then she did on homework during the month of September. She must have logged in a full 24 hours on the computer surfing for costume ideas. If only she would suffer alone, this may not have been a problem, but she dragged us down into her abyss, finally deciding on a bee costume. When we were kids, my mother would have made that bee costume. A little bit of black and yellow striped felt pinned to a black turtle neck with wings cut out from construction paper. Not anymore. I doubt that Julia would even find my efforts acceptable. So, by October 1st, a Bee costume from Party City hung in her closet. With a month to go I should have been relieved, but Jonah’s obsession begun, which culminated with the purchase of a Darth Vader costume, that ultimately he decided was to itchy and therefore was thrown into a pile on the floor in favor of some pirate garb which he had owned all along.

When we were kids, Halloween lasted a few hours in the evening, and there was no mention of it until we returned home from school on October 31st. Now, it is a multi-day extravaganza. Our school has turned it into a virtual Mardi Gras with sugar instead of alcohol. My kindergartener had Halloween themed homework all week. On Friday, the afternoon was spent in party mode: bobbing for donuts attached to strings, decorating pumpkins, decorating and consuming cupcakes. Of course this was all done in costume, so they would be ready for the grand finale: the parade. At precisely 2:15, the entire school, decked out as Superheroes and hippies, Star Wars Clones and witches walked the red carpet with parents  and grandparents cheering them on and snapping their photos. My fourth grader reported that they did not do a stitch of work that day; they watched Halloween themed movies. I know I am getting old, and possibly humorless, but my children attend  school for a mere 181 days a year, so why should even one of those days be wasted in tribute to a pagan holiday?

When we were kids, by the time we were nine- the same age my daughter is now- we went out trick or treating alone. My parents stayed home and manned the door, and sent me out with my friend, with instructions to be back in an hour. Today, I would never dream of letting my nine year old go out unchaperoned. So I spent Halloween night as an air traffic controller, flashlight in each hand, lighting the path up to each house so no one tripped. In between houses, I got to play cop as I yelled to watch out for cars as they darted into traffic in pursuit of their next piece of chocolate. And then when I actually accompanied them to a front door, I was Miss Manners, appalled at these vultures I created, who jostled each other to get the best view of the candy bowl and then, after spending far too long contemplating which piece of candy to take, forgot to say thank you.

But perhaps the worst part of grownup Halloween is there is no gate keeper. When we were kids my parents monitored my candy intake. I was not permitted to gorge myself on Milky Ways and Nestle Crunch Bars. If I was lucky, the candy lasted until Thanksgiving. But now, I am the gatekeeper, and I am not very good at it.  First, I make my way, not slowly, through the left over candy we bought for trick or treaters. Then I move onto my kid’s supply.  My daughter is on to me, as she has begun to find new real estate for her candy every couple of days. She clearly keeps a careful inventory, too, because when I did swipe a tootsie roll, she confronted me almost immediately. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I have found myself a reliable gatekeeper who will keep my waist line slender and my blood sugar stable. On the other hand, I need my fix.  Fortunately, my sons still seem to still be oblivious to their rapidly disappearing hoard. Which is bad for me, and my waistline, but good for my cravings.  My rationale is the faster I eat the candy, the faster it is out of my house. And then Halloween will be a distant memory, at least for another ten months.

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Young Love at Middle Age

I unraveled one of life’s delicious secrets last week. If you want to fall in love with your spouse again, sail away, fly away, drive away. Far away. From the kids. Our offspring, as much as we adore them, are not exactly conduits for romance. Their mere presence makes romance challenging, and that’s before you factor in the herculean job of raising them. And that’s before you factor in all the disagreements (a kind and gentle way of stating it) you have with your partner over the various philosophies of child rearing.          And this is why you have to part ways with them every so often. Make sure wherever you go there is a warm breeze to brush your cheek, and soft sand with a pinkish hue to sink your toes into as you gaze lovingly into the eyes of your beloved and then out to the perfect azure blue of the Caribbean. But if you can’t manage that, then just go.  I suspect you will find it surprisingly easy to remember why it is you married even in a Courtyard by Marriot two towns over.

My husband and I, along with my college roommate and her husband went to the British Virgin Islands for four blissful, child free nights last week to celebrate our fortieth birthday. The reality of our sojourn was that the weather was spotty, the food mediocre and my husband’s snoring was louder than the waves that lapped on the beach. But it didn’t matter. For we were in love, again.  Except for a couple of grey hairs, no one would have been able to distinguish us from the honeymooners.

My actual epiphany came while watching my dear friend and her beloved. I have not seen them regard each other so lovingly since college when their fiery romance began. They held hands on the walk to dinner, and they lay, legs intertwined, on a hammock while she giggled at his jokes. I have to admit even such a simple display of affection was a bit disquieting. We have grown accustomed to their frequent bickering, and outright disdain for one another’s actions. I was not sure what to do with all this love, and then it occurred to me, I felt it too! A whole twenty four hours passed, and then thirty six and then forty eight, and I was completely free of agitation and full of affection for my husband. I felt frantic for a moment when I realized I had absolutely no reason whatsoever to be annoyed at him. I tried, too. I jabbed him for not venturing out of his literary comfort zone to try a book I recommended. But it did not really bother me. I wasn’t even upset that he snored; I just rolled over and thought “oh well, I can sleep past 6 AM, no worries.”

The only thing that punctuated this paradise was our nightly call home to check on the kids. The first night included a report of my toddler, who, disoriented in Grandma’s house woke at 1 AM, and my five year old, who, similarly disoriented retrieved him from his crib. Nothing awful, but doesn’t the little guy know if he doesn’t sleep through the night at the Grandparents’ he won’t be asked back? Maybe that is his devious little plan, but it won’t work for us. Then, our nine year old got on the phone to “say hello” and grunted. Our brief absence was reason enough for her to start her own little cold war.  The solution to this hostility was simple. A quick goodbye and no phone call the next night. We both knew that we would pay dearly for our escape when we returned home, with tween growls and toddler tantrums. So why waste a precious moment of our brief love-reunion on cranky kids? When else do we get the opportunity to “turn off” or hang up on our kids?

If I felt a moment’s guilt (mostly for my poor in-laws, not for my children) it quickly dissipated as I sat at dinner, with wine and candlelight and laughed with my companions as we reverted to our twenty five year old selves and reminisced about our pre-children lives. This trip, I realized was as much for the kids as it was for us. With the children safely 1,000 miles away, it was easy to fall in love with them again, too. 1,000 miles makes meltdowns and whine fests seem almost humorous. We even swapped cute kid stories. By hour forty eight, we even missed them. Not enough to get the next flight back, but enough to look forward to the reunion.

And the reunion was wonderful, for about fifteen minutes. Because it is true, once you are home, you forget in about three minutes that you have ever been away. Housework, homework, jobs and bills hit you like a gale force wind. When you look lovingly into your spouses eyes you see not the person with whom you watched the sun set the night before, but the handyman who was supposed to replace that light bulb before your vacation. So is it worth it, if it is so quickly forgotten? The answer is yes. These brief respites from our daily lives remind us of why we chose these lives- partner kids and all in the first place.  And for the next 361 days, till we leave again, that will just have to do.

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm  Comments (1)  

On the Holiest of Days

Is it considered unholy to have thoughts about harming my son? Haven’t all parents, at one point or another, considered this, if they are being totally honest with themselves? Do these notions become more heinous if the parent happens to be sitting in synagogue on the high holidays ten days before she hopes to be inscribed in the book of life?

These feelings consumed me as I desperately tried to connect with Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. I came prepared too- books, pretzels, and matchbox cars- the trifecta of distractions.  I had visions of my boy playing nicely until it was time to go to his own service and celebrate the New Year kindergarten style. But it was not to be. Jonah refused to stay at his own service, and quickly grew tired of his diversions,  preferring to block our path to righteousness with his incessant whining and allergic sneezes that sprayed unsuspecting neighbors, and dripped puddles onto the floor. My arsenal had not included tissues, a fundamental error. My husband surreptitiously tried to wipe Jonah’s nose with his shirt sleeve, which proved to be too much for the middle aged mothers sitting nearby, whom, despite the fact that their own small children were now grown, had remembered their tissues and quickly offered some to this negligent mother. I can’t help but wonder if the same scene played out in a movie theatre or some other tightly packed venue if people would have been so kind.  Or was it the spirit of the holiday, one of reflection, gratitude and new beginnings that made people feel benevolent, and smile kindly as they rescued me.  One or two even commented on how adorable he was; something that at that moment was unfathomable to his parents. Perhaps my fellow congregants were musing about how their own sons and daughters had grown and no longer needed their laps or their tissues. Maybe, they, like me, had hopes of being inscribed in the book of life and thought better of handing over a look of disgust with a Kleenex.

I would like to think that they had sympathy for me, the frazzled mother who tried unsuccessfully to juggle prayer and parenting in order to salvage this important holiday. I admired their ability to show me kindness, because I did not feel so benevolent. The plastic folding chairs that were packed tightly together for maximum congregational attendance were not meant to be shared by parent and child. I found myself apologizing to the myriad of neighbors around me as Jonah tried to inch back our seat, or lean in one direction to get a view of the Bema, infringing on their already compromised personal space. How was I to repent if I did not even have the room to open up my prayer book? And, as any true Jewish mother would, I worried that my hostility would rub off on Jonah who would grow up to be a self loathing Jew and reject his heritage all together. I tried to quell this fear by rallying myself to lift him up when the Torahs were taken out so he could see the beautiful book that binds his faith. He smiled, but then said a bit too loud, “Mommy I can’t see! This guys head is in the way!”

I have heard more than one Rabbi say that if you want to really know what a synagogue is like, don’t come on the high holidays. I know I could never bring myself to stay home for the high holidays.  Not that I believe myself to be a prophet, but maybe, I was being tested, like God had tested Abraham’s faith, with the sacrifice of Isaac.  Maybe God was testing me to see how well I could restrain myself from harming my first born son. Maybe my presence in Shul was enough to get me in the Almighty’s good graces for the upcoming year. I was, after all, sacrificing my sanity, and if I managed to leave without having caused my child irreparable harm, I would be spared for the upcoming year.

But I left feeling spiritually empty.  Guilty at my impatience, jealous at my fellow synagogue dwellers ability to be so kind to my snot nosed five year old, and angry that I did not get to pray and sing and listen the way I would have liked. Perhaps that is why this season keeps the holidays coming; so we can have multiple opportunities to feel spiritual.  I will try again on Yom Kippur. And then again on Sukkot and Simcha Torah.   I expect I will sense it on Sukkot, when we will, together as a family, with a little more elbow room return to the synagogue and dine under the Sukkah. This, after all is my favorite holiday and maybe my enthusiasm will infect my children. Of course, I will have to make sure there are no flowers in the Sukkah so that Jonah will not start sneezing.

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Kindergarten Round Two

I started kindergarten again this week. It’s only been four years since my last trip but it feels like more. I am trying to recall the details of that September day—what she wore, (I believe it was a lavender dress, or was that first grade?), if she was nervous when the big yellow school bus pulled up and thrust its door open for her to hop on. She was so tiny; I think I resisted an impulse to lift her up the stairs of the bus, not certain she could manage the climb. I do remember following the bus down the street on my way to work, thinking of the sixteen new middle school students I would be greeting that same day. Their terror took on a new meaning for me as my own first born set out on her adventure.

That year was an adventure for both of us. The red folder that came home each afternoon with instructions for the “care and handling” of your new student and other communication signed “Love, the Kindergarten Teachers” consumed our evenings. I laughed with my husband; Kindergarten was a part time job. There were endless instructions about what color to wear or how many beans to bring in a zip lock baggie. Homework was a family effort, but it was fun, cutting and pasting, drawing and reading, together.

Everything was new that magical year- the Thanksgiving assembly with the kids dressed as Pilgrims or Native Americans, the Hundred Day party, the Kindergarten Hoe Down. And so many new faces to memorize! Both of us had to make new friends, as we tried on different combinations of playmates and families to see what the best fit was for us.

This morning I pressed the rewind button on my life as I sent my middle child off to kindergarten.  I am certainly less nervous than I was four years ago, but it is no less of a thrill to watch my child, toting a brand new blue backpack wave from the window seat next to his sister, off to begin his own adventure. And much more forthright then his big sister, he made sure to apprise us of how he was coping every second the night before the big day. “I am nervous for the bus,” he said over dinner. “Can you drive me?” This from the boy, who as a toddler  used to run down the driveway to await the bright yellow chariot that came to fetch his sister, and wail as it whisked her away because he was not allowed to ride. “Soon it will be your turn!” I would say. “You ride the mommy bus, now!”

The bus was not the only matter on his mind. “Will I be safe?” he asked.

His smart aleck sister, clearly forgetting how cavernous the school and the bus might seem to a five year old, piped up, “You’ll be fine. Except for the bus. You can tell the driver if someone is bothering you, but he won’t do anything.”

“But Julia will take care of you,” I quickly replied, “and all her friends.” If I had to personally train fourth grade vigilantes to protect my son, I would.

“Will there be a lot of homework?”

“Just a little,” I answered, “and it’s fun.”

“Homework is not fun!” Julia interjected.

“It is in kindergarten,” I retorted. “Remember?”

“Nope,” she shrugged looking awfully smug. And I sighed as I wondered when she had shed her optimistic outlook for a more jaded view. “You will do a lot of cutting for homework, that’s what I recall,” she added.

“I can’t cut squares!” Jonah voiced, the panic rising.

Before Julia could do more damage, I tried to quell his nerves. “That’s why you go kindergarten. To learn. There will be things that you can do that other kids can’t.”

It’s funny what children worry about. Squares? It never would have occurred to me that he might be concerned about cutting squares. I tried to recall what Julia may have perseverated on during those early weeks of her first year in elementary school, but I couldn’t. Had she been worried about squares? I remember what I was bothered by, though, things like will she make friends? Will she play with other kids on the playground? Will she be nurtured by caring adults the way she was in preschool? Is she academically prepared?

Doing Kindergarten again I have far fewer of these anxieties. This is a truism of parenting. We worry so much with our first as we send them off on each new journey. And then, with the next child, our fears seem trivial, almost silly. I did fret, though, that the joy of Kindergarten-for me- would be gone this time around. And I want Jonah to sense my delight as he charts his course.  I know the thrill of sifting through his backpack and helping with his homework will not create the pleasure it did with Julia, and will at times even be a burden.  I have a third child, now, and fourth grade homework with which to contend.

But this afternoon Jonah got off the bus and leaped into my arms, “I LOVED school!” he shouted. And I felt it again. Unabashed elation and exhilaration at the awe and wonder Jonah felt the first day of his school career. It is almost frightening to me that four years have erased most of the details of Julia’s year in kindergarten, so I am humbled that I am able to take this journey again; I write so that I can remember. And when my little one asks tomorrow if he can go on the bus with his sister and brother I will tell him that he will go on the bus in a few years, and he will be nervous, too, but it will be fine, even if Jonah says otherwise.  For now, though, it is the mommy bus, and he is my last passenger. Next time I wave goodbye to my child’s face pressed against a school bus window about to start kindergarten, I will turn around to walk up the driveway alone. Perhaps I will be troubled about Julia in middle school, or maybe I will feel nostalgic as I strain to remember her first day in Kindergarten, a distant memory, or Jonah’s which will likely seem far gone by then, too.  It is even possible that relief will wash over me as a new phase of my parenting begins.  For now, though, I will mark time by the rhythms of Jonah’s wonderful year in kindergarten—the holiday celebrations and the rainbow parade, the first sentences he reads, and the new friends he brings home.

Off to School!

Off to School!

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Oh Sweet Vacation

Each August my family descends upon the beach for a week of rest and relaxation. But as my husband ushered us out of the house a little too early so that we could “salvage” our travel day, hit the beach before traffic, and dig the sand toys out of our overstuffed car, it occurred to me that my husband’s directives were neither relaxing nor restful, and that individuals have different vacation styles, and that often these styles clash.

Commando Vacations

My husband was imitating the vacation style of my friend C: commando vacationing. Commandos have extensive itineraries. Days start early and end late. There is little time for rest. I recall a trip to London with C. several years back where we were allotted ten minutes at Parliament before we headed off for the Tower of London, which we did in fifteen minutes before running, literally, through Hyde Park to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It is easy to identify the commando traveler, as they bark orders over their shoulders at their straggling companions to “keep a move on it.” Usually, it falls upon the commander to record the trip and therefore he can be identified by his video camera, as he narrates the trip’s highlights for future generations to watch. He will often ask one of his fellow travelers to do “guest narration” and this request is usually met with a flick of the bird in his direction. Even rest is carefully scheduled by the commando traveler. C. had it down to a science. While the rest of us would linger over our tea each afternoon, enjoying the only opportunity we were afforded to rest our weary dogs and people watch, C. would nap. In a restaurant, sitting up, surrounded by the clanking of utensils and not so quiet conversation, he would sleep. And then, as though an internal alarm sounded, his eyes would spring open as he yelled, “Let’s go! Check.”

The Executive’s Vacation

The executive resembles the Commando in her authoritative style. However, unlike the “go-go-go” mentality of the Commando, the objective of the Executive is to be as organized as possible to ensure maximum enjoyment and relaxation. My friend B., with whom we vacation each summer, is the consummate Executive. A year before departure, B. will start cheerleading. “Who is psyched for vacation?  Yeah!”  As we reach the three month mark, research begins. Babysitter services are booked along with golf outings, and dinner reservations. A working schedule is submitted for approval about two weeks before we leave, and printed in duplicate. One copy has to be displayed in the vacation house, and one must be carried around for consult at all times.  And oh the gadgets. Each year the Executive conducts an annual review of the previous year’s trip to discuss what must be purchased to make the livin easy. Last year, it was the Wonder Wheeler, a contraption that allowed us to load all beach gear and make one trip. This year, it was the umbrella anchor which will make sure gale force winds cannot send our beach umbrella flying. I have truly never seen B. so happy as when she dug that anchor into the sand. The Executive, Damm it will be the most relaxed person on the beach if it kills her and her companions.

The Weatherman’s Vacation

The weatherman is the person who obsessively checks the weather while on vacation. This is my husband. Last night, the TV was tuned to the weather channel as he simultaneously consulted an on-line weather site to keep abreast of when the first raindrop would fall. Plans are redrawn as the Weatherman creates a schedule around the weather report. “The first raindrop will fall at 2:02, so we can get our bike ride in during the AM, and then be seated with a bag of popcorn in the cinema for the 2:30 showing. Oh wait! Now they are saying the rain won’t arrive until 5:00 PM. The movie is going to have to wait.” Often, the Weatherman never leaves his accommodations as he is too busy analyzing conflicting reports. This behavior begins before the vacation as the Weatherman checks the forecast weeks before departure. His moods alternate between elation and devastation as the monthly forecast changes. There are actually two varieties of weathermen on vacation: the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist will never say the vacation was a disaster due to weather. “Well sure, Hurricane Bill hit while we were away, but after tying the children down to the furniture so they did not blow away in the 80 MPH winds, we were able to play fifteen rounds of Monopoly! Besides, that one day we got to swim for twenty minutes.” The pessimist has an entirely different approach to the weather. Upon return, the pessimist, always doom and gloom, will report to friends that the trip was ruined due to the seventeen minute late afternoon shower, or one day of overcast skies. While the optimist will call this fortunate because it kept the beach cool and skin did not burn, to the pessimist the lack of blue sky equates to a tsunami.

Other Variations on the Pessimist Vacationer:

On this, I am an expert. The pessimist vacationer is the one who mourns the end of the vacation before it has started. As the trip reaches its half way point, she will remark, “Well the trip is half over!” And upon return, the pessimist will make a mental note never to take a trip again because all the kids do is whine, and after the two days of unpacking and doing laundry it hardly feels like there was ever a vacation at all.

The Goal Oriented Vacationer:

This type of vacationer is perhaps the easiest to please. As long as she accomplishes her goal, she is content. Goals will vary, from “Just let me finish my book!” to “I haven’t worked out in six months, so I am going to run 20 miles every day we are away.”

The Wife’s Vacation:

The wife’s vacation is a farce. It consists of laundry, which magically triples on vacation, food preparation, and childcare. In other words, the wife doesn’t really have a vacation, as it is eerily similar to her life at home. In fact, vacation is worse for the wife because it has the added responsibility of packing and unpacking for her temporary relocation.

I am a little bit wife, a little bit goal oriented and a little bit pessimistic. As I finish this from the other side of my vacation, I reflect, like the Executive, about how to improve for next year. First, my husband will golf each morning. It is the best aphrodisiac for doing laundry, so I don’t need to be the Vacation Wife. Next, since neither of my goals was reached-I have fifty pages left in my book and I did not get to take that long bike ride-. I will lower my expectations for next summer. I will bring a shorter book. Green Eggs and Ham, perhaps. I can finish that! And I will get my bike ride. The other bikes can stay at home, we will bring just mine. This I decided after the rest of the family, led by my husband told me we had to turn around on our family ride. We had gone about a quarter of a mile. After a long ride, alone, since no one else will have their wheels, I will return to folded laundry and a cooked dinner. And then, I will have no reason to be the vacation pessimist. I will make sure to contact B, our vacation Executive, about putting my bike ride on the schedule. I am expecting her to call any minute now to let me know vacation is right around the corner- 355 days away.

Published in: on September 7, 2009 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Mother Knows Best

I thought I would record my predictions, along with my children’s own predictions about their future professions. Each time one of them muses about their ambitions, I chuckle at the lack of insight into their own obvious talents. So, here we go…

What Julia says: My eight year old daughter wants to be a Broadway actress. She has a flair for the dramatic, which is evident when she performs with her theatre group. This stage presence is also obvious at home where she directs her own academy award productions with such catchy titles as “Jonah accidentally but on purpose bumped into me and the pain is excruciating,” or “You can’t be serve chicken again for dinner, we just had it three weeks ago last Tuesday.” She has been drawn to the stage her entire life; before she discovered theatre, it was dance, and she certainly has the whole diva thing down. She “forgets” to clean her room even when she is reminded at three second intervals, and expects the plate fairy to clear her dishes. Somehow, she even gets her friends to carry her book bag around school.

What Mom says: The odds are stacked against my little Sarah Bernhardt. Even with the talent and the drive, there’s always someone more talented and luck has too much to do with one’s theatrical success. She will often ask me if I think she will “make it” as an actress. I am a hard core realist, and have let her know she needs a plan B. (Footnote: My friend thinks I should be more encouraging of my nine year old’s dream, and perhaps she is right). However, no one knows Julia as well as I do, and I have devised the ideal career for her, one where she can utilize her theatrical skills: litigation. My daughter should be a lawyer. How do I know this? First, it is in the blood. My side of the family is lousy with legal professionals. Next, she has demonstrated she has the talents that a successful lawyer needs. For instance, she is a ruthless contract negotiator. Recently, I asked if she would watch her baby brother while I tried to make some phone calls in the next room. I offered her five dollars. She asked for ten. I said no. She came down to seven. I said that seven would be fine if she performed the task well. She balked. She did not believe her payment should be contingent upon her performance. In the end, she refused to babysit him.  She was showing me she meant business for the next time we had to go to contract on something. Another example: her powers of persuasion are remarkable, and she will stop at nothing to reach her goal. One night after dinner we told her she couldn’t have dessert. It was not a punishment so much as it was a lesson in nutrition based on whatever she had consumed the rest of the day. Julia just wouldn’t take no for an answer. After the pleading persisted and it was clear she was in for the long haul, I had, what I like to call, inspired parenting. I told her, if she could write a four paragraph essay, with an introduction, two body paragraphs, and a conclusion stating why she should have ice cream for dessert, I would indulge her. Julia hates to write. I doubted she would do it. But she did. She got her ice cream. She should get her JD.

What Jonah says: Jonah wants to be what every self respecting five year boy wants to be: a Fireman. His love of fire is clear, he is first in line to volunteer to strike a match or blow out a candle in our house. On strolls through town he stops and gazes lovingly at the fire trucks parked in the driveway of the firehouse. He dressed as a fireman for Halloween for three years, and I think the saddest day of his young life was when he had to pass down his fireman boots and raincoat to his baby brother.

What Mom says: Jonah will not be a fireman. He hates loud noises. He freezes and clutches his ears when he hears a siren a mile away, so how is he going to ride the truck with the nosie blaring in his ears? He could never do night shifts. He is a walking disaster after 5 PM, and the idea of being conscious past 7 PM is not going to work for my boy. Besides, he is a klutz. He would break his leg while he learned to slide down the pole. However, Jonah does have many talents, and it is my belief that he will one day be an elected politician. Mayor, perhaps. Congressman, maybe, or even senator. All the signs are there. First, he lies. And he is not a proficient liar, either. This is a must for a politician. Once, while he was playing in my car, I asked him where my cell phone was. It had been on my desk and had mysteriously disappeared when Jonah went outside to play in the car.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t seen it.”

“Jonah, if you tell me the truth, you won’t be in trouble. It is always better to tell   the truth.”

“I didn’t take it, REALLY,” he replied as he batted his eyelashes and made a sudden swift movement with his hand in the direction of the back seat that ended with a thump.

I poked my head in the car to investigate, and much to this mother’s shock, my cell phone was lying in the back seat! I looked at Jonah who immediately burst into tears, “I forgot I had it! REALLY!” Yes, my son is a liar and a bad one at that.

He is also charismatic, with excellent leadership skills, another must for a politician. Recently, he organized a theme party for all his buddies at camp. He issued invitations, decided upon a time, date, and location for a “Bakugan party.” All of this without adult knowledge. In fact, until I started to get phone calls from the moms of the other guests, I had no idea of his plans. Bakugans are best described as little mutant magnetic balls that have the under ten males in our town selling their own blood to own. No little girl thinking clearly would ever wish to own a Bakugan. However, Jonah, always the ladies man (another famous trait of many politicians) even managed to get the girls excited about his celebration. One of my friends’s even had to buy her daughter a bakugan which I seriously doubt she has looked at since the party. Yes, I am quite certain that one day I will be able to say “My son the Senator.” I may not vote for him, though, unless he changes his views on child labor laws and decides that children should actually clean up their rooms and help around the house.

Jesse: At two, Jesse is too young to articulate what he wants to do. He has some definite interests, though, so after much consideration, I have decided on a career path for him. The little guy is fascinated by churches. He has spent all of five minutes inside a church, at a Christening where he was promptly removed after loudly protesting when we told him he had to whisper. This seemed to have been a pivotal experience in his life, though, because from this moment forth, every time we pass a church-and he seems to be able to identify them all- he will inquire, “Is that a church, Mommy?” Now, as we are Jewish, a career in the ministry or priesthood is out of the question. So, it is my belief that Jesse is destined to be an architect. Churches are beautiful structures, be they gothic in design, or plainly New England, as the one in our town. I believe it is the beauty of these buildings that is attracting Jesse. And while his siblings have shown no proclivity toward art and design, Jesse constantly wants to draw, paint and use play dough. Recently he has begun to walk around the house with a pencil tucked behind his ear. He is young of course, so before I lock him in, I will see how he does with the blocks and legos in preschool.

So, it is all very simple. Mommy knows best. My offspring need to cast their childish dreams away and leave their futures in the hands of their very capable, insightful mother. They may not be happy but they will surely be successful. I just need to figure out how to tell them.

Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 4:23 pm  Comments (1)  

I won! I won!

I just received word that I won honorable mention in last month’s  Humor Press awards. The winning entry was “The Eight Year Old Pill Pusher“.

Thanks to all of my faithful readers, most of whom at this point are also personal friends.Check it out:

Click on honorable mentions and scroll down to see my name.

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 1:47 am  Comments (3)  

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I have recently proclaimed myself an anthropologist. I am busy studying the mating rituals of the preschool set. Specifically, I am motivated by my five year old son, Jonah, who, for lack of a better cliché, likes the ladies.

There are several things I have noticed during my field study. First, chivalry is not dead. When Jonah’s guy pals scramble into our minivan for transport, he climbs into his booster and buckles himself with little fanfare. However, when it is a lady friend, he not only waits for her to get into the car first, but actually offers to buckle her in before he sits himself down. It has occurred to me that his father rarely if ever holds the car door open for me, and certainly never makes sure my seat belt is affixed. In fact, he has been known to barrel down the driveway at rapid speeds before any of us are safely restrained. So where did my five year old acquire his gentlemanly ways? I have begun to think perhaps it is nature, a pure instinct on the part of the human male to protect the more fragile human female. Maybe my husband was like that too, at age five, but society sedated his natural male proclivity.

Instinct in the human male can not be underrated. The drive to reproduce, for instance is clearly biological. About six months ago, Jonah, after bathing, pointed to his testicles and asked what they were. I responded by using the proper anatomical name, (although balls would have been easier for him to pronounce) and explained that when he was an adult and married, his testicles would help him and his wife make a baby. He seemed satisfied. I felt I had given an age appropriate answer, until the next day when a teacher at his preschool reported a conversation she heard him have with his girlfriend on the playground.

“**Olivia,” he said sidling up to the object of his affection, “When we grow up, my tentacles are going to help you make a baby.” I feel fortunate that they did not kick him out of preschool for lewd conduct, or that Olivia’s parents decided not to bring him up on sexual harassment charges. Perhaps what saved him was his faux pas with the use of the word “tentacles” for testicles. It occurred to me that what Jonah did, in a pre-kindergarten, but caveman sort of way, was mark his territory. He wanted to snuff out the competition and let all the other four and five year old little men on the playground know that Olivia was his.

Jonah has remained utterly devoted to Olivia since the romance blossomed a year and a half ago. This encourages me greatly. Perhaps those who say monogamy is unrealistic are wrong. If a small child with an attention span of about two minutes can manage not to stray, then there is hope for humankind to maintain life long commitments.

This doesn’t mean that Jonah can’t look. I think of the old adage “When the cat’s away, the mouse will play.” Mostly, the mouse plays doctor with a favorite gal pal when the cat is away. Being an adult female of the species, I know I need to protect not only the virtue of my little mouse’s patient, but his commitment to Olivia as well. So the rule for doctor is clothes remain on and the door remains open. Oh, and there was that time about a year and a half ago when he was playing “family” in my friend’s Volvo wagon with her daughter, and when we went to check on them they were both completely nude, Jonah at the wheel and my friend’s daughter in the passenger seat. Both buckled in. I guess the game was “naked family.”

But the mouse plays in other ways, too. Who knew a five year old could flirt? The other day, my daughter had a friend over. When the mother came to pick her up, she sent her younger daughter, a beautiful, blonde seven year old to the door to retrieve her older sister. Upon seeing this gorgeous creature, my son, looking real cool, cocked his head to the side, nodded in her direction and said, “How old are you? Are you six?” He must have realized he was out of his league and hence the ultra cool attitude.

“No, I am seven,” replied the girl, oblivious to his advances.

“What’s your shoe size?” Jonah asked. Not a suave move on his part, but my guess is he did what a lot of grown guys do when they try to win a lady’s attention: he blew it with a poor pick up line. In this way, he is not so different then his adult counterparts, except that I can hope because he is starting so young that he will master some more effective moves before he reaches maturation.

And finally, perhaps it is not instinct, but I have a noticed a pattern in the females to whom is attracted.  He has a clear and obvious preference for blondes. Olivia, blonde. The girl at the door, blonde. The gal he tried to impress during Friday night services last week by pretending to be a monkey, blonde. I am not a blonde, although his sister is, and I am left wondering if men really do have a stronger attraction to blondes, or if this is some early anti-Freudian rejection of anything that represents his mother. And speaking of Freud, I am actually looking forward to Jonah’s move into the latency period of development. While my anthropological studies of the preschool set have been fascinating, I will be happy to have a few years where I don’t have to worry about my son staring down the barrel of some over-protective father’s rifle. I figure we have about six years, seven if we are lucky, to beat most of the caveman out of him.

Discussion of tentacles bad! Holding car doors good! Naked in Volvos bad!

** All names, except for those of my own children have been changed to protect the innocent

Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 1:54 am  Comments (1)  
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The Girl Who Cried Wolf

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

The Girl who cried wolf is my eight year old daughter, Julia. Except she is not crying wolf, she is crying broken ankle. It is my best estimate that she has hummed this tune no less than half a dozen times over the last year. It is true, that it is sometimes her wrist and not her ankle. But the story is always the same. Lots of moaning, lots of hopping. A trip to the doctor only to be told it was bruised and there was nothing to do but ice it, and use it.

So you can understand why Al and I snickered and rolled our eyes as she hobbled around the house and crawled out to the car this evening, complaining about a fall on the playground.  My neighbor picked her up at school and gave her a piggy back ride out to the car.

“Sucker!” I thought to myself. “She is playing you,” I whispered under my breath.

“I don’t know, she winced when I touched the ankle,” my neighbor replied. “Call me if you decide not to send her to Hebrew School, and I will drive the carpool”

I chuckled. I know my girl. She is a thespian. Her life is a performance. “Oh, she is going to Hebrew School. No matter what!”

Of course she had no sooner arrived at Hebrew School when my cell phone rang and I heard a voice addressing me in half English and half Hebrew. What I could gather from the voice was that someone named Aviva (Julia’s Hebrew name) was complaining about her ankle and they gave her ice. This person thought it looked a little swollen.

Not wanting to make a poor impression on this person, I checked my sarcasm, and spoke with all the medical authority I could muster, “I examined her about a half hour ago. The ankle was not swollen. If she is still complaining in an hour, please call me back and I will come get her.” I knew I would be unreachable in an hour, which is how sure I was that I would not be getting another phone call.

And I didn’t, and she even hopped through the art show at night at her school, where I got some friendly but candid advice from my friends.

“Uhh… don’t you think you need to take her to doctor? That is usually the procedure with a broken ankle.”

“You’re laughing, but we are going to read about it in your blog.”

“I promise, I will grovel in my blog if this is something to write about.” I laughed, certain that the wayward ankle would be a distant memory when it came time to go to the local carnival the next night.

But the moans and groans continued way past bed time. They seemed unstoppable. So, we did what all good parents do. We decided to call her bluff.

“Get dressed; Daddy is taking you to the hospital.” (Note: I did not volunteer myself for the trip, as the last two ER trips were all mine).

Julia looked shocked. “Why? Do you really think we need to go to the hospital?”

“If you are in that much pain, of course we do,” Al said. Translation: We need to go to shut you up. It’s almost our bedtime. Further, you need to hear from a medical professional that you are a hypochondriac, not a girl with a broken ankle.

The next I heard from either one of them was when Al IM’d me

Al: Just had X-Ray.

Me: X-Ray? Did they really think that was necessary??????

Al: Level Four sprain.

Me: What the Hell does that mean?

Al: Also known as bulging fracture. Crutches. Aircast. The whole thing.

And so I grovel. I endure the taunting of my friend who called at 10:15 PM after I dashed off a frantic e-mail. “You sent her to Hebrew School,” she quipped. “What is wrong with you?” She could really barely stop laughing and her husband felt compelled to get on the phone and make some sarcastic remark about my new career as a medical doctor. But I just laughed at myself. We deserve it. And so much more. Which is why I am being extra compassionate right now by indulging Julia when she should be fast asleep and letting her practice using her crutches which she is nervous about. And I will drive her to school every day and pick her up so she doesn’t have to negotiate the bus. And I just wrote the third e-mail to her teacher, at her request, voicing the many anxieties that Julia may feel being on crutches. And next time any of my kids has even so much as a hang nail, it’s off to the ER we go. The wolf is dead in this house. She is no more.

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Comments (3)