On Election Day

electionday

“Don’t touch anything, children. Do you understand me?”

In unison, “Yes.”

Older Brother, Little Sister, and I huddle close to Mom as she closes the curtain behind us.

Older Brother: “What are we doing here?”

Mom: “I am voting. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Little Sister: “Voting for who?”

Mom: “Voting for President of the United States of America.”

Me: “Who are you voting for?”

Mom: “That is none of your goddamn business, young lady.”

Me, eyes downcast: “Sorry, Mom.”

***

And so it went 30 years ago.

***

Waldorf: “Is our guy going to win?”

Kenyan: “I hope so! Hang on…whose side are we on?”

Me: “What are you boys talking about?”

Waldorf: “President. We’re talking about the election.”

Kenyan: “Yeah, most of my friends want that guy to win.”

Waldorf: “Mine too! Is that who we want? Or do we want the other guy?”

Waldorf continues: “We should want the guy John wants…his Mom is really smart. She has a real job, not like you, Mom. She gets dressed up and goes to work.”

Kenyan: “Oh, she must be way smart. No offense, Mom.”

Waldorf: “But John’s Dad is not as smart as Daddy. Cuz Daddy got a perfect score on the math part of his SAT’s.”

Kenyan: “I know! Wait, what are SAT’s?”

Waldorf: “They’re a test. You have to take them to get into college. You need a good score to go to a good college. And you need a great score to go to an Ivy League college.”

Interrogator: “I’m not going to college. I’m living with Mom. Cuz I love her.”

I smile. My sweetest boy.

Interrogator: “And she’s beautiful.”

Is it any wonder?

Waldorf: “Oh, God, you can’t say that about Mom. She’s our Mom. She can’t be beautiful.”

Me: “Or smart. I can’t be smart either.”

Waldorf: “Right.”

Kenyan: “Whoever we want, I hope our team wins.”

Waldorf: “So, who are we voting for?”

I know this is a teaching moment.

So why do I feel compelled to say, “None of your goddamn business”?

One of the greatest things about this country is that I have the right to cast my vote. I have a voice. I get a say. I have the opportunity to support who I believe will be the better of the two choices to lead our country for the next four years.

But damn these election years. The political talk is everywhere. And. So. Are. My. Children. Tempers run high. Adults speak uncensored…probably more freely than appropriate…and often within earshot of kids. If my young sons and all of their friends were forced to wear earmuffs, my job as a parent would be so much easier.

I grew up watching Family Ties. I had a mad crush on Alex P. Keaton. I loved the way he argued so passionately with his parents over politics.  Not necessarily because of what he argued, but because of how he argued. I envision my kids growing up with voices. We are raising them to educate themselves, formulate opinions, and speak their minds proudly.

Once they’ve had some life experiences. Until then, it’s meaningless rhetoric.

Right now, my kids are parrots. And so are most of their friends. They think their parents’ word is gold. They think we know everything. They believe us infallible.

I’m still working on teaching my older sons to use their utensils properly. And to place their napkins on their laps during mealtime. And to use those napkins (and not their sleeves) to wipe their mouths. My 6 year old just mastered skipping. My 4 year old can barely get through the day without an afternoon snooze. The only debates taking place at my dinner table are over who wants butter on his noodles and who prefers sauce.

So the election issues…these abstract concepts are difficult for my kids to grasp…and possibly more difficult to explain.

  • Ideology
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Independent
  • individual interests
  • party interests
  • conservative
  • liberal
  • non-partisan
  • fiscal
  • unemployment
  • equal pay for equal work
  • don’t ask/don’t tell
  • gay marriage
  • Roe v Wade
  • gun control

We stumble through an explanation. Personally, I struggle to keep the passion and anger and fight out of my voice. Because these issues are ones I feel passionately about…the ones I get angry over…the things I’m willing to fight for. I pause a great deal…searching for the words that will not color their naive view of our world…remembering that the points of view of the adults in their lives may be in direct contrast with one another. I choose my words with precision. Because, at this age, my children are parrots. Because they think we can do no wrong. Because they have years before they realize that some of the adults in this world have more growing up to do than their 10 year old peers do.

Me: “Now, you have to decide which issues are most important to you. Then, figure out which of these two gentleman will better represent your interests. Who makes your issues a priority?”

Waldorf: “I know what’s important to you and Daddy…you’re always telling us blah, blah, blah…”

Me: “Well, I’m glad you’re listening to us.”

Kenyan: “So, does that mean you are voting for this guy?”

We nod.

Waldorf: “Then, what does the other guy stand for?”

B&B: “He stands for this, this, and this.”

Kenyan: “So, he stands against those 3 things that are so important?”

We nod again.

Waldorf: “Who would vote for him?”

B&B: “John’s parents. And many of your other friends’ parents.”

Waldorf: “WHAT?”

Kenyan: “No way!”

Me: “Those 3 things are so important to Daddy and me. And they’re probably important to John’s parents. But not quite as important as these other 2 things are to them.”

Waldorf: “Hmmm.”

Me: “Make sense?”

Kenyan, eyes narrowed: “Yes. But I don’t like it.”

Nor do I, little man.

When they are a little bit older, when they’ve experienced more of life…after they’ve witnessed the sting of prejudice, after they’ve heard silence from a piggy bank that once rattled full of coins, after they befriend a girl who believes she has a right to make choices concerning her body and befriend another girl who believes that she gives up that right once she is pregnant…that’s when they will know more about the men they’re destined to become. Their life experiences will bring clarity to their convictions. That’s when I hope we’ll sit around our dinner table. It is then that I’ll remove my Mom hat. I’ll finally speak to them about these subjects with the passion, anger, and fight that I feel. Years from now I will speak uncensored.

Until then, I have to reign it in. Caution them not to judge. Remove the urgency and exasperation from my voice. Dumb down the adult stuff and attempt to spin it into something remotely relevant for these little sponges.

I’m eager for the election to be over. I’m tired of the lawn signs. The debates stressed me out. The phonecalls drive me batty. I press mute when the commercials run. I roll my eyes at the FB likes. SNL is at its best during the election years. And many Americans are at their worst.

In the wake of the strongest storm ever to hit the East Coast with another storm close on its heels…as the November nights grow cold and so many are still without homes and even more without power, as the residents of New York and New Jersey wait on line for gas for hours, before rebuilding has even begun…there is a bigger takeaway than this election.

Over the weekend, Entergy Louisiana drove into my neighborhood to help those still without power. They came all the way from Louisiana. To ease PECO’s workload. And to help my neighbors.

“Remember those trucks that lined our neighborhood on Saturday? Those men and women came all the way from Louisiana. To help us. They left their families. Forget about the election. Remember that they came all the way from Louisiana to help us. That, gentlemen, is what this country is about.”

I’m lucky I have a vote. On election day, I will exercise that vote.

Want to know who I’m voting for?

Come on…

It’s none of your goddamn business;-)

 

 

Sam and Me

samandme

I am a lover of words. I love to speak them. I love to read them. I love to write them.

Words have power. Words…spoken, read, and written…make an impact. The right words possess the power to brighten someone’s day. The wrong words will do the exact opposite.

Finding the right words is my job. When I write, words are my tools to communicate a story. I choose them with care, willing my voice to leap off the page for the reader.

As a parent, I feel the weight of my responsibility to choose my words wisely. My word is law. Even when they become teenagers, much to their dismay. Every conversation becomes a teaching moment. And I don’t always get it right.

Sometimes I model words that aren’t meant for little mouths to repeat…

Me: “Verb, put your sneakers on…we don’t want to be late for school.”

Verb: Struggling, “I’m trying!”

Me: “Do you need help?”

Verb: “Son of a bitch! Yes! I need help!”

Interrogator: “Verb, you don’t say ‘son of a bitch’ when you’re putting on your shoes!”

Verb: “Sorry!”

Interrogator: “You say ‘goddamnit’.”

Verb: “Oh. Thanks.”

Oops.

Sometimes I miss the boat…

Me, speaking to the nice girl at the Acme, who’s bagging my groceries: “Thank you for bagging.”

Nice girl, to me: “You’re welcome,” turning to the Verb, “How old are you?”

Verb: “I’m 3. What’s wrong with your eyes? They’re weird.”

Aw, Christ.

Me: “Uh, her eyes aren’t weird, Verb. She is blind. She can’t see. Tell her you’re sorry.”

Waldorf: “Verb, you don’t call someone’s eyes ‘weird’! You call them ‘interesting’.”

Verb, to the nice girl: “Sorry. Your eyes are…in-ter-es-ting,” proudly to me, “See Mom? Even though her eyes are weird, I told her they were in-ter-es-ting! That was good, right?”

Ooof.

Over the summer, I read an article in The Huffington Post written by Kristen Howerton. Kristen has 4 kids…some biological and others adopted. The title of her article is “Parents, Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption So Mine Don’t Have to”.  Kristen has an interracial family. It’s not uncommon for children she’s never met to ask whether she is her adopted kids’ “real” Mom. In her article, she makes a plea to parents to discuss adoption with their children. Kristen’s point is a valid one. It’s not her job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my responsibility to find the right words to do so…through a book, through a movie, through a conversation at my dinner table.

3 years ago, I took a walk with a friend…

***

I have a mustache of sweat and damp pits, and I struggle to push my double jogging stroller…a Target hand-me-down from another Mom…along the rocks of Forbidden Drive, the trail that borders the Wissahickon. The Interrogator and the Verb are my passengers, and I keep them entertained by throwing goldfish and raisins at them. I silently curse the extra pounds that are hanging on for dear life after my fourth and final pregnancy. It’s going to take months of Weight Watchers and miles of trail runs to get back to my fighting weight once again.

I walk alongside a Mom from school. Her name is Dorothy. She is beautiful, smart, and kind, and she has a smile that illuminates her entire face and every room into which she walks. She pushes her youngest son in the coolest stroller I’ve ever seen. It has this fancy swivel seat so he can face her or face forward. They don’t sell this stroller at Target.

You know when you walk into a meeting and you peruse the audience? When you see that person who loves to hear herself talk. She’s the broad who raises her hand under the guise of posing a question, but takes that opportunity to spout off her resume. You see her and immediately think, “Son of a bitch, now I have to listen to her crap this entire meeting.” Well, Dorothy is the antithesis of her. When I walk into a meeting, I look for Dorothy. She always asks solid questions…she’s not afraid to ask the hard questions…but she does it articulately and always with regard for the feelings of others.

I walk alongside this friend on a cool morning, willing some of the post-baby weight off my thighs.

“So I’ve written a book.”

Her statement interrupts my preoccupation with my chafing thighs.

I turn to look at her, wiping the sweat from my upper lip, “You what?”

She turns to meet my eye and dazzles me with her megawatt smile. I notice there is no sweat on her upper lip. “ I’ve written a book. A children’s book.”

“Seriously? That’s amazing! Wait, don’t you have a real job? When did you find the time to write a book?”

“Well, it was hard to find time, but this was important to me. Really important.”

I already knew Dorothy’s talent. Our oldest sons had been in the same pre-k class, and she’d written and illustrated a book for their class. I smile with the flash of a sweet memory. The memory of sitting on the Kenyan’s bottom bunk while he and Waldorf snuggle on either side of me. I kiss the tops of their heads, intoxicated by the smell of their hair, still wet from the tub, and the lavender scent of their baby lotion. I read Dorothy’s story aloud to them, and they giggle at the words that rhyme and the image of her hand-drawn frog.

“I am so impressed! What’s the book about?”

“We have a friend who has a child on the spectrum, and my son is beginning to ask questions.”

“Wow.”

Totally unexpected.

“I don’t feel like there is anything out there for kids. To talk to them on their level in words they understand. My kids are not on the spectrum. But we know kids who are. And stories are a great way to connect with kids…to get them to open up and ask questions and start a dialogue. So that’s what I hope this book will do.”

She is amazing.

“You are amazing. I’m glad you’re my friend.”

“Oh, stop it. I wrote it. But it hasn’t been published yet.”

***

It’s now 2012, and Dorothy’s book is a reality. It’s titled Sam and Me. And it’s quickly become a favorite in our home.

Sam and Me is the story of a family with two sons, Alex and Sam. Sam has special needs. Alex doesn’t understand why Sam acts certain ways…Sam doesn’t talk much…he wants to play on the swings all the time…sometimes Sam is inconsolable. It’s up to his parents to find the right words to communicate with Alex just what’s going on with his younger brother. And they do it, just as Dorothy does, articulately and with regard for the feelings of others.

Dorothy’s done something very special. She’s written and illustrated a book that meets a need. She recognized the need first in her home…then in our immediate community…and eventually in society at large. In the same way Kristen encourages parents to educate their children about adoption, Dorothy’s book provides a springboard for discussion about children with special needs. She encourages parents to take ownership of educating our children about a subject that’s both prevalent and sensitive. Sam and Me tells a story in words that kids relate to and understand. Words like mad, happy, smiles, falling, sorry, freak out, safe. She doesn’t use labels. You won’t read words like autism, spectrum, sensory issues, or special needs in this book. Her book is a safe starting point for parents to begin a dialogue. She gives us a prompt.

Not all boys and girls think, talk, and act the same. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to teach my kids that everyone is unique, and some families face different challenges than others. Sam and Me helps make that part of my job a little bit easier. And I’m on board with anything that makes my job a little bit easier.

Dorothy is an enormous talent with a great message. She’s put her talent to use. And she is giving back. She is donating her share of profits from the sales of Sam and Me to organizations that support children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Yep, she is amazing. Her work on this book…and her dedication to seeing it come to fruition…are a shining example of precisely what we’re striving to teach our kids everyday…both in and out of the classroom…believe in yourself, be kind, capitalize on your talents, find a creative outlet, show resilience, educate yourself, be happy, give back. 

I am a lover of words. Thank you, Dorothy, for choosing yours so brilliantly.

 

For local folks, Dorothy Potash will be reading Sam and Me during an educational forum at Barnes and Noble in Jenkintown, PA, on October 15th at 7PM. She’s scheduled for a reading and signing at O’Doodles in Chestnut Hill, PA, from 1-3PM on October 20th. Sam and Me is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

We Do Not Bite Our Friends’ Butts

I often feel like I’m on an island, surrounded by penises. The island part appeals to me because I dig a nice beach. Unfortunately, there is no island. I’m simply surrounded by penises.

“Verb, stay there while I talk to Mommy.”

Oh, shit.

I approach his teacher with caution, “Oh uh. What did he do?”

She frowns, “He bit someone.”

“He WHAT?!”

“He bit someone.”

Oh, Jesus Christ.

His teacher graciously finds the silver lining, “The boy was fine, and the Verb was honest about it.”

Translation: Congratulations. Your kid is a biter, but not a liar.

Me: “Uh, yeah, but he bit someone.”

She throws me a bone, “I figured he was probably tired?”

Me: “He was exhausted. He was up too late last night because B&B was reading to him past his bedtime. Then he and the Interrogator were carrying on in their beds. Then I moved him into our bed. Then I carried him to his bed when I went to sleep. Then he came wandering into our room at 4:30AM. So, yes, he was tired. I’m sorry, I should have warned you this morning.”

She laughs, “Well, tell B&B it’s his fault that the Verb bit someone.”

Yes, of course it’s his fault. I’m glad she sees it too. How dare he keep our child awake reading to him.

Teacher, “He should make an I’m sorry card for the boy he bit.”

Me: “Absolutely. Who was it?”

She reveals his identity.

His parents are really nice. And he’s not the youngest of 4, so they’re not used to these shenanigans. Son of a bitch.

Teacher, “And the principal will probably call you about it tomorrow.”

“Yep.”

Great.

Teacher shaking hands with the Verb: “OK, Verb, thank you for being honest about what you did today. Don’t forget to make your card for your friend, and tomorrow is a new day!”

I gather my flock, and we migrate to the playground. The Verb extracts his dessert from his lunch bag and sits next to me on the bench.

I turn to him, “DUDE?!”

Verb: “Yes, Mom?”

Me: “Does Daddy bite Mommy?”

Verb: “No.”

Me: “Does Mommy bite Daddy?”

Verb: “No.”

Me: “Do we bite our friends?”

Verb: “No.”

Me: “We do not bite people. Neither do you. You put food in your mouth, and nothing else. Understand?”

Verb: “Yes.”

I kiss his sweaty head: “Now, go play.”

He runs off to join the Interrogator.

Wait until I tell B&B about this. This kid morphs into a beast if he doesn’t get enough sleep.

“Mrs. Meyer, can I have a ride home when you leave?”

I look up from the bench to see one of Waldorf’s friends. “Sure, hon. I’ll drive you home.”

There are 3 of them…Waldorf and two buddies. It’s a sticky day…unseasonably warm and humid…so I’ll drive both friends home if necessary.

I look at his other friend: “I’ll drop you off at home too.”

“Thanks!”

Me: “Guys, come here a minute.”

The three of them gather around me.

“The Verb bit someone in school today.”

Six eyeballs grow wide.

Me, nodding, “And he may bring it up when we’re in the car. So I want you guys to reinforce to him that we do not bite people. We use our teeth for chewing food.”

Waldorf: “And gum.”

Waldorf’s buddy: “And spitting.”

Waldorf’s other buddy, “And sometimes for whistling.”

Jesus Christ Almighty.

Me: “Well, yeah, but let’s just stress that we don’t use our teeth for biting. OK?”

“Sure.”

“Hey, Mrs. Meyer, where did he bite the other kid?”

Me, matter-of-factly: “On the butt.”

They’re gone. Immediately on the ground. Grabbing their guts. High fiving. Kicking their feet.

It’s a chorus of voices: “The butt?! He bit somebody’s butt?! That is AWESOME! That’s HILARIOUS! Wow, I thought the Verb was cool before…but now? The Verb is the MAN!”

Me: “Get it all out now, gentlemen. I expect you to keep straight faces in the car. Otherwise, you’ll both be pounding pavement.”

“Sure, Mrs. Meyer…sure…bit his butt?! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

The boys spend the next 45 minutes playing tag, climbing trees, scaling sliding boards and jumping from the swings. We manage to drop both of Waldorf’s friends off before the subject of biting arises in the car.

Interrogator: “I didn’t wike my job today.” (Wike=like. The Interrogator struggles with his L sounds.)

Me: “Oh? What was your job?”

Interrogator: “Sponge duty.”

Me: “What do you do when you have sponge duty?”

Interrogator: “You kween up (clean up) people’s messes. I didn’t wike it.”

Oh, I feel you, Interrogator.

Me: “Verb, what was your job?”

Verb: “Not to hit. Or bite. Or call anyone ‘poopypants’.”

Me: “Did you call someone poopypants too?!”

Verb: “No! My job was NOT to call anyone ‘poopypants’.”

Interrogator: “That’s a potty word.”

Verb: “I KNOW! That’s why it’s my job not to say it. Unless I’m in the bathroom. Then I can say poopypants poopypants poopypants!”

Interrogator: “MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! Verb said poopypants 3 times!”

Me: “I heard. Stop with the poopypants, both of you, please.”

Waldorf, unsolicited: “Verb, you know, you shouldn’t bite anyone.”

Oh, joy.

Interrogator: “Huh? Verb, did you bite someone?”

Verb: “Mm hmm. On the butt.”

Interrogator: “What?!”

The Kenyan serenades us from the back seat, “ I’ve got a butt. He’s got a butt. She’s got a butt. We’ve all got butts.”

*Side note…This is a real song. Coincidentally we heard it the very morning of the biting incident. Perhaps the writer of the song bears some of the blame for the Verb’s poor behavior. Just sayin…

Interrogator: “Why would you do that?!”

Verb: “Um, I was tired.”

Interrogator: “But you don’t bite someone on the…”

Waldorf interrupts, “OK, enough, we know, Interrogator!”

The Interrogator yells at Waldorf: “You’re a PU TAO!”

In unison, we ask: “WHAT?”

Interrogator: “I said you’re a PU TAO!”

Waldorf: “Mommy, the Interrogator is calling me something in Chinese.”

Me: “Interrogator, what are you calling him?”

Interrogator: “A grape! Pu tao is grape in Chinese!”

Waldorf: “OK, I am NOT a grape. That’s just ridiculous.”

“PING GUO!”

WTF?

Waldorf: “Oh, God. Enough with the Chinese already!”

Verb: “Yes! I take Chinese too!”

“PING GUO!!!”

Me: “Interrogator, what does Ping guo mean?”

The Interrogator couldn’t be more pleased with himself: “It means apple! In Chinese!”

Waldorf is less than amused: “Yes, we KNOW in Chinese!”

Interrogator, grows serious: “I’ll have to ask my teacher what the word is for ‘butt’ in Chinese. Since the Verb bit someone on his butt.”

Me: “Please refrain from doing that. We do not need to use potty words in Chinese class.”

Interrogator: “Well, he did, Mom. He bit someone’s butt.”

buttout

Kenyan continues serenading, “ I’ve got a butt. You’ve got a butt. He’s got a butt. We’ve all got butts.”

Me: “Enough butt talk. Enough.”

When we finally arrive home, I hide in the powder room and call B&B:

“So, your son bit someone today.”

B&B: “Oh, shit. Which son?”

“The Verb.”

B&B: “Is the other kid OK?”

“Yes.”

B&B: “What happened?”

Me: “Well, he was up too late last night when you were reading to him, remember I told you?”

B&B: “Whoa, wait a minute. You’re not blaming me for this, are you?”

Um…

Me: “No. Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Shhhhh.

Me: “Anyway, he was overly tired and he made a bad choice.”

“Where did he bite the kid?”

Me: “On the butt.”

B&B erupts into laughter.

Me: “It’s not funny.”

B&B: “Come on, it is kinda funny.”

Me: “When it’s somebody else’s kid, it’s funny. Not when it’s our kid.”

I wait for him to stop laughing. And wait.

Me: “So now the principal will be calling us tomorrow.”

B&B: “Why?”

Me: “It’s protocol. The teachers need to report that stuff to cover their asses.”

B&B: “Cover their asses? They better cover their asses! Before the Verb takes a bite out of theirs too!”

Ba-dom-bom.

Oh, and here is the Kenyan’s contribution.

A short comic strip illustrating the biting incident. Artwork by the Kenyan.

So, here I sit. On my island. Surrounded by penises.

Minus the island.   

A Letter to the Parents of the Olympic Athletes

olympics

Me: “Are you ready?”

Silence.

Me: “B&B, are you ready?”

Pause.

B&B: “Um…yeah…just…about…ready…”

Mother of God.

In my mind’s eye, I see him half-dressed, standing in front of the computer, eyes glued to the live feed of the men’s 4×100 meter relay final. I walk down the steps…and confirm my suspicions. B&B, wearing only a pair of unbuttoned shorts and his watch, looks from the computer monitor to me, then back to the monitor.

B&B, shoulders shrugged, palms skyward: “Beth, it’s the men’s 4×100! It starts in,” glances at his watch, “2 minutes.”

B&B ran track his senior year of high school. During that season, he managed to run a sub 5 minute mile and break the school’s high jump record. That record still stands over 20 years later. I can pull him away from the Olympic live feed during handball. Track and field? No shot. The fact that we are already late picking the Kenyan up from his friend’s house AND late for a party AND that we’ll see this race on NBC at primetime…moot points, all of them.

It’s the men’s 4×100 meter relay final.

I text the Mom of the Kenyan’s friend:

“Fucking B&B watching the Olympics. Be there in 15. Sorry.”

She replies:

“No problem. They’re playing outside. Take your time.”

I re-read my text to her. Hmmm.

I text her:

“Just clarifying, ‘fucking’ is an adjective, not a verb in this instance.”

I join B&B next to the computer, catching Usain Bolt’s leg of the race. And, just like that, a new world record is set.

We are a house of Olympic junkies. In the same manner that summer wreaks havoc on our regular schedule, the Olympic games dictate our lives for two weeks every four years. During the summer months, all 4 kids are home with me. All day. Every day. It kills my workout routine. Writing is near impossible. Laundry sits in piles…clean and dirty…in the corners of bedrooms and littering the family room furniture. I find string cheese wrappers in beds. There is too much pizza. Too little fruit. Bedtimes are not strictly enforced. Breakfast happens in shifts…beginning at 6:15 and ending when I warn Waldorf, who’s still in bed at 10AM that, “the kitchen is closing until lunch!” Since July 27, our haphazard summer schedule has become even more so, revolving around swimming, gymnastics, and track and field.

B&B and I are spellbound watching the Olympics. Most of the athletes are kids…teenagers and 20 somethings. They’ve dedicated their young lives to getting to this point. With the support of their coaches, their teachers, tutors, and friends, they’ve achieved a lifelong goal of becoming an Olympic athlete. None of it could have happened without the sacrifice, commitment, and support of their parents.

Which inspired me to write this…a letter to the parents of the Olympic athletes…

I loved meeting my newborn sons. In their first hours of life, I held each of them, studying every detail of their unfamiliar faces. I tugged at their receiving blankets to reveal their tiny shoulders. I counted ten tiny fingers and smiled as their reflexive grip tightened around my finger, so enormous in comparison. I unswaddled them to place my hands on feet that had never before touched the ground. Those hours, and the days following, were filled with hope and wonder. Who will this boy be? A soldier? A scientist? A philanthropist? An Olympic athlete? I dreamed big for them. And I hoped all of their dreams would come true.

It’s been 4 years since I held my last newborn…and I can say with certainty that there is not an Olympic athlete in my bunch.

For those parents who did give birth to Olympic athletes…thank you. This summer has been one of hope and wonder for my children as they’ve watched your children compete in the Olympic games.

Debbie Phelps, did you pull down his blanket and peek at your baby boy’s shoulders? Did you sense that they would eventually support the weight of 22 Olympic medals? Your child is a marvel. Thank you for recognizing that putting an active young boy in a pool will result in a tired young boy. Swimming proved a valuable strategy for dealing with Michael’s ADHD. Did you dream when you first put him in the pool that he would eventually become the most recognized face in his sport? He has an intensity in the pool and a quiet confidence outside the pool. As the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, one could argue he has every right to be cocky. The fact that he isn’t makes him even more endearing. I watched you watch him compete. As a mother, I identify with the intensity of watching him race, willing him to do his best. My kids watched your daughters watch their brother compete. They witnessed the pride your girls have in their little brother’s commitment to his sport. These are lessons we teach in our home. Thank you for your family’s example of what that support looks like…even once our kids reach adulthood.

Lynn and Rick Raisman, when you held your daughter for the first time, did you smile when her tiny hand enveloped your finger? Did you hope that it would be the same hand that would catapult her to Olympic gold? Would you have dared to dream so big for this, your first born baby? Aly’s sportsmanship sets her apart. We live in a world in which we’ve witnessed pro golfers throw their clubs in temper tantrums. We’ve seen a college basketball player choke his coach in a fit of rage. When Aly believed she hadn’t medaled on the balance beam, she hugged her coach. She took a deep breath. She remained poised. She sought out Catalina Ponor, who’d seemingly edged her for the bronze, embraced her, and congratulated her on a job well done. She was the picture of dignity. She’s a teenager. Competing at an elite level. In front of the world. The pressure she experiences is unimaginable. She thought her score put her just out of medal’s reach. Yet there it was…her sportsmanship. Her gesture is one I’ve played and replayed for my children. Boys, this is what sportsmanship looks like. My boys will never be Olympic athletes. They will never comprehend the pressure Aly feels. But they’ll know what it feels like to try their very hardest and fall short of a goal. They’ll know the sting of disappointment. Aly’s example of sportsmanship in action at the highest level of competition is a lesson for my children. Pretty sweet that she wound up winning the bronze due to a scoring error.

Sheila and Henke Pistorius, did you unswaddle your infant son and place your hands on his feet…feet that would only be his for a short time? Did you wonder who Oscar would be? 11 short months later, when he lost both legs below the knee, did you know then that your boy had the spirit of a champion? Did you sense, in a way that only a parent knows, that your child was destined to be a role model? That he would grow into a young man whose participation in the Olympics would embody courage? My children have watched your son in amazement. “His blades are cool!” Yep, his blades are cool. But his message is even cooler. No limits. No excuses. Endless possibilities. My husband and I choked back tears as we watched Kirani James, moments after winning the 400 meter semifinal, remove his bib in exchange for Oscar’s. Your son has earned the respect of his fellow athletes. He’s won the admiration of millions. Oscar is a true champion. An exceptional man. And a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

Every parent of an Olympic athlete has his and her own unique story. While the stories differ, the themes remain the same. Sacrifice, commitment, support. Sacrificing family dinners for practices. Spending nights, weekends, years in a gym, at a pool, on the track. For Natalie Hawkins, sacrifice meant spending two years away from her daughter, Gabby Douglas, so that Gabby could train with the coach she hoped would enable her to fulfill her Olympic dream. The commitment…time, financial, and emotional…to seeing your child’s talent honed to make him one of the finest athletes to compete in his sport is beyond my imagination. The support you’ve given your children to empower them to continue performing with confidence, drive, and excellence to reach the Olympic level of competition…I am in awe of it.

When you held your babies, long before they were Olympians, before you knew they were athletes, did you wonder who they would be? Did you sense you were holding a future Olympic hero in your arms? Maybe, like I did, you simply dreamed big for them…and hoped all of their dreams would come true.

To the parents of the Olympic athletes…thank you for sharing your children with us this summer. It’s been an honor watching your children’s dreams come true.

An abridged version of this piece can be found in the August 13, 2012 edition of the Huffington Post.

A Sneak Peek

Verb: “I don’t want to wear mine raincoat! I want to take off mine shirt!”

Me: “Yes, you do, and no, you don’t.”

Interrogator: “I’m not going to eat breakfast right now. I’m going to play.”

Me: “Yes, you are, and no, you’re not.”

Kenyan: “My legs hurt. And I don’t like my haircut.”

Me: “No they don’t, and yes, you do.”

Waldorf: “Everything hurts. I can’t walk.”

Me: “No it doesn’t, and yes, you can.”

All this in a span of 3 minutes. While herding them to the car to drive to school.

We walk to the car. I open the doors. They pile in.

Me, with exaggerated calm: “Verb, get into your car seat. Verb, turn around and sit properly in your car seat. Verb, hand me your Legos or I will turn you around in your car seat. And I won’t do it gently. Verb, that’s 1. Verb, that’s 2. Verb, that’s..”

A split second before I drop the hammer, he turns around, sits properly and smiles.

3 year old boys aren’t any easier the 4th time around.

Verb: “I love you Mommy. Forever and ever. Ahhhh-men.”

This is his newest thing. After he tells me he loves me, he adds “forever and ever. Amen.” And he draws out the Amen. Most recently, he’s been hitting me with this gem when he’s on the toilet.  Right after he requests I wipe him.

It’s not so cute anymore.

I pull out of the driveway. Begin our 14 minute drive to school. I’m lost in thought when the Kenyan interrupts my reverie…

Kenyan: “Mommy, Beauregard’s parents aren’t married.”

Me: “I know.”

Kenyan, eyes wide: “They never were married.”

Me, nodding: “I know.”

Kenyan: “Well, how can they have a baby if they were not married?”

Me: “You don’t have to be married to have a baby.”

Waldorf, resident expert on every topic, chimes in: “Yes, you do.”

Me: “No, you don’t.”

Waldorf: “Yes, you do.”

I’m ignoring Waldorf now.

Kenyan: “I’m never getting married. I don’t want all these kids.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard him say this. In contrast to the Verb’s “forever and ever, Amen”, I find it thoroughly amusing. Every time I hear it. I should probably be insulted, but I’m too amused to be insulted.

Me: “You don’t have to have kids if you’re married.”

Waldorf: “But you do have to be married to have a baby.”

Some days I think he was put on this earth to make my life a living hell challenge me at every turn.

Me: “No, you don’t.”

Kenyan: “How does that work?”

I glance in the mirror. Eight blue eyeballs are trained on me.

I haven’t even had my coffee yet.

Me: “It works in a way that not everyone in this car is ready to hear about. It works in a way that I’m happy to explain to you at home.”

Waldorf: “You do have to be married to have kids.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake…

Me: “You DO NOT. Remember that talk Dad and I had with you about how babies are made?!”

I raise my eyebrows and make what I hope is meaningful eye contact with Waldorf in the rearview mirror. Then I swerve the wheel to compensate for the 6 seconds spent focused on the mirror.

Waldorf, suddenly disgusted, looks away: “Ugh, yes, I don’t really want to talk about that.”

Me: “I don’t either, but that’s what I’m referring to.”

Waldorf: “You mean about the no pants?”

Oh, brilliant.

I raise my eyebrows higher, make even more meaningful eye contact, swerve the wheel again.

Me: “Shhhh. Yes.”

Kenyan: “No pants? What the…”

Interrogator: “No pants? Who has no pants?! That’s inappropriate, Mom!”

Me: “Yes, it’s inappropriate.”

Waldorf: “Dad has no pants sometimes.”

sneakpeek

Ever the instigator…

Me: “OK, enough, thank you. That’s good.”

Verb, shrieking with disbelief: “Dad has no pants? Interrogator, YOU had no pants last year! Remember, you go’d pee pee on the potty, then you came outside with no pants?” He kicks his bare feet in sheer joy.

Interrogator, laughing, “I remember, that was fun, wasn’t it, Verb? Except it wasn’t last year, it was yesterday. It was fun and funny. But Mom didn’t like it.”

Me: “I remember that you lost dessert for that stunt, Interrogator. Pants are mandatory outside.”

Waldorf: “But not when making babies.”

Angry Eyes in the rearview mirror.

Swerve.

It promises to be a mind numbing a relaxing 87 Days of Summer

The Tortoise and the Hair

B&B: “Oh we’re doing it.”

Me: “We don’t have time.”

B&B: “We DO have time”

Me: “We have to leave in,” I glance at the clock, “8 minutes!”

B&B: Eyebrows raised, “It’ll only take 5.”

No it won’t.

But his mind is made up, so it’s pointless to argue.

Me: Sighing: “Fine.”

B&B removes his shirt, smacks my unsuspecting behind, and hollers, “Kenyan! Outside! Quickly!”

The Kenyan stops running his circular pattern in the family room long enough to mutter, “Huh?”

B&B: Calling down the steps, “Come on, we don’t have much time!”

The Kenyan bounds the steps into the kitchen two at a time. Looks at me, looks at B&B, looks back at me. “Is it time to go?”

B&B has a wild look in his eye: “Almost. First I’m going to cut your hair.”

Kenyan: Covering his head protectively, “Oh, no. Never again. You’re not cutting MY hair.”

B&B: Exasperated, “Come on, Kenyan!”

Our son backs away, hands still protectively clasped over his overgrown hair. He shakes his head, “No. Nope. No thank you, and no way.”

B&B looks at me for assistance.

Oh, no, leave me out of this!

B&B: “Mommy, doesn’t he need his hair cut?”

Apparently, after almost 18 years together, B&B still cannot read my mind.

Me: Clearing my throat, “Ahem. Yes. He does.”

B&B, Looking at the Kenyan, “See? Mommy agrees with me.”

Kenyan: “She agrees I need a haircut. You’re not touching my hair.”

At least one of them can read my mind. Well done, Kenyan.

B&B, looking once again to me for assistance, “Mommy, doesn’t he need his hair cut right now? Before his first race of the season?”

Nope. It’s a fakakta idea. There’s no time. Oh, and there’s that small detail I’ll leave for last…but certainly not least…that you butchered him the last time you cut his hair.

B&B: With a note of hysteria, “Mommy?! Doesn’t he need it now?!” Eyebrows raised, palms skyward, promise of serious spousal dispute in front of child if I disagree.

Me: “Um,” I look at the Kenyan, wrinkle my nose, squint one eye, shrug the opposite shoulder, “Kenyan, I bet he’ll do a better job this time.” Hoping my voice, which is 3 octaves higher than usual, doesn’t illuminate my lack of confidence in B&B’s clipping skills.

The Kenyan looks at me, narrows his eyes. Removes his hands from his head and they fall to his sides. “Ugh! Fine! Not as short as last time though!”

B&B’s face illuminates. He claps his hands and shouts, “Woohoo!” then hastily disappears from the room to gather his equipment before the Kenyan and I can change our minds.

I put my arm around the Kenyan. “I’m proud of you, buddy. Trusting Dad to do this means alot to him.”

Kenyan: Grudgingly, “Yeah, well it better come out better than last time.”

Word.

Me: “It will.”

I glance at the clock,  “B&B, you have 5 minutes.”

He escorts the Kenyan to the back patio, where the scalping cutting commences. I shake my head, filling water bottles and packing fruit while I wait.

I don’t have to wait long…

“What?! Oh! Nooooo!” come the Kenyan’s cries from outside.

Oh dear.

Kenyan: “I look…I look TERRIBLE! You did it again!”

Oh, crap.

Kenyan: “I’m never letting you cut my hair again!” Sob, sob, sob, sob.

Aw, shit.

I knew it. Terrible idea.

I hear B&B quietly coaxing the Kenyan, “You look great. It’s only hair. Think of how fast you’ll be. It’s not nearly as short as last time.”

Once the Kenyan commits to a feeling, he cannot be coaxed into un-feeling it. So, B&B has his work cut out for him. And so do I if I’m going to get him to track on time.

Kenyan: “No! NO! I shouldn’t have let you! I knew it! You’re never cutting my hair again! I’m not going anywhere! I look…I look WEIRD!” sob, sob, sob

I wait inside. Clearly, I’m tasked with supporting this ridiculous decision to shave the Kenyan’s head. To compound that, I will undoubtedly be recruited to step in for moral support. I’ll wait right here until the time is right.

B&B: “Kenyan, it’s only hair, this is absurd behavior, it’s time you man up…”

And, that’s my cue.

I step onto the patio,  “Hey, what’s all the fuss about out here?”

The Kenyan is the palest of our offspring. He is bright white in August, after spending the entire summer with his skin exposed to the strong summer sun. Shaving his hair down to his scalp, which hasn’t seen the light of day in a solid 5 years…well, it’s a dazzling effect to say the least. His head is glowing. Like a beacon in the ocean at night, he stands like a lighthouse, the glare of his almost bald head illuminating the way for ships in peril.

Except there are no ships in peril on our back patio. Just a 9 year old little boy, who is now running late for his first track meet, devastated about his new haircut.

And, yowza, I could cry too. It’s too short. By next week it will be just right. But, today, and for the next 6 days…too short. I’m careful to hide this from my face as he looks at me with tears running down his face. And I’m extra careful not to make eye contact with his father, whom I could murder.

I reach out and rub the peach fuzz for good luck.

Me: Smiling, “Buddy, it’s short, but that face is so handsome, you don’t even need hair!”

Nothing.

Me: “You look great!”

Nothing.

Me: “It’ll grow quickly.”

Nothing.

Me: “You’ll run faster!”

Nothing.

I break into an interpretive dance…to no music…just to make him laugh.

And…nothing.

B&B: “Kenyan, I appreciate your agreeing to this so last minute. So I will buy you the Lego set of your choice to reward your behavior.”

Something. A chink in his armor.

Kenyan: Hiccup, “A small set?” Hiccup, “or a big set?”

B&B: “Well, look at all of that hair on the ground! I’ve seen dogs with less hair. That much hair deserves a big Lego set.”

The chink breaks into a giant crack…quickly fracturing the anger and despair that’s shrouded him for the past 5 minutes.

When all else fails…bribery. Funny, the experts always leave that chapter out of their parenting books. It’s the cold, hard reality of getting things done with children. Bribery.  When I write my parenting book, that will be my title…Getting it done: The Art of Bribery.

The Kenyan is on board. B&B whisks him up to the bathroom to rinse the hair off his neck. I wait in the car, muttering a slew of curses at the time on the clock and at the current state of my child’s head.  And I know we’re out 100 big ones for the promised Lego set.

Jesus Christ Almighty and the donkey he rode in on.

tortoiseandhair

What a start to my Saturday.

B&B and the Kenyan emerge from the house. B&B, sensing my anger, race walking to the car. The Kenyan, who has not exhibited urgency a moment in his short life, lollygagging his way to the car.

B&B: “Good luck, Kenyan!” To me, “I’ll call you.”

I have many things to say, but none of them can be uttered in front of our child.

I peek in the rearview mirror at the Kenyan. Holy cow, his hair is short. Really, really short. I look at the clock…we have 17 minutes to arrive at our destination, which mapquest predicts is 34 minutes away. Goddamn it. B&B’s timing is as impeccable as his trimming skills.

I breathe deeply, but quietly, in an attempt to calm down. Futile. I need to start practicing yoga. I turn on the radio, hoping a song can lighten my mood.

“can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness. Like resignation to the end, always the end.” The Kenyan begins singing along. Somebody That I Used to Know is an enormous hit in our house.

I smile, listening to his singing. My mind wanders…

He has a great singing voice. And he is unabashed in his singing. I bet he makes Boy Choir just like Waldorf. Waldorf sang in the chorus of the Wizard of Oz last night. I was so proud of him, standing in front of the audience, singing with his friends. He had a ball! I wish I had gotten his hair cut before the show, but he still…

Oh. Dear. God.

I pull over immediately. Turn down the radio. Click on my hazards. Grab my phone and, with shaking hands, text B&B the words…

“Please DO NOT cut anyone else’s hair without my permission. Or, at the very least, until I get back home.”

He immediately texts back, “Wait….why?”

Good grief.

I reply, “Just don’t. Please.”

Put down my phone. Turn off the hazards. Turn up the radio. And continue driving.

Miraculously, we arrive at the venue a mere 2 minutes late.

Me: “OK, Kenyan, here we are! Your first competition. After 2 months of practice, you’re ready for this! I want you to remember what Coach told you. And do your best. And have fun!”

He nods his almost bald head, which I slather with sunscreen on this beautiful May morning.

Kenyan: “Let’s do it, Mommy.”

Love. I run for more reasons than I can count. The fact that the Kenyan loves to run…well, it gives me one of my biggest reasons to continue lacing up my sneakers.

The first parent we recognize from our group takes one look at the Kenyan and, before I have the chance to give her my warning eyes, asks him, “What happened to your head?!”

Oof.

Me: In a voice much higher than usual, “He’s aerodynamic! His Daddy cut it this morning, just in time for his race!”

The Kenyan rolls his eyes. But he smiles a little bit too. I direct him to join his teammates for his warmup laps.

While he jogs, I talk to a few other parents, warning them not to make a fuss over his new haircut.

We grab a spot by the fence and wait for our kids’ races. And wait. And wait. And wait. By my calculations, 90% of the females 10 years and under in the tri-state area compete in track. And every one of them showed up today. The Kenyan splits his time equally between asking me “how many more girls are going to run?” and scraping deep enough into a pine tree that his hands are sticky with sap.  He’s on the cusp of rigging a spout to tap the syrup…and smelling suspiciously of Christmas…when his race is called.

Me: Clapping, “Woohoo! Kenyan! Get to it, big guy!”

The first heat runs. He’s not in that group. The second heat runs. He’s not in that group. The third heat runs. This is his group. I even took video…

I lean against the fence, asking the Dad of a fellow teammate…the same Dad I had just blasphemed to, “How long do you think until he runs? I thought he was in the 3rd heat.”

As I’m asking, the pale little boy who’s crossed the finish line waves at me and smiles. What a friendly kid, he must recognize me from practice. I raise my arm to return the wave and realize that this pale child is indeed the same one I gave birth to 9 years ago.

Mother of the year.

Me: Whispering to the parents around me, “Holy shit, it WAS his race! I stopped recording! His first race ever, and I didn’t even see him cross the finish line! Goddamn that haircut, I didn’t even recognize my own child!”

I clap and yell, “Great job, Kenyan!”

I grab the arm of the man next to me. I ask, “Who won? The boy in the white shirt?”

He nods his head, “Yes, the pale kid won first place.”

Mother humper. I will KILL B&B.

The Kenyan won. HE WON HIS FIRST RACE!!! Our little boy won his first race ever, and I didn’t even recognize him. Because of this stupid haircut.

I clap again, yelling, “First place, Kenyan! Way to go, buddy!!” He smiles, and gives me a thumbs up.

I text B&B immediately, “The Kenyan placed first in his heat!”

He replies, “Yes!!!! Tell him it was the haircut!”

I shake my head. Figures B&B would credit the stupid haircut.

I look up to see my son heading my way. The shorts of his track uniform are shorter than he’s accustomed to wearing. Behind the safety of my sunglasses, I’m able to drink in every inch of him as he approaches. When did he get so tall? And his legs, have they always been so strong and sinewy?

I want to jump up and down, cheering like a fool, but I won’t make a scene for fear it will embarrass him. Instead, I smile, open my arms, and he rushes into them. With one arm around me and the other clutching his blue ribbon, he buries his head against me.

Kenyan: “That. Was. Awesome.”

So are you, my love.

Me: “First place, Kenyan. FIRST PLACE! I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked hard all season, and you earned that ribbon. I’m so proud of you!”

Kenyan: “It was really close. That other guy almost beat me.”

I smile and nod, implying that I’d actually seen him finish. Bad Mommy.

Kenyan: “You know why I won?”

Hard work? Determination? Improved stride? Months of practice?

Me: Smiling, “Why?”

He reaches up and rubs his head. “It was the new haircut. I didn’t have all that hair slowing me down.” He looks down off into the distance, smiling, “Daddy was right. This haircut helped me run faster.”

First place…because of that haircut?!

The haircut that made him cry?

The haircut that cost us the price of a big Lego set?

The haircut that contributed to my blowing the speed limit to get here on time?

The haircut that elevated my blood pressure before 7:30AM?

Me: “That Daddy. He sure knows what he’s doing.”

I look at my boy…clutching his first place ribbon in one hand, absentmindedly rubbing his buzzed head with his other hand. Smiling as he mentally places his Daddy high up on the pedestal where he belongs.

All parents should be so lucky to be such giants in the eyes of their children.

Life is good. The Kenyan won his first race. My blood pressure is down. And the haircut debacle has resolved itself brilliantly.

I will be purchasing sunscreen in bulk for the next few months though. To keep that beacon the pearly white it belongs.

Costco, here I come…

 

 

87 Days

T-13 days marks the start of summer vacation.

87 days of summer vacation.

87 days of Camp Mom.

87 days of no alarm clocks.

87 days of wet bathing suits and chlorine soaked towels tossed on my laundry room floor.

87 days of ice cream every day…sometimes twice a day.

87 days of my living room sofa doubling as a fort.

87 days of incessant questions.

87 days of constant negotiating.

87 days of “because I said so, that’s why”.

87 days threatening, through clenched teeth, to take away electronics for the remainder of the 87 days “if you tease your brother one more time”.

87 days of sunscreen.

87 days realizing too late that I should have reapplied.

87 days of math and language arts packets, completed 2 pages per day to avoid B&B and I hastily forging their answers the night before school the Kenyan and Waldorf working feverishly Labor Day weekend.

87 days checking out 10 library books, yet unable, 2 days later, to locate 7 of them.

87 days listening to Mommy’s music and mastering which songs can be sung at home but never in school.

87 days grilling.

87 days of paper plates.

87 days of the A/C running all day and fans in bedroom windows all night.

87 days hoping we’re invited to my parents’ shore house.

87 days praying we’ll be invited back again after the Interrogator shatters their glass-top table 3 minutes after our arrival.

87 days visiting with Little Sister, Fly Boy, and their 3 adorable kids, who annually swap the heat of the Arizona desert for summers on the East Coast.

87 days cooking 40 chicken nuggets at a time to feed her kids and mine.

87 days of sand in their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

87 days sitting at the baby pool. For the 11th consecutive summer.

87 days counting their heads at that pool.

87 days celebrating because 3 of my kids can swim.

87 days of my heart in my throat because 1 of my kids cannot yet swim.

87 days watching my freckles multiply. Exponentially.

87 days watching my skin wrinkle increasingly.

87 days having every intention to set up a playdate, but never following through with my plans.

87 days spent cursing the bra inserts of my bathing suits for their ability to hold that bloody crease right down the center.

87 days angrily removing the bra inserts from my bathing suit only to realize that the creased inserts are far more aesthetically pleasing than the real deal.

87 days vowing that next summer I will look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days donning a bathing suit with a skirt because this summer I do not look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days of the tent slowly killing a rectangular patch of grass in our backyard.

87 days cleaning the sticky sugar from the popsicles consumed, against my rules, in that tent.

87 days skipping a bath because chlorine kills everything.

87 days of Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

87days

87 days having no luck finding a babysitter for a concert whose tickets we purchased 4 months ago.

87 days of Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of suicide watch as a result of winning nothing but 22 stinkin’ donuts while participating in Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of “wait your turn to play the iPad”.

87 days of “No, I will not buy you that app”.

87 days of Crocs replacing sneakers whose laces need tying.

87 days spent on the beach reconnecting with cousins visiting from Texas and Georgia…and marveling at our kids’ long limbs and growing friendships.

87 days of “I probably shouldn’t, but it’s summer so what the hell, I’ll have another.”

87 days spent refereeing my kids’ arguments.

87 days of my heart ready to burst as their bonds grow stronger.

87 days allowing Waldorf and the Kenyan the freedom to ride their bikes through the neighborhood.

87 days of apprehension awaiting their safe return home on those bikes.

87 days envying my friends whose kids are attending sleep away camp.

87 days kissing my kids’ sweaty heads, relieved they’re not attending sleep away camp.

87 days dragging 4 kids through the Acme several times a week.

87 days of endless material about which to write.

87 days wondering when exactly I will find the time to write.

87 days interrupted by one glorious girls’ weekend during which I plan to take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days planning what I’ll wear the glorious weekend I take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days teaching my kids to boogie board and body surf.

87 days holding my breath while B&B teaches them, against my better judgment, to flip off the diving board.

87 days driving them to the empty beaches of Strathmere, where I’ll spend yet another summer not sitting and not reading.

87 days playing frisbee, run the bases, and paddleball on those empty beaches of Strathmere. And not giving a rat’s ass that it’s been 11 years since I last sat on the beach and read a book.

87 days digging a 4 foot hole in the sand because the kids asked for a DEEP hole…and because I know it’s the only exercise I’ll get all day, so I’d better make it count if I’m eating ice cream twice today.

87 days collecting stinky hermit crabs in bright yellow buckets.

87 days of stinky hermit crabs dying in bright yellow buckets.

87 days swearing that next year they are ALL going to camp. ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days knowing that I’ll need to wrap my leg around the stripper pole to afford to send all 4 of them to camp ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days of noisy summer thunderstorms.

87 days of weeding that I never get around to doing.

87 days timing my Costco trip just right so that the kids consume enough free samples to constitute “dinner”.

87 days of laundry needing folding that can sit one more day if the right episode of Scooby Doo demands my undivided attention.

87 days of Just Dance 3 and Mario Kart.

87 days having my ass handed to my by a 3 year old while playing Just Dance 3. And Mario Kart.

87 days of skinned knees and bruised shins.

87 days of Busch’s She Crab soup available only on Sunday and Tuesday.

87 days bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days doing shots to celebrate bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days paying for those celebratory shots the next day on the beach with the kids.

87 days wishing B&B were a teacher.

87 days thanking God B&B is not a teacher after spending 3 consecutive days in his company.

87 days vowing that next school year I’ll be my most organized.

87 days delaying the purchase of school shoes.

87 days of my 3 year old with a head full of damp curls.

87 days promising the kids we’ll accomplish everything on their to do lists.

87 days realizing we haven’t accomplished one item on their to do lists.

87 days living simply in comparison to most of their friends. And most of our friends.

87 days of gratitude that Dad has lived another year cancer free.

87 days until, for the very first time, every one of my kids is in school. Full time.

87 days looking forward to bedtime.

87 days wishing I could freeze time.

87 days to make memories with them that l hope will last a lifetime.

87 days wondering whether someday they’ll want to make those same memories with their children.

87 days of vacation.

Bring it.

And bring with it a very large pitcher of your finest margaritas.

Happy Summer

The Sky is Falling. Or That Time my Husband Fell Through the Ceiling.

It seems like an eternity ago that I was pregnant with the Verb. And, thank God, because I detest being pregnant. Yes, it’s a privilege. Yes, I’m so lucky that B&B can sneeze on the other side of town and somehow, as a result of that sneeze, I find myself pregnant with yet another of his sons.

My last pregnancy was uneventful from a health perspective. I’d hoped that chasing after 3 boys under 7 years old would keep those pesky pounds at bay the fourth go around. Nope. I still managed to gain my obligatory 50 big ones, despite the fact that I ran for the first 24 weeks. And my daily diet consisted of one soft pretzel and a medium cherry slurpee from 7 Eleven.  Oh fine, and a vat of ice cream every night.

While the Verb grew quietly and problem-free within me, my immediate world was a veritable circus act.

I was due with the Verb in August. Perfect way to spend my summer, right? Clammy skin. Chafed thighs. Rash on the underside of my enormous boobs, where they rested on the large ball that had become my stomach. I was a sight to behold.

I’ve mentioned before that B&B is a busy guy. He loves his projects. This is a good thing, because it keeps his mind engaged. It’s also a good thing because, when we bought our house, it was a fixer-upper. So the list of projects was long. B&B is The Man when it comes to home improvements. Dry wall? Got it covered. Plumbing? Piece of cake. Electrical work? Bring it on. Granted, he’s blown himself off a ladder once or twice, but he’s survived to tell the tale.

The December I found myself pregnant for the fourth time, our house had only 3 bedrooms.

Me: “What are we going to do? Where are we going to put this baby?”

B&B: Eyes twinkling, “Easy. I’ll convert the attic into a 4th bedroom.”

Me: Incredulous, “You can do that?”

B&B: Proudly displaying his feathers, “Of course I can do that.”

January, February, March, April, and May roll by.

Me: “So, do you think maybe you should start working on the attic?”

B&B: “It’ll take me no time. Once it’s been cleared out.”

No small task. Remember Monica’s closet on Friends? Her dirty little secret of a closet?

We had the same clutter, but ours filled the entire attic. I spent many sweltering afternoons in the attic, dividing our clutter into piles of trash and piles of treasure. Hence the rash.

While I dehydrated myself and my unborn son in the heat of the attic, B&B decided it was the perfect time to run electricity out to his shed.

Me: Skeptical, “Are you sure you should start another project while the attic still needs converting?”

B&B: Confident, “I’ve got it all covered, don’t you worry about it.”

So, I didn’t worry about the peculiar equipment rental. Ditch Witch? The digging of a 36 inch deep hole that worked its way from our house to his shed…a solid 60 feet in length? That concerned me a tad. That 36 inch deep hole was the equivalent of the Marianas Trench to three mischievous little boys.

My pregnant ass huffed and puffed its way in and out of the house the entire month of June to recover many a lost croc before falling victim to the crevice in the middle of our backyard.

But I eventually completed the attic cleaning, and B&B was ready to get to work. And get to work he did. Every evening, after he got home from his real job.

Waldorf, the Kenyan, the Interrogator, and I stood with our faces pressed against the glass of the front door, eagerly awaiting his arrival home from work every evening.

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

Me: Relieved, “Oh, thank God you’re home. What a long day. The Interrogator didn’t nap. He stayed awake and asked me questions instead. How can one person have so many questions? I don’t think I can handle another month of all of these questions.”

B&B: Smiling apologetically, “Sorry, babe, but I gotta get up there. Duty calls. That room’s not going to get done unless I do it.”

With tears in our eyes, we watched him ascend the steps to the attic, his big project, to ensure that there would be enough room for the Verb’s August arrival.

B&B spent every night working tirelessly on the attic. The kids were all in bed by 7PM, exhausted from summer days spent at the pool. I missed B&B and our night time ritual of watching TV together. So, to distract myself, I ate a vat of ice cream I spent time on Craigslist. What a wonderful, dangerous phenomenon Craigslist is. Instead of selling our heap of treasures, I convinced myself…and then B&B…that the butter yellow armchair for sale was EXACTLY what we needed for our living room.

I picked up that beautiful armchair on Belmont Avenue in the throes of a monsoon with three kids in the minivan. I used my weight, substantial at the time, to wedge the chair in next to the Interrogator…who then rewarded me with a litany of questions the entire drive home.

“What’s this chair, Mom? Mom, what’s this chair? Why’s it yellow, Mom? Mom, why’s this chair, yellow? Is this for the baby, Mom? Mom, is this the baby’s chair? I love this chair, Mom. Do you love this chair, Mom? I love this chair, Mom.”

I managed to survive the inquisition and arrived home the proud…and worried…new owner of the chair.

Me: “Boys, this chair is a decoration. It’s not a toy. You can build your forts on the sofa, but please don’t build them on this chair.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

That evening, as we stood with our faces pressed against the front window, awaiting B&B’s arrival home from work, I kept sneaking glances at my new chair. I love it. An actual piece of furniture. Not from IKEA. I really feel like a grownup.

When B&B blew in, kissing each of us on his way to the attic, my smile stopped him.

B&B: “Why are you smiling?”

Me: Holding my arms out, “Do you notice anything different?”

B&B: A flicker of panic crossed his eyes, “Um, did you lose a little weight?”

No, fool, I was at the doctor today and gained 6 lbs this week.

Me: Shaking my head, “Not me, the room. Do you notice anything different?”

B&B: Making a quick sweep of the room, “Hey, your chair! Really nice.” His face clouded over, “The kids are going to ruin it, you know.”

He made his way upstairs. And I followed.

Me: “No they won’t,” huff puff, “they need to learn that not everything,” huff puff, “in this house,” huff puff huff puff “is a piece of playground,” huff puff, “equipment.”

B&B: Dismissively, “OK, it’s a beautiful chair. I have to work now.”

Buh-bye.

I saved my new Craigslist chair from the evil clutches of my offspring its first night in my home. I put them to bed, and I sat in the chair, delighting in its ability to support my pregnant frame. A real grownup.

The next day was Saturday. The entire house was up and out of bed by 6:07AM, because that’s what happens to your Saturday mornings after you reproduce. Four people headed down the steps, and one person headed up the steps. B&B, hard at work, went straight up to the attic.

I rubbed my tired eyes and looked at Waldorf. His legs were caked, front and back, with blood.

You first born kids are always biting, scratching, or picking at something.

Me: Sympathetic, “Oh, buddy. You can’t pick those mosquito bites. They’re going to get infected.”

Waldorf: Shrugging, “But they’re itchy.”

Me: “I know, honey, but you’re going to hurt yourself worse by scratching them like that.  And you’re going to have scars. Please try to leave them alone. Now play with your brothers while I make blueberry pancakes.”

The Interrogator sneaked into the kitchen and embraced my swollen legs. I rewarded him with a few blueberries. He’s a hoarder, so he clutched them in his hands and ran off to a secret spot where his brothers wouldn’t find the blueberries and snatch them from him. He chose the linen sofa as his secret spot. He inhaled the fruit and erased all traces of purple from his mouth and little hands. By wiping them directly onto the sofa cushion.

Kenyan: “Interrogator, what are you doing?! Mommy! Interrogator got blueberries all over your beautiful sofa!”

It’s 6:18AM. Already with this?

Me: Sighing, “OK. Thank you for telling me. It’s OK.” That fabric is machine washable. “Interrogator, please eat your food at the table, alright, buddy?”

Waldorf: “Mom, can we build a fort?”

Me: Nodding, “Yes. Waldorf, keep those bloody legs off my sofa please.”

The boys quietly built their fort. The pancakes weren’t ready for flipping yet, so I shuffled over to set the table for breakfast. 5 napkins, 5 plates, 5 forks, 2 knives, syrup, butter. Flipped the pancakes. 2 glasses of water, 3 cups of water. Checked the pancakes, which were almost ready…

Me: “Guys, breakfast will be ready in 1 minute, so can everybody please sit down at…”

Above us, we heard a muffled, “Son of a BIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTCCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHH!”

I peered into the living room…just as the kids all looked up at the ceiling to find B&B’s size 13 work boot crash directly through the living room ceiling and dangle above their heads. Drywall pieces fluttered down like snowflakes to coat their noses and hair.

fallingsky

Interrogator: Delighted, “Hey, there’s Dad! Hi, Dad!”

Kenyan: Curious, “Dad, what are you doing with your foot through the ceiling?”

Waldorf: Weary, “Uh-oh. That’s not good.”

I was still assessing what had transpired when the Interrogator began throwing a ball up at B&B’s shoe.

Interrogator: “Catch, Dad! Let’s play catch. Here, here’s the ball, you catch, then throw it back down to me, I’m ready.”

I looked at the clock. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, 6:21AM. Seriously with this?

I watched the large work boot slowly retract back into the ceiling. A few seconds later, the shoe was replaced by B&B’s head, which dangled through the hole in my living room ceiling.

B&B: Looking at the 3 kids directly below him, “Hi, guys.”

Nonplussed, they returned his salutation, “Hi, Dad.”

B&B: “Is everybody OK?”

“Yes.”

B&B: “That was a close one.” He grinned and looked at me, “Not nearly as bad as the last time I fell through the ceiling, huh, Beth?”

Nope. Not nearly as bad as the time I came home from the Acme while pregnant with Waldorf to find B&B hanging chest down from the attic into the kitchen, yelling, “Oh thank God! I’m stuck! My shoulders are stuck! Thank God you’re home! I’ve been hanging like this for 10 minutes!” I’d fought the urge to turn around, exit the house, and close and lock the door behind me. Instead I’d maneuvered myself through the cluttered attic and helped to heave him and his bloody elbows out of the hole he’d made.

Me: “Not nearly as bad. I’m sure you’ll patch that hole immediately, right?”

B&B: “Right. I didn’t even curse, did I?”

Me: “Well, maybe a little curse. But, I don’t think they noticed.”

I don’t believe I cursed, so kudos to me.

The pancakes haven’t even burned in the time it’s taken B&B to give me cathedral ceilings. The kids sat down to enjoy their breakfast. Each of their little heads still peppered with drywall flakes.

B&B emerged from the attic smiling despite the blood trickling down his leg. He clapped for himself. Loudly.

B&B: “Whoo. I am so glad it was only my foot this time!”

So glad.

B&B: “Quickly before I sit down, Waldorf, come over here and help me with something.”

Waldorf, eager to please his Daddy, abandoned his pancakes and ran to B&B’s side.

B&B grabbed a serrated tool and, with a stabbing motion (and no warning), hacked right through the drywall above the light switches by the front door.

What the hell?

Waldorf: Impressed, “Whoa!”

B&B: “I know! There she is!” He continued sawing until a complete rectangle was missing from my living room wall. And a myriad of electrical cords were exposed.

B&B: Pointing to my brand new butter yellow chair, “OK, now sit on this chair please, and listen to everything I say very closely.”

Me: Panicked, “You’re not going to have him help you with the electricity, are you?”

Waldorf hopped onto my brand new butter yellow chair, pulling his bloody legs up under him.

Me: “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

My grownup chair. My beautiful butter yellow grownup chair.

He realized his mistake and, instead of suspending his weight off the chair by the handles, he dragged them along every inch of the chair in his desperate attempt to part ways with the delicate fabric. Delicate fabric that is not machine washable.

B&B looked down at the chair, now a dead ringer for the Shroud of Turin. Its pale yellow fabric was streaked with our oldest son’s DNA.

B&B: Eyes wide, “Yikes. It hasn’t even been 24 hours. I told you they would ruin it.”

I looked at the clock. 6:26AM. In the 19 minutes we’ve been awake, there’d been two bleeders and three casualties: the sofa, the ceiling, and my beloved grownup chair.

I sighed and patted my swollen stomach.

Enjoy these last days of quiet, baby. It’s the only peace you’ll have before joining this crowd.

And please be born soon...Mommy misses her grownup grape juice.

Get Them to the Greeks

I don’t remember much from the days before B&B and I had kids. Perhaps my faulty memory is my body’s way of protecting itself from recollecting how enjoyable life was for us then.

I do remember that we went out to dinner regularly. We kicked off our weekends with Friday happy hour, then hit a steakhouse or a seafood restaurant for a mouth watering meal.

We even went out to dinner during the week. Can you imagine? It’ll be 15 years before we can pull off a coup like that again.

There was a little spot around the corner from our apartment that we loved. The Greeks. A local bar. It’s still there, and it’s still loved by the locals. We’d stroll over on a Thursday night for Quizzo. I would sweep the entertainment and music categories. B&B would dominate all remaining categories.

Me: “Sheena Easton! Sheena Easton sang backup for Prince on that song!”

The Mom playing Quizzo at the table next to us high 5’s me. I smile proudly. The smile quickly fades. I wish I still had that record.

Quizzo Mom: Animated, “I loved her! Did you love her?”

Me: Nodding, “I totally loved her.”

B&B: “I loved her too. I don’t remember her voice, but she was HOT.”

Men are indeed visual creatures. And B&B is no exception.

Quizzo Mom: “This Quizzo is fun! This is our first time here. We’re so lucky we can bring the kids.”

She motions her hand across the table. I follow her gesture to see the tops of two miniature heads. But only the tops. I can’t see their faces because they’re glued to their handheld electronic devices.

Me: “Hi, kids!”

Quizzo Mom: Nervous, “Shh. you don’t want to disturb them.”

Me: Perplexed, “I don’t?”

Quizzo Mom: “NO! Then we’ll” she motions between her and her husband, “have to entertain them!” She laughs and shakes her head. Her husband joins in her laughter.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

I am in 6th grade again. Watching two people laugh over a shared secret, to which I’m not privy.

I smile politely.

Then guess what I did? I wish I could write it in small print because I’m so ashamed…

I judged her.

I DID!

I turned around to B&B and, because texting wasn’t available at the time, I wrote on my napkin, “Remind me to tell you about HER when we get home.”

When we arrived home, wreaking of smoke from the bar…ahh, the ‘90’s…I asked B&B, “So, did you see that display at the table next to us?”

B&B: “The Mom who liked Sheena Easton?”

Me: “Yes!”

B&B: “What display?”

Seriously?

Me: “Did you not see her kids on their handheld devices?! They’re school-age children! They’re away from her all day!”

Oh yes I did. And I wasn’t finished…

“…and then she takes them out to a restaurant, hands them a machine and lets them act like zombies over their meals? So she can play Quizzo?! What happened to a family dinner? How about connecting with your kids?”

B&B: Shrugging, “I don’t know. Maybe the kids are annoying. We don’t have kids yet. Maybe they are all happier going to Quizzo on Thursday night. Did you like going to dinner with your parents when you were that age?”

I have a vision…

**

We are in a restaurant. Mid 1980’s. While Mom and Dad converse, Big Brother, Little Sister, and I stealthily pass an open packet of sugar back and forth among the 3 of us. Then another. Then a third.

We do it quietly, so as not to arouse suspicion from Mom and Dad. At the end of dinner, Dad rewards our sugar high with a, “Well, you kids certainly made me proud with your behavior at the dinner table.” as Mom flags down our waiter, “Pardon me, may I please have some sugar for my coffee? We don’t have any at the table.” She turns to Dad, “Why do they always sit us at the table with no sugar?”

**

Me: “Of course I enjoyed going to dinner with my parents as a kid. We didn’t have handheld electronics. And I survived.”

He smiles, “Did your parents let you talk?”

Another flashback…

**

I’m writing in my strawberry shortcake diary, “Dear Diary, I ordered prime rib for dinner. I almost ordered chicken parm. I’m STARVING. And we’ve already eaten all 17 sugar packets. Nothing left but the dangerous pink ones. Dad’s telling Mom about work, and we’re not allowed to interrupt. This is SO boring.”

**

Me: “I wrote in my diary when we went out to eat.”

B&B rewards me with a laugh. “Wow, you were really super geek, weren’t you?”

Guilty.

Me: “The point is that when we have kids, we’re not taking them to dinner and handing out electronics. It’s a waste of money. And it reflects poorly on the parents.”

I will now stop typing and smack my head against the desk because I deserve a beating. 

B&B plays Devil’s Advocate. Which, in this case, is the voice of reason, “I think, until we have kids of our own, we’re in no position to judge.”

Me: Appearing to concede, “You’re right.”

Fine. I’ll judge quietly.

**

It’s not easy to slip out for dinner the way we did before becoming parents. We’re tired. And it’s expensive. We have to pay for a sitter, pay for our date, plus tack on the $14.99 for a new shirt from Marshall’s that I’ll need for our big night out. It adds up…

So a few months ago, B&B and I were way overdue for an evening away from the house. We booked a sitter, I hit Marshall’s, and we told the kids…

Me: “Guys, Mom and Dad are going out for dinner tonight. The babysitter is coming at 7:30. Interrogator and Verb, you’ll be in bed already. Kenyan and Waldorf, you can stay up until 9:00.”

Interrogator: “Who is it, Mom? Who’s coming to babysit? Can we come downstairs and say hi? Oh! Or, can she come up and say hi to us when we’re in our beds?”

Me: “She will come up to see you, Interrogator,” to the older two, “and guys, you can watch a movie or play the Wii.”

We watch as their shoulders droop a little.

Waldorf: Complaining, “How come you never take us out to dinner?”

Kenyan: Upset, “Yeah, how come we never get to go anywhere? My friends get to go to dinner with their parents!”

Interrogator: “Oh, can we go, Mom? I want to go to dinner! I’ll be good, Mom, I promise. I’ll go to dinner, and I’ll be good.” He snaps his fingers, one at a time, over and over to an imaginary beat. The Verb, ever his faithful sidekick, begins swaying his hips to the beat of the snapping. The Interrogator adds words to his snapping, “We’re going to dinner, oh yeah, oh yeah, and we’re gonna behave, oh yeah, oh yeah, and we’re gonna get dessert, oh, yeah, oh yeah.”

I should have a camera mounted on my head to capture these moments, which truly are indescribably hilarious.

Me: “Interrogator, you’re welcome to come to dinner with us. Do you want pork for dinner tonight? Or do you want fish?”

The snapping comes to an immediate halt. He scrunches his nose in distaste. “I don’t like pork, Mom. Or fish, Mom. You’re not gonna make me eat it, Mom, are you?”

Me: Shrugging, “Sorry, buddy, that’s all they have.” I give him my widest eyes, “And they MAKE you eat your vegatables at the restaurant. You’re not allowed to leave until you do.”

Interrogator: Appalled, “I don’t want to go there to that restaur-not, Mom. Don’t make me go!”

Me: Soothing him, “OK, if you’re sure, I won’t make you go. You can stay here instead with the babysitter.”

Interrogator: “I want to stay with the babysitter. Don’t you Verb? Let’s stay here with the babysitter.” Cue the snapping accompanied by the Verb’s hip swaying, “We’re staying home, oh yeah, oh yeah, with the babysitter, oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I don’t like pork, oh yeah, oh yeah, I don’t like fish, oh yeah, oh yeah.”

Neither the Kenyan nor Waldorf is fooled by my vegetable bit.

Waldorf: Making his argument, “We’ve been to a restaurant before…remember, that really nice one with all the guitars? And they didn’t make us eat our vegetables. Why can’t we go? You can take us to the guitar restaurant again.”

Kenyan: “Yeah, that was like, the nicest restaurant in Philadelphia!”

Voted Best in Philly. By Waldorf and the Kenyan.

B&B and I exchange a look. And some mental telepathy.

The older two are easy. What the heck, let’s take them with us.

B&B: “Kenyan and Waldorf, you guys can join us.”

Waldorf: “Yes! Can I bring my DS?!”

Kenyan: “Me too! Can I bring mine?!”

B&B begins nodding his head yes, as I swiftly bring down the hammer with my, “Absolutely not.”

He looks at me, a question in his eyes.

Me: “We are going to dinner to spend time together. Not so you boys can zone out with Mario and Luigi.”

They head upstairs to change clothes.

B&B: “What was that all about?”

Me: “Don’t you remember? Quizzo? At The Greeks? The kids with the handheld electronics? I told you we’d never allow that as parents. I meant it.”

B&B: Rolls his eyes, exhales, and smiles, “You realize we’re going to have to talk to them, right?”

Me: “That’s the point, isn’t it?”

B&B: Shrugging, “You’re the boss.”

The Kenyan emerges with a Star Wars book. I’m on the verge of telling him to leave it at home when B&B says, “Good idea, Kenyan. You haven’t read much Star Wars recently.”

Oh, fine.

We choose my favorite local pub. Best quesadillas ever. We arrive to discover a 45 minute wait. The Flyers are playing…no wonder. I look at Waldorf and the Kenyan. They’re already hungry. And there are no sugar packets here.

Plan B is in walking distance. Delicious adult beverages. This place has a 40 minute wait. Not sure about sugar packets.

Plan C is also in walking distance. It’s a new hotspot. Amazing nachos.

Me: “How long a wait for 4 of us?”

Hostess: “15 minutes.”

Sold.

We order a shirley temple for the Kenyan and a lemonade for Waldorf. The Kenyan mounts a bar stool, cracks open his book, and devours the words on the page.

Me: “Kenyan. Kenyan. KENYAN!”

He finally looks at me, eyes cloudy.  He hasn’t transitioned completely from Tattoine back to Pennsylvania.

Me: “This isn’t the library, big guy.”

Kenyan: Finally lucid, “Oh. Right.”

He returns to his book. And accompanies his reading with sound effects.

“Choo choo choo choo choo choo choo.” Gun.

“Zhooo zzzzhhooo zzzzhhhhhooooo.” Lightsaber.

“Da da da daaaa, da da da DA da, da da da DA da, da da da daaaaa.” And…Star Wars theme.

I look at B&B. He looks at me. We both look at Waldorf. He looks at us. All 3 of us grin and shake our heads simultaneously.

Not exactly what I meant.

We get a table. The Kenyan positions his book around his plate so that his head is not visible to Waldorf or B&B, who sit across from us. He reads the entire meal. And hums. And chooses carefully from his extensive armamentarium of sound effects.  We enjoy a delicious meal. We field minimal complaints. We catch up with Waldorf on all things 4th grade while the human beatbox provides the score from Episode III.

getthemtothegreeks

Waldorf is a pig in shit. While he holds court, we notice inflection in his voice that isn’t always there. His eyes twinkle, and he smiles easily as he experiences a phenomenon that occurs with the frequency of Haley’s Comet….uninterrupted, undivided attention. From both parents.

I drink him in. My first baby. He’s soft spoken. And tall. And skinny. And a math wiz. His feet are the same size as mine…which may change by tomorrow. He’s tough. And he’s tender. But he likes to keep that tender part hidden. Right now, he’s as animated as we’ve ever seen him.

He still wants to be with us. I’m so glad we brought them with us tonight.

Unfortunately, B&B and I have zero time to reconnect. And we need to reconnect. We reside in a small house.  We share it with four little boys who are navigating the world. And they’re as dependent on the love and attention of their parents as they are on oxygen. It’s overwhelming. Every day.

So B&B and I…we miss each other.

His thoughts must mirror mine. As we confiscate the Kenyan’s book for the short walk to our car, B&B whispers in my ear.

“I’m glad we brought them. But I miss you.”

I nod in agreement.

He continues, whispering, “I vote next time they bring their electronics.”

I smile.

I know the perfect spot.

Me: “Hey, guys, the next time we go out to dinner, we’ll take you to one of our favorite old spots.”

B&B: Chiming in, “It was right around the corner from our first apartment.”

Waldorf: Curious, “What’s it called?”

In unison, B&B and I, smiling, tell them, “The Greeks.”

And Then There Was the Time I Embraced the Checkout Clerk…

“Mommy, why are you sweating?”

I mop my damp brow with the sleeve of my youngest son’s coat.

Think of something to say….quickly!

Me: “Um, my coffee is making me hot, honey.”

This white lie satisfies the Interrogator. He smiles at me, leans against my arm and looks back down at the book he’s holding.

“I’m telling you, it happens. It happens all the time. It could happen to you and B&B too.”

Please change the subject. Before I start hyperventilating on top of my sweating.

The barber continues cutting the Kenyan’s hair.

Kenyan: “What could happen?”

Barber: He stops cutting and smiles, eyes wide, at my son’s reflection, “Twins could happen.”

Waldorf: Looking at me, “Mommy, I thought you and Daddy said you’re not having any more kids. I thought you said 4 kids is already too many kids.”

Me: “It is too many kids, honey. We’re not having any more kids.”

Barber: Smiling at my reflection in the mirror, “I know couples who thought they were finished. Men who spent a weekend with frozen peas on their cojones. 3 years later…twins.”

Interrogator: Looking up at me again, “Mom, what are cojones?”

Me: “Balls. Cojones are balls.”

Interrogator: “Wait a minute! I have balls.”

Kenyan: “Oh my God! THAT would be cold.”

Verb: Jumps up and points at his jewels, “These are mine balls, Mom! And here is mine penis!”

Waldorf: “Wait, why would a man put frozen peas on his balls?”

adultswim

Me: “Yes, Interrogator, you have balls. Kenyan, gosh, please use gosh. Yes, Verb, those are your balls and penis, very good. Now sit back down. Waldorf, a man puts frozen peas on his balls after he gets hit there with a soccer ball.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want to play soccer, Mom. Don’t make me play.”

I deliver a piercing glare to the barber’s reflection in the mirror.

Proud of yourself? 

He smiles back at my reflection and whispers, “Twins!”

Me: Leafing through Men’s Health because my kids’ barber doesn’t have In Style, “Did you hear Ralph’s is open on Mondays? I’d love to take my kids to get a haircut on a Monday.”

He stops smiling and whispers, “Touché.”

He resumes his clipping and I resume my counting.

How many days has it been? I wrote it on the dry erase board, but B&B leaned up against it and erased it. Damnit. Damnit. Goddammit.

Ding!

I look at my phone. Text from B&B:

“Hey, gorgeous, I know you have all the boys today, but could you please go to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of that wine your Mom likes? I told her I’d get one for her. And I’m swamped.”

I release an enormous sigh. I still have to take these idiots to the grocery store. Now the liquor store too?

I reply to B&B:

“Fine. I’ll get the wine. But the liquor store is my least favorite place to go when I have all four kids. Please file that in your mental rolodex. Also, your sperm better be fucking dead. I am not joking.”

He replies:

“You’re the greatest, thanks. I had my vasectomy 3 years ago. My sperm are fucking dead. Don’t worry.”

I reply:

“Well, you may want to inform your barber. Who is announcing to me and your children that your sperm are not dead, and that I’m in fact going to get pregnant. With twins.”

He replies:

“I know it’s a long day with the boys. I hope it goes by quickly. I appreciate all you do for them. You’re a great Mom. I will be home around 6:30. Then you’ll have the break you deserve. I love you!”

Blah, blah, and blah.

I’m still counting. And sweating.

Next stop is the liquor store. I pull into the parking lot, put the car in park, lock the doors, and turn around to look at all four of my kids. The Verb smiles. The Kenyan makes a silly face. The Interrogator looks at me inquisitively. Waldorf’s the first to speak.

Waldorf: “Uh, Mommy? Is there a reason why you are just staring at us?”

Me: “Yes. I need everyone’s attention. Are you all listening?”

“Yes.”

Me: “Good. We are about to walk into that liquor store. It contains very fragile bottles. I am going to put the Verb into the stroller, “

The Verb cuts me off with a scream, “NO! I want to walk!”

Interrogator: “How come HE always gets to go in the stroller? I’m tired from getting a haircut. I want to go in the stroller. But I don’t want to be buckled, Mom. Only babies are buckled.”

I look at them all again, “I’ll wait. We’ll sit here through lunch. Through dessert. Through your afternoon snack. Through all of your favorite TV shows. Through..”

Verb: “Oh, find, I’ll go in the stroller.” Find=fine.

You bet your ass you will.

Me: “And, I want all hands either in pockets or on the stroller handles. Where do I want hands?”

“In pockets or on the stroller handles.”

I make eye contact with Waldorf who I sense is on the cusp of asking if he can put his hands in the Kenyan’s pockets. I shoot him a look…Mommy ain’t playin’

Me: “Good. Let’s do it.”

I struggle through the liquor store door with my entourage of fools, each of them itching to ditch me and hide from one another behind stacks of expensive bottles containing the nectar of the gods.

We head straight for the red wine. I scan the shelf and attempt to engage the older three, “Boys, look for the word ‘Four’. We need to find a bottle of wine with the name that starts with ‘Four’, OK?”

The Kenyan locates it, uses his elbow to point it out (since his hands remain in his pockets), and I grab it and head with my wingmen to the register.

Oh, great.

I know the guy who is working the register.  I’m not even a regular customer. I stop here maybe five times a year. But this bastard has a steel trap for a memory. I hope he has the common sense not to bring it up in front of my kids.

“Well, look who it is…the lady with the brilliant suggestion!”

He doesn’t.

Me: Smiling, “Hi. Just this today please.”

He takes his time scanning the bottle, looks at the label, nods, then looks at all of my kids.

Liquor guy: To my kids, “You boys helping Mom today?”

My kids look at him. Half of them nod their heads and the other half pick their noses.

Liquor guy: To me, “No wonder you made that suggestion. Four kids?” He whistles.

Me: “It was a valid suggestion. Ingenious really.  I see you haven’t put it in place.”

Liquor guy: “Condoms at the register? I thought you were joking.”

Me: “Does this,” I wave my arms over the group of small boys that form a barrier between me and the register, “look like a joke to you?”

The 20 something kid in line behind me chimes in…

“Condoms at the register? Dude! That would be clutch! Save me a trip.”

Me: Looking at the kid, “Thank you,” Looking at the register guy, “SEE?” Looking back at the kid, “I suggested it TEN YEARS ago. HE thought I was joking. Now look at this mess I’m in.”

Interrogator: “Mommy, what’s a condom?”

Me: “It’s a rubber glove.”

We exit the liquor store with the sound of their laughter trailing behind us.

Selling condoms at the register of the liquor store is a brilliant idea. Because sometimes when you get drunk…you get pregnant.

Next stop…the Acme. We pull into the parking lot. I’m in a full sweat again. Not because I have all the kids with me. Not because I’m mentally drained from the barber shop and the liquor store stops.

I’m sweating because I fear there’s a very real possibility I am pregnant.

We pour out of the minivan and I load the younger two into a mac daddy cart with a fire engine in front.

As soon as we cross the threshold, the Kenyan and Waldorf are sprinting toward the pretzels and donuts. The younger two escape their car and run after their older brothers.

This is a disaster in the making. I should really just leave right now. Collect my kids, turn around, and leave. But I can’t.  I have to get a stupid pregnancy test.  Goddamn B&B and his fucking sperm.

I dole out donuts, hoping they’ll be mistaken for “lunch”. At the very least, their full mouths should make it difficult to speak. Give my ears a little break and allow me to digest this potential nightmare.

Verb: “Mom…MOM! I want that one! That balloon! That one! THAT ONE!”

Mother of GOD, the lungs on this kid.

I grab the balloon at which he points and tie it to his nasty steering wheel.

Me: “We are not buying this balloon. We are borrowing it while we are shopping. Do you understand?”

Verb: “Yes, Mom, oh, goody, goody, goody, I got a balloon, Interrogator.”

Interrogator: “What? How come I don’t get a balloon? How come HE gets a balloon and I don’t get a balloon?”

Me: “Kenyan, can you please get him a balloon and tie it to his steering wheel?”

The Kenyan ties the balloon, and we continue shopping.

Two aisles later, the Interrogator’s balloon floats past my ear and hits the ceiling.

Interrogator: “That’s not fair! I lost my balloon! I don’t like losing my balloon! It’s not fun losing my balloon! It’s not fair and it’s not good and I don’t like it!”

I look at Waldorf, “Buddy, can you help me out here?”

I assume he’ll understand what I’m asking…and that he’ll get another balloon for his brother.

I assume wrong.

He bends down, unties the Verb’s balloon, it floats past my ear, and it hits the ceiling right next to the Interrogator’s balloon.

Waldorf: Pleased with himself, smiles, looks up, places his hands on his hips, “There. Now nobody has a balloon.”

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

If I am pregnant, I will LOSE. MY. SHIT. Which is essentially what I do on my kids. Right there in the soup aisle.

I race through the store, eager to finish before their desire for all things sweet eclipses their fear of another of my episodes.

Last stop is the feminine hygiene aisle. I grab the generic pregnancy test kit.

Kenyan: “What’s that?”

Me: “It’s a thermometer.”

Waldorf: “Who’s sick?”

I am. Sick of answering these incessant questions.

Me: “Hopefully nobody is sick.”

There is not a chance in hell I am going through the self-checkout lane in my condition. Both the Interrogator and the Verb are still crying. Waldorf is playing grab-ass with the Kenyan who, judging from his loud protests of, “Stop it…STOP IT,” isn’t interested in engaging.

I head to the first open lane and gasp when I see who’s behind the register.

Ray.

Ray is like my Dad. Well, not really. Ray is black. And I am white. But he is about my Dad’s age. Although he doesn’t know my name. He calls me “young lady”. But we have a relationship. He’s seen me through every one of my four pregnancies. He’s seen me sleepwalking through checkout with a crying newborn. He’s seen that newborn grow into an infant who’s hanging from the front of me in a Baby Bjorn. He’s seen that infant become a toddler who sits in the cart and throws a temper tantrum. He’s watched that toddler’s spot in the cart handed down to a younger brother because that toddler grew into a boy who is in now elementary school. He knows me. He knows my four boys. He knows my story.

Ray looks at me, and his eyes light up with recognition.

Ray: “Well, young lady, what a nice treat.”

Me: Smiling, swallowing over the lump in my throat, “Hi, Ray.”

I place my items on the conveyor belt, burying the pregnancy test in a corner of the cart.

I can’t buy it. Not today. Not in front of Ray.

Ray: “The boys are getting so big, young lady. Very handsome. Very well behaved.”

Now I’m really going to cry. He’s lying about their behavior just to make me feel better.

Me: Whispering, “Thanks, Ray.”

Kenyan: Urgently, “Mommy, you forgot this! You forgot your thermometer! To see if you’re sick!”

I close my eyes. Release a deep breath. Take the box from the Kenyan and, with a shaking hand, give it to Ray.

Me: Like a crack addict…RIP Whitney…who’s just been busted, I whisper, “It’s not mine.”

Ray: Ringing up the pregnancy test, “Oh, it’s none of my business, young lady. But you’re a wonderful mother. Any baby would be lucky to have you.”

And that’s it. That’s all it takes. I start bawling right there in checkout aisle #6.

Me: Through my tears, “Actually, Ray, it IS mine. And my husband had a vasectomy! And I don’t want to have twins. 4 kids is enough…it’s too many! And 6 kids is ENTIRELY TOO MANY! And I don’t know WHAT I’m going to do. I don’t want, twins, Ray. I CAN’T HANDLE TWINS, RAY!!”

Ray steps out from behind his register, walks around the conveyor belt, and wraps his giant arms around me. And I stand blubbering against his navy blue Acme vest, my barrette catching on his nametag.

Ray: “Young lady, there, there, young lady. I tell my wife about you. For years I’ve been telling her. I say, ‘I don’t know how she does it, but she does it. All those boys. And she’s always smiling. Always friendly. Always patient with all of those boys.’ I tell her you’re a wonderful mother. I tell her how lucky your husband and those boys are to have you. You remember that. You’re a wonderful mother. They are all lucky to have you.”

I wipe my eyes and look at my kids. All four of them, faces covered in chocolate from the donuts, are dumbfounded. Gawking at me. They don’t know what to make of my Acme meltdown.  I look up at Ray and smile.

Me: “Thanks, Ray. We also had four donuts. Sorry, I forgot to tell you.”

Ray: Winking, “Those donuts are on your old friend, Ray. You have a wonderful day, young lady.”

I smile my thanks, knowing I’ll resume crying if I attempt to speak.

We drive home. I put a movie on for the kids. Abandoning the grocery bags on the kitchen floor, I race upstairs to the bathroom with my “thermometer”.

I mop my sweaty brow for the second time that day, waiting for the results…

“Please be negative, please be negative, please be negative, please be negative…”

I smile, overcome with relief.

I text B&B:

“I got the wine. And your sperm are dead.”

He replies:

“I told you they are dead. Thanks for picking up the wine. I’m lucky to have you.”

I reply:

“You’re welcome. And that’s what Ray says too.”

He replies:

“Ray is right. My dead sperm and I would love to take you to dinner tonight.”

I shake my head. Incorrigible.

Could be worse. B&B and his living sperm could want to take me to dinner.

I smile and reply:

“My uterus and I happily accept.”