I Just Want to Pee Alone

Holy crazy year, Batman. And it’s only March.

It feels like only a week ago that B&B hacked every branch off our Christmas tree in the middle of the family room after vowing not to water it for the full month we gave it a home.

Ironically, that’s where this story begins…

So, Christmas came and went. And B&B committed to an outside-the-box approach to removing our Christmas tree. I wrote about it, and my piece appeared on The Huffington Post in early January. A few days later, I received an email from Jen, who writes the blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She had read my Christmas tree horror story, liked it, and was offering me the opportunity to submit an original essay to her for an anthology she was compiling.

Jen skyrocketed to blog fame after her Elf on the Shelf post went viral in December, 2011. It resonated with me because I refuse to participate in those elf shenanigans. I view moving that elf around the house as the equivalent of playing the tooth fairy. Every night. For a solid month. And I  am a sorry-ass excuse for a tooth fairy.

Jen’s first book, Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, became an Amazon best seller and sold over 10,000 copies in its first 3 months of availability.

She is a giant in the blogosphere.

And an overall hilarious human being.

Let me see….let me see….did I want to be affiliated with Jen?

Oh, hell, yeah.

As a matter of fact, I petted the computer monitor when I read her email. Literally reached out and stroked it.

Was I at all nervous about my submission? Of course I was.

But not abundantly so. Between B&B and the boys, there is never a shortage of absurd material around which I can craft a story.

Meanwhile, I’d already been invited by Allison Tate and Lindsey Mead to participate in This is Childhood. They are two of my absolute favorites…as writers and women, and I was indeed verklempt that Lindsey had reached out to me.

Beating on my breast, Tarzan-style, I declared, in my best Oprah-shout,

“2013 will henceforth be referred to as The Year of the Collaborative Effort!”

Then, I floated about my business, patiently awaiting inspiration, both funny…for Jen…and poignant…for Lindsey.

While I was dancing on clouds, I received a text from my cousin. Her Dad, one of my favorite Uncles, had just suffered a massive heart attack, and we were instructed to prepare for the worst.

My entire family and countless friends collectively held our breath and said our prayers for a very long four days.

It was during that time that Little Sister’s husband called me. He and I are super close, but he calls me only in times of crisis. From the mall. When he needs help with Christmas, birthday, and Mother’s Day gift advice for Little Sister.

“I’m sending you a picture of two robes. Which one should I buy her?”

“I’m texting you a picture of two watches. Which one looks more like her? Please reply in the next 45 seconds because I’m holding up the line waiting for your answer. No pressure. Just hurry up.”

Little Sister’s birthday is in May, right before Mother’s Day. And Christmas had just passed. I was still sweeping up the pine needles to prove it. So, I was alarmed by his call.

He told me, “She couldn’t call you. She is a mess. We got a call from the dermatologist today. She was just diagnosed with malignant melanoma.”

“Wait…..What?”

Silence.

“What did you just say?”

He said: “Cancer. I said your sister has cancer.”

I didn’t hear too much after that. I know he kept talking. And I kept saying, “Mmm hmm. Mm hmm. OK. Mmm hmm. Sure.”

I hung up with him and eased myself down onto the sofa. There aren’t many places to hide in my house, so B&B found me there a few minutes later.

“What was that about?”

I whispered, “She has cancer. He called to tell me my sister has skin cancer.”

Two days later, we lost Uncle Bob. We had felt it coming, but the news still levelled us.

Little Sister flew herself and her stupid cancer across the country to be here for the funeral. I don’t really do church. For a litany of reasons, not the least of which is that my mind wanders, and all I think about is how-many-things-I-could-be-doing-right-now. But I listened a little bit that day. One of Little Sister’s oldest and dearest friends, whose voice is reee-diculous, sang at the church service. And my cousin gave a beautiful eulogy.

After the church stuff was over, we had a good old party in Uncle Bob’s honor. A “sure, I’ll have a cocktail in the middle of the day” kinda party. Everyone took turns telling stories about him. We celebrated his life, laughing until tears ran down our cheeks. I don’t pretend to know what happens to the human spirit after we die. But, it certainly felt like part of him was there with us that afternoon. In the anecdotes we told. In the love we shared for him. In the legacy he’s left in his children and grandchildren…and so many more whose lives he touched.

I sat next to Little Sister, whose stupid cancer was an uninvited intruder in her young body. And I found myself hoping that she would be open to receive all of the positive energy and love from the people in that room. And just maybe it could knock that stupid-ass cancer right the hell out of her.

Here is what i thought…

Dear Universe,

It’s Bethany. With all due respect, this melanoma nonsense is downright horse shit. Little sister has 3 kids. And those kids need their mother. So work your magic on this piece-of-shit cancer.

Also, dear universe, if you could help me locate my funny, I’d be super duper grateful. I have that essay due. You know. To Jen.

So, F the cancer. And send the funny. Cool? Cool.

I realize it doesn’t work that way, but the yoga is really affecting my judgement recently.

I managed to pen something and send it to Jen before my carriage turned back into a pumpkin.

Little Sister flew back home, where she had a follow-up procedure and some blood work done. She called to say they’d gotten all of the cancer during her procedure.

Thank fucking God. And/or the Universe.  

Then Jen e-mailed me to say my essay had made the cut for her book.

Holy shit, right?

So, I immediately reverted back to my Oprah impression, announcing

“2013 is the Year of the Collaborative Effort!”

My sweet Interrogator proved the perfect muse for my February This is Childhood piece.

And our anthology, appropriately titled I Just Want to Pee Alone, was just published.

IJWTPA

Several of the contributors to the anthology announced its availability on Friday. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was greeted with this…

#1 Amazon Best Seller. Oh Hell Yeah

#1 Amazon Best Seller. Oh Hell Yeah

You know how it’s great to have the smallest house on the block?

You’re reading the smallest house right now. The tiniest blog in the bunch.

I am supremely lucky to have been a voice in the writing series that allowed me to express myself in a cerebral style. This is Childhood introduced me to a group of women who’ve been an invaluable support system and sounding board these past few months.

And I’m eternally grateful to Jen for the opportunity she’s given me to be a contributor to this hilarious anthology. I will always pet the computer monitor in gratitude when her name appears in my email inbox.

Buy the book. You will laugh.

Don’t believe me? Read this review.

Here’s to 2013, the year of the collaborative effort.

And, as always, F U, CANCER.

 

Up and Away he Grows

upandawayhegrows

A curious thing happened last week. I was in the throes of everyday life with B&B and the kids…trying to squeeze in exercise, pressuring myself to continue the good food choices I’d committed to making before the holidays, frustrated by the pull of each of the boys needing me simultaneously, counting on more than 7 fingers how long it had been since B&B and I had done the deed…and I was looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.

I saw the light.

And I turned right the hell around and tried to claw my way back into that tunnel.

***

His thin arms, growing longer it seems by the minute, envelop my neck.

“Goodnight, Mom,” whispers my oldest boy.

Ours is a dance I know intimately. As well I should. I’ve been doing it nightly for over 11 years.

I rest my head against his, clear my throat and begin singing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

He interrupts, “You don’t have to do that anymore.”

“I don’t have to do what anymore?”

“Sing. My song. You don’t have to sing it anymore.”

Unaware, I smile, “I sing your song before bed every night, silly. I like singing it.”

He looks away, cracking the knuckles of his long fingers, a brand new ritual for him. “Yes, but…well, I’m getting too old for that now. So, you don’t have to sing it anymore.”

Up and away he grows.

He quickly kisses my cheek and, careful not to look wounded, I conjure a smile for him.

“OK. Goodnight, sweetheart. Have a good sleep.”

He turns and bounds up the stairs, two at a time. The exact replica of my husband, in a tween size version. I sit on the sofa, gazing at the empty space on the stairs that his body just occupied. The lump in my throat is big enough that it threatens to choke me.

***
A few hours later, before succumbing to my exhaustion, I peek in on each of my boys. Another nightly ritual. Our 4-year-old lies on his back with his arms and legs splayed wide, the fist of one hand closed, all but the thumb, which is up. He’s lost the thumb that he sucks, and I grin at how it gives him the appearance of hitchhiking in his sleep. I kiss him gently on both cheeks, inhaling deeply, looking for any trace of the baby smell that no longer clings to his little body. Nope. Gone. I hoist myself up to the top bunk to look at our 6-year-old, sound asleep on his belly. I kiss his cheek and smooth his hair, taking extra time to coax the Superman swirl in the front to play by the rules. I close their door quietly, then tiptoe into the older boys’ room. Pausing first at our 9-year-old’s bed, I smile at the twisted and tangled mess of sheets, blankets and limbs. In perpetual motion, even when he’s asleep. I kiss his cheek, pale and warm, nearly as soft as the day he was born. My final stop is alongside the boy who, on a Friday night one September, turned me into a mother. 11-years-old. He lies on his back, his favorite cat asleep at his feet. He spans almost the entire length of his bed. His hair, which grows thick like mine, is matted to his forehead. I run my fingers through it without fear that I’ll wake him. For he is, and always has been, our only heavy sleeper. It’s happening too fast. Just last week, he abruptly stopped calling us Mommy and Daddy, transitioning instead to Mom and Dad.

Up and away he grows.

I kneel beside his bed, take his warm hand in mine, and begin singing more earnestly than I have since he was a baby, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” For a few moments, it seems there’ll be no end to the hot tears that flow down my cheeks, dripping from my jaw onto his comforter.

He may not need his song.  And I want him to know that’s OK. But, I still need his song. At least for now I do. And so our ritual has assumed a different shape. What was once an enthusiastic duet punctuated by dance and accompanied by air guitars has become a whispered solo, performed by a voice quivering from unshed tears, sung under the cloak of darkness to a slumbering boy who is blissfully unaware of my presence.

And just like that, it’s happening.

Up and away he grows.

***

I’m stoked to be a part of this series. I’ve been gathering my thoughts, jotting them in notebooks, typing them into my iPhone. I’ve been stressing a little bit too.

“Knock knock!”

Who’s there?

“6!”

6 who?

“Oh, puleeeze! You know What Six Looks Like!”

Sure do. No pressure there. 

We’re chronicling the chaos of the first decade of childhood. My oldest son is one year beyond that decade, and already he is taking leaps toward independence. It’s what he needs. It’s what we want for him. I just wish someone would tell my heart to get with the program. This writing collaboration is occurring at a time when I’m feeling heaviness in my heart as I’m tasked with loosening my grasp on the boy who turned me into a mother. But it’s given me the opportunity to immerse myself in memories of who Waldorf was…and who his brothers were…on each step of his journey to becoming the man he’ll eventually grow up to be.

Please join Kristen Levithan at Motherese as she walks us so eloquently through the second year of childhood.

***An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Parenting section of the Huffington Post on January 19th, 2013.

Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through

4 kids + Camp Mom = 87 long days of summer. We’ve officially reached the halfway point. No broken bones. Only one sunburn incident (the children were spared). A few minor cuts. Minimal mosquito bites.  Most importantly, my sanity remains intact.  I’ve learned a few things in the past six weeks.

The Little Lessons

I love having no schedule.

I hate having no schedule.

The minute a stranger tells you, “Your children are so well behaved,” is the instant they show their true colors and make a liar out of that stranger.

When I take the kids to Walmart, they will play hide-n-seek.

If there is a knock on the door, it only comes when I’m not wearing a bra.

When I take the kids to Costco, they will play hide-n-seek.

Legos are dangerous. They should be played with in a home where shoes are mandatory.

When I take the kids to the Acme, they will play hide-n-seek.

Neil Diamond is better in concert at 71 than he was at 51.

When I take the kids to Target, they will play hide-n-seek.

Making recipes I’ve pinned to Pinterest is a pipe dream.

summersnapshots

There is absolutely no reason to consume ice cream every night. Which is precisely why I eat it for lunch some days. You know, to mix things up.

When there is a glass of liquid on a flat surface in my house, my 3 year old’s elbow will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My reaction:

Week 1: “That’s OK, sweetheart, it was an accident!”

Week 3: Sigh. “Here’s a towel. Please wipe it up.”

Week 6: “Again?! From now on, if you’re thirsty, drink straight from the goddamn faucet!”

A 9 year old boy can thrive on a breakfast of 2 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries for 45 straight days. On the 46th day, he will eat 3 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries.

There is nothing wrong with splitting an entire bag of Sun Chips with 4 children and considering it a healthy lunch for the 5 of you.

A fedora can stay on my 6 year old’s head while he does flips in a pool. Underwater. It’s no wonder that the fedora is Indiana Jones’ hat of choice.

When my husband and I are spitting distance from the Phillies dugout, and 2 females wearing infants stroll down the stadium steps, they will inevitably sit in the empty seats directly in front of us. And obstruct our view by bouncing said children on their laps the entire night. And ask my husband to take pictures of them with their babies. Every inning. And shriek repeatedly, “Aren’t they the cutest babies you’ve ever seen?” And we’ll agree. Until the 7th inning, when my husband finally answers, “Actually, they’re not nearly as cute as the 4 kids we left at home. Where they belong.”  Never prouder, I will turn to him and announce, “Honey, you’re getting lucky tonight.”

Down in front, baby!

A chipmunk can play dead convincingly enough that my cat buys it. That same chipmunk can wait until the cat turns his back, then wink at me to let me know he’s still, in fact, very much alive.

When my husband announces to me on a Monday morning, “Oops, I forgot, I have a golf outing today. I probably won’t be home until after 10PM,” I’m going to need some time to digest that information. I’ll probably need to sit in a corner, hug my knees, and quietly sob. Don’t judge.

I don’t really like crab fries. Unless they are dipped in cheese. This is a discovery I didn’t need to make.

Parents whose kids are attending sleep away camp are easy to identify. They are either the adults who look tan, well-rested, and supremely happy…or they are the adults who see me with my 4 kids and proceed to laugh and point at me. I wish each of them a peaceful summer. And the pointers…I wish an unplanned pregnancy. May you be blessed with twins.

Perler beads…like pine needles from a Christmas tree…can be found months after cleaning them up.

Boot camp on the beach sounds great in theory. It’s a nut punch in reality. A sweaty, sandy nut punch. And I’ll still eat the donut that’s waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I get home. How could I not? It’s still warm. For. The. Love. Of. God.

The $1 movie at Regal Cinemas on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings is the best deal out there. When there are 3 busloads of camp kids in line ahead of me, I grab my youngest child and urgently yell, “He has to poop! We need to get to the bathroom…he has to poop!” I cover his mouth with my hand before he rats me out. Race to the front of the line. Then sneak into the theater first. For 5 glorious minutes, my kids tell me I’m as cool as their Daddy. Totally worth the scene I made in the lobby.

When the guys fishing on the beach pull 4 foot sharks out of the ocean, one after another, for over an hour, there’s no need to avoid swimming. Even when you have your period. Don’t ask. Just trust me. It’s perfectly safe to go into those shark infested waters.

A cat is able to launch its body at a closed, locked bedroom door so violently that the door swings open. It sounds very much like a cannon firing from the hallway into your bedroom. And it only happens at 5AM.

When I take the kids to the mall, and Party Rock Anthem begins playing over the speaker system, they will immediately form a straight line and bust out the moves to  Dance Party 3 in perfect synchronicity. Strangers will mistake this for a flash mob and snap pictures with their iPhones and post them to FB and Twitter.

When I clap my hands and relay the news, “Guys, Mommy’s piece made the Huffington Post!” like I did here, here, and here, 4 sets of eyeballs will stare at me blankly. Then one of them will pass gas, and a game of “who farted?” will ensue.

The library shouldn’t put out games for small children. Because my 3 year old will play the game, then fist pump and yell, “YES! I WINNED!!!” Forcing my 10 year old to yell, “BE QUIET!” To which the 3 year old replies, “YOU BE QUIET! YOU’RE NOT THE POLICE OF MINE EYEBALLS!” So my 6 year old chimes in with, “BOTH OF YOU, STOP FIGHTING!” The 3 year old and 10 year old then take it to the ABC rug in the children’s section. Naturally, the 6 year old screams, “STOP FIGHTING! MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!” My 9 year old will continue to read his chapter book like an angel play his DS as though he were in a trance. And my attempt to hide behind the reference books until the entire thing blows over will prove unsuccessful when the 6 year old finds me and inquires, “Mom, are you hiding on that bookshelf?”

If you take 4 kids to a self serve frozen yogurt store, even after you say, “do NOT touch ANYTHING,” not once, not twice, but three times, the oldest will think he’s “helping” by serving himself. He will in fact over serve himself, and his yogurt will cost $9. Not to be outdone, his 9 year old brother will serve himself while I am chastising the 10 year old. His yogurt will cost $9.15. And when the 9 year old discovers he’s chosen original tart flavor instead of snickerdoodle, his punishment will be to eat all $9.15 worth of it. And he will man up and do it. And I will swallow back tears of pride and think, “Well, now. That’s my boy.”

The Big Lessons

There’s nothing like spending a hazy afternoon at a friend’s pool with my kids. 11 kids, 6 on giant rafts, laughing, swimming, splashing…the quintessential summer pool party. We parents marvel at how our children are growing…not yet teenagers, but no longer our little boys. We take time to swallow over the lumps in our throats and tell one another how lucky we feel that our kids are friends. And that we, in turn, have become friends.  I go home on a day like that feeling like life is good.

I wake up the next morning to the news that an armed man has walked into a movie theater in Colorado and opened fire on the audience. People are dead. More people are injured. Witnesses are traumatized. The country is in shock. I am tasked with telling my older children. My job is to find the right words. Words that will educate them. That will instill just enough fear to be cautious. That will provide just enough comfort to feel protected. Words that, once spoken, will hinder their belief that the world they live in is a safe place. I go to bed after a day like that feeling like life is not always so good.

I spend the first half of the summer hoping that the men in power surrounding Jerry Sandusky didn’t really know. Sandusky is sick. He’s broken. But the men in power around him…none of those men was sick. I spend the first half of summer hoping that, had they known, they’d have put the welfare of innocent children above everything. Innocent children. And my heart breaks just a little bit upon hearing that they knew enough. Yet they failed to act. And again, it’s my job to tell my older kids. To find the right words to warn them that monsters like Sandusky exist. To encourage them to trust their instincts when something or someone doesn’t feel right. To expect them to comprehend that the men surrounding this monster had an opportunity to be better men…but didn’t take it. To remind them that these men have families who are now devastated and suffering. And to teach them that these families deserve sympathy…understanding…privacy…peace.

Summer is half over. The little lessons I’ve learned have become memories. Snapshots in my head of perfect moments with my kids. Still young…and beautiful…and unaffected…and innocent. The big lessons I’ve learned have been sobering. Gut wrenching. They’ve been the catalyst for whispered conversations with my husband late into the night…Do we tell them? How do we tell them? When do we tell them? What do we tell them? They’ve been the topic of texts and poolside conversations with friends who care just as much as we do about keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children. Did you tell them? How did you tell them? When did you tell them? What did you tell them? What did they say? The big lessons have left me wishing I could keep my children blissfully ignorant. Sheltered. Protected. Do we really have to tell them? The answer for me is yes. We have to tell them. These things happened. The children…at least my older children…will find out. Best they hear it from the people they trust most in the world…the people who will tell them only what they need to hear. And answer their questions. And offer hugs. And suggest hope. Hope that no more big lessons like these need teaching…at least for the rest of the summer.

May the last of our summer be filled with little lessons. Snapshots in our heads of perfect moments with our children.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the July 24th edition of the Huffington Post. It ran in the Parents section under the title “Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through”

Namaste, Bitches

Balance is a tricky bugger. It means different things to different people. For kids, achieving balance means riding without training wheels. Or holding a handstand for a count of 3. Or keeping perfectly still while a friend crawls between your legs to set you free during a game of California freeze tag.

For adults, balance can mean a litany of things. There’s the dreaded credit card balance.  The elusive work/life balance. There is theoretical balance of a strong body and a peaceful mind.

My balance is nonexistent this summer. My essence, my qi, my sanity, my peace of mind, my routine. All of it is in a proverbial tizzy. It’s much hotter than I’d expected. I want to write more than I’d planned. When I do sit to write, the distractions are more frequent and disruptive than I’d anticipated. The kids are hungrier than they’ve ever been. We’ve crossed nothing off our summer bucket list. Last, and certainly not least, I haven’t made a single goddamn recipe that I pinned on Pinterest.

For almost a decade, I’ve found my balance in running. It’s been the secret ingredient to making the recipe of my life work. Running allows my jeans to fit. It wards off the demons and holds depression and anxiety at bay. It grants me patience as I listen to the 72nd “Mommy, what if…” story of the day. Running allows the smile on my lips to reach and illuminate my eyes. It provides me with the goal of a race and a formula to achieve that goal. Running has been the bridge of friendship that’s connected me with some of the most extraordinary people in my life.  It’s been the topic of conversation between me and B&B as we’ve looked at our race calendars, assessed our times, demanded increasingly more of our bodies, and dared to articulate our running goals…if only to each other. Running has brought balance to my life.

One of my dearest running friends has been practicing power vinyasa yoga for awhile. She knows me to my very core and accepts every imperfect inch of me. She’s encouraged me to practice with her. The only thing worse than my balance is my flexibility. I gather that both balance and flexibility are rather important in yoga, so I don’t bend over backwards…nor can I since I have yet to practice…to shift my schedule around to accommodate yoga.

I was on a tear one day and censored myself from posting my tirade on FB, which would amuse the masses but bring Social Services to my door in record time. So I texted Jess and let loose on her.

Jess’ text: “You need to come to yoga with me.”

My text: “I don’t know. My flexibility sucks. I’ll be a laughing stock.”

Jess’ text: “Bethany, you need to try it.”

My text: “Jess, I am the sweatiest person you know. The last thing I need is to spend an hour in a sauna trying to touch my toes.”

Jess’ text: “It will bring you balance.”

Oh, that’s a dirty trick. She used the magic words.

My text, accompanied with a deep sigh: “Fine. Friday morning.”

So I show up. With my $9.99 mat from Marshall’s. My son’s Buzz Lightyear towel. My water bottle. My running tank and tights. And a semi-skeptical attitude.

We walk into the room, set at 88 steamy degrees, and I spend the next 75 minutes struggling to keep up…with the lingo, with the poses, with the breathing…with my most trusted running partner by my side executing each with precision and concentration. She is a specimen of flexibility and strength. I am in awe of her. The last few minutes, the instructor stretches us out individually. I lie on my mat, drenched in sweat, wondering not if but when my hamstrings will seize up, frustrated by my lack of experience, yet mysteriously intrigued.

To my surprise, a single tear escapes my eye, and I catch it before it hits my mat. WTH is this? Am I crying? Must be PMS.

For several days after yoga, I feel good. In my mind. I feel sore. In my body. I feel like I’ve been hit with a baseball bat. The strange thing about me is I love that feeling. My sweet spot is my body in a state of fatigue and my mind at peace. I seek one to achieve the other.

I will try yoga again.

I continue to go back. Only once a week at this point. But each time, I set a mental goal before class and dedicate that hour to achieving it. And to celebrating it. The 60 minutes I spend practicing yoga is mine. I am present. I am focused. I am not Mom. I am not wife. I am not daughter, friend, sister, writer. I am Bethany. Happy that I can finally hold crow pose for a consecutive count of five while marveling at the guy who’s holding a handstand for a full minute. Something to celebrate and something to work towards. And, as I lie, eyes closed, on my mat in the last moments of every class, a single tear escapes my eye. Not PMS.

Jess was right.

Yoga brings me balance.

And I need balance. Because Camp Mom is a freakin’ sideshow. Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them another chipmunk into the house…this one alive. Alive but playing dead. An evolved little vermin. Waldorf saves the day and removes him, saving me the dreaded task.

Weeks 2 and 3 bring with them a milestone for Waldorf. After intense discussions with B&B, we agree he and the Kenyan can stay at the house alone while I take the Interrogator and the Verb to the Acme. Less than a mile away. For 3 items only. I leave emergency phone numbers along with explicit instructions. No microwave, no toaster oven. Do not answer the door. Do not leave the house. I am gone for a total of 18 minutes. Everything looks and sounds as it should upon my return. Such a milestone! I’m so relieved that I grab both of them in a tight embrace.

What is that smell? It smells like…like sour milk.

Me: Wrinkling my nose, “What did you boys eat?”

They giggle: “Nothing.”

Me: “I smell something. It’s OK, as long as you didn’t use the microwave or the toaster oven. You’re not going to be in trouble.”

They smile. Giggle. Exchange a look. Shrug their shoulders. Giggle again.

Kenyan: Giggle, “OK, Mommy, we had whipped cream.”

Waldorf: Giggle, giggle, “ALOT of whipped cream.”

There is a tremendous amount of giggling between them now. Perfect. Just perfect. I leave them alone for 18 minutes and they are doing whip-its in my kitchen. I shake my head as I throw the whipped topping cans in the trash. I quickly check the closets and under the beds to make sure Demi Moore didn’t arrive in my absence. And make a mental note never to buy whipped cream again. Sons of bitches will have a keg party if I leave them to go to Costco.

Week three brings with it a writing high point for me when the Huffington Post runs my Baby Pool piece. I am humbled. Validated. Excited. Thankful. Proud. Lucky. Feel like I am on the cusp of something. Something that’s mine. Just shy of eleven years ago, I put my wants, my needs, my dreams, and a large part of my identity into a box. And I put that box on a shelf, out of reach. And I haven’t dared to crack that box open until recently. It was right for my family. It was hard on my marriage. It taught me a great deal about myself. As my last baby prepares to go to school in September, I am conflicted by emotions. I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia that this eleven year chapter in my life is closing. But I’m ready. And I’m hoping that writing plays a leading role in this next chapter of my life.

Weeks 2 and 3 also bring with them the beach. And Arizona cousins. And Texas cousins. And Virginia cousins. And ice cream. And hotdogs. And hoagies. And too much sun. And margaritas. And wine. And Waldorf and the Kenyan staying up too late at night. And the Verb and the Interrogator waking up too early in the morning. And very scary storms that hit the Jersey shore out of nowhere and have me running outside to fold down lounge chairs on my parents’ deck at 1AM. Storms that have me standing guard over my sleeping children as I feel the disturbing yet unmistakable shaking of the house.

Monday is a particularly intense day between the Interrogator and the Verb. They score a record 12 time-out’s between the two of them. The pepper comes out of the spice cabinet as a visual reminder that potty words are to be uttered in the bathroom…and he who doesn’t adhere to that rule may sample a dash of pepper against his will. There are two votes for the pool and two votes against the pool. I am stepping onto the treadmill on our back patio in the late afternoon mid-90 degree heat when the Verb comes streaking out the back door…completely naked but for the large black stamp of a tree on the side of his face…and busts out a forbidden flip on the trampoline.

Enter my need for balance.

I immediately step off the treadmill and text B&B: “I’m going to lose my shit.”

He texts me: “When I get home, go to yoga.”

I reply: “Thank you.”

So I get to yoga. And I am feeling very authentic because I’ve just purchased a sweet yoga towel at Indigo Schuy, the hippest sports boutique in Philly. I smile as I open it to cover my mat, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment that I’ve graduated from the Buzz Lightyear beach towel. I set my goals for class. Give this time to yourself, Bethany. Believe in your strength. Remember your breathing. Be present. Hold crow. Try to kick back. Focus.

It’s exactly what I need to rinse away my toughest day yet of the summer. I hold crow for 20 seconds…a record for me. I kick back and fall. But it doesn’t stop me from kicking back again…and falling again. I focus on my breathing. I bust out a Bird of Paradise…something I didn’t think I’d ever achieve with my poor balance…something I celebrate. I watch a girl perform the most beautiful, fluid handstand…something towards which I’ll work. I leave feeling cleansed, tired, at peace, and as though my balance…my essence, my qi…has been restored.

Somewhere between my running shoes and my yoga mat, I believe I’ll find my balance.

Thank you, Jess. My dear, dear friend.

On my way home, I stop at the Acme. I want to steam some crab legs for a late dinner for B&B and me. I’m drenched with sweat. My clothes are soaking wet. My hair is sopping wet. I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pool. As I hurry through the produce section, a young employee…not one of my regular peeps…blatantly checks out my boobs.

Namaste, Benjamin Braddock. Look all you want. I’m in my zone. 

I order the crab legs and quickly pay for them. I race home, kiss everybody hello, and head straight to the kitchen. B&B follows me.

B&B: “So, how was it?”

Me: “Awesome. Look at what I can do!”

While I search for a spot on the floor devoid of Legos in which to show him my Bird of Paradise, he too blatantly stares at my boobs.

Me: “What is with you men tonight?”

B&B: “What?”

Me: “I caught you looking at my boobs just now. The kid at the Acme was staring at them too.”

He smiles. Nods. Says nothing.

I look down. And curse myself. I’d worn my padded sports bra. Goddamn. My entire body looks like I’ve just emerged from the pool. With the exception of the two circular pads right smack in the middle of my chest. Perfectly dry. Illuminating my boobs in their stark contrast to the rest of the soaking wet turquoise fabric. Bringing entirely new meaning to the notion that my headlights are on.

I look at him. I laugh. He laughs. I look back down at my chest.

Me: “At least they’re lined up, right?”

B&B: “Indeed they are. In perfect symmetry.”

Perfect symmetry=Perfect balance. Namaste, indeed.

namaste

Camp Mom. Week One.

The Interrogator trots past me. I glance up from the chocolate chip pancakes that aren’t quite ready to be flipped. He’s bare chested, and his shorts are on backwards. I smile.

They’re the same shorts he wore to bed last night. The same pair he had on yesterday.

I flip the pancakes. I hear footsteps descending the stairs. It’s the Kenyan. I smell him before I see him.

Me: “Good morning, Kenyan! Please turn yourself around and march back up those stairs for a shower. It’s been…how many days since you’ve showered?”

He touches his fingers while his lips silently mouth the days of the week.  His eyes glaze over as he does the mental math.

Kenyan: “6 days, Mom. I had a shower 6 days ago.”

Yowza.

Me: “That’s kinda gross, buddy.”

Kenyan: “Ooooh! Are those chocolate chip pancakes?”

I nod and point my spatula toward the stairs…which lead to the shower…which is long overdue.

Kenyan: “Oooh, Mom, are we going to the pool today?”

Me: “Probably.”

Kenyan: “No need for a shower. You say it all the time. Swimming in the pool counts as bathing.”

He has me there.

CampMom

Me: “Fair enough.”

I check the pancakes. Almost done. As I walk the syrup to the table, I see the Verb in the corner. His back is to me. He thinks I can’t see him.

Me: “What do you have over there, Verb?”

He gasps…baffled that I’ve discovered him. I hear the crinkling of a plastic bag. He turns around to face me. His mouth is outlined in dark chocolate. He grasps a bag of semi-sweet morsels between his 3 year old hands, also covered in dark chocolate.

Verb: Placing the bag behind his back, “I’m not holding anything behind mine back, Mom,” he tells me with a smile in a sing-song voice.

What age do they start lying? I forget. Is this developmentally appropriate?

He runs past me into the kitchen to return the chocolate chips to their rightful place in the pantry.

Me: “Where’s Waldorf?”

Interrogator: “He’s asleep, Mom. Waldorf’s asleep. I know because I went into his room to get some Legos. And he didn’t yell at me because he was asleep.”

I glance at the clock. 8:47AM.

The Interrogator is wearing yesterday’s clothes. The Kenyan hasn’t bathed in 6 solid days. The Verb is eating chocolate before breakfast. Waldorf is sacked out in his bed. I’m making breakfast that requires more of me than pushing buttons on the microwave.

Summer is here. 4 kids. All of them home. No extracurricular activities.

Camp Mom is in session.

How was week one?

It was an adjustment. Here are some high points…and some not so high points…

I gave birth to 4 kids. Somehow, I manage to accumulate more kids on Tuesday. And it rains. And I am hell bent on going to Costco. I have 5 kids with me at the time. But I time it perfectly so that we zip through that puppy during lunch time. Turns out all of the kids love chicken cutlets. Bonus. I grant them permission to stand next to the sample cart and eat as many free samples of that bird as they can stomach. Yes, I remind them to chew with their mouths closed. I’m not raising cavemen. I hold up the bag, catch the eye of the lady doling out samples, give her a smile, an emphatic nod, a thumbs up, and make sure she watches me place it in my cart…while I abandon 3 kids next to her sample cart housing her bite size pieces. It works out perfectly. (Good news)

By the time we arrive home, I round up 2 more kids. 7 boys. Stupidity factor increases exponentially. Common sense at a dangerous low. We live in a split level house. The Legos are all the way upstairs, the costumes are one level upstairs, the Wii is downstairs. The boys are up the stairs, they are down the stairs. Up, down, up, down, up, down. While I unpack the products I purchased in bulk, I dodge boys rounding the corner down the steps into the kitchen. I sidestep boys rounding the corner up the steps out of the kitchen.

Me: “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Louder, “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Sigh. “GUYS, NO RUN..”

My 3rd warning is cut off as I am pinned against the piano. By a small child? Negative. By a large bear. Launched from the top of the steps.

I survive a bear attack. Original artwork by the Kenyan.

As I’m pinned under the bear, the guilty party flees the scene. A hit and run in my own home. The guilty party’s identity remains a mystery. (Bad news)

After crawling out from under the bear, I give all 7 boys a come to Jesus a choice:

“Legos upstairs or movie downstairs.”

They spend the remainder of the afternoon quietly playing. I spend it cooking. (Good news) Our indoor cat has a mad crush on me, so he keeps his eyes trained on me as he frolics around in the dining room. When I say frolics, I mean he really frolics. Dancing, prancing, up on his hind legs…I see him out of the corner of my eye while I cook. I assume he, like I, is jammin’ to Adam Levine.

Me: To the cat, “Fawkes, you got the moves like Jagger?”

I finally turn my full attention to him.

He does NOT have the moves like Jagger. He has a petrified chipmunk. On my dining room rug.

Our uninvited dinner guest

He’s been batting that nasty ass vermin around for a full hour while I, none the wiser, have been putting on my own Katy Perry concert in my kitchen. (Bad news)

I immediately perform the running man…double time. Very high knees.

Me: “Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, WALDORF!”

Waldorf arrives at my rescue within seconds, “WHAT? WHAT’S THE MATTER?!”

He follows my line of sight. Discovers the dead chipmunk. Looks at me. Looks back at the cat.

Waldorf: Smiling, “Yes! Way to go, Fawkes!” to me, “I’ll be right back.”

I continue my high step running man. My chant changes to, “Ew, ew, ew, ew, disease, disease, DISEASE!”

Waldorf returns less than a minute later with all 3 of his brothers. And a camera.

Verb, “Oh, he’s so cutey, cute!”

Interrogator: “Mom, can we keep him, Mom? Can he sleep in my bed, Mom? I can feed him. I’ll feed him. Can we please, please, pretty please keep him? Can I pet him, Mom?”

He reaches out to pet the dead chipmunk.

“NO!!!!” comes the chorus from Waldorf, the Kenyan, and me.

Waldorf: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll ruin my picture!”

What?!

Kenyan: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! Fawkes will scratch you!”

Huh?!

Me: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll get a disease!!”

The four of them turn to look at me. I can’t remember a time when 4 faces looked at me so blankly. Wait that’s not true…I see that look on their faces almost daily.

Me: “Everybody head downstairs please. Daddy will take care of this.”

I text B&B:

“Will you be home soon? There is a dead fucking chipmunk on the dining room floor, and I just vomited in my mouth.”

He replies:

“Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

I text him:

“I didn’t catch your ETA…”

He replies:

“5 minutes.”

I dry heave, shiver, and back into the kitchen. Shake my head. Shiver some more.

So, that was Tuesday.

Wednesday afternoon I have 6 boys again. And I get a long overdue haircut and color in my very own home while they do who the hell knows what sit quietly in the family room. The color is lighter than I usually go.

Me: “Kenyan, tell me the truth. What do you think of my hair?”

Kenyan: “The truth? I think it is the exact color of old person’s hair.” (Bad news)

Don’t ask a question unless you’re prepared to hear the answer.

But, week one of Camp Mom ends on a high note.

On Saturday, we take the kids to a local farm to pick fruit. My guys would eat their weight in fruit if I allowed them to…and the Verb does exactly that in the raspberry fields. It is a gorgeous day…sunny skies, low humidity…and I’m fairly sure the entire tri-state area is at the shore. So we have the place to ourselves.

Looking for strawberries

We return home in a fruit coma.  I’m the only one who suffers sunburn. (Good news)

Sunday is Father’s Day, my Dad’s 75th birthday, and the first time we see Little Sister, Flyboy, and their 3 kids since Thanksgiving. They bring their Arizona noise to the East Coast for most of the summer to avoid the 100+ degree heat of the desert. The grandkids serenade my Dad with You Are My Sunshine, When I’m 64, and You’ve Got a Friend in Me. Absolutely adorable. (Good news)

Monday is kinda cool. I receive an email from The Huffington Post saying they published my Father’s Day piece. (Very good news)  Ari Gold from Entourage right here…“BOOM!”  I am beyond excited that my piece makes the cut. Humbled, flattered, thrilled, stoked. Not to mention, it secures my position as the #1 child in Dad’s eyes (the best of the good news)…and, yes, I mention that to The Huffington Post when I email them to thank them for the opportunity. Oh, I most certainly do.

I spend Monday night with family at the Neil Diamond concert. 71 years old. Still performing. Voice sounds better than it has in a decade. And putting on the show of his life. Really, does it get any better?!

In the span of a week, I am violated by a stuffed animal, unknowingly host a dead chipmunk for cocktail hour, and am called a blue haired old lady by my son.

In the span of that same week, I spend a perfect day outdoors with B&B and the boys, am reunited with Little Sister, am serenaded by Neil Diamond, and am published in The Huffington Post.

Even Steven.

Maybe a little better than Even Steven.

Kinda kick ass all around.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment…