Top Dog

“Let’s play wrestle!” he yells, his tiny body assuming an aggressive stance.

“Let me take my coat off first so that..” before I can finish my sentence, my youngest son has wrapped all four of his appendages around my leg. He holds on with a vise-like grip.

“AHA! I’m Iron Man, and I’ve got you now! You’ll never escape me!”

I walk to the closet, dragging my right leg…said 4 year old child attached to it…behind me as I hang up my coat.

***

“That’s it. I’m done,” he announces as he tosses his sneakers one at a time into the laundry room. He’s just returned home from playing basketball. His face is a mask of anger.

“Uh oh. What happened?” I ask my husband.

“I’m done. I’m so frustrated playing with these guys. Nobody takes the game to the level I need to play at in order to enjoy it. It’s a total waste of time for me.”

“Why is that?”

“Who knows? They play like a bunch of old men! Maybe they’re afraid to get hurt or something. I’d rather never step foot on the court again than compromise the way I play.”

***

“Want to play Scrabble?” my husband asks.

I answer quickly, “With you? No.”

“How about Boggle?” he suggests.

“You against me?” I shake my head,  “Nope.”

He’s annoyed. “Come on. Why not?”

“Because I hate to lose. And you always beat me. At Scrabble. And Boggle. That’s why not.”

***

“This is ridiculous,” he scoffs.

“Stop talking. I’m trying to watch Survivor. Save it for the commercials,” I chide my spouse.

“I wouldn’t be talking if this competition weren’t so absurd.”

I sigh and pause the TV. Thank God for DVR. “Why do you say that?”

He gesticulates wildly towards the TV, “It’s ridiculous that they can’t swallow a grasshopper faster than that! It’s a grasshopper! Just shove it in your mouth and swallow it down! What’s the big deal?”

Calmly, I reply, “I wouldn’t eat the grasshopper. Even if it meant I’d win the reward. And the reward is chocolate. And I love chocolate. I still wouldn’t eat the grasshopper.”

His chest inflates, “I guarantee I would eat that grasshopper. Not only that, I’d eat it faster than anybody on the show could eat it.”

Oh, here we go. “Would you eat it faster than any contestant on any reality show ever consumed any grasshopper?”

He nods assuredly. “It’s true. You know it’s true.”

***

“Nice race,” he heaves, catching his breath.

“You too,” I reply, matching my husband’s effort to steady my ragged breathing.

He nods behind him, “I took a wrong turn and ran farther than I should have.”

“I was wondering why I crossed the finish line before you did.”

Because that never happens. Even when he’s pushing 100 lbs of combined weight belonging to our youngest two kids, whom he pushed the entire race in the double jogging stroller.

He offers his hand, “Come on, let’s go over and see how everyone else did.”

I wave him off, “I think I’m going to stay here, thanks.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t walk.”

“Are your legs beat?” he asks.

“I hurt my foot,” I point to the underside of my right foot, searching for the invisible knife  responsible for the searing pain.

“What happened?”

I shake my head, “I wore my racing flats. No arch support. I should have eased my way into them. Never should have raced in them today.”

He winces, “Did you first feel it when you crossed the finish line?”

I smile. “Nope. I felt it a mile in.”

“Why did you keep on running? You should have dropped out!”

I shrug. “Quitting was not an option. After all, I had all of these strangers to impress.”

He nods, “All of these people you’ll never see again for the rest of your life?”

Perfectly serious, I answer, “Exactly. I didn’t want them to think I’m a quitter. Because I’m not.”

He places his hands on his hips and smiles down at me, “Well, I’m sure they’re all very impressed by your effort. I know I am. Now let’s get you a pair of crutches. Non-quitter.”

***

“I’ll take pop culture for 600, Alex.”

Alex Trebek announces, “Alright, you’ve chosen the Daily Double!”

B&B yells at the Jeopardy contestant on TV, “Make it a true Daily Double! Bet it all!”

I holler at the same TV contestant , “Don’t listen to him! Bet ½! Maybe less than ½!”

He turns to me, incredulous, “What?! She should bet it all!”

I frown, “If she bets it all and gets the question wrong, she’ll have nothing. If she plays it safe, she’s still in the game.”

He raises his eyebrows, “If she bets it all and gets the question right, she takes the lead. Better to bet it all and take the lead.”

“Nope. Better to play it safe and stay in the game.”

***

“We need to discuss this,” he balances the kids’ dirty plates on his forearms and follows me to the sink.

“Now?” I ask.

“Yes, now!” My husband is nothing if not persistent.

I sigh, placing my hands on the counter. “OK, what do you want to know?”

“What do you want done with your body when you die?”

The Interrogator gasps audibly, “Mom, you’re gonna die?”

I place my arm around his bony shoulders, “No, honey, I’m not gonna die. Not today.”

B&B turns to our 6 year old son, “We’re all going to die. Probably not tonight. Don’t worry about this, buddy, Mommy and Daddy are just talking.”

I whisper to my husband, “Can we talk about it after he goes to bed?”

He shakes his head, “Now.” Persistent.

“I want to be cremated,” I reply.

He nods. “Well, you better tell your family that.”

“OK, I will.”

“Now,” he adds.

“Why now?”

“Because what if you die tomorrow? If I tell them you want to be cremated they may not believe me. They’ll know it’s true if you tell them yourself.”

I nod, “OK.”

He nods, “OK. So tell them.”

“I will.”

“Now!”

Jesus Christmas.

“Alright. Calm down. I’ll tell them.”

Now I’ve gone and poked the bear…

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You know I hate when people tell me to calm down!”

***

“Hey, Mom, you have to come over here and play this game with us!”

I walk over to stand next to my oldest son, who is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. He is watching his father play a game on the iPad.

I peek over Waldorf’s shoulder. B&B is tapping out a pattern on the game’s 4 different pie-shaped colors…blue, red, yellow, green.  Recognition sets in, and I laugh immediately. “Is that Simon? The memory game?”

B&B looks up to meet my eye. His laughter echoes mine. “Yes! Do you remember this?”

I nod, “I loved that game when I was young! Can I have a turn?”

Waldorf nods, “Sure! It’s Dad’s turn now. Then my turn. Then yours.”

We watch B&B race to match Simon’s pattern.

“Slow down, dude. Just get the pattern right,” I say.

Waldorf shakes his head, “No, he’s right to go fast. You get more points for speed.”

Now B&B looks at Waldorf. Two sets of eyes alight with the excitement of this additional pressure.  Deflated, I watch their delight.

“I’m out,” I announce. And I retreat back into the kitchen, where the dirty dishes await.

***

Are you confused yet?

I’ve just finished reading a galley of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  And I found it fascinating.

topdog

I began this book with a slight sense of dread.  Last year, I read Bronson’s and Merryman’s Nurture Shock, which resulted in a near nervous breakdown after realizing B&B and I needed a complete parenting style overhaul. Waldorf and the Kenyan will likely need extensive therapy as a result of our abrupt shift. The Interrogator and the Verb stand a fighting chance of turning out half decent. (Want to know if your parenting style needs revamping? Read this excerpt from Nurture Shock, which appeared in NY Magazine.)

As I read Top Dog, each of the above scenarios popped into my head in reference to different points made in the book. The research the authors compiled helped me understand the reasons why my husband, sons, and I behaved the way we did in each of these examples.

  • The youngest child often has the most fight in him. “Let’s play wrestle” is my youngest son’s most often used expression.
  • When competing, men often focus on what they will win. This often leads to overconfidence. May I present…my husband.
  • Women refuse to waste time with losing. Which is why I no longer play Scrabble and Boggle with my husband, who wipes the floor with my rear end in both games. Even though I’m the alleged wordsmith in the marriage. Self-proclaimed wordsmith.
  • I pushed through a race (like a fool), running the risk of further injury, because there were spectators watching. I was running, which is something I train for, enjoy, and typically do well. Had I been trying something new, like tennis, their presence would have increased my stress level enough for me to quit.
Hey, what's this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

Hey, what’s this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

  • B&B fits the book’s classification of a warrior, which means he needs stress to perform his best. One of the worst things I can encourage him to do is to “calm down”. That’s going to take some work on my part. Dammit.
  • Men risk a greater percentage of their money when answering a Daily Double in Jeopardy than women do. *Side note, B&B always yells “Make it a true Daily Double!”
  • Additional stress within a competition makes men less emotional and more calculated. While it can create too much stress for women. This explains why B&B and Waldorf rose to the occasion to compete in a timed game of Simon, and I willingly chose to wash dishes.

In every chapter of Top Dog, I was able to identify instances in my everyday life to which the psychology behind winning and losing applies.

And don’t think I didn’t bust out a ruler to measure the lengths of each of our index fingers and compare them to the lengths of each of our ring fingers. But you’ll have to read the book to understand why…

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing is available on February 19th. Po Bronson will be speaking at SCH Academy in Chestnut Hill, PA, at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, February 20th. The event is free and open to the public.

I look forward to meeting him. I’ve almost forgiven him for my near nervous breakdown after reading his last book.

Almost.

***

Our This Is Childhood series continues today with the fabulous Allison Tate’s take on Age Five. Allison is the rock star responsible for writing The Mom Stays in the Picture. Her writing elicits such emotion in me. And the pictures that accompany This is Five are priceless.

Next week, I’m tackling Age Six.

Gulp.

10 Steps to Ensure Your Kids Will Need Post-Holiday Therapy

charliebrown

1. Reserve a weekend in December for the annual choosing and cutting down of the Christmas tree. Make sure to choose a tree farm almost an hour’s drive north. On the day you make the trip, bring a friend of your oldest son’s along. Because 6 people weighing in on a tree could lead to a dreaded tie. You’ll need the extra set of eyeballs…just in case.

2. Arrive at dusk on a rainy, overcast Saturday, just as they are closing. Look at your husband in disbelief when he tells you we’ve been turned away “for legal reasons”. Some nonsense about navigating the farm in the dark and the possibility of falling in holes. Leave without a tree. Take the 5 children to Dairy Queen and give them each a Blizzard for dinner. Hock a loogie into your husband’s Blizzard when he isn’t looking. After all, if he hadn’t tried to reclaim his youth by organizing that tackle football game in your backyard with the 5th grade boys, you’d have been there before closing. And left with a tree.

3. Wake up early Sunday morning. Pack coats, hats, gloves, donuts, water, baby wipes, and children into the minivan. Arrive at the tree farm an hour north for the 2nd time in 14 hours. Watch in horror as the children leap from the car directly into the mud because you’ve forgotten to pack their rain boots.

4. Walk to the farthest left corner of the tree farm with your husband, who amuses himself by pinching your butt cheek every 4-5 trees. Refrain from tackling your two older sons when, with ninja-like stealth, they jump out from behind a tree and scare the be-Jesus out of you. Keep your face expressionless when your younger two sons hand you a dozen colored tags that they’ve pulled from trees other people have marked and paid for already. Nonchalantly toss the tags into the nearest hole. Kick mud into the hole to bury the evidence. Point to the nearest tree and tell your husband, “cut it down fast before they kick us the fuck out of here!”

For the love of god, let's get out of here!

For the love of god, let’s get out of here!

5. Take a family picture with the tree before it’s bailed and strapped to the minivan roof. Promise the kids that you will decorate the tree tonight. When you arrive home, ask your husband to put the tree in a bucket in the backyard. Forget to check to see if he has put water in the bucket. Be too tired to decorate the tree that night.

6. Put the tree up five days later. Play Christmas music. Make hot chocolate with marshmallows for the kids and homemade Bailey’s for you and your husband. Turn on the gas fireplace. Unwrap each ornament slowly, pause, smile, then begin the story of where each ornament came from…because every ornament has a story, and you remember each and every story. When no one, including your husband, listens to your stories…when they repeatedly interrupt you, when they rip ornaments from your hand with their dirty, ungrateful little fingers, when they fight over whose turn it is to place the star on top of the tree…tell them they are taking all of the magic out of Christmas.

7. When your husband announces he will not be watering the tree this year because it’s “a waste of time”, look at him quizzically. Narrow your eyes. In your mind’s eye, recollect the year he created a device for watering trees he felt should be patented. The funnel he duct taped to the PVC tube that allowed him to stand at his full height of 6’2″ plus an additional three feet away to water the tree without brushing against so much as one pine needle. Walk upstairs to the hall closet. Open it. Peek inside. Yep. It’s still there. Nope. Still no patent. Close the closet door. Scratch your head. But, for god’s sake, hold your tongue.

8. Spend the next three weeks giving the tree a wide berth. Admire it from afar, as though you’re a stalker. Or a peeping tom. Instruct the kids to do the same. On Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, take every piece of furniture from that room and move it as far away from that fire hazard the tree as possible. Scowl at your husband when he raises his eyebrows and suggests you do the nasty on the carpet of razor sharp pine needles that now covers your family room rug. Leave a note for Santa to place the gifts 3-4 feet away from the tree. And, above all else, instruct him not to light his pipe until he’s several houses away from that goddamn tinder box.

9. Spend Christmas morning watching the joy on your kids’ faces as they unwrap each of their presents. Watch those looks of joy morph into masks of pain as they slip their unsuspecting fingers into new ski gloves riddled with needles sharp as splinters. Spend Christmas night snuggled up on the sofa with your husband. Listen to the cats chasing each other up and down the Christmas tree. Hear the sound of 2 million pine needles hitting the presents. Cringe at the shattering glass, as the precious ornaments…each with its own story…fall from the tree and hit the Lego sets below. Do. Not. Turn. Around. And. Look. At. The. Carnage.

10. The following morning, announce that, “we are getting that miserable excuse for a Christmas tree out of this house today”. Tell the kids to pipe down when they beg for one more day. When your husband walks past you on the way to his shed and you overhear him mutter, “I just need my chainsaw,” take a tug of that Bailey’s. It matters not that it’s only 8:30AM. Chainsaw + Christmas tree + Family Room = No one will judge you. When he returns to the house with a pair of pruning shears, breathe a sigh of relief. Keep the children occupied while he desecrates the Christmas tree that you grabbed in a flash they chose so lovingly. After he’s hacked off every single branch, beg him not to show the children the naked trunk that used to be their beloved Christmas tree. Dry their tears and offer hugs of compassion when he disregards your plea because he believes, “this is one of the greatest ideas I’ve ever had”.  Silently vow to head directly to Target to purchase an artificial tree on clearance the minute they are all back in school.

Follow these 10 steps to ensure your kids too will need post-holiday therapy. Until next year…

**This post appeared in the parenting section of the Huffington Post on January 4th, 2013.

photo (11)

Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree! How lovely are your branches…er….um…

In Lieu of a Bundle of Cash and a Vat of Alcohol…

inlieuof

I couldn’t get through What Six Looks Like. I had to stop. Not stop, wipe my eyes, regroup, and revisit. Just plain stop. I’m intimately aware of what six looks like. Particularly this week as I’ve smeared Vicks vapo-rub on his feverish chest and whispered, “I’ll come in the night if you call me, sweet boy”. I know how his breathing sounds when it stops because his nose is so stuffed that he can’t suck his thumb so he’s forced to breathe through his mouth. Which he hates. I know what six sounds like when he asks me in the most hopeful tone he can muster with a throat so raw as his, “Mom, will I feel better by tonight?”

I had to stop reading that beautifully heart-wrenching piece for self preservation. For fear I’d visualize the six year old who has a vise-like grip on my heart in that classroom with the other 20 babies.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. That’s what the song says, right? It feels less than wonderful this week. Our nation feels the burden of the loss of 26 unique human beings who bounded into school on Friday with roughly an hour to spare before each of their lives was cut short…painfully, tragically, senselessly ended.

I feel it. Everywhere. Tears soaked my sweatshirt as I listened to the President say each of their names during his speech. And then again when I watched the candlelit tribute on The Voice.  Little Sister texts me from across the country with her heartbreak. I can’t login to Facebook without seeing pictures of the teachers, surviving and dead, heroes who took bullets to protect their students and survivors who locked their students in closets for protection. I see the weight of Friday’s tragedy in the lines of our school teachers’ faces. The way a fireman loses a brother to a fire…so these teachers have lost fellow educators to this shooting.

Winter break sneaks up on me every year. This year is no exception. The teachers in my boys’ lives deserve a bundle of cash and a vat of alcohol.  I have neither. But I have a half decent memory. And I was raised by two people who taught me, by example, the value of positive reinforcement.  And that sometimes it’s the expression of gratitude itself that, when it comes from a genuine place, is simply and gloriously enough.

While it’s specific to my kids’ school, I hope that the sentiment is broad enough that it resonates beyond that.

So, this is what I wrote to the educators who, every day, make a difference in my kids’ lives…

****

B&B says one of the greatest gifts I give him is the ability not to worry when he leaves the house. He knows our boys are in competent hands. He’s confident they’ll be loved, reasoned with, read to, disciplined, taught…made my first priority.

When it came time for us to choose a school for our boys, we hoped we’d find an extension of our home.  A place we could leave our boys, in competent hands, with the ability not to worry once we left campus.

Here is what we’ve found…

It’s the technology coordinator celebrating how much Waldorf loves computers and giving him the latitude to experiment during her Fabulous Fridays.

It’s the Admissions Coordinator always reaching out to say hi, even when she is in the midst of meeting a new family for the very first time.

It’s the Chair of Engineering and Robotics giving his time and patience to expand that program to our youngest boys. It’s his allowing the Kenyan to bring his cousin from Arizona into robotics class when he visited last Thanksgiving.

It’s the new kindergarten teacher’s infectious grin and inherent happiness that make me wish I could bottle her energy and do a shot of it every morning.

It’s the Interrogator’s and the Verb’s music teacher teaching the youngest boys to sing “Here in my House”, which, no matter how many times I hear it, makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.

It’s the Kenyan’s music teacher getting an active group of 2nd and 3rd graders to stand fidget-free and sing with unabashed innocence every December and May.  And choosing a score of music that does not put his audience to sleep.

It’s seeing Waldorf’s kindergarten assistant…five years later…in the back pew of the chapel during that chorus performance. It’s the warm hug she offers and the ease with which we settle into conversation.

It’s the chair of the music department working countless hours with boy choir to take my breath away when I sit in the church pew on a Sunday afternoon in December and marvel as our oldest, most private son sings holiday songs in English, French, and Hebrew. It’s his grace and professionalism in the face of a nasty stomach bug that had his students leaving the stage in the midst of their beautiful performance.

It was Waldorf’s First Grade Teacher inviting me into the First Grade classroom every month the year the Verb was born so her students could make predictions about how much Waldorf’s newest baby brother had grown since the last time they’d seen him.

It’s the connection those boys, now fifth graders, still feel to the Verb because he was their “First Grade Baby”.

It’s Mrs.G. pulling the Interrogator’s first tooth when he wouldn’t let me do it.

It’s the head of school responding to every one of our many e-mails over the years. And always with warmth and wit.

It’s the principal prefacing his phone calls to me with, “Everyone is fine,” knowing I fully expect one of those calls to be news of a broken bone. It’s his ability to take into consideration how young the Verb is when he’s called to inform me that the Verb has bit someone. On the rump.

It’s the assistant to the head of school’s open door. It’s the way she lights up and beckons us in every time we walk past. Truly a friend who wants to catch up.

It’s the athletic director putting sticks in the hands of first graders hoping to grow our lacrosse program from the bottom up.

It’s the first grade assistant, pulling me aside to tell me how much fun Waldorf makes Math Enrichment.

It’s the male art teacher and the magical way he has with our boys to make Art a subject to which they look more forward than PE.

It’s the female art teacher keeping Art just as fun and expressive as her male counterpart does.

It’s the lead security officer, who we miss seeing directing traffic every morning and afternoon, wearing his Phillies hat.

It’s Coach calling the boys “knuckle heads” and “dopey dopes” in PE, and our allowing it because…well, because it’s Coach.

It was the science teacher telling me how much the Kenyan had matured in the years she’d taught him. It was standing on the sidewalk outside the science building and her reaching out to touch the Verb’s cheek and tell him how sorry she was that she’d never have him in her science classroom because she was retiring.

It’s the morning and afternoon receptionists knowing our boys. It’s their smiles every time we walk through the front doors.

It’s the very tall PE teacher’s wondrous way of turning a booming voice into a gentle one for our kindergarten boys.

It’s the lower school librarian’s ability to steer the Kenyan toward books out of which we’re unable to get his freckled nose.

It’s the director of library services expecting that this house is one that would indeed devour library books…swallow them whole, never to be seen or heard from again. It is her laughter when I celebrate that, in 7 years’ time, we’ve been able to locate every single library book.  Every. Single. One.

It’s the pre-k assistant telling me that the Interrogator and the Verb slump against each other, relaxing and sucking their thumbs, while she reads and sings to them for the last 15 minutes of their day. It’s the smile I feel, starting in my heart, when I visualize my sons at the end of their long day finding comfort in each other.

It’s the director of the outdoor program and the amazing trips he facilitates. It’s the opportunity we have in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades to spend coveted one-on-one time with our sons during these trips. It’s the confidence our boys feel, beginning in 5th grade, when they arrive home after having been away for several days without their parents.

It’s the school nurse telling me she needs me to fill out papers, then realizing I’m not that Mom of three boys…I’m that Mom of four boys. It’s her telling me she gets a kick out of each of my four boys.

It’s the energy that the admissions team brings to their department. It’s my ambushing one in her office and stalking another on the way to his car in order to dish about a potential 7th grade boy who would be such a great fit.

It’s Waldorf’s 3rd grade homeroom teacher understanding that all we wanted in 3rd grade was for him to learn to exercise his inner monologue. It’s my telling her we were hoping for one more magical Christmas with four believers, and her agreeing to keep her ears open to see what the word was with those 3rd grade boys.

It’s the practice that 3rd grade teacher’s male counterpart had of asking the boys a math question before allowing entry into his classroom.

It was the Interrogator’s kindergarten teacher telling me, “The Interrogator is my guy. He is my sweet, sweet guy.” And my Mama’s heart feeling the tug, tug, tug of knowing my earnest little boy was understood and loved by this dear teacher.

It’s the Kenyan’s kindergarten teacher, four years ago, telling me, “The Kenyan would be a superstar if you give him that extra year”. It’s that same teacher, who now has the Interrogator in his 2nd year of kindergarten, shaking hands with him, catching his eye and saying, “You’re such a good guy.” It’s her telling us that, when he looks at her, it’s like he sees right into her soul, which is one of the things we love most about him. It’s her turning a blind eye to the fact that I often pack him a grape jelly sandwich on white bread…because hers is a peanut-free classroom, and she knows I am simply out of ideas.

It’s Waldorf’s 4th grade teacher’s broad grin and contagious laughter whenever we sat down for a parent teacher conference. It’s the hug she has for me whenever I see her…even though I have no one under her tutelage this year.

It’s her 4th grade counterpart’s quiet way of getting more from our boys. It was her understanding that Waldorf needed to exercise his language arts muscle because writing doesn’t come as easy as numbers do to him.

It’s the one teacher to have the Kenyan in her class three times starting every conference with a smile on her face and the statements, “I love your boy. He needs to move.” It was her willingness to work with us because she understood my hesitance to start him on medication.

It’s the Kenyan’ first grade teacher’s ability to embrace those quirky things about our boys that irritate us the most. Like the Kenyan’s need to move.

It’s the Kenyan’s current teacher, his 3rd grade teacher, in the midst of his monkey sound effects, having the presence and good humor to comment, “you know those sound effects are really good”! It’s her appreciating his wit and partnering with us to build his confidence.

It’s the pre-k teacher. The only teacher to have taught all four of our boys. The teacher who texted me a video while I was Christmas shopping in Target of the Verb telling me he’d lost his first tooth. It’s her refraining from judgment because 4 years old is too young to lose a tooth…clearly this is the the youngest child who’s received repeated poundings on the living room floor and elbows on the trampoline. It’s her taking my Verb by the hand and walking him through school so he could visit the classrooms of his three older brothers to announce, “Look, guys, I lost my first tooth!”

It’s the texts I received after that pre-k teacher took the Verb to those classrooms from parents whose boys have no younger brothers, but experienced the warmth of that brotherly celebration when he visited their classrooms with his big news.

It’s the assistant to the principal giving the Verb a dollar when he lost that tooth. Which really helped because I only had four dollars in my wallet that night, so I was able to pass it off as the fifth and final dollar from the tooth fairy.

It’s the memories of the two PE teachers who’ve died. And the way they inspired school spirit and teamwork in our boys during their youngest years. It’s in the way their memory still lives on with the boys…in the way the Kenyan yells at the Verb if he climbs on the Mr. P.’s memorial stone and in the way Waldorf understands that the principal greets the boys on the circle every morning because he’s carrying on Mr. C’s legacy.

It’s the school psychologist, who is always available to me. How do we tell Waldorf the truth about Santa Claus? What shall we tell him about sex? What does he need to know about Jerry Sandusky? Should we tell him about the Aurora shooting? It’s her willingness to discuss it with me, the insight she offers, and the confidence I feel after hanging up that I have the value of her sage advice ringing in my ears as we navigate these firsts of parenting with our oldest son.

It’s Waldorf’s current teacher, his 5th grade teacher, understanding that we’re content with his desire to be the class clown, so long as he considers his friends’ feelings. It’s her reassuring us that he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

It’s her 5th grade counterpart stopping me in the hallway and placing her hand over her heart while she thanks me for the gift of my oldest son in her classroom. It’s my inability to speak because I remember when this beautiful, statuesque woman was a four year old with pigtails and knee socks…and I think how nice it would be if I could thank her Mom and Dad for the gift of their daughter to our sons.

It’s the kindness and sense of community from the parents. The fact that I’ve been home sick with at least one of my boys for five long days. And, in that time, I’ve had matzoh ball soup placed on my doorstep from a school friend of 7 years and chicken soup delivered from a school friend of 4 months. It’s in the way we take care of one another.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, as my gaze falls repeatedly on my six year old son, whose bright blue eyes are full of wonder, trust, and laughter…a boy too big for me to carry, yet still small enough to snuggle on my lap…I think about what each of you has meant to our sons. School is truly their home away from home. Thanks to each and every one of you for knowing and loving our boys. For weaving yourselves into the fabrics of each of their stories.

We hoped for a school that would be an extension of our home.

It feels like we’ve chosen brilliantly.

Sending Our Love for the Happiest of Holidays,
XOXOXO

 

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.

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…

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.”